Since then they have accumulated enough hits to fill up any set to keep crowds entertained. With them teaming up with Chicago currently on tour, it brings a nostalgic rush of Rock live to audiences across the country.
CityBeat caught up with founding member and keyboard player Neal Doughty to get a feel of how life has changed over the years in the music business. The band performs at Riverbend Music Center Wednesday night. Find tickets/more info here.
CityBeat: I read in an interview that you found the name REO Speedwagon in an engineering class when you were in school in Illinois. I was curious if you ever finished your engineering degree.
Neal Doughty: No. I did not finish the engineering degree. I went to college for five years and never graduated because when the band got started it was just a little dormitory, a couple guys in the dorm, playing for fun playing on weekends. Then the band got really, really popular and we started branching out to Ohio and Indiana and the first thing we knew is we were too busy to go to class. And if you are in engineering at the University of Illinois, you better go to class because it is not easy. So myself and Alan, our original drummer, neither one of us finished college. We stuck with the band. It was sink or swim in the music business. It was interesting telling my parents that I had dropped out of college after five years, but we were already supporting ourselves with this band. We are already actually making a living. My dad goes, “Hey I can’t argue with that. People go to five years of college and never do get a job.” They handled that OK and I am happy with how that turned out.
CB: I think you made the right choice. That is pretty hardcore to have a full-time band and finish school.
ND: Yeah, I have two nephews that are engineers and it’s a good area because I haven’t heard of an engineer who couldn’t find work. They were hired right out of college. I would have been happy either way. I am still interested in scientific things. I would have enjoyed it and been pretty good at it but this will do. It’s fine.
CB: You have been playing the hits for over 30 years. What is your favorite song to play live?
ND: I think my favorite song live, I love playing “Can’t Fight This Feeling” because I get to showcase the piano a bit on that intro. I also love playing “Back on the Road,” the song that Bruce sings. It is somehow the perfect tempo and a crowd who hasn’t been on their feet yet will always get up for that song.
Of course with all the changes and stories of our career, there isn’t one song we play live that I don’t like, which is a great luxury. A lot of bands don’t have that. We have been together so long and have so many records out that we can pick our favorite songs to play live and it usually turns out to be the favorites of the audience too. Most bands, they probably play some songs that at least two guys hate it, but we have been very lucky to have a lot of songs to choose from. I’m happy.
CB: What has been your greatest Rock star moment?
ND: My wife is in the room and she is laughing because I think she had something to do with my greatest Rock star moment. I don’t know if we should go into the details. We met at a show. We had known each other for a long time and had never quite gotten together. One night after the show, she pretty much attacked me in the dressing room in front of the entire crew. There were no clothes that came off. It was all very legal and everything. All I can say is within three months, instead of living at the beach in California I was living in Minnesota where it gets really cold. This was eight years ago and so far it has been totally worth it. Yes, that was my greatest Rock star moment … to have a woman that was so affectionate in front of so many people.
CB: That is the best story I have heard in a while.
ND: She is laughing her head off right now.
CB: There is nothing illegal about clothes coming off, by the way. It is fine.
ND: Everybody kept their clothes on. It was just kind of a message that I like you, a really nice way of saying I like you. In fact, I was supposed to leave town that night but the band got me a hotel room and a plane ticket. It turned out to be fairly innocent, but it was the start of a great relationship that is going eight years later. You definitely meet some of the wrong women on the road, and this is one of the rare instances where I met the right one.
CB: The internet and social media have totally changed the way bands can make it and get on the radio and get famous now. Do you think it is easier or harder for a band to make it today?
ND: It is a whole different thing. It used to be very, very hard to get a record contract. We were together four years just starting before we got somebody interested with us. We were lucky to be with Epic Records for so many years. They let us do like 10 records that weren’t hits until we had High Fidelity in 1980 and 1981. There is no record label that would give a band that many chances to turn in a hit.
On the other hand, now you can make a record on your telephone and upload it to the internet. If it goes viral, anything can happen. I live in a small town in Minnesota, and one of the students there, one of my wife’s English students, made a video on a broken iPhone with an out of tune piano and it went viral. It has 10 million views on YouTube and she now has a couple record companies fighting over her.
I don’t mind how it’s working today. If I were going to, in my old age, try to make a song of my own, I think I would like the fact I could make it at home, upload it to the Internet and see what happens. I have nephews who are in a Rock band. They have become the most popular band in the St Louis area just from all their sales online. I think it is a great equalizer. You no longer need a lot of money behind you to get a break and that’s good. Any kid in a basement has the same chance as somebody with a million dollars to spend in a studio and I think that’s truly great.
CB: Are there any new up and coming bands or current artists that you would want to collaborate with?
ND: I tend to like one song by an artist and just buy that one song, which you can do now. I tend to have this really crazy range of tastes in bands. I like Foster the People on one end and I like Brad Paisley on the other end of the scale. Brad happens to be a good friend of ours, so I may be biased.
My taste in music is so eclectic now, something that maybe couldn’t have happened before the Internet. You hear a song on a TV show in the music in the background and there was no way you would ever find out what that song was. A lot of the new groups that get discovered, that I like now, it started watching a TV show, with a great song in the background. You just now have to aim your phone at the TV and it will tell you who the band is. That is really the greatest invention ever. There are songs I hear on the radio or in a movie or in the background of a TV show and you could have searched for the rest of your life and never found it. Now, being able to find anything you might hear is my favorite thing that has happened to the music business. If you look at the playlist on my phone, you would think this guy is all over the map with the stuff he likes. I am very happy about that development.
CB: You have been on the road for many, many years. Do you keep journals or photographs? How do you keep the history of the touring and the memories?
ND: No, once again, the Internet has helped with that. There were some lost photographs. We have had a million things happen that were great. Recently one of our old crew members from 30 years ago found a picture of John Entwistle jamming with us on stage in London, and Brian May for Queen hanging out with us in the dressing room that night. These old black and white pictures so people will actually believe that something that great happened to me. We found a picture of literally the house 157 Riverside Ave., which we rented in Rockport, Conn., where we did our first album. Now we found what it looks like recently. Then we also found they tore the thing down. Granted, it was not a national landmark, but seeing pictures of it a few years ago, we could see why they tore it down. It was about to fall down and we probably had something to do with that.
CB: You have had a few band members change over the years. How do you know you have a right fit?
ND: Well we have been kind of lucky we had only one real change happen and it all happened at the same time. Our current lineup has been together for 25 years, which is longer than the original group was together.
Back in the late 80’s, our original drummer Alan who I started the band with, and our original guitar player Gary both left around the same time. Alan couldn’t handle the road anymore because he was too attached to his family. He quit for the best of reasons, to be with his kids and wife. He opened a restaurant and is doing well. Gary started not handling the road well. The road brought out all of his demons. There was a point when he just couldn’t do it anymore because it’s too hard.
That really is when we got Brian, our drummer, and Dave, our guitar player, and that all happened very fast. We did a major set of auditions for drummers. I think we auditioned eight drummers in two days. Brian was the first one and we knew right then he was the guy we wanted. I asked Kevin if we had to listen to seven more drummers but he wanted to be fair to them. But Brian easily passed that audition. Dave Amato, our guitar player has a great background. He played with Ted Nugent. He has been on Motley Crue albums. He was a known studio guy in Los Angeles. He came over to Kevin’s house and we jammed for about half an hour and then immediately asked him to join the band. It was a perfect fit from the first note.
We were lucky to get Brian and Dave. They brought new energy into the band. I am not sure if we would be together now if it wasn’t for what those guys brought, which was new enthusiasm. We still call them the new guys after 25 years and they are getting kind of sick of it. That is the only real change we have made and it was 25 years ago. I am happy we still have our original vocalist which not every band is lucky enough to say that. We made one change and it has been great since.
CB: Do you have any regrets over the years?
ND: I have no personal regrets. I have done some incredibly, stupid, horrible things but I don’t regret them because they all led to where I am now and I am a very happy person right now.
CB: What can the fans expect when you come to Cincinnati this year?
ND: First of all, they can expect us to play a one hour set of our favorite songs and they’ll know all of them except for one surprise new song. I know the audience cringes when a band plays that new song because they want to hear the familiar stuff. This song is good, really good. We wouldn’t do it live otherwise. It’s got a hook right from the beginning. It has gotten nice mentions in our reviews so far.
Then Chicago comes on and does all of their hits. Then the lights go down and come back up three minutes later (with) both bands on stage doing three individual hits by each band. Six songs, literally the biggest hits of each band, played together, 14 individuals playing at the same time. That took about a 12-hour rehearsal to put that together and it is just amazing. The Phoenix newspaper called it one jaw-dropping moment after another. I have to agree. I am way in the back of the stage on that part and I love it because I can watch the whole thing. These guys from both bands are just running around having the best time of their life.
We have known some of the guys for Chicago for decades. Robert Lamm, one of the lead singers and writers was a neighbor in Beverly Hills back when I lived there 35 years ago and somehow we never toured with them.
We didn’t know if (the onstage collaboration) would work. They were a little more progressive, a little Jazz oriented, but they are still Rock & Roll. We are more Country or Folk. We weren’t sure the same audience would show up for both bands and it has worked beautifully. The shows so far have been virtual sellouts. The thing has blended so well.
Picture “Keep on Loving You” with that beautiful Chicago horn section. It gives me chills and I have been playing it 40 years. The crowd, the lights come up, and every camera comes out at the same time. They can’t believe … that we have that many people on stage and they are technically all playing together and we know what we are doing is more amazing. It is something you won’t see very often. We haven’t done anything like this. I am definitely having a really good time, we call it the grand finale. I am sure it shows to the audience we are having so much fun.
Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights (JTNL) is a Texas-born/California-based Rock band with a bluesy, rootsy edge that has been a workhorse on the road, touring anywhere and everywhere since forming in 2007. Along with tour jaunts with musical giants like ZZ Top, JTNL has also been very popular on the festival scene, every summer playing to large crowds all over the country. Although the band hasn’t released an album since 2010’s major label debut, Pardon Me (on F-Stop Music/Atlantic), there was promise of a lot of new music on their current tour when Tyler spoke with CityBeat recently. JTNL plays Bogart’s this Wednesday with friends and fellow rockers Taddy Porter. (Click here for tickets and further show info.)
CityBeat: You are currently on tour with Taddy Porter. How did this tour come about?
Jonathan Tyler: We have toured with them a lot in the past. Both of our bands formed around the same time. I think about three or four years ago. We started playing shows together and became friends. When we were looking into a tour this fall, their name came up and everybody was really excited about it. It just came together naturally.
CB: You have been touring pretty extensively since 2007. What is the best part of being on the road for you?
JT: I love playing music live. There is something really special about it. It is one of my favorite things to do. It is really fun to get in front of a live audience and play songs and to just kind of get that energy going between the crowd and the band. It is fun to see what happens, a lot of unique, special, unexpected things happen sometimes and it makes it more fun. It is always fun to try out new songs on people as well.
CB: Are you guys working on new music currently?
JT: Oh yeah, pretty regularly, all the time. We will be playing new songs at the Cincinnati show.
CB: What does the perfect day look like for you?
JT: Well, I live in California so I love to go to the beach and I love to surf and I love to eat good food and spend time with my girlfriend. When I am on the road, I love to walk around. We usually travel during the day, early in the morning, to the city we are playing in. We will set up our gear and we usually have a few hours off. I try to find a good restaurant in town and try out new places basically. I try to see what the city is all about.
CB: I know you are in different cities every day so it all merges together sometimes.
JT: Yeah. For some reason we haven’t played Cincinnati very much. I don’t know why. We are looking forward to it.
CB: At one point weren’t you living in Texas?
JT: Yeah, that is where the band was formed. I moved in January to California.
CB: What music are you currently listening to that is inspiring you?
JT: There is a lot of different stuff. I really like the band Endless Boogie from New York. It is like a ZZ Top style Rock & Roll band. I really like those guys. There’s some Electronic music also that I like, which probably doesn’t seem likely because I play Rock music and it may surprise some people. I listen to a lot of different music, really anything that will inspire me. I’m also really into Bruce Springsteen right now.
CB: Some people are saying that Rock is dying. Do you believe that, with the popularity of EDM and other genres of music, that is happening right now?
JT: Yeah, I do. I think it will come back around. I think everything kind of goes in cycles. I think it is easier right now for musicians to do the Electronic thing because it is cheaper. You can just make it with one person really. You don’t need an entire band to make tracks and people are making recordings out of their houses. The whole industry is turned up on its side. It’s interesting for sure, but I think Rock is always going to live on.
CB: If you could trade places with anyone for a month who would it be?
JT: I have to think about that. I really don’t want to be anyone else. That’s a hard one. I honestly can’t say.
CB: Do you have any habits you’d like to break?
JT: So many. Smoking cigarettes would probably be the No. 1 thing. I guess I don’t want to break it that badly since I still do it.
CB: What can the fans look forward to in Cincinnati next week?
JT: They can look forward to some new music. We will probably play a lot of new songs. They can look forward to a high-energy Rock & Roll show.
CB: I have seen you many times over the years. I look forward to it. It is always high energy and great Rock & Roll.
JT: Well thanks, I appreciate that. We will probably play half new music and half of the older songs. I think people will be happy to come out and see something different if they have seen us before, but maybe hear the songs they love as well.
Music Tonight: Locally-bred guitar superhero Adrian Belew is back in his homestate for a special gig at the Southgate House in Newport. Belew shows are always amazing, but tonight's performance is part of the Two of a Perfect Trio tour, which teams the Adrian Belew Power Trio with Stick Men, featuring Belew's mates from King Crimson, Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto. It'll be a night of Prog Pop and Rock as the Stick Men open things up at 8:30 p.m. with their explorations on Chapman Stick (the bass-like instrument Levin helped popularize), acoustic/electronic percussion and Markus Reuter' homemade "touch guitar" work. After Belew's set with his trio, the two ensembles will join forces for the "Crim-centric" encore, running through their favorite King Crimson compositions. The show is open to all ages; admission is $22. Below, check out a great retrospective documentary about Belew covering his entire career, narrated by the Twang Bar King himself.
Looking on music shelves this week, it will be hard to miss the bright and loud 1000hp, the latest offering and No. 1 Rock album from Godsmack. It may be a little bit different vibe, but it is the same great Rock music they have given audiences for well over a decade. Since the breakout Awake album in 2000, they have literally been evolving with the genre, captivating audiences and gathering fans with each performance.
CityBeat was able to preview their show at the Uproar Festival Sunday night at Riverbend with drummer Shannon Larkin. After a couple subdued tours in which they let the music speak, they are back to their roots with hard hitting, pyro-filled, knock-you-back action.
Find tickets/more info on Sunday’s Uproar stop here.
CityBeat: You guys have been working hard. You will be releasing the album next week,1000hp. What can the fans expect from this album?
Shannon Larkin: We kind of infused a different sound for us. It’s more of a punkier vibe as far as upbeats and down stroking. Not so much chunk-chunk as the last record or box or Metal. It is a fine tuned thing we do each record because we don’t want to keep making the same record over and over again. Yet you can’t change your sound and alienate your fan base. The last record we went balls out Metal sound. So on this one, we made a conscious effort to try and change things up and give a more punky vibe to it.
CB: What is your favorite track to play off the new album?
SL: “1000hp” the song. I just love it. It has an AC/DC vibe to me. I don’t get to play much four to the floor drumming so it is just a straight ahead full fierce and I love it.
CB: I actually watched the webisodes that you guys created to promote the new album and that was interesting. I’m sure the fans love to see the behind the scenes of the new album and how the album was made. During one of the webisodes, the band talks about how you were the one who introduced Dave Fortman, the current producer, to the band on the last record. Why did you think he would be a good fit for Godsmack?
SL: I was in a band called Ugly Kid Joe with Dave and he was the guitar player and we toured the world together for six years and made a couple records. I knew that not only was he a great producer with great ears and a great engineer and a great mixer, but I knew also he was this great dude. When you start making records, it gets balanced and pressure on and arguments ensue, the producer has to almost be a psychiatrist and step in when band members get in each other’s face and Dave is just a great person that if there is any tension in the room over a part for instance, if we are arguing what is a better part or arrangement of the song, Dave diffuses the situation with humor. He is good at that and just making everybody feel comfortable when the red light comes on. He is just brilliant. I can’t say enough about him. It doesn’t hurt he had made hit records with Evanescence, Mudvayne, Slipknot, and the list goes on and on, but that helped too when I introduced him to (Godsmack singer) Sully (Erna). But then an hour after meeting with Dave, Sully loved him too. I knew he’d get the gig after talking to Sully if it was up to Sully because he co-produces every record. I knew Sully had to like Dave and I knew he would. Perfect fit.
CB: Where did the name come from for the album?
SL:: When we were writing that song, Sully was trying to do a history-of-the-band-type song. He was thinking we are at 100,000 horse power. When the song came together, it was too many syllables and 1,000 horsepower fits perfectly, but is that enough horse power? Ironically, we have this Top Performance Pro Shop beside our headquarters here in New England. They soup up cars and rev up cars and we went next door and the dude fired up a 1003 horsepower Chevelle and that was enough horsepower. It wasn’t even street legal. It ended up being the car we recorded to start the album and the song.
CB: You have been doing a lot of drum clinics. Why is it important for you to get out and work with younger people and do drum clinics across the country?
SL: My company Yamaha gives away drums. They are the best set drums I’ve played, No. 1, so I just love and am honored to be endorsed by them. They have been on me for years about getting out there and trying to push the company. I am the guy who had never done a clinic before and I am not a solo artist or soloist. I am a band guy and always have been a band guy. I never even do a drum solo. When Sully & I play together the whole band is on stage and it is a drum feature.
I had always said no to Yamaha about doing these clinics. Then I heard Paul Bostaphwho plays for Slayer. He did the clinics, but he didn’t do it as a soloist or solos, he played along to Slayer songs he recorded and got the drums taken out. So when I realized I could do that, then I was like “Wow,” I had done like 30 records and I had played a bunch of session work and all these cool records I hadn’t been able to play in years. So when I found out I could have all these drum tracks removed and play a clinic and play my favorite songs I had recorded the last 30 years, I was in.
I only did a one week tour so far and I only did the West Coast and it was really fun and cool but weird with nobody around, not having my guys. It’s funny, I told people you can be on stage in front of 50,000 people and not be nervous, not one butterfly in my stomach, but walk into a Guitar Center that is lit up like a K-Mart and there is only 150 dudes out there, but they are all drummers staring at me, and I’m scared to death. It turned out to be really fun. I was happy to do it.
CB: Have you gotten any tattoos recently?
SL: I haven’t. The last tattoo I got was the Ugly Kid Joe Devil logo on my leg. I did a record with them the year before last. I still jam with Ugly. I did a record with them calledStairway to Hell and so I got this logo.
CB: I know you are a big fan of The Ramones too and we just lost the last Ramone. Do you have any thoughts about that?
SL: It’s devastating in so many ways. I just don’t like them, they are my favorite band of all time and I have seen them over 20 times over the last 25 years. When Tommy died, I really felt my mortality because, I don’t know (what) your favorite band is, say it’s Led Zeppelin — there are three out of four of those guys still alive and they were older than The Ramones. I asked everybody. Not one person I know has had every original member of their favorite band die. It really hit me hard. Am I next? It was really crazy there for a minute. Of course, I just saturated my ears with Ramones songs for the last two weeks. It was devastating.
CB: Last time I spoke to you we were talking about your daughters and now they are teenagers. Do you have any advice for other dads?
SL: Yeah, just try to hang in there because they all go through that teenage time where they seem to hate their parents and they don’t. They don’t hate you and will come back around.
CB: What can the fans look forward to here with Uproar here in Cincinnati?
SL: Well we are going to play a bunch of new stuff. I don’t know if fans look forward to that but we sure do as a band. We have been together for 12 years and we love the old stuff, and we will play plenty of that too, but we will be doing five new songs in the set which is exciting for us.
They can definitely look forward to a big show also. You know, the last few tours we toned it down because we used to have these monstrous shows with the pyro going off and bombs going off and video. The last couple tours, we tried to prove to ourselves, we try to be a great live band and don’t need all the bells and whistles, so the last few tours (have) just been the band and some lights. But this time we are bringing it all back, things blowing up and flames flying off the stage.
CB: I always loved the fire.
SL: It definitely is cool having the big columns of flames shooting up. It’s funny because these summer tours are hot as hell anyway and they are flames and are hotter than hell. So we are up there sweating and it is worth it, especially when those concussion bombs go off. I love those, they are my favorite parts, those real loud mortars and everybody flinches in the crowd. It is crazy and cool.
Andy Grammer has a unique blend of musical talent, meshing his piano and guitar playing skills, smooth vocals and Hip Hop-like hooks to get crowds across the world fired up. Since his self-titled debut album in 2011, he has found great success through radio airplay and tours with the likes of Train, Natasha Bedingfield, and Colbie Caillat. Grammer is now embarking on his first headlining tour, which brings him to Covington’s Madison Theater this Saturday. The tour stop will be your chance to see Grammer in an intimate venue setting and see him up close and personal as he delivers his hits. (Click here for tickets and show info.)
CityBeat: What can the fans expect from the new album coming in August?
Andy Grammer: They can expect a lot of different vibes. I took a lot of chances sonically on this one. There is some acoustic stuff. There is one that sounds to me a little like Imagine Dragons meets Kanye. There is one that sounds like an MGMT track. There is one sounds like an old Lauryn Hill jam. I just made sure the songs were, in my opinion great, and I had a blast with the stuff I am really into right now.
CB: The album is called Magazines or Novels. Is there a story behind the title?
AG: It’s like how we ingest music these days. We are very ADD. A lot of times we just read through it, like magazines — tear through it, then throw it away. My goal was that not to be the case with this record. I built like 100 songs. I wrote the first 50 and realized I had a lot more magazines than novels, so I wrote another 50 and I think it is really good, actually. I am really excited about this album.
CB: What is your songwriting process?
AG: My process is more like … (chase) something all the way to the end and then step back and see if it is any good. Sometimes it is and, more often than not, it is not. I have to write a whole hell of a lot to get the jams I’m real proud to have on the album.
CB: You have had several huge hits on radio in your career. Do you know right away when you have a hit on your hands when writing?
AG: I don’t. I really don’t. That’s what is so confusing about it. I wouldn’t write it unless I thought it was great. I write it and am super stoked about it. As time goes by I can kind of tell whether it’s going to hold up.
CB: Do you have people close to you that can give you the feedback?
AG: Yeah, my manager and I pretty much are the ones that make the decision.
CB: What is the best and the worst thing about being on the road for you?
AG: We are doing shows that are like half old stuff and half new stuff and the fans will be really into it. The worst thing about being on tour is finding food that is good. It is pretty difficult to do, to find good food. It is easier to find McDonald’s and then you fall into (it) and feel bad. The best part of this tour, specifically, is playing new songs and seeing the fans react to it. It’s really exciting.
CB: I have seen you play in Cincinnati when you opened for Train. Do you have any specific Cincinnati tour memories that you remember or fun things in Cincinnati you like to do?
AG: Fans in Ohio are the best. Any show in Ohio, fans know how to have a good time, they party harder than anyone else at shows. It’s real. I’m not sure you know that about yourselves. I have toured around the whole country and it is just better in Ohio.
CB: Have you ever been starstruck?
AG: Sure. When I met Sara Bareilles I was a little bit starstruck and I don’t even know why. I really liked her and was excited to meet her.
CB: Is there anybody you want to collaborate with, maybe a different genre of music?
AG: I would like to do a song where I did the hook and Macklemore did the rap. I think that would be dope.
CB: Do you have a favorite guitar that you like to play?
AG: Yeah, Taylor is my jam. They hook me up with guitars and they sound amazing.
CB: Is there one specifically? Some people have one guitar. I saw one person last week with one they had played so much they had worn a hole in it.
AG: I don’t have that. I bust them up a lot and I have to get them fixed. I have also had this thing where I have had like three of my guitars stolen out of my car in L.A., and I don’t live in a terrible place. I think someone is on to me.
CB: I guess you shouldn’t get attached then. Well, what can the fans expect when you come through Cincinnati. I know you said you were playing half old and half new material, but what can the fans expect from your headlining show?
AG: Expect to see a little bit different light. One song has a vocoder on it. There is a little more high energy stuff. I am really excited. High energy is, in my opinion, better.
Seven hundred acres of Manchester farmland is transformed into Tennessee’s sixth-largest city every June when 80,000 people invade the area for the annual Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. With live music from over a hundred bands on twelve stages from noon ‘til dawn for four days, Bonnaroo presents attendees with an experience that is almost overwhelming.
Unquestionably the most diverse music festival of its kind, this year’s top dog headliners include Elton John, Jack White, Kanye West, Vampire Weekend, Lionel Richie, The Flaming Lips, Wiz Khalifa, Arctic Monkeys, The Avett Brothers and dozens more.
Often described as “James Brown singing with Led Zeppelin”, Vintage Trouble is an L.A.-based band that has built a worldwide following after three years of non-stop touring in support of their 2010 debut album, including a much-coveted slot as the opening act for The Who on their 2013 tour. As the summer festival season is ramping up, Vintage Trouble continues their grueling tour schedule with a stop this weekend at Bonnaroo. I recently spoke to the band’s bassist Rick Barrio Dill. Calling from Los Angeles, where he is recovering from recent surgery after a retinal detachment scare, Dill was upbeat and eager to discuss the band’s history, philosophy and enthusiasm for the road ahead. I asked him if the band changes their approach when preparing for a festival stage, as opposed to theaters and arenas.
“Not really,” he said. “We might tweak the edges differently, but overall our approach to a festival gig is the same kind of sweaty, sexy late night vibe as the clubs of Los Angeles where we kind of honed our thing. We’d only been a band about nine months before we got the gig opening for Brian May that immediately put us in front of the theater crowds that were sitting down. Then we got the Bon Jovi tour where we were playing in stadiums to 40, 50, sometimes 70,000 people.
“It taught us that we like setting up really tight, really close together, so we can literally touch each other no matter what kind of stage we’re on. And everything is contained in that sort of mentality. So, no matter if it’s a giant stadium or a 150, 200-seat room, we want it to get sweaty and we want it to be as intimate feeling as we can make it on the stage and within ourselves and what we can throw out and I think everybody connects. So even when we’re opening up for The Who, it still sort of feels that same 200-seater room.”
Dill said that translates to the way Vintage Trouble records, as well.
“We recorded our whole record in two and a half days, all in one room, doing all full takes,” he said. “We sort of fell into this method and later saw similarities in the footage of The Beatles at Shea Stadium, where they’re set up real tight in the middle of this giant stadium. We don’t wanna spread out. We set up in a tight circle where we can touch each other and then everything’s gonna come out from there.”
I mentioned to Dill how refreshing and somewhat ironic it is in this modern age of technological advances in the way music is generated and delivered to the listener that the old method of just coming out onstage and kicking people in the ass still works.
Chuckling a bit, he replied, “Well, it works for us! You know, we’ve played in front of hardcore Death Metal audiences, Hip Hop audiences, Country audiences and we always seem to land on our feet. I think it’s kind of a testament to how somewhere in our DNA it always traces back to old Soul, Rhythm & Blues, old, early Jazz, and early Rock & Roll.
“One of the things we try to do is we try to pull everybody into it. And it’s funny because even if you aren’t familiar with music from 50 or 60 years ago or they way they performed back then, people seem to understand. People can sort of hear some trace of that sort of thumbprint in their DNA even if they don’t necessarily have those records or haven’t been privy to what those performances were like. People get it. And that’s what’s so great about music, especially the kind of music that we do. It just seems to kind of transcend a lot of genre-making that has gone on over the last 30-40 years.”
Eric Johnson is one of America’s great guitar players. A natural guitarists of sorts, he has been touring since his late teen years in the ’70s and has worked with many great acts from a variety of genres — including Rock, Folk, Alt Country and Jazz — over that time. His Grammy Award-winning pedigree makes him still a very in-demand session musician and his own new takes on classic songs has made him a favorite on the festival circuit.
Johnson brings his unique stylings to the Ballroom at the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati on Tuesday night. (Find tickets/more info here.) This is a can’t-miss show, for guitar fans in particular.
CityBeat: Do you have a favorite guitar that you play?
Eric Johnson: Yes, I have an old Fender Stratocaster that I play a whole lot. It’s probably my favorite guitar.
CB: Is it always with you?
EJ: It is pretty much. Sometimes I’ll tour without it and use other stuff. Also I worked with Fender and designed my own signature guitar so I use that a lot too.
CB: What’s the longest you have ever gone without playing guitar?
EJ: I don’t know, maybe a couple weeks.
CB: What do you think the best guitar solo of all time?
EJ: That would be really tough to say. Probably something musical and interesting to listen to over and over. Maybe something by Jimi Hendrix like “May This Be Love.” I wouldn’t say it’s the best guitar solo ever, but it comes to mind as a really wonderful solo.
CB: Johnny Winter, your fellow Texan, just passed away. Do you have any thoughts about him or fond memories?
EJ: I got to meet him when I was a teenager and he was always really nice and complimentary to me. I was really surprised to hear that he had passed away because I had heard that he was doing a lot better and (was) healthy and on the upswing. It came as a sad surprise.
CB: I had just seen him at JazzFest in New Orleans in May. He played great and looked healthy. I was shocked as well.
EJ: Yeah I didn’t expect it at all because he was doing so well.
CB: Is there a group of people or person that was most influential to you or helpful to you during your early career days?
EJ: Well, when I started in my very early career, Johnny Winter said some nice things about me and that helped me a lot. Steve Morse from the Dixie Dregs helped me out. Christopher Cross kind of helped get things going, and getting to play with Carole King and Cat Stevens — that was a real and official help to me.
CB: It’s so different now for bands trying to make it. Do you have any thoughts on if it’s easier or tougher now for bands that want to play music?
EJ: I think it’s a lot tougher. People are reluctant to pay for music and there are so many bands out now. With the use of the internet and YouTube, anybody can be creative, which is good in a way. If you want to have a career, you have to have something pretty dynamic and unique that is captivating to people.
CB: Last time I saw you perform was on the Experience Hendrix Tour. I have seen that show a couple times. What was the highlight of the tour for you?
EJ: Different ones. I remember the first ones I did, it was playing with Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell. Then Mitch passed away. Getting to hang out with Billy Cox is really a great thing. I liked Doyle Bramhall’s set, and getting to play with all those musicians is a treat.
CB: What do you do with your down time when you are out on the road?
EJ: I just chill out or practice or take hikes and explore the city. I hang out with friends or family if they happen to be in the town I am in.
CB: Do you have any Cincinnati stories from the past when you have played here?
EJ: I have always enjoyed playing there. I have a couple close friends from Ohio. I have gone and hung out around the rivers and stuff. Cincinnati has some really great music shops there as well.
CB: What can fans expect from your show here at the Taft?
EJ: We are doing a couple re-workings of tunes I like to play. We change them up so much they are kind of their own deal. I have this live record that just came out, Live in Europe, and I will do some of those songs, but I will do some new tunes and some re-workings of old tunes and tunes by other people. It will kind of be a cross-section of different stuff.
CB: Are you constantly working on new music or do you take breaks?
EJ: I try to constantly work on it, some kind of thing, whether collaboration with somebody else or playing on somebody else’s recording or something on my own.
CB: I know you started out doing a lot of sessions early in your career. Do you do any sessions now or work with any other artists?
EJ: Yeah, pretty much all the time. I do one a month at least.
CB: Are there any current bands that you would like to collaborate with or work with from a live music standpoint?
EJ: I’ll tell you a lot of different things I like. I dig that band Explosions in the Sky. I like Grizzly Bear. I think they are great. Tallest Man on Earth is a great Folk singer as well.
The Glorious Sons are a strong up-and-coming act out of Canada (Kingston, Ontario, to be exact) with a Rock sound that’s a little rough around the edges, just the way they want it.
The band isn’t trying to fit into a cookie cutter world of the music industry but deliver an authentic sound that connects with audiences. The Glorious Sons are currently on a U.S. club tour, but one listen to their new EP shows big things are on the horizon. They are currently touring with 10 Years, Otherwise and Luminoth. The tour comes to the Thompson House in Newport this Sunday (tickets/more info here). Get on the bandwagon early and come out to enjoy a night of great Rock music.
CityBeat spoke with frontman Brett Emmons to discuss the grind to get to where the band is today.
CityBeat: I know you are on this tour with 10 Years and Otherwise. How did this tour come together?
Brett Emmons: Our agent put the offer on the table for us back when we were on tour with Airborne in Canada. I am not really sure how it all came together but we knew if we went on tour with (10 Years) in the States, they wanted to come on tour with us in Canada. We have a pretty big draw in Canada whereas nobody really knew us in the States before we started this tour. So we sat down for breakfast and started talking with each other and we decided we were going to do the tour. We looked forward to it and two months later we were on the road with 10 Years.
CB: I recently listened to the album this week and I have to be honest, I think it is one of the best things I have heard in a long time and I have specific questions about some songs on the album.
BE: Thank you.
CB: One of my favorite songs on the album was “Amigo.” Could you tell me a little bit of the backstory behind that song and how it came about?
BE: One thing when you are writing tunes, at least for us, it follows like every other song, a loose story with a lot of feelings. When I start writing, I never know what the ending is going to be like or what the song is going to completely look like. I know what the song’s direction is going to be but I never start the story at the end. It is about my time in Halifax when I was there a couple years and there was a particular person that I was hanging around with a lot and writing a lot of music with. It’s about his fall from grace during the time I was hanging out with him and my fall from grace as well. It is about watching someone with so much potential self-doubt themselves and losing it all because they were scared.
CB: You brought up writing the lyrics. Can you talk about the band’s process and how you put the songs together and write together?
BE: We all do help with lyrics, too. If there is a lyric that is not covered right, everybody has their input; there are five guys and five guys who think they are songwriters and so you are never really short on ideas.
Usually somebody will bring something to the jam room and we will either be jiving with it or not jiving with it. What happens, someone will start playing something or singing something and somebody else will join in and a third person will join in and you will have five guys trying to whittle this broad thing into a song. Other times it may start with a bass riff or playing. We don’t have an equation for it and I don’t think we should. It is basically about spontaneity and just people working together doing their thing. Everybody has their job and everybody likes to do it. It comes pretty easy right now. Who knows? I imagine when we are 40 we will be dead tired.
CB: The thing I felt was interesting about the album was all the songs sound different. Sometimes I get albums and every song sounds the same, basically. I thought it was unique that, song to song, there was a different flavor you would get while listening.
BE: Yeah. That is what we thought, too. A lot of bands tend to use digital songs now and try to find what their sound is. We just rock and roll. We didn’t know what we wanted to sound like or what we wanted to be. We are just five guys playing instruments trying to write songs and whatever way they come out is the way we want people to hear them.
When you listen to the Stones, not every song on a Stones album sounds the same. If you think about that, nowadays, I feel like too many people are trying to fit themselves into a genre rather than finding out what happens.
CB: When did you know that this is what you wanted to do for your career?
BE: In high school I was asked to sing for a band and I didn’t know how to sing. I couldn’t sing worth a shit and I started singing with that band. They kicked me out of the band because they wanted a real singer. I bought an acoustic guitar and I took one of my favorite songs and I practiced it for months. I practiced singing it and I practiced playing it until my voice sounded good enough. Then I put a band together and we beat (the band I was kicked out of) in the Battle of the Bands and I won best singer at the show. For the first time I put together a song and started singing and realized how fun it was and I could be myself. When I started writing songs, I could put myself on paper and give myself a sound and words. That’s when I realized I wanted to do it.
Growing up my brother (Glorious Sons guitarist Jay Emmons) was in a band, a guitarist in a band. I grew up watching him play my entire life. When I really started playing, we started jamming together. It was always a dream of ours to throw a band together and play music together for a living. We didn’t know it would be this good but we just wanted to pay our bills with music and write songs. That has ended up happening and we are pretty happy.
CB: I have been talking to several bands that have siblings that play together. Are there any issues with that, being with your brother all the time?
BE: No. We argue a little bit because we are brothers and the most open with each other. He has always been my best friend and my rock. I grew up with him, taking advice from him, basically worshipping the ground he walked on. We are best friends. Playing in a band with your brother can go one of two ways — you can be assholes to each other or be real and good to each other, which is what we do, even though we are assholes sometimes.
CB: You said earlier you played one song over and over, what was that song?
BE: It’s a song called “Wheat Kings” by Tragically Hip, it’s a Canadian band. I’m not sure you would know them but they are Rock royalty, maybe Canada’s favorite band of all time within country. They come down here and play but in Canada every show they play is in a sold-out stadium.
CB: One of the songs on the album is “The Union,” which is also the title of the album. It seems to have a social and political message. Was that on purpose?
BE: No, not really. I’d like to clear this up, so I’m glad you asked. A few people get a bad taste in their mouth about the chorus: “I’ll never join the union because I never wanted it easy.” When you listen to the song it is just a metaphor for life and growing up and wanting to be different and still wanting to question things and question society and be the dirty little kid that you were when you were young and not caring about what people thought. There are some ties to the subject a little bit. My father’s shop was almost shut down when we were younger by a union. It was kind of an ode to him because he was able to maintain his shop without the union. He went from having 10 employees to having one employee. We went through some hard times but he was able to keep the family together and keep the shop up and running and to this day provide a comfortable life for us.
It is not a political stand against any union in any way. It is about growing up and not doing what everyone wants you to do.
CB: A lot of bands are collaborating now and playing together. I know you guys are just starting out but is there anybody you’d like to do a dream collaboration with?
BE: I’d love to pick Bruce Springsteen’s brain a little bit. Words, mostly. He is one of my favorites of all time. That is a huge dream though. In Canada, we collaborate with people like The Trews and heroes from that country and it would be cool to see what it would be like to write with Kings of Leon or bands like that. Mainly, we are more focused on collaborating with each other. Everyone in our band knows what we want. We work well together. I guess it would be fun to collaborate with (KoL’s) Caleb Followill or The Tallest Man on Earth or someone like that but, again, these are big, big pipe dreams.
CB: You mentioned The Trews. I know you worked with (Trews guitarist) John-Angus MacDonald on your first and second EP. What was that process like and why did you choose him? I recently talked to Godsmack and they were talking about the role of their producer and that he keeps the peace and how they really trust and listen to him. Why did you choose MacDonald and how did you work together?
BE: When we chose him … he chose us actually. We were playing a competition and we won it. He was one of the judges and came up to me after the show and said he wanted to see what it would be like to produce one of our albums. My brother grew up going to Trews shows and we were all fans of The Trews. Basically, that was the most excited I have ever been in my entire life. It felt like our shot and it really was. He took a chance on us. We got into the studio and we started playing our tunes and listening to him and fighting with him a bit too on things.
We didn’t really look for a producer. At the time, I don’t think I even knew what a producer did. I had never had a producer on any of my albums before and I never really made an album that had cost any amount of real money. We got in there and he showed us the ropes of what it was like to work in a real studio. We let him go off when he had a good idea or a good pass. When I felt like what he was doing was against my vision, I’d take a hard stance and he’d have to prove me wrong or he’d listen to me. He was really the guy who found our band and took a chance on us. He is the reason we are doing this for a living right now. We love the guy and he has been so good to us. He is one of our best friends. He took us on tour. It has been such a great experience with him.
CB: It sounds like you guys are excited to be on the road. What is your craziest tour story so far?
BE: It was on our first tour in Canada. It was in late November, just before December. The snow was falling and it was starting to get really cold. The bus we were on broke down on the highway and was unfixable. We had to rent a U-Haul truck because it was the only thing that had a hitch on it and we weren’t going to leave our trailer that had all our gear in it. For two weeks, we slept in the back of a U-Haul moving truck while two people drove, in the Canadian cold. It was a tough couple weeks, but then again, we knew stuff like that was going to happen, if you spend your life on the road, especially with your vehicles. But you get over things like that. When we finally got off the U-Haul, we were home in Kingston. It made being home that much better.