Fireworks Magazine

Fireworks Magazine Online 76 - Interview with Breaking Benjamin

Breaking Benjamin

Interview by Mike Newdeck

With seven million albums sold world-wide, Breaking Benjamin can be considered something of a Modern Rock phenomena. Comeback album 'Dark Before Dawn' was a phenomena all on its own, selling 135,000 pure album units and 141,000 equivalent album units in its first week and debuting at No.1 on the Billboard 200, making it the group's most successful sales effort. This, incredibly, put it above more celebrated artists such as Madonna and Kelly Clarkson.
Fireworks caught up with lead singer and band leader Benjamin Burnley to find out the secret of the band's renewed success.


Why was there a four year hiatus with the band?

In 2007 I started having health issues and then they started to worsen. So in 2010 I decided to take a break from it all and tried to seek an answer for what was causing my health problems. This took years and while searching for these answers former musicians in the band made decisions involving the band catalogue, including songs that I wrote in their entirety, without my consent. A legal dispute occurred prolonging the hiatus even further.

Tell me how you selected the new line-up.

After the legal dispute, I wanted to play with a group of people that weren't just great musicians but great friends as well. Aaron Bruch and I were friends for a long time and we got together and it was great to work with him. Jasen Rauch played with Red and we had collaborated together before in the past and it just made sense. Shaun played with a band called Picture Me Broken and Keith was with Adelitas Way and it all just seemed to fit well. Playing with your friends just makes a band that much better.

The album 'Dark Before Dawn' pretty much carries on from where Breaking Benjamin left off on 'Dear Agony' . Were you tempted to change the sound?

I am always trying to incorporate new things into the sound of Breaking Benjamin without breaking the mould of what Breaking Benjamin is and what we stand for. 'Ashes of Eden' is among many examples of this because it is the first time the band has ever recorded or released a song where the guitar is completely digital.

How does this album differ from old BB?

As the primary songwriter that I have been for the band, this album doesn't differ too much from the others. I have done the bulk of the work as I did the the writing process myself , but only because when 'Dark Before Dawn' was conceived, the new members were not in place yet. However, there are notable contributions made on the album by each current band member. 'Dark Before Dawn' is also the first Breaking Benjamin album that I am not singing the background vocals and harmonies on, which were done by Aaron Bruch and Keith Wallen.

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How did the songs come together for this album? Were they written over a long period of time or written specifically for the album over a short period?

As a songwriter, I am always writing bits and pieces of things all the time. When I feel that there is enough of this material compiled I will then focus my efforts into composing the various bits and pieces into full song compositions.

Were you surprised at how well the album has done considering the time since the last one?

I think the response for the album was overwhelming. Breaking Benjamin and its fans showed the world that Rock was not dead when 'Dark Before Dawn' was released. It is the band's first No.1 album on Billboard and that says a lot. We were honoured by this and excited at the same time. It goes to show you how ready the world is for more Rock music. Breaking Benjamin fans are so loyal and it's humbling everyday to see how much they support us. When we did our first shows after years of being in hiatus, the response was overwhelming. Overseas in Europe, where we have never been, the response to Breaking Benjamin was incredible. Every show we make it a point to say thank you to all of them for what they do for us.

What's your feeling on using technology to enhance live performances? For instance you use electronic drums, synth orchestral interludes etc but how far would you take it? What's acceptable?

We use technology in what we feel is the right way, for instance allowing us to not play to a single track that is generated from a computer. We love the aspect of being live. This allows us to keep the band's performances 100% played by the band. We do this as you have mentioned by utilising guitar synthesizers and drum triggers which all occur in real time and are all done by us in the moment.

When you look back on your career, its ups and downs, would you change anything that you did either in your personal life or musically?

Everything happens for a reason and all of the decisions that I have made have brought me to the point I am now with the band and the album. If one thing was different in those decisions, things would be completely different, so I would say that I would not change anything.

What is your aim for the band?

To continue to make music, to continue to be there for our incredible fans, and to go to more places we have never been to.

How was the band received at Download?

Download Festival was incredible. While this was our first time to Europe, it will not be the last for sure. The response we received in the UK and the rest of Europe was so fantastic. We can't wait to come back and do more shows for Europe.

Fireworks Magazine Online 76 - Interview with Hands Like Houses

Hands Like Houses

An interview by Mike Newdeck

After honing their craft on their earlier releases, Australian band Hands Like Houses decided to up the ante on their third release 'Dissonants'. A tour-de-force of Modern Rock, cutting guitar and melodic vocals – something seldom heard in this genre – it bucked the trend somewhat by adding a far more commercial edge and broadening the bands appeal.
Fireworks caught up with vocalist Trenton Woodley as the band embarked on their recent UK tour to chat about the band's new album and increased popularity.


You've had a long association with James Paul Wisner as a producer. How did you end up using his talents and why do you continue to do so?

We actually first heard of him via his early work with Underoath, Paramore and so on but when working with Cameron Mizell on 'Ground Dweller', he spoke really highly of James and his work, having interned/assistant engineered with him in the past. We got lucky when another booking fell through for the time we had planned to record 'Unimagine' so we locked it in and the rest was history. He's an incredibly focused and gifted producer and manages to get the best out of us, which is a challenge sometimes, by always being honest and candid but only ever in the spirit of being constructive. While we like to keep evolving with each record, which does mean always considering our options, we'd definitely hope to include him on future records in some capacity!

How does he help shape the sound of the band?

We've always wanted to have a sound that's both massive and intimate, and his production method is incredibly clear and dynamic, which gives us the ability to create the emotional impact of jumping between those extremes. He's brilliant at creating a place for everything to belong in the mix, where nothing gets in the way of the other parts.

How has this album progressed compared to your last one, 'Unimagine'?

We wanted to give it more bite; we felt that our 'heavier' songs were connecting better with live audiences and it was one of the most appreciated elements of our first record, so we wanted to see how we could better balance the song-writing focus we built from 'Unimagine' while still including the aggression and urgency we wanted.

Why did you call the album 'Dissonants'?

The album is about the complex and multiple experiences that make up who we are, so the play on the word 'dissonance' was a way to personify those dissonant traits and experiences and say 'I Am Dissonant', which is also a lyric from 'I Am' .

How would you accurately describe your music?

Not sure about 'accurately' but we want to create loud and impact filled music that makes you feel something. To us, that's Rock, pure and simple but people like to make up their sub-genres and references which we can't really control.

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How do you feel about being labelled Post Hardcore? Is that a fair assessment?

Honestly we don't really like the label at all. I think we had it on our Myspace and maybe referenced it in our first 'official' bio but even then I think that was referencing our energy rather than our actual 'genre'. As a genre label, I've found it to have become almost completely meaningless because of the dozens of distinct bands that have somehow been grouped together by it.

You've ditched the growling vocal delivery on 'Dissonants'. Why is that?

I'm not a fan of the term 'growling' because that's a totally different vocal style to me. But we have adopted moments of 'screaming' on 'Dissonants' as a challenge to people's perception of what Hands Like Houses is. For a long time we were 'the Post Hardcore band that doesn't scream' to a lot of people, so by changing that perception it was unsettling enough for old fans to give it a proper listen with an open mind.

How has it worked out for you being an Australian band? Do you think that it's necessary to make a break from the country in order to get success?

I don't think so, no, we have some incredible bands making a name for themselves overseas after more or less conquering Australia first. We had an unusual progression of opportunities and challenges that meant that it was better for us to develop overseas, the US in particular, to better tackle Australia but that's probably an essay-length answer of questionable interest.

How are things developing for you in the U.S?

Really well. 'Dissonants' and our radio team have opened up a whole slew of new doors for us. We certainly don't want to sell out or leave behind where we've been but there's a whole new world where we're a small fish in a big pond again, which is exciting.

Tell me how you came to cover 'Torn'?

We were invited to be a part of the 'Punk Goes 90s' compilation and so we considered a handful of songs but with Natalie Imbruglia being Australian it just felt right, although we found out later she wasn't the original performer or writer of the track – that credit belongs to Ednaswap, an LA grunge band from the 90s.

Do you think that there's pressure on bands like HLH to be commercial in order to survive?

It's not so much commercial as being sustainable. We could certainly survive in a number of different ways but to be a touring act where music is our full time career, being able to turn that music and brand into a sustainable business means you have to be accessible – you need people to enjoy your music. So the creative challenge is in writing good songs that people connect with while still maintaining what makes your art and style distinctive and original.

How was the band received on the recent UK tour?

It was phenomenal, especially the sold-out London show at Islington Academy. The biggest encouragement of this year is the energy and excitement people have for 'Dissonants'. Every band has to deal with fans screaming 'play all old songs' but honestly, so far those people have been practically drowned out by people singing along to the new songs. Obviously that'll change with time and as the new record has time to settle in, but it's such a positive encouragement that we're already talking about which songs we can bring in next tour that we haven't played yet!

What's the plan for the rest of 2016 for the band? When can we expect to see you back in the UK/Europe?

We have a few months off to catch our breath and maybe write a few future song ideas down before things get crazy again, but come September we'll be back on the road in the UK and then the US. That's all I can say for now... stay tuned!

'Dissonants' is out now on Rise records

Click HERE to read the album review on Rocktopia.

Fireworks Magazine Online 76 - Interview with Van Zant


Interview by Elin Sigfridsson

Johnny and Donnie are the younger brothers of Ronnie Van Zant, Lynyrd Skynyrd's original vocalist who was tragically killed in a plane crash in 1977. Johnny is better known as the current singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd after the band reunited in 1987, and Donnie for 38 Special which he formed with guitarist Don Barnes back in 1974.
Johnny had released several Southern Rock albums in the 80s with the Johnny Van Zant Band before changing genres for the totally AOR sounding self-titled Van Zant album in 1985. The brothers then joined forces in 1998 with Van Zant reverting back to their Southern Rock roots and releasing a further four studio albums.


With a new live album being released Fireworks thought it was about time to dig a little deeper in the history of these two brothers, although the first question had to be why a live show from Georgia, back in 2006, is being released now?

Johnny: We went back and revisited the live album about a year and a half ago. To our surprise it sounded incredibly good, so we shipped everything up to Nashville to producer/engineer Ben Fowler. Over the past year went to Nashville and mixed the CD. We decided to put out the end product as we did very little shows with Van Zant and thought the fans would enjoy it.

That Johnny and Donnie have their roots in Southern Rock is a well known fact, and is clearly demonstrated by the songs on the album which are an interesting mix of not only Van Zant songs but also some cool choices from Lynyrd Skynyrd and 38 Special. Although for fans of Johnny's more AOR output, the lack of songs from that '85 self- titled album is rather disappointing.

Johnny: We were actually promoting our 'Get Right With The Man' Country album, so the choice was easy. We played mostly songs from that particular CD. When it came to our individual bands, we decided we would throw in some of those songs as well.
Donnie: We thought it would be great for the fans to get a little bit of our history with our bands. I thought it would be cool for Johnny to sing Don Barne's 'Wild-Eyed Southern Boys' from 38 Special, which turned out great. I got a chance to sing a few of my older brother Ronnie's songs with Johnny, which made it especially cool.

Being busy with Lynyrd Skynryd and 38 Special, Van Zant never did much touring, which was clearly a vast disappointment for their fans. With so many albums behind them there must have been requests for tours in the past.

Donnie: We actually have toured together as Van Zant doing the Rock version. The Country tour was the longest tour we ever did together but it was always hard to tour as Van Zant because 38 Special and Skynyrd do between 90 to100 shows a year, which didn't give us much time for Van Zant.

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The 1985 self-titled album is decidedly more AOR than the Southern Rock leanings the band are better known for. The interesting thing about this album is that it is completely uncharacteristic for Van Zant and does raise some questions – was Johnny pushed by the record company to record songs in this style or was it simply what he wanted to do?

Johnny: It was definitely the type of music I was into at the time. As for the musical direction on this album, I was in control with my decisions for the album. With that said, I still took all of their advice and direction into account.

That 1985 album is a big favourite of many of us here at Fireworks and we wondered if Johnny would ever consider pursuing that musical direction. Johnny's 'Brickyard Road' in 1990 did follow in the same AOR footsteps but with some Southern tinges, but what are the possibilities for the future?

Johnny: I never say never. Those records helped shape who I am today as an artist and a person. I hold them dear to my heart but I also have to take current music into account.

So perhaps there is some hope left for us. Although with that sound already going on from their self-titled album, why didn't they release 'Brickyard Road' under the Van Zant name?

Johnny: The chairman of Atlantic Records signed me to a record deal. We thought it would be better if we do it under just my name. I've been with Skynyrd for almost 30 years, I've always been proud of my brothers' Southern Rock music. As an individual artist I wanted to shape my sound different from my brothers. My intention was to make my music more commercial to appeal to those who love Southern Rock, and maybe even Metal.

For over three decades Johnny and Donnie have kept themselves busy with Lynyrd Skynyrd and 38 Special, and Johnny is still as active as ever in writing new material for Skynyrd. But what are the chances of a new Van Zant studio album considering the fact that there has been nine years since 'My Kind Of Country' was released?

Johnny: We've been writing non-stop and we probably have over 100 songs. We would like to create a Gospel album, and a Blues record.
Donnie: We have enough material to do two Van Zant albums. We'll see what happens. I would love to do another project with Johnny and don't ever count me out!

And we are very pleased to hear that Donnie! And speaking of Donnie, 38 Special has been active since 1977 and released 12 studio albums and toured relentlessly all over the world to reach their fans. But in 2013 Donnie decided to quit the band.

Donnie: I didn't quit the band, I was forced to leave due to inner-ear nerve damage in both ears which took away 75% of my top and 75% of my mid range. I was told by doctors if I continue staying on the road I could go completely deaf. But I still write every day, especially with my brother Johnny.

When it comes to writing music, Johnny and Donnie seem to have an endless imagination.Working and writing for Skynyrd and 38 Special, and with Van Zant to unite both brothers in the middle, perhaps comparing them is not so different after all?

Johnny: There isn't much of a difference. We always try to write about honesty, family values, and touch on our religion.
Donnie: It wasn't a big jump for either of us. The songs I did with Van Zant I would have brought to the table for 38 Special.

When I thought of a last question for Johnny and Donnie I started to wonder about their feelings about it all. When they look back on their careers, from the very beginning up to this very moment - how does it make them feel?

Johnny: It still feels like a dream. I often find myself questioning if it ever even happened. I'm honoured to say the least, especially the fact that the fans have stuck by me this entire time, and enjoyed all of my hard work.
Donnie: I feel very blessed to have forty years in the music business. When you think about it, only five percent of musicians get a chance and only five percent make a living doing it; I've done both. Thanks to all of the fans for making my dream come true.

Fireworks Magazine Online 76 - Interview with Illust8tors


Steven Reid talks with singer Scott Sharp

They say fortune favours the brave and surely there's nothing more bold for a young band who've begun to make a strong, respected name for themselves, than to decide to start again. illustr8ors – note the lower case i – have done just that. From the outside ditching the name BlackWolf and all the momentum across rock radio, the internet and print media it built up, may feel like a backward move. However as Fireworks discovers, singer Scott Sharp believes the sudden change perfectly illustr8es his band's updated sound and outlook.


"The short answer is that we have grown and evolved into something different," Scott says passionately when asked about the name-change. "What we want to say as a band now, and what we want to achieve with our music has just changed. It made sense for us to treat this growth as a whole new project and fresh start because that's what it is, a new beginning. The name illustr8ors doesn't drag so many pre-conceived connotations with it, so it allows us to be whatever we want to be. We feel we're now doing something that is more individual and we're stoked to see where it takes us."

But even with such strong belief in illustr8ors and what that name is set to stand for, surely backing away from the Classic Rock foothold BlackWolf undoubtedly gained caused the band some concerns? "I wouldn't call them concerns, but we were aware of the likely reaction," the frontman confirms. "But that was the whole point for us. If we were going to do this, we were going to do it properly. We have said all we wanted to say as BlackWolf and have now put that to rest. We're starting over and that's what's so exciting for us. We have no intentions to link the past with what we're doing now. BlackWolf had a lot to do with tipping hats to heroes. As we grew as a band we just grew tired of that and felt it was time to take a long hard look at what we wanted to achieve together. Did we want to continue forward as another band mirroring the past, or become something that was current, relevant to what's happening now in music and essentially something more individual to us? When put like that the choice was easy. So we set out to find our own voice. We took what we feel are the intentions of Rock n' Roll and let everything else we love in music spill through them. We arrived here and we couldn't be happier. The best thing about it all for us is that we're only just getting started!"

Brave though changing one may be, a name is, however, just a name and, as Scott enthusiastically explains, there's much more to this band's evolution. "The music we're making now isn't Classic Rock. It's more than that. It's Rock n' Roll as we hear it today. Sure, it still has the elements we love in Blues and Soul as well as a big appreciation for 'the riff'; but there's elements of the 90s Seattle sound in there now, there's a sort of hip-hop way of looking at rhythms, a big love of danceabilty and a sort of Pop sensibility about the melodies. So we chose a name that's more open-ended. Just as our music is saying something more now, we wanted a name that does that as well. To us illustr8ors achieves this." But, with BlackWolf making strong inroads on the scene, what was the catalyst? "It was something we had been thinking about for a long time but that only really started to make sense when we began writing again. There was a lot to figure out behind the scenes which is perhaps why it seemed so sudden from the outside, but these sort of things always do I guess."

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Considering that the band's debut album, 'Photopia', won't ever see the light of day outside the PledgeMusic campaign that funded it, it could be suggested that the early efforts of the band have been misplaced... "No, not at all!" Scott exclaims. "For us that Pledge album was about finding ourselves as a band, figuring out what we were really all about and what we wanted to do next. It's done that for us and then some; it relit the fire in our stomachs! I think during that process we all fell in love with music again. It was an incredible experience and one we won't ever forget. That album, as it exists, won't be released publicly. We've taken focus tracks from it that create a sort of journey through what we've achieved and experienced, and we will be releasing that as a four track EP. We'll then pick the best moments of the Pledge album, along with the tracks released on our self-titled EP and some new songs, and this will all go into making our public debut album as illustr8ors. So absolutely nothing has been wasted. We've devoured the whole process and hopefully we can give you all the best of it. The songs on this EP sort of create a snapshot journey of what we've been through. They showcase some of the more focal elements of what illustr8ors is about. Lyrically the songs also connect very strongly with each other and what we've experienced. They're about change, growth, what it means to sacrifice yourself for something you love and believe in, and they're about hope. Hope for the future."

And as all this evolution has come to pass, 'little angel', Toby Jepson, has, as Scott explains, proved to be a key figure in illustr8ors evolution. "Toby's been really important for us. He was exactly what we wanted and needed from a producer. He gets under your skin and forces you to dig deep and figure out exactly what you want to say, not just as musicians but as people as well. It's quite an uncomfortable experience at first because you can feel quite overexposed, but he knows that's where the best music is made, in that vulnerable spot where creation meets truth I guess. When it all just started to click things just blew up, it was amazing. He has a brilliant way of looking at things, really positive. He helps you see the moments you're missing and more often than not those moments become the most important parts of a song. Speaking of which, the biggest thing he taught us was to write songs, not just music. To say exactly what you mean and make sure it connects with your listener in some way that is important and personal...the guy's been like our Yoda."

Keen to let people hear why illustr8ors are just so excited by their altered outlook, the band hit the road in September and October with Toseland. "It will be great to have the chance to connect with the Toseland audience," the singer says, impatient to get started. "We feel the fit is a perfect start for what we're aiming to do. The set-list will be a collection of songs from the EP and the Pledge album, as well as a bunch of new material we haven't recorded or played live yet." Although the band have actually made their live debut already. "It was great! Ramblin' Man Fair was a very cool festival and a fantastic platform to kick things off again. It had been a little while since we had been on stage, so we were a little edgy at first but soon as we saw how much the crowd were feeling what we were doing, we settled into it. We just want to get back up there again now!"

Click HERE to read the Illustr8tors 'Photopia' album review on Rocktopia.

Fireworks Magazine Online 75 - Interview with Punky Meadows


Interview by Phil Ashcroft

There are few moderately successful bands who can claim to still inspire devotion in their followers over thirty-five years after their career effectively came to an end. One such band is Angel, who with a legacy of six great albums, larger than life personalities and legendary, special effects-laden shows, still nestle in the hearts of fans and top many a discerning listener's reformation wish list. Sadly, only keyboard player Gregg Giuffria went on to have any success with his bands Giuffria and House Of Lords before retiring from the music business. Guitarist Punky Meadows and bassist Felix Robinson were unheard of for many years, whilst singer Frank Dimino and drummer Barry Brandt put together an Angel line-up (including Lillian Axe mastermind Stevie Blaze!) to play sporadic shows and release a largely un-Angel like album in 1999. However, following on from Frank Dimino's recent solo album, Punky Meadows – the subject of the Frank Zappa song 'Punky's Whips' – has also returned with a great new album out called 'Fallen Angel'. During a long phonecall to his home in Charlotte, North Carolina, the positively buoyant guitarist had a lot to say...

"I left L.A. in 1988 because I hated the music business," states Punky in his inimitable quickfire delivery. "I love playing music but I never liked the business side, it's cutthroat and musicians get taken advantage of with publishing and everything, you know how that story goes? I got tired of it, and also the music scene had changed a lot, so I came back to the East coast and started my own business, and I was successful with that and just washed my hands of the whole music thing. I never stopped playing, I'm a guitar player and music's in my blood, I play the guitar every single night and I love doing it, even when I wasn't recording or playing professionally I would sit on the couch every night with my guitar and write songs. I got into Country music for a while and I've always been a blues player, I grew up on the English blues guys and that was my schooling; Jeff Beck, Page, Clapton and Gary Moore, those were my heroes. I just had a great time playing and my business was successful too, so I wasn't stressed out with any kind of financial problems, it was a good change for me."

Like a lot of old-school musicians, the internet has played a large part in Punky's acceptance of his past. "About eight years ago I got on Facebook and started seeing how much all these fans loved Angel and one guy started an Angel fans group page, so it was really cool to see that and to see how many people we inspired. People would say it was because of me that they started playing guitar, and before social media you didn't know about things like that. Back when we were on the road I'd play a gig and then afterwards you'd meet the fans, they'd say we were great and shake our hands and then we'd move on to the next town, After that was over I didn't really speak to anyone about the band or my playing for many years, you just think you were one of a million bands that those fans met and said nice things to. Then coming on Facebook they were all coming forward saying how much they loved the band and our playing, and seeing all the pictures and seeing their comments made me realise that maybe we were a pretty cool band. I'd washed my hands of Angel and the whole music scene, but seeing all that kinda opened my eyes and inspired me and made me realise just how much we affected a lot of people. I didn't have any pipe dreams about making music, it's hard to get back into the business when you've been away for so long. I didn't want to put together a cover band and go out and play other people's music in clubs, I wanted to play my own songs. So, two DJ's, Keith Roth and Danny Farrow Anniello asked me to do an interview on their radio show in New York City called The Electric Ballroom, they advertised it on Facebook and when I went to do the interview there were so many people tuning in from all over the world that the website crashed, but after they got it back up again all these people started posting that it was great to hear me, and Keith Roth said that in seventeen years of interviewing every rock star imaginable he had never seen that happen before. I was dumbfounded myself, I guess it was just because nobody had heard from me in years so it was a mystery and everybody wanted to find out what I was all about. Because of that I started getting offered record deals and people asking me if I would like to do a record."

He continues, "I've been friends with Danny for a long time, he was a big fan of mine, we used to correspond through letters before Facebook, and he said "Do you wanna do a solo album?" and I said "Yeah, I would love to!" I'd been writing a lot of songs and I got real excited about it, Danny flew down from New York to my home in Charlotte, we got together in my music room and we started putting the songs together. We both loved the same kind of stuff, so I said if we were going to make an album I'd like to incorporate a lot of different styles, I wanted it to be an album of songs, I didn't want it to be a heavy metal album with the guitarist widdling all over the neck at ten thousand miles an hour and the singer up in the stratosphere, I wanted to have songs with melodies that people could sing along to but they would still kick-ass. If you listen to the songs they're very melodic and commercially oriented, like the songs from the sixties and the seventies, whereas heavy metal music today is all about trying to impress people with your manual dexterity and not about the feeling of the song. I would say "Don't impress me, inspire me!" When I hear Stevie Ray Vaughan or Gary Moore play, I'm inspired and it makes me want to play. That's what I wanted to do with this album, and sure the guys are kicking ass, but Chandler's a great singer and there are big harmony vocals, and that's what's coming across in the reviews, everyone that's heard it is really getting what we were trying to do. I'm really excited about that, we knew we had a good record and the reviews are confirming that. I actually like listening to the record, I'm very proud of it and I'm also very glad I got to do this now, people only heard me thirty years ago but I want to show what I can do now because I think I'm a better guitar player and songwriter now than I was then. Even Eddie Trunk said he was worried if I could still play because a lot of guys are coming back years later and they don't play as well or they try to make a record that's too modern and doesn't appeal to their fan base, but after he heard the first track he sat back and smiled and said I nailed it. I'm excited about it and it's selling pretty well on pre-sales, it went on pre-sale two months ago and I paid the record label back in the first week, and it's still selling well so I hope it'll chart and be the record that will bring rock back!" laughs Meadows with his tongue firmly in his cheek. "It was the first time I'd produced an album too and I'm pretty proud of that, so after years of sitting around playing my songs in my music room and fantasizing about making an album again, it all ended up coming together so naturally. Danny and I put these songs together really easily and it flowed so well, it was such great fun to do."

"Before I started recording the album I didn't even have a band," says the guitarist. "So I started auditioning people, I knew I was going to have Felix (Robinson) from Angel play bass because he would always be my first choice, he's a killer bass player and he can play anything – rock, pop, heavy metal, soul, country, just about any form of music imaginable. I'd known Danny Farrow since about 1998, he came down from New York to see me, he was a big Angel fan and he brought me photos and memorabilia that he had, and he's also a really good sculptor and he brought a figure of me that he'd made. So we got in touch again through Facebook a few years ago, by which time I'd sold my Tanning Salon chain and retired to North Carolina and I'd invested the money I'd made in property. He came down to North Carolina and we played guitar and wrote songs. It soon became obvious that we made a good songwriting team, he's a good guitar player and a great singer too, so we got Felix and drummer Bobby Pantella, who plays with Monster Magnet, and Bobby also had a recording studio. Danny and Bobby knew each other because they both live in New Jersey, so we all had a conference call together and talked about how we were going to do things. It was funny for me because I was so out of the loop with how things are recorded, back in the old days we would play together in the studio and work towards the best take of the basic track, but nowadays you record on your own and play to a click track and you build in the drums and bass and rhythm guitars. I said "What? There's no way that would work. It would be terrible, how would you get a groove going?", and they said "I promise you, this is how we do it, it's going to be OK!" So I said I'd try it and I flew up to New Jersey and Danny, Bobby, Felix and myself rehearsed for three days, I showed them the tunes and then we went into Bobby's studio with the click track and put down my guitars for seventeen songs in two days, and then Bobby put all the drums down in the next two days. He came in and he kicked ass, I knew he was a hell of a drummer but to remember all those songs after a couple of rehearsals, I was so impressed! Felix came in the day after and got all his bass tracks down and it sounded fantastic. I came back home and put all the solos and acoustic guitars down at a studio here, so then we had to start auditioning singers so we put a call out and got loads of audition tapes and photos. Danny had this guy he knew called Chandler Mogel who sang with a group called Outloud from Greece. So we had Chandler sing on 'Straight Shooter' as an audition, I wasn't sure when I first heard him, he sounded a bit too eighties for me and in the band he was in he was singing real high all the time, which is cool but I wasn't sure that was where we wanted to go with the record, but he sang 'Straight Shooter' the way it should be sung and I knew he was our guy. So I said "Dude, you're in!" and he was thrilled, some of his idols had auditioned for the gig and he got it. I went up to Jersey to meet him and he had a friend called Charlie Calv, and Charlie had said to him, "You're going to play with Punky? I love Angel, I know every keyboard part Gregg Giuffria ever did, he's one of my biggest influences, I would really like to get this gig!" So I said, "Bring him in, let's try it!" and he put down all the keyboard parts in two days and created a lot of great stuff, he was a super nice guy too and had all kinds of tricks, then the next time I was up we recorded all the vocals and harmonies in about four or five days. I wanted a lot of back-up vocals on this record, I didn't want it to be just one singer, I wanted harmonies like The Eagles. This album is very diversified, all the songs are different so every time you turn a corner you're going to get a different kind of song. I loved bands like The Beatles and Queen, where you put the album on and go "I wonder what kind of song we're going to get next?". A lot of the heavy metal bands now, you hear the first song, you've pretty much heard the whole album, All the guys in the band were great and adapted to whatever style I wanted to do, they really put their heart and souls into everything."

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Most of the songs are brand new but Punky has a wealth of material to choose from "There's nothing left over from Angel," he says, anticipating my question. "A couple of the riffs and ideas I'd recorded when I was playing in my music room over the last few years, I just see what comes out and if there's something I think is interesting I'll hum it or play it into a tape recorder. Sometimes you write a whole song because it just takes off on its own and pretty much writes itself, but once I knew I was going to do this album I sat down and started working on new songs. Parts of 'Shadow Man' I've had hanging around for years, I used to play that riff when I was in bar bands as a kid, it was a soul/R & B song back then, so I updated it and made it more of rock song, the verse, bridge and breakdown were all new. Stuff like 'I Wanna Be Your Drug' is almost a bubblegum song that I came up with in the studio, but I grew up on The Monkees so I have no shame. Other songs I put together pretty quickly, we ended up with seventeen songs on the special edition. Everyone was saying we had nearly enough songs to make up the next album but I'm pretty quick once I get down to work and I wanted to give fans their money's worth. I have songs already for the next album and Danny has some too. I just do what I love and hopefully others will love it too. The worst thing you can do is try to be something you're not and try to please everybody, if you do what you love and other people don't dig it, well, at least you pleased yourself," he laughs.

"If you listen to a song like 'Leavin' Tonight', my heart and soul is in that, the way I play guitar on that is like the way Gary Moore would have played it. It's me and it's my style, but it's the blues and there's a lot of soul and emotion in that song, in fact I didn't listen to it for a few days after I recorded it and when I played it back I got a tear in my eye, I said "Wow! Is that me playing that?" That's where I am as a guitar player, I'm more into heart and soul and feel than technique, I can shred and I occasionally do on the album on 'Shake Shake' and that kind of stuff, but I grew up on the famous blues players and that's where I'm at."

Punky's certainly very happy that the reviews have vindicated the leap back into the music world. "They've been great," he gushes, "in fact I haven't seen a bad review yet. Some people have said they don't like a certain song or something, but all in all most of the reviewers get it and understand what I'm doing. There were a lot of people who weren't expecting anything, like Eddie Trunk, and another guy from one of the New York magazines said the same thing, that he was worried about me until he put the first song on and then he relaxed because he knew I'd done a good job. Another thing in the reviews is everybody is picking a different favourite song, which I guess is a good thing and means there are a lot of good songs on the record, if everybody picked the same song then there's probably only one good song on there."

Inevitably, I steer the conversation around to the five members of Angel all getting together to receive a Rock Legends award in Las Vegas last month, recently deceased original bass player Mickie Jones was also honoured. "It was really exciting!", says Meadows, "we got the biggest standing ovation of the night. That was neat and everything's falling into place right now. When I walk around town here everybody knows I was a rock star, I never cut my hair or changed the way that I dressed, my hair is still black and long and sticking out like a crow on top. I was never one of those guys who changed when they came offstage and took off their costume and cut their hair, I was never that kind of guy, so it's great to be hanging out again with other people from my tribe. When I was at the awards show everybody looked like me, all these eighties rockers were coming up to me and telling me how much I inspired them to learn the guitar and make music, and how much they love Angel and that they're glad I'm back. I'm so glad to be back too."

"We got to walk the red carpet, and people were screaming and taking pictures," he continues. "I hadn't done that since the seventies, it was like a dream. People were shouting our names, then we got to sit in the audience while there were bands playing and people got their awards, but before each one they had two huge TV screens where they would show a synopsis of the band. Eddie Trunk gave a speech, and he did a great job, and then introduced us, everybody gave us a standing ovation and just went wild, It was nice to be recognised because Angel never made it really big, for different reasons, I think if MTV had been around then we'd have had a better chance, we'd have been a perfect MTV type of band because we were very visual. Before MTV you had to go out and tour every little town in the States in order to build a following unless you had a hit record, in those days they weren't playing Kiss and Angel, although Kiss had 'Beth' eventually and became a national act, radio stations were playing Fleetwood Mac and Peter Frampton, a lot of soft-rock stuff, but Angel could never get any airplay. At first we were too heavy and progressive with our first two albums, so we were encouraged to get more commercial, but Angel broke up before that elusive hit because Casablanca Records fell apart, and before MTV you had to tour relentlessly to be seen, whereas when it came in MTV could break bands all across the country overnight, It was exciting to finally get some credit at the awards show because we were among the first hair metal bands, us, Aerosmith, Kiss and Cheap Trick were the first bands doing that kind of commercial hard rock stuff. We caught on in Japan alongside all those, when we went there it was like Beatlemania, it was crazy, so finally having someone in our own country telling us how much they appreciated us was a great thing. We didn't make any money but at least we made a lot of people happy, and that's important to all of us."

Unusually for a band who went through a stressful time, the members of Angel remained friends and there was no awkwardness when they met up. "No, that's never been a problem with us," explains Punky. "Angel fell apart because after Casablanca got into trouble, Neil Bogart, the president of Casablanca, he was fired and the label lost the support of Polydor, the mothership. Casablanca was run by a bunch of college kids and it was falling apart by the time we put out 'Live Without A Net', they couldn't promote it, so we wanted to get out of the contract and sign with someone else, but they wouldn't let us. They stopped it because we were still under contract, they didn't want to do anything with us but wouldn't let us leave, so Gregg and I started another band and Frank joined someone else, we splintered because we couldn't do anything else as Angel. Things didn't work out that well for any of us really, Gregg did OK for a while but I got sick of the scene and moved back East. Gregg got a tear in his eye when we did the Eddie Trunk thing, we all got really emotional about it. Everybody was saying "So are you going to put Angel back together, at least for a reunion tour?" As you know, Frank and Barry put together a version of Angel quite a while later and they asked me to do it, but I said I didn't want to unless it was all of us, it has to be Gregg, Felix, Frank, Barry and myself or it wouldn't be the same. Also I said someone would have to bankroll it, it wouldn't be enough to just put on the white costumes and play in clubs, it would have to be the whole show with the effects and props like Kiss. I wouldn't want to tarnish our past with a low-budget show, I'd rather leave it in the memories of people who saw it than do that, it would be really uncool to do something half-assed. Gregg was really successful in the gaming industry in Las Vegas and he said he would bankroll it, he said he'd love to do just two nights at the Hard Rock Café or House Of Blues in Las Vegas, put it out there and let fans from all over the world fly in, do a great show and make sure we're well-rehearsed and it looks and sounds great, and then just cap it, be done with it. That's an idea, I'd be up for that and it's probably the only way we'd do it. Gregg also said that now Frank and I have paved the way with new records, he'd really like to do something."

"After the awards show we had a VIP party in the lounge upstairs and everybody was running up to Angel, it was funny because the guy who was organising it kept insisting we were at the front in all the photos, in front of Twisted Sister and the Scorpions, he was ushering us around like we were royalty, it was hilarious! Like I said, it was fun but it was like a dream because it was so surreal, like it never happened, except I have an award sitting downstairs that says it did! My first and only award. We got one each and we also got one for our original bass player Mickie Jones, which I'll send to his sister. Like I said, we didn't make any money and we got a lot of hard knocks about our image and everything, people would categorize us because of that, but with all the positive feedback recently I can at least go to my grave saying "Well, some people dug us!" We were a rock band first and foremost, and in the early days we stood out a bit when bands would go on before us in jeans and t-shirts, and then we would come out like Bowie and Mott The Hoople. We were a glam rock band and thought we looked really cool, we put eye make-up on and we all became whores on stage. It was a fun time, it was like musicians had suddenly gone from black and white to colour, so we went out to California and signed to Casablanca because the Kiss guys loved Angel so much. Gene talked those guys into signing us unseen, we played in a club called Bogart's and Gene, Paul and Ace came down because they'd just played at the Capitol Centre in Washington D.C., they saw us and thought we were fantastic, I remember Gene saying "Wow! Glitter hits D.C." A few days later we got a call from Neil Bogart and he said Gene had told him to sign us, so Neil had the idea that he would fly us all to Anaheim so we could open up for Kiss and he could check us out. So he phoned Gene to make sure that they were OK with it and Gene said "You have to sign those guys, but under no circumstances will Angel ever, ever open for Kiss!" So he signed us and it was his idea that we be the opposite of Kiss, they dressed all in black and we would wear all white. It was a cool concept and fitted into the spectacular show we had in mind, it was a kind of androgynous look but it really made sense to fit in with the name. I designed all my costumes anyway so I had fun doing that, and then we got the whole magic thing going on with the illusionist Doug Henning, appearing onstage and disappearing again, all the flashpots, we loved doing all that stuff and the audiences all went crazy for it. We got a lot of flak in the media for the image and we tried to drop it for the 'Bad Publicity' album, we tried to get out of the costumes and just wanted to be a rock n' roll band like everybody else. So we did the 'Bad Publicity' cover of us in normal rock clothes, drinking and hanging out with groupies, and when Neil Bogart saw it he said "I didn't sign a punk band, get the costumes back on and do a different cover!" So we changed the cover and changed the title to 'Sinful', but the last tour we did with David Krebs - he managed Aerosmith, AC/DC and Ted Nugent, and once actually asked Mickie and I to join the New York Dolls – David put us on the Rock N' Roll Marathon tour and we did it without our costumes, we still looked cool in great jackets and jeans but a lot of people were disappointed, it was like when Kiss decided to take their make-up off. The funny thing is we were sick of the concept then, but when I joined Facebook and saw all these pictures of us I thought "That looks pretty fucking cool!" It really did look like we came from Heaven or somewhere and I could see now why people were disappointed when we stopped, the photos from that last tour just don't have the same effect, we could have been anybody. Kiss took the make-up off and immediately went to playing smaller venues, then when they got Ace and Peter back and put the make-up back on they were selling out arenas again. Artists have fragile egos sometimes and they don't think they're being taken seriously as musicians if they have a gimmick like that, but the reality is that it's part of why the fans love them, so it's better to stick to your guns and ignore those who don't get it."

Going back to Punky's solo band, exciting things are happening. He says, "As you know, we're doing B.B. Kings on July 4th in New York City, that's our release party and we're rehearsing for that right now, but soon after that we'll get a booking agent and hopefully go on tour. Escape Music was talking about us hopefully doing some festivals in Europe, That's the plan so far but I'm taking things one step at a time."

Punky-Meadows Interview

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