Wednesday, February 14, 2018

**RETRO REVIEW** T.S.O.L. "Hit And Run"

(c) 1987 Restless/Enigma Records

  1. It's Too Late
  2. Road Of Gold
  3. Name Is Love
  4. Dreamer
  5. Good Mornin' Blues
  6. Hit And Run
  7. Not Alone Anymore
  8. Sixteen
  9. Stay With Me
  10. Where Did I Go Wrong
  11. You Can Try
Joe Wood--Vocals, Guitars
Ron Emory--Guitars
Mike Roche--Bass
Mitch Dean--Drums

Additional Musicians
Jamie Segel--Backing Vocals
Andy Landis--Backing Vocals
Bill Bergman--Saxophone on 5
Andrea Carol--Congas on 5

T.S.O.L., or True Sounds Of Liberty, was an oddity in my record collection back in the day.  I remember buying this album brand new when it came out.  I took it to the counter to pay for it and the guy at the counter, Jeff, a friend of mine who was a couple years older and who knew my musical tastes, looked at me and said, "Are you sure?"  I wasn't sure what he was talking about, as everything about this record said I would love it.  The image on the cover was right up my alley, and none of the song titles really struck me as being anything I would shy from, so I wasn't sure what the issue was.  We chatted for a minute or two about where the band came from stylistically, but I decided to take a shot anyway and took Hit And Run home with me.

To say that I got what I thought I was paying for would be a lie.  What I didn't know at the time was that T.S.O.L. was originally something of a goth-meets-punk band from the late 70s/early 80s, and not the L.A.-inspired version of the band that was sneering at me from the cover of the cassette album in my hands.  When I first popped the tape in, I loved the simple, raw guitars that were blasted at me and the stark nature of the song's structure, but I was also completely taken aback when I first heard Wood's very punkish snarls blaring out at me on the album's opener, "It's Too Late".  Later on, I would come to love the similar sounding songs, with Jetboy's "Feel The Shake" being an instant comparison for me both in style and tone, but at the time, I seriously wondered if the wrong music had been recorded on my cassette...which of course would have been odd considering Wood was singing the song's title in the chorus.  I liked it, but I didn't know why...or how much...and I wasn't sure I would like where the album went from there, but I decided to keep going (which I didn't always do when I was a kid with seemingly disposable income).

I let things continue to play, and "Road Of Gold" came on.  Definitely showing the band's more gothic-sounding influences, especially in the vocals and the guitar tones, T.S.O.L. sounded to me like a rawer version of The Cult, whose Love album I already owned.  "Name Is Love" only further solidified that opinion for me, as a very angry sounding Wood spit and snarled at me over the top of some decidedly punkish rock that featured some pretty furious guitar work.  The next track, "Dreamer" has something of a Doors-meets the Cult-meets Lies-era GnR quality to it, and is still one of the tracks that draws me in...despite my oft-stated disdain for the Doors. 

The next track is a little known blues cover song, "Good Mornin' Blues", which features some really cool saxophone work from Bill Bergman, and a thick, prominent bass like from Roche.  Wood's angry delivery style works surprisingly well on this song, which is odd considering you would likely never use words like "soulful" or "bluesy" to describe the raspy snarls and shouts Wood uses to get his lyrical ideas across.  The guitar tones here are also decidedly subdued and very 40s/50s sounding in their tone, which makes sense considering the original version of this song came out in the late 30s/early 40s.

The band cranks the attitude and the speed back up for the title track, a rockabilly punk number that has a catchy guitar riff and super-simplistic drum pattern to bolster Wood's snarling vocals.  There's a cool tempo shift in this track on the bridge after the second chorus that finds Wood actually singing for a few lines, and sounding very much like The Cult's Ian Astbury...at least for a few lines...

"Not Alone Anymore" is one of the songs people point to as an indicator of how good the band could sound and how musical they could actually be.  Incorporating the previous Cult influences with sections that would remind many people of R.E.M., especially on the verses, "Not Alone Anymore" shows a musical diversity that was definitely not present on their older, far more punk releases that I later went back and gave cursory spins to.  It is clear with songs such as "Not Alone Anymore" and the next track, the far more L.A.-sleaze sounding "Sixteen", that the band was attempting to grow musically and to shake the punk label that they had been burdened with.  In fact, nearly everywhere on the second half of this record, the band could be found to be stretching themselves musically, attempting to evolve.  "Stay With Me" is a track that I think could have supported a video fairly easily, with its catchy guitar hook and goth-meets-glam stylings, and the album's big ballad, "Where Did I Go Wrong", with it's raw emotion and gritty honesty, is better than 90% of the saccharine power ballads that would later litter the radio waves.  

The album closes with an all acoustic number called, "You Can Try".  Featuring a refrain of "You can't help someone who's not willing to help themselves, You can try, but you just might waste your time...", the song was an an anti-drug message recorded in memory of guitar player, Ron Emory's brother, who had died of a heroin overdose just a year or so before the album came out.  Its a haunting, chilling way to close the record, with the last words on the album being the abruptly clipped off, "You can't help someone".

The production was, much like the songs themselves, very raw and very dry, with no real polish or enhancements thrown in at all, even on the more gothic-sounding songs.  The album isn't pretty, it isn't "fun", but it is an interesting slice of the Hollywood scene that is largely overlooked.  In fact, I can think of self-released albums...demos, really...that got far more attention that Hit And Run, despite the fact that T.S.O.L. toured with Guns N Roses and Steven Adler wore a T.S.O.L. shirt on the video for "Sweet Child O' Mine".  The album did manage to chart on the Billboard Top 200, hitting a peak of 184, but falling off rapidly after there was no successful single release from the album.

In the end, Hit And Run is an album that I find myself returning to every few years, giving it a spin or two to see if it recalls any feelings of nostalgia for me.  It's far from a great album, in my mind, and wouldn't even scrape the bottom of the shoes of the band holding the 200th slot on an imaginary Top 200 of my all-time favorite records, but it is one that I am glad I took a shot on.  It obviously meant something to me as I replaced the cassette with a CD a few years later, and I still own the CD to this day.

To say it doesn't hold up well after 30 years would be unfair because, in all fairness, it didn't hold up that well in 1987, at least compared to its peers.  Still, there are a few good songs here...mostly on the second half....and it is worth giving a spin to if you find it at a decent price.

Rating:  Rock it at 5.5, largely an average-at-best record bolstered by a couple of pretty good songs on the second half of the album.

STRAY BULLETS "Shut Up"

(c) 2018 Burning Minds Music Group


  1. Lost Soul Town
  2. Get On You
  3. Huts
  4. Candy 
  5. One Way 
  6. Put Up Shut Up
  7. Sex Pot
  8. Be Your Man
  9. Rain
  10. Black Out
  11. Crash
Alex--Lead Vocals
Duff--Bass, Backing Vocals
Steven Evil--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Nick--Guitars
Zen--Drums, Backing Vocals


Stray Bullets is a new band hailing from Italy, which has seen its fair share of hard rock/glam metal bands pop up in the past decade or so.  Judging from the cover art, the band is aiming for the sleaze crowd, but overall the sound of the album is not overly sleazy at all.  In fact, Stray Bullets reminds me very much of a modern incarnation of the Scorpions in a lot of ways.

The most obvious comparison between Stray Bullets and the Scorpions is going to be the similarities in vocalists.  Throughout most of the record, Alex is a dead-ringer for Klaus Meine.  I mean, I wouldn't be surprised at all if Ale was found by the band fronting a Scorpions cover act at some point...he really sounds that similar.  Of course, we also have the twin guitar attack in Stray Bullets, and both players do themselves proud here, as the guitars are truly one of the high point on Shut Up.  Heck, as far as the musicianship goes, there is virtually nothing to complain about here, honestly, as Zen is a really good drummer on the record, and Duff more than holds his own on the bass, which I am happy to report can be heard throughout the mix here, which is not always the case, especially with European bands playing this obviously 80s-inspired style of hard rock and metal.

The album starts off solidly enough with one of the sleaziest riffs on the record to intro "Lost Soul Town."  This track, like most of the others here, actually appeared on the band's self-released album from 2010, but due to pretty much a complete band tear-down and re-build, the songs have been rewritten and rearranged for this album.  While I haven't heard the original, I have to say I was fairly impressed with the sound of this first track, as the band has a definite love for and understanding of 80s hard rock and hair metal, and they do a really, really good job of executing on this track which reminds me quite a bit of Sledgehammer Ledge when it first kicks in.  The guitars are blistering, the drums are big and hard-hitting, the churning tempo is excellent, and Alex's Scorps-yowl is a great fit for this hard-charging fist pumper!  Yeah, I'm stoked right from the jump on this record.

"Get On You" keeps the tempo in high gear, but I find myself not liking the vocals on this song nearly as much as I did on "Lost Soul Town".  Alex takes an angrier tone here, adding a bit more snarl to his vocals, and for me, it just doesn't work.  The chorus is also just some angry gang-shouting of "Get on you! Get on you!", which does nothing for me.  It's too bad, really, because this could have been a second really good song, as the guitar solo is really good, and the bass work here is awesome!  I love what Duff does on this song.  But overall, the vocals do quite a bit of damage, and I have to admit that after three or four times through the album, I pretty much just skipped this track.

Track three, "Hurts", corrects things for a moment and is a kick butt song, with a blistering solo, some excellent drum work (complete with cowbell!), and Alex back to singing rather than snarling.  A very "big" sounding song, "Hurts" sounds to me like the kind of song that has the crowd very much in the palm of the band's hands in a live setting.  "Candy" follows up with a very late-80s Scorpions sounding track, especially in the chorus which comes off like the band may have been listening to a log of Savage Amusement in the recording and rehearsal studios.  Don't get me wrong, I really like "Candy", but there is some pretty blatant Scorps-worship going on here.  Whether or not that is a good thing is entirely up to the listener, I guess.

The requisite ballad is up next, and "One Way" is decent, I suppose, but nothing overly memorable.  The opening guitar lick reminds me of Poison or, more accurately Warrant.   Heck, the whole song sounds a lot like something Warrant might do...similar to a "Sometimes She Cries" type of ballad...if, of course, Klaus Meine sang for Warrant.  

Angry Alex returns on "Put Up Shut Up", which apparently makes the backing singers mad, also, and almost immediately my ears force my finger to hit the skip button.  I just can't get into the few songs where Alex resorts to this angry, snarling type of singing, as it just changes the mood and attitude of the songs and makes them seem phony, as the guitars aren't angry-sounding at all, so everything seems disjointed, at least to me.

"Sex Pot" may be one of the stupidest sounding songs I have come across in years.  The music is really good, with a great guitar solo, some nice galloping drum work, a hard-charging rhythm and tempo...all good.  But the lyrics...they're just...DUMB!  Apparently the song is about a hooker these guys are infatuated with, or something, I don't know, but in the spots where I can understand Alex, I basically wish I couldn't.  "You boys can keep your virgin chicks..."  Really?  REALLY?  THAT'S what you can come up with?  Somewhere in there we hear about her platinum wig, her panties, her long legs...maybe her high heels...I don't know.  The point is, this is an example of a time when a decent musical track is ruined by bad lyrics.  

"Be Your Man" returns the band a bit back to their Scorps-worship sound, and even if it isn't the best track on the record, it restores some of my belief in the band and the album.  One thing I will say about this track, "Be Your Man" is the only song on Shut Up that really has a tempo shift in the middle of the song...and it's one of the best three or four songs on the record because of it.  The speed increase when the solo kicks in is a very welcome change in approach, and the fact that the rest of the song retains this new, amped up tempo for the rest of the track really serves it well.

"Rain", "Black Out" (no, NOT a Scorpions cover), and "Crash" close out the record, all in uptempo fashion.  "Black Out" is my favorite song on the record, and I think it is a really fun, very nicely constructed song, with Alex in great vocal form, a shout along chorus, a killer guitar solo, and just all sorts of catchiness rolled up into one song.  It may be one of the best songs I have heard so far in 2018, to be honest.  I  love it and hope it is released as a single so others can hear it, although it will have to be edited for an f*bomb or two!  "Crash" is a rather high-speed affair that is the most "metal" of the songs on the record, although it suffers from some fairly indecipherable lyrics about hard drinking, hard partying, and then drunk driving...I think.  The song is a nice vehicle for more high speed guitar antics, which is a great thing on this record, and "Crash" closes things out decently, although there is a slowed-down section in the middle, when the song's protagonist is arrested, that I think is supposed to be dramatic, but it doesn't really work that well, at least for me.  If Stray Bullets had just stuck with the speed demon approach, this track would've been an absolute killer at the end of the album.

Generally speaking, I like most of the record, but I do have a few complaints.  First, the vocals get pretty annoying at those times when Angry Alex surfaces.  As I mentioned previously, the guy reminds me a lot...of Klaus Meine from the Scorpions, which works great, no problems; you sound like who you sound like.  But when he obviously alters his approach and changes into Angry Alex, I just instantly want to shut him off.  One smaller complaint that is related would be that Alex needs to work on his enunciation.  At least I can understand Klaus about 80% of the time, whereas with Alex, that percentage is at less than half.  And, when I can understand him problem number two pops up: the lyrics.  Throughout the record, several of the lyrics are pretty cliched, cheesy, and I'd a few go so far as to be just plain lame, overall.   The choruses are generally not much better, as they are usually just gang-shouted repetitions of the title of the song (or some derivative of it), with very little imagination or uniqueness to them.  I get that English isn't their first language, but come on, get a dictionary, as I think this is one area that could really hold back a promising band.  

The other thing I might suggest is a single ballad to replace at least two of those faux-angry songs I mentioned earlier.  It would help break up the similarly-paced songs from tracks 6 through the end of the record, and would have the added benefit of wiping out a couple of songs I really don't care for.

Oh. and do something about the ridiculous cover art, for crying out loud...

One thing that you cannot find fault with throughout this record is the guitar playing.  These guys deliver time after time throughout the entirety of Shut Up, with HUGE hooks, soulful melodies, finger-flying speed, and all sorts of six string heroics.  In fact, if I was to come away from Shut Up with one big takeaway it would be that the guitarists will be what saves this band and drives it forward if it goes anywhere.  They really are that good, in my opinion.

Is this a bad album?  No, not at all.  In fact, there are several things to enjoy on Shut Up, and multiple songs that I find myself really liking, or absolutely loving in the case of "Black Out".  I'm just not sure how far this band can or will go without sharpening up their lyrical skills, cleaning up their vocals, and fine-tuning their songwriting so that 90% of the songs aren't basically the same tempo and rhythm patterns.

Rating:  I wanted to crank it, but I just couldn't quite do it.  Shut Up is Rockable, for sure, but in need of some work to elevate to crank-worthy status.  I give Shut Up a solid 6.5, due in large part to the excellent guitar work here and the highly notable "Black Out".

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

LITTLE CAESAR "Eight"


(c) 2018 Golden Robot Records

  1. 21 Again
  2. Mama Tried
  3. Vegas
  4. Crushed Velvet
  5. Good Times
  6. Time Enough For That 
  7. Straight Shooter
  8. Another Fine Mess
  9. Morning
  10. That's Alright
Ron Young--Vocals
Loren Molinare--Guitars
Mark Tremalgia--Guitars
Pharoah Barrett--Bass
Tom Morris--Drums

Little Caesar is a band that simply refuses to die.  And I mean that in the most respectful way, honestly.  But when you are a band that literally EVERYONE in the industry thought was going to be the next big thing...and then you get utterly wiped off the face of the musical world (through no fault of your own), it takes something special to carry on.  And that is exactly what happened with this band, once a sure shot hard rock act on Geffen Records, who probably should have disappeared after their label was sold, their label management quit, their musical inventory was lost (as in their records disappeared on their way to stores!), and promotion for the band and their debut album was shut down...all in about a month's time!  

But perseverance is an interesting quality; some people have it, some don't.  Ron Young, Loren Molinare, and Tom Morriss, three of the founding members of the band, certainly have it, as they have soldiered on throughout the years, continuing to release their brand of soulful hard rock that belies their outwardly gruff biker looks.  With recent additions of Pharoah Barrett (Four Horsemen) on bass, and Mark Tremalgia (Bang Tango) on guitars, the band has put together their most solid effort since that ill-fated debut album from 1990.

The album opens in fine fashion with "21 Again", a three-chord rocker that would make AC/DC proud with its foot-stomping rhythm and straight-forward guitars.  Young comes in on vocals sounding like the illegitimate child of Lemmy and Aretha Franklin...gravelly, coarse, and harsh, yet still soulfully smooth at the same time.  A nice, bluesy rock guitar solo is thrown into the mix as well, and Eight is off and running!

Twenty-one continues to be a theme on the next song, but in a bit of a different way.  What a lot of readers don't know about me is that I am a dyed-in-the-wool Merle Haggard fan, so when I saw that the band had the balls to try to cover one of the Hag's tried-and-true classics, I immediately sat up and took notice.  While I am not going to say that it will supplant the original's place in my heart, Little Caesar's raucous send-up of "Mama Tried" is pure rockabilly bar band bliss, with Young's gravelly-yet-soulful vocals giving a new boost to Haggard's words, and you can't help but believe the man when he intones "I turned 21 in prison doing life without parole...".  Good, good stuff from a band that is no stranger to treating listeners to new interpretations of classic songs (search up their cover of  "Chain Of Fools" from the debut album for more proof).  Once again, some excellent string bending follows on the solo, then the final verse is left to just Young and the rhythm section of Barrett and Morris to handle, before the band comes blistering back in on the final two runs through the chorus.    Merle is likely smiling somewhere right now...

"Vegas" is similar to "21 Again", as it is a dirty, three-chord rocker with a catchy rhythm, very similar to a lot of the things the band did on their debut.  "Crushed Velvet", on the other hand, is a much more soulful, Motown R&B-styled number, reminding me quite a bit of "Mustang Sally" with its repetitive groove, and Young's vocals taking on a bit more of a ZZ Top, bluesy sound.  A catchy slide guitar solo is thrown in for good measure, rounding out one of the top three or four moments on the record for me.

Speaking of top three or four moments, the 70s Deep Purple inspiration runs deep on the next track, "Good Times", with a cool "Smoke On The Water"-styled intro that runs throughout the course of the record, and the guitar work on this track is top notch, from the rhythm work to the solo and every little drop-in throughout the song.  Not highly flashy, not blazingly fast, but definitely gritty and soulful and perfectly developed for the style of this mid-tempo classic rocker.  I'll go on record right now as saying I would LOVE for the band to serve up an entire record of material such as this track, even throwing in a couple of Deep Purple covers for good measure if they felt up to it.  Loving this.

The sparse "Time Enough For That" slows things down quite a bit.  I don't really care for the first verse's layout, with just Young's vocals and a guitar whose tone reminds me of so many of those mid-90s alt rock, plaintive songs, but the track recovers to a good degree by the time the chorus hits and spends the rest of its time in more blues-based hard rock territory.  I wish the band could go back and rework that first section, however, as it does a lot of damage to an otherwise pretty cool song...at least for me.

"Straight Shooter" quickly rights the ship and ups the tempo with this bass and rhythm guitar heavy rocker that would probably best be categorized as true biker rock.  Perfectly suited for Young's vocal range, "Straight Shooter" is pretty much just straight ahead hard rock that slows itself down only slightly for yet another really, really good guitar solo.  I'm not sure who is playing which solos on this record, as my preview copy doesn't have that kind of information, but the interjection of Tremalgia, who has a history of working with blues bands when he wasn't with Bang Tango, seems to have upped the guitar game from the last time I checked in with Little Caesar.  

"Another Fine Mess" is a nice barroom shuffle with some catchy piano and guitar work, but not an overly memorable track in the grand scheme of the record.  "Morning" is a solid blues-drenched ballad that I think is the better of the two slow numbers on the record ("Time Enough..." being the other).  I really like Young's vocal approach here, and once again, the guitar work here is excellent, with plenty of soulful and emotional energy channeled through the solo here, which is my favorite on the record.  In fact, remember when I said I would take an entire Little Caesar record of songs like "Good Times"?  I'd take an album of this type of blues rock as well!

The album wraps with "That's Alright", which is an okay song, but not my favorite by any stretch.  It reminds me a lot of a Foo Fighters song, to be honest, which again, is okay, but not really what I'm looking for from Little Caesar.  The end of the song has kind of a cool jam session feel to it, and again, the song isn't terrible, just not necessarily memorable for me.  Definitely not in the same league as a track like "Morning" or "Good Times", or even "Mama Tried".  

The production is a plus here, as it is easy to pick out the individual instruments at work, with special attention seemingly given to the bass, which is prominent (not dominant) in the mix, and the separation of the guitars.  Again, Young is in excellent form vocally, and the drums have good sound quality and don't sound boxy or too big for the style of music performed here.  Again, I don't have any mixing or mastering credits in front of me, but the album was produced by Bruce Witkin, who has worked with Little Caesar before, and he seems to have a real feel for the sound the band is trying to present here.  Nice job, overall.

Due out in March of 2018 on Golden Robot Records, Eight is a very good, hard blues rock record from a band that would likely be just as comfortable on a stage in a honky tonk dive as it would in front of 2500 people in a theater or arena.  In fact, Little Caesar may be more comfortable in that honky tonk, because those people are the type to likely get the gritty, grimy, blue-collared, soulful rock-n-blues the band is delivering on an album like Eight.  If that sounds like your kind of music, then I encourage you to seek this album out, as it is definitely a fun listen, and the best I have heard from Little Caesar in at least 25 years.

Rating:  Foot stomping, fist pumping, bar brawling rock-n-blues for sure!  Crank it to 7.5!

Friday, February 9, 2018

RAZORBATS "II"

(c) 2018 Rob Mules Records

  1. The Waiting
  2. Take It Out On The Road
  3. Social Rejects
  4. Dead Boy City
  5. Bad Teacher
  6. Nowhere
  7. Sister Siberia
  8. Going Underground
  9. Send In The Clowns
  10. Talk All Night
Paul Vercouteren--Vocals
Kjetil F. Wevling--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Asle Tangen--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Chris Haugerud--Bass, Backing Vocals
Knut S. S. Wettre--Drums, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians
Annette Gil--Guest Vocals on 10
Kai Christoffersen--Percussion, Keyboards
Stig Saetevik--Bass on 4, 10

When last we checked in with Norway's Razorbats for an album release, it was 2016 and the band had just released their EP, This High, a tasty little record that followed up the massive success of the G2G Album of the Year for 2015, Camp RockThings seemed to be humming along nicely for the Nordic rockers as they combined their love for 70s classic guitar rock with bits and pieces of punk, 80s sleaze, and modern rock, churning it all up and serving up some of the catchiest retro rock I have ever feasted my ears upon!  

But, in an almost predictably cliched turn of events, life threw a few curves at the band who were suddenly faced with some tough decisions.  During the recording of II, Lead vocalist Even Berg left the band, only to be shortly followed by Stig Saetevik, both of whom had performed on the band's previous releases (including their vinyl-only debut, Bring It On).  Guitarist and primary songwriter, Kjetil F. Wevling, and drummer Knut S. S. Wettre, were left with two options...push on or hang it up.  Fortunately for us, the remaining Razorbats are not quitters!  Scrapping the partially recorded vocal tracks, and most of the bass tracks, the band recruited Hollywood Vampires' lead vocalist, Paul Vercouteren, and Kill City Bandits' bassist, Chris Haugerud, then pulled in a fifth member for the first time, with new rhythm guitar player, Asle Tangen (who joined the band in time to provide backing vocal tracks), and set about the task of kickstarting the II album process.

The new version of the band remains stylistically very similar to the band that blasted onto the scene with their gritty guitars, gang-shouted backing vocals, and catchy, hooky 70s-inspired classic rock, but there are differences.  Vercouteren's vocals, for instance, are a bit lower in register, and the addition of a second guitar gives the songs a bit more musical depth in spots.  The bass seems a bit beefier in the mix this time around, as well, which adds a bit more thump to a couple of the tracks.

The band has already released two singles from the album, with "Social Rejects" and "Sister Siberia" being the chosen introductions to the new band members and album.  "Social Rejects" has a definite 70s guitar rock-meets-Blink 182 pop punk feel, with a bouncy, gang-shouted chorus and a simple-yet-catchy guitar hook that snags you upon your first pass through the record and repeatedly drags you back.  "Sister Siberia", meanwhile, is a more sparse mid-tempo rocker with a big bass line and a singable chorus that borrows a bit from the 80s hard rock scene.  You can check out the video for "Social Rejects"...or click over and stream "Sister Siberia" at this link.  

As for the rest of the album, I think the best tracks have yet to be released, with personal favorite "Dead Boy City" being one that I seriously hope is given every opportunity to rattle people's speakers with its deep, throbbing bass line (one of the two tracks Stig still appears on), and the angry sounding, shout-along chorus that I simply can't shake from my brain!  I can't even begin to count how many times I have hit repeat on this track...or skip just to get to it...as it is so infectious and is audio bliss for this guy!  The drums fully support the bass line here, and the guitars just saw their way through the chorus sections, with a tasty solo from Wevling briefly carving itself out between the true chorus sections (I say "true chorus sections" because song-crafter, Wevling, teases the listener with the shouting of the song title early on, tricking you into thinking there is one more chorus section than there is...).  

"The Waiting" kicks off the album, with a catchy guitar riff atop some rather snappy bass work from new member, Haugerud.  The gritty rhythm guitars carry much of the weight on  this uptempo 70s-meets-80s rocker which also features a quick Wevling guitar lick exiting the first chorus that is reminiscent of the main riff from Faster Pussycat's "Bathroom Wall", followed by an equally tasty, full solo out of chorus two, with some excellent group backing vocals thrown into the mix for good measure.  "Take It Out On The Road" is pure Nazareth worship from the get-go, with a straight-outta-"Hair Of The Dog" drum-n-cowbell intro leading into another catchy guitar rocker that also features hand claps, more layered group backing vocals on the chorus section, and a couple of great guitar sections from Wevling.

Other standouts for me would have to be the two closing tracks here, "Send In The Clowns" and "Talk All Night", as well as the Cheap Trick-inspired, "Bad Teacher", which has a great, great chorus that is all sorts of sing-along material, and features some really solid backing vocals and a cool mid-song change of tempo that slows things down just a bit before a small, simple solo from Wevling before ramping back up into the final chorus.  Were it not for "Dead Boy City", "Send In The Clowns" would be my favorite track here, with its "Ballroom Blitz"-esque intro that charges headlong into the fastest track on the record, which then segues into the album's big ballad, the nearly 6 minute long, "Talk All Night".  I really like the dynamics of this song and the incorporation of female vocals from Annette Gil are a nice touch. Vercouteren sounds in top form on "Talk All Night", and the track reminds me of some of the slow dance material of the pre-power ballad 70s and early 80s...the songs I always had to sit out at the skating rink because it was "couples only".  Yuck!  No, not the song...the song kicks ass...it's.the slow skating sweethearts that forced me off the rink and into the little arcade in the snack bar that I'm yuck-ing here.  Ah...childhood...where have you gone, Olivia Newton-John?  Anyway....good good stuff here that you don't normally hear from the bands that trend toward the more classic rock side of things, as they all seem to go for the lighters-in-the-air moments and don't use the ballad opportunities to add atmosphere and depth to the overall flow of the album.  I have to say I was very impressed with this track, but it really shouldn't come as too big of a shock, as the Razorbats have shown themselves more than capable of handling slower material, especially with "Born In The Fast Lane" from  This High, and "Desolation Highway" from Camp Rock.      

As with Camp Rock and This High, a lot of credit has to be given to the production on this record, as it is absolutely spot-on for the style of music being played.  Never heavy handed, and understanding that sometimes the spaces between the notes of a song are every bit as important as the notes themselves, the mix and feel of II is pretty much perfect.  The guitars, in particular, have just the right amount of fuzz drizzled across the sound to sound authentic to the style, which a lot of bands miss,  I think.  Vercouteren's vocal mix here is excellent, and I hope the band does me a bit of a favor and records some live material so that I can hear his take on songs from Camp Rock (did you catch that, Kjetil?).  I also can't say enough about the rhythm section here, as newcomer Haugerud melds perfectly with the understated playing from Wettre.  It will be interesting to hear where the band goes with their sound once Tangen gets the chance to add his rhythm guitars to the mix.  In the end, however, it always comes down to songwriting, and Wevling has this art form down to a science.  There is not a weak track on this album, which Kjetil wrote by himself with the exception of one co-write on "Nowhere" from former vocalist, Even Berg. 

The packaging is about as simplistic as it can get, with just a double-sided front cover on the digipack that features band info, writing credits, and little else.  There are no lyrics and no pictures of the band, but that is of little consequence here, as the band has ZERO issues with English...and we don't really want to look at the guys anyway, right?

The bottom line, this is a simply great album that I have been playing repeatedly since I got it.  If you can't have fun with Razorbats' II album, do everyone a favor and don't go to parties...you're lame, boring, and would just bring people down.  II is neck-and-neck with Camp Rock for me, and G2G readers likely know where that record ended up.  Could we see a repeat in 2018?  Time will tell, but don't wait to find out....get the album yourself!  Pre-orders are available HERE.

Rating:  Supremely crankable!  Razorbats continue to hold the line at 9.0 with II.

Back To Reviews Index

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Talkin' Trash with JEFF JONES of ST. ELMO'S FIRE


Jeff Jones has been around the metal block a time or two.  Formed in 1979, his band, St. Elmo's Fire, was a big attraction on the Sunset Strip in the early-to-mid 80s and managed to score themselves several high profile gigs, sharing the stage with bands ranging from Motley Crue and Y&T to Warrant and Night Ranger.  Between 1986 and 1992, Jeff and the band recorded four full-length albums and a handful of videos, gaining airplay on MTV's Headbanger's Ball and metal radio across the states...and even more attention and accolades in Europe, where their album Powerdrive hit the number one spot in 1990 on metal charts in Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, and Germany.  Despite this success, however, the band never managed to capture the American scene's attention in the same way, and the band called it a day in 1993....

...until 2016.  Following a successful crowd-funding campaign, St. Elmo's Fire returned with Jones and long-time drummer, Kris Gustafson (ex-Trauma), along with new singer,  Mike Palombi, and recorded a brand new album, Evil Never Sleeps, which was released at the tail end of 2017.  Which begs the question....why?  Why after 25 years did a band that never made it much past the level of the good-but-obscure-in-America decide to throw their hat back into the ring?  Who better to ask than founder and guitar player, JEFF JONES, who decided to Talk Some Trash with us here at G2G...

-----------------------------------------------------------------

G2G:  Jeff!  Thanks for taking the time to chat with us for a bit!

Jeff:  My pleasure, Arttie.  It's always awesome to talk with you.  Been awhile, but I'm a big fan of Glitter2Gutter, so I'm really happy to do it.

G2G:  Now, at the risk of dating us both, as I think I have told you before, I actually got the chance to see St. Elmo's Fire live, in the middle of Nebraska, when I was in college in 1991.  I remember you guys were so cool to talk to, and you gave me a copy of your album, Powerdrive, which I played the crap out of on the college radio station I was working on.

Jeff:  (Laughs)  Yeah, I suppose we are considered old school now, right?!  Man, I do remember that.  Actually, that part of the tour was very memorable for me.  Although I was born and raised in California, my dad was born in a very small town in Nebraska, called Miller.  And most of my relatives, whom I had never met until that time, lived in Pleasanton and Kearney.  Some of them came to see the band play when we were there and thought I was absolutely crazy!  (Laughs)  Seeing this long-haired, skinny metalhead dude playing guitar was a real trip for them!  It was surreal for all of us.  My family were all homesteaders from the 1860s, corn farmers and all that, but my grandfather was very restless like me, I guess, and moved out of Nebraska in the 1930s to come to California.

Anyway, it was an amazing time.  I think I still have some pics of the band at the radio station with some of you guys...

G2G:  Jeff, can you talk for a minute about how St. Elmo's Fire came together?  

Jeff:  Well, it all started a long time ago, in a garage far, far away...!"  (Laughs)  Sorry...couldn't help
it!  Honestly, like a million other bands, St. Elmo's was literally put together and formed in a garage in Citrus Heights, California, a suburb of Sacramento,  My buddy, Tim Allwein, and I started this whole thing.  I was a teenager and didn't know what I was doing.  You know, how to write a song, how to get a gig, how the music business worked...nothing.  We both were in a cover band called Sail The Sun in 1977, and we decided a year later we wanted to do our own thing...original music...which in Sacramento meant we would have to play in Davis, a college town near Sacramento, or in the San Francisco Bay Area where the clubs allowed you to play your own stuff.

Tim and I found Alan Kreutzer, the original drummer, and Steve Raynor, our first bassist, through the want ads in the paper.  Tim and I then started writing songs, which we learned was not easy.  We wrote a lot of bad ones at first, but it was a learning experience.  One of the first ones that we wrote was "Don't Drop It".  We knew we were on to something after we finished that one.  It actually sounded good!  (Laughs)  Eventually, that song ended up on our first album for CBS Records.

G2G:  Once you got things rolling, things started happening relatively fast for you guys, moving through the club ranks, didn't they?

Jeff:  Yeah, they did.  In a way, we were forced to speed things up.  Although we did some covers, we made it clear to the clubs that we were an original band, and if you didn't like it you could F-off!  (Laughs)  In Davis, especially at the University there, we became huge within a few months.  We played constantly, even at a lot of frat parties there.  Then the clubs in San Francisco and the East Bay really took to us.  I think they liked our attitude about doing things our own way.  They had us opening for Nazareth, Y&T, Randy Hansen, Night Ranger, and so many other national bands within a year.  By 1981, we were doing club tours in Canada.  We raised a lot of hell back then, and broke a lot of international laws that, looking back on it now, seems absolutely crazy!  That all happened before we even moved to Hollywood a few years later.  That's a whole other story...

G2G:  I was just going to say, you were really right there as the metal acts like Quiet Riot and Motley Crue and Ratt were getting ready to break things wide open.  A lot of people, I think, forget it wasn't all lipstick, mascara, and Aquanet at the beginning of the West Coast metal scene...and that's the scene that St. Elmo's Fire really sprang from, right?  The more traditional metal side of things...

Jeff:  That's right.  Exactly.  When we moved to Hollywood, Motley and Quiet Riot had already broken out.  The scene in L.A. was turning into spandex, hair, and cheesy pop metal.  San Fran was hard core metal, so we were fighting a trend that had already started.  Metallica, like us, found L.A. not at all a metal kind of place, so instead they went to Europe...got a record deal on Megaforce and went there.  So did Dokken.  We were thrown into a club scene that had Poison, Warrant, and those kind of bands.  It became apparent that our style was not what the labels were looking for.  I mean, we were doing great in the clubs, you know, places like the Troubador, the Whisky, the Roxy, Gazzaris, and others.  The people liked us and we were headlining there by 1985, but the record labels in L.A. just had no use for a true metal band in Hollywood.  Being the arrogant guys we were, we were not going to change our music to get the labels to like us.  So, in 1986 we took a cue from Metallica and got a European record deal instead.  In fact, a music magazine in L.A. at the time. The Music Connection, did a feature article on Metallica, Dokken, and us on the subject of going overseas to make it.

G2G:  Europe was actually really good to you, wasn't it?  I know Powerdrive topped multiple countries' charts in '91 and '92, right?

Jeff:  Yes, we did extremely well over there.  Powerdrive was in the Top Ten in Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, and a few other places when it came out.  In fact, the whole reason we did this new record (Evil Never Sleeps) is because of our popularity in Europe.  The people who own and manage Pure Steel Records in Germany, which is the label the new record will be released on, are huge fans of the band from back in the day.  That's why the reissues came out a few years ago.  They approached me about putting out the Elmo albums again as part of their Heavy Metal Classics series.  The reissues were hand-numbered, limited editions with a holographic stamp on each one to assure authenticity.  Beautifully done CD booklets were made for each one, with a lot of extra stuff the original albums never had.  I could tell this was a labor of love for them to put out those albums again, and out of that cam an opportunity to do Evil Never Sleeps.  They asked me if Elmo could do another record, and...here we are!

You know, I feel fortunate that I've been able to make musi that people all over the world still enjoy, especially now in the days of streaming music and downloads.  I get sales and streaming reports online every week, and it still amazes me how many thousands...and now millions...of people across the world are affected by the band and still want to listen to my songs even after all these years.  And I still think about being a dumb, teen-aged kid sitting in a garage when the only one there to listen to my guitar playing was my cat!  Corny, but true!  I am grateful...

G2G:  So did the band spend any significant time in Europe?

Jeff:  Not a lot, surprisingly.  Our goal was to get a record deal in the United States, capitalizing on our success overseas.  This meant I spent a lot of time writing new material and recording.  We would go out on the road in the States, mainly to try out the new songs, then go back to L.A. to record and release another album.

G2G:  Switching gears a bit, one thing I wanted to clear up for those who may be misinformed, or who simply don't know, you guys had the name St. Elmo's Fire long before the movie came out...

Jeff:  Oh yeah, since 1978.  Way before the movie.  The interesting thing is that in all these years, not one person, radio station, magazine, blogger, or fan outside of America has ever mentioned the movie to me.  Not one.  It's like outside of the U.S. the movie doesn't even exist...which is great.

G2G:  I'm assuming you have seen the movie, though, right?

Jeff:  Oh yeah, I've seen it.

G2G:  I thought maybe you were going to tell me Rob Lowe's rebel character was based on you but they changed your guitar to a saxophone for dramatic effect!  (Laughter)

Jeff: (Laughs)  Well, I'd like to think Rob Lowe and I share a striking resemblance, but my hair is longer than his.  (Laughs)

G2G:  I was always curious if any legal challenges to the name came out or anything...

Jeff:  No, nothing ever happened...

G2G:  Let's talk about those early records for just a minute.  Your writing style on those records could really be described as science fiction in its approach...would you agree with that assessment?

Jeff:  I think so, yes.  Sci-Fi has influenced me quite a bit, no doubt about it.  I can blame my dad for that.  My brother and I were both brought up watching a lot of science fiction and horror movies on TV and in the theater because of him.  He loved it and passed that on to us.  And, consequently, it affected our art to some degree.  I write songs, really, as mini-epics, because in my mind, I see them as little movies.  I can't express myself visually like my brother...he's an artist for DC Comics, and he's been drawing Batman for 30 years! He can put down on paper exactly what he is thinking about.  Not me.  I have absolutely no ability to draw anything!  Instead, I can hear things and picture them in my head as complete ideas.  Then, I try to express those ideas musically.  For example, the entire Warning From The Sky album is based on Sci-Fi themes.  It's an homage for two of my favorite authors, Clifford Simak and Ray Bradbury.  The album cover, with the Elmo ship, is the link between them.  The spaceship representing the band is not a new idea of course; Boston did it, and so did ELO.  But, the Elmo ship is way cooler, I think!  (Laughs)  I had to bring it back on Evil Never Sleeps.  It's updated and now is part of a fleet of ships, and its ready to kick ass again!  Powerdrive has some of the same Sci-Fi lyrical content, but, really, Evil Never Sleeps more closely continues the theme of Warning From The Sky.
("Little brother" Kelley Jones' Batman work)

G2G:  Hold on a second...is your brother Kelley Jones?  I have a ton of his work...I'm a big comic book nerd, also!

Jeff:  (Laughs)  Yes, Kelley is my little brother...

G2G:  Wow...small, small world.  Anyway, there's obviously a lot of artistic talent in your family.

Jeff:  The funny thing is, no one in my family was a musician or an artist.  Strange how things work out.  My parents didn't always understand us, but they encouraged us in whatever we tried to do.

G2G:  So, do you remember when the music bug really bit you?

Jeff:  That's really hard to say.  My earliest memories always had some sort of music associated with them.  A song playing on the radio, or whatever.  It's weird.  Old songs I hear even now will trigger things from my childhood that I had completely forgotten about.  Music is just something I was born to do, one way or another.

Now, as far as being a guitar player, that is easier to pinpoint.  I was about 8 years old and saw Glen Campbell play guitar on TV.  He looked so damn happy and cool...and he could rip!  Most people think of him as just a singer, but before he was a pop star, he was a member of the L.A. Wrecking Crew, the top studio musicians at the time.  Those guys probably recorded 50% of the hits during the 1960s.  Anyway, after seeing him, I knew I wanted to play guitar.

G2G;  Do you remember your first guitar?

Jeff:  My first guitar was a three-quarter sized Stella Harmony acoustic.  I still have it.

G2G:  Alright, sorry, I got us a bit off track there.  So, after the European success of Powerdrive, how were you and the band feeling?  I know you did a video for "I Need Your Touch" that got airplay on Headbanger's Ball in the States, so were you riding a wave of
optimism in '90, '91, and '92?

Jeff:  After Powerdrive we were feeling really good!  Lots of great responses from fans, radio, press, etc.  But there was no time for me to enjoy any of it.  I was so focused on trying to get to the next level.  So, we toured for a few months off and on in 90-91, then I started writing more songs for the next album.

I appreciate the Elmo albums a lot more now than I did when I was writing them.  I just didn't have time to appreciate them at the time, I was too focused on writing them.  By late '91, I remember things in the band had started to change...as well as in the music business...

G2G:  Ah...the "g" word...grunge...

Jeff:  You got it!  It seemed like the whole scene changed overnight.  By the time we started recording Desperate Years, the writing was on the wall.  The record companies in L.A. completely changed their focus from what was going on in Southern California to the indie scene in the Pacific Northwest.  But, in all honesty, the bands in L.A. brought it on themselves.  The music and the style of the bands got so cheesy...it just became too much.  It became really ridiculous.  We were never even involved in the L.A. club scene by that point.  I think by 1989 Elmo wasn't even playing there anymore.  We lived and recorded there, but that was it.  We toured outside of California and most of our albums were basically being sold in Europe and Japan.  The bad part was that we got tossed out along with all the shit bands at the time.  What's the phrase..."throwing the baby out with the bathwater"?  That was us.  But you can tell how different we were, even then.  We never chased the trends.  It hurt us sometimes, not following the crowd, but I think most of our material holds up pretty well after all this time.  It doesn't sound as dated as a lot of music from that era, at least in my opinion.

G2G:  Desperate Years, in my opinion, is a really strong traditional metal album and I still play it and Powerdrive fairly regularly.  But in retrospect, how prophetic does the title Desperate Years seem, especially when it was to be what you likely believed would be the last St. Elmo's Fire record ever?

Jeff:   I never thought about the title being prophetic, but yes, I guess it was!  To me, that was a difficult record to complete.  We had just got back from another US tour, and once again we went right back into the studio.  I had written the songs before we toured, so they sounded pretty good as we started to record.  But, I knew we were getting close to the end of this chapter of Elmo.  For a lot of reasons.  You know, I was ready for a break.  I had been living and breathing this band for 12 years straight at that point.  Writing, producing, touring, and the overall responsibility of being the leader of this project, it wasn't that much fun anymore.  But, I felt Desperate Years was a strong way to put the band to bed for a while.  I just didn't imagine it would be asleep for 25 years!  (Laughs)

(Vamp Le Stat with artwork from Kelley Jones)
G2G:  But you didn't exactly take a break.  You jumped pretty quickly into a new band, Vamp Le Stat, in 91 or 92, and by 1993, you already had a record out with that band, Bloodline...

Jeff: That's true, but Elmo was my baby and I felt a strong obligation to be in control of all aspects of it.  With Vamp Le Stat, those guys already had the band put together and they kinda begged me to be a part of it.  So, in a way I felt liberated to be a part of something else for a while.  It was like, "I'll write the songs and you guys take it from there..."  I started writing from a completely different perspective.  The Bloodline album was a catharsis for me, a bloodletting for me.  It really amazed me how that band took off after we started playing live in Northern California...especially with the women.  They came out in droves!  We tapped into something, I guess...pardon the pun... (Laughs)

I remember leaving gigs with girls just jumping onto the windshield of my car, wanting to party with us.  It was insane!  We used to rehearse in a warehouse we named "The Batcave", which was behind this strip club called City Limits.  The girls who worked there took every opportunity to come over, which made it difficult to get any real work done, let me tell you!  They spread the word about Vamp Le Stat pretty fast.

To me, this was a great way to unwind after being in St. Elmo's.  You can imagine, right?!  Here's the most interesting thing about Vamp Le Stat:  the Bloodline CD was never released on a label in 1993.  It was something that we put out on our own only for our fans who came to the clubs.  In a few years, the word about Vamp spread worldwide, literally...with no label, management, promotion, backing, money, or anything but word of mouth from fans in Sacramento!  Every original Bloodletting CD was meant for locals only.  It truly shows the power of a good band with good songs.  We were one of the most successful underground bands ever.  We spent $500 making Bloodline, and now the original 1993 version is a collector's item all over the world!

By the way, my brother, Kelley, did the cover of Bloodline.  He also did the cover of Elmo's Desperate Years album.  Kelley has always been a big supporter of my music.  You know, whenever we get together, we never talk about comics or music...just SCTV and MST3K!

G2G:  Well, something about Vamp Le Stat worked...maybe it was the cover, I don't know.  I just know I heard of it, and I tried for YEARS to get a copy of Bloodline.  I finally scored a copy of a copy of a copy...at least that's how it sounded...but I loved it!  You actually sent me the reissued version a few years ago...

Jeff:  Well, I might be able to get you a 1993 copy.  I know people... (Laughs)

G2G:  That would be amazing!  Vamp Le Stat actually did a few records, right?  Were you on all of them?

Jeff:  Not all.  I quit the band before Filth came out (in 1995).  Now, the live album and Bloodline 2 were me because we did those before I left (although Bloodline 2 didn't come out until many years later, in 2011).  Vamp was a nice distraction for me, nothing more.

One thing though...Zakk Wylde was a huge fan of Vamp Le Stat.  He insisted that we open for him anytime he was near Sacramento, which we did.  In fact, he would come into Sacramento when he knew we were playing just to get on stage to jam with us.  There are a few YouTube videos with him playing with us back in the day.  Zakk and I used to have these solo battles, which were pretty hilarious.  Check out YouTube..."Sweet Home Alabama"...

G2G:  Through it all, though, did you always believe St. Elmo's Fire would get back together?

Jeff:  I thought when the time was right it would...but after years go by, it became less and less likely.

G2G:  ...and then 2016 rolls around... (Laughter)  Was there ever any thought to trying to get the original members of St. Elmo's Fire back together, or was that just not going to happen?

Jeff:  There were some problems with that, so it just couldn't work out.  I had a vision of what Elmo could be now and I found the guys who could bring it forward with me.  Tom, Chris, and Kevin have the "Fire", so to speak...and Evil Never Sleeps shows what this new lineup can do.

G2G:  Well, with Evil Never Sleeps, I have to tell you I was really impressed with your new singer.  I mean, he "gets" Elmo, and that real metal sound that you were always about.  He's not a power metal screamer, or some operatic prog guy, not a thrasher...just classic American heavy metal.  He reminds me a little bit of Jeff Keith from Tesla, but more metallic...


Jeff:  I'm glad you hear that in Kevin's voice because that's why he got the job.  He's just got that sound I wanted.  I can't believe I found him before someone else did!  He's an awesome singer, and an even more awesome human being.  Coolest guy ever.  He is the most down to earth dude you can imagine, and I'm happy that his talent can finally be appreciated.

G2G:  And he wasn't in a band?!  The guy can seriously bring it...

Jeff:  I got a tip on him.  He was playing in cover bands.  I heard about him and I couldn't believe the talent.  I brought him down to sing on a few tracks.  The instrumentals had been recorded already, I just needed a great singer.  He killed it and got the gig.  But, like I said, Kevin still wouldn't have been in the band, no matter how good he was, unless he was the cool person he is.  Bottom line, I'm not in the mood anymore to put up with ego b.s.  Kevin is as real as you can get, and that's so refreshing.

G2G:  Tell me about the rest of the new St. Elmo's Fire...

Jeff:  Tom Frost, who's on drums, and Chris Stringari, on bass...I had worked with them before in M!ss Crazy.  Here's the thing with most musicians as you get older...or maybe anybody when you reach a certain age.  Working with someone you know is already more comfortable, because being younger you have the energy to put up with the unknowns and the crap that goes along with the music business.  But later on, you just want to be with talented people that want the same things as you.  That means being good with the least amount of b.s.  I can't imagine being with a greater bunch of guys.

G2G:  So tell me about the process on this new record.  Were you already toying around with the idea when the label approached you, or was it a bolt from the blue?

Jeff:  I had been thinking about it off and on for years, but obviously, nothing ever happened.  I was involved in other projects, and of course putting the band back together was the real issue.  But, when Pure Steel contacted me, it made the whole idea much more solid.  The first step was they wanted to re-release the four studio albums.  That forced me to focus on Elmo again full-time.  Getting all that together was not easy after all those years.  I mean, finding the correct master recordings for each song, liner notes, lyric sheets which I had to retype, original cover art, etc...it was scattered everywhere and that took some work!  My organizational skills were a bit lacking! (Laughs)  But listening back to those original albums was a good thing because I hadn't listened to them in a long time.  It brought me back to Elmo again, and I knew Pure Steel wanted a new album, so it gave me time to think about what it might sound like.

The label was concerned that the new stuff wouldn't sound like the old stuff.  They wanted a consistency between the old and the new, which I was fine with.  Besides, my style hasn't changed much I don't think.  I play the way I play and I write the way I write.

G2G:  I would agree that the new album is very much in the same style as your older material, especially the last two albums.  The production, however, is considerably crisper and clearer than the older stuff, which I think is to be expected.

Jeff:  Recording this album was much more involved than the previous ones.  Digital technology changes the way you process the sound both pre- and post-recording, which gives you almost infinite options.  And the media you record on is different, of course.  Digital hard drives versus analog tape...back in the day, we recorded the albums with 24 tracks on 2-inch wide tape, running at 30 inches per second.  One reel allowed you only about 12 minutes.  Now, a 1TB hard drive gives you several hours of time with virtually unlimited tracks.  That being said, the actual recording of the music is pretty much the same.  I mean, the performances still have to be great.  You still have to bring it.  The engineer pushes the record button and no matter what the technology is, you still have to nail it.  That's what new bands don't realize; it's the performance that matters first, then the technology.

G2G:  So, you're saying you're not a fan of AutoTune...

Jeff:  Well, it has its places as a last resort.  A little fix in spots, I'm okay with it.

G2G:  Well, I've been playing Evil Never Sleeps pretty much nonstop for the last week or so, and I have to tell you, I'm liking it a lot!  I truly miss that classic 80s metal sound that St. Elmo's brings to the table.  I especially love the guitar approach...you just don't hear that kind of soloing and riffing any more, and I think hard music is the lesser for it.

Jeff:  Thanks...I appreciate it!  That type of riffing style is the one I really enjoy writing and playing.  It;s just what I love to do.  We had in mind before we went into the studio to have the songs be classic old school metal, but with modern production ideas and approaches.  The metal bible for me is still early Judas Priest, the British Steel and Screaming For Vengeance albums, especially.  And Iron Maiden, of course.

G2G:  "We Will Not Die", "Betrayer", and "Lord Of Thunder" just absolutely shred from the outset and really grabbed my attention.  Then...holy crap...the title track just kills it!  Nobody plays this stuff anymore!  Same thing with "Across The Nations", which just may be my favorite track here...or it might be "Rise"...  There is some seriously killer shredding going on in these tracks!

Jeff:  Maybe this album will start a "retro" metal trend.  You know that saying, everything that was old is new again?  Something like that.  But, I'm really glad you're liking it.  I did my job! (Laughs)  In reality, I write what I would want to hear as a fan of metal.  If the song I'm working on doesn't trip my trigger, I either try to fix it or I toss it.  Believe me, I've got a ton of stuff that didn't cut it and will never see the light of day.  I'm my own worst critic.

I think that guitar soloing that I have been hearing are very contrived.  Everybody sounds like everybody else.  Same guitar tone, same solo patterns, and no soul whatsoever.  It's like playing by numbers, with no feeling behind it.  Too much thinking going on and not enough heart.  Spontaneity is what I shoot for in a solo.  I like to say I want to "catch lightning in a bottle" when we're recording the solos.  It's magic when that happens!  Sure, you can hear a few mistakes, but I'll trade that for the overall feel anytime.

G2G:  Okay, I'm going to be unfair to you, but my site, my rules.  (laughter)  You have to pick one track on this album that you think truly represents where you are, or where the band is.  What is it and why?

Jeff:  Wow, that's very cruel!  But, here goes...  I'd pick "Rise".  Why?  Because it represents the heart and soul of what Elmo is now.  It starts tough with that beat, no holds barred.  It grabs and shakes you, and then the solo section is like a journey of differing moods.  "Rise", both lyrically and musically, makes an unmistakably strong statement that this band is not done.  We are back in your face!

G2G:  Nice!  Well, since you're willing to play along, what classic Elmo track would you love to get a second chance with?

Jeff:  Probably "Powerdrive".  I always wanted to add more guitar parts to it.

G2G:  So, Jeff, looking back on your career, is there one...maybe two...things that, had they broke differently, would meant bigger success for Elmo?

Jeff:  I guess if one of the major labels in the U.S. had signed us, that would have made a difference.  But, there is another way I look at it.  It's the "Frank Sinatra" idea.  I did everything my way.  And with the large music conglomerates, you can't do that.  You dance to their tune.  I have friends who were signed to large contracts and within a year they were done.  They didn't have a hit so their labels dropped them and their careers were over.  St. Elmo's Fire was, and still is, a very working class band.  Nothing fancy about it.  We have always been scrappy and made the most out of what we had.  Whether it was the lack of money, recording time, or anything else, we are all about the quality of musicianship and songs.  I'm proud of that.

G2G:  How far do you see yourself going with this incarnation of the band?  I realize Evil Never Sleeps is just coming out, but is the process for the next one already kicking around?

Jeff:  Good question.  I have some songs written already.  They were not on this album because they didn't fit as well with the other Evil... songs.  And there were two others that actually did fit, but I didn't want the album to be too long.  So, yes, I'm ready for Elmo to be in it for the long haul.

On the subject of songs, sometimes it takes a while for the time to be right to release them.  For example, on the new Evil Never Sleeps album, both "Lord Of Thunder" and "Wasted" were written for the Desperate Years album in 1992, they just didn't feel right for that record.  But they fit really well with this one, 25 years later!

G2G:  I agree, especially about "Lord Of Thunder"...I think it really fits the album well, but I don't hear it so much with Desperate Years.  Maybe its the improved production and different singer...

Jeff:  For me, it was a question of the type of tune it was, as well.  But, I owe a big thanks to Tom.  He heard my original demo and then changed the approach to the drums.  He made the song much more modern sounding, yet kept it metal.

G2G:  Everybody talks about how the Internet has destroyed the music industry.  Are you of that mindset, also?  How do you think bands can sway technology in their favor?

Jeff:  It has put a lot of record executives out of work, I'll say that!  (Laughter)  No, it has changed the music business, but I think for the better.  Artists now have the ability to get their music heard in ways that could have never been imagined when I started.  Back in the day, a handful of record companies controlled the entire music business.  It was about as close to a monopoly as there could be.  They dictated what bands and artists could be heard, not only on the radio, but even in record stores.  I think back then they called them the "Seven Sisters", because there was seven major labels.  Supposedly they knew better than anyone else who was worthy to be heard and who was not.  Think about how crazy that is!  They got it wrong much more than they got it right.  I heard a statistic once that in those days, only 10% of the artists kept the music business afloat.  That means that 90% failed, either because the public was not interested or the labels realized their mistakes and failed to promote those bands.  Now, that being said, the internet makes finding good bands much harder because of the sheer number of artists to wade through.  It puts the responsibility of promoting bands squarely on the shoulders of the band themselves.  If your band wants success, then be good and promote your stuff.  The tools are there...Spotify, Pandora, CD Baby, Apple Music, etc.  That, my friend, is free enterprise at its best!

In St. Elmo's Fire's case, we didn't give up when we didn't get the deals we wanted.  We found other ways, like getting attention in Europe and Japan by approaching indie labels that were looking for good bands.  My point is that there are ways to be heard, you just have to be clever and work your ass off.  Kinda like anything else in life, right?

G2G:  It's funny because you are truly one of the first artists who didn't immediately talk about file sharing and streaming driving bands into the poor house...

Jeff:  Really?  I remember as a kid recording my friends' albums on cassette tapes.  Everybody did it!  How many millions or maybe billions of blank cassettes were sold?!  What did artists think was happening to all those blanks?  Now, I'm an artist, but I'm also a realist.  To blame technology is a cop out.  Sharing and stealing artists' work has been going on a long, long time.

As far as streaming goes, regulating that has improved quite a bit, especially after Napster was sold and Apple Music got involved in the business.  And the DMRC cracked down on the biggest file sharing sites.  I think with the advent of Spotify, Pandora, and others, it has made streaming much easier to do and, let's face it, most people just want an easy way to hear music.  And if they have to pay a few bucks a month for the convenience, they will.  Everybody wins.  The consumers get the music they want without a lot of hassle, and the artists get paid for their work.  So, legitimizing streaming through these platforms has been a win-win, I think.  So, everybody...stream lots of Elmo! (Laughter)

G2G:  Speaking of which, when and where can people start streaming and/or buying Evil Never Sleeps?  And where can they go to buy the CD?

Jeff:  They can stream it now on all the sites.  The CD will be released on March 30th.  People can go to the Pure Steel Records site.  (Click this link for details)  If people want to buy downloads, they can get it on iTunes and at Amazon .

G2G:  Any shows or festivals on the horizon?

Jeff:  Not so far.  We'll be working on that.

G2G:  Very cool.  So, we like to wrap up our interviews with the SPEED ROUND, so if you're ready...

Jeff:  Absolutely...bring it on...

G2G:  Spinal Tap or Rockstar?

Jeff:  Tap!

G2G:  Dio, Halford, or Dickinson?

Jeff:  Halford

G2G:  Motley Crue should just...

Jeff:  ...go away mad...

G2G:  Band that should just call it a day...besides Crue?

Jeff:  Besides all rappers?  Ummm...Van Halen, or whatever it is now.

G2G:  Ah!  Stole...or set up...the next question...  Roth or Hagar?

Jeff:  Roth...hands down...

G2G:  SPEED ROUND PAUSED:  Did you like the last album they did with DLR?  People seem really split on it.

Jeff:  It was ok.  Still is better than any Chickenfoot album.  Sorry...couldn't resist...

G2G:  SPEED ROUND RESUMED!  Is KISS a band, or just Paul, Gene, and whomever they hire...and does it even matter?

Jeff:  KISS is Gene 90%, Paul 10%...but at this point it doesn't matter....  Wow, I feel so negative during this Speed Round, and I'm not usually like that.  Sorry man...must be the Grammy Awards I've been seeing advertised on TV!

G2G:  Is golf a sport?

Jeff:  Yes?

G2G:  Ibanez, Gibson, or Fender?

Jeff:  Gibson...I'm endorsed...

G2G:  (Laughter)  Can a song have too much cowbell?

Jeff:  "More cowbell?!"  You can never have enough!

G2G:  Worst show you ever attended?

Jeff:  Uh...can't even remember the guy's name.  Oh, yeah!  Johnny Lang.  Bored me to tears.

G2G:  Flip it!  BEST show you ever attended.

Jeff:  Kansas, just a few years ago when Steve Walsh was still in the band.  Those guys killed it!

G2G:  New artist that you think should be huge.

Jeff:  I'm kinda out of touch with that one, but I think Volbeat should be huge.

G2G:  Prince...musical genius or just one weird dude?

Jeff:  A musical genius!  Most musicians are pretty weird anyway.  He just promoted his weirdness well.

G2G:  Favorite sport?

Jeff:  The universe actually does revolve around the San Francisco Giants!  Galileo was wrong...or else he was a Dodgers or Cardinals fan!  So...baseball is my final answer!

G2G:  (Laughter)  JK Northrup from King Kobra and Fiction Syxx is a massive Giants fan, also....and a killer guitar player.  Maybe its a guitarist thing!  Being the single biggest Royals fan you will ever meet, 2014 was amazing but heartbreaking...

Jeff:  Yeah, JK's from Sacramento like me, so that figures.  I didn't know he was in King Kobra.  Anyway, sorry about 2014, but Bumgarner was unstoppable.  90 feet away!  That's all you needed!  But you made up for it the next season!

Here's some Jones family baseball trivia.  My cousin, Tm Jones, is on the same Topps Rookie card as Jack Morris!  In those days, rookies had to share a card.  He pitched for the Pirates.

G2G:  Awesome!  I think I actually have that card, honestly.  I collected cards hard in the late 70s through about 1988, when I graduated high school.  


Jeff:  Might be in there, then...

G2G:  Alright, last two questions.  I always catch flak from readers if I don't ask what guitar set-up the players use.  So, what is your rig like?

Jeff:  I'm proud to say I don't use one.  Never have, never will.  Don't even own one. I only have a cheap 6 band Boss EQ plugged into my Marshall JCM-800 100 watt amp head.  That's it.  Everything I do is in my hands.

G2G:  Nice!  Okay, final question...if you had a Spinal Tap moment in your career, what would it be?

Jeff:  (Laughs)  Nothing major, really.  Although, when St. Elmo's Fire first started playing gigs, we played some like when Tap played at the Air Force base.  Really embarrassing!  (Laughs)

G2G:  (Laughter)  Well, Jeff, I want to thank you for talking to us!  It's been fun for me, and I hope you had some fun as well.

Jeff:  My pleasure!  Had a killer time.  Thanks again for the opportunity!

G2G:  Well, all the best with the new album, and we'll have the album review up shortly, I'm sure.  How can readers stay up to date with the band and album?

Jeff:  They can always keep track of us on Facebook, either by checking out St. Elmo's Fire or on my own Jeff Jones page , on Twitter by following me @jonesyrocker , or various YouTube channels, including my record company channel, XXX Records, and of course at www.PureSteel-Records.com  and www.xxxrecords.com I'm not hard to find!  (Laughs)

G2G:  Awesome!  Well, maybe we'll meet up at a ballgame some time!

Jeff: Oh yeah, absolutely.  I live in Nashville now, so maybe I can come out your way if the Giants play an interleague game with the Royals sometime soon...or another World Series?  (Laughs)

------------------------------------------------------------

Not a lot of "trash talk"....unless you are a rap fan, but Jeff is a heck of a nice guy and a lot of fun to talk with.  Be sure to check out Jeff and St. Elmo's Fire, both their classic material, and of course the new album, Evil Never Sleeps, which will be out in March of 2018. 


Back To Talkin' Trash
Home