Janet Jackson literally comes from a musical royal family. Her successes have extended the legend of the Jackson family positively, and with her strong voice, sharp dance instincts and a performance style perhaps only matched by her brother, the late King of Pop himself, has made her the second biggest superstar in the clan. The baby of the Jackson family has also managed a very successful acting career, which most recently has included roles in films like Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married and its sequel, Why Did I Get Married, Too, as well as the 2011 hit For Colored Girls. Jackson — who recently released her first book, True You: A Journey to Finding and Loving Yourself — didn't rely on her family name to bring her success, instead creating her own distinct, multifaceted legacy. Jackson's intimate Number Ones Up Close and Personal tour comes to Riverbend's PNC Pavilion Thursday. Notoriously shy and extremely private in her personal life, CityBeat connected with Jackson via email to chat about True You, Cincinnati fans, her film career and the current tour.
Buckcherry has been epitomizing Hard Rock since the late ’90s. The band recently started touring behind its sixth studio album, Confessions, adding to a great and energy filled set-list, alongside crowd favorites and major hits “Crazy Bitch” and “Lit Up."
CityBeat had a chance to speak with enigmatic Buckcherry singer Josh Todd in preparation for the band's set at Rock on the Range in Columbus this weekend (May 17-19). Buckcherry takes to the stage Friday night alongside Hollywood Undead, Cheap Trick and Korn. Click here for more Rock on the Range info.
CityBeat: I have seen you at Rock on the Range many years. What is your favorite Rock on the Range moment from the past?
Josh Todd: One year we were there performing “Lit Up” or “Crazy Bitch," I can’t remember, and a guy in a wheelchair started crowd surfing. That was a pretty memorable moment.
CityBeat: You guys just came off a tour with Kid Rock recently, which is a great match. What was your craziest tour story?
JT: Surprisingly, it was a pretty tame tour. We didn’t have too many backstage parties. The coolest thing we did, Bob — Kid Rock — invited Keith and I to his place in Alabama. We got to go and do some skeet shooting and eat some barbeque. I had a lot of deer meat which I hadn’t had in a long time, a lot of deer jerky. So that was a lot of fun.
CB: I was just covering the Kid Rock cruise and he was singing “Crazy Bitch.” It was a cool moment, one of my favorite songs with him singing.
JT: Yeah. I don’t know what to think of that. I’m flattered, you know, but it is kind of strange since we were on tour with him. I think it is cool because he loves the song.
CB: I want to talk about the record a little bit. I know Confessions is loosely based on the seven deadly sins. Which sin do you think is the worst?
JT: The worst or the most hard to manage?
CB: Either is fine?
JT: Probably lust, especially when you have been in a Rock band since you were 15 … it is something that comes up a lot.
CB: I know “Sloth” was written about your experience with your Father’s suicide. Is it ever hard to perform that live?
JT: I have never performed that live. We are working on it right now. We have six records. We have 80 some odd songs to really sift through. The songs we have performed off Confessions so far are “Wrath” “Gluttony” “Greed” “Air” and “Nothing Left but Tears.” We will get there eventually. I don’t think it will be hard for me because I just got a lot of great feedback from a lot of people who really connected to that song. That makes it a lot easier for me. It was real tough to record, but I think now it will be all right.
CB: Are there any habits you would like to break?
JT: Yeah. I struggle with sugar. So, yeah, not so much sugar.
CB: I know your songs are very autobiographical. Is there anything you have regretted writing about in any of your 80 songs?
JT: Since I write all the lyrics, it is kind of therapeutic for me to get out what is going on inside of me and somehow make it where a lot of people can relate to it. That is the challenge of the songwriter, to take a piece of your personal life and the lives around you and try to create a song where lots and lots of people can remember. That is the fun of it and also the challenge of it all.
CB: What does your perfect day look like?
JT: A perfect day would be to be home with my family. Just getting to spend time with them is a perfect day to me because I tour so much. To be home with my family is great.
CB: Is there anybody you would like to trade places with for a month?
JT: Yeah, I would like to be Kyle Busch for a day.
CB: Oh, a race car. Do you have fast cars?
JT: Yeah, I race fast go-carts. I have a race cart at home. I race that as much as I can. I did a NASCAR experience out here in Fontana and that was a lot of fun. I have always wanted to race an oval track race in a stock car. That would be amazing.
CB: Can you tell us what the fans should expect from your set at Rock on the Range?
JT: They can expect what we always deliver — their money’s worth.
CB: Are you going to be performing any of the new album?
JT: We will be performing “Gluttony” “Wrath” and “Nothing Left but Tears,” which is going to be the new single. Plus, we have to get to a lot of other songs. I don’t know how long our set is, but depending on how long our set is, we have been doing “Greed” recently and it is really great live now.
The first time lead singer of The Dukes Are Dead, Lucas Frazier, eagerly told me about his band, in between puffs of a hastily smoked cigarette while on a quick break from the coffee shop where we both worked, I’m pretty sure I said, “Aw! That’s so cute.”
Three years and a lot of hard work later, The Dukes Are Dead are far from cute. Stoic. Diligent. Loud. Confident. Any number of adjectives, but unequivocally, definitely, absolutely, not cute.
Oh sure, they’re an attractive bunch. All slender and tangle-y-long-haired fellows, TDAD are four young men with serious, hungry ambition and serious, twinkling eyes. Randy Proctor, the prodigious bassist for this band, is perhaps the most vivacious, and assertively business-like.
I sat down with the gentlemen of The Dukes Are Dead to discuss their current role as the musical accompaniment for The Know Theatre’s production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, about the tumultuous and yes, bloody, life of the seventh president of the United States, running through May 12. (Read CityBeat's review here.)
“I was hanging out at MOTR one night,” says Proctor, his red curls all hip length and slightly mussed after a Saturday night performance of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, “getting really drunk, and Eric Vossmeyer, the production manager — he also does Fringe Festival — I overheard him talking about Fringe Festival and he says it nicer than the truth is, but, I was drunk, and kind of being cocky, and I guess I just felt like interrupting his conversation and telling him what he should do at one certain part of the production and this, this and this with the poster, and [I was like] ‘I’m in a band’, and I was being kind of cocky and he was like, ‘Oh, ok, thanks. Wait. You’re in a band? Why don’t I get your number?”
Proctor speaks quickly and efficiently, dropping anecdotes and inflection all over the place.
“And then I had no idea what he was talking about, and I called him up and we went to MOTR and he told me, ‘I like your ideas, but I’d like you to be in a musical with your band.’” Proctor relays. “I thought it was really wacky, and I was not too keen on it at first, actually, and then he just kind of described it to me, and then he told us he was going to pay us, which was cool, and then it just kind of won [us] one by one over to the idea of it. And then the wheels went into motion from there.”
Like Proctor said, TDAD was slightly hesitant at first to agree to being a part of the production.
“It was a lot of time. It was a lot of time that pretty much cancelled [us out of] being able to do anything [else],” says Luke Darling, lead guitarist for TDAD. “We were trying to do big things, and then this came up, so it was very cool, it seemed like a cool idea and like a lot of fun but that was the problem, was time. But we decided we did have time. We had enough.”
Rehearsals began a month and a half before production started, and TDAD quickly adjusted to the different setting and atmosphere.
“It was really fucking hard and stressful. They gave us all the sheet music, they gave us a CD, and basically we had to teach ourselves how to play these songs in, like, a week or two,” Frazier says matter-of-factly. He’s sitting one chair over from me, drinking a Moerlein, with Proctor, Darling and drummer Dave Reid sitting in the row directly behind us.
“Through this process, I think we all have learned tons of shit when it comes to playing music and understanding music. Like, I mean, just chords we’ve never played before, time signatures, key changes, all sorts of stuff that we’d never really attacked as The Dukes Are Dead, all of a sudden we were faced with,” says Frazier.
“And it wasn’t like, ‘Well I don’t like this, let’s just change it’, it was them telling us, ‘Play it like that.’ And they gave us this CD and this music, but then we get into this practice space and all of a sudden there’s all these lines and there’s these, like, times where we’re just playing the same thing over and over and filling the space, and having to get quiet and loud and everything’s fluctuating and changing and it’s just completely different from anything we have ever done before. And it has made us much better musicians, whether we like to admit it or not.”
The intensive rehearsal schedule is best explained by Proctor: “[At one point there were] two weekend days in a row, where we did twelve-hour days back to back, which means we worked a total of like fourteen days in a row [besides] the weekend. And we all have other jobs, too.”
But TDAD is nothing if not diligent and pervasive, and their smoking, blazing Rock and Blues-infused style made itself evident during rehearsal.
“I think that’s unavoidable,” says Darling. “We’re all particular tone snobs in our own way, to our own liking, and we were told to turn things down very far. Because it needed to be done. It’s a guitar-tech-nerd thing. I think tone’s the only reason it’s different.”
Proctor chimes in. “I think we got, three different times, formal requests to say, ‘take your volume down, you’re rocking a little bit too loud for the house.’ I’m proud of that. I think it’s cool that they had to tell us to turn it down.”
“It sucks to turn it down, but it makes sense,” says Frazier. “Because the music is not the most important thing. The vocals are.”
As lead vocalist for TDAD, Frazier has an especial appreciation for the way in which the story must be told.
“[The musical's actors] have to be heard above everything else, because they tell the story. The music is extremely important, but it’s still second to what they’re doing.”
Showmen of a different variety, TDAD performs emphatically, exuberantly at their own shows, with Frazier exuding a magnetism that is firmly in the realm of broody young lead singers. During BBAJ, TDAD is relegated to an elevated platform on the right side of the stage, mostly in dim lighting during the production. Learning to take a backseat was “so weird”, says Frazier. “When I’m on stage and I’m playing in a Dukes show, there’s that connection [with the audience]. [We know] we’re [all] having a good time. But this, they’re hardly ever looking at us, because we’re just playing the music. They’re performing. It’s very interesting to take a step back and really focus on what [I’m] doing. And increasing…”
“Dexterity,” inserts Darling.
“Right, exactly,” continues Frazier. “It’s just a chance to practice and focus and think more about it, because no one’s looking at you. It’s nice. It really is.”
With the spotlight off them in the musical arena, TDAD is eager to get back to their daily grind of performing, writing, recording and being a band.
“I think through this experience, it’s put us all in the mindset of [being] even more determined to do what it is we really want to do,” says Frazier. “Not that we’re not enjoying ourselves here, and we’re very grateful for the people around us, and this is a wonderful experience, but after this, it’s time to get back and hit it even harder than before.”
“This production’s here because some other guy went out and wanted to make music and change the world that way. It’s our turn to do the same thing.”
The coming summer of 2012 holds a lot in store for the gentlemen of TDAD. They will be embarking on an extensive tour, in cities “as north as Chicago, as south as Nashville, as west as St. Louis, and as east as Washington, D.C., and a lot in between” Proctor notes.
“We want to let people know that we’re going to be taking this and then going on out and expect to see us doing some bigger things. More content is going to be on it’s way, and we’re only going to get bigger and stronger and more incredible as time goes on.”
The Dukes Are Dead will continue performing in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson through May 12, and their next show is on June 15 at MOTR Pub.
New York-based band Return to Forever made a name for itself in the ’70s as one of the premier Jazz Fusion ensembles, alongside Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra. After a brief return in the ’80s, the band re-formed in 2008 and has seen wild worldwide success since the comeback. The group was a breeding ground for some of the biggest names in Jazz, including Al Di Meola, Earl Klugh and all of the members of the current lineup. Dubbed "Return to Forever IV," the all-star ensemble currently features original members Chick Corea (the founder) and Stanley Clarke, Jean-Luc Ponty, Frank Gambale and Lenny White. RTF's second world tour since the return comes to Riverbend's PNC Pavilion this Thursday with Dweezil Zappa's tribute to his father, Zappa Plays Zappa.
The Devil Wears Prada is a true "area band makes good" story. The Dayton-born group is steamrolling through the landscape of Metal all over the world. In the band's short history, TDWP has released four albums while keeping up one of the most active tour schedules around. The group's latest album, Dead Throne, from last year reached the top of the US Indie charts and they are showing no signs of slowing down, joining the likes of Slipknot, Slayer, and Motorhead on the latest Mayhem package tour, which comes to Riverbend next Tuesday (July 24).
CityBeat caught up with lead singer Mike Hranica in person prior to the band's show at Bogart's this past winter, and with rhythm guitarist Jeremy DePoyster by phone just this week to preview the group's return to Ohio. They both are very proud of their Midwestern roots, what it has meant to the band’s success and how it has let the members keep their Christian values at the forefront of their music.
CityBeat: I have been listening to your new album this week Dead Throne to get ready for the show. First, I wanted to ask you about one of the songs on it. I guess the song that speaks to me the most was “Mammoth.” Can you tell me the story behind that song and a little bit about it?
Mike Hranica: “Mammoth” was an interesting song. When we went into recording the record, there were only two songs that didn’t have vocals yet. One being “Chicago,” one being “Mammoth” and I wrote them as we were working on the record. When we took “Mammoth” into pre-production, Adam D, who produced the record, totally re-arranged it and it turned out to be one of our favorite songs as well and a favorite of the fans. Lyrically, it was the second to last song I wrote for the record, so I wanted it to be this recap of everything this record deals with, all the issues from idolatry to love loss and all this and tying obviously God into it. That is the idea of the full circle which runs throughout the song and that is the general concept of it.
CB: You mentioned Adam D from Killswitch. What was your favorite part of working with him on the album?
MH: I liked all of it. He is extravagant, personality-wise, and professionally I see him his as very simply a mastermind. I think he absolutely smashes it. I loved what he did with the music, what he did vocally with me, and I loved eating lobster with him every day.
CB: You recorded it somewhere up north right?
MH: Yes, in Western Massachusetts.
CB: You guys grew up here in Dayton. This is a local show for the band. How do you think growing up here in the Midwest influenced the music?
MH: You really see it everywhere, internationally and throughout the states. Music is obviously huge to all cliques, all generations, and all sorts of youths as far as going to school in the groups or the segregations, the cliques of people all have their music. Music is very important to someone young and growing up and I know that really translated to us. I think the Midwest has a big part in it because there is not much else to do. Like anyone else there was BMX and skateboarding and sports and what not, but it seems like a lot of young folks in the Midwest just want to play guitar and go to shows and I know that was the members that make up this band.
Jeremy DePoyster: There are so many bands that are doing similar kinds of things to what we are doing now. When we grew up, especially in Cincinnati, there was an actual Hardcore scene of music and it was bizarre to be playing with them as kids with keyboards and singing and all this stuff. We were this kind of and oddball band and it was exciting because we were just a bunch of kids and into that stuff. It forced us to try and do the best we could and to really have no promise of anything. It was all local. Between Cincinnati and Dayton and Indianapolis and all these places we played growing up, it’s just the Midwest vibe. That’s why I live in Chicago now instead of the West Coast. I like the feeling here. I feel like it is really down to Earth. My wife is from Cincinnati and so we grew up together. It makes you more humble. You don’t have the arrogance that comes with it a lot of times.
CB: So you were in the school band?
MH: Dan and James were. I think those two were the only ones in school bands.
CB: I downloaded “Zombie Slay” last night and played that on the iPad for the first time. I was just curious about you guys getting into gaming and the comic books and how did that all come about and why did you choose to go down that path?
MH: When we did the EP, it was like a weird concept, it is a non-serious concept that we are going to take seriously and with that I think it would be really stupid to not do things in addition to zombie t-shirts and zombie hoodies. We wanted to go outside of that. The comic book was something that came to us right away as well as the game. Unfortunately, it just took a long time to get the game together. It was just stuff we wanted to do.
CB: Do you draw?
MH: Chris draws. The dude that did all the illustrations, actually Kevin Mellon who did the comic book illustrations worked with us on the app as well. We were just curious to get into the app world, the iTunes world, being a bunch of Apple nerds. The game was definitely an awesome first step for us and we are excited to see what else we can do with outside the box marketing products and just giving fans something a little bit different to maintain curiosity and just have a little bit of fun.
CB: What is your favorite game to play, other than Zombie Slay of course?
MH: I have been playing a lot of Zombie Slay. We just did Australia before this tour which is a lot of long flights and I was playing a lot of Zombie Slay. Otherwise, I go in and out. I have an iPad as well and I play games on that. I am not that big of an Angry Birds fan. Everyone is definitely on Angry Birds. I like Veggie Samurai, I play that a lot. Sadly I play a lot of Solitaire on my iPod, like my classic iPod.
CB: What are you guys most looking forward to with the Mayhem Festival?
JD: So many things. We have tried to come a long way as a band. That is always the goal. We have tried to really fine tune the art and harness the sound in the show and all that good stuff. I think that being on the Festival is kind of the next step in the direction of shying away from the Dubstep nonsense, you know, silly autotune wave of things that are happening and get back to Metal which is what we like and what we love and why we write the stuff we do. Slipknot, Slayer, Motorhead and Anthrax are amazing. You can’t beat that stuff. We have wanted to do the tour for a long time but as soon as those names came up, we were like, “Yes. Now. Put us on it.”
CB: You guys have never really compromised your Christian values and you have always had that kind of a theme through your lyrics but you have started touring with more mainstream Metal bands like White Chapel and the bands you just named. There is not always a Christian atmosphere. I cover a lot of Metal music. How do you handle it or does it bother you guys at all?
JD: It doesn’t really bother us. Even one of the guys from Slayer is Catholic. I think it is more of a vibe thing for them more than anything in a lot of those bands. I don’t really feel like it is that big of a deal. Some people sing about politics and some people sing about satanic issues and some people sing about love and all different kinds of things. This is just what we sing about.
I don’t think it really has a whole lot to do with music. I listen to Slayer and I listen to Slipknot and bands whose values have nothing to do with mine but I can still enjoy it and listen to it and have a good time with it. I think that is the vibe we try to bring in. We are pretty respectful dudes.
We generally tour, 99% of the time with secular bands, and we really don’t have a problem with it. I guess we just hope that people will give us a chance which is why it is fun to get out on a tour like this and be able to play in front of people that might have a pre-established opinion on who we are and what we do based on the fact we are a Christian band. They see it and go, “Oh wow. I had no idea it was like that.” It’s kind of cool.
MH: It really is no big deal. We never, ever set out to only tour with Christian bands. We just wanted to, it was always about playing to as many people as possible. The funny thing is, backstage it never really matters what you believe because everyone gets along fine. We get along with For Today really well, both being Christian bands and being people, Christians, normal people. That’s how I think of ourselves, just normal dudes and Christians.
And we both get along with White Chapel just as well, who don’t have the same sort of belief system, but it doesn’t matter at all because we are here to perform what we made and explore the music we have created and that may sound like it degrades your beliefs but it doesn’t. It’s just how it is touring. If anybody really has a big problem with Christians being on the tour, they are the standouts, and not to be too blunt, they are usually pretty ignorant people. We get along with everyone and we have been touring with non-Christian bands since we started and some of our absolute best friends are non-Christian bands.
CB: I was just curious because White Chapel is almost the extreme opposite of what you guys play and lyrically. How did that tour come about or how did you hook up with them?
MH: The first time we toured with White Chapel was early in 2008. I had went and saw them at a show some of my friends were playing and I had been listening to their EP that was out and was “This is the heaviest thing I know of right now.” We are happy to have them on tour early that year and it was smooth sailing. They were “We’re a little bit nervous” and we were “We’re a little bit nervous.” And it was whatever and we just play music together. We just announced a South America tour for next year which White Chapel is on again. When we see them, it is always, “When are we touring together?” It’s awesome to have them back and it is awesome to have all good people on the tour, definitely White Chapel included.
CB: I think there is a misconception about Metal in general. I interview everybody at Rock on the Range and every festival. I have never met anyone that was disrespectful or not nice or who didn’t get along. I think it is a misconception in general.
MH: It really is. There are Metal bands that take the whole evil thing literally, mayhem and these other things. For the most part it is evil music and it needs evil lyrics and that is what they make. They are not killing and raping women in ditches so what does it really matter?
CB: You recently released a video for “Vengeance.” Can you tell me the story behind that song and the video itself?
JD: It’s just a live video from our DVD shoot that we did. We put it out to get the message out of that and spark interest. We put a lot into our live show. Actually we filmed that DVD and that video I think four days before the Cincinnati show. We really just wanted to capture what that tour was in a permanent format so people could see it, not like in a Youtube quality video and stuff. That video is kind of like promoting that and getting it out there. It is one of the more relatable songs that we have off the record.
CB: The DVD you are referring to is Dead and Alive. I know you did a lot of the behind the scenes shooting and editing. Are you a photographer or videographer? Is that kind of a hobby?
JD: It is just something I just started doing as a hobby and a side thing. Then it just gradually turned more and more into something where I was doing every single one of the tours a video for us. Something really important to us is making sure that everything that goes out there with our name on it is coming from us and not from a giant business, corporation behind us but intimately from us. So with the video stuff and most of the photos we put up, we shoot and produce and come out from us.
I feel like the bands that I like and respect the most are the ones that put effort into it instead of writing the songs and handing it in and going, “OK, do what you will with this.” Even with the merchandise designs and the website design, Mike has a massive, large hand in creating. We just want everything that has our name on it to come from us. Being able to do the video stuff ourselves is a really big help in that.
CB: I have seen you guys a couple times play and you have major crowd surfing. The fans really get into your shows. Is there ever any worry about injury or anything crazy happening at the shows?
JD: Yeah, but I guess it just comes with the territory. We grew up going to small shows and hardcore shows in the Dayton and Cincinnati scene which was not a calm, passive scene to grow up in. We are kind of used to it, teeth are all messed up, my face kicked in at a show as a kid and that is what we are used to. There are usually ambulances that come. I think it is pretty easy to be able to tell the areas where you won’t get hurt and the ones where you might get hurt. I think it is a do-it-at-your-own-risk kind of deal. It is part of the style of music and hopefully no one gets too hurt.
CB: What was your highlight of the last tour you were on?
JD: We have done a couple tours. Our fall tour was probably the most exciting one we have done so far. We got to bring massive production out and put on a big show. We just did a small club tour in the U.K. which was real cool and intimate. We did a secondary market tour in the Spring which was really cool because we got to do some “off the beaten path” markets which do a little bit better for us. The people are just more passionate than they are in the big city. We went to South America which was insane as it always is down there. It is a totally different world than it is here. The shows were great. I think it has been an exciting good six months for us.
Really the highlight will be this summer with the Mayhem Fest.
CB: What is the best guitar solo of all time?
JD: Really, I like a lot of the Judas Priest stuff. “Painkiller” solo is pretty up there for me. There is just an emotion that comes from that, that is pretty awesome.
Lightnin’ Malcolm is an emerging driving force in the genre of underground Blues as a member of the North Mississippi All-Stars and also as a solo artist. Alongside counterpart Carl Gentle White aka "Stud" on drums, the dichotomy of their two styles produces a rough, soulful sound that reminds folks of Blues legends like Lightnin' Hopkins and Howlin' Wolf. Audiences should be prepared to dance, party and delight in Malcolm’s deep Mississippi sounds tonight at the Southgate House Revival. Malcolm is opening for and playing alongside the North Mississippi All-Stars. Showtime is 8 p.m.
CityBeat: I know you have an album coming out on Sept. 10. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
Lightnin' Malcolm: Well, it is 14 original songs and they have quite a few different styles on them. It is all based on my style, which is based on the hard driving, raw boogie North Mississippi Hill Country style. It is mostly (the) guitar and drums duo but we add some horns on a few tracks. We have Luther Dickinson playing slide on a few songs. So it is a pretty good mix of stuff.
CB: I was listening to some of it this week. I love “My Life is a Wreck.” Can you tell me the story behind that song?
LM: Well, that is a semi-autobiographical piece. One of my greatest influences was T Model Ford and he recently passed and that song was based on a style he had on the guitar. His grandson Stud is playing drums with me now. That was the first song we did in the studio. That was his first song recording and I thought it was a great way to feature it. My music depends on a great drummer. Drums are so important to the music and he is one of the best. I have known Stud since he was like 1 years old. He grew up watching me play drums with his granddad. He knows the style of drums that I like, the raw, four on the floor, predator style, no messing around. Just raw and making people dance. By us knowing each other so long, he is like my little baby brother. We have this chemistry together that works so well.
CB: I watched some videos of you two playing together. It is super high energy and looks like a lot of fun.
LM: Yeah, that is the key to it all. We don’t have to hit a note exactly right or (do flashy) guitar solos. We just try to create as much … fun for the people as we can. We just want to see people party and have fun.
CB: How old were you when you picked up your first guitar?
LM: I was about 10 or 12. Before that, I really wanted to be a drummer. I used to beat on buckets and pots and pans, put the radio on and play along with them. I didn’t have any actual drums and I finally got a hold of a little piece of guitar. I didn’t know how to tune it or nothing, but I fell in love with the strings in my hand. It took a while to learn how to tune it because I didn’t have anybody around me to show me at that time. Once I learned how to tune it, I started learning pretty fast. It just became everything to me. I look at the guitar like some people look at The Bible. It is like a vehicle for something later. I leave Earth. I can go on a vacation in my backyard with a guitar. I can escape to a whole other world with it.
CB: I know you eventually moved to Mississippi after growing up in Missouri. How did you hook up with some of these great guitar and Blues players in Mississippi?
LM: I just made friends with them. They saw something special in me, I think. I wasn’t trying to blow them off stage. I didn’t ask them many questions, like how to do things. They noticed whatever they played, I could play back. They hadn’t seen too many white guys, or any guys, that could do that. So we just made friends. It was pretty easy. Those were the kind of guys I wanted to be around. They really took me in. They were really nice to me. They never said I wouldn’t be able to do it. There was everybody else saying, “You won’t be able to do it.” They were the guys saying, “You got it. Stick with it.”
CB: Alive or dead, what one person would you want to collaborate with if you could?
LM: That’s a good question. I think, you know what’s funny, there are a lot of people outside of the Blues I’d like to collaborate with nowadays. Of course, like, John Lee Hooker is one of my all time favorites, Howlin' Wolf, there are so many Blues guys. Out of living artists, I’ll tell you a guy I love right now, two guys I love, they are more like R&B. (One is an) artist named Lyfe Jennings, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of him, he’s fucking awesome, he’s so sincere. Another guy is Anthony Hamilton who is a Soul singer. To me, even though their style is way different than mine, those are guys I really hear singing where I’m like, "Wow, they really hit the ceiling." You don’t hear it that much anymore. Everybody is using effects. You really don’t hear that wail in that voice. Otis Redding had that, you heard his voice and you just had to see him. You don’t hear anybody like that anymore. I know people wouldn’t expect that from me, but when I am riding down the highway listening to music, those are two guys I really listen to, that I look up to and would be great to collaborate with.
CB: That leads me into another question. There has been so much publicity recently around Pop music with Miley Cyrus and the VMAs. To me it shows how much more important it is to keep really authentic Blues music in front of people. What are your thoughts on that?
LM: I agree with that. I’m out here fighting the good fight doing what I can. It’s not always easy. People have to support what is going on. If people start throwing their money at garbage, you’re going to end up with a lot of garbage. I can’t speak for the next person but I can say this — there isn’t enough hours in the day to listen to great music. There is all the great music you can listen to. There is definitely no time for nonsense. I don’t waste time listening to stuff that sounds like garbage. That’s just me.
My drummer, Stud, he’s young. He was watching the awards the other night and I was laying on the couch trying to sleep. I didn’t miss much. The hours in the day are precious. I would use them wisely. You don’t have to listen to garbage. That’s about the best I can do. If anybody can make some money doing something, good for you, I don’t mean it the wrong way. If you ask me about serious music, there is great music out there being made. It is just underground. Maybe it is too real for people. I am not the expert on this type of thing, I just know what I like, I listen to what I like. Even when I was a kid in school, I was listening to way different music. I was listening to Lightnin' Hopkins and John Lee Hooker and would tell the other kids, “You have got to hear this. Check it out.” They just said, “Whatever.” I thought maybe when they grew up they would understand.
CB: What can the fans expect from you guys at the Southgate House Revival show?
LM: We are coming to rock y’all. We want y’all to come and have fun and dance and boogie. We want you to get in the groove and forget about everything in the outside world for a couple hours and get in the zone. We want to have a party for y’all. Being on stage can be the funnest thing in the world when it is going right. When it is going wrong, you just want to disappear. It is a funny thing. When it is right, it is right as a motherfucker.
Halestorm shows everybody out there that a female can rock with the guys. Lzzy Hale, Revolver Magazine’s reining “Hottest Chick in Hard Rock,” along with her brother Arejay, started the band back in 1999 and they have been on an upward trajectory ever since. This past February, the band received its first Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance for the song “Love Bites… (And So Do I),” which made history as the first song by a female-fronted group to top the Active Rock radio airplay chart.
Halestorm has been headlining shows across the country in support of The Strange Case Of…, the band's second studio album. The group will be performing at this weekend’s Rock on the Range in Columbus on Saturday, playing the Main Stage alongside Papa Roach, Bullet For My Valentine, Three Days Grace, Stone Sour and The Smashing Pumpkins. Click here for full Rock on the Range info.
CityBeat: A lot has happened since I saw you guys in the fall. My first question is … where are you keeping your Grammy?
Lzzy Hale: You know what is funny — we actually don’t have them yet. It’s not quite real. We have been on the road so they have not been delivered yet. We have to sign a contract to make sure we aren’t going to do anything stupid with it. I have no idea where I am going to put it. My mom thinks it should be at her house. I’m like, “No, Mom, it comes with me.”
CB: You could put in your bunk (on the bus). That’s where you live anyway.
LH: Yeah. Very true.
CB: I know you just collaborated with David Draiman (of Disturbed) on the classic Ozzy and Lita song “Close Your Eyes.” What was the best part of doing that for you?
LH: It is such a cool thing. David Draiman has been such a champion of our band for the last couple years. He has been holding the Halestorm flag high. What a nice dude and always there for advice. He has sort of become this pseudo-big brother of mine the last couple years.
It is kind of surreal, a little bit, because I know this guy, but after singing with him and doing this duet, I find myself talking to my little brother and saying, “Remember when The Sickness came out and we went out and got that record, and we knew every word on that record.” We were huge Disturbed fans when we were kids. We still are, I should say. It is such an amazing honor to be asked to do that and what an incredible lineup on the entire record. Being the new kid on the block as far as the guest vocals are concerned is quite humbling, honestly.
CB: Were you nervous about re-recording that song?
LH: A little bit. There is always something in the back of your mind when you are recording a classic like that. You don’t want to ruin it. I am such fan for Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne and that whole era of music is really close to my heart. I was only hoping that we could do it justice. It was really David who put my mind at ease with that because as soon as I heard what he was doing with (it), I realized it was special, really special.
It is so weird, but when we were listening to the final mix of it, both David and I got goosebumps in the exact same spot of the song. We were like “Whoa! There is something about this song. We did something right.” I am happy we did it. I just sang it live with him for the first time at Carolina Rebellion. We are going to be doing it together again live. It’s truly magical. Not to sound cheesy, but it does hold a special place in my heart.
CB: Can we look forward to that at Rock on the Range?
LH: Oh, yes. Hell yes.
CB: I have seen you guys many times at ROTR over the years. What is your favorite Rock on the Range moment?
LH: Oh my God. The people that put that on are such nice people. We have been asked back for many years. The first time we were ever playing at Rock on the Range we were at the Jager Stage, then we were on the second stage, then last year we were first or second on the main stage.
I am telling you this, to be a part of this event, I am speaking for myself and all of my peers, we look forward to this festival. Not only is it a hell of a lot fun to play, but we get to see each other. I get to see all of my friends perform that I never get to see because we are all out on the road. It is this huge family reunion and this party from like 9 a.m. to whenever people decide to go home. It’s so wonderful and it keeps getting better every year, like last year was the best ever for me, but then the year before that was the best. I look forward to this time because maybe it will top last year. It is such a well-run event and the highlight of festival season.
CB: Are you going to be able to keep track of Arejay during the event?
LH: Nobody can ever keep track of Arejay. Are you kidding me? The phrase “Where’s Arejay?” is the phrase of the millennium. It’s awesome. He is the most incredible human being because he will be standing next you and you will be talking to him, you (turn) around and you’re talking to somebody else and you turn back to where Arejay was once standing and, poof, he is gone. He is a little Houdini. I love him. He is legendary. I am sure there will be many stories about Arejay at Rock on the Range.
CB: I saw recently you did an interview for a Playboy series online. Would you ever consider posing for the magazine if they asked you?
LH: I haven’t really been asked that a lot. I was thinking about it the other day. I guess I would have to cross that bridge when I come to it. It depends what it is and what it is for and how tasteful it would be. I am not going to say no, but I would have to cross that bridge when I came to it.
CB: I know you guys are recording a second Covers EP. Why did you guys decide to record a second covers record?
LH: We just recorded a few months ago and are starting to get mixes back now. We love doing that stuff, just being able to re-create your favorite songs, break them down and build them up as your own. Regardless of how fun it is, you learn a lot as a musician, about how you work and you’re learning your favorite songs and how to rebuild them from the ground up in your own way and try to find a new way to approach the songs which is kind of a challenge. We had a lot of fun doing it.
I don’t know when it is going to be released yet. It is probably going to be a couple months. When you see the final list of what we chose for this one, there will be probably some that you could predict and there are a few tracks you are going to look at the title of the song and the artist it’s by and you are going to go, “What? Why did they choose that song?” Then you can judge for yourself whether you like what we did. Either way it is going to be fun to see what everybody thinks about it.
CB: Are there any habits you would like to break?
LH: Yes, daily. My procrastination; I should practice more; I shouldn’t have had that cake at Josh’s birthday. I’m one of those people that does not care what everybody else thinks, but I do care a lot about how I feel about myself. I go through phases where I will have tunnel-vision and be determined and then I will be in the middle of tour and be like, “Screw it, I am going to finish this bottle of wine.” I think this time in my life I am starting to get my shit together and have more control over my vices. I am starting to exercise more and starting to be a little more responsible in my life, which is a battle, because I think I am perpetually 14 years old inside. I’m trying to be a grown up but still hold onto that fire.
CB: I love the story you have behind the “Rock Show” song and how you got inspired by it. Could you talk about that a little bit?
LH: Of course. To start that off, we got a lot of physical letters from fans, not the tweets and Facebook posts but a lot of handwritten letters — who does that anymore? — with a pencil. We get a lot of letters every day and it has increased in the past couple years. They are so incredibly inspiring. You get to see how you affect these people. You get to see and hear their stories. It is really, really humbling and really exciting for me because those stories start seeping their way into my subconscious.
A lot of the new songs I have written have been for a specific fan or another because it is interesting to see what these people go through in daily life and relate it to your own. It makes me feel less alone to be a part of their lives and they have welcomed us with open arms into their private life. I respect the hell out of that because it takes a lot of guts to do that.
Specifically for “Rock Show,” we received this letter. I don’t know how this little girl got the address to our studio, but she did. She wrote me this beautiful letter about her first Rock show, which happened to be Halestorm, and it was because of that show she picked up guitar and, long story short, she really shreds. She can play Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption.” It is really cool to see. She was like 13 years old at the time. It is beautiful, almost like that show was a religious experience. It changed the course of her life and she finally knows what she wants to do and is starting a band.
I remember taking this letter into the studio and telling the guys we have to write a song for her. The title was called “Rock Show,” and we literally built this song around this letter we received and then we ended up thanking her in the notes as the next surprise so she will forever be in the artwork of our record because of that. It is wonderful to do that for those people, to give back, because it is a give and take. We wouldn’t be able to do what we love without these little girls and little boys and everybody that comes to our show. It is wonderful to be able to do small things like write a song for them or thank them.
CB: What are the characteristics that make a great Halestorm song?
LH: Lately, it has been more about honesty. What I never thought I would accomplish in this band, we kind of have in the last couple years. Halestorm is becoming the identity for some of these kids. It is something to stand for. It is something to look up to. I’ve been much more free to let more people into my life and trying to be a good example and be that shining beacon of empowerment for some of these people. I needed that when I was a kid. I looked up to a lot of my parent’s music because it was tough not to find anybody that wasn’t singing about death or “I hate my parents” when I was a kid. I remember needing that. I needed somebody that I could say, “I am going to be like that. If they can do it, so can I.”
I think there definitely always has to be an element of empowerment in what we do, in the music we write, but then you have to pair that with the honesty that you are human and that we are all the same. You are encouraging people to take the risk and to carve out their own path and be themselves. It is all we have learned about diving right into this business. We have learned so much about ourselves and how to be comfortable in our own skin. If we can pass that along, that’s something we strive for.
Classic Rock band Styx originated in the 1970’s and enjoyed hits like “Lady” and “Come Sail Away." Today, while they may not have the exact pieces of the original band from the late ’70s intact, Styx travels the globe annually to give a show similar that of its early days, though these days the group is fronted by J.Y. Young.
CityBeat recently spoke with Styx keyboard player and vocalist Lawrence Gowan about his musical influences and what led him to the band 14 years ago. Styx performs at Riverbend Music Center tomorrow (Tuesday) night with fellow classic rockers REO Speedwagon and Ted Nugent.
CityBeat: First off, have you had any memorable Cincinnati experiences on the tour over the past few years?
Lawrence Gowan: They are all incredibly memorable. The audience there has always been fantastic for us. One of the experiences I remember was the first time we played Cincinnati and I saw that classic fountain downtown. The last couple of times, we stayed on both sides of the river finally now so I have gotten to know a little bit more of the town just by walking around. The audience reaction in Cincinnati is always tremendous for Styx. We are really geared up and really looking forward to the 26th of June.
CB: You were one of the later members to join the band in the ’90s. Were you a Styx fan growing up playing music?
LG: I loved Classic Rock. I loved Progressive Rock particularly and Styx was the only really successful band outside of Britain to make a great mark in that style of music, so yeah I loved the whole genre of music they were playing and I loved the band. Funny enough, I had a long solo career with a number of albums in Canada that were never released in the States but I was always very aware of Styx. I did a couple of shows with them in 1997. There was something in the air that kind of felt like we were going to connect again in the future and I am entering my 14th year with the band now.
CB: When you joined the band, was there any initiation or hazing they put you through?
LG: Yes of course there was. You actually had to cross the river Styx which I don’t recommend for everyone.
CB: You are a classically trained pianist.
LG: Yes I am.
CB: How do you think that better prepared you to be in a Rock band?
LG: I always find that Classical music inspires or makes its way into a lot of the melodic content of some of the best Rock music. The moment I heard “Eleanor Rigby”, with the Classical string quartet playing through that song, I realized the profound connection between both styles.
Both styles are not very afraid to be very grandiose when they need to be and cover a great emotional spectrum. It’s funny, I remember reading (that) Elton John and Rick Wakeman particularly had gone to the Royal Academy in London, and in Toronto they have the Royal Conservatory which is the same pattern, the same message of teaching so I wanted to go through that. I really love it and I still do. Before we go on stage every single night I am backstage playing some Classical piece just to get my chops together and get my head ready for the show.
CB: You had mentioned and you were a pretty large solo artist before you joined the band. What was the biggest transition from being on your own and being in other bands to being in a band like Styx?
LG: Learning to play with others. It’s a completely different dynamic when you are a solo artist and you have got the band behind you. You have a string of hit songs that you are responsible to play every single night and it all kind of falls on your shoulders.
With Styx, I love this as well because it is a break from that entirely because I am on stage with five other frontmen who are all very capable of commanding the stage on their own. We trade off on who is up front in every single song, and even within a song there may be several sections where section after section the strongest dynamic on stage is being traded off. I love that and it is a completely different thing. I love just being the keyboard player at some points in the band. It’s great.
CB: Have you ever been starstruck?
LG: In my life? Well, let me see now — yeah, I guess a couple of times sure. When I made my second solo album, I got a chance to record at Ringo Starr’s home near London, England, in Ascot, England. It was the house where John Lennon had recorded “Imagine” and when I went to the door the first day with the producer — it was a home studio there he was letting us use — (and) he actually answered the door. I remember finding it difficult to bring words to my mouth which usually isn’t that hard of a thing for me to do. That was quite an experience. I remember it took me a few minutes to realize I wasn’t in a scene from A Hard Day’s Night but actually talking to a guy in his house.
CB: There is a lot of debate now about Rock music in general and how it has changed so much. Other forms of music are coming to the forefront. Do you think Rock & Roll music is a dying art?
LG: That is a tough one, isn’t it? I have heard that kicked around most of my life. I think we can agree now that Rock music was the big musical statement for the last half of the 20th century, the electrification of music and the fact that Rock makes such a gigantic sound and changed what people embraced as popular music. I don’t think it is going to ever go away now because we have history on our side. There has been 50 years of it or more so I think it is a style of music that is going to continue to evolve and to dig into different areas.
I think you can trace a lot of the newer things you are talking about, trace it back to that gigantic statement that Rock was in the last half of the 20th century and I think it will be embraced and loved my millions for years to come because just like people still love Jazz or they love Country or they love Classical music or Ragtime; it is a style of music and a way of performing that I can’t see it entirely slipping off the planet any time soon.
CB: Do you keep journals or any kind of history of the tours over the years, memorable things for you?
LG: The best history I kept for a number a years was every night at the end of shows I took a Polaroid picture on stage or took three or four of them and tossed some of them out to the audience but I’d keep one for myself. My wardrobe case is stuffed with all these Polaroid pictures because we have played over 1500 shows together since I joined the band. That is a fantastic journal. You know what they say about pictures and words. They do tell a huge story over the course of time. It is funny, last night in Kansas City at the end of the show when I am reaching down and shaking people’s hands and somebody threw a picture up at me of the first year I was in the band and we had a great laugh backstage after because we realized there are old pictures of us now together. It was back when we did a little acoustic set in the middle of the show. My best documentation of the shows is that collection of Polaroids.
CB: I am a music photographer so I have got years of histories of bands and it is, I think, the best way to tell a story.
LG: It kind of is. I like putting my thoughts on paper very much but that usually morphs into becoming a song. I find that just what pictures evoke and the flood of memories you can get from them it can be astounding every time you look at them particularly when you are in a heightened state like being on stage in front of 10,000 people, the feeling of that moment is well captured.
CB: Any regrets over the years?
LG: I think like any human being there are things you are going to regret I suppose but it is a useless endeavor because they all kind of amount to where you are today and I like where I am today so I really can’t waste much time on that. I am sure one day on my death bed I will think, “You know, maybe I could have been a hockey player.”
CB: You guys are playing over a 100 shows a year, huge amounts of time on the road. Are there any plans to slow down?
LG: Not really. There is such an insatiable demand for Styx to play around the world and I have got my solo shows back up and doing a number of those in Canada every year. I think I enjoy it now more than I ever did and I am in a band of like-minded people. We have no plans to do that. We plan to keep pushing as hard as we can for as long as we can. Really, the only real question for us is how we find time to make another full album and we are kind of coming up with novel ways of being able to come up with that at present.
CB: I know Ted Nugent is on tour with you guys this time and he has been very vocal all the time about political views and gotten in trouble the last few months. Do you have any election picks for us this year?
LG: As the only Canadian that is involved in this whole thing, I think that is the easy way to duck out of the U.S. political debate and the hot question. I have a feeling that it is between Obama and Romney. That is my big prediction.
CB: What can the fans expect from the show next week?
LG: We are going to ram as many Styx classic hits at them as we can in the hour and 20 minutes we are playing. We will also throw in one or two of the album cuts from The Grand Illusion. We noticed there are songs on that record that were never singles that have become great favorites of a lot of the audience so we like to include one of the more unusual pieces in the show as well.
CB: What do you do on your down time on the road?
LG: Well I usually, myself, I like to do something to keep myself in shape so I am always doing a bit of yoga. Although I am the keyboard player, I am a huge guitar lover so I am usually practicing my chops in the hotel room. We also do all the social media things like Facebook and our website. They need to be looked at every few days just to see where things are and I love to go for walks around cities. That is one of the things I enjoy about Cincinnati. As I said, the last couple of times, walking across that bridge across the river is one of my favorite pastimes in that city. I am a walker.
CB: It is amazing how much time you spend on Facebook and the internet that is lost doing those things.
LG: It is a nice way, it is an easy way, depending on how you treat it, to feel like you can engage with people you really don’t have the opportunity to with the shows because we are too busy getting ourselves back to the tour bus afterwards. We can shake a few hands. It is a way to kind of feel a connection to people on a human level where we happen to be in a career that it is hard to do that just because of the demands of the day.
CB: Are any current bands influencing you now or what are you listening to?
LG: There are so many things I have listened to lately, I heard a fantastic band from England recently called Everything Everything. Todd, our drummer turned me onto them. I like Keane. I like them being keyboard players. I like My Chemical Romance, I kind of dig that band a bit. There is a Metal band I really like called Children of Bodom. That is the kind of stuff I have listened to lately.