Fireworks Magazine

Fireworks Magazine Online 81: Interview with Geoff Tate

GEOFF TATE

Interview by Carl Buxton

Operation:Mindcrime is the band name former Queensryche vocalist Geoff Tate has been performing under in recent years. 'The New Reality' the third album by Geoff Tate's band completes the trilogy that was started by 'The Key' in 2015 and followed up with 'Resurrection' the following year, with many media outlets wrongly portraying the themes and ideology behind Geoff's vision, so who better to explain the trilogy's concept than the man himself. Fireworks hooked up with Geoff at his home in Seattle.


Geoff-Tate

I believe the worldwide release is on December 1st?

I believe so, yeah, I'm actually looking forward to that because I don't have a copy of it yet. (laughs)

Oh really? The studio must be just down the road from you – London Bridge studios, where the other two albums were recorded I believe?

Yeah, we recorded all the basic tracks at London Bridge, the bass and the drums, and then we did pretty much everything else in my house, between my house and my studio.

You must have heard the final mixes before submitting it to the record company I'm sure?

Yeah, I just haven't heard the whole thing as one piece yet, other than my initial demo of it that I did. It's always kind of different when you hear it back on a CD, at least for me – I don't know about the others – hearing it when you're mixing it or mastering it, that's one thing. But then to hear it on a CD it's quite different I think, kind of changes a bit.

How easy or difficult was it to stay focused for the three years that you've been involved in writing and producing this trilogy up until its final conclusion, and how happy are you with the result?

Well I'm very happy that it's finished. I quite enjoyed the whole process. In fact it became something that I lived and breathed for quite a long time. It was really a labour of love putting this group of albums together and I was so involved with every aspect of it. But I really particularly enjoyed all this collaboration I have with different people on the records.

Talking about drummers you've got Simon Wright, Brian Tichy, and Scott Mercado that you've used in the past. I think he brought his jazz style drumming from Candlebox to the table. Regarding drummers, for example, were you looking for specific qualities of musicianship for particular songs, or was it just a general idea to work with different people. I know you've said in the past you want to work with quality musicians and with Operation:Mindcrime you don't want to be stuck in a band situation with the same guys year in, year out.

Yeah, well for drummers, well, for everybody really, when you're putting together an album it becomes a bit of a social experiment (laughs) ...in that I wanted to pick drummers that I respect and I really like their work, and some people that I've worked with in the past. What I did was I just sort of fed them the material and see what they gravitated towards. In my experience, when somebody likes something, it's a huge motivator for them to perform well on what it is they're given, so I would just hand them the material and see what they wanted to play on, and they would always gravitate towards certain things, and that way I'd be kind of assured that I would get the best kind of performance I could out of them.

What if some guys picked the same song?

That didn't happen. I wasn't in that scenario where I had to make a choice, which is good. (laughs)

What has been the feedback from 'The Key' and 'Resurrection' so far, from the critics, fans, and general touring from the shows?

Oh, that's all been very positive. I haven't really concentrated on playing the new album much live. I'm just kind of letting it sink in with people.) I have a lot of songs that people don't know about. I guess I have...well this is my 18th album and something like 227 songs, something like that, a lot of people don't know about all the music out there and I find that interesting and somewhat comical, but it's also great fun because I get to introduce audiences to new material all the time who haven't heard it. (laughs)

Well I'm sure there are fans at your concerts who weren't even born when the first Queensryche album came out for example so...

Oh yeah.

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It must be interesting for you, especially as a performer to see a lot of young faces in the audience.

It is. It's really interesting, and they're young enough to be my children (laughs) That's kind of weird!

With the trilogy completed was the concept behind it, and correct me if I'm wrong, about virtual currencies, internet banking and stock trading?

(laughs) No, that wasn't it at all. (laughs again) I think that was somebody's idea. No, it's kind of a difficult story to tell really. It's kind of one that reveals itself the more you listen. But primarily, in a nutshell, to try to define it, it's about the struggle of human beings with each other and to accept a world view that is different than the one they grew up with – how about that?

I guess everything will make sense if you play them all back to back?

That's the idea, yeah. But don't play them backwards because that will mess you all up." (both laugh) "One of the key things to think about is really look at the title of the tracks. The title of the tracks kind of tells you a story as you read them, if that makes sense.

Kind of, but with the trilogy completed though, is it possible for you to expand on what you've just described to help the listener more understand the concept?

You know, I don't know what to tell you, honestly. The way that the lyrics are constructed, the way the songs are put together, there are key phrases that will stand out to the listener at various times, and those key phrases are designed to stand out, and to be repetitive at times and to make a point that you follow. If you follow that, it will take you on a thread, and that thread will lead you around and to a big circle and that's when it all kind of makes sense. (laughs)

But if you're selling your art, how would you sell it?

I wouldn't sell it. That's not my gig. (laughs)

But you want people to invest in what you're doing, surely?

Well, you know, if they choose to. I'm really not a good salesman. It's never been my forté or my interest. I think there are ideas on the records that will really cause people to think quite deeply about their own personal scenarios. I think that this time that we're living in it's a fascinating time. You can really see it exhibited every day in the news and how much turmoil there is in the world right now. It's like an undulating rollercoaster ride and I think the reason why there's so much turmoil is that we're all communicating with each other at such a high rate now. We're tuned in to what's going on all over the world, and we're talking about it and there are these massive discussions that are happening - social discussions like 'What are the lines?', 'Where do we draw boundaries?', 'How do we treat each other?', you know, 'What's right?', 'What's wrong?' It's like a global questioning of reality that we're in right now. For example, it's not okay to treat women the way some men treat women now, and we're seeing that in the news with all these allegations where women are coming forward and saying they've been sexually molested, and so we're forced to have a global discussion about well what is right, what is wrong.

It used to be okay and acceptable for people to own other people as slaves, and it got to a point where we said 'Nope! That's not right anymore' you need to change your ways, or it used to be okay for people to just randomly shoot each other and kill each other and take their land and their valuables. Well, we got past that, and we said 'No, that's not gonna work.' We used to think it was okay, and this cracks me up, with you being British, that British people believed whole-heartedly that the king and the queen were appointed by God (laughs) and they were holy and they were better than them, and they could do whatever they wanted and people believed that stuff, for centuries, it was a big con! People believed it was the truth, so now, because of our ability to communicate, we're questioning all these truths that we grew up and we're finding out that, wow, almost everything we know, we learned from growing up. Language for example, or our ideas on time for example. Time does not exist, time is a man-made construct and we're now finally recognising that and saying to ourselves, well, if we made it up, we can re-make it can't we? Yeah we can! We don't have to believe in what we learned from primitive people, we can get past that now. And that's kind of the message of the entire trilogy. It's a journey of one guy trying to pursue that concept of changing his reality and the struggles he goes through along the way, with people that don't want that reality changed, because they benefit from the way reality is at the moment.

You've just explained the trilogy rather succinctly. Thank you.

Geoff's band Operation:Mindcrime tours the UK and Ireland starting in Dublin on January 11th with support coming from his daughter's band Till Death Do Us Part. For the first hour he will be performing the album 'Operation: Mindcrime' in its entirety for its 30th anniversary.

Fireworks Magazine Online 81: Interview with Pretty Boy Floyd

PRETTY BOY FLOYD

Interview by Dawn Osborne

Fireworks took the opportunity to get the scoop from Kristy Majors, the guitarist with Pretty Boy Floyd who is newly reunited with original vocalist Steve Summers, on why they are working together again after such acrimony, about the new record deal with Frontiers and their new bumper first offering from that deal, 'Public Enemies'.

Traditional fans of Pretty Boy Floyd will love the new album as it is coming from exactly the same spot as their much loved debut 'Leather Boyz with Electric Toyz'. Eighties in feel and attitude, even the subjects for the lyrics are indistinguishable from the wonderfully un-PC time decades ago. As such, those that simply can't get enough of Pop Rock with a Glam edge and hanker for simpler times, when a song was easy to get into, meant what it said and was performed and enjoyed simply for what it was and nothing more, need look no further. Pretty Boy Floyd are here to fulfil your wildest dreams...


Pretty-Boy-Floyd

Pretty Boy Floyd are back with a new deal with Frontiers, how did the deal come about?

We recorded about four songs and sent them to Frontiers Records after being contacted by our booking agency, Artists Worldwide, and we did the deal. Frontiers has a great roster of artists . We thought it was a good fit since they had just recently signed LA Guns and a few other 80s bands that we really like. They do great promotion and have an amazing staff.

You and Kristy are now working back together. What's the story behind that?

Well, I think as we got wiser and older we realised that Pretty Boy Floyd is at its best when Steve and I are doing it together. Brothers fight, priorities change but the true Pretty Boy Floyd sound is stronger with the two original members.

Who is in the current band?

Steve Summers on vocals of course, me on guitar. JK Famous, who has been an on and off member for over fifteen years and a great friend of mine from New York City since I was 16, on bass. We are using fill-in drummers right now until Ben Graves is ready to come back and kill on the kit.

There's a new album, 'Public Enemies', and it is a worthy successor to 'Leather Boyz with Electric Toyz:

YES!!!! I think die hard Pretty Boy Floyd fans will love this album. It's Pretty Boy Floyd 1988 all over again, a collection of songs you crank in your car or home and just forget about the nonsense going on in the world.

Describe the attitude behind the album?

It's a good time Glam Rock record. It's so 80s, like a Back To The Future time machine, haha. We worked really hard to capture the sound of the band when we first started out and I like to think we accomplished that. Anybody who is into 80s Glam Rock party songs will enjoy the new album, definitely the Pretty Boy Floyd fans and hopefully it will attract some new fans who are tired of the music being forced upon them by the big machines.

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There are fourteen tracks on the album, why so many?

We are like the Glam Rock Ramones. Most of our songs are three minutes or less. We wanted to give the fans a good forty or more minutes worth of music, especially since it's been so long since we released new material.

How long has the album been in the planning?

We started recording it in 2012 and never finished it. Life got in the way and we needed a break. When we signed the Frontiers deal in December of 2016 we went full speed ahead and finished it pretty quickly.

The intro is called 'SATA'. What does that mean?

I can't tell you. We wanted to leave that a mystery and see if people can guess what that stands for!

Pretty Boy Floyd have always been a band liked by the ladies, is that what you are recognising in the song 'Girls All Over the World'?

'Girls All Over The World' really has no meaning. It just sounds better than singing boys love Rock n' Roll, haha!

Rock got pretty depressing in the 90s, with the Grunge trend. Is part of your mission to bring the fun back into Rock n' Roll?

I actually loved the music that was released in the 90s ̶ such great timeless music. Pretty Boy Floyd has always remained the same throughout the years. We proudly wave the 80s flag and that will never change.

There has been a real turnaround in the market for this kind of music ̶ new festivals in the genre, the Monsters of Rock Cruise has been a great success. Is this why you thought it would be the right time to come back with 'Public Enemies'?

No, we've been playing those festivals for years with the exception of the cruises. I think we are only band to not play a cruise. We have been wanting to release a new album for years but just never got around to it. The right timing was paired with the right record label.

'Star Chaser' ... what's the story behind that one?

It's just a fictitious Nick Gilder-ish type of song . Mainly influenced by the Sunset Strip days with a broad reference to girls at that time. Don't take it too seriously.

'We Can't Bring Back Yesterday' is a very nostalgic song. Do you have great memories of the old days?

It's actually a love song but it can also be interpreted in many ways. I'm sure everybody can relate to this song, whether it be a lost love, a past memory, a thought in time, a reflection upon oneself or another. I really like this song.

Will you make it over to Europe in a tour to support the album?

I hope so. We always have a great time touring Europe. I would love to pair up with a band like Hardcore Superstar, 69 Eyes, Reckless Love, Michael Monroe etc and play every country.

What's next for Pretty Boy Floyd?

We are shooting a video for 'Feel The Heat' and another song to be decided, doing a album release party on December 1st at the Whisky A Go Go and have more shows in 2018. Hopefully also one more record with Frontiers.

Fireworks Magazine Online 81: Interview with Galactic Cowboys

GALACTIC COWBOYS

Interview by Duncan Jamieson

In 1990 the Geffen Label had high flyers Guns N' Roses on their books but sensing they needed a new band as trends were changing, they picked up Galactic Cowboys as their next big hope and then decided they should hedge their bets and sign another. That band was Nirvana. The result left Galactic Cowboys as a footnote in Rock history and they eventually split at the turn of the millennium. However, now they're back with their first album in seventeen years, 'Long Way Back To the Moon', with the line-up who created their seminal self-titled début and the follow up 'Space In Your Face', and with the signature Cowboy sound of Metal, Thrash and big Beatles-like harmonies all still pleasingly intact. Guitarist Dane Sonnier chatted to Fireworks on the band's resurrection.


Galactic-Cowboys

How did the Cowboys get back together after such a long gap?


Although I left in 1995 the band split up in 2000 but I always longed to play heavier music like the Cowboys again. The stars aligned for us to do a couple of shows in 2009 and 2013. After the reunion gigs we just began talking together and we started to write again. The word got out in the industry and Mascot said they were interested in a record.

So the interest from the Mascot label, were there several people involved or was it one individual who wanted to work with you?

There were a couple of people, Bill Evans and Jim Pitulski, Jim knew us from when he worked with Dream Theater. We toured with them on their 'Images And Words' tour and had a great time on that one. A&R wondered if Jim would like to work with some different bands and he said he always liked The Cowboys. Bill and Monty (Colvin, bassist) had worked together in the past so he got in contact and he was very interested when he found out we'd been writing some new songs.

I believe 'In The Clouds' that kicks off the record is actually an old song that was written when Galactic Cowboys first got together?

That's right. There was an early stage of that song from when we started out. When we started rolling again and coming up with news songs, this came up. It was the very first Cowboys song as it's the song Ben (Huggins, singer) and I had to audition with. Recording it was born out of nostalgia but it's heavy, melodic and very representative of who were as a band, even today.

Are there any other song on the new record that have been revived?

'Hate Me', that was in fact another old song. It was one I wrote and it was the very last song I brought to the band before I left in 1995. It never made their next album for whatever reasons. We reworked it a bit, added an extension to give it more legs and added more harmonies.

There's a real earthy, authentic sound to the new album. Was that deliberate?

I'll have to give credit to Alan Doss (drums) who mixed and mastered the disc. We all know what we like sonically.

How is the band different in its approach now?

We're a lot older! The song writing feels the same way as it did in the past, it feels like coming home. We were surprised how quickly it came together during rehearsals for the reunion gigs. We didn't have to work at it too hard. The sound is ingrained in our DNA. Now what we're doing is a continued evolution of what we've always done. That first album stands up well. We were young and driven at the time. Now we're a lot older but we're still driven. In comparison to the old days the involvement in the writing, recording and the business process has all been self-propelled. That's been helped by the label, Mascot, who have been great as they have left us alone to do our thing.

How do you go about the song-writing as a band?

As a band we operate in different ways. Monty might bring in a whole song, sometimes I'll bring in a few guitar riffs. Personally, for me it's the music first with the melody and vocals coming later. We said, let's just write and see what happens for this one. When we did, the sound that inevitably comes out is a mix of being heavy with lots of melody and harmonies. That's the Cowboys' sound.

How much was done old school with all of you together in the studio and how much was done using file sharing?

Monty lives in Chicago so he's three hours on a plane each way but he came across a few times and we laid down some material but it wasn't so often, but we know how we all sound like and what we want so we could file share and do a lot of it that way.

How do you feel you've changed and the band's relationship with one other has changed since those early days?

I like to think my personality has developed. Back then I was just a 19 year old kid who didn't have a whole lot of life experience to give much of a social commentary. As a band, we all feel the way we feel so there might be four different opinions on anything but in the band we have the freedom to all be who we really are. We don't judge each other and everyone comes in and adds their own twist to what we do. I'd say the relationships in the band are a lot stronger. A lot has happened between me leaving and the reunion. We've got kids now so it's cool that they can come to the shows and meet each other and hang out. At the end of the day it comes back to the music.

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In the early days a lot was made of the band being a Christian band but in fact that's not something you have done overtly...

It's not something we all talk about amongst ourselves as a band now. Life has taken different paths. It might have been talked about at the beginning but I was never one to throw that out there. If your plumber comes round, you don't care what religion he is. You want him to fix the leak. Same with us. We're a Rock n' Roll band and that's what you want to hear.

There's also a sense of humour in The Cowboys' sound. 'Believing The Hype', I imagine, is actually about yourselves.

It may be somewhat biographical. You can believe your own peers who are digging your music. In the very early years when we first got signed we got told a lot that we were going to be the next greatest thing. Then Nirvana came along and that was the end of that!

There's some real angst in songs like 'Internal Masquerade' and 'Blood In My Eyes'.

Some of those things are borne out of frustrations. The world has changed a lot, a lot has gone down since we started out. On social media, everyone airs their grievances; what's the outrage of the day. I'm all about a sense of social justice. It's difficult to watch the negativity when they are all wrapped up in their own shit. The social media platforms seems to bring out the negative side of everyone. You see people, even friends connected to it 24/7 and they share a side of themselves you wouldn't have previously seen or wanted to have seen.

Picking up on that point, how do you view the internet, which obviously wasn't around back in the day, and it's influence on how music is made and heard today?

I think it is a good thing as it allows you an opportunity to get away from record labels and others' agendas. You can put your videos up on Facebook, there are a lot of avenues to get your music out there. That's great. Two million plays on Spotify or whatever and the musicians not getting paid a lot is a a bit of a problem... I'm happy to get our music out to people.

Did you see Grunge coming?

None of us anticipated it at the time it was happening. I liked those bands like Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains. We got to hang out with those guys and they were all great. I don't think anybody saw how 'Jeremy' and 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' were going to be the only thing that got played on MTV, that and Paula Abdul! My kids have never known MTV to play music. When I was growing up I remember seeing U2's 'The Unforgettable Fire' and Maiden's 'Flight Of Icarus'. It was cool.

There are a lot of musical influences in the rich stew of the Cowboys' sound. What music has influenced you?

Growing up there was a wide range of music in the house. My dad played guitar and my mom played piano. Everyone could sing. There would be music like Merle Haggard, Fleetwood Mac, Doobie Brothers which my parents played. Then me and my brother got into Alice Cooper, Kiss and of course The Beatles. There was a wide musical palate. I listened to AC/DC and Free. I'm a huge Paul Rodgers fan. Even today I might listen to Pantera one day and 'feel good' songs the next.

Outside of the Galactic Cowboys you've remained in music with the Sonnier Brothers Band.

In 1995 the band were moving on and I left to play with my brother in the Sonnier Brothers Band, which was the easiest thing to call it. We play Texas Blues Rock and continue to do that today. We play a couple of times a month. He's my brother, us playing together is never going away so I can go back to it at any time.

When you left in 1995 you were replaced by Wally Farkas. How was it decided who would be in the line up for this album?

I don't want to get into something I wasn't a part of when they split in 2000. Wally is involved in a lot of other things so I was really happy to part of this. They made some great records without me. In fact they made more records without me than with me. Not better or worse, just different.

Your history is often intertwined with fellow Houston band Kings X. Was that in retrospect a blessing or a curse?

Being associated with those guys is never a curse. We were like their brothers. I met Doug, Ty and Gerry in '85 or '86 and we shared a lot. There's definite similarities in the sound; you know, we had the same sound engineer, producer and management team.

Do any of those old tours stand out in your memory for good or bad?

The tours with Kings X were always great with some wild dates. That Dream Theater tour was fantastic and we hung out with those guys a lot. The Overkill tour wasn't a bad tour but their fans liked what Overkill did so when we come on singing harmonies and playing a harmonica we got things thrown at us. Ben got into a fight with the crowd on more than one occasion that tour.

Are you going to take the new album on the road?

Touring for us now is a challenge. We're adamant this time round we're not giving up our day jobs. The industry's different to what is was back then and we have families and commitments now. We want to tour. We'd like to come over and do some festivals in Europe and some shows here in the States. It has to be the right situation for all of us. We really, really want to tour but with kids and families there's higher risk to what we can do.

The Galactic Cowboys are back in the saddle with a strong reunion album and here's hoping they come to a cosmos near you soon.

Fireworks Magazine Online 81: Interview with Cellar Darling

CELLAR DARLING

Interview by Paul Woodward

Following the split of Switzerland's successful Metal act Eluveitie, three former members formed Cellar Darling and set their sights on spearheading the 'New Wave of Folk Rock' scene. Fireworks spoke to vocalist and hurdy-gurdy wielding frontwoman Anna Murphy about Cellar Darling's impressive debut album, 'This Is The Sound'.


Cellar-Darling

Following the success of your previous band, Eluveitie, did you find it daunting starting from scratch with Cellar Darling?

It was chaotic for sure, but the chaos resulted in an immense creative drive that enabled us to write an entire album in just one year. For a moment, it seemed like we were left with nothing ̶ which maybe sounds a tad too dramatic ̶ but things just fell into place naturally.

Do you feel expectations or pressure from fans and critics to emulate the success of Eluveitie with Cellar Darling?

Not really. We're impulsive people, driven by our gut feeling. Emulating Eluveitie would have been unnatural and in my opinion, also unnecessary. Everything in our band developed organically and worrying about what people think would have hindered creativity.

I find the name Cellar Darling intriguing. Is there a reason or story behind the band's name?

On one hand, it symbolises what our music sounds like. We want to tell stories and paint pictures with our music and the combination of the two words is like a portal into our world, "cellar" being the darkness and "darling" being the light. On the other hand, it's metaphorical for the creativity and the ideas that were kept hidden away during the past few years because we had no space and time to realise them. The music that is now free to see the light is our "cellar darling".

You play one of the most unusual and unique instruments – the hurdy-gurdy. Did you find it hard incorporating this instrument into your song writing?

Not at all! It's mostly connected to Folk and Medieval music, but the amazing thing about the hurdy-gurdy is that you can do just about anything with it and it can blend extremely well into different soundscapes.

It's a very unusual instrument. How and why did you pick it up and choose to learn to play it? As a multi-instrumentalist, are there any other unique instruments you also play?

I saw it live for the first time when I was sixteen at a medieval concert ̶ the band that played it is called Faun ̶ and I immediately fell in love with it. I convinced my parents that I absolutely had to learn this and so I rented an instrument at a college for old music. Three months later Eluveitie were looking for a new hurdy-gurdy player and that's how it became my main instrument, basically!
Another instrument I play fairly well is the traverse flute, although that's a bit less unique I would say. Apart from that I'm rather mediocre at the piano and bass; I use those mainly for song writing.

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Lyrically you pride yourself on being storytellers. Can you tell us about a couple of intriguing stories behind some of the songs on 'This Is The Sound'?

The stories, like our music, are very eclectic. They are created by impulses that I get while hearing or writing the music. When I heard the guitars for 'Hullaballoo' I thought of rain and this first impulse created a story of the day when it never stopped raining and everything that was once stone turned into sand. Metaphorical for a stoic crumbling beneath emotions, it kind of works like a mind map.
'Six Days' is about the last man left on earth, holding on even though the universe has swallowed everything he once loved. He holds on for six days during which various entities like the sun, the moon, the devil and the gods punish him because they want him to be gone.
A bit of a more upbeat story is told by 'Starcrusher' which is about a fat, hairy fairy that is pissed off at the world and wants everything to be eternally dark by destroying all the stars. It's going to take quite a while because she can't fly very well due to being overweight.

'This Is The Sound' is the first album from Cellar Darling, from the formation of the band to the song-writing to recording, has the album turned out as you originally envisioned?

That's a good question! Honestly, this past year has been so intense and filled with creativity that I didn't really have time to envision anything. We just dove straight in and we like how it turned out. We'll continue just living in the moment and see where it takes us.

Have you been pleased with the reactions to the album since its release?

Yes, very pleased. I especially love that a lot of people react with very elaborate messages. Our fans really seem to understand the music and it means a lot to them. For me that is already all I could wish for.

On the surface, many may say your brand of Celtic/Folk blended Metal may be an acquired taste, but I found the album as a whole easily accessible and surprisingly catchy and commercial. It will definitely appeal to a wider range of music fans. Was making the songs more accessible to a wide range of fans intentional during the song writing process?

Not really, the song writing process was impulsive and organic. We basically just write the music that is playing in our heads, it's not calculated in any way. And it's interesting to see how people react differently to the music as well. Some songs may very well be more commercial compared to what we did before, but some are also more artistic and complex, not following the typical structures that we worked with before.

Do you have any plans to play live in the UK? Is playing live important to yourself and your fellow band mates?

Yes, we're playing in London on the 1st of November and can't wait! Playing live is the most important thing for us apart from writing music. Basically we want to rotate between studios and stages, which is good and hopefully will happen because currently we don't even have apartments. So, we're ready world, if you will have us.

Fireworks Magazine Online 81: Interview with Rex Brown

REX BROWN

Interview by Brent Rusche

His name will quickly bring to mind the bands Down, Kill Devil Hill and the legendary Pantera. However, after over twenty five years of recording and touring, Rex Brown found himself at an impasse and felt that taking a break was the only option. During his self-imposed exile, he slowly crafted songs which have manifested into his first ever solo effort, 'Smoke On This'. After a tenacious pursuit, Fireworks was awarded the opportunity to speak with this iconic and garrulous musician long associated with Heavy Metal. However, this album couldn't be further from that definition. A lively conversation ensued where we discussed the album, his influences and the people that have helped make 'Smoke On This' a reality.


Rex-Brown

Like most, Rex's musical influences focus around those nascent days as a young adolescent and provide wonderful insight as to the approach found on the album. Being of the belief that 'Smoke On This' has tremendous crossover potential, I think that fans of classic 70s Hard Rock, Modern Alternative Rock and even Grunge will find the album appealing. When asked about those influences that figured into his songwriting, Rex explains, "My influences go back all the way to when my sister left me records from The Beatles, The Stones and a lot of Turtles. I lived in a small town until I was about 11 years old and once I got to the big city it became Black Sabbath and Kiss...and this is now 1975 so 'Masters Of Reality' was on the deck. At the same time I was listening to Thin Lizzy and that progressed into this heavier Rock, like Foghat, then I discovered Humble Pie. Also, growing up in the 70s I was listening to radio in Texas, but the only thing that really 'got my goat' was ZZ Top." He then went on to mention one unlikely person in his life who was an early and constant source of inspiration. "My grandmother used to play piano for the silent movies back in the 1920s and had a little band as well that used to play in the Honky Tonks back when her county was still under Prohibition. She would tell me these stories about how they would get raided all the time. I just kept dragging her hand until she was probably in her death bed to [try and get her to] play me something. She was my musical muse."

Rex collaborated with longtime friend Lance Harvill on all songs. Being six years his junior, he brought a more modern Hard Rock vibe to the songs. The prolific pair ended up demoing twenty four tunes, with thirteen properly recorded and eleven making the final cut. When asked about his association and the writing process with his co-writer, he explains, "Dime[bag Darrell] and I knew Lance way back before Pantera was signed to Atco. He is an incredible songwriter and a Beatles fanatic, just like I am. When we do songs, I'll give him ideas that are really raw and then he'll make something cool from it. He'll then give me the stuff that is really polished and I'll strip it away. That is how we come to common ground and how we write and collaborate together. It's a meeting of the minds. His Pop sensibility is really incredible but takes on a different element when you put this raw, raspy voice on top. He knows exactly what I want and how to get it. I never have to go into rehearsal and say, "Nope, that's not the way that it goes, or nope, you're playing that wrong." Lance was influenced by his own stuff. I listen to some of Lance's music and it's definitely some of that Grunge vibe that you mentioned. He is definitely coming from that 90s sound where I'm more from the 70s and I wanted to bring those two together."

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When it came to recording and assembling the album, it is clear that it was anything but easy. "I took maybe a year off and then we started putting these songs together for the record right after Lance moved to Nashville. Then I met Caleb Sherman who also played on the record and is my producer. Having Caleb involved with this thing...he is a musician and he can play anything. There is a lot of lap-steel [guitar] on this, there are a lot of different types of organs and keyboards on the album that really make up the bulk of that inner sound. Once [drummer] Christopher Williams was done in the studio, then it was either me and Lance or just Caleb and I working at night on vocals. When it came time to mix, Caleb and I were just scratching our heads saying, "Well, which guitar tracks are we going to use on this?" You can only use about three or four before it really starts just crumbling the mix ̶ and we had up to 96 inputs of guitars on every damn song! [Laughs] Towards the end of recording, we were trying to get the vocals to sound big and loud but I didn't like my voice. Finally, we listened to Tom Petty's 'Damn The Torpedoes' album and right then I told Caleb to remove all the effects, double the vocal and see what it sounds like, raw. I think that is probably the best move we could have done for this record. I drove Caleb crazy! We must have mixed this thing eighteen times. I would say, "No, that hi-hat is just too open. Close it." I drove him insane. He wouldn't talk to me for like three weeks after we finished. He wouldn't even pick up the phone [Laughs]. I drive people crazy, but that is how you get the final product. "

Things got to a breaking point with Rex while promoting Kill Devil Hill which was the impetus for him taking a break from music. "Well, Vinnie [Appice] didn't want to tour as much so I had to get another drummer. Also, the costs of being on the road were exceeding what I wanted to do with it and I just needed a break. I needed to stop and watch the grass grow and watch my children blossom because they were [already] teenagers."

Rex is nothing short of a seasoned pro in this thing called the music business. When asked to comment, he did not hold back. "Look, artists these days don't get paid shit on a goddamn record. It doesn't matter who you are, you make your money from touring. After being on the road for all of these years, I had to go tell myself, "Well, you're going to have to do it." I had to take a fresh, fresh look at myself to see if I am up to doing this...and I was.

Rex's final thoughts are short and sweet, just like the album he set out to make and by all accounts, more music is clearly on the horizon. "I'm proud as fuck of this record. I wouldn't release something that I didn't think was 'up to snuff'. This just shows a new side of me and I've got another full record [of material] that I'm ready to go back into the studio and record."

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