Helmet's 'Betty' is still a bombshell

A conversation with Page Hamilton about band's classic third LP
By Peter Lindblad

The Helmet lineup in 2015 that's
playing 'Betty' in its entirety.
The record-buying public doesn't always take kindly to so-called "experimental" records. Helmet's Betty has taken its fair share of pot shots from detractors.

Relaxing in a black RV parked outside of the High Noon Saloon in Madison, Wis., back in March, Page Hamilton, one of the true architects of alternative-metal, is fighting a cough just hours before gig No. 61 of Helmet's recent tour, one in which the landmark Betty album was to be played in its entirety, with a second set chock full of favorites from other Helmet albums thrown in for good measure.

Helmet - Betty
The show will go on, road fatigue or no road fatigue, because Betty deserves it. And with miles to go before he sleeps – Helmet had 20 more shows to go on this victory lap for perhaps the most confounding record in the band's catalog – Hamilton couldn't be happier with the reception the tour's received.

"Amazing, yeah it's been great," said Hamilton, joined in Helmet nowadays by Dan Beeman, Kyle Stephenson and Dave Case. "We're sold out tonight, sold out tomorrow in Chicago, sold out in Cleveland. Last night in Minneapolis was 550, so that was a packed house. It's been good, really good. I love seeing packed houses, and the band is playing really well, so that's all you can hope for."

In 1994, anticipation for the follow-up to the monstrous sonic earthquake that was Meantime, Helmet's 1992 major label debut on Interscope Records, was feverish. An almost militaristic march of heavy, disciplined riffs and infectious grooves as high and tight as a Marine's crew cut, the groundbreaking post-metal masterpiece Meantime breathed fresh air into a scene that had long grown weary of the excesses of '80s glam and was mighty suspicious of grunge. What would Helmet do for an encore?

Along came Betty, an ambitious bombshell of thick, pummeling aural punishment that sent shrapnel flying in every direction, some of it landing in the disparate camps of jazz and blues. Although it wasn't the commercial smash everyone was hoping for, critics generally took a liking to it and over time, it's come to be appreciated as one of Helmet's finest.

Still, even as tracks like "Biscuits for Smut," "Milquetoast" (see the video below) and "I Know" retained the crunch of Meantime, more offbeat fare such as "The Silver Hawaiian," the jazz standard "Beautiful Love" and the demented lap-steel weirdness of "Sam Hell" led to lots of head scratching.



However, if this tour is any indication, Betty, Helmet's third record, has aged well. 

"Both albums seem to have survived the test of time, 20 years for Betty and 23 years for Meantime," said Hamilton. "And we play songs from both those albums, as well as Aftertaste. In London, after we did Betty, we did the second half of Meantime and the first half of Aftertaste for the second set and they went more crazy than they did for Betty, which pissed me off, because I thought, 'There goes my Aftertaste idea (laughs).' It's good to see that sometimes when you get flak when an album comes out because it's not like the previous album, that 20 years later you can see you did things right. That's what it's all about, because we're not trying to win any pop music competitions. We're not a mainstream band and never have been. Helmet fans are very loyal, and they know we're not going to come out with a disco record, or techno or whatever's the flavor of the month. We'll never sound like Katy Perry or Maroon 5."

Upon Betty's release, though, some were wondering if Helmet had lost its edge.

"I remember that day we did Flipside magazine, which was a cool magazine back in the late '80s, early '90s," related Hamilton. "It was Helmet mania, and they just loved Helmet. When Meantime came out, he came out to see a show in Long Beach, Kirk (or KRK Dominquez) from Flipside said, 'I wanted Helmet and I got a bonnet.' He thought we'd gotten soft after Strap It On and didn't like it at all."

Taking the sardonic criticism in stride, Hamilton vowed not to let it influence his artistic vision.

"I learned then that it doesn't matter what you do – somebody's a fan of what you do today, tomorrow they may be disappointed because you're not doing what you did yesterday," explained Hamilton. "So you have to stick to your guns and have a thick skin. You have to do make music for yourself and make music you know is good, and not try to please anybody else. I'm not worried about what critics say, or even fans. It could be disheartening at the time, but I have to know it's good. I have to study my craft and continue to move forward without throwing the baby out with the bath water."

Hamilton has a good sense of what Helmet's identity is, and although they may take the occasionally unexpected detour, he makes sure they never lose sight of who they are as a band.

"We're not Marilyn Manson," said Hamilton. "I'm not going to grow tits and change outfits. That's not what Helmet's thing is about. It's four guys in street clothes standing up there and trying to make music. It's strictly drop the needle. That's what it's about. That's what my heroes were for me – John Coltrane, Charlie Parker. They had cool suits in the '40s and '50s and '60s, whatever, but they just played music. It was just about the music, and that's what turned me on, that's what got me excited. Sure, I thought Jimmy Page looked cool in his dragon pants, in his penny loafers and whatever, and Robert Plant in ladies' blouses, but it was all about dropping the needle and listening to them singing and playing – that's what it's always been for Helmet. Some people hate that. They don't like me because I don't do that. They don't like us because we don't do that, and that's their prerogative. They can't say that we're not honest or we aren't good. They're saying they don't like us."

Helmet dropped the needle and then some when Hamilton, drummer John Stanier, bassist Henry Bogdan and guitarist Rob Echeverria – the replacement for Peter Mengede – entered the studio in the fall of 1993 to begin work on Betty, with writing and recording sessions at Soundtrack, Power Station and Sound on Sound in New York City.

Helmet - Meantime
While touring in support of Meantime, there were reports of internal tensions, and Mengede allegedly did not leave on the best of terms in early 1993. Still, Hamilton doesn't recall the sessions for Betty as being overly stressful, although there was pressure from outside influences.

"Yeah, it was a little bit, I suppose, but every album there's some stress involved," said Hamilton. "Strap It On, it was my bartending tips that paid for it, so we're like, 'Okay, that mix sounds good,' and I had to stand there with my hand on two faders, and Bogdan on one; they had two faders, so we're mixing manually on the board, and it was like, 'Okay, I think we're set up now. Push that up a little bit. Now go back.' So that's stressful. With Meantime, we'd signed a big record deal, and we had people from the record company coming in and listening, so we're like, this is weird, you know? And with Betty, after a gold record and a Grammy nomination for Meantime, everybody wanted to make it Nirvana. We're like, 'We're not anything like Nirvana,' nothing like Nirvana. And Aftertaste … well, 'Betty didn't do as well as Meantime, so Aftertaste has to be like this and that,' and I was like, 'All I can do is write the songs and record them and sing them to the best of my ability.' And that's what it is. It should be fun. The process has always been fun and enjoyable for me, and it's simply about music."

When it came to Betty, Hamilton and company had aspirations of expanding Helmet's sound to incorporate other genres, as other voices within the band begged to be heard.

"Yeah, that was what was fun about it," said Hamilton. "We wrote some songs … I guess it started with, 'Well, man, what more can we do?' Strap It On morphed into Meantime, which morphed into Betty and there were other elements. Henry had an interest in lap steel guitar, and other things he was writing. He was listening to the Beatles I think when he came up with the riffs for 'Silver Hawaiian.' And I wanted the whole band to feel more included, because I think they saw that when there was a clear leader in the band after a couple of years, there's a leader and I think that makes guys uncomfortable. I just wanted make sure that everybody knew it was a band, that I'm the singer, the writer and essentially the producer, but without a great band, you're shit. I'm not Trent Reznor, where I've got the genius technological ability … that guy's amazing in the studio. I don't know if he can play guitar as well as I can, but he's a genius in the studio, so he doesn't necessarily need a band to make a record. I do."

Like all Helmet records, Betty grooves ... relentlessly. Hamilton feels that comes naturally for Helmet, that it's not something they ever have to think about.

"I think every record grooves. We never consciously said we've got to groove or we've got to be groovier or whatever," said Hamilton. "John Stanier was listening to a lot of hip-hop and a lot of drum and bass. Henry was listening to country and western and Hawaiian music, and I was listening to my usual jazz, which is all about groove and feel and swing, as well as classical things, expanding my understanding of harmonic knowledge. But we never consciously said, 'God, We're so funky.' AC/DC is a different kind of funky from Rage Against The Machine or Red Hot Chili Peppers. To me, those bands are more trying to incorporate that thing in their sound, and I like AC/DC, that sound. That's my band. I thought the Beatles grooved. The Stones, in their sloppy way, kind of grooved, so it's not like we're trying to play white-boy funk or anything."

While the notion of whether a record grooves or not may be a nebulous concept, song composition is not, and while more well-known tracks off Betty might garner more attention, Hamilton is sweet on another.

"Somebody asked me that last night after the show," said Hamilton, responding to a question about which song on Betty is his favorite. "It's hard for me to say, but I'd probably have to say 'Overrated.' I've always liked the structure. I just found this cool chord progression of things that I thought of at the time. There was a cool tension release in the song; it's an interesting structure. It's not really supposed work at all."

Hamilton admits, "I've always experimented with structures, that's kind of what I'm known for." On "Wilma's Rainbow," Hamilton used another Helmet classic as the foundation for what that track would become.

"I like that song," said Hamilton. "That's the structure that I came up with for 'Unsung.' That's a different structure, too. It's got a verse and chorus, but it's also got a developing section in the outro, and a song like 'Pure' from Aftertaste,  it's got a different structure."

Construction of Betty was completed by Helmet, along with Andy Wallace on mixing, Howie Weinberg on mastering and Martin Bisi, known also for his work with Sonic Youth, Swans and White Zombie, handling the engineering. Bisi was a late arrival, coming in midway through the proceedings to record Echeverria's guitar parts and additional overdubs.

Finally, on June 21, 1994, Betty had its coming-out party, settling in at No. 45 on the Billboard 200 Album Chart, Helmet's best chart performance ever. Alas, it was not the commercial success Meantime was, and in the aftermath, Echeverria departed to join Biohazard, leaving Helmet a trio. 1997 brought Aftertaste, and later, a new guitarist in Chris Traynor, formerly of Orange 9mm. That record spent very little time on the charts, and sales were disappointing. The 1997-98 "Aftertaste" tour was the band's swan song – that is, until Hamilton revived Helmet in 2004.

If he has any regrets about any of it, Hamilton isn't sharing them.

"There's so many events that happened over the life of the band," said Hamilton. "It was roughly 10 years, and now I've got eight-plus years with Kyle, so he and I are the core of the band at this point, but we've got two guys who are amazing players, Danny and Dave. So it feels like a real band to me, as much as the original lineup did for the first five years. Unfortunately, people grow … not unfortunately, but people grow apart, and it happens and you can't control what other people want to do. They decided it was their time to move on, and I said to them early on when we were about to sign a record deal, to Peter, John and Henry, 'I'm not putting your kids through college just because we were in a band together. I don't owe you anything, and you don't owe me anything.' They were clear that it was my band, it's just sometimes shit happens."

Check out this Helmet performance on KXEP to get a taste of what they're like live nowadays.


CD Review: Jonathan Rundman – Look Up

CD Review: Jonathan Rundman  Look Up
Salt Lady Records
All Access Rating: A-

Jonathan Rundman - Look Up 2015
Absence has only made the heart grow fonder for Jonathan Rundman's brand of intelligently designed and altogether charming power-pop. His first album in a decade, Look Up will make you wish he'd come around more often.

A native of Michigan's Upper Peninsula now based in Minneapolis, the multi-instrumentalist has assembled a who's who of the Twin Cities' finest musicians to help him realize his vision of a lush, warmly modern world of sound with plenty of room at the inn for traditional folk sketches such as the spare, haunting "Home Unknown." All of it holds the wonderfully told tales of Look Up in a loving and empathetic embrace, Rundman's easy grace and search for simple, lasting truths born of a hopeful theology and the inexplicable wonders of art and science.

Providing most of the instrumental support are Owl City guitarist Jasper Nephew, Sara Bareilles drummer Steve Goold, bassist Ian Allison (Jeremy Messersmith), and Leagues guitarist Tyler Burkum. Other guests include frequent collaborator Walter Salas-Humara of The Silos, as well as guitarist Parthenon Huxley of Eels and ELO, and vocalist Brent Bourgeois of Bourgeois Tagg and Todd Rundgren, among others. And while the cast is, indeed, impressive, it's Rundman's evocative lyrics, his deep sincerity, his brainy curiosity about the world and its unknowable secrets, and gift for penning affecting, indelible melodies that make Look Up absolutely sparkle.

Released this past winter but made for long summer drives with no particular destination, although the icy waters of "The Ballad of Nikolaus Rungius" – the beautifully rendered, multi-layered history of a beloved vicar, the hardships of his parish and a "holy mystery" – could bring on hypothermia, Look Up pops the top on fizzy, electric rushes like "Flying On A Plane," "Helicopters of Love," "The Science of Rockets" and "Prioritize Us" that bubble up like a shaken bottle of soda.

Comparisons to Fountains Of Wayne are inevitable, but a lot of Look Up seems to have distant relations to the music of John Vanderslice, his intimate, space-age production values, flowing melodies and ability to spin compelling yarns born again in Rundman's work. When the spirit moves him, however, as it does in "Painter" and the autumnal "Second Shelf Down," Rundman seems naturally inclined to wander purposefully in the cloudy harmonies and gossamer acoustic sweeps of Simon & Garfunkel, and on "Home Unknown," he plays all the instruments, from harmonium to banjo and mandola and probably 12 more that aren't even listed.

Don't be such a stranger, Jonathan. You're welcome here any time.
– Peter Lindblad

Rex Brown Opens His Personal Pantera Vault for Historic Auction

Auction Featuring Items from the Pantera Years

Preview the Auction Now! 

Backstage Auctions is proud to present one of the most anticipated auction events of the year featuring  the private collection of Rex Brown. As one of the driving forces behind 'Groove Metal', Rex Brown is globally known as the bassist for Grammy-nominated, platinum-selling band Pantera.

The auction will feature an impressive array of personal items from his Pantera years and is a rare opportunity for fans and collectors around the world to own a piece of exclusive Pantera memorabilia. Die-hard Pantera fans will not want to miss this event!  “Never before has there been any Pantera memorabilia offered in a single auction by one of the original members. This is going to be a hugely exciting event and we are honored to host the auction for Rex," comments Backstage Auctions founder Jacques van Gool.

Rex has amassed a remarkable collection of gear and equipment during his nearly 20 years in
"Brownie"
Pantera.  Since he returned home from Pantera’s final tour in 2001, most of it has been sitting in a storage facility.  Now - after fourteen years in storage - Rex believes there is a better purpose for all his stuff.  “I took a look at all of my old Pantera gear.  I realized I had a ton of bass guitars, amps, cabinets, road cases and other great stuff just sitting in storage collecting dust.  I felt they really should be in the hands of the fans who would love to own a piece of Pantera history. I have all my Pantera love and memories in my heart and soul.  Of course, I am keeping the things that are important to me, but there are a lot of treasured items here and it’s time for the next generation to care for them".

The guitar collection will take your breath away. From his first bass guitar, a 1981 Ibanez, RS-824 Roadster Bass, that he used during Pantera’s early club days, to the bass guitars that he recorded all the iconic albums with such classics as Cowboys From Hell thru Reinventing the Steel and toured the world countless times over, it's all there.

The auction will also feature his 1996 Stuart Spector Design LTD NS-5 #170 bass or otherwise known as “Brownie”, which was one of his most frequently used and photographed bass guitars.

Together with really cool stuff such stage worn shirts, picks, bass strings, posters, guitar straps, promo items, record awards, amps, cabinets and road cases, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime auction.

You can preview the entire auction catalog now and the bidding will start April 18 and will run through April 26, 2015.

For more information and to register for a VIP All Access Pass for the auction event visit: The Rex Brown Collection 


REX BROWN - As one of the original members and  bassist for Grammy-nominated, platinum-selling band Pantera,  Rex co-wrote classics such as 'Cowboys From Hell', 'Walk', '5 Minutes Alone', 'Respect' and 'I'm Broken'. The band's 1994 'Far Beyond Driven' album was the first 'extreme metal' album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200. After the band's break-up in 2003, Rex continued his career in bands such as Down and currently Kill Devil Hill. He is a member of the Metal Allegiance and recently authored a book titled 'Official Truth 101 Proof'.

https://killdevilhillmusic.com/


Celebration of sleaze: Aerosmith's 'Toys in the Attic' hits 40

True tales behind one of rock's greatest albums
By Peter Lindblad

A photo of Aerosmith, credited to
Ross Halfin
Music writer Gordon Fletcher didn't exactly fawn over Aerosmith's Toys in the Attic in his original review for Rolling Stone magazine in 1975.

Damning the record with faint praise, Fletcher argued, "Aerosmith can be very good ... and material like 'Walk This Way,' 'Sweet Emotion' and the title cut adequately proves this."

Toys in the Attic wasn't just "very good." It's the archetypal sleaze-rock record, a timeless classic that had only one thing on its mind: Sex. It should have come with a used condom in the sleeve, as the dirty blues-rock of the Rolling Stones copulated with heavy, tumescent Led Zeppelin power all over it. Aerosmith had perfected its formula, and in so doing, stuffed a ball gag in the mouths of critics who figured they were merely counterfeits, aping everything they'd worshipped. The songs cited by Fletcher, however, gave Aerosmith its own identity, with one foot stuck in the mud of rock 'n' roll's gloriously rebellious past and the other stepping bravely into the future.

Aerosmith - Toys in the Attic
A couple of days ago, Toys in the Attic, released on April 8, 1975, turned 40, which makes it a horny cougar of an album. Aerosmith's third release, it has outsold every other studio record by the band in the U.S., going platinum eight times over in the States.

And while those kind of sales figures boggle the mind, there are a myriad of other facts and tales related to Toys in the Attic that are far more interesting. We've collected a few here:

Watch it Teddy, he's got a knife!: An open, overflowing chest full of toys and stuffed animals makes for a harmless, innocuous cover that the executives at Columbia Records must have found adorable. The original album art for Toys in the Attic was somewhat more disturbing, however. It featured a teddy bear with its wrist slashed, bleeding stuffing out all over the floor, while the other toys just stood there and looked at him, according to Steven Tyler.

Naming rights: As hard as it to believe, Toys in the Attic was almost christened as either Love at First Bite (groan) or Rocks.

Cocaine is a powerful drug: In a 2013 interview with NME, Tyler recounted how in 1975 he and the band was anxious to get their hands on a rather sizable delivery of cocaine. Joe Perry was onstage, and Tyler ran up to join him, starting a jam session between the two that resulted in "Walk This Way." You can all guess what happened to the coke.

"It's pronounced 'Fronkensteen': It was early 1975, and Aerosmith was at the Record Plant in New York City suffering from a collective case of "writer's block." They'd written three to four songs prior to heading into the studio, where they figured they'd write the rest of Toys in the Attic.

Ideas were in short supply, but they had a song that Perry had worked up in Hawaii. Trouble was, it was missing lyrics and a title. Needing a break, the boys and producer Jack Douglas went to see Mel Brooks' hit comedy "Young Frankenstein." Anybody who's seen it will readily recall the famous Marty Feldman line "walk this way," with Feldman playing a hunched over servant to Gene Wilder's Dr. Frankenstein character. Douglas reportedly thought it'd make a great title, and Tyler, upon returning to the hotel, went to work feverishly writing the lyrics, which he supposedly left in a cab the next day and lost. His bandmates were understandably suspicious, thinking Tyler hadn't actually written anything.

So, Tyler went out into a stairwell with a tape player and headphones, and pencils, but no paper. So he wrote the lyrics for "Walk This Way" on the wall at the Record Plant's top floor and down the stairway, later going back with a legal pad to copy them down.

The fast and the furious: Few guitar riffs in rock 'n' roll history are as iconic as those written by Joe Perry for "Walk This Way." It's been said that Perry knocked out the intro riff and the verse riff in five short minutes.

Under the covers: Down through the years, various songs off Toys in the Attic have been covered by other artists. One of the most surprising was R.E.M.'s 1986 rendition of the title track, used as the B-side for "Fall on Me" and then later thrown in amongst the ephemera of the alternative band's Dead Letter Office and tacked on to the 1993 reissue of Life's Rich Pageant. Metal Church also did a version for its album Masterpeace.

Others included the String Cheese Incident's version of "Walk This Way" on the jam band's eponymous 1997 live album and the Mighty Mighty Bosstones doing "Sweet Emotion" for their Where'd You Go? EP. "Sweet Emotion" has also been covered by Leo Kottke and Mike Gordon, Warrant, Ratt and The Answer, while Velvet Revolver remade "No More No More" and Sum 41 joined forces with rappers Ja Rule and Nelly to do "Walk This Way."

By the numbers: Deemed a stone-cold classic by all right-thinking people, Toys in the Attic did not rise to No. 1 on the Billboard album charts; instead, it stalled at No. 11.

"Sweet Emotion" became the band's first Top 40 single, which led to the re-release of "Dream On," from Aerosmith's self-titled debut LP. Flying up to No. 6, "Dream On" became Aerosmith's top charting song of the '70s, setting the stage for a reissue of "Walk This Way" in 1976 that sent the song into the Top 10 in early 1977.

By the mid-1980s, Aerosmith was in decline, drugs being responsible for much of the damage. Then, along came Run-D.M.C., who initially weren't keen on any sort of collaboration. Their producer, Rick Rubin, wanted it, however, and his matchmaking led to perhaps the greatest rap-rock recording in history, as their re-imagining of "Walk This Way" became a Top 4 single, earning them both a Soul Train Music Award.

Easily one of Aerosmith's most beloved songs, "Walk This Way" has been listed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll," Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" twice – the original version checking in at No. 346 and the Run-D.M.C./Aerosmith take at No. 293 – and VH1's "100 Greatest Rock Songs," where it landed at No. 35. Rolling Stone also ranked the original "Walk This Way" at No. 34 on its list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time."

And there's more, but you get the gist.

The housewives of Aerosmith: "Walk This Way," the Aerosmith autobiography, spilled the dirt on tension between the wives of different band members, as did a "Behind the Music" piece on Aerosmith. Tyler has said the some of the lyrics for "Sweet Emotion" were inspired by Perry's wife.

Aerosmith is gearing up to hit the road for the "Blue Army Tour 2015," which begins June 13. All original members are onboard for the 15-city jaunt, which ends in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Aug. 4. After the tour, Aerosmith will perform Aug. 7 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio, for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's first-ever "Concert for Legends."

CD Review: Prong – Songs From The Black Hole

CD Review: Prong – Songs From The Black Hole
eOne Music
All Access Rating: A-

Prong - Songs From The
Black Hole 2015
Question Tommy Victor's punk credentials at your own risk. It may lead to a "Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck" type of situation.

Once a sound man at New York City's legendary CBGBs in the late 1980s, Victor, the linchpin for the always incendiary alternative-metal device Prong, was practically embedded in what was a wildly combustible and intensely creative scene.

With a blistering new album of covers entitled Songs From The Black Hole, out via eOne Music, Victor and Prong revisit their punk roots, offering their own taut, high-speed renditions of songs from underground rabble-rousers Black Flag, Husker Du, Killing Joke, The Adolescents, Bad Brains and Fugazi, among others.

By turning the screws on these blasts of barely harnessed fury, Prong magnifies the propulsion and raging energy of Discharge's "Doomsday," Husker Du's "Don't Want to Know If You Are Lonely" and Bad Brains' "Banned in D.C.," while the pulse of Fugazi's slow-burning meditation on dying "Give Me The Cure" quickens, as Prong elevates its heart rate in a vigorous workout.

It's impossible not to notice the spotless production of Songs From the Black Hole, suggesting that Prong is somehow indulging in a sonic ritual purification of what is a surprisingly wide-ranging set of choice selections. The Morse-code guitars and chilly echo of Killing Joke's "Seeing Red" create an almost antiseptic environment, but in a remake of Black Flag's "The Bars," Prong takes great pains to restore all of the grit and unbearable tension of the original.

And although the disjointed version of the Butthole Surfers' "Goofy's Concern" is a slight misstep and their lukewarm rehashing of Neil Young's classic "Cortez The Killer" seems out of place, the mean grooves and tight riffs of Sisters of Mercy's "Vision Thing" – devoid of gothic blackness – are ruthlessly compelling. As is Songs From the Black Hole as a whole.
– Peter Lindblad

Turn the radio to FM

Melodic hard-rock favorites return with 'Heroes and Villains'
By Peter Lindblad

FM is Steve Overland, Pete Jupp,
Merv Goldsworthy, Jem Davis
and Jim Kirkpatrick
A band like FM was never going to survive the grunge revolution. They could see the writing on the wall in the mid-1990s and decided they weren't going to swim against a rising tide of record label indifference.

"We, or should I say our whole genre of music, became very unfashionable with the Grunge explosion," said Steve Overland, leader singer for the U.K. melodic hard-rock outfit. "Recording (1995's) Dead Mans Shoes was a bit of a struggle as we had limited budgets. It just seemed to be the right time. There was no animosity in the band. We all still got on. We just all felt we’d taken FM are far as we could at that time."

Formed in 1984, as ex-Samson members Merv Goldsworthy and Peter Jupp joined forces with Wildlife's Overland brothers, Steve and Chris, as well as keyboardist Philip Manchester, aka Didge Digital, FM enjoyed more than a modicum of success, especially in their native country.

They built a devoted following while touring in support of such musical giants as Meatloaf, Tina Turner, Status Quo, Gary Moore and Magnum, and there was that time they rocked the Hammersmith Odeon with REO Speedwagon. FM's big break, however, came late in 1985, when Bon Jovi brought them aboard for the U.K. leg of the "Slippery When Wet" tour.

Through changes in record labels and personnel, FM persevered, penning well-crafted, radio-friendly fare that, for whatever reason, rarely ever made the airwaves. Not even a writing summit with hit-making guru Desmond Child in the States would do the trick. And when labels went scouring the land for the next Nirvana, Soundgarden or Alice in Chains, FM knew its days were numbered.

Then, in 2007, FM returned to headline Firefest IV at Nottingham Rock City, and the crowd embraced these prodigal sons of pop-metal. The experience convinced them to carry on, leading to the recording of 2010's Metropolis LP and playing out with bands like Europe, Thin Lizzy and Foreigner and performing at high-profile events such as Graspop, Sweden Rock Festival, Loreley and Download Festival.

Five years later, FM is following up with a new Frontiers Music release dubbed Heroes and Villains, with Goldsworthy (bass), Jupp (drums), and the golden-voiced Steve Overland (lead vocals/guitar) teaming with keyboardist Jem Davis – Digital's replacement, who appeared on Dead Man's Shoes – and lead guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick.

Steve Overland talked about with All Access recently by e-mail to discuss the new record and share some memories of FM's heyday.

What’s the significance of the album title Heroes and Villains?
Steve Overland: There’s no real significance. Merv came up with the idea for the title, we thought it was great and that’s it. Nothing sinister or deep. Just all the band liked it, very simple really.

In what ways does Heroes and Villains remind you of earlier FM albums, and in what ways is it different?
SO: We’ve always been known for big choruses, huge hooks, [and] melody, but by using modern studio techniques, we’ve tried to make our sound more contemporary and modern. Whenever we record we always try and take what we consider the essence of the FM sound and bring it up to what’s happening now.

With the last record, 2010’s Metropolis, you had two songs play listed on national radio in the U.K. for the first time. How did that affect you personally and the band as a whole? Did you see it as validation that had been a long time coming?
SO: We’ve had four songs play listed on Radio 2 I think. We’re getting more play on National radio now than we ever did, which is great. It’s weird when people, or your auntie, come up to you and say they’ve heard you on Radio 2. We’re not complaining at all. It shows they think we’re still relevant. 

“You’re the Best Thing about Me” and “Life is a Highway” are just such perfectly crafted songs. Talk about the making of both and your feelings about them after hearing them on the record.
SO: Those were two of the last songs we recorded for Heroes and Villains. "Life Is A Highway" is definitely old school FM. Steve had had the idea kicking around for a while. Merv really liked the vibe, and so we went into rehearsals and arranged and finished it quite quickly. "You’re The Best Thing About Me" was another idea Steve had. We demoed it and presented it to the guys. From what I can remember the arrangement is identical to that of the demo, but everyone has put their stamp on it.

FM - Heroes and Villains 2015
Heroes and Villains does not sound like records that are out there today. Like you don’t hear a song such as “Walking With Angels” out there today. What do you think is the biggest difference between the songwriting of FM and songs mostly heard on the radio today? Are there any similarities?
SO: I think we sit perfectly on radio stations like Planet Rock, and they are very supportive, but then they’re not going to play EDM or One Direction. We’re never going to fit in with the Radio 1 demographic. It’s a million miles away from what we do. We’ve been play listed on Radio 2, so we obviously fit in there. We write rock songs, but to us, melody is king. "Walking With Angels" is maybe a departure from the norm to us, but it’s such a great song. We just wanted it to be very simple and organic, personal. It has had such a great reaction. We’re glad we believed in our convictions.

FM went out on the road with some of music’s biggest names in the ‘80s, including Bon Jovi on the U.K. leg of the “Slippery When Wet” tour. What tour did you enjoy the most and what was the worst?
SO: The Bon Jovi tour was just so good for us. It was right around the time they went global with Slippery When Wet. It was infectious to be around them with all the excitement. I think we were in Newcastle when they heard they had hit the No. 1 spot in the States. They were a great bunch of guys, great to work with. They really looked after us, and that tour took us to a whole new level in the UK.

Since getting back together, the tour we did with Foreigner last year was just as memorable. You forget how many great songs they have. It’s just hit after hit. The band are amazing, and Kelly (Hansen) is a brilliant singer and front man. And what can you say about Mick Jones? The man is a legend. What a songwriter and such a lovely guy. We’ve never been badly treated on tour, but Magnum wanted us to play in front of the fire curtain at Hammersmith Odeon, which left about 6 feet max, if that, in depth, which was impossible and very unreasonable as Hammersmith has one of the deepest stages on the theatre circuit. We had to pull out of the show literally at the last minute and left a lot of disgruntled FM fans who had bought tickets, but it was totally out of our hands. Magnum wouldn't budge. We had no room to play. It was a bad situation, but what could we do? Why they did it I have no idea. We had been doing really well on the tour, so maybe they felt threatened by us. Who knows?

You played your first show on Valentine’s Day in 1985. What do you remember most about that performance?
SO: Our first ever shows were supporting Meatloaf in Germany, but the Marquee would have been our first headline gig in our own right. To be honest, I don’t remember too much about it. I remember we got ready for the show in a hotel on Russell Square. We didn’t use the Marquee PA. We hired a state-of-the-art American system; it sounded amazing, like a huge hi-fi. Did we sell it out? I can’t remember, but I do remember it being packed. I’d headlined it a few times before with Samson, but I always enjoyed playing there.

What do you think made your debut LP Indiscreet such a good record? Was “Frozen Heart” always going to be the big single off that album?
SO: It was an album full of great songs, and although we were never really happy with the final mixes, our fans took it to their hearts and it became the soundtrack to a lot of people's lives. "Frozen Heart" was the big ballad and was actually released as a single twice, but it didn’t get on the Radio 1 playlist either time. I remember it went top 75 in the first week, but CBS had given away some “Frozen Heart” FM radios as a promo item, which was construed as hyping, and we were penalized and the following week, despite great sales, the single was moved down instead of up as a punishment and momentum was lost.

Were you surprised that Iron Maiden covered “That Girl”? What did you think of their version?
SO: Maiden did the original written version of “That Girl.” When FM got together we thought the chorus could be stronger so we rewrote it. The two bands, as are the versions, are both very different, but I like what Maiden did with the song.

You recorded Tough it Out with Neil Kernon as producer, but you had to switch labels. You also wrote with Desmond Child. How did the making of that record differ from the first album, and how did the label changes affect the band?
SO: We produced Indiscreet ourselves with our then manager Dave King. Originally we went in with producer Peter Collins and recorded two tracks, but it didn't work out. We did some initial recordings, about four tracks, for Tough It Out with a producer called Jeremy Smith, but we felt they were not representative of the band and they were scrapped. Neil came in and he’s a very good producer. He got great performances out of everybody and knew what he wanted. Nigel Green mixed the album. Steve and Chris went over to the States and wrote “Bad Luck” and “Burning My Heart Down” with Desmond. They said he was quite eccentric but great at coming up with fantastic hooks. Changing labels was meant to be advantageous to us by opening up the American market to us, but there were a lot of internal politics with the MD in the States and UK. A lot of bands unfortunately suffered because of two massive egos.

FM reformed in 2007 for Firefest IV
What was it that got the band back together, and what’s been the most enjoyable part of reviving FM?
SO: An Irish guy called Kieran Dargen ran a festival called Firefest, and he’d been pestering us for years after we split to get back together and headline the festival. We kept declining, but at the end of 2006 he asked again. We had a chat and thought it was probably now or never, so we signed up for Firefest 2007. We really had no plans past that one show. We honestly thought if 400 people turned up it will be a result, we’ll have a laugh, a few beers and go our separate ways again. We sold out Nottingham Rock City, the first Firefest sell out; it was a roller coaster ride.

Remember, we hadn't done a gig for 12 years and our contract with Firefest stated we couldn't do a warm-up, so our first gig back together was in front of 1,500 FM fanatics, and of course, you doubt yourself. When we got out there onstage I can honestly say it was one of the most emotional nights of my life. You could just feel the audience willing us to do good; it sounds corny, but you could feel the love. I’ll admit to sitting there at the back behind the kit tears welling up in my eyes on more than one occasion. I felt so proud of us and the dedication of the fans. When we came off we were dumbstruck. We never expected a retain like that. It was pretty much immediate there and then in the dressing room at Rock City that we decided to give it another go and record an album. We felt we owed it to the fans. It’s now 2015 we’re releasing our 9th studio album and everything is cool.

Since getting back together, you’ve played with Toto, Foreigner, Thin Lizzy and other contemporaries of FM. How has touring changed for FM? Do you still enjoy it? How is your material received today as opposed to back in the ‘80s?
SO: I enjoy the writing and recording process, but playing live is off the scale. You can’t beat the buzz, feeding off the energy of a live audience. I don’t think it’s changed that much from the '80s, but I think the venues are much better now, especially the clubs. The facilities are way ahead now. One huge change is now you do a show, and it’s up there on Youtube for the world to see before you’ve had time to change out of your stage gear.

Can a melodic hard-rock band like FM break through again, or is the deck stacked against bands like yours?
SO: We’re under no illusions that we’re going to suddenly become “the next big thing,” but we’re holding our own. We’re making credible, critically acclaimed albums, selling concert tickets. The very fact that Radio 2, the biggest radio station in Europe. is play listing our music must say we’re doing something right and count for something.

CD Review: Toto – Toto XIV

CD Review: Toto – Toto XIV
Frontiers Music srl
All Access Rating: B+

Toto - Toto XIV 2015
Emblazoned on the cover of Toto XIV is a neon cross, its brightness washing in white light what appears to be a darkened and foreboding, but quiet, alleyway in a crowded Japanese city.

A symbol of hope and optimism, despite all the terrible things done in the name of Christianity down through the years, that sign has taken on special significance with the recent death of former bassist Mike Porcaro, whose struggles with ALS provided the impetus for a 2010 Toto reunion.

Their first record since 2006's Falling In Between for the innovative pop-rock progressives, Toto XIV is typically lush and complex, inspiring and melodic – the rich, dramatic keyboard interplay of David Paich and Steve Porcaro building grand sonic architecture around the always fluid and artful guitar magic of Steve Lukather.

Though bereft of a signature and utterly memorable track, Toto XIV rarely fails to deliver the goods, the noisy, proggy eruptions, rushing piano and unexpected detours down different passageways making a piece like "Holy War" worth exploring again and again. So is the slightly skewed "Chinatown." Brimming with positivity and life-affirming energy, the upbeat opener "Running Out of Time" exhorts listeners to make the most of whatever time they have left on earth and the equally uplifting "Orphan" gives comfort to the lonely, while the more serious and theatrical "Unknown Soldier" argues for peace while grudgingly acknowledging humanity's propensity for war.

Another exercise in wondrous musical diversity and lyrics walking a fine line between banal sentimentality and deep meaning, Toto XIV swims in comforting pools of pop, blues, jazz and rock, getting lost in the smoky atmosphere of "21st Century Blues," letting the bittersweet "Burn" stew in smoldering regret and growing wistful in the charming "The Little Things." The sound and production of Toto XIV, out via Frontiers Music srl, are familiar, and the material is as accessible as ever, Joseph Williams' passionate singing adding conviction to Toto's lyrics. Maybe their ready to write a new chapter, but Toto seems averse to changing the formula that got them this far.
– Peter Lindblad

Talking Motor Sister with Scott Ian, Pearl Aday

Husband-and-wife duo reveal how project evolved
By Pat Prince and Peter Lindblad

Motor Sister is Jim Wilson, Pearl Aday,
Scott Ian, Joey Vera and John Tempesta
Motor Sister's first-ever LP Ride was released a few weeks ago, but the buzz hasn't subsided.

The first week of its release, the record, containing fiery reworkings of songs by '90s retro-rock underdogs Mother Superior, Ride clocked in at #9 on the Billboard New Artist (Heatseekers) chart. It also debuted at #12 on the Billboard Hard Music Albums listing and #40 on the Billboard Rock Albums chart.

The story of Motor Sister began a long time ago, when Anthrax's Scott Ian started a love affair with Mother Superior's rip-roaring mix of '70s classic rock, blues, soul and blazing proto-punk.

For his 50th birthday party, Ian had a wish, and his wife, Pearl Aday, made it come true. Desiring nothing more than to be part of a band that would play his favorite Mother Superior songs, Ian got to live out his fantasy, thanks to his wife, as he got to play those songs alongside Jim Wilson.

It was Wilson who served as front man and the main songwriter for Mother Superior. The trio broke up in the early 2000s. More recently, Wilson has partnered with Aday in the making of her solo material. Given the chance to revisit his old Mother Superior catalog, however, Wilson jumped at it.

Playing in front of a small audience of friends and family, Wilson, Ian, Aday and the rhythm section of Armored Saint and Fates Warning bassist Joey Vera and drummer John Tempesta (White Zombie, The Cult, Testament) thundered through a set handpicked by Ian. Word of the raucous, powerful performance reached Metal Blade Records, and plans to make Ride, recorded in only two days, were set in motion.

This doesn't appear to be some one-off side project for any of them. Ian and Aday talked to Backstage Auctions recently about their involvement in Motor Sister and their adoration for Mother Superior, a band that may be finally getting its due.

Pearl, I wanted to talk about Jim Wilson for a bit. You first worked with him on your solo music and his solo music, right?
Pearl Aday: Not on his solo work, no. That was all Jim, but in terms of my stuff, Jim and I wrote all that together.

A tour may be in the works for
Motor Sister, when band members
can find the opportunity to do so.
How did you and Jim meet? How did that collaboration start?
PA: We met through Scott, because Scott knew him already by the time I met Scott. And so Scott introduced me to Mother Superior music and then introduced me to the guys. And I think I became a really big fan of the music first and then had met Jim and the other guys a couple times and then Scott surprised me by inviting the whole band to my birthday party one year. And this was a long time ago, and it was just awesome, and I got really excited, and throughout the night I mentioned to Jim I said, “What would you guys think about working with a female vocalist at some point?” I got the balls from somewhere to ask him that, and he said, “Sure.” And then it just kind of started falling into place. We started getting together and writing together.

And then you’ve covered Mother Superior songs on your solo material. “Whore,” on the Swing House Sessions, it’s a real nice country-blues rendition of the song.
PA: Uh, huh. Swing House Sessions was like an acoustic version of a rock album Little Immaculate White Fox, so “Whore” is on the rock album as well.

Oh, I haven’t heard that.
PA: Yeah, that’s a full rock album. It’s got heavy rock songs on it. And then the Swing House Sessions is the acoustic version of that album. But yeah, we did it, we did a cool little country version on the acoustic album. That was fun.

It just shows how Mother Superior songs can work with hard blues, hard rock and acoustically as well.
PA: Yeah, totally versatile. Jim’s music is completely versatile, because he’s drawing from all different genres.

And Scott, performing during your birthday celebration with Jim must have sparked that this was some special thought in your head. No?
Scott Ian: Yeah, it definitely did. Just even going into it, it was something special that I wanted to do. Not just even for me, but for all of us, just to get to be a part of that and kind of play that music again. Nobody had heard those songs in a live element for years, so it was just a case of having fun but with people who really love Mother Superior. Just to get together in the jam room at our house and just have fun doing it; that was really the impetus behind the whole thing. We weren’t going into it with any plans past that. Everything that came after that is just, you know, “Merry Christmas.” But the initial thing was, “Let’s just play these songs and have some fun.”

And Pearl, were you a part of that, too?
PA:  Yeah, I threw the party for him. I got the band together, and I sang that night, as well, because I’m in the band.

Well, your voice blends together with Jim’s nicely. You can hear it on “Fork in the Road” on the album. It’s a natural pairing.
PA: Thanks, yeah, we do sound really great together and we work really well together. It is very natural and organic for us.

And you guys recorded the Motor Sister album in two days, right?
PA: Yep.
Motor Sister's debut album 'Ride' 2015
SI: Yes.

Pretty much straightforward live, just like the birthday gig.
SI: Yeah, well, that was just one of our few things we said to the label was basically just, “If we’re going to do this, we have to do it the same way we did it.” That’s the way it should be, and I talked to Jay Ruston about it. I said, “Can we do this? Can we just set up live in the studio and bust it out the same way we did at our house?” And he said, “Yeah, absolutely. You guys all know the songs. You don’t need to do anything else.”  It was that easy.

And Jay is the engineer, the producer?
SI: Yeah.

Oh, okay. He’s worked with you before on with Anthrax and stuff, right?
SI: He’s worked with Anthrax, he’s worked with Pearl, he’s worked with Jim, he’s worked with Mother Superior. Yeah, he’s been involved with all our stuff.

And the spontaneous live feel, he captured something magical on the Motor Sister album. A lot more bands should do that, just go right through the songs, instead of all the overdubs and stuffs.
PA: You’re saying more bands should try and do that.

Yes, exactly.
PA: Some bands can’t do that. I don’t … You know what I’m trying to say, Scott.  Just for us, it came really easy, because it came from this night where we threw this party, and we were just doing it to have fun. And we were just doing it to have drinks and make this music come alive again and hear the music live again and celebrate Scott’s 50th birthday. And it kind of fell into place, the fact that it was so great and it was so exciting, and it was so good that this record company, Metal Blade, was like, “Dude, we’ve got to make an album of this. It’s too good for everybody to not to hear it.” So that’s why we were able to. It just happened so fast that it just kind of … it was natural. Not kind of … it was natural in how it happened, because it’s that good. And so were able to go into the studio and make an album in two days.

I was reading some stuff of Jim doing interviews and he said he overdubbed on Mother Superior’s albums to get a dual-guitar feel. And with Scott, here you have that dual-guitar feel on Motor Sister naturally. And I think he was very pleased with that, that it was a live feel.
SI: Yeah. I mean, yeah, it is, because we’re both playing. It is two guitars playing at the same time; so he’s not overdubbing. So, of course, it would be a live feel. 

But it was something special, the overdub This sounded a lot more more authentic and exciting and energetic.
SI: Yeah, absolutely. Two guitars just gives it that much more energy. Certainly having my playing on the songs is just going to change the energy of it as well. It’s a different band playing these songs, so it’s definitely going to feel different.

Did you find you had to use a different guitar technique or anything playing this rather than an Anthrax song?
SI: Nope, I just play how I play.

As somebody who doesn’t play guitar, I know it’s a silly question to ask. Some people have mentioned that this album is metalizing Mother Superior. I don’t see that at all. I see it as putting a new coat of paint on a race car. It’s just making it shine better and faster.
PA: That’s a cool way of putting it. I like that.
SI: Yeah, it’s not … we didn’t "metalize" it. I don’t hear that. Metalizing it would have meant me having, let’s say, my own tone that I would use to record an Anthrax record, which I certainly don’t. Yeah, I played with much more of a rock tone than I ever would on an Anthrax record. So I wouldn’t say it’s metalizing it at all.

Did you use different guitars?
SI: I used one of my Jackson signature models for about half the record, and then I used my Gretsch Duo Jet for about half the record.

Maybe that’s the question I should have asked. It’s not technique. It’s that you used different guitars or amps or anything to get that hard rock sound.
SI: No, it was just a matter of dialing the game back. My amp can get any tone I would ever need, just by changing the gain structure on the head. My Randall, all I have to do is pull the gain back and I can be as clean sounding as Malcolm Young or as distorted and heavy sounding as my normal Anthrax recordings.

This is nothing new for you, recording music outside of Anthrax. Out of all the outside material you’ve recorded, is this one of your favorite projects?
SI: Yeah, for sure. It’s not like I ever recorded anything with anybody that I don’t like (laughs). What would be the point of … “I’m going to record on something I hate.” That’s not something I’m out there trying to spend my time doing. Yeah, I’ve enjoyed, whether it’s S.O.D. or the Damn Things or the stuff I’ve done with Brian Posehn and now Motor Sister … I just love music, and when I get to be involved in projects outside of what I do with Anthrax, it’s most of the time with friends. I go back with every one of those things that I mentioned basically happened because of friendship, from S.O.D. on through. Anything I’ve done outside of Anthrax are hanging out with guys friends who also play music and are into music and we inevitably start writing songs together or play together, or jamming together. So, anything I’ve done outside of Anthrax is just because what I naturally do anyway. So it just adds more … it’s like having a whole bunch of different foods to eat instead of one food all the time.

I guess I asked because sometimes you hear musicians say when they do an outside project, they think it’ll be great, and once it’s done, they feel like, “I never want to do that again.” But with this one, it feels special. It feels like it comes from a special place because you were a fan.
SI: Yeah, it’s certainly different from anything I’ve ever done. You know, all the stuff I mentioned, all the stuff I did obviously I was involved in the songwriting. Whereas this is essentially me having this idea to just have a party and play a bunch of songs that I love that were written by Jim Wilson with my friends. And then we made a record of it. Essentially, I’m playing a bunch of cover songs, but a bunch of cover songs from a band that I love and now actually we made a band out of it and I’m actually in the band with Pearl and Jim and Johnny and Joey, because Jim was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” When we got the offer to make the record, the phone call actually came to us, to Pearl and I. And I said, “Yeah, I want to do it, sure. But you need to ask Jim. It’s not our decision to make. This is Jim’s music.” And he was totally into it, and he was totally into making it a band and playing shows. It’s really his thing. That’s what does make this special, that in a lot of ways, it’s just me getting to play a bunch of songs that I love. Like, what if I just said, “Hey, one day I’m getting a band together to play AC/DC songs and somehow get Angus Young to play along and go out and play AC/DC songs with Angus.” That’s the same thing to me, getting to do this with Jim. That’s how cool it is.

And then Jim’s voice has a very Paul Rodgers’ feel to it. It has a hard blues soul to it. And did you find playing with him that any traditional hard-rock influence seeped into this album when you were playing it?
SI: Well, I’m not sure what you mean, because the songs were already written.

Well, I know they were already played, but did you find that influences from the past – like hard rock bands you were into, whether, and I’ll just throw some out there, Foghat or any of those ‘70s bands – did you feel some of that seeping in, as well as Mother Superior?
SI: Well, yeah, Mother Superior obviously is influenced by a lot of ’70s music, whether it’s Humble Pie and Free, or whatever. You name it. Me, KISS and Aerosmith … name a great ‘70s band and Mother Superior … Thin Lizzy. Jim always says it best: In the ‘90s when people were listening to grunge and rap metal Mother Superior were playing songs that sounded like Humble Pie. That’s probably why people weren’t paying attention.

You take a song like “This Song Reminds Me of You ” … I almost feel like if that song was played on a classic-rock radio station, listeners would be drawn to it, don’t you think? It has almost like a Bad Company feel.
SI: Absolutely. Given the opportunity, I think people would … I defy someone to listen to … if you’re into rock ‘n’ roll, rock, metal in any way, shape or form, I defy you to not get into this record. It’s almost impossible. I can’t tell you how many people we’ve spoken to who’ve never heard Mother Superior before until now, because of the Motor Sister record, and have gone out and bought a bunch of the Mother Superior catalogs. So, it’s what we’ve been saying for ages, that this is a great band and Jim is a great songwriter, and if this opens the doors to more people getting into the music he’s been making his whole life, that’s awesome.

That was my next question. I think this is definitely going to turn people on. I mean I’d never heard of Mother Superior either before this, and I’m going to go out and buy some albums. And I just I find it weird that I’d never heard of them (laughs). It was very strange that the band could be overlooked by so many people. It’s almost unjust.
SI: Yeah.
PA: That’s why we did this (laughs). That’s why we did this. Like I say on the featurette, it’s just too good for people to not hear. And people are going to love it just as much as we do. They just don’t know it yet. They’ve got to hear it, and then they’ll go, “Aaargh,” just like you did and say, “I can’t believe I haven’t heard of it before, you know?” I mean that’s why Scott wanted to, in essence, resurrect this music again for his 50th birthday. That’s a milestone, you know? And that’s the thing he wanted to do: “I’ve got to hear this music live again, because this band I love them so much and they’re defunct, but let’s give it life. Let’s bring it to life again. So that’s why we did it, because it’s so awesome (laughs). And it shows in the way it’s being received now. We’re just so lucky that things fell into place the way they have, because we get to keep playing it live, you know what I mean? We don’t have to make it a special occasion. It’s sort of like, “Wow! We were right. Everybody is loving this. Everybody’s going to love it. And just more and more people get to hear it, and we get to play it for them. It’s so cool.

Yeah, and there is an appetite for retro-sounding stuff now. You can look at …
PA: The real old stuff – something genuine, something authentic, something with some talent. It’s something that people are hungry for, I think.

Look at a band like Rival Sons. They’re very traditional, and bands like that … you almost think if Mother Superior came out now would they be more popular?
SI: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. Or if they would have existed in 1972 or ’73, would they have set the world on fire. I mean, you could think about that all day long. Let’s see. We are putting out a record now with all these songs on it, and certainly there’s been no lack of promotion or awareness of what we’re doing. The word is out there. So it’s a case of, people getting an opportunity to hear it, they can click online or stream for free before they decide whether or not they actually want to purchase one … you know, they don’t even have to worry about buying a record that they may not like. They can listen to it first, and then see how rad it is and then decide, “Hey, I need to own this.” So I would think it’s a pretty good time to put this record out. Granted, people don’t buy records anymore, but still, from just the point of view of people wanting to hear a record like this, I definitely think it’s a good time for it.

Yeah, Jim had a great quote about this album. He said, “We were a little ahead of our time or a little behind our time.”
SI: Right.
PA: And now they’re getting a second chance.

Yeah, exactly … which song on the album are you guys most pleased with?
PA: All of them (laughs).
SI: Yeah, I mean I picked my 12 favorite Mother Superior songs initially to do this party, so those were my 12 favorites. So I don’t pick one out of those 12. Those are the 12 that were my favorites, and then even more. It wasn’t too long after we made the record, one day Pearl was playing Mother Superior in the house and the song “Rollin’ Boy Blues” came on. And we were both like, “What? Why didn’t we do this song?” So you just … it would probably be easy to pick another 12 songs (laughs) and do Vol. 2, but I would think moving forward, we’re going to try and write our own music out of this lineup. And maybe do “Rollin’ Boy Blues,” too (laughs).      

I was going to say, this can’t just be this one album. You’ve added something to that old Mother Superior sound. Why not an album of originals?
SI: Oh, absolutely. We’ve all been talking about it and it’s definitely something we want to do. I think this lineup, getting together in a room and banging out some songs can only be awesome.

And you’ve got a superior rhythm section in Joey Vera and John Tempesta. That sounds great on the record by the way. Those two together also sound great.
SI: Oh yeah, they rule. Just the idea of us writing songs together, kind of getting in that room for the first time, we have some awesome riffs that we’re jamming on, I’m looking forward to that.

How did you get them to commit? It’s almost like a supergroup? They have a lot of things going on.
SI: I didn’t have to do anything. Joey has already been a Mother Superior fan forever. Joey’s actually produced Mother Superior stuff in the past. Joey’s been playing with Pearl and Jim together in Pearl’s stuff together forever. And then Johnny, all I had to do was send him Mother Superior songs. He heard the music, and he’s like, “How, when and where?” So it was literally that easy.

Do you think if you did do something else, they’d commit to that as well?
SI: Oh yeah, they’re already in.

Even a tour?
SI: Well, a tour is something we’d all commit to. It’s just a matter of finding the window to commit to it. Yes, of course. But as far as a tour goes, we’re kind of waiting on some schedules to firm up with all of us, with our day jobs, so to speak. And as soon as we know what’s going on in those worlds, then we’ll be able to pick a window or two of time where we might be able to go out and do more shows. I mean, we really want to get over to the U.K. I think a week or two-week run in the U.K. with this would be amazing and certainly get out and play through the Midwest through Milwaukee and Chicago and Detroit and all those areas, I think it would be awesome.

So, what’s next? I know you have a lot going on now, Scott. You’re wrapping up Anthrax, you’re wrapping up the new album?
SI: Not wrapping up. We’re right in the middle of it.

Oh, you are. Okay. So you’re doing that, and what’s next for both of you? Pearl you’re working on solo stuff?
PA: Yeah, Jim and I have actually been working on an album for a while now, and we’re almost finished. We’ve got I think nine songs and we just decided to add two more, which we’ll be recording soon, so that’s really exciting and something to look forward to. It’s not hard rock. You know, our last album Little Immaculate White Fox was hard rock and the Swing House Sessions, and this is rock and roll, but it’s sort of more like The Eagles. We’ve been calling it “California country,” but it’s rock and roll, how that term is used. I know people don’t really know that term anymore, but we do (laughs) and we made a rock album, but it’s just not particularly hard.

Well, you have a very Janis Joplin soul to your voice, so I think that would sound really good in that Eagles sort of … add that country blues and make it heavy – that would be really cool.

PA: Thank you.

To read our review of Motor Sister's Ride, go to http://backstageauctions.blogspot.com/2015/03/cd-review-motor-sister-ride.html. Visit the Motor Sister page at the Metal Blade Records site to learn more about Motor Sister here. To get the inside scoop on the making of Motor Sister's Ride album, check out the video below:


CD Review: Agnostic Front – The American Dream Died

CD Review: Agnostic Front – The American Dream Died
Nuclear Blast
All Access Rating: A-

Agnostic Front - The American
Dream Died 2015
Anger management classes would be a waste of time for the seminal New York City hardcore faction Agnostic Front.

Worse yet, they might rob them of their raison d'etre, their vitriolic rage at almost anything and everything fueling their very existence. On The American Dream Died, album No. 11 for Roger Miret and company out soon via the Nuclear Blast label, they are mad as hell and extremely focused, and a pissed off Agnostic Front is one that demands you listen and listen good.

Spitting nails amid a frenzy of fast, aggressive punk and shouted Oi! mayhem and seething crossover thrash, Agnostic Front confronts head on a litany of socio-political issues on The American Dream Died, attacking police brutality, corporate greed, environmental catastrophe, the shameful neglect of down-on-their-luck war veterans and vicious warmongers with righteous indignation.

The hardest of hardcore bands, with the scars to prove it, Agnostic Front is as battle-tested as any outfit, slugging it out in close, sweaty quarters for 30 years in a scene notorious for violence. Agnostic Front wouldn't have it any other way apparently, declaring their undying commitment to and love of hardcore in infectious, gripping anthems "Just Like Yesterday," "Never Walk Alone" and the mid-tempo bruiser "We Walk The Line" as taut and sinewy as a young Bruce Lee. In similar fashion, they lament the soul-sucking gentrification of their hometown in the stirring and strongly melodic "Old New York."

While the short, sharp busts of "Police Violence" and "No War Fuck You" thrive on angry chaos and barely harnessed speed, and the title track is a blazing, straightforward punk missile shot at a variety of societal ills, "Test of Time" sees Agnostic Front charging headlong into a metallic, grindcore scrum, where grooves as hard as prison bars are locked and loaded. And although The American Dream Died is hardly a reinvention of hardcore or even a slight detour of any kind for Agnostic Front, a track like "Enough is Enough" can spring a surprising trap, its wildly disordered beginning giving way to strong, more menacing and shadowy currents.

As furious as ever, Agnostic Front continues to hone and sharpen their sonic attack, and The American Dream Died is like getting shivved over and over again in the yard.
– Peter Lindblad

CD Review: Roger Taylor – Fun in Space/Strange Frontier

CD Review: Roger Taylor – Fun in Space
Omnivore Recordings
All Access Rating: A-

CD Review: Roger Taylor – Strange Frontier
Omnivore Recordings
All Access Rating: B

Roger Taylor - Fun In Space and Strange Frontier 2015
Somewhat overlooked in Queen, what with Freddie Mercury's flamboyance and Brian May's dazzling guitar tricks hogging the spotlight, drummer Roger Taylor put out some rather interesting solo work in the late '70s and early '80s to hardly any fanfare whatsoever.

His obligations with Queen prevented Taylor from doing much, if any, promotion for 1981's Fun In Space or 1984's Strange Frontier, and that certainly contributed to the relative anonymity of both releases – Fun In Space preceded by the 1977 single "I Wanna Testify," which also made very little noise, which is strange considering Taylor's rather sizable songwriting contributions to some of Queen's biggest hits, the divisive "Radio Ga Ga" among them.

Making them ripe for reassessment, Omnivore Recordings is reissuing both Taylor solo outings on March 24 as expanded CDs, along with various vinyl editions. Stripped of Queen's theatricality and bombast, Fun In Space and Strange Frontier are more humble and modest records, although Taylor's wild and intimate studio experimentation and clever, down-to-earth song craft manage to sparkle through the airbrushed '80s-style production values.

Of the two, both very much a product of their synthesizer-washed times, Fun In Space – recorded in Montreux, Switzerland in the down time between Queen tours in 1980 – is livelier, more whimsical and eclectic, as Taylor produced it himself and performed everything, save for some keyboard work by engineer David Richards. The jazz-rock ease of "Future Management" is reminiscent of Steely Dan's lighter moods, albeit with a chorus that is sharp and cutting, and offers glistening contrast from the bustling, energetic shakedowns and shuffles of "No Violins" and "Let's Get Crazy," the latter a feverish rockabilly workout with "snap, crackle, pop" drumming from Taylor.

Strange and menacing shapes, skittering percussion and swells of synthesizer make a sonic lava lamp of "Fun In Space," while the galloping beats and silvery guitar of "Good Times Are Now" run fast and clean, the circling guitar hooks and grooves of "Airheads" are unexpectedly weird and nasty, and "My Country I & II" is an oddly melodic and entertaining mix of guitar jangle, swirling keyboards and drumming hydraulics. And all of this comes with a single version of "My Country" and bonus tracks "I Wanna Testify" – a tight, funky little number with doo-wop backing vocals that is utterly infectious – and a jagged, herky-jerky "Turn on the TV" that fades out with a solar-powered guitar solo.

Neatly arranged, with unexpected delights planted throughout, Fun In Space is a colorful surprise party, whereas the dated electro-pop environs of Strange Frontier – partly recorded in Munich while Queen made The Works – find Taylor in a dour and mostly somber mood, his overly dramatic and futuristic reading of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War" and the disjointed and chaotic "Abandonfire" lacking the fire and drive of the politically charged title track and "Man On Fire," where Taylor's frustration with modern living boils over.

On Fun In Space, Taylor seems playful, this mad scientist drawing inspiration from David Bowie's Let's Dance period, whereas on Strange Frontier, his muse is Bruce Springsteen, mixing introspection with grand socio-political statements but relying almost entirely on synths and electronic beats to deliver the messages, with less varied instrumentation. That's not to say that Strange Frontier is lacking for memorable melodies, the somnambulistic drift of both "Beautiful Dream" and "It's An Illusion" seeping into the subconscious like a cat burglar, and "I Cry For You" brimming with passion.

Padded with four throwaway remixes, two of them for Strange Frontier's closer "I Cry For You," and the extra track "Two Sharp Pencils (Get Bad)," Taylor's second solo outing at times seems forced. Even his cover of Springsteen's "Racing in the Street," while still imbued with blue-collar longing, comes off as mere imitation rather than a vigorous overhaul. On the other hand, Strange Frontier isn't without its charms, for all of its flaws. Taylor can have all the fun he wants right here on earth when he's adequately inspired.
– Peter Lindblad

Book Review: Billy Idol – Dancing With Myself

Book Review: Billy Idol – Dancing With Myself
Touchstone
All Access Rating: A-

Billy Idol - Dancing With Myself 2014
Wearing their political idealism on their sleeves, the Clash had righteousness on their side. For the Sex Pistols, shock and savage nihilism made them the scourge of Old Blighty before burning out.

Knowing full well that both bands had the market cornered on railing against injustice with all the filth and fury they could muster, Billy Idol wanted to be different.

A lascivious sneer, chiseled features and spiky, dyed blonde hair would only get him so far, so Idol made a conscious decision to emphasize punk's life-affirming power, its positivity and what a blast it was to be nonconformist, to be part of a scene that rejected most societal norms. And Idol certainly had his fun, indulging in the "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" ethos with reckless abandon and documenting it all in his engrossing and disarmingly candid autobiography "Dancing With Myself," out via the Simon & Schuster imprint Touchstone.

It reads as fast as Idol has lived, "Dancing With Myself" being a high-octane narrative that's surprisingly literate, recounting – often in graphic detail, including a rather amusing adventure in "fisting" that left Idol with a swollen hand – the all-night heroin and sex binges, tense and often violent confrontations in the nascent U.K. punk scene with conservative Teddy Boys or fascist skinheads, and close brushes with death. It all starts with a depiction of the gruesome 1990 motorcycle accident Idol miraculously survived, jeopardizing his life and career.

Unexpectedly vulnerable at times, especially when talking openly about his addictions, family relations and his love for girlfriend Perri Lister, Idol is a study in contradiction, wholly engaged in musical experimentation with Generation X and later a solo career that made him a global dance-rock icon while satisfying his more lurid appetites for mind-altering chemicals and sexual adventure. "Dancing With Myself" throws the reader back into the maelstrom of the early U.K. punk scene, not only detailing Idol's transition from the band Chelsea to Generation X and his move to America to go off on his own, but also painting a revolting picture of clubs and bathrooms covered in all sorts of bodily fluids while fully capturing the zeitgeist of youth culture and rebellion in late '70s Britain. His fraternizations with Steve Jones, Siouxsie Sioux and Mick Jones, among other architects of punk rock, certainly make for entertaining passages.

While regaling his audience with tales of utter depravity and uplifting recovery, Idol provides a full accounting of the creative process that birthed such smash hits as "White Wedding," "Dancing With Myself" and "Mony Mony" and behind-the-scenes music industry machinations. It's a wild ride, but one that also has a great deal of heart, romance and self-reflection. Let's dance.
– Peter Lindblad

Take a 'Ride' with Motor Sister

Jim Wilson talks new super group
By Peter Lindblad

Motor Sister is Jim Wilson, Scott Ian,
Pearl Aday, Joey Vera and
John Tempesta
Motor Sister is up and running, putting its own spin on the songs of versatile '90s groove-mongering rockers Mother Superior, a particular favorite of Anthrax's Scott Ian.

Jim Wilson is as amazed as anybody at how this project has taken shape in such a short time.

"To me, it’s a blessing," said Wilson, the frontman and main songwriter for Mother Superior, an L.A trio that smartly mixed '70s classic rock raunch and swagger with blues, early punk and metal. "A year ago, I didn’t know that I’d be doing this. I already started recording my second solo album, which I’m still working on, but I was just planning on doing more Daniel (Lanois) stuff and taking everything as it comes, but now I have this kick-ass band … crazy."

It was Ian's 50th birthday wish that started the ball rolling, as the Anthrax guitarist wanted nothing more than to get together with Wilson and some like-minded musicians, including his wife, Pearl Aday, and put on a small concert at his house playing a set list of Mother Superior songs. They were joined by bassist Joey Vera (Fates Warning, Armored Saint) and drummer John Tempesta (The Cult, White Zombie, Testament).

Aday has worked with Wilson for years on her own solo work, and she placed the call to Wilson to make her husband's dream a reality. The buzz from that performance spread, with Metal Blade Records A&R man Mike Faley seeing the project's limitless potential and arranging for a new record from the burgeoning super group. Working with producer Jay Ruston, the patchwork outfit cut an album in a matter of days, taking the schematics of old Mother Superior songs and redrawing them with a renewed sense of vigor and energy.

Motor Sister in the studio
Hitting the streets this week, Ride comes on like a powerful, addicting drug, with fiery anthems like "A Hole" and "Fork in the Road" mingling with the Southern-rock sunshine of "This Song Reminds Me of You" and the dark mystery of "Devil Wind" in a powerful concoction.

Since leaving Mother Superior, the band having once backed former Black Flag singer Henry Rollins, Wilson has worked with Lanois – the U2 producer – and Emmylou Harris, as well as Pearl, and he took time out recently to discuss the making of Ride and Motor Sister's creation in this exclusive interview. Wilson will give his views on a few of the songs on Ride in an upcoming post. And we'll have more from Ian and Pearl in a later interview.

The new album is great. Where are you at with promotion of it?
Jim Wilson: Thanks so much. Well, we’re very excited about it. I mean, that’s the reason I’m waking up late today is because there’s been lots of celebrations. There’s just a lot of excitement in the air, and it’s been really cool. We shot two videos last week, and we just got the first rough print of it yesterday of the first video, and it looks so cool. We’re changing a couple of things. It’ll be out in like a week or so, though, right when the album is ready.

Any hints on what the videos involve? Are they performance videos?
JW: Yeah, they’re performance videos … dark. They filmed us recording every song when we were actually recording the album, so the idea that they had some videos coming from that and that’s where that “Fork in the Road” video came from, and we liked it, but it was just kind of … we were so concentrated on recording in the video that we’re just kind of standing around, you know what I mean? We wanted a video that shows more of what we’re actually like when we actually play, so we’re thinking about those old Van Halen promo videos and KISS when they would do those three promo videos and they’d be on a stage and it looks like they’re in concert, but it’s just a well-lit performance stage, like a rehearsal stage, is where we did it at, but it looks really cool. It’s dark, and it’s kind of a scary effect. It’ll be cool. We’re a scary band, so … (laughs)

Motor Sister - Ride 2015
Tell me about jamming with Scott for the first time. In what ways did it remind you of the Mother Superior days and in what ways was it different?
JW: Yeah, well … I’ve met with Scott through the years on different projects, so we’ve played guitars together a lot. Even when his wife, Pearl, who’s in the band also, when she did some touring on her own through the years, I played guitars and Scott played guitars, and once in a while we would play actually play a Mother Superior song with Pearl singing. So we used to play “This Song Reminds Me of You” with her and we’d play “Four,” that was on her album as well. So it didn’t seem completely out of the ordinary, because we’re all friends and we hang out and play KISS songs in the living room anyway, but the very first time we played together, the day before Scott’s party, just in rehearsal, it definitely reminded me of the beginning days of Mother Superior, where everybody just kind of unleashed this animal in the music. And it hadn’t been that way for a long time with Mother Superior.

I mean, we hadn’t played together since 2008, but even in the last few years of the band … we grew up, so the music kind of grew up, too. I’m not saying the music wasn’t good. It was just a little less chaotic and John Tempesta, the drummer, was the only person in the new band that I had never played with before. So, I knew that he was into it, and I knew that he loved the music, and I knew that he wanted to play it, but I didn’t know what it was going to sound like. He definitely brought the wild spirit back to the music, and it felt so good. It had been a long time since I’d looked at the other band members and kind of smiled when we finished, you know what I mean? And obviously one of the main differences is Mother Superior and this band is a five-piece with two guitars. I always wanted to be in a two-guitar band. We just never found the second guitar player in Mother Superior. One of the reasons that we remained a trio was because we had tried a few other guitar players in the beginning, and it just didn’t worked out and we always ended up with three guys just jamming together, so it just kind of stuck that way, but it’s so nice to have all those extra meaty guitar parts taken care of by Scott. It’s kind of like … I just got the reissues of the first three Thin Lizzy albums on vinyl, and they were a trio. The first three albums they were a trio, and then, when they got the two-guitar lineup with Scott Gorham after that and Brian Robertson, it’s kind of like that. The trio is a great thing, but it’s a little more open and everybody can kind of experiment a little more, and with a full piece, with two guitars, bass and drums, it just seems to … even though we might be louder, because there’s an extra guitar, it still seems more together because everybody’s trying to balance. When you’re in a trio, you can kind of overplay and everybody can play over the top of each other, but when you’ve got four, it’s a better balance I think.

Talking about Pearl and Scott, when did you first meet them and when did you become aware of their Mother Superior fandom?
JW: The first time I remember meeting Scott was I was staying at the Palladium for an old radio station, KNAC, in L.A. that’s not there anymore, but they had an anniversary or a birthday party kind of thing for the radio station, and Anthrax played and Skid Row and Rollins Band, which I was playing in at the time. And there might have been another band or so, and there were tons of people there, like Paul Stanley was there, Wayne Kramer was there. It was a real party situation, and I know we had just put out the Get Some, Go Again Rollins Band album, the first one that we did with Henry, and I know Scott was talking to me and raving about the album, and how much he loved it. And then I would see him coming to shows over the next few years – local shows, I remember seeing him and Pearl come to Denver when we were on tour once, and we would say, “Hey, the guy from Anthrax was at the show again last night,” that kind of thing. And then eventually, somehow, we were invited to a birthday party that Scott had for Pearl years and years ago, when we still had our original drummer, Jason Mackenroth, who’s not in the band. And we met Pearl that night.

We were introduced to Pearl for the first time and talked about writing some songs together. And that was the very first night I really talked to Scott and talked about … I always talk about KISS, because that was something we all had in common and that we could all talk about. Anthrax has always been kind of KISS related and covered KISS songs, and I knew they toured with KISS before, so it’s kind of like, “Tell us about Paul Stanley?” You know, that kind of thing. And from then on we just started hanging out and going to bars and going to dinners, and me and Pearl have written – I don’t know – probably 25 songs together for her projects over the years. And she has a new album that’s almost ready now, too, that pulls the whole thing together. So, we’re definitely no strangers. We go to rock concerts together, like we all went to see Elton John and the Rolling Stones. And we’re just friends, so the band thing just seemed like … that’s another way that it reminds me of the early days of Mother Superior, because it’s just friends hanging out that wanted to play music together, before all the frustrations and stuff that comes along with being in a band for over 10 years. So it feels good to call your bandmates your friends. (See a featurette on Motor Sister below)



Looking back on Mother Superior, before all this started with Motor Sister, what did you see as the band’s legacy and were you satisfied with the work you did and how the band’s career progressed? Or is there a sense that there’s unfinished business there, and that this fulfills that?
JW: Yeah, unfinished business sounds good, and this is definitely something already more people are responding to the music than it seemed like … we always had hardcore fans that kept it going, and I’ve always been proud of the music. We put a lot of work into the music. I would spend … I wrote all the lyrics, and all the guitar … basically, I was the main songwriter for the band, who put everything together, and as a singer, I always wanted to have complete control of the lyric part of it, because if it was coming out of my mouth, I wanted to at least be able to relate to it. So I’m proud of the songs in that way. When we had to go back and recreate these songs, it was nice to know that they held up and that I could remember all the words, and that at least they all rhymed and I could remember them (laughed). And I don’t know … as for what happened with the band, I think that we gave it everything that we had and it just kind of ran its course. After eight to 10 albums, whichever way you look at it – there’s actually 10 albums of original material, one was kind of a demo CD and the final one was somewhat of a compilation, but it had new material on it as well – but I think, at that point, we all wanted to do something different, and to me, it didn’t seem like doing something different should mean changing the band, or the sound of the band or the image of the band just because of 10 years of starting to repeat, which I’m glad it didn’t get to that point.

But I think as much as we wanted to produce the music more and try some different things, it was kind of like you don’t … people like the idea and sound of Mother Superior, so we don’t want to change that or all of a sudden add keyboards or put a string section on it. It’d be like if Motorhead said we’re going to have a string section from now on. So it just seemed like the time was right to get some fresh air away from it, and like I said, I mean, truth be told there was a lot of frustration from the band members who couldn’t understand why we never got a break or, “What should we do to try to …?” I mean, when there were quote-unquote band meetings, we could all talk about what was wrong, but I think that it was more about the industry and the way things were going, and I thought the band had went through a lot and got to do a lot and had some great opportunities, and it’s just that was the time. You can’t kind of fake it anymore. I mean, bands fake it all the time, but it just felt the time was right to take a little breather. I really had no idea I would play these songs again. I mean, I never say never, but I didn’t know it would be this soon and with a different group of people.

You guys played the party for Scott. How did it go and did you think at the time that this project had a life beyond that day?
JW: Definitely, we … again, I didn’t know John Tempesta that well, and Joey Vera … Joey had done some stuff for Mother Superior in the past as well. He had mixed and mastered some of our records before, so Joey was always kind of involved and around. I mean, I knew everybody were great players, but like I said, when we first played together, it was kind of like, “Wow!” This sounds really great. And then after the party, we definitely said, “Let’s do something. Let’s keep playing together, because it sounds so good.” But, it was because of a friend’s call to Metal Blade Records that got them aware of what happened, and then when they stepped in and said, “Will you make a record the same way that you did the party, with the same songs from the party?” From the day of the party, we knew we were going to be playing together more, but I didn’t know it was going to be that quick and that a record would be ready that quick.  

When did the idea of making a record with Motor Sister take shape? What was it about the project that excited you the most?
JW: Well, Jay Ruston, who produced the record, is another person from the past who used to come to see Mother Superior all the time, and I remember after a show at the Roxy, he said, “There’s only one way to record this band, and that’s to record it live off the floor, with everybody playing together,” and we kind of said, “Let’s make that happen one day.” And funnily enough, Jay had been working with Anthrax, and he was around, and he’s also been doing a solo project that we’re working on, and it just almost seemed like it was meant to be. Like, here’s that time I’m going to get to work with Jay Ruston, so it’s going to be the best sounding record I’ve ever done. And Scott chose all the songs himself for his birthday party, so they were his choices, but I thought he had a great mixed bag of songs. It wasn’t just all the super heavy stuff, and then we kept the arrangements loose so we could … I told the guys play whatever you want. Don’t try to feel like you have to play what the other guys played, and everybody stuck to the blueprint of the original songs, but added their own flavor to it. John Tempesta played some double-bass drum stuff that none of the other drummers ever did, and Scott changed up some of the arrangements, like “Head Hanging Low” has a part on it that he really liked that only happened once, so we made that happen twice.

We changed some intros … things like that. So I knew it was shaping up to be the best recordings that we had, but it wasn’t until after we had actually recorded it – and when you’re recording, especially in the situation that we did where we’re all playing live together and looking at each other in a circle, you don’t know how it really sounds until you go back in the other room and listen to it. And even that … until Jay started sending rough mixes of the stuff did it really hit me like, “Wow, this sounds really great.” And I don’t know if I ever really felt any pressure from the old recordings or anything, but I definitely felt when I started getting those rough mixes that this is like way more powerful than the original band. And again, nothing against the original players, it’s just this is kind of like a different level and this band is all adults that have been playing music for a long time. Mother Superior’s energy was definitely a bit of punk rock youth, and nobody was listening to us or giving us a chance, so we could be the loudest, most raucous band, you know what I mean? So that was kind of the idea, and we kind of got better as players just from gigging all the time. And now I just feel that we’re all at a level where we’ve all been on the road for the last decade or so, doing different projects and playing music. 

You talked about not knowing what it would sound like, and you only knew it was working until after you heard it, but you made the record in only two days. Did you feel as it was happening that you were only going to need two days to make this or …”
JW: Yeah, I did, and I have to thank Jay Ruston for that, because he kept everything straight because we knew we had two days, so to have that person kind of … a taskmaster telling us we had to get this done and then keeping track of, “Oh, we need to do a solo on this one,” or the beginning of “Devil Wind” had acoustic guitar and stuff – he was always on top of it. And we had a film crew there filming us recording, who were grabbing each member into the other room to do interviews and our friends were there … you know, it very chaotic and we had a lot of work to do. So then, me and Pearl sang live with the band at the recording, but Jay said we could go to his studio and do extra singing if there was anything that wasn’t 100 percent for it. So we went to Jay’s home studio a week later, just me and Pearl, and I was going to try and sing like half the songs in one day and just see if I could top things or whatever. And it was such a good vocal day we ended up re-singing all 12 songs in one day, so the album was actually recorded in three days, two days for all the music and then one extra day for the vocals. But again, it was pretty magical. That’s the place we’re at nowadays, that my body let my voice scream out 12 songs and I didn’t lose it. I just feel like we’re that much more mature as players and singers.

It seems like this band came together really quickly, that it was just kind of a natural fit with you guys. It seems like a natural chemistry developed.
JW: It is. It is. It’s so funny. I’ve told this story, too, but it’s such a funny story. We played our first show in New York two weeks ago, and I’ve been in so many situations playing in bands and it’s very strange to be in the company of your band and there’s no weird feeling. It just feels like we’re ready to go, it’s just us five. I’ve said it to the guys before too, like when we’re all five together, it feels like somebody’s missing, because it’s just too easy. What I was going to say was, we played the show in New York and we played an encore song, and we were completely done, and I turned around to put my guitar down and shut my amp off, and I heard talking and I looked and John Tempesta had gotten up from the drums and he went to the front of the stage and he introduced the band. He said, “Thank you everyone for coming. Scott, Pearl, Joey, Jim and … “And he came up to me backstage and said, “I hope you didn’t mind that. I don’t know what came over me.” I said, “No, it felt great!” It was heartfelt, you know what I mean? It wasn’t him trying to do anything. It was just like he felt the need to say, “Thank you,” because it was such a warm reception. I can’t wait till we play the Whisky A Go Go in two weeks. Two weeks from today, we’re playing our next show, and I’m going on tour with Daniel Lanois tomorrow for a week with him. His album came out last year, and we toured the States already, and now we’re going to do some shows … we’ve got a few more shows in the States, but then once we gear up … So I’m going out for a week with him, and then I come back and we play the Whisky as Motor Sister and we have a few other Motor Sister things before the end of March, and I’m going out again with Daniel for April and the beginning of May, and Scott is going out with Anthrax at that time, and then we all get back together in June and do some shows for the summer. So we all have crazy schedules and we’re all in different bands, but we’re all eager to play together as much as we can and keep it fun and easy. 

I don’t know if people will be talking about it as much as the band as a whole, but the vocals you do with Pearl really add something to the record. You two have worked together for a long time. Why does it work so well between the two of you?
JW: I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s been that way for a while. We realized years ago that we could sing really well together, and her older material from her first album was more heavy rock, so I didn’t have as much place to be on it with her, but on the new stuff we’ve been recording, it’s definitely more harmony music. It’s definitely a little more … it’s more mellow, but it’s still rock. It’s more like country and Rolling Stones or Eagles or Gram Parsons kind of stuff, and it’s just some weird thing. There’s just certain people that your voice works with. I’m kind of that way with Daniel Lanois, too. We’ve been singing together now for a long time and people think we’re brothers. Like people will say to me, “Are you Daniel’s brother?” because we learned how to blend our voices, and it’s the same with Pearl.

She just has the exact range that goes right above mine, and it really helps with Motor Sister, too, because we had some background vocals in Mother Superior, but it was more like dudes trying to sing high and do that, but she’s the real deal. She’s a great, powerful singer, and I’m glad that not only does she get to do the harmony kind of stuff on her record, but I’m glad that people will get to hear her kicking some ass, too, with this stuff. And you know, for me it’s a … like in New York, we did our show in Brooklyn and then the next morning we had to do some acoustic songs for a web site there, so we got to bed at 2 in the morning after the gig and then we had to get up and be at the place at 10:30 in the morning, so my voice was still waking up. Thankfully, Pearl can help me get through some of those mornings, too. So it all goes together, and she’s great. And she doesn’t want to sing more. I tried to get her to sing more, and she said, “I just wanted to be in the background in Motor Sister. You’re the singer in the band.” And we’ll do some new songs for our second album next time and get her to have some sections that she can sing on some songs. I’m looking forward to that.