Friday, April 22, 2016

Words for Prince




The more I think about Prince's death, the more deeply I feel the loss.

There are many tributes already out there, so I'll skip some of the common verbiage and get right to why I'm having difficulty thinking about much else at the moment.

As brilliant as I thought Prince was as a solo artist (Purple Rain raised me as much as Rocket To Russia did), I believe his greatest gift was his ability to craft timeless songs made famous by other artists. Listen to The Bangles' “Manic Monday” (a true Pop treasure that recently reached its 30th anniversary) or Sinead O'Connor's still-extraordinary rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” For me, Martika's 1991 hit “Love...Thy Will Be Done” remains Prince's definitive songwriting contribution. With a simple, unchanging drum beat and tender vocals that rarely rose above a soothing near-whisper (except for the unforgettable midsection), he helped create a work of true beauty.

It's been one of my favorite songs for decades. Listening to it again as I type this. Just stunning. 

Those artists gained new heights in popularity with those songs. Because they came from Prince. Because they were perfect.

There were more songs in him. That's what hurts so much.

In 1985, Prince earned the ire of the wretched Tipper Gore and landed on the top of the PMRC's “Filthy Fifteen” with his track “Darling Nikki.” Yesterday, President Obama issued an official statement on his passing, featuring these powerful words:

“A strong spirit transcends rules,” Prince once said -- and nobody's spirit was stronger, bolder, or more creative.

“Transcends rules.” These two words were used in a statement by the President of the United States to honor someone who once prompted a Senate hearing for challenging the status quo. Is there a more beautiful way to sum up everything Prince was and the undeniable impact he had on our society? Look at how far we've come in 30 years. My stepson's high school has a gay and trans club. Sexual stereotypes are constantly being blurred in public and in the media. More and more, those who legislate against personal freedoms are being viewed as the laughing stocks they are. Prince was among the deeply creative minds who steered our society to a more positive present and an increasingly hopeful future. His records are magnificent, but this man changed how we live.

With Prince's passing, we are again reminded of a painful year that has already taken too many of our icons away from us. I grew up in perhaps the last generation that will experience truly massive music superstars. The industry has changed to the point where an artist selling in the four-figure range can hit the Billboard charts. I don't think we'll ever see another Prince. Or another Michael. Or another Bowie. Or even another Cobain. There is no support system left for that; artistry has become too devalued. We should be mourning that loss as well.

But we still have Prince's songs. And they will never stop moving me.  

READ JOEL'S BIO
EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com
(NOTE: Due to the high volume of emails received, a response is not guaranteed.) 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

REVIEW - Lush: Blind Spot





“Seeing you again is such a lovely surprise." - Lush, “Lost Boy”

Of all the current reunions by '90s-era UK bands (Slowdive, Ride, the variably active My Bloody Valentine, etc.), Lush's return is the most unexpected and meaningful.

Formed in 1987, Lush steadily built an international fanbase with a series of albums (including 1992's magnificent Spooky) and consistent touring (highlighted by a spot on the '92 Lollapalooza tour). By 1996, the band was at the peak of their powers with Lovelife, a still-brilliant album bolstered by the video hits “Ladykillers” and “500.” Tragically, any opportunity Lush had to build on this success disappeared with the suicide of drummer Chris Acland that October.

Devastated, the band split apart. Guitarist/vocalist Emma Anderson later resurfaced in the early/mid 2000s to release a couple of albums with a band called Sing-Sing, while '90s-era Lush bassist Phil King later played with The Jesus And Mary Chain. Singer/guitarist Miki Berenyi kept the lowest profile of all, abandoning the music industry entirely to pursue a career in publishing. Aside from a surprise guest vocal appearance at a 2013 show by UK Oi! band Hard Skin, one of the most captivating figures in UK music history had basically vanished without a trace. All signs pointed to the reality that Lush – a band halted long before their time – would never appear on stage or on record again.

But that all changed in September 2015, when Berenyi, King and Anderson announced a reunion that subsequently led to their first North American tour in two decades. Former Elastica drummer Justin Welch, who previously worked with Anderson during Sing-Sing's demo days, is keeping the beat on the current run.

While recent Visa issues prevented the band from performing the first three dates of the US tour (including a spot at Coachella this weekend), this is still a time of long-overdue joy for Lush fans. Out on April 22 via the band's Edamame label (and featuring Welch on two tracks), the four-song Blind Spot EP is the record so many of us have hoped for over the last 20 years. Naturally, a release of this magnitude comes with extremely high expectations. Fans could have decades to take in and love a disbanded group's previous albums, but they often expect anything new that comes from a reunion to immediately meet and exceed the standards set by past glories. (A perfect example of this is Bauhaus' largely ignored 2008 reunion album, Go Away White, the band's first full-length studio release since 1983. Although its high points are indeed stronger than some of the things the band produced on their final two pre-breakup albums, Go Away White was still doomed to never live up to 25 years of fan lamentation and legend building.)

Thankfully, Blind Spot is a instant classic with material that is powerful enough to stand alongside Lush's beloved discography and make the listener believe that the band's 20-year disappearance never happened. Nowhere on this EP is this more obvious than on the opening “Out Of Control,” a track showcasing the same near-whisper vocals and effects-laden guitar jangle that made the band so endearing the first time around.

The positive vibe of “Out Of Control” is soon overshadowed by the heartbreaking “Lost Boy,” where Berenyi narrates an unexpected encounter with Acland:

There's a face I recognize
Seeing you again is such a lovely surprise
Beckoning me with your smile
Wait just a moment 'til I know we're alone
I feel your fingers slipping out of my hand...I've lost you

From there, she struggles to catch up to him (“Faces crowd you from my sight/ “Seems like I'm always just a moment behind,” “Desperate to be beside you/I didn't know I'd never see you again/Just one moment to be with you again”) before accepting the truth that it was all a dream (“I'm waking, you're fading”). In a little over three minutes, Berenyi sums up the sorrow felt when any of us desperately reaches out for something – a person, a moment – that we will never have again.

The listener is given an opportunity to come down from the heavy emotions of “Lost Boy” on the considerably lighter “Burham Beeches,” a '60s-flavored gem of a tune made even better by a guest appearance by the great Terry Edwards on trumpet.

Blind Spot concludes with the deceptively serene “Rosebud,” which finds Berenyi's initially soothing vocals soon revealing acts of revenge (“Sleep now/ lie in the bed/That's when I send my curse into your heart,” “A drop of blood is all it takes/ to close your eyes and seal your fate.”) As always, Lush's greatest strength is perfectly balancing the angelic with the aggressive.

On another note, full marks to Audrey Riley (cello), Chris Tombling (violin), Leo Payne (violin), Sue Dench (viola) and co-producer Daniel Hunt (programming/keyboards/additional guitar/treatments/backing vocals), whose accompanying performances bring additional life and color to the proceedings.

While it's extraordinary to be able to hold and listen to a new Lush record in 2016, the surviving band members' greatest victory was achieved before they even entered the studio. Rising above a painful past, they decided that now was finally the time to carry on. Lush will never again be what they once were, but what they are able to offer us today on Blind Spot is breathtaking and beautiful.

These people were meant to create music together. It's so wonderful to have them back.

Official Lush Website


READ JOEL'S BIO
EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com
(NOTE: Due to the high volume of emails received, a response is not guaranteed.) 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Shake Some New Action: The Flamin' Groovies Rock Record Store Day



THE FLAMIN' GROOVIES: clockwise from top left w/ photo credits: Cyril Jordan (John Boydston), Victor Penalosa (Ray Flex), Chris Wilson (Ricardo Bernal), George Alexander (Laurence Le Tiec)

The Flamin' Groovies are the best band celebrating their 50th anniversary by releasing a cassingle you'll hear all year. Promise.

On Record Store Day (tomorrow!), the San Francisco-bred cult heroes will unveil a new two-song cassette (yes!) and seven-inch single, “Crazy Macy” / “Let Me Rock,” on CA's infinitely cool Burger Records. (The single is also available for online pre-order.) The release marks the band's first release in more than two decades. In addition to the new single, a special Record Store Day-exclusive Side-By-Side seven-inch picture disc will pair the band's 1979 New Wavey take on Warren Zevon's “Werewolves Of London” with the legendary 1978 original.

Since reforming in 2013, The Flamin' Groovies have hit stages in Japan, Australia, the UK and across the US. A new full-length album and a documentary film on their long-awaited reunion are in the works. The band's current lineup features classic-era members Cyril Jordan, Chris Wilson and George Alexander.

The Jordan/ Wilson/Alexander incarnation of The Flamin' Groovies originally existed from 1971 to 1980 and are best known for the 1976 underground classic Shake Some Action (Sire Records). Joined by new drummer Victor Penalosa, they're currently on the road, showing diehard fans new and old around the globe how the real deal does it. Unlike other extraordinary “lost” American bands (Sonic's Rendezvous Band, The 13th Floor Elevators, etc.), The Flamin' Groovies are still alive and well – and tearing it up while people less than half their age complain about having to get out of bed in the morning. You can't beat the real thing, so catch them now at one of their upcoming shows:

Apr 16 Intxaurrondo K.E., Donostia, Spain
Apr 17 All Tomorrow’s Parties 2.0, Pontins, Prestatyn, North Wales
Apr 19 Whelan's, Dublin, IRL
Apr 20 Brundenell Social Club, Leeds, UK
Apr 21 CCA,Glasgow, SCT
Apr 22 Manchester Club Academy, Manchester, UK
Apr 24 All Tomorrow’s Parties 2.0, Pontins, Manchester, UK (w/ original Flamin' Groovies member Roy Loney!)
Apr 25 Scala, London, UK
April 28 De Zwerver, Leffinge, Belgium
Apr 29 Le Petit Bain, Paris, France
May 01 Hafenklang, Hamburg, Germany
May 03 Folk & Rock, Malmo, Sweden
May 04 Folk & Rock, Malmo, Sweden
May 05 John Dee, Oslo, Norway
May 06 Pustervik, Göteborg, Sweden
May 07 Nobelberget, Stockholm, Sweden
Jun 24 Nuggets Night @ Mississippi Studios, Portland, OR






READ JOEL'S BIO
EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com
(NOTE: Due to the high volume of emails received, a response is not guaranteed.) 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

REVIEW - Department S: When All Is Said and All Is Done






Anyone who doesn't believe in second chances in the music business needs to take a listen to Department S.

Formed from the ashes of Ska-infused British one-hit wonders Guns For Hire (1979's “I'm Gonna Rough My Girlfriend's Boyfriend Up Tonight"), Department S possessed everything that should have made them one of the major acts of the 1980s. Armed with a strong guitarist/songwriter (Mike Herbage), a stellar rhythm section (bassist Tony Lordan and drummer Stuart Mizon) and a commanding frontman in Vaughn Toulouse, the band hit the ground running in 1980 with “Is Vic There?” an instantly memorable slice of moody Post-Punk that sounded like the perfect collision between Bauhaus, Joy Division and Delta 5. Produced by Dale Griffin and Overend Watts of Mott The Hoople fame, “Is Vic There?” rightfully hit the UK Singles Chart and brought Department S to Top of the Pops. (Fun fact: A young Bananarama served as the group's backup singers in the early days!) Clearly, the stage was set for further success, but Department S fell as quickly as they rose.

Just as “As Vic There?” started denting the charts, the group suffered their first personnel casualty with the departure of keyboardist Eddie Roxy (a.k.a. Anthony Edward Lloyd-Barnes). After releasing two singles on Stiff Records (“Going Left Right” / “She's Expecting You” and “I Want”/ “Monte Carlo Or Bust”), Department S hit the studio with Blondie engineer Dave Tickle (and the incomparable Terry Edwards on guest brass) to record their Stiff Records debut album, Sub-Stance. Tragically, a haze of inner band turmoil and industry politics prevented the album's release at the time, and the band subsequently folded in 1982.

Although the tracks from the Stiff album sessions were later included on the 1993 Department S compilation Is Vic There? (Mau Mau Records), it would take until 2002 - two decades after the band's breakup - for the album to see the light of day in its proper form. Issued on LTM Recordings, the '02 release of Sub-Stance includes the complete album as well as single tracks and live numbers from the band's original 1980-1982 run. Still the most readily accessible collection of early Department S music available, the LTM release stands as awe-inspiring proof of just how thrilling (and forward-thinking) this band really was. The charging drums and deep vocals on “Of All The Lost Followers” predict the arrival of Interpol two decade later, while the bulletproof “Romany Blood” could have easily found a home on Killing Joke's What's THIS For...! Later on the disc, the Punk/Funk-driven “Fighting Irish” and “Whatever Happened To The Blues” showcase the balance between edginess and commercialism that so many bands of the era attempted - and failed - to capture. Other highlights of the disc include the broken Disco of “Just Pretend,” the Madness-quality Ska Pop of “Somewhere Between Heaven And Tesco's” and the early Psychedelic Furs vibe of “Put All The Crosses In The Right Boxes.”

Sadly, Toulouse's passing in 1991 prevented any chance of the ”Is Vic There?” -era lineup of Department S reforming and hitting the road to support the rejuvenated record. Despite creating one of the most intriguing repertoires of the Post-Punk genre, Department S was destined to be relegated to footnote status in the history of British music.

Or so we thought.

On May 27, Department S will release When All Is Said and All Is Done on Westworld Recordings. The band's hard-earned identify as a bonafide album act has been been steadily developing for quite some time. Initially reformed in 2007 with Roxy taking over lead vocals and most of the surviving original members in tow, the band made their return to vinyl that November with a cover of Alvin Stardust's “My Coo-Ca-Choo” (with Madness' Mark Bedford on bass, Edwards once again guesting on brass and original-era UK punk Michelle Brigandage on backing vocals).Two years later, they issued the exceptional Wonderful Day EP, a release highlighted by guest appearances by Edwards, guitarist Marco Pirroni (Siouxsie And The Banshees/Adam And The Ants/The Slits) and Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock. In 2011, the group issued the “God Save Savior” / “Slave” single with help from guitarist Sam Burnett (Back To Zero) and former Spandau Ballet drummer John Keeble. (A full-length live album, Mr. Nutley's Strange Delusionarium, followed later that year.)

In 2013, Department S began a new chapter in their career with the addition of former Public Image Limited /Brian Brain/Cowboys International bassist Pete Jones. Best known for his work on PiL's 1982 quasi-official Commercial Zone album, Jones has spent the last several years using the Internet as his sonic playground, releasing his own solo efforts (including 2000's stellar Twisted) and collaborating with a host of international musicians in a variety of projects. (His work with French guitarist Fred Suard as The Creepy Dolls and Clem Chambers as Pete & Charlie is especially worth seeking out.) After some lineup restructuring in recent times, Department S is currently comprised of Roxy, Jones, guitarist Phil Thompson and drummer Alex Lutes. (New dad Herbage is taking a sabbatical.)

With all of that out of the way, let's dive into When All Is Said and All Is Done.

It's always a tricky thing when a band with a decades-old past comes back with a new album these days. Typically, a group in this position either produce something as close to a carbon copy of their past glories as their ages and waistlines allow (often with embarrassing results) or takes their music in inventive and previously unexplored directions. Thankfully, Department S built When All Is Said and All Is Done around fresh musical ideas that honor the spirit of the band's history without being constricted by it.

The biggest difference between the new album and the Department S of old is the voice heard through the speakers, as Toulouse's deep register has been replaced by Roxy's lighter vocal delivery. (Think Gang of Four's Jon King.) Musically, today's Department S offers a considerably more stripped down Rock approach than what was heard on Sub-Stance. While the band has certainly evolved over the years (which makes sense considering that only one member remains from the “Is Vic There?” days), they remain as exciting as ever.

The 2016 incarnation of Department S launch When All Is Said and All Is Done with “King Of The World,” a uptempo scorcher not unlike The Damned circa Phantasmagoria. The album gets even better from there, with the fantastic “I Said You” and “Persia Dance” recalling Shriekback's peppier moments and the stellar title track harkening back to the days of Magazine. The brilliant, razor-sharp guitars are the truest stars of this show, shining from start to finish in a way that makes one imagine Andy Gill playing in The Fall circa I Am Kurious Oranj. (The six-string work on “I Believe” and “Cause” is especially interesting.) Just when you think you have When All Is Said and All Is Done all figured out, the band closes the whole affair with the bass-heavy Trance of “Age Of Control.” While this review mentions other acts when describing the songs on this album, rest assured that they are merely references. Department S have their own thing going on. Simply put, there's not a single dud on this thing.

After a hopeful start halted by disappointments and years of inactivity, Department S have finally achieved their fullest potential. Easily one of the year's best albums, When All Is Said and All Is Done rights the wrongs of the band's tumultuous past and opens the door to the fruitful future they've always deserved.



Photo by Paul Hammond




READ JOEL'S BIO
EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Butcher Babies: The Day The Plasmatics Incinerated Pier 62





There will never be another Wendy O. Williams.

On the 18th anniversary of her passing, I'd like to share this story that former Plasmatics guitarist Richie Stotts told me back in 2002 about the band's legendary performance at New York City's Pier 62 in the fall of 1980. (Video appears at the bottom of this feature.) This story is part of an extensive oral history of the band by Richie that appears in my 2010 book, From Satan to Sabbath:The METAL Interviews 2000-2009

Here's Richie:

“We got a permit from New York City to film a movie, and we were gonna do it on the Pier. We built a stage out there. A real freakin’ stage. It was five feet high and made of plywood, which cost a lot of money. Then we built all phony stage amps and stuff. Even the guitars we played were not really real. Then we went to the studio and recorded the songs we were gonna play. The recorded them without the vocals, because Wendy was gonna sing live. Then we had to get a PA system out there to play the music. Then we had a ramp going off the stage, and behind the stage was the end of the pier and the Hudson River.

In the meantime, we didn’t tell New York City that we put posters all around saying that there was going to be a free concert by the Plasmatics. Then we invited Chuck Scarborough and those characters from ABC, NBC, CBS to come down. We did a press release.

So we built the stage a couple days before. I built part of that stage, hammering the freakin’ shit in. We built a drum riser, got a cheap drum set, threw it up there. The plan was for us to do the songs, and Wendy would go to the front of the pier, get in the Cadillac, drive the car at us and go up the ramp. Then we’d jump off the stage, everything would explode and the car would hit this barrier in the back. It was a real Cadillac, and we wanted to use that for our next show. We buy these cars, and then we’d drive them to the show and blow them up.

Later on, we got a great pyro guy named 'Pyro Pete,' but before him we had a guy named Rob. We didn’t know much about pyro, but Swenson thought Rob was taking care of it. And all Rob did was have 10-gallon tanks cut in half under the stage, and he just poured gasoline in them. This was not what we expected. If the fire department had seen that, it would have been all off. There was a tiff before the show, because we were all nervous.

It was wild, because so many people came. My parents actually came to this thing. We rented a helicopter, so we’d come down in the helicopter. We came down and it looked like Woodstock. It was just jam-packed. The police department was there; the fire department was there. It was really exciting, and really exciting because we didn’t really have to worry about playing because it was already taped. (laughs)

We went down there, and we played these songs and it was great. Wendy goes and gets the car, drives the car up the stage, jumps out and everybody’s fine. The car goes up the ramp, but doesn’t go up the ramp the way we thought it would. The whole stage blew up, the gasoline tanks worked…but the car just kept going and went right into the river.

The whole thing was great!”







READ JOEL'S BIO
EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Keep Rage Alive: Inside Al Jourgensen's Surgical Meth Machine


Photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions 

Before you read anything else here, go have a listen to “TV II” off Ministry's Psalm 69.

Now, imagine that song even more frenetic and spread over almost an entire album, and you'll get an idea of what to expect from Al Jourgensen's latest musical maelstrom.

Out April 15 via Nuclear Blast, Surgical Meth Machine's self-titled debut album finds the Ministry/Revolting Cocks (RevCo)/Lard leader (along with engineer/partner-in-crime Sam D’Ambruoso) not only creating the heaviest, most intense sounds of his nearly 40-year career, but also delivering what is easily his strongest and most cohesive album in a decade. Highlights of the 12-track release include Lard collaborator Jello Biafra's guest turn on the blistering “I Don't Wanna” and the hyper-fast insanity of “Tragic Alert.”

After bashing listeners over the head for more than half the album, Surgical Meth Machine takes a surprisingly melodic turn with a five-song block that concludes with the mellow (but no less menacing) “I'm Invisible.” Twenty-seven years after helping to define the sound of the '90s with Ministry's The Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Taste (and more than 30 years after helping to build the American Industrial scene through his early work on the legendary Wax Trax! label), Jourgensen is producing work in the here and now that is as innovative and challenging as ever.

The high quality of the Surgical Meth Machine album made sense when I recently got Uncle Al on the phone for our first interview in four years and heard an incredibly focused, clear-headed and insightful guy with plenty to say about his career (past and present) and the world around hm. After decades of notoriously debauched living (and a few spotty musical moments along the way as a result), Jourgensen appears to be entering the next chapter of his career in his strongest position in years.

Al's back and he has his shit together, folks. Watch the fuck out. 


The last time we spoke, you were living in Texas; now, you're in Los Angeles. How's the city treating you?

I've lived here before, so it was no problem. I knew what to expect. It was nice living in Texas for a total of 14, 16 years, but I've been out here on and off for about six years. It's home; I love it out here.

Most people who have been in this industry for 35-plus years tend to kind of mellow out at this point in their careers, but this is probably your most intense record ever. What enables you to keep your edge and anger after all this time?

Well, look outside your window. (laughs) The world's a pretty fucked up place. If you can't get inspiration from that, then you're not paying much attention.

Despite the sheer intensity of this record, there are some funny moments on here, and obviously there's always been a touch of humor in your work. Do you feel that's often missed by people when they take in what you're offering them?

I'm sure it is, but that's just my personality. I really find that the best way to combat something is through humor instead of just violence or anger. If we can elicit a chuckle out of something that makes you think about something, that's the path that I feel most comfortable taking. 






How has your approach to making records evolved over the years?

It's kind of the same M.O. for like the last decade of so. Especially since I have a lot of bands that I'm associated with, instead of setting down a specific amount of time and living, breathing, eating and sleeping that particular band for a certain period of time, I just set aside three to four months of my year and just record ideas that have been building up in my head or that I've written down or hummed in some recorder somewhere along the way. At the end of those four months, I'll listen back to what we've done. Whoever happens to be there is also a big dictating factor on where these songs go. For me, my last decade or so of writing has been more like songs writing a band instead of a band writing songs. At the end of four months, I'll be like, 'You know what? That song kind of sounds perfectly tailor-made for a Ministry album' or 'That song has a funny-ass riff. Let's put that one in RevCo' or 'You know what? Jello Biafra just spent the weekend here at my house. He loves this song; let's set that aside in the Lard pile for a future Lard release.' If we don't know what the hell to make of a song, we'll say, 'Just put it on the shelf and eventually some band name will come to us someday.' But on this one, me and Sammy, my longtime engineer, jotted down all of our ideas. We went in and did our four months of recording; meanwhile, some friends had come by and listened to it and went, 'Man, that shit's dope! You've got to release this stuff.' And I'm like, 'Yeah, okay. Whatever.' And they're like, 'No, I'm serious. This has to be released; this album's awesome.' I'm like, 'What album? We're just putting down ideas.' The next thing I know, I've got some labels calling me and stuff. They're like, 'We really want to release it; what do you call the band?' We didn't even have a band name, let alone thinking that this was going to be a record. (laughs) This is quite the accidental band happening right now. It wasn't meant to be like that; it was just meant to be ideas that were going to be scattered throughout my little fictitious kingdom that I have in my brain. (laughs) Instead, it turned out to be like a legitimate release. I'm still kind of taken aback by it; it's pretty funny... There was no intention of making this a band or touring or doing photo shoots or fucking press, for that matter. I'm still freaked out that I have to wake up on Mondays and Fridays and, for eight hours, spill the beans on something that wasn't supposed to happen. It's really bizarre, but I'll go along with it. I'm having fun.





You've had a lot of collaborators over your career. What makes Sammy the best person for you to work with right now?

He's been with us for two Ministry records and two RevCo records. He's just a really great drum programmer; I think that's my favorite thing [about him]. We have a comfort level. I tend to do things a little bit out of the ordinary, and he rolls with the punches that way... He fits right in with every other knucklehead we have in our little satellite circle. People like Jello Biafra come in, or [Fear Factory frontman] Burton Bell comes in, or whoever happens to be around that week. There's a cast of characters from Ministry and Cocks, and Sammy is just one of the members of that. He just fits right in as opposed to having somebody who might be doing things by the book. The first thing we do is shred the book and light in on fire and proceed from there. (laughs) He seems to roll with that.

You've mentioned Biafra a couple of times, and Jello's been in your orbit for a long time. What does he add to a project that makes you keep that studio door open to him every few years?

I don't care what he adds to a project; we spend time together because we're friends... I don't usually get him down here specifically to record something unless we've stored up enough riffs on the shelf after recording for four month and there's enough Lard songs there. If we could actually finish a record if we had three for four more, then I might give a Jello call. I'm going to have to do that this year, because we're getting frightfully close to getting done with a Lard record with riffs that he and I like. We might actually make a concentrated effort on getting that project done next. I think that's probably the next one in store. We're pretty close on RevCo and Ministry, too, but I think for sure we've got a Lard album pretty well ready to do the final push on.

Now that Surgical Meth Machine has sort of become a band, what does it look like at this point as far as bringing this material out live? I know you had a 10-piece band re-create the songs on the '89 tour; I imagine this would be something similar.

First of all, I would hate to do a tour on just one record. If it's just one record of material you’ve got, you might as well sit at home, spark up a fatty and listen to the record as opposed to paying a bunch of money and hearing probably shitty sound in whatever venue it's at to watch a bunch of old white fatties on stage trying to re-create the album that you could be smoking a fatty to in the comfort of your home. It doesn’t make sense. (laughs) I would have to do at least one SMM record and then be able to pick and choose before we go on tour with that... I would hate to say never, but I seriously doubt under that modus operandi that I would be able to do a tour at this point, plus the mitigating factor that we have no band. (laughs) I would have to put a band together and all this other stuff, when I think my time is much more well spent getting all of these half-finished projects that I have floating around in the ether to come to fruition. I'd rather create than re-create.






When you released RevCo's Sex-O Olympic-O in 2008, you said that was the best record you ever did. Now that you're a few records beyond that point, what are your thoughts on that album now?

I think it's way up there; I think it's really good as an album and in the way it flows. Yeah, I like that one. Some press thing had me list the Ministry albums in order [of quality]. There's like two of them on there that are like Sex-O Olympic-O. My likes are different in that they don't just come from a paradigm of what I feel is the best musical record. I also have insights and thoughts on the whole recording process, what problems we had during the making of it, what was going in my life and what was going on in the world. So there are favorites that may not necessarily be my favorite musically, but they were the most fun to make. For instance, my best album that I think I've ever made from a strictly selfish point of view is Buck Satan and the 666 Shooters. I had so much fun making that record [2012's Bikers Welcome Ladies Drink Free], and I think it transferred to the actual recording of it. That one always holds a special place in my heart. The rest of them all have their merits to some degree – some of them a lot less, to an extent. But I guess they all have their purpose, or they wouldn't have been released. But yeah, Sex-O's a fine record. I approve that message!





Since the album is 30 years old this year, I wanted to bring up Twitch, which was obviously a major transition point for Ministry. How do you view that album now in terms of its importance in Ministry's career?

It was towards the bottom of my list. (laughs) It was also the last record I didn’t have full control over. Obviously, that first Arista record [1983's With Sympathy] I had zero control over. Twitch came after that, where Adrian Sherwood was the last time I used another producer on something. But I learned a lot from that record. It wasn't on the bottom of my list, but it was the last time I actually did not have control over a record. In that sense, I don't feel comfortable saying, 'Wow, that's record's great!” or anything. If I did, it would only be half-great at most, because there were other people involved. I like keeping the quality control within our little camp of crazies. This was a producer I never worked with before or didn't really know about. Great guy, and I learned everything I know from [him]. It was the best thing I ever did in retrospect, because it sent me off realizing, 'I can probably produce my own stuff.' From there is where I think the real drastic change came, because the next album out was The Land Of Rape And Honey. I think you can see incremental leaps and bounds in the progression thereof.





Lastly, we have another presidential election coming up. What kind of material do you think you'll end up getting out of this latest shit show?

I'm not biting on the low-hanging fruit on this one. I'm sorry. I already know that there's about four or five bands that have already got Trump on the cover and this and that, and that's just playing right into the hands of what he wants. The guy's just getting free advertising, and the entire world takes that seriously... Here's the scary part about Trump; let's just go right to Trump, okay? I've been doing European press all this week, and that's all everyone wants to talk about. So okay, I'll talk about it.

Here's the deal, man. Trump is not the scary thing; Trump is a byproduct of what society has become... Let's say three out of 10 people in America think that he would be a good commander-in-chief, or that his ideas have any kind of logic behind them or would be a good idea. That's three out of 10, and he's getting $9 out of $10 of free advertising from the media. People believe that shit because people just believe the media. It's easy, it's quick and it's accessible. People don't want to dig deeper or think about the ramifications of what they're digesting; they just go ahead and read it, and therefore it's true. Seven out of 10 people don't think that his ideas are very logical or cool, so that's the one comforting thing. What's scary is not Trump; it's that three out of 10 people actually think that his ideas are sound. (laughs)

I talk to these European people, and they're frightened as shit of the possibility of a Trump presidency. What they don't do is look in the mirror and realize that the right wing is making a complete comeback in Germany and France. We had that in Germany before; I think that was right before Hitler came to power, if you recall. It's this sense of playing on people's fears, and this nationalistic fervor. All they want to do is tap into the anger as opposed to tap into the solutions. They're having the exact same crisis in Europe as they're sitting there bashing the Americans for being so stupid as to possibly even elect a Trump – which is not going to happen, okay? But because of the media, they're convinced it is [happening], because that's the only media they hear about. It's really an askew view of society in general. It also makes them feel better about themselves because, 'Well, at least we don't have Trump.' Well, guess what – you do. The National Front has gained seats in Parliament every year in France since the migrant crisis because they're playing on people's fears with the Middle East migrants, just as Trump is with the Mexican migrants here. It's all fear-based policies, and everyone is equally culpable for keeping that myth perpetuated.

I can't disagree with that. We're living in a very scary point in history; that's for sure.

Well, last time, it led to a world war, so keep that in mind. So it is scary. But like I said, the comforting thing is that 70 percent of people in this country realize that this is not such a good idea. Last time I checked, all you need is 51 percent for a democracy – if you want to call it that. We're well above that; we might actually make the right decision.

*Portions of this interview were edited for length and clarity. 



READ JOEL'S BIO
EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Runaway Looks Back: Lita Ford on Her Painful Past and Thunderous Future



Lita Ford in the '80s (photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions)

Having Lita Ford on the other end of the phone is like getting a jolt of energy directly into your eardrum. Affable and eager to chat, the former Runaways guitarist and undisputed Queen of Heavy Metal certainly had a lot to talk about during our recent call, starting off with her fantastic upcoming album.

Out April 15 on SPV/Steamhammer, Time Capsule is a special collection of previously unreleased songs written by Ford in the '80s and demoed in the late '80s/very early '90s with a host of a big-name friends from the era. Musicians on the tracks include Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, Gene Simmons of KISS, Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big/The Winery Dogs), Dave Navarro (Jane's Addiction) and Jeff Scott Soto, among others. The songs were drawn from a number of 24-track analog tapes found in a closest while Ford was clearing out her home following her divorce from former Nitro singer Jim Gillette. The recordings represent moments of fun with friends put down on tape without any serious consideration of where the sessions would ultimately end up.

“We were just goofing around and we were just open for anything,” Ford says. “Because we were goofing around and we weren’t doing this for album purposes, we didn't think it would be used [or] be put on an album. It's got that loose feel and that vibe to it where anything goes.”

Three of Time Capsule's tracks (“Killing Kind,” “Where Will I Find My Heart Tonight” and the astonishing “War Of The Angels”) were later found on Ford's 1995 album, Black, but appear here in a more relaxed - and considerably stronger - form than what producers The Robb Brothers turned the songs into on the final record.

“[They] are great guys; don't get me wrong,” she says. “They were fantastic, but they made a mess of the songs [on Black], and they didn't come out as good as the demos, let's just say.”

Recorded circa '89, “Rotten To The Core” finds Gene Simmons laying down a pounding bass line while then-KISS six stringer Bruce Kulick brings in extra guitar.

“Gene and Bruce had the song already basically started,” Ford recalls. “There's different versions of that song; the version I got was just bass, and Gene was trying to sing me the guitar lines. He said, 'You know, I can't sing this. Let me get Bruce in here.' So Bruce came down and showed me the rhythm parts, and we left it at that and I finished the song. It was a three-way writing session, which turned out to be a blast in the studio. Gene was very serious about his work. It's a cool song.”

One of Time Capsule's most unexpected contributors, Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, plays mandolin and guitar on “Killing Kind.” Just another happy accident in Los Angeles.

“He was in the studio next door to us,” Ford says. “Somebody came in and said, 'Hey, Dave Navarro's next door.' I said, 'Shit, grab him! Bring him in here; let's put him on something!'”





Sadly, Time Capture is also a reminder of an absent friend. Many of the album's songs feature former Odin/Lostboys bassist Jimmy Tavis, who passed away in 2009. Ford remembers the fallen musician fondly.

“Jimmy was a doll, an absolute doll,” she says, “As a matter of fact, his big brother [Bernie] is in the 'Shot Of Poison' video. He's the hot-looking, sexy guy who tears up plastic...We wrapped him in Saran Wrap, and he breaks out of it. It's just a really cool look. Jimmy's in the 'Larger Than Life' video.' I met him backstage in Las Vegas at a Chippendales show, which his brother was in. One of the guys in the Chippendales show was dancing to one of my songs, 'Cherry Red.' I went backstage to say hello to the guy who's dancing to my song, and I met Jimmy, because he was there with his brother. We ended up living together for a while; he lived at my house. We had a lot of good times, and he was just a sweetheart of a guy. He had some health issues, and it broke my heart because he was so young and handsome. He was just too young to have health issues.”

Considering how youthful and vibrant Ford sounds in conversation, it's truly hard to believe that this year marks the 40th anniversary of the first Runaways album. While that band was obviously Ford's first opportunity to showcase her killer guitar skills to the world, the stunning “I'm A Million” off 1978's criminally overlooked And Now... The Runaways also put her in the lead vocal position for the first time in her life.

“It was [producer John Alcock's] idea,” she recalls of the uncharacteristic six-minute number. “[He] wanted to bring out my guitar playing, and I got stuck singing it. I was like... I didn't know how to sing yet! I hadn't really gone through vocal lessons. My guitar playing is a gift from God; I picked up the guitar and started playing when I was a kid... But when it came to lead vocals, that was a whole different animal for me. 'I'm A Million' was the producer’s idea to bring out my guitar playing more so than anything else. He focused on the main musicians in the band, which were Sandy and I. That's kind of how that song came about.”

Soon after that album's release, The Runaways were no more. Ford grew her voice into one of the most recognizable and cherished sounds of '80s Hard Rock/Metal, while fellow Runaway guitarist Joan Jett went on to build a successful solo career that thrives to this day. With original singer Cherie Currie also still out there performing, what are the realistic chances of The Runaways reforming? While drummer Sandy West and bassist Laurie McAllister are no longer with us (and surviving bassists Micki Steele, Peggy Foster, Jackie Fox and Vicki Blue are all busy with individual lives and projects out of the spotlight), will it ever be possible for the band's main three surviving members to figure out a way to join up again for something new? As made frustratingly clear in Ford's recently released (and impossible-to-put-down) memoir, Living Like A Runaway, any talk of the band's return seems to dissipate as soon as Jett and/or her manager, Kenny Laguna, enter the picture. But why does Jett have such a wall up when it comes to revisiting The Runaways, even after so many years?

“It's her managers; it's not her,” Ford replies. “They have an issue with me; they always have... Right from the moment The Runaways broke up, they just put up a brick wall and said, 'You are not coming anywhere near our Joan.' I thought, 'What?!' We were sisters in The Runaways; we got along great. We were the only two out of the band who never argued; we never fought and never had a cross word to each other, ever. And then there's this guy all of a sudden who is telling me basically to go fuck myself - not only that, [but] trying to sabotage my career so Joan can have it all. I personally think the world is big enough for more than one female. We have Chrissie Hynde; we have Pat Benatar. There are so many other females out there, but for some reason, he saw me as a threat to Joan. And I wasn't. We're two totally different artists; our music isn't even alike. We appeal to different audiences. He feels like it's a competition between us, and he's turned it into a war. I kept my mouth shut for 30 years while he continued to sabotage my career. He would call photographers, he would call video directors [and] he would call booking agents and say things like, 'If you put Lita Ford on that tour, you will never work with Joan Jett again.' Nine times out of 10, the people would tell him to go screw off and they would do it anyway. But there were a couple of times that really fucked me up. It's like, 'Dude, focus on your own artist and leave me alone!' He's still doing it today. It's retarded. I love the girl; I want to work with her, and I think now's a great time if we did work together. So it's him, not Joan.”





Easily the most intriguing Rock autobiography in years, Living Like A Runaway offers (among other things) a glimpse into Ford's insanely wild ride in the music business. From rising to the top of an industry swarming with misogynistic musicians and clueless managers to having enough fun with the opposite sex to make even Pamela Des Barres blush, Ford offers readers an experience so vivid that they can practically smell the pizza from the Rainbow on the pages. However, the good times come to a screeching halt when the story delves into Ford's tumultuous mid-'80s relationship with Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi. While Ford worshipped Iommi as a musician from the moment she first saw him live with the Sabs at the Long Beach Auditorium in 1971, she claims that being close to him during the following decade meant being subjected to an abusive, terrifying drug addict who beat her on more than one occasion. (As she details in the book, one particularly violent episode with Iommi led to her to seek refuge at former boyfriend Nikki Sixx's house. Concerned, Sixx offered her heroin to help treat the pain of her concussion; she snorted a little before falling asleep. The next day, she found out Iommi was rehearsing with her bassist, Gordon Copley, and drummer, Eric Singer, behind her back. Finally having enough, she packed up and left for good. Singer offers some of his own recollections from the time period here.)

Not surprisingly, initial news reports of this content appearing in Living Like A Runaway led to a firestorm of vitriol aimed towards Ford, with the comment section brigade accusing her of being everything from a delusional liar to an opportunist looking to drum up publicity for her book and album. (Sadly, this kind of negative knee-jerk reaction against an accuser has become all too common in today's music world, as other female artists have received similar online attacks in recent times when speaking out about being abused by well-known males in this industry.) Ford not only sticks by her story, but has no time for the rabble gathering on the Internet to condemn her for what she has to say.

“First of all, I don't read that crap, because it is crap and they don't know the true story unless they've read the book or have been there themselves,” she says. “You can ask Nikki... I went to his house. I had been beaten up severely; the guy almost killed me. A lot of it maybe could have been his drug problem. He was taking mass quantities of drugs like you wouldn't fucking believe, on an Elvis Presley level. Jars and jars of downers...He would buy hundreds of dollars' worth of cocaine on a daily basis.

“There are different kinds of abuse, and people need to realize that,” she continues. “There's sexual abuse, there's mental and emotional abuse – where people say really horrible things to you – and then there's physical abuse, where someone just turns around and hits you. Tony was physically abusive. He was not verbally abusive [or] sexually abusive; he was just physically abusive. I'm not making it up; I couldn't possibly make up a story like that. I'm not that good of a liar... He had choked me unconscious – true story, like it or not. I woke up, and he was in a rage. I bolted for the door. He was not dressed; he was in his underwear, so he wasn't going to follow me out into the hallway. I'm sure that I'm not the first woman that he's done this to. Maybe his wife who he was with before he was with me... I'm sure she's been pushed around. But I was in love with Tony. He was my everything; he was my world, my idol, my lover. I was going to marry him; I was engaged. I didn't know anything about an abusive relationship. I had never been in one before. I asked my mother; I actually lied to my mother and I said, 'Mom, I've got a girlfriend whose boyfriend hit her.' And she said [mimicking a thick Italian accent], 'Lita, he do it once, he do it again.' I just went, 'Oh my God.' He had done it more than once, and I knew that it was only a matter of time; I needed to get out of there. Thank God we weren't married and we had no kids, so I packed up and left. I'm sorry for the people who love Tony, but nobody loved him as much as I did, and I'm the one who suffered from it. I went into like a post-traumatic stress [scenario] because of what he did. It affected me in a huge, huge way. I went out and got that tattoo on my shoulder with the dragon and the guitar. It was a rebellious thing; I didn't even want a tattoo. He wouldn't let me drink alcohol, but he can do all these drugs. That was okay, but he wouldn't let me have a glass of wine. When we split up, I went on a drinking binge, just because Tony said I couldn’t. If you read his book [2011's Iron Man: My Journey Through Heaven & Hell With Black Sabbath], his chapter about me is only a page and a half. We were together two years, so I don't know how two years turns into a page and a half – probably because he doesn't remember half of it.”

While Ford has spent a lot of time looking at her past lately, she is focused on kicking ass in the present and future. At 57, she is still active on the road and in the studio, currently gearing up for a tour with Halestorm beginning April 1 and a new album slated for 2017. Currently, she is backed by a bulletproof group of musicians including guitarist Patrick Kennison (ex Union Underground), bassist Marty O'Brien and former Vinnie Vincent Invasion/Nelson drummer Bobby Rock.

“Together, we're just rolling thunder,” she says.

Armed with an incredible new book and one of the year's best albums, Lita Ford is proof that the real thing can have a long career in music. Forty years later, she is still tearing it up – just like the Queen of Heavy Metal always has. If you're new to Lita Ford or want a powerful reminder of how great she truly is, Time Capsule is where to go.




Photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions 

Official Lita Ford Website

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com