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Nina Blackwood

Posted September, 2011

NinaBlackwoodToday2Before the days of YouTube, cable TV, DVD players or, heck, even VCR’s, if one wanted to see their favorite artist or band of any genre, they would have to know what time and what show they would happen to be appearing on.  In the 50’s and 60’s, The Ed Sullivan Show was the go-to TV show to catch Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, Buddy Holly, the Doors, or the Dave Clark Five, to name but a historic few.

Other landmark shows like the Louisiana Hayride, Shindig! or Dick Clark’s two shows, American Band Stand and Where The Action Is were on the scene and catered to specific genres of music which not only carved out a healthy niche of dedicated viewers but a permanent spot in music history, as well.

As the seventies rolled around, teenagers like me had our own arsenal of shows from which to get our live musical fix.   Who can forget Alice Cooper performing Gutter Cats vs. The Jets on ABC’s In Concert or Johnny Winter’s version of Jumpin’ Jack Flash on Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert or Fleetwood Mac performing Rhiannon on Burt Sugarman’s Midnight Special?

All of these shows and historic performances are forever etched on the tablets of rock and roll history.  However, thirty years ago, on August 1st, 1981, there was a seismic change that hit America through the growing avenue of cable television.  Five VJ’s (“video jockey’s”), Nina Blackwood, Martha Quinn, the late J.J. Jackson and Alan Hunter became fixtures on a bold, new cable network called MTV.  The channel provided a continuous feed of record industry supplied promotional videos as well as a growing supply of concert clips. Before too long, “I want my MTV!” became a popular mantra among America’s youth and was captured forever in Dire Strait’s hit (and video, of course), Money For Nothing.

It’s hard to imagine that thirty years has passed since MTV hit the airwaves and changed music forever.  It just doesn’t seem possible.  Neither did it seem possible that the opportunity to interview one of the MTV pioneers, Nina Blackwood, would ever happen but it did.

The perennially beautiful Blackwood called me from her home in Maine while between having just returned from vacation and the start of another round of personal appearances commemorating the 30th anniversary of MTV’s launch. Naturally, that was the subject we started with.

 “It’s been quite crazy, actually, but in a good way. It’s so nice that people are reaching out and remembering us. It’s wonderful, actually.  We’ve done a lot of promotion. We did a VJ special through Sirius/XM on our Big 80’s on 8 channel. I’ve been hosting Absolutely 80’s Presents Freemont Street’s Experience in Vegas every other weekend, flying there to host a show. I live in Maine so it’s not just down the road!” she said with her infectious laugh that immediate endears those privileged to hear it.

Often, reunions of any type can be quite emotional for the participants.  I asked Nina if it had been emotional for her to recollect those years in such a compressed time while being the focus of a lot of attention.

 “Very good question. Very good question because, to be quite honest, when it started, I’d say, back in May, things started gearing up – when I do my shows and we’re talking about eighties music, I don’t go around thinking about the early days of MTV.  I mean, it was thirty years ago!  Around May, things started kind of ratcheting up a bit.  I had a couple of real intense interviews right off the bat. I had to go to New York for a VJ special with Mark (Goodman), Alan (Hunter), and Martha (Quinn) and all of a sudden I’m back here in New York where we did the {mprestriction ids="*"}shows and we’re talking about the old days – it was kind of freaky, I tell you, at first.  I was trying to go to sleep (the night before) but I kept reliving all these memories that the people were asking us about. Really, initially, it was quite unsettling!  I mean, maybe on the 25th (anniversary) we recollected some thoughts but, for some reason, this one really did have an emotional effect and has carried on throughout the entire summer which has been really odd!

“It’s wonderful, don’t get me wrong!  But, all of a sudden, your head is back in those days and you’re remembering this and that – wow! – like it was . . . well, I can’t say like it was thirty years ago but, maybe at the most, twenty years ago – the most!  It does not feel like thirty years ago – especially when we had this dinner when we were in New York with some of the old crew from the original studio which each of us, respectively, are still friends with. We each have our people that we’re still friends with. And for all of us to be back together sitting at this gigantic table in this restaurant in New York was like ‘Oh my god!’.  Everybody’s personalities are pretty much the same, only older!  And that was so trippy. It  really was!  Even though each of us are in contact with certain people over the years and have seen them personally – like, one of the cameramen – a friend of mine – came up to visit me in Maine and we’re always e-mailing; but it was exactly like it was!  It was really weird!  Yes, it was emotion in the fact that you realize how fast time has gone.”

When I asked if there was anything bittersweet about the whole thing, Ms. Blackwood’s response was immediate.

“Well, J.J., of course.  You know that J.J. passed away a long time ago – six years ago, something like that (in 2004 of a heart attack in L.A.). Of course, J.J.’s absence is very bittersweet – especially for the four of us who are left.  But he was loved very much by the crew and the producers that worked with us on a day-to-day basis.  So that, if anything, that was the main ‘bittersweetness’ because we would all say, ‘Ah, J.J. would like that!’.

“J.J. was the guy who had all the stories. He was like our elder statesman but he was also the guy who really partook the most in the quote/unquote rock ‘n roll lifestyle. I mean, he was hanging out with Robert Plant, Rod Stewart, going to all the clubs. In fact, his nick name was ‘Club Man’. So he was the guy that was – if you want to say – not wild because I would classify him as a wild man but he really embraced everything there was to embrace about New York and being in the entertainment business. He really lived a full life. So, that’s missed. He’s just missed!”

And what about any of the artists who dominated much of MTV’s screen time back in the day?

“Well, I mean, that’s kind of a daily thing. I’ll be introducing a song like, say, Robert Palmer and Addicted To Love – I interviewed him a lot over the years. That was sad. I was particularly devastated by Michael Hutchence’s death. I had just seen him, actually, about a month or so before he died. Again, in a professional sense – not a personal sense – I was close to that band (INXS). When they came by for an interview, I was always the one who interviewed them or met them on the road so there was definitely a professional relationship and I thought the world of Michael. I really, really liked him.  I still, sometimes, go, ‘I can’t believe he’s gone’ and in such a horrible way. It was so tragic and just awful. So, Michael’s one that I do think of in that regard.

“I was on vacation so I didn’t even know about Jani Lane of Warrant!  That’s pathetic – so pathetic!  I wasn’t close to him as a person, either. It was all professional. It’s just so sad because here’s this guy – platinum – multiplatinum selling artist and the band kicks him out and he just could not kick his drug habit.  And, to be found in some Comfort Inn in Woodland Hills, California, for crying out loud!  It’s just horrid!  That was the most recent.”

The perpetually positive Blackwood instinctively turns the conversation to more a more positive vein.

“Somebody who is an example of overcoming and thriving and helping others is Slash. I read his biography and I was going, ‘Is he gonna make it?!’ and now the guy is doing so well – beyond well!  He’s actually a really cool mentor, in a way, for kids.  He’s got that cartoony kind of look and he helps animals. He helps young addicts and has a whole foundation (to help).

“Look at Steven Tyler, for crying out loud!  I mean, Steven Tyler was on the brink! I actually met him right before he got sober and, I mean, he was still ‘Steven Tyler’ but you knew that the guy was just out there at warp speed. Look at how he’s turned around.  They all became more successful after they became sober!

“So, along with the horrible deaths, there are a lot of people who have . . .” and then, as she often does, Nina interrupts herself with another related thought,  “Look at Joe Walsh!  Oh my god! He’s an old friend of mine because I grew up in Ohio. I remember getting a call one night. I can’t remember what concert it was – I think it was Stevie Nicks.  I had just seen him backstage at that event. By the time I got home, there was a phone call from a mutual friend of ours saying, ‘Joe’s in the hospital. He has passed out’ and I’m going, ‘Oh, no! He’s dying!’ He turned his life around. He got through it and looks better than ever!  He looks all healthy and ‘California-ized’.

“So, yeah, along with the tragedies there are successes. And, with Michael – god!  That one made me sad because he took his own life. To be pushed to that degree and not feeling that he could turn to anybody and to do that, that’s what made it, I think, hardest for me. It wasn’t like a drug overdose, which is bad enough, but it was like he killed himself by his own hand. That’s painful.  The guy was so charismatic. Like I said, I had just seen the band and was marveling at the fact that the guy could arch his back and the most powerful notes would come out. It sucks!  What can I say? It sucks!  Still, obviously, after all these years later it does bother me.”

To say that Blackwood is a workaholic would be a bit of an understatement.  She hosts two syndicated radio shows, Nina Blackwood’s Absolutely 80’s and Nina Blackwood’s New Wave Nation.  He can also be found on her Sirius XM show, 80’s on 8, at various days and times throughout the week.  And, as if that’s not enough, this summer she was flying back and forth to Las Vegas for appearances at Absolutely 80’s Summer Concert Series.  I asked her how does she do it all.

“Yeah, I am bit of a workaholic.  Four and a half years ago, I was living in L.A. and I realized that all the companies that I worked for were actually in New York. So, I’m going, ‘Why am I in L.A.? It’s hot. I don’t do well in the heat. It’s crowded. I don’t really like it anymore. It’s gotten nasty. Why am I living here?’ I always loved Maine since I was a little girl. I was born in Massachusetts and just always loved Maine. I thought about moving there on a number of occasions and I thought, ‘You know? I’m just gonna check it out and see if I love as much as I think I love it” and I did. I ended up buying a house and, luckily, selling my house (in L.A.) right as the market was crashing – got out of there literally by a hair – by a hair!  The housing market was tanking as the house was up for sale.

“So, I moved to Maine and, like yourself, because of technology, I’ve got a studio in my home and I can do my shows and all my work (from home) – with the exception of going to Vegas and personal appearances. And, I love nature and that’s been my saving grace.

“I was just back in L.A. last week, doing my shows from there so I was in the traffic and all that and my whole body, seriously, went into like an anxiety attack. I was shaking!  I love to drive. I’m not a scaredy cat driver so it had nothing to do with that. It was just so intense and so much – I go, ‘I don’t know how I lived here!’  I probably would have had a very different answer for you if I was still in L.A.”

Nina loves to gush about her life in Maine.

“I have a lot of animals. I have dogs and cats and parrots and there are so many wild animals here. Chipmunks and squirrels and osprey and raccoons and the occasional moose and mink, otter, beaver.  I find solace and peace with nature and only when I’m removed from it for a certain period of time do I get kind of tweaked. I start shaking like I did in L.A.  Nature has always been my solace and it remains to be. That’s the balance. Now, it’s critical, actually. I have to have it.  I’m so hyper and that’s something I haven’t been able to conquer my whole life. I’ve been hyper since I little kid. Still hyper!

“The peace calms me down and it makes me realize, especially in a place like Maine where the people are so wonderful.  They’re workaday people.  They’re really down to earth. They’re really honest. They’re lobstermen, farmers - that type of thing. And I realized that there’s more to the world than the entertainment business and they don’t care what you do. They don’t care if you’re Brad Pitt. If you’re a good person, that’s fine. If not, they don’t care, they’re not going bother with you. It’s really a grounding and I thrive in that.

“I love my postmen. We have a two-person post office and ‘Tiny’ – who is not; he’s a very big guy – we don’t even have regular mail trucks!  He (Tiny) drives his own vehicle. He sits in the passenger seat and he drives with a stick! He has the stick working the steering wheel and, because he’s big enough, he can work the foot pedals.

“I found, the day before I was leaving for vacation, a little handwritten note saying, ‘Have a wonderful vacation. Be safe and we look forward to you coming back”. It almost made me cry. I got choked up. I carried that little note with me the whole time I was gone. He didn’t have to do that. He wasn’t doing that for any reason other than a sweet gesture. I lived twenty years in L.A. and I never even knew my mail man’s name and he probably didn’t know mine except for the fact that he stuck the mail in the box.

“It’s a very long answer to your question but those are the things that help and keep me grounded and also make me enjoy my work more because I gotta work to stay where I am and I love it so much, you know what I mean?”

In preparing for this interview, I wasn’t sure what Nina’s opinion was of MTV today as compared to when she VJ’d for them.  I was relieved to read an interview posted on her website, NinaBlackwood.net, wherein she says that she doesn’t like the current format there.  With that already established, I asked Nina what she thought would “work” for MTV and what changes would she implement if she were in charge.

“Well, the thing is, unfortunately for people like us who don’t like what they’re doing, that (MTV’s current format) is working for them. Jersey Shore has made more money for MTV Networks than any show they’ve ever had. So, the bottom-line is that it is working. I don’t know who watches this stuff. I don’t get it but that’s what’s happening.

“As far as MTV itself, what I would do is start another channel and forget MTV! Or, VH1 Classic – put the music oriented stuff over them; keep MTV – whatever it is now – over there.  Just keep it. It has nothing to do with music . . . or very little to do with music.  Just implement more music programming for people who enjoy it because I hear this all the time! ‘Where are the videos?  Where are the music shows?’

“So, there is an audience out there that wants to see – maybe not 24 hours a day – but maybe, like, three hours to show videos, two hours, whatever, separated throughout the day.  Have music like Storytellers that was a great show or Behind The Music - wonderful shows!  Have more of that.”

It’s been said, to borrow from the Buggles tune, TV Killed The Radio Star, that video killed radio.  I asked Blackwood what she thought killed video?

“Well, first of all, I don’t think video killed radio. That song was written before MTV was even on. It was written in ’78.  It wasn’t specifically about MTV and I actually think video enhanced radio at the time because it (radio) had been in the doldrums. In fact, radio was opened up to all these new bands that I wouldn’t have played in a million years, like Duran Duran, The Flock of Seagulls – for better or for worse.  Video is not what killed the radio star. But the internet is what, I think, killed – or it has been helping to kill – radio, the videos on TV and the record industry across the board. That has been the biggest threat, at least in my lifetime, to the music industry in general.”

When I asked Blackwood if she thought that the MTV’s format change was driven by the record labels’ lack of support for acts, including the financing of videos, she responded by saying, “That’s a good question, also. I don’t know. I think it’s kind of a chicken and egg thing. It really is because things started tanking all around the same time. The record labels.  All the mergers. Then you have radio going through the same thing. These big companies came in and bought up as many channels in one city as they possibly were allowed to. They restricted the formats. I hate to use a trite phrase but it’s all be kind of the perfect storm.”

I asked Nina what videos from back in the day epitomized the best and worst of video on MTV.  Her answer was both honest and diplomatic.

“Well, it’s a really hard question as to which ones epitomize but the first one that comes to mind when you ask that, I think, Money For Nothing, obviously, because it was about MTV. So that kind of epitomized it. As far as the worst, I can’t really say because there’s not one that sticks out in my mind that’s cringe-worthy. There’s nothing that I could specifically answer. I’m sorry. I can’t go, ‘Yeah! That one sucked!’

“Also, whether they hold up to the test of time.  I would have to go back and look at some of these and go, “Uh, that one doesn’t work anymore”. So, I’m sorry to be so evasive about that.”

With a long, distinguished, history making career such as hers, I naturally wondered if she would be coming out with a book anytime in the near future.  Her response was coy, to say the least.

“Oh, those things could be in the works.  Maybe . . . maybe . . .”

Well, until that darn book that may or may not be in the works comes out, I had to ask Nina how she wanted to be remembered after she’s gone to that great VJ studio in the sky.

“Oh, boy!  You know, we’ve often joked about our epitaphs – Mark, Allan, Martha, and myself  and J.J., God bless him, - that they would probably would say, ‘Here lies America’s first MTV VJ’ would probably be how I would be remembered. But, I don’t know, I would like to be remembered as somebody who really strove to keep her credibility and loved animals and nature – along with rock ‘n roll!”

Check out all that’s happening in the world of the lovely and talented Nina Blackwood at NinaBlackwood.net.  Also, if you have Sirius XM radio (and, if not, why not?), be sure and catch Nina’s show throughout the week on channel 8 of your satellite radio dial.  You’ll love it!

Chester Bennington and Brandon Boyd

Posted August, 2012

LinkinParkJamesMinchinV2Linkin Park Photo by James MinchinConcert season is well upon us and offering up many great entertainment possibilities.  One of the best and most value laden concert offerings for the money is the 2012 Honda Civic Tour featuring two headline bands for the price of one:  Linkin Park and Incubus.  In addition to giving the fans of both bands a chance to see them, the tour also is supporting Power the World to fund cleaner energy solutions and to raise awareness about people who have no access to energy.

In addition to the performances by both bands, each tour stop will feature displays of a 2012 Honda Civic Si Coupe and a CBR250R motorcycle, both Linkin Park customized and designed.  As the old Ronco commercials used to say: But wait!  There’s more!  Fans can enter to win these one-of-a-kind vehicles at www.HondaCivicTour.com.  How cool is that?

In order to help get the word out about the tour and it’s causes, the front men from both bands – Chester Bennington and Brandon Boyd – were kind enough to submit themselves to ninety minutes of questions from a gaggle of us writer types via a conference call.

As we settled into the call and introductions made, the first question right out of the chute asked about what fans of both bands can expect from the shows during this tour.  Bennington responded first by saying, “Well, I think that for us, I mean, really, I think the most special thing about this tour is the fact that you have two headlining bands singing together on one bill, which typically can be kind of hard to do, specifically, because usually when you’re in a position to headline a tour of this kind, you know, there’s only room for one headlining band usually.

“So the fact that Incubus gets to come out and perform a full headlining set and Soul Production and Linkin Park gets to come out and perform our full headlining set with personal production and everything is kind of special. But also, we kind of don’t really look at what the other artists have done on these tours and kind of go, ‘OK, what do we think we should do?’ You know, we’re just going to go out and do what our fans want from us which is, you know, play songs that they’re familiar with and catch up on some on the new music and become familiar with that.

“So really I think from Linkin Park’s standpoint, we’re just going to come out and put on the highest-energy show we can. And incorporate as much of the new music as possible. And I’m expecting that Incubus will probably do the same.”

 

Brandon Boyd chimed in by adding, “I think that, I just think it’s a good moment and a great opportunity to have kind of just a, you know, two big giant rock & roll incubus2012.3Incubus Photo by Brantley Gutierrezbands sharing a stage. I just think that’s going to be better than either of us would do in our own show. It’s two headlining sets, including Mutemath, which is going to be a good time as well. So it’s almost like a minifestival, which is amazing.

“And Incubus has done a Honda Civic-sponsored tour before. It may have been one of Honda Civic’s first ones, I’m not sure, but that was like, over 10 years ago. And I remember it being really, really great. And I think the listeners and friends and fans and family who came out to those shows had a really great experience, too. So I know that we as a band are really looking forward to doing it again this year. And personally, this will be the end of our touring cycle for our newest record and so we’re looking forward to just making some music and I’m very much looking forward to seeing Linkin Park . . .”

With the tour being focused on green energy use and taking place while the current presidential campaigns are getting underway, it was only natural for the guys to be asked if they wear their political feelings and affiliations “on their sleeves”.  Chester answered the question first.

“Well, I know that, within Linkin Park, I’ve honestly never heard anyone talk about who they want to vote for, for example. I think it’s something that we kind of take very personally. It’s so funny, I was watching some comedy show the other day and they were making fun of how Americans won’t talk about who they’re going to vote for.   It’s such a secretive process. Whereas if you go overseas or something, people are talking about who they’re going to vote for and who they don’t like all the time. It’s no big deal.

“But here in the United States it’s a little different for us. It’s such a private and personal moment to kind of choose who you think is going to be the best leader. And the last thing you want to do is influence somebody else to vote based on what they think of you as opposed to what they think of the politician they’re voting for.

“So we definitely don’t really kind of brag about who we’re going to vote for, but we do talk about the things that are important to us. And the things that are very important to us at this point are really making sure that our tours are as environmentally friendly as possible and also giving back to our local community as well as the world community that has been so good to us. So those are the things that matter to us.

“And in terms of the green movement and other things, one of the reasons why we’re so keen on that is because (Indiscernible) and the tie between natural disasters and what we’re doing as a society to the planet. So if we can {mprestriction ids="*"}counterbalance some things or offset some things that we’re doing just naturally through the way that we (Indiscernible) things on a daily basis, if we can make that more efficient and less wasteful, then we can provide families with renewable energy sources, so they don’t have to burn garbage, they don’t have to burn dung.

“Those things actually go a really long way in terms of helping with the recovery process of a natural disaster. So for example if a community is deforesting the areas around their villages, and let’s say a hurricane hits, OK, now all of a sudden not only did the wind destroy the homes that so many people are living in, but it’s also now created flooding and mudslides and all of that kind of stuff.

Those things become very difficult and very costly and time-consuming in terms of the recovery project. So if we can encourage people to use the solar-powered light bulbs, for example, that we’re giving out, via Power the World, instead of chopping down trees, when that hurricane does hit, it’s amazing how roots hold the soil together.

So those are the kind of things that we’re interested in. I don’t necessarily know that either of the future presidential candidates are really thinking that way. So that’s where it’s kind of like I’m not sure exactly how political our green movement is . . . it’s more of a purpose-driven green movement in terms of just wanting to be more clean and efficient with our tours so we leave less of a footprint when we’re out there. But the big picture really is the tie between, you know, the effect that it causes in terms of the natural disasters that hit. So if we plant more trees and put more oxygen in the atmosphere, hopefully the storm systems aren’t so tough every year.

“If we, you know, could help people have clean water and have access to renewable energy sources then they can focus on agriculture and they can focus on getting jobs and stuff and making money as opposed to hunting down water. Or moving a village because it’s been destroyed and there’s mudslides and all sorts of stuff happening.”

Boyd chimed in by adding, “Chester makes a lot of wonderful points, you know, and, um, I think that any type of meaningful movement and/or meaningful change that’s going to occur if you were to measure it based on who people were voting for and/or who even gets elected, it’s like watching water boil. It’s infuriating to try and hang anything worthwhile or legitimate upon that process even though it is a valuable process and an essential one.

“My point is, I truly believe that most of the meaningful change - if not all - is going to come from the ground. And I think it’s wonderful that Linkin Park has the Music for Relief Foundation, and is able to make waves and make moves on the ground there.

“We’ve been trying very hard and very joyfully with the Make Yourself Foundation for many years to do the same thing - both with environmental causes, but also with humanitarian efforts - to inspire people as opposed to hang our hat on a politician or, you know, stuff like that. It’s like I said, it’s an infuriating, fascinating but infuriating process.  So I think that we’re just in a very blessed position to be able to have even, you know, a remote influence on the ground here. I think that’s where the most meaningful change is coming from.”

The fellas were asked why they wanted to team up for this tour.  Brandon eagerly offered up his answer first.              

“I personally think it’s an occasion that’s kind of long overdue. We have a lot of mutual listeners, our bands, and I think that it’s one of those things that once the idea was floated and we really kind of caught onto it, that it seemed like, ‘Why haven’t we done this yet’, type of a thing.

“Linkin Park has a considerably larger reach than Incubus has had and I think it’s going to be wonderful for us as a band to play in front of more people. So we definitely appreciate the opportunity there. But I personally think that it’s just going to be great because of that sort of, because of the carryover between the listeners, you know there are a lot of Linkin Park listeners who are also Incubus listeners and vice versa. But we’ve never done something like this before. So as far as the feedback is concerned from people around the world-—Incubus has been on tour for the past year—once this tour was announced it’s been overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. So I’m really excited for it to get started.”

Bennington added, “I think that it’s funny because in Linkin Park we all have the things that we do better than other guys do, so for example I’m really bad at reading long-form legal documents. Like I just don’t, like, get it, and most of it doesn’t make any sense to me anyways. You know, there are guys in the band who are much better and more qualified to kind of go through that process than me.

“So, one of the places that I actually can contribute some skill or input that matters is on touring. Typically I’ve been pretty, even in my loosest form, I’ve been involved in figuring out who we tour with for a long time. And so, I swear, it feels like I’ve probably tried to figure out a way to get Linkin Park and Incubus on the road together at least once per cycle since probably Meteora . It just goes to show how difficult it can be to actually get two headlining groups together.

“Kind of going back to that first question, you know, it was surprising to me that we haven’t actually done more touring with Incubus than we have in the last 15 years. Fourteen years. So, for the fact that we do share such a big, I think, group of fans that kind of listen to both bands, I still feel like there’s a large number of people that are Incubus fans that never really got into Linkin Park, or kind of vice versa. But I think that there’s a common interest there.

“And so I feel like that’s one of the things that’s been so positive, overwhelmingly positive, about everyone’s response to our bands going on tour together is that I think it gives both of our fans something that they’ve wanted for a long time, which is to see Incubus and go see Linkin Park, because I think they’ve had to choose a lot of times on which band they’re going to go see because we’ve both been on tour. Or when we’re on tour in the U.S., Incubus is off in the Pacific Rim, hopping all over Asia or somewhere in Europe and we’re down in Asia. It just never works out.

“So, I think the fact that they’re ending their cycle and we’re kind of beginning ours and this is a very specific time in our career that things have lined up for us to be able to do a tour like this together. We get to go out and just fully express ourselves as artists and really do whatever we want to do this energy we feel our fans are going to want. I think that that’s something that’s really special. And so I’m very appreciative to the people on the Civic tour. You know, having the vision to kind of understand, that this is something that is rare and is something that, um, you know, people are going to be excited to go see. You know, you never get to go see Bon Jovi and Kiss at the same time. This, to me, feels as exciting as a lot of the concerts that I would be excited to go to when I was a kid.

“That was I think one of the reasons why Lollapalooza when I was young became so important so quickly. It was because it was the only place that you could go see, you know, the Chili Peppers and Ministry and, you know, Pearl Jam and all these bands play together. And Ice Cube. But there’s no way you were going to see all these bands together, you know? And that’s been the inspiration for modern festivals and I think that the fact that this does kind of feel like a little mini-festival even though there are only three bands. It does have that feeling of something that’s going to be a show that you wanna go see, cuz it’s got something special. I’m excited.

“Honestly I think that, I also hope that our bands can walk away inspired from each other. You know? I’ve always appreciated Incubus for their music. And they’re also very good live. I’ve had the chance to pop over and watch them play a couple songs onstage here and there at some festivals throughout our career and they’re a great live band. So I think the energy is going to be really amazing out in the crowd. So I would actually like to be down there to watch the show but I don’t know if that’s going to be possible.

Since earlier in the interview Brandon Boyd indicated that Incubus was at the end of their current touring cycle, it begged the question as what the guys are planning next.  His response was thought out and measured.

“Ummm… as far as that’s concerned, we have no plans, to tell you the truth at the moment. We are, for the first time since 1996, we are free agents again. We’re without a record label. So what we’re kind of doing is trying to get our bearings as to what we should do next, just as a band but also as a band that is kind of off in new territory again.

“So I have been tinkering around potentially with a second solo record. That’s probably the most likely scenario. But as far as Incubus right now, we’ll probably take another break. Hopefully it won’t be as long. But what we like to do is arrive with the best of intentions and try and create music from a sense of urgency as well as purity and not necessarily based on a schedule. I know that that can be a little bit frustrating for our listeners and stuff. But I think that we’ll make better music as a result. So the plan is to have no plan.

“We definitely got a taste of what it’s going to be like without a record label on this latest album cycle with If Not Now, When? Though we were still signed to Epic Records there was a lot of sort of changing of the guards going on with L.A. Reid being the new president and he wasn’t quite there yet, even though he was technically the guy on the TV show and there was a real lack of direction and leadership when we kind of needed it the most. So it was hard and it was frustrating but it was also very telling for us and perhaps educational.

“Because what we were forced to do was we were forced into ingenuity. And so we came up with this idea to set up shop in this art gallery in Los Angeles and do the Incubus HQ and fly listeners in from different corners of the world and do these live broadcasts on the Internet. And so we started getting these ideas about subscription-based live concerts online and it ended up being a really scary and stressful project, but the fruits of it are still kind of revealing themselves. We have this HQ box set that we’re putting out and the DVD set comes out. I think August 14 is the release date. There’s like the super fan all six nights on DVD mixed in 5.1 with the CDs and pieces of canvases that people were drawing on in the room while we were playing music.

“Like I said, it’s forced us to think outside of that normal music industry paradigm that we had gotten so accustomed to. And so in that sense the lack of attention from our record label and the end days of our record label relationship were really good and very beneficial for us as a band because it gave us a sense of what we might be doing in the coming years. So I’m personally very excited about being in complete control, of being able to be a total control freak. It doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t sign with another record label at some point but it would definitely have to be very, very specific. Not get into just a good old-fashioned record deal again, if they even exist. ”

Counter to how Incubus works, Linkin Park has the habit of their albums starting when they’re on the road. Naturally, we were all curious if the band has already started to work on their next album.

Bennington answered by saying, “Um, usually in the beginning of the touring cycle we kind of focus on what we’re going to be doing with the new music. You know, touring at this point, for us, is pretty awesome and at the same time it works against you to a certain degree. Because I realized the other day, I was thinking about it, why is it more difficult to get casual fans into new music? I think it’s because when we started touring it was just Hybrid Theory and Hybrid Theory was like 36 minutes long.

So basically, you know when you’re headlining a tour, we started out opening shows which was great because we played for 15 minutes and then leave, 25 minutes and leave. So when we got to the point where people fell in love with what we were doing and were listening to us and we were the headlining band, we were forced to play our entire record. Like, every single night. And so people were, I think, falling in love with the record in a different way.

“And even with Meteora, like, um, once we had that record it was like, OK, we basically have enough music to fill a proper headlining set. And so we’ve essentially played both records all the way through for our entire first five years, six years of touring. And so once you get to that point where you have a bunch of songs that people have heard on the radio, and it becomes more, you know, less about playing everything you have and more about playing the songs that people are familiar with. We’re at that point now where it’s like, we’ve been around for over a decade, that makes it sound more important, I think. We’ve been around for over 10 years and we’ve been, this is our fifth record, we’ve been fortunate to have a lot of songs that do really well off of our records and so, you know, a lot of people come there to hear the songs that they know. And adding in new material becomes something that is a little bit more difficult for us over the last few records because most of the songs that are really great are like, mid-tempo songs.

“And Linkin Park isn’t the band that you go to see, you know, chairs on the floor in the arena. That’s, no one wants to come to a Linkin Park show and stand there and look at the band and listen to beautiful music. People want that but they also want to be kicked in the face and they want to, you know, run into each other and they want to jump up and down and sing and have a really great, high-energy time. And so being able to incorporate a lot of new material into our set just felt like it was bringing too much of the energy down. So I think what we’re doing on this tour is, like with the new record, the new record has so much energy that we feel like we could add a bunch of new music to the set and people will be stoked about it. Casual fans are there to hear the three songs that they love, and go ‘Oh yeah, I didn’t know they did this song too!’ Those fans will actually enjoy hearing the new music at these shows.

“Right now at this point we’re focused on making sure the new material is up to speed and that we’re familiar with it enough to go and play it live. And then at that point, you know, once that kind of calms down that’s usually when the creative process starts to kick in. Because now we’re not creating a show and we’re working on learning new music. Cuz that’s something we don’t do, we don’t sit and jam, we don’t hang out as a band and write music together. That’s just not what we do. So a lot of our connection time and what you would think would be stereotypical band moment time really comes from when we’re learning these new songs and rehearsing and going out and playing these new songs as a set for the first time. And then everything’s new and fresh and I think because we’re adding so much of the new record over the next few months to our live set, that’s what we’re focused on.

“But once that calms down, that creative hunger is going to turn itself on and we’re going to start writing new music. So I would imagine by the time we’re done touring this record, we’ll be in a similar position to what we were with A Thousand Suns. Going into Living Things, we’ll be able to just kind of go right into the studio, make another record and put it out and kind of keep that cycle going.

“We’ve really got ourselves in a position now where we kind of feel like we’re touring less as an idea of ‘Let’s go tour really hard for nine months and then come home’ and tour really hard for nine months and then come home, and hopefully have enough energy to want to do anything. It’s like touring for a few weeks and coming home for a month and going out and touring for a few weeks and coming home for a month. So we’re really spending as much time home as we are on the road and I think that also caters to, encourages a creative process because we kind of feel energized more, more often. So I think that kind of answers all of your questions into one ginormous ongoing answer.” 

Both bands have been around for 16 to 21 years (Linkin Park and Incubus, respectively) and have experienced the go-go years when CD sales were exploding and bands still received tour support from their labels as well as the brutally tough economic times currently being experienced.  Both men were asked how the managed to navigate through those different kinds of waters.  Brandon took the question.

“Hmm. That’s a really interesting notion actually. It’s something that I talk about with friends and people in different industries and everything, but it’s been really interesting to me, I’m sure it’s been interesting from Linkin Park’s perspective as well, because they as well were kind of - Linkin Park and Incubus were two of the very few bands who kind of like got a gust of wind out of the old paradigm of the music industry. But like survived out of it. There are so many bands that, bands in a traditional sense, bands who write their own music, and perform their music, that didn’t survive that transition. That fell by the wayside with the industry.

“So it’s been frightening to watch something that you for a very brief moment almost learned to rely on, because we learned the ins and outs of how the industry worked, you know you poured your heart out into making an album and then the label puts the record out and you go out on tour in support of the album, and we even started doing it in the van and trailer. We’d make a record and get in the van with our gear and the trailer and we’d drive ourselves around the country and sell albums and T-shirts out of the back of the trailer. That was sort of our education and then once things started going really well, thankfully, we got a sense of what it looks like when all of the, when the engine is nicely greased and things are working the way they’re supposed to.

“And then it’s like the millennium turns and the technology changed. And all of that became old. It became an antiquated model. And it was frightening at first but I actually have come to appreciate it. I’m going to actually use the pun, a living thing. It’s a living system. Our technologies are a living system just like we are and our communities as human beings, and for us to expect them to remain constant is really just quite foolish. I mean anybody that’s going to come to rely on the way that our music consumption is looking now is going to have the same hard lesson in less time than you think. I think that the technology is going to shift probably sooner than any of us really realize. And that’s a really cool thing, because it keeps everyone on their toes. It levels the playing field, too. It’s allowing for a really wonderful democratization of the music writing process and the music presenting and performing process. So what it’s doing is it’s making us try harder and it’s making us expect the best of ourselves and the people that we work with. You know, do more with less.

“I was talking to my friend this morning about the notion of the music video. Incubus has made a music video. We’ve paid like $500,000 to make a music video that MTV just didn’t play. And that was considered like, “Oh, OK. That’s a bummer, but, you know, next?” But now? Are you kidding me? It’s like if we can get a fraction, a spittle of that amount of money to make a music video, that’s amazing. But the cool thing is, is that the intention is exactly the same. And in fact it’s even better, because now we have to think even further out of the box. We still have to make a music video but we don’t have any money. So we have to have a better idea than we did before. You know what I mean? I personally, when all is said and done, I really welcome these changes. And they excite me. And they scare me at the same time, but I’m choosing to focus on the excitement.”

Both Bennington and Boyd were asked how do they both stay loyal to, and inspired to produce, the style of music on both the record and in concert that their most loyal and long-term fans both love and expect.

Chester responded by saying, “Um, well, I think that’s a good question. I kind of wonder, you know people ask me questions like, you see the Rolling Stones or guys who have been doing this for 50 years, do you see yourself doing this at their age? And in my mind I know that however long I live until the day I die, I’m probably going to feel mentally immature and physically old. But my brain’s not going to be calculating, ‘Oh, I’m 70 years old.’ It’s like, ‘What do you mean I’m almost done? Aagh! I just got started.’

“And so uh I think that it will become a bit more difficult for me to perform a few songs on a roster that I did so easily through my twenties and thirties. You know? When I’m 70 I don’t know if I’ll be, um, screaming Victimized at anybody. Hopefully that will be the case, but I doubt it.

“That’s one of the things that’s so interesting about our business anyways. None of us are guaranteed that anyone can come to one of our shows or care about the last record we put out.  I personally, throughout my own career, every record that we go into, I look at like, this is our very first album and this is the best representation of what we are. And either people are going to love it or they’re going to hate it. Or not care. And so you know, that’s what happens. We take the creative gamble and we write music that we feel passionate about and that we feel is important and that we feel is, um, um, what’s the word I’m looking for, uh, damn it! Giving something to the people who are going to hear it. It’s basically like when you create a song and people hear it and they connect with it, you’re giving that person a sense of inspiration.”

Brandon added, “You made me think of something though when you were saying like, um, will you be screaming some of your most demanding lyrics when you’re 70. You can’t really imagine yourself doing that. I agree with you, we have so many songs that we wrote when we were in our young twenties. Some of them we wrote when we were teenagers and we still perform some of them. It occurs to me now at 36, ‘damn, what was I thinking? This is hard! I have to really concentrate and sit still in order to do it.’

“Two things occur to me. One was that somehow the guys in the Stones still look really cool doing it. And I think that really is a testament to, number one, their talent, as well as their tenacity. If you write good songs and if you write songs that have a potentially timeless quality, yeah, I think that you’ll be able to sing them long into your sunset years.

“I think that’s really one of our intentions as a band. I know for me as a lyricist and as a singer, my deepest intention beyond just trying to express myself with a sense of purity is to hopefully achieve a sense of timelessness. You want to touch on subjects that are potentially universal and that don’t really need to be tied to the 90s. Or the 2000s. Or the 2030s. Whatever. You want to essentially be able to make music that will essentially transcend time.”

Their answers were followed up with being asked how do they connect that to the style of music that is - as they both admitted - very rooted in a much younger Chad and Brandon.

Boyd answered in his typical straightforward manner by saying, “Well you know, actually, it’s been a real struggle, challenge, I don’t know what the right exact word is. But being so identified with a particular style and a particular time, I know that there are certain parts of the world where certain journalism music reviewers will literally have not looked beyond Incubus’s very first album, Science, which we wrote and recorded when we were just freshly out of high school. And it came out in 1997. And we toured a lot on that record, we toured for a little over two years. And we were on tour with bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit and we ended up doing a lot of touring, which was amazing, with Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath and Pantera and all these great tours.

“But what’s wild to me is that it’s been that long and there are still these holdouts that are like, ‘How’s it going, being a nu-metal band?’ And that’s been a real challenge, not to make music that has transcended a genre, because I do believe that we’ve accomplished that and we continue to accomplish that, if I could be so bold, but to sort of shift people’s perceptions and get people to take a second glance at an established artist.

“That’s really the most challenging thing. Once people feel like they have you categorized on the… they’ve put the milk on the milk shelf in the refrigerator, it’s almost like it can never live anywhere else in the refrigerator. I personally am interested in music. I’m not interested in making a kind of music. And I think that’s why Incubus records have changed sometimes dramatically over the years.

“Our newest record, If Not Now, When?, is really a good example of that. It’s different. It’s more different than any of our records than we’ve ever done before and I personally am really inspired by that. I’m proud of that. I want to make music that continues to evolve and challenge people and surprise people. But getting people to let go of a predetermined notion of what you are and what you’re supposed to be is really probably the largest challenge. What I’ve had to do is really let go of perceptions altogether and just make music.”

Bennington chimed right in.

“I agree with Brandon. I think for us, we’ve kind of had the advantage to cross a bunch of different styles of music and bring them together, and we worked very hard from Minutes to Midnight on to change what we felt was the perception of what Linkin Park is, and by people outside of the band.

“I think that Incubus and Linkin Park share a lot of similarities in terms of when we became popular. In a time when selling tons of records was what people did, and the Internet wasn’t really a strong force in the world. And then transitioning into a time where no one’s buying records. And yet people are spending more money on music base than any time before. So I think that going through all that and transitioning and getting older and having all these experiences definitely shapes the way you think about how you do business. But the things that inspire are all the same kind of things that inspired me when I was 15.

“You know, life is very complicated and there’s so much stuff that happens in your life that are so precious and so beautiful and so specific to our individual story. Each person has such a beautiful story to tell and some are horrific and scary but yet there’s still something beautiful happening there. Those are things that inspire me creatively and I think that the older I get the more savvy I become in business and how you view your business. I think it’s because you have more experience.

“The music business is a very tricky business to be in, and so making a transition from focusing on selling records . . . there’s a million versions of our songs out there anyways, good to bad. People can videotape every performance that we do and everything’s out there. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t think it’s the way musicians would have thought 10 years ago. I wouldn’t have even have thought that 10 years ago. I would have thought, no way, we have to sell records. I think that age brings wisdom and age brings experience.

“But the things that inspire me are the same. Those are the moments that you kind of catch in your web as you go through life. You kind of grab the tastier parts of life and we get to write songs about them, we get to write music about those experiences and then go perform them for people just as often. A lot is different and the same though, at the same time.

Both bands have pretty much kept the core members of each group. The question was asked as to how do they all stand each other after such a long time.

Brandon responded first by saying, “It’s a saying that rings true for me all the time. Being in a band is hard. You are essentially traveling in very small steel tubes, confined steel tubes with family members for extended periods of time - kind of like inhuman periods of time. You love your mom, but how much flight time do you want to spend with her? You know, how long do you want to sit in the car with your dad and your mom and your brothers, you know what I mean? There’s that, but there’s also the understanding that it’s family, and it’s very much a familial thing. That even though there are times when they hurt your feelings or they might get on your nerves, essentially the majority of your experience with them is rooted in love.

“So as long as we can hold on to that sort of transcendent notion, everything usually is OK. And it’s OK to be angry at your family members sometime, and it’s OK for them to get on your nerves. The best thing to do, I think, is just to remember who you are and understand the difference between a need to express frustrations and the difference between that and potentially your own ego, and little moments when your ego flares up for usually ridiculous reasons. Which usually, uh, I know for men, I speak for myself and for the guys in my band, them being my family, most of the times we ever have problems are when someone has under slept or underfed. So as long as we have enough sleep and enough to eat, everyone’s usually hunky-dory. And that’s the honest-to-God truth. Just get enough food and enough to eat, or enough sleep, and you’ll be fine.”

Bennington agreed.  

“I think it’s funny. But that is actually the truth. I mean, we all have the - I think that within Linkin Park we all have similar aspects of our personality that we share with each other. We all are very driven. We all like to work really hard. We all like to do whatever it takes and be involved in every aspect of what we do. But it takes all of us. And I think that when we learned very early on, like there’s a few guys in the studio working on every song, so it’s a whole record, when you look at the business side of things, or you look at like the marketing side of things, the artistic side of things, and what each member brings collectively to the whole, is worth far more than what - together, the band is worth far more than each of us is as an individual. And I think that that’s something we learned about our band very early. It’s not just about one guy or two guys or whatever, three guys. It’s about all six of us.

“And so, having six creative people who are totally different personality-wise around each other all the time, we have to be very realistic about what we expect from each other. And it is a family thing. And once you cross that line of being a friend and then it turns into, ‘Well, now we’re family,’ I mean, life gets real, really fast. You know? I mean you’re now exposing yourself. I mean there’s the dating phase, which is like, ‘Oh, you’re so awesome,’ and everybody is so great, and then when you move in together it’s like, “Oh shit. Who am I actually, like, getting myself involved with?” You know, it’s like you get to see all the dirty parts and you get to be around all the unsavory things about each other’s personalities and so we just basically treat each other with respect. We give each other the space that we need. And I think that being in my band is an example of the most functional relationship I’ve ever had in my life. But I’ve been in band scenarios where it’s just chaos. There’s no leadership and there’s too much ego and there’s too much pride and there’s too much opinion.

“All those things are very important, so I think what makes it work for my band, for Linkin Park is that, you know, we focus on things that are important for the band. And we don’t really focus on what’s the most important thing for me. It’s really about what’s the most important thing for us. And I think that’s something that we carry not only in our professional world but we try to carry into our personal lives as well. We share both of those things together.”

And what both bands will be sharing together from August 11th through September 10th will be great stages in venues all across America.  To find out if Linkin Park and Incubus are come to your city – or to register to win the customize Honda Civic or CBR250R motorcycle, visit www.HondaCivicTour.com. 

Oh, and you may also enter the Linkin Park Fly-Away Sweepstakes, which includes round trip tickets to Los Angeles and a visit to a Linkin Park video shoot. To get further info and to enter go to: www.HFSGrad.com.

Kris Bell

Posted January, 2012

krisbell01Some people think that rock and roll is dead.  Judging by some of the new music being released by certain labels and artists, I might be inclined to agree with some of those dire statements.

However, as evidenced by the many interviews and reviews that I’ve written on this and other publications will attest, I am not quite ready to pronounce a time of death for the rock genre.  There’s just too many great artists who ARE rockin’ to declare rock dead.  They’re just not being recognized to the level that rock once was.

That is what Boomerocity is here for.

To that point, I was recently introduced to a rocker who has rock and roll oozing out of every little pore of his body.  His name is Kris Bell. Remember the name and buy his work because this guy will be around, rockin’ us, for a very long time to come.

A little background on Kris:

Kris Bell was born and raised in San Diego, California.  He began playing guitar at the age of seven and, at the age of thirteen, wrote his first song.  He honed his guitar chops playing all over SoCal and developing a name for himself as a pretty darn good axe handler.

In 2005, Kris took the big step of packing up and moving to the great city of Nashville, Tennessee.  Nashville is a pretty tight town, musicians-wise, and can be kind of tough to elbow your way in to good gigs.  However, it didn’t take Kris long to land the Lead Guitarist slot for Bo Bice.

After a couple of years rockin’ the world with Bice, Bell took his next huge career step and launched his solo career, introducing his brand of “American Rock” to rockers like us all over the country.  Already, Kris has the dubious distinction of having already shared stages with some pretty big names.  Folks like Hank Williams, Jr., Lynyrd Skynyrd, 3 Doors Down, and Blackfoot, to name just a few.

Kris gave me a shout recently from his Nashville area home to tell me what he’s been up to and what’s on his radar in the future.  We first started chatting about the new album he’s working on.

“It’s going really well!  I’ve been in the studio with Geoff Koval from Wilderside Studios.  He’s a good friend of mine. He co-produced the first record that I put out last year, Turn It On, Turn It Up. So, we’re back for round two this time.  Recently, Wilderside Studios moved into The Castle Studios in Franklin (Tennessee) so we’ve been taking advantage of a world class studio without having to break the bank to pay for it. It’s just going really well.  Geoff just – we just click!  He’s a rock guy. He knows what I want even before I open my mouth.  It’s really, really, really an exciting, fun and creative environment to be in. I think the band and I are laying down our best stuff right now.”

Regarding when this work will be made available, Bell adds, “We’re going to release an EP of it in the spring, with more songs to come later on in the year. But we’ll have a good seven songs finished by March and we’re probably going to release a single within the next month or so – either by the end of this month or by mid-February we’ll have our first single out.

“Like I said, the album’s coming along really well. The music’s a little more aggressive – a little bit heavier edge but still that ‘American Rock’ style that I was doing on the last record. We’ll have our ‘peaks and valleys’ and our dynamics in songs are what I really like to emphasize – great melodic hooks and melodic guitar solos. You know, just good, straight ahead rock n’ roll!”

As you heard Kris mention, his last album, Turn It On, Turn It Up, is straight forward rock and roll.   I would add the word “great” before the word “straight” because, in my opinion, it’s that good (catch the Boomerocity review of it here).  I asked Kris what the response has been to the record and to its tunes by live audiences.

“Just really positive stuff. Luckily, I had a pretty dedicated fan base when I went into to record it and we’ve been adding to that base. It comes in waves. Sometimes you get a lot of fans – sometimes you get them trickling in.  The more we play out and the more the people are hearing the newer stuff – even the people hearing Turn It On, Turn It Up material for the first time – really seem to be attracted to it and supportive of it. It (the audience) seems to be missing the style of rock that WE play – it’s been missing in mainstream music and people are hungry for it again, which is a good thing.”

That comment resonated with me and prompted me to ask {mprestriction ids="*"}Bell to expound on that comment a little bit more.

“Once MTV changed formats and, then, MTV2 went that same way and VH1 followed – they’re all owned by the same company – it really did a number on the rock genre itself – classic rock, current rock – it all changed. The videos were a mainstream marketing tool in the 80’s, 90’s and even in the early 2000’s.  But it just isn’t that way anymore. So, now, rock is almost an underground kind of thing. There’s definitely still rock out there, but now it’s mixed with pop. Pop and rock are kind of together now. You’re hearing the Foo Fighters on the radio next to Lady Gaga. It’s a little frustrating and a little confusing.

“But, when people come out to see us for the first time, they’re impressed by us. More and more people come up to me and say, ‘Man! You’re just straight ahead rock ‘n roll! You just rock!’  And that’s what’s cool to hear: People being excited and, like, ‘Oh my god! I just saw a real rock band – straight up, real rock band!’  Like I said before, it’s missing nowadays. There’s not a lot of bands out there that are doing it. There’s a lot of bands that are using loops AND weird effects or too heavy or too light, but there’s just not that straight ahead, American Rock genre that was pretty dominant back in the day. Now, it’s almost like a dying breed.” But bands like us, our friends Blackwater James, The Cold Stares and Sexstone are working hard to get it back into the ears of hungry listeners.

We also discussed the related matter of venue availability.

“It’s difficult. There’re so many acts and so many different artists and bands that are trying to get into the same venues and compete for the same venues – and they’re not competing directly against each other on purpose but everyone wants the good time slots, the great day and the great bill. It’s really difficult now more than ever because, for one, the economy’s down so talent buyers don’t want to pay bands what a lot of bands think they should be paid. It’s harder to get guarantee’s nowadays versus just ‘door’ deals – especially if you’re just coming into a newer market that you haven’t played much, you gotta sacrifice. You’ve gotta bite the bullet and play some shows for free or for a real limited budget in order to break in there and get into the clubs that you’re really trying to get into - playing gigs on Thursday nights at midnight or Tuesdays or whatnot.

“We still do that today. We’re trying to break into different markets – we played a gig in Birmingham last month and it was a Tuesday night and we went on at 12:30 that night. It’s just one of those things we had to do because we knew we wanted to try and break into that market and, luckily for us, the sound guy really liked us and put a mention into the booking agent to have us back. Sometimes, even when it’s a slow night and really late, you never know who’s going to be there so you’ve always got to do your best.”

I listened to Turn It On, Turn It Up countless times before speaking with Kris and felt pretty sure that I could pick out his musical influences.  However, just in case I was mistaken, I asked Kris tell me who those influences were and are.  Without a nanosecond of hesitation, he replied:

“Lynyrd Skynyrd, first and foremost was probably the biggest influence on me and my playing. But there’s a ton. Early on when I first started playing guitar, I only played classical guitar for the first five years and I started when I was seven. I was playing Bach and Beethoven and stuff like that for awhile. Then, I got the itch to progress and I bought an electric guitar and I really got into Chuck Berry, Ritchie Valens, and the Beach Boys, The Ventures were huge. I learned pretty much every single Ventures song. Pipeline and Walk, Don’t Run. I just loved that stuff – old 50’s and 60’s music that I would sit and listen to and just play over and over after school.

“It just kept progressing to a lot of blues like Robert Johnson, who was a huge influence, and Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins, Hubert Sumlin and B.B. King – all of those old blues greats - and, then, Stevie Ray Vaughn.

“Then, I started diving into the dynamics of learning guitar solos and crafting guitar solos. It was Stevie, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers, Robin Trower – all those great guitar players – and, obviously, Jimmy Page and Hendrix. I was just trying to grab and take from them whatever I could and take whatever I could. Those core artists really helped craft my sound and style of playing growing up.

“But I was also influenced by the current music of that day, too. I listened to a lot of Soundgarden and I listened to a lot of Pearl Jam. Metallica was a big thing for me. So, it was kind of cross genres throughout the ages of music. There wasn’t anything that I was directly ‘stuck’ to versus something that I would never listen to.

“I was in bands growing up. I was in a band all through high school and after high school. I was in a pretty serious band for 12 years in San Diego called ‘Fifth’ and we did a lot of great things.  We were all on the same musical level so influenced each other a lot, as well.”

I love all of Kris’s Turn It On, Turn It Up CD but there were two songs in particular that really commanded my attention. First and foremost, Destined caught me completely off guard. I thought it was about inattentiveness in the child/parent relationship but it’s something quite different.  I asked Kris to tell me the back story on that song.

“Yeah, that was a tough one. I mean, it wasn’t like a tough song for me to write. I think it’s more of a tough song to play because I’m so attached to that song. It’s probably the most personal song that I’ve written.  My father passed away in ’98 from a botched surgery. They were trying to take out a tumor behind his tonsils and they sliced his carotid artery and they gave him a stroke. There was three days there when he was in the hospital and they had to take him off of life support. After that, my mom, she was distraught, obviously. She was broken hearted. She moved from San Diego up to Temecula (California) and spent a few years up there. She passed away on New Year’s Eve of 2006 due to cancer. She lost her battle with ovarian cancer. It was a really quick thing. She was diagnosed in October of 2006 and she passed away on December 31st. So, yeah, it was really quick.

“Luckily, I was out there. I was off the road. I had toured with Bo Bice in 2006. I came off the road in October and I went in November, basically, right out to Temecula and I spent a month and a half out there with her. Along with my brother and sister, we were there.

“The dust kind of settled and I came back home and I decided to go into the studio and do my own thing. That song wasn’t even written. I was missing my parents and having my mom pass away brought up a lot of the feelings that I had when my father died, as well. So, one day, I was sitting here, fiddling around on my guitar and one of my friends called and asked if I wanted to do a little acoustic show down in Destin, Florida, with him and some other artists. I was, like, ‘Yeah, that would be great!’  They were going to leave out the following weekend.

“After I hung up from talking with him, that chorus just came. I have a picture of my parents in my studio. So, I was sitting there looking at them and I was like, ‘I’m destined’. I started singing the melody a little bit. Literally, I open my lyric book and I wrote that whole song in real time. So, even at the end in the last verse where it says, ‘I guess I should be going, I’ve got to pick him up from school’, I was really that!  I had to leave and go pick Logan up from school.

“So, yeah, it was all these things that I wanted to say to my parents that I never really had said or got the chance to say. Having a son of my own, I guess that I understood more what they were trying to show me and teach me growing up now that I have a son and I’m trying to do the same thing; trying to keep their memory alive through me for him. He never knew my father and he was too young to remember my mom. But that song, I felt, would be part of him, as well. That’s why I put him on the track. It’s something, no matter what, will always be there for me and for him when he gets older. He asks me a little bit about my parents now – grandma and grandpa – and I tell him they’re in Heaven. He knows who they are but he doesn’t quite understand everything – the whole back story of what happened. That was the inspiration for that – where that song came from.

“We don’t play that live too much anymore but I do it during my acoustic shows. But we would play that out and a lot of the fans – by the time I was done with that song – they would be in tears. One of my good friends, Mr. Ray LeGrand – he’s a metal singer. He sings for a progressive metal band called Oblivion Myth. He’s a big dude from New York. He’s not someone you want to mess with, you know what I mean?  He’s a big, tough guy. He sent me a message after he listened to that song the first time on his way to work and he’s, like, ‘Thanks a lot, man! I walked into work with tears in my eyes! You took me completely by surprise with that song!’

“That’s a situation where anyone who’s lost their parents or a loved one, for that matter, can relate to that message in that song. I’m saying, ‘I miss you and I wish you were here’ but, at the same time, it’s a message of hope and keeping their love alive and keeping their memory alive and passing it along for generations to come.”

I asked Bell to tell me the story behind another song that really piqued my interest, Losing Faith. The lyrics portray a crisis of faith and hope that I knew that there had to be a compelling story behind it.

“I wrote that for a friend of my brother. Her name was Bonnie. She was a really good friend of my brother back in high school and after high school. She had gone through some really difficult times with her boyfriend. He was kind of a bad seed type of guy. He was abusing her verbally and domestically. They had two kids. After a year or two of dealing with him, she was able to get out of the relationship and move back in with her parents and took the kids. She was a beautiful girl and really sweet. Always had a smile on her face no matter what was going on.

“One night, she went on a blind date with a boy and got on the back of his motorcycle. They were just driving down the street to go to 7-11. They were up in L.A.  A car pulled out and they t-boned it. She was catapulted right over the car and she died at the scene. It was the day before Easter.  That’s why I referred to the fact that she didn’t return home to celebrate Easter with her kids. She died Easter Eve.  My brother, he was so torn and so distraught. They were friends growing up. She was someone in our house quite a bit.

“I didn’t want to be so direct that I was blatantly using her name. That’s where the whole reference to faith had come in. There’s a double meaning to it. Faith could be the name of a person as well as you’re losing your faith in your belief in God, higher power or whatever.  It’s more of a tribute to her and to my brother, as well. I can’t play that song without thinking of her, remembering her face the last time I saw her. It’s been years now since she passed away.  It’s kind of like Destined where her memory lives on with that song.

“I’ve had a lot of people send me Facebook messages or direct messages off of my website, saying, ‘Losing Faith saved my life and helped me get through the most dark time in my life’.  Stuff like that is what it’s all about. If I can help someone or give someone the inspiration to go on just by listening to my music, then I’ve done my job as a songwriter.”

While Bell’s career is relatively short compared to some artists, I knew that he’s jammed with some very notable names in music.  I asked him who some of those folks are and who he has on his bucket list to jam with.

“Probably the biggest name I’ve played with – and was a dream come true – was Lynyrd Skynyrd. I got to play with Lynyrd Skynyrd in Atlantic City at the Trump Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino in the arena there. It was a ‘VH1 Classics Decades of Rock’ taping back in 2006 when I was playing with Bo. The way it worked out, he (Bo) was on the bill to play. It was Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bo Bice, 3 Doors Down and Hank, Jr.  It was a huge, awesome, big deal that they did.

“It was really like a tribute to Skynyrd. Skynyrd would come out and play then 3 Doors Down would play a few songs they had out. Then they would play a Skynyrd song. Bo came out with Skynyrd and played a few Skynyrd songs and one of his songs, The Real Thing.  Every time that Bo got to come out, I was invited out, as well. Bo worked it out to where I could get up there and play.

“So, I met the guys at sound check two days before. We jammed through a bunch of Skynyrd stuff. I got to hang out with Rossington, Ean Evans and the whole band. It was an amazing, amazing couple of days. The next night, we had the concert. Being up there on the stage standing in between Gary Rossington and Ean Evans and looking over at Rickey Medlocke and watching Johnny Van Zant and Bo go back and forth on vocals in front of 16,000 people in a sold out arena, knowing that it was going to be on TV in, literally, a week,  was just amazing. It’s something that I will never forget!

“And, then, coming off the road and turning on VH1 Classic and seeing it played back – it was literally on the VH1 Classic rotation every other day for almost six months!  It was always on. It was so cool – the coolest thing to go, ‘Wow! I actually did that!’

“I remember sitting in my room learning how to play Free Bird over and over, listening to that song and playing along with and going, ‘One day, I’m going to play on stage with those guys’ and it happened. It was really an amazing thing.  All those guys in the band are so cool – down-to-earth, regular people. Having Billy Powell, who is one of the greatest piano players ever, coming down the hall and telling me what a great guitar player I am – you can’t ask for anything more than that!

“Other than that, I got the opportunity to front the legendary rock band, Blackfoot, about a year and a half ago. My buddy, Mike Estes, he fronts that band and there was a show in Iowa that he couldn’t do. He had a scheduling conflict so he called me up and was, like, ‘Man, can you fill in for me and do this show?’ and I’m like, ‘You mean you want me to be the front guy for Blackfoot?”  I was really hesitant. ‘I don’t know, man. We’re talking about Blackfoot! I haven’t played those songs in awhile. I don’t want to screw up your gig.’  He’s like, ‘Oh, you’ll be fine! I wouldn’t ask anyone else. I know you can do it.”

“So, I drove down to Florida and I met Greg T. Walker and Charlie Hargrett – the last two founding members of Blackfoot – and I rehearsed with them for a week. I knew the whole set like the back of my hand. They were blown away that I came in there like that. We flew to Iowa a week after that and played the gig. There were 1500 people there. We opened up for Molly Hatchet – it was a double-bill. It was just a huge, awesome thing to be up  there for an hour and a half, playing Blackfoot tunes and being the front guy singing all the songs. I got to be Rickey Medlocke and Mike Estes for a night. It was pretty awesome!”

And, as for whom he would still like to jam with, Kris says, “I would say Clapton. Eric Clapton would be another one of those huge dreams that I’ve always had. He’s been such a huge influence. If you look through his career at all the things that he’s done, he really has stood the test of time since before I was born – as a guitar player, as a songwriter, as a singer, as a performer – he’s the full package. He can still sell out arenas now! I saw him last year when he came through Nashville and it was still an amazing show!  So, to have the opportunity to trade licks with him would be just be a huge, huge dream come true.”

I shifted to the subject of guitars and asked Kris how many guitars he owns and if there was a guitar that he considered to be the “Holy Grail”.

“I have about 22 guitars total but I don’t play all of them. Some are put up. Some are broken and need to be fixed. Out of the ones that I do play, I have about 8 or 10 that are in and out of the rotation – acoustics and electrics. I have five Les Pauls, three Strats, a Tele, a Taylor jumbo acoustic, a Washburn electric acoustic, a couple of classicals and I’ve got a lap steel. I’ve got a lot of stuff going on around here! I’m predominantly a Les Paul guy but, depending on how our set is tailored, I break out the Strat quite a lot.

“But most of the time for our original stuff – our big rock stuff – I’m playing a Les Paul. The one that I play the most is kind of a tandem between my Class 5 Les Paul – my blue one – and then I have a honey burst Classic re-issue that’s really been my main axe ever since I’ve been 22 years old. Lately, I have this flame-top Les Paul Studio that I just put P 90 pickups in that has completely blown me away. I’ve taken that out a lot.

“But, as far as Holy Grail of guitars goes, I don’t really have one. I just love guitars. Every time I go into a guitar store, I could that guitar or that one and most of the time they’re either a Les Paul or a Strat. Most of my stuff is either Gibson or Fender. My wife’s like, ‘Do you really need another Les Paul?’ I definitely not need another Les Paul but I would really love to have a Silverburst Les Paul but I definitely don’t need one” Kris concludes with a laugh.

As for as what all Kris Bell has planned for 2012 and beyond, he says, “This year we’re going to be releasing our new record. We really want to focus on expanding our fan base and getting our music out to more people, hit new markets, target different markets like Atlanta, Austin, Memphis – some major cities where we can travel to and try to capitalize on our type of sound and where we think we’ll go over well.

“In five years I want to be selling out arenas and selling downloads. I want to be a viable artist in music. I want to be able to support my family through doing what I love. That’s the main thing.”

If you could make any kind of CD without any concern of its marketability, what kind of CD would that that be?

In the spirit of his song, Destined, I asked Kris how he hopes to be remembered and what his legacy will hopefully be after his life is over.  I loved his response.

“I think, first and foremost, a great dad for my kids – a great father, a great husband. To those who don’t know me personally, I’d like to be remembered for my music – my songwriting and that I was able inspire people or help people or make people feel what I feel when I write a song.  But, like I said, just a good person, a hard worker; a good father and a good husband.”

At the end of the day, those kinds of goals should be what all of us strive for in our lives.

You’ll want to keep up with all things “Bell” by going to www.krisbellmusic.com.  While you’re there, you can see where Kris and his band will be appearing, get the latest updates on his projects and be able to purchase some great Kris Bell merchandise.  You’ll definitely want to order or download Turn It On, Turn It Up by clicking on the icon on this page. 

Antonia Bennett

Posted September, 2010

 

AntoniaBennettPR2010We’ve all read stories of relationships between celebrities and their kids.  Sadly, too many of those stories are dripping with tales of abuse and dysfunctional relationships between parent and child.  Equally as sad, we learn that this tragic cycle repeats itself in the adult lives of the children.  We pretty much just come to expect that all celebrity kids are just a jacked up mess.

I don’t know about those of you reading this piece, but I always find it refreshing to be proven wrong when it comes to those assumptions.  Because of the people that I’ve been fortunate enough to interview, I’ve slowly but surely begun to change my preconceived notions about kids of celebrities.

Case in point: my recent opportunity to chat with Antonia Bennett, the lovely and very talented daughter of jazz icon, Tony Bennett. The youngest of four children, Antonia has worked and studied hard to follow a similar but different career path Mr. Bennett.

Musically schooled at Berkley as well as trained in acting and dance at the Strasburg Institute, Antonia has the weapons in her arsenal to be the consummate performer.  As for presence, her natural beauty and sense of presence and delivery are attributes one could understandably assume she inherited from her gifted father. That is likely true to a great extent.  However, I would argue that Ms. Bennett has worked and studied hard to perfect her art.

Either way, Antonia has delivered a great debut EP of pure jazz artistry.  Entitled Natural, it’s a six song, multi-genre treat featuring such diverse classics as, Puttin’ On The Ritz, B.B. King’s, The Thrill Is Gone, to Pat Benatar’s, Love Is A Battlefield, which, coincidentally, was written by Natural’s producer, Holly Knight. 

Grammy nominated pianist and arranger, Larry Goldings (and who has also worked with Norah Jones, John Mayer, Al Jarreau, David Sanborn and James Taylor) skillfully arranged the tunes.  With this triple threat of talent and experience, it’s no mystery why Natural is a superb debut offering.

It was the subject of this talented powerhouse that fed the content of my first question as to what brought Antonia, Holly and Larry together for this project.

“Larry, he crosses both worlds. He understands popular music and he really understands Jazz and traditional music, too. That’s important to me because I grew up listening to everything. Larry and I met many years ago.  An A&R guy named Steve Ferrera - at the time he was with Blue Note Records and Angel Records, and is now all over the place, doing everything from American Idol and a lot of other things.  He’s a pretty big A&R guy now. 

“Anyway, he introduced me to this producer, Russ Titleman. Russ had heard me sing and thought I would be perfect for a duet with Tom Wopat on his record, In The Still of the Night. That’s when I met Larry – many, many years ago in New York, when I was living there.  He now lives in L.A. with his wife so, when I came back out to L.A., I said that, {mprestriction ids="*"}when I get organized here, I want to work with Larry.

“Holly and I started writing songs together, one at a time, then slowly, we started doing more and more. We were gearing up to do a record of all contemporary music that we had co-written. I said to Holly, ‘You know? Before we start to do this, I really want to take a snapshot of what I’ve been doing my whole life because this is what comes so naturally to me and it’s what I know. So, it would be a shame if I start going straight for the contemporary stuff without taking a snapshot of what I had been doing up until now.’

“She said that it was a great idea and said, ‘Come on, let’s do it!’ She was nice enough to help facilitate the whole thing. It just kind of happened effortlessly. It all just fell into place. Then, I approached Larry.  He’s so great to work with. We sat down at his piano and started going through tunes and listening to stuff. As I said, it just fell into place.”

Recording projects of any kind can range from 2 years to, seemingly, infinity.  I asked Ms. Bennett how long did Natural take to get out the door.

“We had it sitting there for awhile. We didn’t really know how we were going to release it. We didn’t know if we were just going to release it on iTunes or what. Then Mitch (Davis, son of record industry legend, Clive Davis), my manager, was nice enough to introduce me to George Nauful over at Mesa/Blue Moon Records. He put a deal together for us to release it. After this digital EP is out, we’re going to go back into the studio and make a full length LP with Mesa/Blue Moon. Hopefully, we’ll start work on that in October and have it out soon after.

“Also, I did an amazing tour of Europe with my dad, opening shows for him. We were at Royal Albert Hall, Istanbul Jazz Festival, and the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy as well as other amazing and beautiful theaters all over the U.K. So, we’re going to take the best picks of the live performances from that tour and release them digitally as an EP to keep our fans engaged and satisfied – the people who were there and would like to have a memory of that experience at home.”

This led to a sidebar discussion about the state of the music industry.  Antonia’s education and unique experience has fed her keen observation of the business as well as a good feel for what it will take to develop a loyal following.

“It’s amazing what’s been happening with the music industry. On one hand it’s difficult because there a lot of free downloading and artists aren’t getting their money for their music. On the other hand, it’s really opened things up for fan because, as an artist, you can do things a lot of different ways and the fans can reach out to their artists in a lot of different ways, as well. There’s no roadmap anymore so you can make it your own. I think that’s a really great thing. The more that I can keep fans involved and reach out to them and show them what I’m doing, and just hope that they like what I’m doing as much as I like doing it. That’s all that I can pray for.”

While asking Antonia what determined which songs she selected for the EP, I also asked if it wasn’t a bit risky to have such a mix, given her current audience.

“We were talking about it and I said, ‘Do you think that this should be a second project?’ because, even though we were treating it like a jazz standard, I thought that I might should do another project of just modern tunes with jazz treatments. I didn’t know if it would all fit together. The great thing is, I was working with such tremendous people that it all fell into place.

“That track (Battlefield) was played and arranged by great pianist by the name of Deron Johnson. He’s super fantastic.  Holly had also wanted a jazz version of it and had talked to Deron to see if he could come up with a great arrangement. Later, I came in and sang it. I love that kind of thing – to dive into the lyrics of something and express it.”

It’s at this point that Antonia drills into an area of particular interest to her: song interpretation. “The way that I grew up, I grew up as an ‘interpreter’ and, as an interpreter, that’s what you’re supposed to do: take a song and make it your own. It’s an art form that’s been ‘lost in the wash’, I think. Everybody’s expected to write and do everything else, too. The art of interpretation has gotten a bit lost and almost looked down upon in some mediums. But, it is a true art form.

“I’ve watched my dad night after night and I can honestly say – it’s not nepotism – I don’t know anybody that can do what he does in the area of song interpretation. And, with Battlefield, I tried to approach it from that point of view. How am I going to make this mine? How would I say these lyrics? What are they meaning to me? What’s the story?”

When Antonia mentioned earlier that she would be going back into the studio soon, I immediately wondered what other songs might be added to the mix.

“I’m not quite sure yet. I would love to share it with you if I knew what they were going to be. There might be a couple of originals. I’m not sure yet. We’re still working it out.”

Currently in the midst of a nationwide tour with her dad, I asked Ms. Bennett what kind of people made up her audience.

“Right now, I’ve been mostly touring with my dad and the audience is represented by a wide range of ages. I’m not quite sure yet since this is just the beginning but I would assume that my audience age range is from age 30 on up. I would say that I have a hot ‘AC’ (adult contemporary) audience and cross over to the traditional jazz audience, as well.”

While the album is still young, Antonia is incredibly enthusiastic about the favorable response – and press – that’s she’s already receiving.

“Wow, I just had a great write u in the Jazz Times (here) and I was really taken aback! I was reading it but I was saying, ‘Oh my gosh! This is about ME?’ It was SO positive and encouraging. When you’re an artist, you get used to the idea that there are going to be people out there that don’t like what you’re doing so I always try to prepare myself for that. But things have been really, really positive and people have been giving me positive feedback. I just hope that it continues. It’s nice to be recognized by your peers – by a magazine like that. For me, it’s a really big deal because they really know their stuff.”

As much as I hated to, I had to ask Ms. Bennett how involved in her album was her famous dad.  She didn’t seem at all offended by the question.

“He was pretty much ‘hands-off’ but he was also very supportive. When I played it for him, he was really blown away and he really loved it. He said, ‘You’re really singing great and I’m SO proud of you! You know I wouldn’t say it if it’s not true! You’re a really good jazz singer.’ Coming from him is a very high compliment!”

Did Mr. Bennett give his daughter any advice before going into the studio?

“He didn’t give me much advice on the album.  He just wants me to sing jazz. He would really love that. He always tells me that I’m a great jazz singer and to always ‘quality’. The other thing that he has said to me is to always breathe before each phrase and, when you get to the words ‘I love you’, make sure that you really mean it.’ That’s his advice and it’s really worked out great for me.

“They sound like such simple things but the truth of the matter is that they get missed in the mix. You really have to take a minute to ‘seal’ it and express it in your singing.’

In developing her career and body of work, I asked Antonia what are the similarities and differences to how her dad developed, and is continuing, his career?

After some careful reflection, she said, “It’s a hard to say. Growing up as an artist, part of it is about him and part of it just about finding your own voice and trying to be yourself. If you just be yourself, you’re automatically different than everybody else but that’s not always so easy to get to.

“I think the biggest difference is that, since I was working since a very young age, I waited a long time to put something out because I wanted to make sure that I was ready. The biggest difference is that I waited a lot longer than he did to start but, then, I think that it’s a generational thing. Kids were adults at seventeen years old when my dad was growing up.

“The other thing is I try to choose to stand in my dad’s light and not in his shadow. I try to focus on that. The rest of it just goes into the wash again. He’s said some other things. He said, ‘You always have a choice no matter what cards you’re dealt. You can focus on the good things or you can focus on the negative. I really, really do my best to focus on the positive and be very grateful and humble for the amazing opportunities that I have.”

Aside from her dad, who have been her biggest musical influences? Her answer surprised me but it really shouldn’t have.

“Gosh, I have so many influences. It’s hard to say. Obviously, a lot of the traditional musicians like Stan Getz, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole – all of those kinds of people. I’ve been influenced not only but singers but by musicians, too.

“Then, there were also a lot of artists from the 60’s and 70’s who really influenced me. People like Tina Turner. I was always a big fan of Blondie. I always liked her songs. They were always melodic, romantic and dreamy. David Bowie. I listened to a lot of John Lennon. Now, I listen to Kings of Leon and The Killers. I listen to a lot of different things. I soak up as much as I can.

“At the end of the day when I relax, one thing I really enjoy listening to is Louis Armstrong because he always makes me feel good. I don’t know why but, from the sound of his voice, it makes me feel happy so I listen to a lot of him.”

With Antonia Bennett’s spotlight beginning to shine on her now, I asked her what her long range career goals are.

“Gosh, I’ve never been that great at planning but what I would like to do is to continue to put out good music and to continue to grow as an artist, build my fan base and keep touring. Hopefully, I’ll be fortunate enough to have a good career and a fan base who loves my stuff and keeps going out and supporting my music.

“The most important thing for me is to always be able to earn a livelihood. I can always sell records and tour. That’s definitely the most important thing. Secondly, to be recognized and respected by my peers. For me, I feel that I can hang my hat on that if I’m respected by my peers – it would be a really big deal for me.”

You can catch Antonia Bennett and her legendary father at a city or town near you.  To find out where, and to keep up with the latest developments in Ms. Bennett’s career, you can visit her website at www.antoniabennett.com.

You’ll definitely want to keep an eye on this talent. She’s going to be around for a very long time.

Frankie Banali

Posted April, 2011

Banali1Photo by Rob ShanahanWhen I feel particularly ornery, I like to tease the last wave of the Baby Boomer generation – specifically, those born in the first half of the sixties –  that the only good music was made in the 70’s.  Of course, our older brothers and sisters say, ‘Au, contraire!  The only great music came from the sixties!”

Of course, every decade in the last 70+ years produced some great, memorable, even iconic music that still enjoys a following today.  My good-natured teasing aside, the eighties put out some pretty darn good music.  As the eighties charged full speed ahead, heavy metal enjoyed a very dedicated fan base.

From that genre, one of the flagship bands that became a symbol of those times was Quiet Riot.  Their breakout hit, a cover of Slade’s hit, Cum On Feel The Noize, made it to the number five spot on Billboard.  The album, Metal Health, that contained the song was the first heavy metal album U.S. heavy metal band to simultaneously reach number one AND have a top five song on the charts within the same week.  Along with Noize, the title cut from the album has served as the bands most identified tunes that still serve them well today.

Like many bands, Quiet Riot experienced the dramatic, gut wrenching ups and downs of the rock and roll business.  The most tragic event of their ride was the pre-mature 2007 death of the bands iconic singer and co-founder, Kevin DuBrow.  Fans feared that the band was over.  Last year brought the welcome news to Quiet Riot fans that the band was back, alive and banging their heads with more verve and vigor than ever.

Through a mutual friend, noted rock photographer, Rob Shanahan, I was introduced to the band’s current leader, co-founder and drummer extraordinaire, Frankie Banali, who graciously consented to a phone interview recently.

Quiet Riot fans have, obviously, read everything there is to read about the band during its history.  With over 30 years of experience and perspective of the band, I started off by asking Banali how he would now describe and define Quiet Band.

As would be demonstrated throughout the phone call, he answered with well-thought out answers.  “I think one of the key elements of this strange trip that we’ve been on – this Quiet Riot journey – has been the fact that, for whatever reason, we were fortunate enough to have been at the right place at the right time when the Metal Health record came out in 1983.

“From that, we culled two significant songs, Cum On Feel The Noize, which is a Slade song that we re-did.  But, also equally as important, is the song, Metal Health (Bang Your Head).  That’s become almost the key song for the band - so much so that it’s the last song of our set.  I think for the genre, those two songs sort of became the soundtrack for that generation.”

{mprestriction ids="*"}When I asked it the song was strong via downloads, he said, “Yeah, if illegal downloads are any indication, then Quiet Riot is hugely popular.  But it is what it is. It’s (illegal downloads) so big that, unless the government really cared about it and put some kind of law in place, it’s going to continue. It’s hard to say what’s going to happen. But, I’m a half-full-glass kind of guy so, it is what it is.”

After Kevin DuBrow’s passing, Banali basically stated that Quiet Riot couldn’t go on without him at the mic.  Later, with DuBrow’s mom’s blessing, he reformed the band in 2010.  I asked Frankie if the regrouping with former band mates Alex Grossi on guitar andChuck Wright on bass and the Dubrow-inspired vocal work provided by new lead singer, Mark Huff, has gone as anticipated.

“The first thing that I want to make clear is that, by no stretch of the imagination do I ignore the statement I made in January of 2008 – two months after Kevin passed away.  That is exactly how I felt about the situation. It was an honest and genuine statement. Literally, for the first year after Kevin passed away, I didn’t even pick up a pair of sticks.  I did nothing in music whatsoever. I just didn’t want to because, you have to understand that, not only was I in a band with Kevin throughout the entire history of the band from 1980 to date, but we were friends for 27 years.  So, that was a difficult thing.

“What has ensued in the last three years is that I have had time to put the loss in perspective.  With my grieving period and working on the Quiet Riot documentary, it forced me to really evaluate the history of the band and my participation in the history of the band. That really ignited the fire for me to want to do this again because, not only did I miss Kevin, I came to the realization that I missed this thing called Quiet Riot.

“And, yes, definitely, once I said to myself, ‘This is something that I want to pursue again.’, my first communication was with Kevin’s mom because we were very close. I, literally, verbatim, said to her if she was even remotely uncomfortable with the situation that it would end right there. I wouldn’t pursue it. She reminded me that, even at the gathering that we had – the day that we laid Kevin to rest – she had told me that I should continue Quiet Riot because Quiet Riot wasn’t just Kevin, Quiet Riot was Kevin and I because we were always the nucleus. We were the two that were in the band from the beginning to the end.  That was really my only consideration.

“I’ve taken, I think, a lot of unjust criticism for it. But, at the end of the day – I’ll be perfectly honest with you - the only person whose opinion really mattered to me in my reforming the band was Kevin’s mom.  That being said, the first people that I reached out to were Chuck Wright on bass and Alex Grossi on guitar which is the two players that were in the last version of Quiet Riot when Kevin was alive. It was Kevin’s favorite version and it was also the most stable, productive version that we had.  Nothing against any of the members in Quiet Riot from the past – and there have been many. Most people like to consider the so-called Metal Health line-up as the only Quiet Riot line-up.  There were so many musicians that came in and out of the band at different periods of time that my consideration was really for the last version of the band that Kevin and I were most happy with.

“The thing is, the people that aren’t involved in the situation – certain fans – definitely, some of the critics – don’t understand it. Rudy Sarzo and I have been friends since before Quiet Riot and we continue to be friends.  He has been very vocal in public about saying that he completely supports my continuing Quiet Riot and he’s not even a part of it. He has his own life and his own career. He has his own music that he’s working on. So, it’s not one of these things where I’m excluding this person or that person. Carlos Cavazo is in Ratt so it’s not like anybody is being excluded for any negative reason. They’re being excluded for all positive reasons.”

Before leaving the subject of DuBrow’s passing, I asked Banali if there have been any life lessons, perspectives or any sort of spiritual repercussions or revelations that he has learned or experienced from Kevin’s passing.

“Well, you know, I’ve got to tell you, because, when you’re in a band for as long and Kevin and I were in Quiet Riot together, most people in a band, after a period of time, don’t hang out together any more or don’t do anything together for no other reason than they’ve done it all and seen it all.  The thing that’s always been at the forefront for me is that Kevin and I always continued to always hang out on the road together. We didn’t in Los Angeles because I live in California and he moved to Las Vegas. But, when we were out on the road, we would fly to whatever city and then spend x amount of hours in a vehicle to wherever it is that we were going and we would still have lunch together. We would still have dinner together. And, if we had time off, we would go to wherever we wanted to go together.

Banali shared a recent reflection about his late band mate.  “I just got back yesterday from a run that we did. We did a date outside of Indianapolis and another one in Dayton.  And, so, I have my phone and it has GPS on it – something that we didn’t have when Kevin was alive. I programmed the thing to make sure that the routing I had was correct.  The little voice tells us, ‘Take a left at I-95’ or whatever it was and the first words out of my mouth were, ‘Kevin would have loved this.’  This happens a lot. We drove by a barbeque restaurant and Kevin loved barbeque. The first thing out of my mouth was, ‘If Kevin was here now, we would stop there and have barbeque for lunch.’”

With bitter-sweet comfort in his voice, Frank said, “So, yeah, he’s still around.”

We began talking about the current band line-up so I asked Frankie what the fan reaction has been, so far.

“The thing that I always took into account when I decided to move forward Quiet Riot that, obviously, could not include Kevin, I knew there were going to be, essentially, three factions. On the positive end of things, there were going to be the fans that were going to accept it wholeheartedly, no matter what. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there were going to be the fans and critics that would not want to accept it, no matter what. Then, square in the center was going to be the ‘show me’ faction who wanted to see if this was really viable.  Will this really sound like Quiet Riot? Is this really Quiet Riot?’

“What has happened is, strangely enough, we’re getting so many dates on the calendar, we get to the shows and right from the get-go, the fans have been with the band, which is surprising to me.  You still have to go out there and do a great job but I really thought that it was going to take two or three songs to get people to realize that this is the real deal.  So, from that perspective, it’s been more rewarding than I expected it to be at this early stage.”

Of all the questions and interest in Banali’s and Quiet Riot’s work, I wondered what would be the one thing that Frankie felt has been least covered and understood about the band’s work.

“In the past, I think one of the big misunderstandings – and I always defended Kevin while I didn’t always agree with many of the things that Kevin said or many of the things he did - I always supported the fact that it was his right to say it. A lot of people took a lot of the things he said as Kevin being a negative person, which he wasn’t. What Kevin was, he was acutely honest and that honesty got him in trouble. Where most musicians, if they were asked about a certain band or a certain song – even if they hated it – they would give the political correct answer to the situation. Whereas Kevin would tell you exactly what he thought. If he loved something, he would tell you and in minute detail why he loved it. If he hated it, he would tell you, in minute detail, why he hated it.

“And the really unfortunate thing about it is that most of the negative comments that Kevin may have said early on in the band’s career were exactly that: early on in the band’s career. But it took nearly 20 some odd years for people to sort of let it go. Kevin had let it go many years before that but even to the end, some critics were still criticizing him for things he said when he was much younger and two decades earlier. It’s interesting: people really love an underdog until the underdog becomes a big dog and then they want to run it over.”

I asked Frankie a range of questions that I try to ask music industry veterans: What similarities and differences do you see between now and when you and the band started out? What’s been the biggest POSITIVE change in the music industry since you started out?  What about the biggest negative change?

“When we started, we were really, really fortunate to have been in what I think would be considered the center of the world for rock which is Hollywood, California, in the late seventies and early eighties. Also, that new thing called ‘MTV’ had come along which, I think, was really instrumental in many bands’ careers because, all of a sudden, you had mass exposure but it was mass visual exposure. Up to that point, it was only really magazine articles and, maybe, the occasional newspaper article. But, that (MTV) had a huge impact on the industry and the music industry was thriving and alive whereas, now, none of that exists anymore.

“There is no record industry as we once knew it - neither major nor independent.  There is no MTV as we once knew it. MTV stood for ‘music television’ and, now, really, it stands for far less than ‘music television’.  Although, I will say VH1 Classic has really waved the flag for a lot of the bands of our genre. But there is no rock radio like there once was. DJ’s were independent to play whatever they wanted whereas, now, it’s become corporate and there are just a few national programmers that will program the radio stations that are owned by a handful of conglomerates.

“Kevin and I used to marvel at the fact that we would continue to put out records year in and year out and we’d be out on the road and we’d have morning show interviews to do. We’d bring in the new product and the DJ’s would go crazy about the new product but take it home because they couldn’t play it on the radio station because everything was ‘on the cart’.  It’s very, very challenging now for new bands to get anything done in the industry. And most of the bands that you see working today are working because they have marquee value from one or two decades ago.”

Like I’ve shared with others that I’ve interviewed, I share with Banali my belief that one of the big reasons that country music is still a thriving genre with an incredibly loyal fan base is due to the fact that there are two cable networks that actively run supporting music videos.  He agrees.

“Yeah, I completely agree with you on that, that the mentality for the country industry and the fans of country radio is completely and totally different than any other market. They’re still producing current videos which are still being played on their respective stations. The radio stations continue to play new country music. I don’t know if you’ve also looked at it from this point of view: if you look at a country artist and a country show, it is, essentially, what an 80’s rock show used to be. It’s still the big stages. It’s the big drum riser.  It’s the wall of lights – all the special effects.  If you take away the cowboy hats they’re dressing pretty much like the 80’s artists were dressing.   That is a very different world and a very different market that supports that artists and supports the music across the board.”

After sharing what he believes are the negative changes in the music business, Frankie addresses my “positive change” portion of my question.

“I can’t say that I’ve seen any at all. The advent of the CD when it came out and then the inevitable being able to record onto recordable CD’s; and then the internet, MP3’s and downloading has really taken its toll on the industry. It’s amazing, you have fans out there who are screaming, ‘Why aren’t bands putting out new music?’  Well, why put out the money to put out new music if some of these so-called fans are going to look for every possible way to download it for free?  I don’t know if they don’t realize or don’t understand or don’t care that the only way to really produce music is to earn a living doing it. And, if you take it down to the most basic structure, you have record labels – most of them – are not ‘artist friendly’. For them, it’s just a business. But, having said that, in the old days you would get a label to give you and advance and you went out and made your record with that advance and, if you had anything left over the band made some money. Then the records were sold and the record label would recoup their advance on the artist and the artist would start making royalties.

“Well, what has happened is not only is it the artists that are being hurt by the illegal downloads but it’s also the record labels. So, what happens is the record labels aren’t making any money because their product is being illegally downloaded; ‘trickle-down economy’ to the artists not making any money for the same reason (the labels tell them) ‘We can’t afford to give you an advance because we’re not going to recoup it.’

“Then, the artists has to go out and come up with their own money to produce a record, to manufacture it, put it out there and they, too, have no hope of ever recouping the money. So, it’s pretty much become a still-born industry.  There’s no label support for touring and you can break it down even further. You have all these bands that aren’t making a living off of their records so you have less tours going out and you have all these other bands who are vying for very few support spots.  They, in turn, keep dropping their guarantee down in the hopes of beating another bands guarantee to get on that tour and it deflates the industry even further from that perspective.”

Banali’s response to me isn’t a positive one when I asked him what he thought the solution to the music business’s problems were.

“I really don’t know that there is a solution. I think the problem with illegal downloads from the sites in Russia and Eastern Europe, some in Latin American and some in Asia – it’s so widespread. I mean, anybody who has a computer – a laptop – can pretty much illegally download anything. Just about everybody these days in economically diverse countries most people have computers. It’s almost impossible to police it so, as long as the product is going to continue to be downloaded illegally, there’s no source of revenue.

“I think that radio has changed to the point that you cannot get promotion for anything. Even Quiet Riot, when we go out on the road – even if I were to put out a new record tomorrow – I would still end up going to the local radio stations with the product and they still wouldn’t play it. And when they’re promoting the shows, they would be playing Cum On Feel The Noize and Bang Your Head. So, I don’t know if there’s a way out of this situation. From that perspective it’s really bad. Quiet Riot is fortunate in that we have a long history and we have marquee value which makes it possible to continue to tour. Most of the bands that you see touring are touring just for that reason – based on their past history more so than their current history.

“The policy that Kevin and I always had was that, regardless of what was going on in the music industry, regardless of what the trends were, regardless of how deflated the industry was, we were going to continue releasing records, which we did throughout our career. The last record we released when Kevin was alive was in 2006 was called Rehab which was a great record. It was probably the best reviewed record we had since Metal Health and I’m gratified that Kevin received a lot of praise for his vocals on that record.  So, if he had to leave us, at least he did knowing that people loved what he was still doing.

In wrapping up his answer, Frankie concludes, “So, I have every intention of going to the studio at some point and making a new record. I want to do it because it’s important to keep creating music and I want to do it because it’s part of the Quiet Riot legacy. But, I am not counting or depending on either label support to do it and I certainly can’t imagine that it’s not going to be illegally downloaded but it’s important for me to do. But, I’ll pick and choose when to do it and I’ll pick and choose how to do it because I’ll have to spend my own money to do it.”

Because of cases that I have heard about through friends, I suggest the very real possibility of a few widespread, well-publicized cases of viruses being spread via illegal MP3 downloads, in addition to continued label driven litigation, as creating a chilling effect on the problem and, thus, being one contributing solution.

“If that were to happen, it would be interesting. I don’t know if it would enough to really turn around the labels where they would actually want to sign new bands or want to sign former bands and give advances again. I also don’t know if that would really remedy the problem with radio because that’s also a huge problem.  You could release new music all day long but if you write quality songs and they’re recorded and produced properly and radio doesn’t play it, then you’re still in the situation of ‘if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, did it make any noise?’, you know?

“The problem is huge. Unfortunately, it’s so multi-sided. Unless all of the problems are fixed then none of the problems are fixed.”

Our mutual friend, Rob Shanahan, told me prior to my call with him that Banali was working on a history of Quiet Riot and he tells me a little bit about what it’s all about.

“It’s a documentary.  People have wanted me to do a book for awhile but I’m so busy with the business of Quiet Riot. I’ve managed the band for the last 17 years. But, it’s a documentary beginning with the history of the band. It continues to evolve because the story continues to be written so it’s very difficult for me, at this juncture, to say how it’s going and where it’s going other than the fact that the amount of footage we have is monumental. Interviews are still going on. It’s a work in progress. Hopefully, it will be completed by the end of the year.”

 

In reviewing that treasure trove in the Quiet Riot archives, I asked Frankie what’s been the most memorable thing that’s happened in all his years of touring with the band.

“A couple of things stand out. For the band, I think the US Festival was probably the greatest, early experience we had because, all of a sudden, it put us in front of a huge audience that, up to that point, had only heard rumors about the band. So, that was monumental.

“Playing the L.A. Forum was monumental the first time we played it. Then, the second time we played it, we headlined. It was a big venue and our hometown. For me, personally, it was playing Madison Square Garden because I’m originally from New York. My history with Madison Square Garden goes to as early as me not remembering - when I was a baby and my parents taking me to the Ringling Brothers circus.  Then, when I got older, my dad used to take me to prize fighting boxing there.  I used to go see concerts there. I saw Led Zeppelin there. So, to actually play Madison Square Garden was huge – just HUGE!”

Is “the Garden” his most favorite venue to play?

“I think emotionally it was but I think, probably, the single greatest experience for the band at a venue was in 1983 when we were still an opening act. We were the darlings of the opening acts. We were opening for so many different major bands at the time. But, in 1983, when we were still an opening act, the band was becoming so huge on radio that we were offered – on a day off – to headline Market Square Arena (Indianapolis and, interestingly, the site of Elvis’ last concert before his death) and we had Nazareth opening up the show.  Quiet Riot sold out the place – over 15,000 people – while we were still an opening act for somebody else. That was our first real headlining show. That one stands out in my mind because it was unbelievable to know that over 15,000 people came to see the band. And, then, the next day I think that we were opening up for Iron Maiden.  It was interesting from that point of view.

“When the Tacoma Dome first opened, they booked AC/DC. I think that the Tacoma Dome was something like 23,000 (seats). The show was selling well but the sales hadn’t really gone over the top. We might have been opening up for ZZ Top at the time. I don’t clearly remember but we were on the east coast and they offered us the opening spot at the Tacoma Dome for AC/DC.  Our participation made it possible for the show to sell out, so that stands out in my mind, as well.”

 

If Frankie was a young musician just starting out, or coaching a young musician, starting out today, how would he enter the music business today, given what he knows now?

 

“Well, you have to be realistic. You have to look at the business the way it is now and not fall prey to the idea that you’ll put a really good looking band together and you’ll write some really, really good songs and you’re going to go out and get a really good record deal and then you’ll go out on the road and become rich and famous. The industry doesn’t work that way anymore.

“I think that it would be really important to start with the basics. Make sure that you know the material that you want to write and the type of band that you want to be. But you’ll also have to be prepared to have a lot of doors slammed in your face. There are a lot of doors that aren’t even there anymore!  You have to be prepared to go out there and put a band together and play clubs throughout. To me, it’s so sad that bands these days have to go out and literally pay to play at a venue where they can get the slots at a club if they buy a hundred discounted tickets from the clubs and sell them to their friends or through MySpace or Facebook.  That was something that simply did not happen when Quiet Riot started out. It’s really challenging.

“I wouldn’t discourage anyone from being a musician and putting a band together. I cannot imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t have music in it. It’s a huge part of my life. If music is a huge part of your personal life, then you should pursue it as a career with the understanding that the percentage – even during the best period of music – the best percentage that actually made it might have been ten percent. And out of that ten percent there might have been one percent or less that had a sustained career.”

 

His thoughtful answer triggered a related question: Is he surprised that people today still think the business is as it was back in the day?

“I think it’s foolish to have that mindset but it is human nature to do that. It’s the romantic side of things.  I think musicians romanticize what it would be like to have been a band in the 70’s and be a Led Zeppelin or a Queen or a Free or any of those bands without realizing that not only is the industry not that way but life in general isn’t that way. I think that a lot of musicians view it that way for the same reason that period piece films are so incredibly popular. Everybody wants to look at what might have been a more prosperous time or more romantic time in history and that includes music. So, yeah, I think that it’s human nature to look at that.”

With all of that said, I asked Frankie if there are any artists or band out there that are commanding his attention these days.

“Um, not much. I’ve got to be honest with you. I haven’t heard anything out there that particularly impresses me. I continue to go out and add to my collection of CD’s of vinyl that I have that, for whatever reason, somebody has finally put out on CD. I’m aware of the new music because I like knowing what’s going on and I like knowing where the trends are going. I also ignore most of it at the same time. If it doesn’t meet the criteria of the music from my heroes – and I’m just talking the 70’s, I’m talking the 60’s, the 50’s and the 40’s – I’m just simply not interested in it.”

When I comment that I’m doing the same thing and that I prefer to have the physical and not download, Frankie adds, “That’s because we’re fans. One of the reasons why I respect fans so much – whenever possible I try to meet as many of them as possible and sign stuff is because I’m a fan, too.  If you were sitting right here in my office right now, on my walls you would see Charlie Watts autographs, B.B. King and all three members of Cream and Buddy Rich and Miles Davis and Gene Krupa and it just goes on and on and on.  And that’s because I’m a fan.”

What’s next, project wise?

“As far Quiet Riot is concerned, we will continue to do concert dates. We’ve got an Australian/New Zealand tour that we’re doing called Metal Health 2011 which we are headlining and supporting are Warrant, L.A. Guns and then there’ll be local support, as well. That begins at the end of April through the beginning of May then we come back to the states and continue touring. We’ll be at a couple of festivals here in the U.S.

“It’s a work in progress. And when I feel that the band is ready to go into the studio, we’ll take the band into the studio and record. But I’m in no rush to do it. If it’s not right, it’s not right. There’s no reason to rush to do it because, again, it will have to be self-financed, most likely, and for everything we’ve already discussed, there’s no reason to record at this point.”

With our time winding up, I asked Banali where he sees the band being five years from now.

“You know, I don’t even deal along those terms. When Kevin, God bless him, was with us, he loved the fact that I always had the one year plan, the three year plan and the five year plan. The last thing that I would have ever expected would have been that, on November 4th of 2007, would have been the last time that I would ever step on stage with Kevin and that was actually the last time I’d see him alive.

“So, right now, I really concentrate on the immediate future – nothing beyond a year at a time because it’s a work in progress and, as has been tragically proven to me, a lot can happen in a year.”

You can keep up with all the latest with Frankie Banali and the Quiet Riot crew by checking out www.officialquietriot.com.