Classic Rock band Styx originated in the 1970’s and enjoyed hits like “Lady” and “Come Sail Away." Today, while they may not have the exact pieces of the original band from the late ’70s intact, Styx travels the globe annually to give a show similar that of its early days, though these days the group is fronted by J.Y. Young.
CityBeat recently spoke with Styx keyboard player and vocalist Lawrence Gowan about his musical influences and what led him to the band 14 years ago. Styx performs at Riverbend Music Center tomorrow (Tuesday) night with fellow classic rockers REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent.
CityBeat: First off, have you had any memorable Cincinnati experiences on the tour over the past few years?
Lawrence Gowan: They are all incredibly memorable. The audience there has always been fantastic for us. One of the experiences I remember was the first time we played Cincinnati and I saw that classic fountain downtown. The last couple of times, we stayed on both sides of the river finally now so I have gotten to know a little bit more of the town just by walking around. The audience reaction in Cincinnati is always tremendous for Styx. We are really geared up and really looking forward to the 26th of June.
CB: You were one of the later members to join the band in the ’90s. Were you a Styx fan growing up playing music?
LG: I loved Classic Rock. I loved Progressive Rock particularly and Styx was the only really successful band outside of Britain to make a great mark in that style of music, so yeah I loved the whole genre of music they were playing and I loved the band. Funny enough, I had a long solo career with a number of albums in Canada that were never released in the States but I was always very aware of Styx. I did a couple of shows with them in 1997. There was something in the air that kind of felt like we were going to connect again in the future and I am entering my 14th year with the band now.
CB: When you joined the band, was there any initiation or hazing they put you through?
LG: Yes of course there was. You actually had to cross the river Styx which I don’t recommend for everyone.
CB: You are a classically trained pianist.
LG: Yes I am.
CB: How do you think that better prepared you to be in a Rock band?
LG: I always find that Classical music inspires or makes its way into a lot of the melodic content of some of the best Rock music. The moment I heard “Eleanor Rigby”, with the Classical string quartet playing through that song, I realized the profound connection between both styles.
Both styles are not very afraid to be very grandiose when they need to be and cover a great emotional spectrum. It’s funny, I remember reading (that) Elton John and Rick Wakeman particularly had gone to the Royal Academy in London, and in Toronto they have the Royal Conservatory which is the same pattern, the same message of teaching so I wanted to go through that. I really love it and I still do. Before we go on stage every single night I am backstage playing some Classical piece just to get my chops together and get my head ready for the show.
CB: You had mentioned and you were a pretty large solo artist before you joined the band. What was the biggest transition from being on your own and being in other bands to being in a band like Styx?
LG: Learning to play with others. It’s a completely different dynamic when you are a solo artist and you have got the band behind you. You have a string of hit songs that you are responsible to play every single night and it all kind of falls on your shoulders.
With Styx, I love this as well because it is a break from that entirely because I am on stage with five other frontmen who are all very capable of commanding the stage on their own. We trade off on who is up front in every single song, and even within a song there may be several sections where section after section the strongest dynamic on stage is being traded off. I love that and it is a completely different thing. I love just being the keyboard player at some points in the band. It’s great.
CB: Have you ever been starstruck?
LG: In my life? Well, let me see now — yeah, I guess a couple of times sure. When I made my second solo album, I got a chance to record at Ringo Starr’s home near London, England, in Ascot, England. It was the house where John Lennon had recorded “Imagine” and when I went to the door the first day with the producer — it was a home studio there he was letting us use — (and) he actually answered the door. I remember finding it difficult to bring words to my mouth which usually isn’t that hard of a thing for me to do. That was quite an experience. I remember it took me a few minutes to realize I wasn’t in a scene from A Hard Day’s Night but actually talking to a guy in his house.
CB: There is a lot of debate now about Rock music in general and how it has changed so much. Other forms of music are coming to the forefront. Do you think Rock & Roll music is a dying art?
LG: That is a tough one, isn’t it? I have heard that kicked around most of my life. I think we can agree now that Rock music was the big musical statement for the last half of the 20th century, the electrification of music and the fact that Rock makes such a gigantic sound and changed what people embraced as popular music. I don’t think it is going to ever go away now because we have history on our side. There has been 50 years of it or more so I think it is a style of music that is going to continue to evolve and to dig into different areas.
I think you can trace a lot of the newer things you are talking about, trace it back to that gigantic statement that Rock was in the last half of the 20th century and I think it will be embraced and loved my millions for years to come because just like people still love Jazz or they love Country or they love Classical music or Ragtime; it is a style of music and a way of performing that I can’t see it entirely slipping off the planet any time soon.
CB: Do you keep journals or any kind of history of the tours over the years, memorable things for you?
LG: The best history I kept for a number a years was every night at the end of shows I took a Polaroid picture on stage or took three or four of them and tossed some of them out to the audience but I’d keep one for myself. My wardrobe case is stuffed with all these Polaroid pictures because we have played over 1500 shows together since I joined the band. That is a fantastic journal. You know what they say about pictures and words. They do tell a huge story over the course of time. It is funny, last night in Kansas City at the end of the show when I am reaching down and shaking people’s hands and somebody threw a picture up at me of the first year I was in the band and we had a great laugh backstage after because we realized there are old pictures of us now together. It was back when we did a little acoustic set in the middle of the show. My best documentation of the shows is that collection of Polaroids.
CB: I am a music photographer so I have got years of histories of bands and it is, I think, the best way to tell a story.
LG: It kind of is. I like putting my thoughts on paper very much but that usually morphs into becoming a song. I find that just what pictures evoke and the flood of memories you can get from them it can be astounding every time you look at them particularly when you are in a heightened state like being on stage in front of 10,000 people, the feeling of that moment is well captured.
CB: Any regrets over the years?
LG: I think like any human being there are things you are going to regret I suppose but it is a useless endeavor because they all kind of amount to where you are today and I like where I am today so I really can’t waste much time on that. I am sure one day on my death bed I will think, “You know, maybe I could have been a hockey player.”
CB: You guys are playing over a 100 shows a year, huge amounts of time on the road. Are there any plans to slow down?
LG: Not really. There is such an insatiable demand for Styx to play around the world and I have got my solo shows back up and doing a number of those in Canada every year. I think I enjoy it now more than I ever did and I am in a band of like-minded people. We have no plans to do that. We plan to keep pushing as hard as we can for as long as we can. Really, the only real question for us is how we find time to make another full album and we are kind of coming up with novel ways of being able to come up with that at present.
CB: I know Ted Nugent is on tour with you guys this time and he has been very vocal all the time about political views and gotten in trouble the last few months. Do you have any election picks for us this year?
LG: As the only Canadian that is involved in this whole thing, I think that is the easy way to duck out of the U.S. political debate and the hot question. I have a feeling that it is between Obama and Romney. That is my big prediction.
CB: What can the fans expect from the show next week?
LG: We are going to ram as many Styx classic hits at them as we can in the hour and 20 minutes we are playing. We will also throw in one or two of the album cuts from The Grand Illusion. We noticed there are songs on that record that were never singles that have become great favorites of a lot of the audience so we like to include one of the more unusual pieces in the show as well.
CB: What do you do on your down time on the road?
LG: Well I usually, myself, I like to do something to keep myself in shape so I am always doing a bit of yoga. Although I am the keyboard player, I am a huge guitar lover so I am usually practicing my chops in the hotel room. We also do all the social media things like Facebook and our website. They need to be looked at every few days just to see where things are and I love to go for walks around cities. That is one of the things I enjoy about Cincinnati. As I said, the last couple of times, walking across that bridge across the river is one of my favorite pastimes in that city. I am a walker.
CB: It is amazing how much time you spend on Facebook and the internet that is lost doing those things.
LG: It is a nice way, it is an easy way, depending on how you treat it, to feel like you can engage with people you really don’t have the opportunity to with the shows because we are too busy getting ourselves back to the tour bus afterwards. We can shake a few hands. It is a way to kind of feel a connection to people on a human level where we happen to be in a career that it is hard to do that just because of the demands of the day.
CB: Are any current bands influencing you now or what are you listening to?
LG: There are so many things I have listened to lately, I heard a fantastic band from England recently called Everything Everything. Todd, our drummer turned me onto them. I like Keane. I like them being keyboard players. I like My Chemical Romance, I kind of dig that band a bit. There is a Metal band I really like called Children of Bodom. That is the kind of stuff I have listened to lately.
In the last year, Alice Cooper could be seen everywhere from special guesting on stage with Vince Gill to rocking out with Rob Zombie. This past weekend he even popped up singing Lady Gaga at Bonnaroo.
Cooper can do anything in music, entertain every audience, and still be cutting edge enough to be a premier name in music after almost 50 years in the business, countless awards and nominations and 36 albums. He shows no signs of slowing down and he is set to continue his monumental career as his band goes on the road with Iron Maiden this summer and fall.
CityBeat was privileged to speak with the legend to preview his upcoming show near Dayton before he hits the road with Iron Maiden. He spoke about longevity and told of the more bizarre stories of being a tenant in the Queen City. Alice Cooper performs at the Fraze Pavilion in Kettering this Wednesday.
CityBeat: Your show in Dayton is coming up.
Alice Cooper: Yes, we start this tour in June with Iron Maiden. We will be out there as their guest star on the show, their guests, so that’s an hour show. The show we are doing there in Dayton is our regular show which will be a full out Alice Cooper show.
CB: I am actually a photographer and I’ve photographed you many times. You are one of my favorite artists to shoot.
AC: Well we give photographers a lot to shoot. If you are going to go all that trouble to do all that theatrics and really coordinate the show like that, then I want to see lots of shots. I love seeing different angles, people will hand me an envelope full of pictures and I will go, “That’s a great shot. That’s a great shot.” And it gives me a different perspective of what the show looks like because we only see it from the stage. We never see it from the audience point of view.
CB: I have interviewed many of your past guitarists, Jason Hook and Al Pitrelli and people that have toured with you and everybody always has spectacular things to say about you as a mentor and just to be around. One of my questions is how do you choose band members on your tours now?
AC: Honestly, I am very instinctive about guitar players. Of course the guitar players are the gunslingers. They are the guys that you can sit and listen to and go, "When I quit singing, I want to hear something take over," and it better be a guitar that can take over what I’m doing when I step back, I want that guitar player to step up. So getting a Damon Johnson, when we first got Damon, every guitar player wants to stand back a little bit and I say, “No, no, no, when it is your solo, you take two steps forward into the light and let it go.”
A lot of times lead singers don’t want their lead guitar player to share the limelight. I want everybody in that band to have their moment on stage where they are the star. So when you get (young Australian guitarist) Orianthi, who is a natural, she is a natural star up there. I mean the girl is such a great player.
CB: Is she going to be with you?
AC: Yes, I mean she is such a great character for a Alice Cooper show. And you get Ryan Roxie on this tour and Ryan is a show unto himself. He has his own production going on over there which I really like because he really brings it every night. And Tommy, who I have in the middle as a rhythm guitar player, has got his own show going on. It’s great to get guys to come out of their shells and just when you get on stage be a rock star. I don’t want you to be a sideman.
CB: Again, it’s always been amazing to talk to all these people who have worked with you over the years and I know they appreciate it as well.
AC: I think it is because I let them play. I want you to play. When it is your turn to play, I want you to be Eric Clapton, I want you to be Jeff Beck, I want you to be the guy and sometimes it takes a little bit of getting used to. These guys are not used to being the center of attention, they are used to being the guys that stand in the background and play.
Sometimes it’s hard for Johnny Depp, when Johnny plays with us, I kind of have to push him forward a little bit because he likes to hang back a little bit.
CB: We are in Cincinnati. Can you tell me what your craziest Cincinnati story is from your past?
AC: I have the best Cincinnati story you have ever heard. This is a true story. We finally left L.A. We decided we had to move some place out of L.A., out of New York, some place in the Midwest. So we go to Cincinnati and we play this show there and we get a standing ovation. We decided the first standing ovation we get, that is where we are going to move.
So we played in Cincinnati and got a standing ovation, I think it may have been after the Cincinnati Pop Festival, the one we did with Iggy (Pop and The Stooges), and we found this area down by the college. It was this big, beautiful house for rent. So we came in and rented this house at the beginning of summer, and we went in and painted it and did everything like that.
For three months we lived there until in September, all of a sudden, there was a knock at the door, we walked outside and there were 10 guys that are football players and they are going “What are you doing at our house?” And I said, “What are you talking about? We rented this house indefinitely.” And the guy goes, “This is our frat house. I don’t know who rented this to you but they didn’t own the house. You are paying rent to someone that doesn’t even own the house.”
Some guy rented us a frat house and he didn’t even own it. He just walked in and put up a "For Rent" sign because nobody was there and we just assumed he just owned the house. So for these guys, it was kind of cool to them that Alice Cooper was living in their house, but we had to leave because it was their frat house.
CB: So did you pick another city or did you hang around town?
AC: We moved to Detroit then but it was really funny because we really thought Cincinnati was where we were going to live and then we got ejected by the frat house.
CB: I guess it could have worked out a lot different. You could still be in our hometown. You have spoken openly the last few years that you have become a Christian and about your Christian beliefs. Did that change how you put your show together?
AC: I think what it is, you do a certain amount of your own, not censoring, but you start shaping the show whereas there may be a couple of songs that I used to do that, now when I sing those songs, I don’t believe that anymore. So, it is hard for me to sing that.
It hasn’t been any big hits, “School’s Out”, “18”, “Billion Dollar Babies”, all those songs have nothing to do with Christianity or nothing to do with something that I couldn’t sing as a Christian. Most of it is social satire anyway, but there are a few songs that I looked at and I went, “You know what, I don’t believe that anymore,” so I am going to stay away from that show.
I am just being true to myself to be honest with you. It really hasn’t affected how I do my stage show because I don’t believe Alice was promoting anything that was anti-Christian. We were like a musical horror movie and I think if people took Alice Copper as entertainment, as pure entertainment, there is certainly a dark side to my sense of humor but I don’t think there has ever been anything in there that was, that any Christian couldn’t see and have fun with.
CB: It’s all in good fun. It’s all perspective.
AC: Yeah, and I think if you look at it as a social satire, I am fine with it. I don’t really have a problem with that. I am still very involved, I read twice a day, I have two different times of devotional for myself. I hope and I try not to just be a Christian in “Oh, I’m a Christian.” I try to live that life. It is a one-on-one relationship with Christ so I really try to keep that as my lifestyle. In other words, you aren’t ever going to see me at the strip club after a show.
CB: I know you gave up drugs and alcohol a long time ago for good reasons. Is there still ever a struggle on the road to stay sober?
AC: No, never has been. I was literally healed from that. People say you are cured, I say no, it was much different. I never went to AA. I never had to do any of that. I came out of a hospital and it was gone. It was gone as if I had cancer and cancer was gone the next day. It was totally taken away from me. I never had a struggle with alcohol. When I came out of the hospital, I was absolutely straight as an arrow. I never had a desire or a craving for alcohol which even the doctors say is weird. I know because I have a lot of friends that are in AA and they struggle with it all the time. They say, “How do you do it?” and I say “I am not an alcoholic anymore. I was one but I am not anymore.” I wouldn’t challenge myself. In other words, I wouldn’t sit around and say, “Well I think I will take a drink of beer.” Because I know that could be a trigger that takes me back to where I was. So I won’t even approach that, but at the same time I don’t have any desire to do that.
CB: Well, my Mom saw you in 1974 and she still talks about it today as I go shoot your shows. It was one of her memorable experiences with you and some chickens in Nashville at Memorial Coliseum…
AC: Well the music hasn’t changed much since the ‘70s to now, if you look at the bands that are still out there — Aerosmith, Ozzy, Alice, Thin Lizzy — we are all still playing the same kind of music. I think it is funny that 16, 17, 18 year old kids are more into Classic Rock than they are into modern Rock so I think there is a large audience for us that has never seen us. One of the reasons we are playing the Iron Maiden tour is because I don’t think the Iron Maiden audience has ever seen Alice Cooper so I want to expose them to Alice Cooper.
CB: Has touring for you changed from now to then?
AC: It’s a lot easier now. When you are physically in better shape and you are mentally and spiritually in better shape, (my wife) Sheryl and I have been together for 36 years, and I never been happier in my life. My kids are great. All my ducks are in a row. Physically, I am healthy. Touring is easy then. Physically, it is a workout and you have to get used to traveling and you have to get used to being away from your family a lot even though now my family can travel with me any time they want to. My wife will go out for three weeks then go home for a week and come back out for two or three weeks. So, touring to me is easy.
CB: You spoke about music now and what people are listening to. Are there any current bands you listen to these days?
AC: I wish there was — my pet peeve right now is that 80-90% of the modern Rock bands are just testosterone-free. I am listening to these bands and going, "Where is the spark? Where is the fire?" These bands are whining like crazy. I hear these bands and go, "What is wrong with these guys?" And then I look at a picture of the band and I could go into a mall and pick any five guys, it’s like they are trying not to be rock stars. They just want to be normal guys that play in a band with no image and no fire just we are in a band. “What is wrong with that?” That’s crazy. If you are in a Rock band, you get in a Rock band to be something different. I guess modern Rock bands really just want to blend in and I think it is the most boring time in Rock right now that I have ever seen.
CB: Well you have your Lady Gagas…
AC: There are exceptions. Jack White is amazing. The Foo Fighters are amazing. I don’t know the Black Veil Brides music very much but I love the image. At least they are going out of their way to be something that when you see them on stage you say, “That’s the Black Veil Brides.” But when I see 99% of the other bands up there I say those bands can be anybody. I just don’t get the fact that everybody is so against having image.
CB: Are you working on any new music, maybe another album?
AC: The Welcome to My Nightmare album has been out for about a year now and that was our highest charting album for quite a long time. So after this tour, we will go back in the studio again, Bob Ezrin and I will, but we were very, very happy with Welcome to my Nightmare.
CB: I briefly spoke to you at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction this year in Cleveland. I know you weren’t performing but what your favorite part of the night?
AC: You mean the last one. I thought Guns N Roses were amazing. I thought Slash and the boys were the best band there. They just rocked that place.
CB: We are heading into a critical election year, are you planning on backing any candidates this time?
AC: Boy, I’ll tell you at this point right now I almost want to go independent. I am not political in the least bit. I am not in the least bit political. So when somebody says, “Who are you voting for?” I’m going, “Wow!” It’s like saying, do you want a poke in the eye or a poke in the ear. Nobody is making me smile now.
CB: And it is very narrow now.
AC: Yeah, as far as I’m concerned, I wish there was somebody out there that had some spark that would make a difference but I don’t think either one of these guys are.
CB: Do you have any plans to slow down or stop touring?
AC: No. For me, physically everything is fine right now. Until I physically can’t tour, I think I will be touring every year.
The Beach Boys have been blessing audience’s ears with happy and fun tunes (with occasional blasts of melancholy) for 50 years. As they embark on a 50th anniversary tour, they are preparing to release their 31st album, titled That’s Why God Made The Radio, which is also the title of the first single. Almost anyone who listens to music can think a happy thought as it relates to Beach Boy classics like “Good Vibrations,” “Kokomo,” “Surfin USA” or one of their other countless hits.
I was able to speak with Mike Love and Brian Wilson before the tour kickoff and it proved to be one of my toughest interviews to date when I spoke with Wilson.There were moments when you had to wonder why he is speaking to the press at all and others when you remembered the pure genius inside his head as he spoke about mixing harmonies on the new album and just being happy to play again with the band that made him a legend. We reached a nostalgic and introspective point as the legends looked back on a remarkable career.
The Beach Boys' 50th anniversary tour comes to Riverbend Music Center this Tuesday.
CityBeat: If you were writing “California Girls” today, how would you describe them and what are the big changes?
Mike Love: The thing about “California Girls” is that it is a riveting song saying, “I wish they all could be California Girls,” and then talk about all the places around the country. I don’t think there would be much changing to do. Of course our original fans are now California mothers and grandmothers. I believe it is all the same.
Brian Wilson: No, I would do it the same as it was.
CB: What has been your process for putting together the set list of songs for the shows coming up?
Brian: We all got together and chose the songs together and we finally narrowed it down to two hours or two and a half hours of songs.
Mike: I’ll tell you what, there are several songs that we absolutely do at every single show we do — “California Girls” being one of them, “Good Vibrations” being another, “Kokomo” being our biggest hit of all. “Good Vibrations” was our biggest hit that came out in 1966, until “Kokomo” came out in 1988 and apparently surpassed that. And then there are songs like “I Get Around” and “Fun Fun Fun” and “Surfin’ USA” and “Help Me Rhonda” — we are always going to do those big hit songs because we believe people are going to come see you for what you are known for. We are most famous for those big hit recordings we have had.
Then there are other songs we are doing on our set list called album cuts that are a little more subtle, a little more esoteric. Then there is a song called “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” originally done by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers during the ‘50s. My cousin Brian came up with a really great vocal arrangement so we enjoy doing that song. Whether it is a point of view of doing a song we feel hardcore fans know or the Beach Boys music that I can recall, we like to do some songs that will please them as well so we balance the songs, the set list, the selection of songs all throughout the years, up to and including our newest record which is called That’s Why God Made the Radio.
CB: On the new album there are fun and upbeat songs, as always, but there are also songs embracing some melancholy of the past like “Pacific Coast Highway.” Why was it important to have both on the album?
Mike: I think there has always been melancholy and upbeat aspects to our songs. For instance “Surfer Girl” is slower and romantic. “In My Room” is kind of introspective, and if you will a little melancholy like ("Warmth of the Sun"), which is also a beautiful, slow ballad, but I think mainly it is the result of the collective nature of all of us.
There is the obvious sun part of life that we have here in Southern California growing up, you know with the featured years and when we recorded “Barbara Ann” and “Lookin’ For Romance” and then “California Girls” and going around the world and experiencing upbeat and positive things like car songs or surfing songs. There is that aspect of it. Then there is also that more internal, introspective aspect of things. So there are definitely both types of music in the Beach Boys catalog, definitely. There is the melancholy and the happy and upbeat.
I think that is how life is. Sometimes, people experience moods or situations in life that are not so much upbeat or fun, death of a loved one or breaking up with somebody. There are situations in life that lend themselves to the more serious or somber or melancholy. Then there are the activities and situations in life that are far more upbeat and fun.
CB: What is it like having three generations of fans singing along at the shows now?
Mike: It is pretty amazing. It is really wild how well people have responded to us all being together. It re-establishes the theorem from math that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Brian Wilson has been doing his own solo projects and recordings and touring for the last several years. I have been touring as the Beach Boys with Bruce Johnston and occasionally David Marks, our original guitarist. Al Jardine has been doing his own thing but we all got together because of the specialness of the 50th anniversary of the Beach Boys.
That is the real catalyst that got us together. In addition to that remarkable milestone, there is the fact Capitol Records gave us an opportunity to record a new studio album, so we all got together, a lot of time had passed since we last did an album but it was kind of weird how familiar the whole process felt and how normal it sounded when we were listening to our performance coming back through the speaker in the studio. A lot of time had passed but not much had changed really in terms of Brian’s ability to structure the harmonies and chord progressions and our abilities to harmonize and perform the songs. It was really cool, the two things together, the 50th anniversary and going out to tour together along with doing the new record, those two things, gave us the encouragement to get together and do this together. And the response from the public and so many places have been phenomenal, the Hollywood Bowl in Southern California sold out 17,500 seats.
Megadeth can be considered one of today's legendary bands, not just in Metal, but in all of music. They are synonymous with a time period, moments in the lives of so many of their fans. They may have a different look than when the band was formed in 1983 but they are one of the founding fathers and would definitely find themselves on the Mount Rushmore of American Metal and can still fill festival stadiums all over the world. Megadeth have been doing their thing for almost 30 years and show no signs of stopping. They had released their fittingly named 13th studio album TH1RT3EN last year before they came to Cincinnati. They will return to Ohio as one of the main acts at next week’s Rock on The Range.
Over the past year, CityBeat spoke with band drummer Shawn Drover twice and lead guitarist Chris Broderick at Mayhem Festival about life on tour and what the future holds for the band. Megadeth's timeless sound continues on. Hear for yourself when the group performs on the Main Stage in Columbus Sunday night with Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie for the Rock on the Range festival.
CityBeat: I know you joined the band in 2008, right?
Chris Broderick: Yeah, the very beginning.
CB: What was it like the first time you played and jammed with Dave (Mustaine)?
Chris: It was a little intimidating at first I think. But one of the things that really happened was we had to get to work so quickly. We had to get so much done so fast.
CB: Because of the album and the tour right?
Chris: Well yeah because of the tour at the time. I didn’t really have time to think about what was going on. I was just working. I was trying to knock out as many songs as I could before we went on tour less than a month away. That was my focus really.
CB: You are a classically trained guitarist, right? Can you tell me, how do you think that prepared you for Megadeth and to play metal music?
Chris: Well I don’t know if anything prepares you for Metal music or Megadeth. But I do think it does give me a different skill set, one where I can look at more melodies and harmonies and construction of those types of the aspects of the music and apply what I’ve learned in classical guitar theory or classical theory to the Metal genre.
CB: That’s kind of what stood out to them, right, when they called you to join the band, because you did a lot of classically trained type work?
Chris: It’s hard for me to say. I know it was an influence on their decision, but I know that it was a recommendation of Glen Drover and Shawn Drover that encouraged them to call me.
CB: Good recommendations. They probably didn’t even have to ask.
Chris: And then some of the YouTube clips that I had posted also.
CB: I have been hearing so many bands that are picking people off YouTube. It’s really amazing, Cinderella type stories of people being picked up off YouTube videos.
Chris: Well, it’s one of those things that is awesome in a way because it gives the individual the power of PR, somebody that can market you and get you to the right people to get you a gig or get you the right contact. So it is kind of cool that way.
CB: What was your highlight from the Big 4 concerts?
Chris: It was probably the last Big 4 show actually in the UK. That was pretty huge. We got to play on stage with some of the original members of Diamond Head. Honestly, they weren’t my biggest influence. They were a little bit before my time. But because I am playing with so many people that they heavily influenced, it was instant respect on my behalf and their behalf. It was quite awe-inspiring to see Hetfield (James) kind of bowing down before him when he went to do the solo. It was awesome.
CB: What is it like on the road these days? Is it really clean living?
Chris: Yeah. It almost has to be because we have so much going on. I couldn’t do all this press and all the meet and greets and stuff like that. It works out pretty well for me too because luckily I never acquired a taste for that kind of that thing. I guess I am too Type A. I always want to be in control.
John 5 has seen almost everything in Rock music. He's toured with David Lee Roth, Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie (with whom he's currently rockin') and been credited on songs from a wide range of artists — from Saliva to Salt n Pepa to k.d. lang to an upcoming collaboration with Rod Stewart. The guitarist has gained the reputation as a musical genius and one of the most action-packed guitarists in the world. He has just released his sixth solo album, God Told Me To, which mixes acoustic Spanish guitar along with Metal riffs.
CityBeat caught up with the guitar player to talk about the new album and some of the darker aspects of what goes into his writing, as well as the lighter aspects help put him to sleep every night. John 5 will take the stage with headliner Rob Zombie this Sunday at Rock on the Range in Columbus.
CityBeat: Can you tell us about the name of your album, God Told Me To?
John 5: The name, it is funny because … I am from Michigan, I am from Grosse Pointe. I was upper class growing up there. I was brought up in a really nice environment and home and I remember the night before I was leaving for California to really give it my shot saying, “I am going to try this. I am going to try to be this musician type of thing.” I remember I was saying my little prayer. I never wished to be a “rock star.” I just wanted to be a working musician. My dreams didn’t even go past a session player or a working musician. It was too far beyond my dreams. That’s kind of what the title means, that kind of thing, but also you can look at in the negative way, like when someone does a horrific murder, they always say, “Oh, God told me to.”
CB: I have read a lot of discussion in your recent interviews about serial killers and even the song “Night Stalker” being written about Richard Ramirez. Do you have an interest in serial killers and the history and stories behind them?
J5: I think it is interesting to me about how the mind works and how someone is wired, how their mind works, how it is completely OK to do these things, which I could never even think of doing something like that. It was always so interesting to read about this or watch documentaries. It is so odd for something like that to happen, so I have always had this little fascination with it — not that I am pro-for that kind of thing or anything but it is just very interesting to see something like that.
CB: I got a copy of the album and have been listening to it today. I love the acoustic Spanish-style versions on some of the songs. I know you are a lifelong learner. Did you take specific lessons around Flamenco or Spanish-style guitar lessons?
J5: Yes, I have always tried to learn, it is what keeps me sane. I love to learn and I started doing a lot of studying of Spanish-style music and really started getting into it and how it is just a completely different form of guitar playing. It is just like if you started speaking in a different language like Japanese or something. It is something that you have to study and work at a lot. That is what I enjoy because I love the guitar so much. Yes, I did a lot of studying and research on that.
CB: What current music is inspiring me right now?
J5: What current music is inspiring? You know what, and this will be a surprise, but I usually am very honest. I have had a little epiphany and this is very shocking. I was watching some movie or something like that and a N.W.A. song was on and I am no fan of Rap music, I really am not because I like the guitar. So I heard this N.W.A. song, I think it was “Gangsta Gangsta,” and I was like, “This is really, really, really good.” It was eye-opening to me and I appreciate it now. I was pretty taken back by it. I would have to say N.W.A. (is a current inspiration), which I can’t believe I am saying but it is the truth.
CB: There are a lot of bands right now collaborating outside their genres. Korn has collaborated with Skrillex and trying to create a lot of different sounds which would traditionally maybe not be in Metal music.
J5: Sure, and I think it is very important for that to happen because of the fact music has to always evolve and if it doesn’t, it has failed. It is good that it is evolving.
Five Finger Death Punch will be one of the headlining acts of Rock on the Range, one of the nation’s biggest Hard Rock and Metal festivals that takes place in Columbus this weekend. FFDP has become known for its “active” show, encouraging crowd participation that can get on the edge of out-of-hand at times. The band released its third studio album last year, American Capitalist, which quickly shot to the top of all Rock and Metal charts.
CityBeat caught up with drummer Jeremy Spencer to preview next week’s Rock on the Range and discuss the grueling nature of the industry (especially as a drummer) and the advice that has driven him to be in the position of leading the rhythm and timing of Five Finger Death Punch. FFDP performs Saturday night on the main RotR stage in Columbus.
CityBeat: I was excited to talk to you because I know you just won the Golden God award for Best Drummer. How was that experience for you?
Jeremy Spencer: It was really great because I am a fan of all those drummers in the category and to be put in the same category was humbling already, and then to win, it was “Wow, this is really cool.” We couldn’t be at the show because we were out on tour. I got a call saying, “You know he won and if you could put together a video for the acceptance that would great.” So I made this really ridiculous acceptance speech video where I dressed up as redneck fans mocking me giving a speech, so I did a multi-character video for winning the award and it was really funny. It is all over the internet in case you get a chance to see it. Everyone got a kick out of it, but overall it was a really humbling experience and really cool.
CB: You guys just made another trip to Kuwait as well. I know it is really important to the band to support the troops. What was your most memorable experience this time around?
JS: We got to hang out with the troops a lot during the day and talk to people and we do extensive signings for them. The shows were pretty crazy. They don’t get a lot of entertainment over there so they are really excited when we get to come and play. And it is exciting for us too because they are such huge supporters of the band so it is the least we can do to give back to them because they sacrifice so much to be away from their families. It was very cool.
The only thing that wasn’t cool is that there is an 18-hour plane flight to and from Kuwait. That is the only brutal part but the rest of it was incredible.
CB: I actually did see some of the YouTube videos from the shows over there that were posted and they looked like they were crazy with the crowd surfing and the moshing and they really go into it.
JS: They really do. They get after it. It’s insane, like I said it is all pent up energy so they really get after it.
CB: I have listened to the album since it came out but in a lot of the recent songs there is serious hardcore drumming action. How do you stay in shape and how do you condition for that kind of hitting?
JS: I do a lot of stretching. That is the thing I didn’t do much growing up but now as I am getting older I have realized that stretching is vital. It is almost like doing yoga really. I use hard foam rollers to roll out my muscles and get the knots out. Stretching is key; any drummers that are doing this I would recommend doing that starting as young as you can. I also don’t party anymore. I try to take care of myself. I try to eat things that are relatively healthy. So that is pretty much what I do.
CB: I think that is a misconception for a lot of people. I talk to a lot of bands from a lot of different genres and I think people think the road is a continuous party and for some bands it is, but for a lot of bands it is about having a healthy lifestyle because it is so grueling.
JS: It really is. We are kind of like athletes. We have to get up there and perform for 75 minutes sometimes or 90 minutes and it takes a toll on you physically. We are not playing Pop music. It is pretty aggressive. It is physically demanding.
When we started out, we definitely participated in that party lifestyle. I am one to try it, but if you are going to be successful and have a long career then you can’t get wrapped up in that stuff. Rarely does it work so I figured it was time to treat this like a job. It is a job but it is a great job.
CB: Let’s talk about Rock on the Range. I have seen you play there before a couple years ago. It is always a good time. Is there anything that you are looking forward to specifically around that show?
JS: Last time, we had one of the biggest crowd surfing experiences that Rock on the Range had ever experienced and it is well documented on YouTube. So we will see how crazy the fans can get there this time. We certainly enjoy it. Every time we play there, it has been great. And you know, all the other great bands, and hanging out with our friends, it has always been a positive experience and I look forward to getting back there and doing it again this year.
CB: I was there last time. I am a photographer so I am always down in front for the beginning parts so it is always a little sketchy with the crowd surfing for us.
JS: Absolutely, you might want to wear a helmet or something.
Hunter Hayes is one of the fastest growing, most unstoppable forces rising in Country music. At just 20 years old, he recently released his debut self-titled studio album featuring the hit single “Storm Warning." In less than a year of truly being a part of the Nashville music scene he has found himself on tour with superstar acts Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts and he will be taking the main stage at the CMA Music Festival next month in one of their nightly concerts in front of 70,000+ in attendance.
CityBeat spoke with Hayes by phone recently and discussed his uniquely introspective writing and recording process as well as his passion for the fans that come out to each of his shows. Hunter will be performing at Bogart’s Friday night. It's a great opportunity to see an act that could be headlining stadiums and arenas very soon.
CityBeat: What made you decide to play all of the instruments and parts on your debut album? Do you plan to do this again on the next album?
Hunter Hayes: There is this part of my brain that I got from my Dad that is really technical, that loves technology, I guess, like fixing stuff — not fixing stuff as much as messing with it. I think that became an outlet for me. The more time I spent making music and writing the more I loved the technical side of it.
One Christmas, I asked for a 8-Track recorder and I got it and I didn’t come out of my room for like three years after that. I literally learned more instruments and spent all my time on this machine making demos and I just started building my own recordings. I didn’t know for sure but I felt inside that was the only way these songs were going to become completed and it became a way of working.
I continue to write during that process. When I moved to Nashville, I started songwriting and every time I would write a song with somebody I’d go home that night and I’d start working up a demo. It just became a way I love to work and now is the only way I know how to work. I have sat in a studio across the looking glass with some of the most phenomenal musicians in Nashville and I sit there and I am a very shy guy, naturally. I am naturally very reclusive so when I get nervous around songwriters, I am very intimidated and I don’t share my thoughts a lot like I probably should. I kind of defer to someone else. So we decided to do the record this way because they knew I was comfortable working that way and there is something cool that happens when you start recording the song playing all the instruments. It is a very minute thing but you will notice the consistency in the emotion.
And by no means do I consider myself a professional player of any of the instruments I played on the record but I guess I was fluent enough to get where my mind wanted these songs to go with what I wanted to hear for these songs. I was able to translate it from the same heart I wrote the songs.
CB: What is your favorite song you have ever written and why?
HH: Oh God … to put it in perspective for you, we had 70 songs I wrote specifically for this record that we were considering. So, it is nearly impossible to pick a favorite.
I have to say I was really fortunate because I had a big say in what songs went on this record. I actually picked all but one. This one song on the record, it is not that I don’t love it, but it is so out of character for me, I was worried about putting it on the record because I didn’t want people to get the wrong idea, because it is a very bitter song.
I chose the songs on this record carefully but emotionally. I am definitely attached to every single one of them on this record. I could say that I love everything — “Wanted” “Love Makes Me” “Somebody’s Heartbreak” and “Storm Warning.” I was very adamant about having a song like “Faith,” I wanted “Cry With You” on the record. I’m close to all the songs on the record.
I think my favorite song I have ever written is probably the one I wrote yesterday and that is always the case. Any time I write a new song, I am jazzed about it for like 24 hours and then I am over it and want to write another one.
CB: That makes sense. How does it feel to be one of the main acts at LP Field at CMA Festival this year?
HH: It’s unbelievable. Last year, I was stoked to just play on a stage in front of the Bridgestone Arena. It was a great turnout and everybody knew my name, which was amazing. I had just wrapped up six weeks on the radio tour. The song had literally just started playing on the radio and there were already tons of people singing along to “Storm Warning” that day and that blew my mind. It was a time lapse thing. I started my radio tour with this big full band showcase in Louisiana. And we initiated it with this full band big showcase for all the industry to come down and make a day out of it.
Then I went out by myself on this radio tour. I would go to these stations. I would literally bring a little mobile studio and I would build “Storm Warning” for them, and they would get their own version of “Storm Warning” by the end of the day. We did that for six weeks straight. I went home only one day, for Mother’s Day. It was just this crazy schedule.
Fast forward six weeks ahead, I come back to Nashville to play my second ever full-band gig with the band and we were playing to a crowd that was singing along to almost every song. It was really impressive and it was just mind-boggling. It is amazing what a year can do.
I am grateful that they considered me for this spot on LP Field. I have sat in the audience to watch shows there many times so it is really cool to be a part of it this time on the other side.
CB: I have seen your show several times. One of the things that always strikes me when you play is that the girls love you. Have you had any crazy fan experiences?
HH: No, not really. I will say we have a lot of fans that we see many times, a lot of repeat fans, which always makes me feel good. When someone sees a show and wants to see another one, that makes me feel like I am doing something right.
It is so funny, they will come up during the autograph signings and say “I promise you I am not stalking you.” I am like “I don’t mind! I am honored that you have taken the time to come to more than one show.” There is this one girl who has driven thousands of miles and she is always almost apologetic about it, and you don’t even know how much that makes my day. When I see her car in the parking lot and I know she is coming, that makes me feel like I am doing something right. It literally gives me a feeling I can’t describe to you.
We have a lot of fans that are doing that. We have a lot of them who have met at our shows and have become best friends and they go everywhere together now. I just feel this unity at our shows, especially the "Most Wanted" shows, the headlining shows I get to do. They are smaller venues right now and they are growing. Tonight we are doing like 1,000 seats or something like that, but it is amazing this close feeling I feel with everyone in the room. I get to chit-chat with them during the show and goof off with them and it is fun. It is a blast. I am glad to say I have fans.
The first time lead singer of The Dukes Are Dead, Lucas Frazier, eagerly told me about his band, in between puffs of a hastily smoked cigarette while on a quick break from the coffee shop where we both worked, I’m pretty sure I said, “Aw! That’s so cute.”
Three years and a lot of hard work later, The Dukes Are Dead are far from cute. Stoic. Diligent. Loud. Confident. Any number of adjectives, but unequivocally, definitely, absolutely, not cute.
Oh sure, they’re an attractive bunch. All slender and tangle-y-long-haired fellows, TDAD are four young men with serious, hungry ambition and serious, twinkling eyes. Randy Proctor, the prodigious bassist for this band, is perhaps the most vivacious, and assertively business-like.
I sat down with the gentlemen of The Dukes Are Dead to discuss their current role as the musical accompaniment for The Know Theatre’s production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, about the tumultuous and yes, bloody, life of the seventh president of the United States, running through May 12. (Read CityBeat's review here.)
“I was hanging out at MOTR one night,” says Proctor, his red curls all hip length and slightly mussed after a Saturday night performance of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, “getting really drunk, and Eric Vossmeyer, the production manager — he also does Fringe Festival — I overheard him talking about Fringe Festival and he says it nicer than the truth is, but, I was drunk, and kind of being cocky, and I guess I just felt like interrupting his conversation and telling him what he should do at one certain part of the production and this, this and this with the poster, and [I was like] ‘I’m in a band’, and I was being kind of cocky and he was like, ‘Oh, ok, thanks. Wait. You’re in a band? Why don’t I get your number?”
Proctor speaks quickly and efficiently, dropping anecdotes and inflection all over the place.
“And then I had no idea what he was talking about, and I called him up and we went to MOTR and he told me, ‘I like your ideas, but I’d like you to be in a musical with your band.’” Proctor relays. “I thought it was really wacky, and I was not too keen on it at first, actually, and then he just kind of described it to me, and then he told us he was going to pay us, which was cool, and then it just kind of won [us] one by one over to the idea of it. And then the wheels went into motion from there.”
Like Proctor said, TDAD was slightly hesitant at first to agree to being a part of the production.
“It was a lot of time. It was a lot of time that pretty much cancelled [us out of] being able to do anything [else],” says Luke Darling, lead guitarist for TDAD. “We were trying to do big things, and then this came up, so it was very cool, it seemed like a cool idea and like a lot of fun but that was the problem, was time. But we decided we did have time. We had enough.”
Rehearsals began a month and a half before production started, and TDAD quickly adjusted to the different setting and atmosphere.
“It was really fucking hard and stressful. They gave us all the sheet music, they gave us a CD, and basically we had to teach ourselves how to play these songs in, like, a week or two,” Frazier says matter-of-factly. He’s sitting one chair over from me, drinking a Moerlein, with Proctor, Darling and drummer Dave Reid sitting in the row directly behind us.
“Through this process, I think we all have learned tons of shit when it comes to playing music and understanding music. Like, I mean, just chords we’ve never played before, time signatures, key changes, all sorts of stuff that we’d never really attacked as The Dukes Are Dead, all of a sudden we were faced with,” says Frazier.
“And it wasn’t like, ‘Well I don’t like this, let’s just change it’, it was them telling us, ‘Play it like that.’ And they gave us this CD and this music, but then we get into this practice space and all of a sudden there’s all these lines and there’s these, like, times where we’re just playing the same thing over and over and filling the space, and having to get quiet and loud and everything’s fluctuating and changing and it’s just completely different from anything we have ever done before. And it has made us much better musicians, whether we like to admit it or not.”
The intensive rehearsal schedule is best explained by Proctor: “[At one point there were] two weekend days in a row, where we did twelve-hour days back to back, which means we worked a total of like fourteen days in a row [besides] the weekend. And we all have other jobs, too.”
But TDAD is nothing if not diligent and pervasive, and their smoking, blazing Rock and Blues-infused style made itself evident during rehearsal.
“I think that’s unavoidable,” says Darling. “We’re all particular tone snobs in our own way, to our own liking, and we were told to turn things down very far. Because it needed to be done. It’s a guitar-tech-nerd thing. I think tone’s the only reason it’s different.”
Proctor chimes in. “I think we got, three different times, formal requests to say, ‘take your volume down, you’re rocking a little bit too loud for the house.’ I’m proud of that. I think it’s cool that they had to tell us to turn it down.”
“It sucks to turn it down, but it makes sense,” says Frazier. “Because the music is not the most important thing. The vocals are.”
As lead vocalist for TDAD, Frazier has an especial appreciation for the way in which the story must be told.
“[The musical's actors] have to be heard above everything else, because they tell the story. The music is extremely important, but it’s still second to what they’re doing.”
Showmen of a different variety, TDAD performs emphatically, exuberantly at their own shows, with Frazier exuding a magnetism that is firmly in the realm of broody young lead singers. During BBAJ, TDAD is relegated to an elevated platform on the right side of the stage, mostly in dim lighting during the production. Learning to take a backseat was “so weird”, says Frazier. “When I’m on stage and I’m playing in a Dukes show, there’s that connection [with the audience]. [We know] we’re [all] having a good time. But this, they’re hardly ever looking at us, because we’re just playing the music. They’re performing. It’s very interesting to take a step back and really focus on what [I’m] doing. And increasing…”
“Dexterity,” inserts Darling.
“Right, exactly,” continues Frazier. “It’s just a chance to practice and focus and think more about it, because no one’s looking at you. It’s nice. It really is.”
With the spotlight off them in the musical arena, TDAD is eager to get back to their daily grind of performing, writing, recording and being a band.
“I think through this experience, it’s put us all in the mindset of [being] even more determined to do what it is we really want to do,” says Frazier. “Not that we’re not enjoying ourselves here, and we’re very grateful for the people around us, and this is a wonderful experience, but after this, it’s time to get back and hit it even harder than before.”
“This production’s here because some other guy went out and wanted to make music and change the world that way. It’s our turn to do the same thing.”
The coming summer of 2012 holds a lot in store for the gentlemen of TDAD. They will be embarking on an extensive tour, in cities “as north as Chicago, as south as Nashville, as west as St. Louis, and as east as Washington, D.C., and a lot in between” Proctor notes.
“We want to let people know that we’re going to be taking this and then going on out and expect to see us doing some bigger things. More content is going to be on it’s way, and we’re only going to get bigger and stronger and more incredible as time goes on.”
The Dukes Are Dead will continue performing in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson through May 12, and their next show is on June 15 at MOTR Pub.