Thursday, October 27, 2016

Never Enuff: Why Chip Z'Nuff Ain't Slowing Down

Photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions 

In 1993, Enuff Z’Nuff – a band nine years into their career – found themselves at the peak of their powers as they tore the roof off the place during a live appearance on Late Night with David Letterman. The spot was in support of their third album, Animals with Human Intelligence, which was released on industry powerhouse Arista Records. Fast-forward 23 years, and Enuff Z’Nuff – now with only founding bassist Chip Z’Nuff remaining from the glory days – are playing in front of a small crowd at a bar in Haverhill, MA on a Thursday night. The many events that transpired between those two moments could fill 20 books, but the highlights include major label woes, debt, changing musical tastes, frequent lineup changes, death, burnout …and some of the finest Pop-infused Rock songs you’ll ever hear.

Sure, Enuff Z’Nuff are commonly (and unjustly) lumped in with the Glam Metal fad of the '80s, but if you strip away the makeup and assorted trappings of the time, their 1989 self-titled debut album is basically the best Squeeze album that Split Enz never wrote. Subsequent releases (including 1991’s stellar Strength) demonstrated that the band could maintain high songwriting standards even as the Grunge movement pushed them out of the spotlight. In a perfect world, Enuff Z’Nuff's stadium-worthy songs would provide Chip Z’Nuff a life of riches; instead, he’s a middle-aged musician currently traveling to club after club in a van. Enuff Z’Nuff should have sold millions of albums; instead, Z'Nuff tells me that the band’s two records on ATCO/Atlantic back in the day somehow left them $750,000 in the hole despite going Gold. When the band’s time with their second label, Arista, resulted in only modest album sales, they began a second life as an indie label act and have existed with varying success to this day. Along the way, both ATCO/Arista-era guitarist Derek Frigo and longtime drummer Ricky Parent passed away. It certainly hasn’t been a smooth and happy ride for this bunch.  

But despite the constant shit thrown their way, Enuff Z’Nuff have never stopped putting out amazing music. Nearly 20 albums later, the band is still as active and creative as ever. In fact, Z’Nuff and singer Donnie Vie have more original songs just sitting around than most bands compose in a lifetime.

“Donnie and I probably have six albums in the can,” explains Z’Nuff. “We’ve written more than Zeppelin, more than Queen - all of them bands. We have tons of stuff. I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but my fucking band – Donnie and I – have been very prolific. We’ve written a lot of songs, in the early days all the way through our career.”

Of course, being able to produce such an extensive repertoire requires considerable focus, which Enuff Z’Nuff has been able to maintain despite the common – and often very fun – distractions that come from indulging in the Rock ‘n’ Roll lifestyle.

“In the old days, my band partied our asses off. We did more cocaine than Guns N’ Roses! We fucked more chicks than you can imagine on tour. We were out of control, but one thing we never shortcutted anybody on was the songs. We always focused our attention on great songs and strong performances, and that was the most important thing in Enuff Z’Nuff. The trim and the substance abuse was secondary.”

Unfortunately, years of band life have taken a heavy toll on Donnie Vie. Worn out, he stepped away from Enuff Z’Nuff in 2013. Z’Nuff insists that Vie is still an important part of the group.

“Donnie is not kicked out of the band; Donnie chose to get out because he was disillusioned by the business and he’s dealing with health issues. Maybe it was time for him to take a break, but he’ll always be in Enuff Z’Nuff.”

With long-serving guitarist Johnny Monaco taking over on vocals, Enuff Z’Nuff soldiered on as a trio until Monaco’s health precipitated his own split from the group. Undeterred, Z’Nuff decided to take over fronting the band himself. 

“I’ve dedicated my whole like to Enuff Z’Nuff; it’s my job,” he says. “When Monaco said he was leaving because he had some issues with his hands, and I guess he wasn’t interested in singing the songs anymore, I decided that maybe I’ll give it a go. I talked to Donnie, and he said, ‘Look, you wrote these songs with me. You go out there and sing them. People will know it’s Enuff Z’Nuff if you’re in front.’”

In addition to Z'Nuff, the current incarnation of Enuff Z’Nuff includes guitarist Tory Stoffrege, drummer Daniel Hill and – get this – former Ultravox frontman Tony Fennell on guitar. (A brand-new interview with Tony regarding his time in Ultravox and membership in Enuff Z’Nuff is available HERE.)

“These fucking guys can sing,” says Z’Nuff of his current bandmates. “They really play their asses off and sing well, and they believe in the legacy of Enuff Z’Nuff.”

Photo by Joel Gausten

As tight as the band is at this stage of the game, Z’Nuff acknowledges that he has a steep hill to climb if he is going to re-establish Enuff Z’Nuff in today’s marketplace.

“It’s a tough time right now. We’re in a time in the music business where there’s too product and not enough demand. Everybody’s got a fucking band; everybody’s trying to sell records and get out there. We’ve got a name, and we’ve got some big fans out there who love our band. Besides the rock stars like the Cheap Tricks and the Aerosmiths, we’ve got guys like Green Day and Foo Fighters saying nice things about us. Howard Stern is a big proponent; he still loves the band and still talks about us. I know millions of people know who the band is; we said, ‘We’ve got to give it another chance.

“Here I am playing a club tonight, and 200 people are there, but they all love the band and the band sounds strong,” he adds. “It’s a good show; I’m focusing on the first three records, which sold the most for us. There’s a lot more material in the kitty, but if we're going to play an hour-long set, I want to focus on those early songs…If it gets bigger and grows, I’ll put more songs in the set and I’ll mix it up.”

Of course, writing a great song (or 60) is only half the battle. In order to find the right ears for their tunes, Enuff Z’Nuff needed the right label to help them move forward. Enter Frontiers, the well-respected Hard Rock/Metal label overseen by former ATCO CEO Derek Shulman.

“[Frontiers] came to us and said, ‘Do you have anything for us?’ I gave them a three-song demo. The next day, they called back and said, ‘We fucking love it! Let’s do an album.’”

Out December 2 on Frontiers, Clowns Lounge is a collection of (mostly) previously unreleased material from the Enuff Z’Nuff archives. Ten of the record’s 12 songs were recorded circa 1988/1989 with the ATCO-era lineup of Z’Nuff, Vie, Frigo and drummer Vikki Foxx, while a brand-new tune called “Dog On A Bone” gets the whole affair off with a rousing start.

“The diehard Enuff Z’Nuff fans and the people who have been following the band for years are going to be so happy with this album. Most bands couldn’t do what we do; we’re putting an album out with the original guys. It’s an archival record with the original cats – Vikki Foxx, Derek Frigo, Donnie Vie and myself. It’s a rock-solid, 12-song masterpiece, I think. It’s got tons of energy; we were full of piss and vinegar at the time. They were such good songs; we were writing so much that we just let them sit in the can.”

The remaining Clowns Lounge track, “The Devil Of Shakespeare,” was recorded circa 2004 to promote the novel of the same name by former D’Molls drummer Billy “Dior” McCarthy. The song features Z’Nuff, McCarthy, Styx’s James “J.Y.” Young, Ron Flynt of 20/20 and the late Jani Lane of Warrant.

“I went to the studio and wrote this thing in fucking 10 minutes [and] recorded it in an hour,” Z’Nuff recalls. “Then, we decided, ‘Hey, let’s get Robin Zander to sing on it.’ We went to go see Robin Zander and handed him $3,000 at a concert in Rockford. As I was handing him the money, his manager came over and said, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ We said, ‘We’re gonna give Robin an advance, half the money. We’re going to give him $6,000 to sing on a record. He’s going to sing on one song.’ The guy said, ‘Hang on a second. Let’s talk about this. I want to hear the song.’ The manager was a real fucking prick. He gave the money back to us, and then we waited for about a week. He eventually got back to us and said, ‘Robin’s not available.’ Our next choice was Jani Lane; we loved him dearly. He was a friend of ours and a great singer and songwriter. We asked Jani if he would be kind enough to sing on the track, and he accepted. I was producing it; Jani says, ‘Chip, I’d like to take a different approach. I want to sing it like Bowie.’ I said, ‘Jani, any way you want to sing the song, go right ahead. I just want to have your beautiful pipes on here.’ In one or two takes, he nailed it. It’s not necessarily an Enuff Z’Nuff song because Donnie’s not on it, but I sang and played on it, and I wrote it. I thought it would be a nice thing for Jani Lane’s family to hear and for Warrant fans to hear as well. It was one of last tracks Jani Lane sang in a studio, and he sang it effortlessly. He sang his ass off and loved doing it because he loved Enuff Z’Nuff and loved Billy.”

After 32 years in the game, Chip Z’Nuff still approaches his career with the enthusiasm of a young kid penning his first song in his garage. With Clowns Lounge about to rekindle the public’s interest in Enuff Z’Nuff, he’s ready to take his rejuvenated band as far as he can.   

“Not many guys have been doing it as long as I've been doing it. I’m very lucky, and I thank the fans for sticking with the band and being supportive all these years. I’m not going to let you down; we’re going to continue to put good music out there.”

Photo courtesy of Freeman Promotions 


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