Fireworks Magazine Online 51 - Interview with Myke Gray of Red White & Blues

 

THE BEST IS YET TO COME


Recently Fireworks has been championing the new rock band Red White & Blues, featuring the old Jagged Edge pairing of Matti Alfonzetti and Myke Gray. With their debut album 'Shine' receiving excellent reviews pretty much unanimously, along with a string of support slots for some of the top rock bands around, it would seem like a dream start for a new act. However, there are a lot hurdles which fans maybe aren't as aware of regarding a fledgling band trying to build some momentum. Myke Gray pulls back the curtain to give James Gaden a glimpse of what it's like behind the scenes...

Things are going very well for Red White & Blues - after opening for Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Chickenfoot, Steel Panther and Quireboys... that's impressive enough, but on top of that, we now find you've been added to the Download bill, and landed the support slot to open for Lynryd Skynryd. That's pretty good going isn't it?

It is, it's really fantastic, but I have to tell you, it has been so tough to get shows. We had an amazing beginning, to get the Bon Jovi show at Hyde Park, that was great and things really kicked off with the Steel Panther shows, when we had settled on a proper line up. After that we had the Quireboys tour, then Whitesnake, then Chickenfoot... all of that stuff came so quickly, everything felt fantastic but as the New Year came around, we wanted to try and keep momentum going, we put our album out, but it's been unbelievably hard to get more gigs. We're not big enough to do a headline tour ourselves, so we have to deal with agents, talk to different people... you have to watch out for the bullshit. The Lynryd Skynyrd ones came together very quickly - we didn't really think we'd have any hope of getting them, but we made contact with their agent, who came back to us pretty much within 24 hours. That came out great, but we'd tried for five or six other tours... we'd gone for loads of shows. A rock band is expensive. I'm friends with a lot of the people who run the venues, I've been playing those venues for years, and basically they put money aside for a support band. Say it's £500, a band like us could just about do it for that, as long as our crew don't work, pulling favours and all that, thinking about van, petrol, sound guy, all that stuff - and that's us not making any money at all, that's just covering costs. But if you aren't careful, you can get stung by a less scrupulous agent, ones who will look at a twenty date tour, figure that the venue for each date has put £500 aside for the support act... that's a fair amount of money, but it soon goes on the costs I just mentioned. The dodgy agents basically offer you £100 a night and keep the other £400, counting on the fact that an up and coming band just wants to get out and play. It would be impossible for us to do that, you'd be playing twenty shows for £2,000! Luckily, those gigs we've done so far with the big bands like Whitesnake, Chickenfoot, and this upcoming one with Lynryrd Skynyrd, everybody has been honest and paid us so we could do the shows. But it's hard, finding honest people to deal with.

That's staggering! I must admit, often you go to a concert, the support band are on, loads of people head straight to the bar and don't take them in. I personally always watch them because I'm not a drinker, but I didn't really have any idea of the hoops they've had to jump through to appear on that show! Is it all done via agents, or do the headliners ever have any say, maybe give a leg up to a little band they're friends with?

No, it's all done behind the scenes, the headliner doesn't really hear anything about it at all. An agent will have a roster of twenty or thirty bands. If Red White & Blues were to approach a big band's agent, because that is the only way you could get to them, and ask to support them on their next tour, their agent would just say 'Well, you're not signed with us, why would we give it to you?' End of story. There will be terms and conditions more often than not to getting a tour anyway.

I'm intrigued by all this side of things - I've got a growing respect for all the support bands I've sat through now!

Yeah, it's painful, even if you get the gig, you have no guarantees how you will be received, on stage or off. We did one show, and we came off and the production manager summoned me to his office. I went and he said 'you were one minute thirty seven seconds over your slot, if it happens again, you're off the tour.' Then he looked away, as if to say 'Now leave'. Fucking hell! So there's no guarantees, even if you get the tour, that you'll get a sound check, get any use of the P.A. or lights...

I have heard that before, about headliners not letting a band have full use of the back line or lights.

Yeah - with Skin, we were treated so badly one band in particular we toured with, we vowed we would never treat anybody opening up for us like that. We tended to let them use everything. They can use all the stage, our gear, we went out of our way to give them what they needed. Oh, I could tell you some horror stories! (laughs)

With you having all those support slots with these great bands, I was wondering if there was a particular crowd that responded better to you than others, but you seemed to have already highlighted the Steel Panther gigs...

All the tours we've done, we went down really, really well I felt. Whitesnake was particularly good, Chickenfoot was great, some of the Quireboys shows were great. The Steel Panther ones, that was our first show with the new line up, and we were so revved up, I can't remember that much about it! (laughs) We just sort of blitzed for thirty minutes and came off - was that it? (laughs) But we learned a lot - we hadn't done many shows, those we had done had Neville McDonald with us in the band, and then Matti took over on bass so we had to settle down again. The shows were a learning curve. We're really looking forward to the Lynyrd Skynryd shows though - they are absolute heroes to us. One of the first records I ever got was 'Sweet Home Alabama' and I spent many hours trying to learn 'Freebird' like most guitarists!

Their last record, 'God And Guns', I thought that was superb - I love that album.

Yeah, brilliant. And of course now they have Ricky Medlocke back who is a force in his own right, they've got the Damn Yankees drummer Michael Cartellone... it's just a great band. And they have all those classic songs. Iconic songs!

You've been selling the Red White & Blues album 'Shine' at the gigs - has it done as well as you hoped, or exceeded expectations? I know last time we spoke you said if you sold a thousand, you'll have covered what it cost to make it.

I've been blown away by the response. I did that run of a thousand thinking it would last us about a year, and we sold it out in six weeks! I got a second batch done, and we sold that out so we're on the third run. We don't get huge numbers printed, we do a thousand at a time, but it's meant we've recouped everything. We've not even put out that many ads - we had one in Fireworks a couple of issues back and the rest has been sort of word of mouth on Facebook, Rocktopia, melodicrock.com... some of the money we've made has gone toward an ad in Classic Rock. We planned to do our launch at Download, figuring we'd be in a tent as the first band on, so to discover we're on the second stage with Slash and all those other great bands, to open up there, we're so pleased that it's gone as well as it has.

I know you have a fan in Andy Copping who is Download's promoter, so that's good, but it's well deserved. Skin returned at Download and went down really well, so I see no reason why Red White & Blues can't pick up the baton.

Andy has been a big supporter of us, he helped pick the songs on the album as you know, but nothing was handed to us. To get that slot was on merit, nothing is given to anybody. Andy won't put his friends on, it has to be warranted. We hope we'll give a good performance and we can win some more fans at Download. We're just happy to have a chance to play, really. Just because I came out of Skin, you can't assume that someone who was a Skin fan will automatically be interested in Red White & Blues. We've noticed the people who were buying the Red White & Blues album sometimes didn't know Skin at all! We have a database of people who have bought from us, because I always send them a hand-written note thanking them for their support. I know who the Skin fans are, but a lot of these sales, we've had people buying it from America, Scandinavia, Germany, it's gone a bit more global than Skin who were very much based in the U.K. I don't know why, but it's great! We've actually had some airplay on some internet stations in America and we've seen sales in L.A., New York, Utah, Virginia...

That's great! Maybe iTunes will add to that, because some people have moved into the digital age and want everything on a hard drive or iPod, they don't want CDs anymore.

Quite right, we put it on iTunes earlier and have sold some already. Everything we sell is a bonus James, when we made the record we really didn't know if people would even give us the time of day, so to get a response like this is fantastic.

I think that's because not only is it good that you're back, it genuinely is really good stuff. Everybody I know who has seen you live or heard the record has been impressed. I'm a huge fan of the album as you know. I believe there's a follow up in the works?

Thank you! Yeah, I've been writing, I write a lot... but that doesn't mean it's any good! (laughs) I've got thirty ideas or so, by the time Matti comes over in June to do the shows, I'll play them to him and see if any of them light the fire. I generally play him everything and he tells me which things he likes, then I lift those out and take it from there. There will be a lot of duds in there! (laughs)

They can't all be gems! But the fact you write that much, you increase your chances of striking gold. I remember Glenn Hughes telling me how many songs he writes a week, and it's more than some bands write in a year!

Yeah, what I tend to do is if I get an idea, I very quickly put it down, lay the guitar down and do a rough vocal melody. Then I leave it from between a month to six months and revisit them. When you're writing at the time, you think it's the greatest. But them, you can listen back and think 'Oh no, actually, that's rubbish.' (laughs)

Because you've been through all the record company bullshit, you've put 'Shine' out yourself and it's doing well, are you somebody who would ever think about forming your own label, or is it time intensive enough just to do your own thing?

The thing is, when I say we're doing well, it means we're not losing money. I set a budget and if I make that money back, I'm happy with that. If we make more than I thought, then I'll put that money back in to maybe make a video, which we did for 'Stand Up For Rock And Roll'. That led to a bit more profit, so I used that to take an advert out. Anything that comes in is going straight back into the band to try and take it a bit further. I have my fitness training career outside of music and that's where I consider my livelihood to come from. I don't see music as being profitable enough to make a living from, it's more a passion of mine and a desire to make music. The money we've made is an indicator that some people appreciate what we're doing, so it gives it purpose which is why we put that money back in. To make real money out of music... I know the time it takes to make NO money! (laughs) If I invested any more time in what we were doing, I'd start going broke. Basically I work my day job, then I come home, deal with the internet shop, write songs, practice... it leaves very little time for anything else. Every record company I know is losing money. With the advent of digital, and the way people perceive music now, a lot of people perceive music as something they don't have to pay for. I'm not just talking about illegal downloaders - if you want to hear a song you can go watch it on YouTube, or listen to it on Spotify. You don't have to pay for any of those mediums. It takes so much more effort to make people part with their money for it. I really appreciate those people who buy the Red White & Blues CD, which is why I write them a letter thanking them, because literally, without their support, the album wouldn't get made. Without that support, there would be no band.

There is definitely that mentality of 'something for nothing' with some people, but I think the other big part of it is the majority of the general public are sheep. There ARE people who are selling records, people like Adele and Jessie J and whatever else is in the charts that I ignore, but all those artists are visible on TV, and heard on the radio. The vast majority of people are not prepared to look at what else is out there - if they don't see it on TV or hear it on the radio, they don't realise it exists.

You're right, that is absolutely true, most people will tend to only covet what they see. I speak to people all the time asking if they've heard this and that, and it's true, they don't go looking around for anything else.

It struck me when I did an interview with Status Quo a few issues back - their last album sold better than their previous few by a good margin, because it was sold exclusively in Tesco. People were buying it because they saw it and thought 'Oh, are they still on the go?' Of course they are, they sell out all their shows! But they aren't on TV anymore, they aren't on the radio much anymore, so people forget they are still there. The TV and radio for the most part panders to reality show contestants and disposable manufactured artists.

I know what you mean, we get that all the time. We've had people come up to us after Red White & Blues have played and they buy our album, or check out our website and say things like 'Oh, I didn't realise you were in Skin.... they were great, have you ever thought about reforming?' (laughs) Er, yeah, we did! Thanks for coming!

The ignorant hoards aside, here's a question for you - I get loads of stuff to review and Fireworks features tons of albums every issue. You've been on both sides of the fence here - you've had the "support" of a record label, and you've run things yourself independently with Red White & Blues. Now, you already had a fan-base and some contacts in place when you decided to go independent, so what I want to ask is this... say you're an artist who has just recorded your very first album, so nobody has heard of you. Do you think it's worth signing with one of the smaller labels or would you think they'd be better off trying to make themselves heard using the internet?

It's hugely difficult. In the old days, you'd have a record label who would give you an advance to make a record and take it from there. Nowadays, a lot of people are making the record first, then trying to shop it around. In my experience, a lot of the smaller labels won't offer an advance as such, they act more as distributors. We had EMI approach us about distributing the Red White & Blues album, asking us if we were interested. I said of course we were interested, what was the deal they had in mind? They said 'Oh, send us the album, we'll put it on iTunes'. And that was it. So I said 'Well, I can put it on iTunes myself. If we gave you a percentage of our money, what are you actually going to do?' Their answer was that there was no actual budget for marketing or anything like that, we'd basically just be put on iTunes and 'associated with the label'. Well, so fucking what? Be associated with a company who are losing money hand over fist and have a reputation for not supporting the artists properly? I don't do this for the money! If you want to take my record, you need to do something for it. Putting it in iTunes isn't exactly hard! It's comparatively simple in fact! That's why you've seen bands releasing records via magazines, like Classic Rock. Whitesnake and Chickenfoot both did that, they make the deal with the magazine, because now the magazine is more effective than a label! I know big bands who have approached promoters about funding records, because the labels don't have the money. That's where things are with the music industry, it's a major achievement to sell any records. It's a changing format, I don't know where it's going to lead, but the record companies, as we perceive them, are going to change. I think the power will shift to people like Tesco who you mentioned.

But they would only be interested in people like Quo who have established fan bases, so I guess if you are a newcomer you'd be better off independent and building a following yourself. Are you a fan of the digital age of music in general - piracy aside? For example, it has allowed you to be independent and market Red White & Blues yourself - or are you an audiophile who doesn't like compressed mp3s?

I use iTunes to buy products, I must say. I tend to buy lots of individual tracks that I like from there, but as a rock fan, I consider it my duty to own physical copies of albums I consider to be great. Just a few weeks ago I bought 'Diary Of a Madman' and 'Diver Down'. That's because I want to own those records, pay respect to those artists, it's part of who I am. I wouldn't be satisfied with having those albums just on a hard drive somewhere. I want all of Nickelback's albums in the physical format, but my iTunes will be hundreds of artists who I own a few songs by... my purchased songs will span everybody from Duffy to My Chemical Romance, Stereophonics, Bonnie Raitt, James Morrison, Seasick Steve, Muddy Waters... most of them are just individual songs that I've heard and like and want to be able to reference. It's unlikely I'd buy those albums, make that emotional connection, because of one song. Serious stuff I have to have on CD. There's only so much space you can have in your house for all this stuff! The digital age has allowed that freedom to cherry pick certain songs and have massive variety. But bands like Van Halen, I have to have the actual records.

How do you feel about the new Van Halen album? Love it or hate it?

I've yet to hear it all, I've only heard three or four songs... I've got a copy on the way. Is it good?

I think it's great - I was always a bigger fan of Sammy and Dave solo, probably because I'm not a guitarist, and I had my doubts that it would be any good after such a long time without doing anything of worth, but I was really impressed, I think it's excellent.

I've heard some people think it sounds more like a David Lee Roth solo album than Van Halen?

I think so, which is probably why I like it so much. There are touches which are pure Van Halen - Eddie's back, that much is clear. I think you'll like it.

You look at that band, take songs from their first six albums and you had such a set of classic songs, from 'Running With The Devil', 'Jump', 'Ain't Talking 'Bout Love'... you could fill a set list with just amazing songs. Then, when Sammy Hagar joined, you could do exactly the same with his era, 'Right Now', 'Love Walks In', 'Why Can't This Be Love'... unbelievable, to have that much quality even with a line up change! Not many bands can do that. I think there is talk of them coming over next year.

You never know, you might end up supporting them!

(laughs) Well, we'll see. That would be incredible.

Would that be your ultimate support slot?

I think so. In fact, we actually did support Van Halen, when I was in Skin - they were playing at Gateshead stadium with Bon Jovi and we were the openers, with Ugly Kid Joe. That was the day all my equipment blew up. And to top it, we had to go and do Japanese interviews... while Van Halen were playing! So I missed them! So yeah, that would be cool. We did Chickenfoot though, so we've toured with Sammy and Michael Anthony!

I was there at that first ever Chickenfoot UK show in Shepherd's Bush - great show!

That was Skin acoustic, wasn't it? Yeah, I think it was our first acoustic gig. They were unbelievably nice to us on the Red White & Blues shows. They were super nice, super friendly, nothing was too much trouble, the crew were amazing - they were fantastic. Sammy doesn't need to do anything for the money after selling his tequila company, he does it because he loves it. That band showed us that you can still be down to earth, friendly people at the highest level.

So, to finish up, you're playing Download and you've got the Lynyrd Skynryd shows, anything else I need to know about?

Yes, we're playing the Steelhouse club in Wales at the end of May as well. Nev will be there for that, and we hope to springboard from that to perform well at Download, see if that can be a catalyst for other things. Like most bands, we'd love to play Firefest - I've seen this year's bill and it's really strong. It's great if you can land a festival slot like we have at Download.

Good luck for Download and the Skynyrd shows Myke, I hope it wins you some more fans!

Thanks you! We'd really love to do a headline tour ourselves, but we have to see how the land lies before we get to that stage. We're just plugging away trying to make people aware of the music, and thanks to people like yourself going out of your way to help, and having us in Fireworks Magazine and on Rocktopia, it's all very much appreciated!

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