Friday, February 27, 2015

FEATURE - The Real Thing Never Dies: The Pagans Are Back



The Pagans, 2015. Left to right: Ben Reagan, Tony Matteucci, Mike Hudson, Mike D'Amico, Loren Molinare. Photo by Julie Molinare

Author's Note: Shortly after conducting this interview, Mike Hudson was involved in a near-fatal car accident in Los Angeles. To aid in his lengthy recovery, a number of his closest friends are gathering for a special benefit concert on March 6 at Loaded Hollywood. More information (including the full lineup) is available here. Additionally, The Pagans have released their new track, “NoWhere Girl,” as a benefit single. My best wishes to Mike for a speedy recovery.

Four years ago, it looked like notorious writer and Cleveland Punk legend Mike Hudson was finally calming down. After a lifetime of hedonistic ups and horrendous downs, the incendiary scribe and Pagans frontman found himself living comfortably in Niagara Falls. Earning a living as the owner of a popular newspaper (The Niagara Falls Reporter) and years removed from the dirty stages he called home during his music days, Hudson – a man as well known for his self-destructive ways as he was for his creativity - had arrived at middle age with a day-to-day life that actually resembled stability.

But that all changed with a trip to California.

In the fall of 2011, Hudson received a call from Loren Molinare, longtime frontman of legendary LA/Detroit band The Dogs, inviting the singer to appear in the video for the band's cover of The Pagans classic, “Her Name Was Jane.” Happy to oblige, Hudson flew out to Los Angeles – and into the arms of a powerful new muse.

No stranger to the world of Rock 'N' Roll, the stunning Evita Corby was the former wife of Babys guitarist Michael Corby and the lady whose derriere graced the back cover of the Kill City album by Iggy Pop and James Williamson. Appearing as the female lead in the “Jane” video at the behest of photographer and longtime Dogs associate Heather Harris, she soon found herself the recipient of Hudson's amorous gaze.

“I feel like a ton of bricks,” he recalls.

Molinare will never forget how easily the two connected.

“It was kind of like being a onlooker to Richard Burton and Liz Taylor filming Cleopatra,” he says. “There was this intensity and electricity on the shoot.”

Before long, Hudson was selling his newspaper and heading to the Golden State to be with her.

(Crazy, right? You betcha, but you'll have to read the book to get the details on just how crazy.) 

Once unpacked and settled into the Land of Insecurity – oops, I mean Opportunity – known as Los Angeles, Hudson soon discovered that the city's deceptively sunny environs were perfect for a writer/musician with a penchant for chronicling – and living – the less savory aspects of the human condition.

“When I first lived here, I had an apartment in the hills that was right across the alley from a movie studio,” he recalls. “Out of my window, you could see a billboard that advertised a hotel; the billboard said, 'We're so Hollywood, our pool should be shallow at both ends.' It's a very shallow place, but I love it.”

Not surprisingly, Hudson's new locale soon inspired the creation of new music. The lyrics to the first song he wrote in Los Angeles, “Hollywood High,” were written after hearing some music Molinare (who also plays with LA Hard Rock veterans Little Caesar) had been developing at home.

“Mike came over on Christmas day,” Molinare recalls. “He came up to my music room and I said, 'Listen to this.' He goes, 'Lay it down for me,' The next day, he calls me up and he had the lyrics, and we wrote it. It was just instantly written.”

After “Hollywood High” provided the initial jolt of inspiration, the songs kept coming. Hudson would come up with the lyrical concept, and Molinare would take it from there.

“With Mike being a writer, it's easy to give him imagery, like, 'You're standing in the hallway. Sing what you might feel like if you're in the detention home watching these kids come in,'” explains the guitarist. “It was quick and fast. We didn't think about or analyze anything. It's probably the most spontaneous project I've ever played on. Rock 'N' Roll is an untamed beast; we just jumped on her back and let her take us where she went.”

Naturally, Hudson has a similarly high opinion of his co-writer.

“I think he's the best guitar player walking around today, and that's because he never stopped playing,” he says.

The collaboration between Hudson and Molinare has greater significance than simply putting together a killer collection of songs. Molinare's wife, Julie, was married to Hudson's brother and original Pagans drummer, Brian, who was killed in a car accident in 1991. Already a close friend of the family, Molinare later fell in love with and married Julie, helping to raise Brian and Julie's son, Marlon. (“He turned out really well for being of Hudson blood!” offers his uncle with a chuckle.)

“It was a relationship built through family for 20-some years,” Molinare says. “It was just coincidental that Mike was in The Pagans, a Cleveland street rock band, and I had my background with The Dogs being from Michigan. Being Midwest guys, we're not like LA or New York guys. On a musical level, it was real easy to relate to each other.”

Along the way, the two (along with one-time Pagans drummer David Liston) ended up in Nashville on the dime of an unnamed producer who offered Hudson some money to record a Country album.

“Every once in a while, we would cut a really bad version of one of these really bad Country and Western songs and send them back east just to make the guy think we were working on what he wanted us to work on,” Hudson says. “But really what we were doing was recording Hollywood High.”

Released November 4 on Ruin Discos, Hollywood High delivers an eight-song, 33-minute blast of energy that reminds listeners of what the real deal sounds like. Of course, the album's power isn't a surprise when considering that Hudson's been putting out records since the '70s and Molinare has been rocking with The Dogs in one way or another since the late '60s. Simply put, Hollywood High is worthy of the Pagans name. (Read a full review of the album here.)

“As I got into this project, I thought, 'This is as good as anything I ever did [with The Pagans],” Hudson remembers. “I called [original Pagans guitarist] Mike Metoff back in Cleveland and sent him the songs, and he was like, 'Go for it.' He and I are still very close. With his blessing, I thought it was cool. Even though it doesn't sound like 1978-era Pagans, it still has that edge. It's like The Pagans grew up.”

“It was a heavy statement from Mike to call it Mike Hudson and The Pagans,” adds Molinare. “Pagans fans could hear this album and go, 'Well, it's not like the Pagans I remember,' but those Pagans fans from 35 years ago have grown up and probably could relate to what is on [the album] now. A lot of the reviews validate what we were trying to do with the record.”

With a great new record to promote, Hudson and Molinare assembled a new Pagans lineup with Dogs drummer Tony Matteucci and White Murder bassist Mike D'Amico. On December 6, the new quartet performed a set at the Hollywood High record release party at Blue Bag Records in Silver Lake. It was the first time Hudson performed a full live set in over a decade. Not surprisingly, the band easily won over the uber-hip crowd of Los Angeles rockers and tastemakers.

“The response was really cool,” Molinare says, “Mike came out and read from one of his books, so we had some spoken word before we launched into the set.”

“Most of the people in the audience weren't civilians; they were musicians and writers,” adds Hudson. “The fact that it was well-received by that audience meant a lot to me.”

Later that month, The Pagans (who by then also included former Feederz/current Richie Ramone guitarist Ben Reagan) recorded a new song, “NoWhere Girl.” Then came the launch of an official Facebook page

There wasn't anyone familiar with The Pagans who expected any of this to be happening nearly 40 years after the band's first single. And that includes Mike Hudson, a man pushing 60 whose entire life has been a series of unexpected twists and turns.

“Coming out here has made all the difference in the world,” he says. “It's almost like I planned it (laughs).”

Photo by Julie Molinare



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