RAYMOND BALLY ..... (The Renegades)
REV. DR. BILL GRAM ..... (Killing For Christ)
PHIL JONES ..... (Phil Jones Band)
THEO CEDAR JONES ..... (Swaybone)
SCOTT KELLY ..... (Neurosis)
SETH MAJKA Interview 1 of 2
SETH MAJKA Interview 2 of 2
UNCLE BOB NYC ..... (3tles, Volunteers Grateful Dead tribute band)

J.D. BRADSHAW ..... (Debbie Caldwell Band)
MATT CHABE ..... (Bangtown Timebomb, Your Gig Bag, Chapter Two Marketing)
PAUL CROOK ..... (Anthrax, Meat Loaf, Sebastian Bach, Queen's 'We Will Rock You')
MATTHEW MEADOWS ..... (Rango The Dog)
DAX PAGE ..... (Kirra)
MARTY PARIS ..... (Paris Keeling, Permanent Reverse, Barbarian Way, Skulls Project)
RUINED MACHINES & MICHAL BRODKA ..... (Celestial Bodies: A 12 Month Galactic Collaboration) Interview 1 of 2
RUINED MACHINES (aka KENYON IV) ..... (World Of Rock Records, Celestial Bodies: A 12 Month Galactic Collaboration) Interview 2 of 2
CHRIS SANDERS ..... (Knight Fury, Lizzy Borden, Nadir D'Priest, Northern Lights Orchestra)
TOM SPITTLE & TROY MONTGOMERY & DAMOND JINIYA ..... (Rebel Pride Band, Under The Gun Project)
ERIC STROTHERS ..... (Enjoy Church's Tribute To Trans-Siberian Orchestra) Interview 1 of 2
ERIC STROTHERS & ZACH LORTON ..... (Enjoy Church's Tribute To Trans-Siberian Orchestra) Interview 2 of 2
CHRIS MICHAEL TAYLOR ..... (Carmine & Vinny Appice's Drum Wars, Sunset Strip, Hair Nation)

A.L.X. ..... (Love Crushed Velvet)
GRAHAM BONNET ..... (Rainbow, Alcatrazz, MSG, Graham Bonnet Band)
TOMMY FARESE ..... (Trans-Siberian Orchestra, The Kings Of Christmas)
ANGIE GOODNIGHT ..... (Fill The Void)
CORNELIUS GOODWIN ..... (12/24, The Kings Of Christmas)
DAMOND JINIYA & TOM SPITTLE & TROY MONTGOMERY ..... (Savatage, Diet Of Worms, Retribution, Herman/Nebula, Under The Gun Project)
STEFAN KLEIN ..... (Dethcentrik, Dod Beverte, Dod Incarnate Records)
GUY LEMONNIER ..... (Trans-Siberian Orchestra, The Kings Of Christmas)
ZACH LORTON & ERIC STROTHERS ..... (Enjoy Church's Tribute To Trans-Siberian Orchestra) Interview 2 of 2
PARK SIPES ..... (Sunset Strip, Barbarian Way, Standout, Tune In To Mind Radio Kelly Keeling Tribute album)
ZAK STEVENS ..... (Savatage, Circle II Circle, Machines Of Grace, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) Interview 1 of 2
ZAK STEVENS ..... (Savatage, Circle II Circle, Machines Of Grace, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) Interview 2 of 2

SCOTT KELLY ..... (Wizards Of Winter)
ERIK NORLANDER ..... (Asia Featuring John Payne, Rocket Scientists, Lana Lane)
MICHAEL T. ROSS ..... (Lita Ford, Lizzy Borden, Missing Persons, Raiding The Rock Vault)

CHRIS NUNES ..... (Ornament Trans-Siberian Orchestra Tribute Orchestra)
JOHN WETTON ..... (Asia, King Crimson, UK, Roxy Music)

RAFA MARTINEZ ..... (Black Cobra)


MATT CHABE ..... (Bangtown Timebomb, Your Gig Bag, Chapter Two Marketing)
JAMES MOORE ..... (Independent Music Promotion, Your Band Is A Virus Book)
ALISON TAYLOR & RODNEY MILES ..... (365 Surprising & Inspirational Rock Star Quotes Book)

Saturday, February 27, 2016

It's my own fault for making up that melody .... An Interview With GRAHAM BONNET

Click here to visit the official website of the Graham Bonnet Band.

May 2011 (live broadcast, Roman Midnight Music Podcast Episode #19)

British metal vocalist Graham Bonnet is most famous for replacing Ronnie James Dio in Rainbow, featuring guitar icon Richie Blackmore, followed by fronting Alcatrazz that helped propel the careers of guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai. While Bonnet is also famous for cutting his hair short & looking more like a James Dean inspired 1950's rocker than a long hair metal singer. But, outside of these two famous gigs he's also had an extensive solo career, guesting on numerous albums, & singing & touring with an array of musicians & one off groups, including the Michael Schenker Group, Impellitteri, Blackthorne with Bruce Kulick, Japan's Anthem, the Taz Taylor Band, the Rainbow tribute band Catch The Rainbow. At the time of this interview he was discussing a new album by Alcatrazz, which would be their first since 1983, but instead he'd find himself playing with the new Graham Bonnet Band experimenting with a softer rock side. In 2016 his official biography is set to be released.

As a 34th birthday gift to myself I invited Graham to be a guest for an hour on my podcast. As I tell in the interview I'd discovered his voice not so long earlier & was an instant fan, slowly listening my way through his extensive catalog. I was looking forward to this interview for months & he was the first high profile guest I'd had on my show, stepping up from more regionally known musicians. It ended up being a wonderful hour as we discussed everything that doesn't get typically mentioned in an interview. I had already decided I would not bore him with the same questions about singing with Malmsteen or Blackmore, even though the later is one of my personal guitar gods, as not just had he been asked those questions too often but they focused on the other guys not Graham. I didn't know my modest questions would lead into a discussion of his R&B background, singing with the Bee Gees, his musical heroes & even bike riding, let alone some very honest statements about his career. His openness & joy when talking made me feel instantly at ease, versus pacing the floor nervous which I really was. It also helped that earlier in the day he'd sent me a personal e-mail, we'd communicated only through his assistant, & asked me to call him because of a question he had. It was a mix-up as I was one of 3 interviews scheduled, but talking to him before him really broke the ice for our interview later that night. I later ordered a personalized Alcatrazz DVD from him & have been awaiting the release of his biography. After the fact I received a nice comment from a listener in Canada whose the bassist & singer of the rock trio Guys With Wives. He said he'd grown up listening to the Marbles & patterned his vocals on their stuff. He didn't know until hearing my show that Graham Bonnet's first band was the Marbles, as Graham had moved into rock & metal & my friend had thus lost track of him. Hearing Guys With Wives the influence is obvious. I opened my show with a list of his many accomplishments, to which this transcription opens immediately after that.


AJ: ... An absolute honor to have as my guest tonight, Mr. Graham Bonnet. Graham, I absolutely welcome you to my humble show & if I could roll out a red carpet from Manhattan to L.A. I absolutely would right now.

GRAHAM: That was such a great intro. Thank you very much. How can I follow ? You made me sound so ... are you talking about me?

AJ: Yes, I am!

GRAHAM: As you said, to replace Ronnie James Dio in RAINBOW was probably one of the hardest things I ever did because it was complete switch for me music-wise.

AJ: I have to confess, Richie Blackmore is my Hendrix. For me, one of the greatest guitar players in the world, so you were stepping into some humongous shoes, maybe even bigger than you even realized.

GRAHAM: Yeah, as you were saying, my background was more into the pop R&B kinda thing in the 60's, as that was what I was doing all my life, as I was telling you earlier today. I started basically when I was 19 years old. I was doing a completely different field to where I am now. What has happened to my career has taken a totally different direction than I ever thought would happen.

AJ: Do you ever get nostalgic? Like, 'Things aren't working out with my career right now, I wish RAINBOW still existed?' Or, 'I wish I was an unknown soul singer in the middle of England again.'

GRAHAM: All the time. Everyday. I was telling a friend of mine yesterday ... there's a guy writing a book about how I started in my music career. He's sending me photographs which were taken back when I was like 16/17 years old. I'm looking back & I think to myself I wish I could do that again. To do that again, to go back & do all these R&B songs that I used to do way back when. Play all those Chuck Berry songs, etc. I miss those times when I look back now. Now, somebody is writing a book about me, which is very flattering. It's incredible. I've known this guy for years & one day he says, 'Would you mind if I wrote a book about you?' Nobody else will, so why not you? Anyway, it's nice to look back. I do miss those times, because those were times when I was creatively hungry. I wanted to do something, I came from a small town. I was the only ... there was about 3 guitar players in town where I lived & nobody played drums, nobody played bass. But, if you had a drum kit you were in the band. If you had a bass you were suddenly playing bass. It was very difficult to find musicians to play with. But, I was in a couple of bands in my home town. We did okay. We played local bars, like everybody did back then & listened to all the BEATLES & ROLLING STONES records & things like that, Chuck Berry & did a lot of that kind of music. A lot of Otis Redding & Steve Wonder things. Whatever we could do, because back then you had to play everything, because you play probably like 3-4 hours or something.

AJ: Not like today.

GRAHAM: Yeah, yeah. 20 minutes, you know, or an hour & a half or something like that. But, you had to play that long & you'd take a break. Of course, the people in the audience that we'd play to, you know we'd play in bars & pubs in England, they wanted to hear all the hits. So we had to ... that was my upbringing, from playing everything from jazz things to pop, you know, everything. You had to be able to play every kind of music to please the audience & keep them listening or have them dancing or whatever. This is what I did & a lot of my friends did. The BEATLES did the same thing.

AJ: & the ROLLING STONES & all those bands. That was the way it was done. So different from today.

GRAHAM: You basically had to play everything, from waltzes to cha-cha-chas. All these horrible dance songs ... that were like, 'What am I doing here?' & getting paid like 2 or 3 bucks a night for doing it, playing like 4 hours. But, what a great learning experience it was for all of us. It later became very helpful to me, you know, finding jazz chords & things like that on my guitar that I never would have known unless I played that kind of music. That's what I brought to songs later on. & a lot of other guys did too who were in bands, that ilk, you know, back in the 60's. It was good schooling.

AJ: You've basically made your reputation for most people as a heavy metal or hard rock singer, but have you ever considered doing an album of the old stuff, going back to the soul or the Chuck Berry? Has that ever crossed your mind?

GRAHAM: Well, I've thought about it, but I think that would be like a luxury at the moment. It's something I would love to do one day, but at the moment I'm sort of in a bag of whatever it is right now. I'm stuck in this drawer of being this so called heavy rock singer, whatever you want to call me now. For me to suddenly change & do something totally R&B will be very strange for people, I think. Where's all that high singing & whatever else? It is something I'd love to do. But, at the moment, we really have to get a new album out for my band ALCATRAZZ, which is a new line-up now. I'd love to do that. To have the time to do that, but really I have to get something new band-wise. That is like the main thing, because I do a lot of sessions. I'm doing a few sessions now that I haven't finished yet & to do a new album with ALCATRAZZ or to do a new album with R&B type songs on it or whatever, for me, means time out & not actually working. That means being off the road. When you're in a studio you're not making money. It's not like it was. Back in the '60's people were throwing money at you to go into the studio for months on end. That's how I started & you're in there for however long it took to make the album. If it took 6 months, then it took 6 months. But, it's not like that anymore. Everybody ... or, I do, or most people, record at home now on ProTools. Everything is done by e-mail. Everybody e-mails their parts to each other. 'I've got this idea for a song. Can you put some words to this?' That's the way it goes. What we're trying to do now is to get more shows on the road for us to keep alive, basically, because the past 3-4 years have been very very bad for bands of the 1980's, let's say, that style of music. It's no longer the flavor of the month, or whatever. There is an audience out there, but they're being neglected. It's very hard to convince promoters to actually put some money into a band that may not be AEROSMITH or whatever or may not be very very well known by everyone. As you said, you found out about my stuff a year ago. You know what I mean? So, it's just the way it is. The economy is crap. A lot of my friends, as I was saying to you earlier, they're just saying 'What do we do? We can't get any work.' A lot of people are doing sessions or getting themselves a regular job like a real person, you know, instead of playing at being a rock'n'roll star. That's the way it is.

AJ: I absolutely understand. The other night I saw in concert WHITESNAKE & here's David Coverdale, been around as long as you, played with the same guitar player even, & he's doing a show at a 1000 person venue. It's not an arena. He's not at Madison Square Garden where he might have been 20 years ago. I know you have said it in past interviews, you're honest enough with yourself to know you won't be playing in arenas again.

GRAHAM: Oh yeah, yeah.

AJ: I said at the beginning of this show, & I wasn't being mean but just making an observation, that I feel that you're under-appreciated or what people know you for is 30 years ago. That kinda ties into what you were saying, as you still have to make a living & tour & do stuff. You know, continue to get out there. When I say that you're under-appreciated, what's your thoughts on this & where things have gone & struggling as a musician now versus when you were whoever?

GRAHAM: I think a lot of it is my fault. I didn't stay with one project long enough. You know, the stint with RAINBOW. I was with RAINBOW for one album. I should have stayed for at least another 2 or something, but I got on this ego thing ... actually, it came to a disagreement between me & the band. Nothing was being productive. I sang on that first album [Down To Earth] & second album began & nothing was happening in rehearsal. So, I thought I could do something on my own. I wish that I'd stayed with RAINBOW longer & that's why I kinda disappeared into the great unknown. I was just becoming known by a brand new audience of real cool people that I'd never met before & meeting all these great musicians that I was blown away by. I'd always met people more in the pop side of the business, so to speak. It was an opportunity I blew. I should have stayed with them. ALCATRAZZ should have lasted longer when I put that band together. The Michael Schenker thing [Attack Assault] was a one-off again. One album in the studio. I never stuck with anything & people were kinda like, I guess, wondering where I'd gone to. I wondered where I'd gone to as well. I didn't know what to do. I was never satisfied. I think the thing that kinda made me uncomfortable & dissatisfied with the whole business was quiting RAINBOW when I did. Then maybe my name would be in people's minds & they would know me better than they do now. Whereas, what's happen is, with ALCATRAZZ, it's bred 2 guitar players that everybody knows about. That's Steve Vai & Yngwie Malmsteen. Instead of it being a band that kept my career going I kinda helped those guys. I was a stepping stone. ALCATRAZZ was a stepping stone for better careers for Steve & Yngwie, you know. I should have just hung in with other people longer than I did, but I was never quite sure what to do. I was always wanting to do something ... you know, something else & I wasn't sure what it was.

AJ: You're actually kinda answering a question I had or you're hinting at maybe an answer. As I was looking over your catalog, you've performed a lot with bands & you've done very few solo albums, versus someone like your successor in RAINBOW Joe Lynn Turner whose done lots of solo albums, or versus someone like David Coverdale whose basically been in one band, even though it has rotating members. You have pursued many directions & I was kinda wondering why you hadn't chosen a path of just Graham Bonnet solo albums or just ALCATRAZZ albums. I think you kinda hinted at dissatisfaction being there & wanting to explore new territories as the reason behind that, also just making a living.

GRAHAM: You have it so much safer being in a band. Then you don't have to take the blame if nobody likes the album. It's a scary thing to step out there on your own. Like The Day I Went Mad, that was all my own deal there in 1999. I got great players to come play on that album, but it was all my own songs, except for one, that's the Paul McCartney tune "Oh! Darling." That was it. That was the only cover on there, I think ... Oh no, there's 2 covers. Sorry. There's another one, "Don't Look Down" [by guitarist Mick Ronson]. Yet, there's safety in numbers, as they say. At the moment, as I said, it would be a luxury to do a solo album & do exactly what I wanted to do. But, I wonder if people would actually want to listen. I'm not sure anymore. Wondering if I have to stay with this kind of music, which I think I have to, which is like ALCATRAZZ, the ALCATRAZZ kind of sound, if there was one, if there is one. That kind of thing. Which is how I'm writing tunes now, which is very much in the style of ALCATRAZZ, but with a little twist here & there, bringing it into 2012 eventually. 2012 will be about the time we get the album done, I think. It's gonna take awhile. I mean, as I said, we have this stuff together for about 4 or 5 years now, ready to go. But, it's got to have ... to do an album for people to go 'Show me what else you can do, you know.' It would nice to have the elements of the old, so called old ALCATRAZZ sound, but with some new influences. You know something that suddenly takes a left turn when you think it's going to go straight on. Which I think happened with ALCATRAZZ when Steve joined the band. That was, in fact, my favorite album of ALCATRAZZ [Disturbing The Peace], was when he joined. It was just a little bit different. It wasn't your regular heavy metal, as it was called then, album. ... I think I've lost the thread of the question.

AJ: No, no, I'm enjoying listening to you. I have to be honest with you, I appreciate your candor. I really appreciate your honesty. There's a lot of musicians out there that go 'Well, yeah, you know, everything is great.' But, you're opening up & just saying what you feel & I know you do this in other interviews, too. You are telling your insecurities & as a fan that really means a lot to me to be able to share in that. It's not just about the music.

GRAHAM: As I said, I'm not going to be playing arenas anymore, even though I did 4 years ago when I went on a tour of Australia with a whole bunch of people that were on a TV show called Countdown, which I happened to host 10,000 years ago, twice, when I lived in Australia for a short time. Like all my early stuff, my solo albums, were like number one albums there, for some odd reason. Don't ask me why. We did actually play arenas. It was Rick Springfield, Doug Fieger of the KNACK. Poor Doug has died. I think it was 2 years ago now. Katrina of KATRINA & THE WAVES, Samantha Fox, the Australian band the ANGELS & a bunch of other Australian bands nobody would know about. But, we were playing every night to, I don't know, 30,000 people. Something like that. It was one of those magic moments when I ... it suddenly felt like I was back where I was before. It very much felt like American Idol. It was like an audition. 'Here I am.' Every night was like a huge stage, we had the same stage, tons of trucks & shit, you know, taken almost to every city in Australia. But, it was like being on American Idol, because it was almost like a talent show.

AJ: An audition 30 years after you got the gig.

GRAHAM: It's been a while since I've played such big places, you know. It just felt weird. But, I was at home, but at the same time it felt like I was auditioning all over again, you know.

AJ: Graham, the song that converted me to your voice was "Killer" from The Day I Went Mad. It's a new song for me, yet working on a couple decades ago in your career. When you listen to your own music, whether you chose to do it or are forced to do it like during interviews like this, whether it's early stuff or more contemporary stuff, what goes through your head?

GRAHAM: Well, that particular song reminds me of how many beers I drank that day! That was when I was drinking. I have been sober now for 8 years. I quit doing all that stuff. But, I remember doing "Killer" & Kevin Valentine was the drummer on the album & engineering. He was touring with CINDERELLA at one point. He's played with Lou Gramm & in the studio with KISS, as well. He's played with a lot of people. He was engineering & he did the whole album with me. He just said, 'You okay?', because at one point I suddenly stopped & I blacked out. I actually fell on the floor.

AJ: That's a good nostalgic memory!

GRAHAM: It was a wonderful day, what can I say! I ran out of air. I was like not taking a breath, because we're doing this damn song & there's high bits & low bits & whatever else. Suddenly he says, 'Are you still there?'. I had my headphones on & asked what happened. I fainted while I was doing that song. It's a very hard one to sing, but of course, that's me & my melodies. It's my own fault for making up that melody. I mean, what can I say? But, the song is about one of my heroes, Jerry Lee Lewis. He was called the Killer, you know.

AJ: I'll tell you, Graham, when I was listening to this album I was planning on writing a review of it for a blog I do, but I didn't want to go beyond this track. I'd heard 3 great songs & I knew that once I finished listening to the album the review would go up & I'd go on to the next album, of course. I didn't want the initial experience to end. I literally postponed writing the review for a month, until I could no longer keep the album a secret & had to share it with the world, just so I could stay in that listening place. If that's not a glowing review right there! I've listened to your other solo albums since then, but I think this is an absolute highlight for you in your solo work.

GRAHAM: I haven't heard it since I recorded it, to be honest with you. I never listen to my stuff.

AJ: You should listen to it again. I highly recommend it!

GRAHAM: You mentioned it again & I realized I'd forgotten how it went, the tune, the guitar solo. I just never listen to anything again, because you do the song over & over & over, as everybody knows. By the time you've got to the 20th take you've had enough & then you have to pick it to pieces & put it all together. That's the part that drives me nuts. So, I usually leave that somebody else. But, with this album I actually sat there with Kevin & I went through every vocal just to make sure it was how I wanted it to sound, because it was kinda my baby. But, it brings back many painful memories.

AJ: Sorry.

GRAHAM: But, I like it. They're nice painful memories. Nothing bad about it. We had fun doing it. It takes a lot of energy to do some of these songs. By the time you've sung it 20 times you just want to put your head down the toilet or something. But, with this, we left it for a week or whatever & then he came back & asked if I wanted to piece the vocals together. So, giving it a little bit of time off. Otherwise, you just get a headache & you don't want to hear the song ever again. So, once the thing was done & we put it together I never listened to it again.

AJ: When you're writing what motives you? How do you keep your music fresh?

GRAHAM: Well, it's just everyday experiences. As I said before, it's basically like being a country & western writer, like Chuck Berry's lyrics. There's something about Chuck Berry's words that always fascinated me. The way they sounded lyrically & the way they just rolled off your tongue.

AJ: Yeah, I know.

GRAHAM: There's something about his words. They're just magical, you know. I know John Lennon was a big fan of Chuck Berry. He said he was his idol.

AJ: I actually got to see Chuck Berry perform about 3 years ago here in NYC.

GRAHAM: You did?

AJ: I was watching him play & do all his stuff. I walked away, & I'll confess, it was almost orgasmic. It was unbelievable.

GRAHAM: Yeah, yeah!

AJ: I literally walked away & said 2 things to myself. First, he copped every Keith Richards lick out there ... you know, that's a joke.

GRAHAM: Yeah, I got it.

AJ: Second, I now understand the history of rock'n'roll.

GRAHAM: Oh yeah?

AJ: Listening to him it was like I'd heard everything since him. You know what I mean?

GRAHAM: Yeah, I do. The first song I remember playing when I was 16 or 17 was "No Particular Place To Go". The title itself I thought was intriguing. I mean, what weird title for a rock'n'roll song. The words, no particular place to go, that is so un-rock'n'roll. That it's like what the hell is this song about? Then I heard it & we, of course, played it in my little band. The words ... they're made ... I don't know what it is about the way he writes, but they just roll off your tongue & they sound so interesting. Because, they are! Because, they tell a story. Even "Johnny B. Goode", which everybody has done & everybody knows, but the words are great. You can just read the words & its poetry. I try tried to cop his style in the ALCATRAZZ years. So, he's been my idol. I always liked Ray Davies of the KINKS, as well. You know, "Lola" & all that stuff.

AJ: Whose your idols, Graham? Who do you turn to for inspiration?

GRAHAM: As I said, Chuck Berry. I love the BEACH BOYS. I love Brian Wilson. The way Brian Wilson puts together chords sequences. I saw Brian's Smile, when he had that album out. I went to see the concert in Australia. I came out of there just with goosebumps. I just said ... that's what ... I don't mean the surfing music. I mean the later Brian Wilson.

AJ: Like Pet Sounds.

GRAHAM: Yes, Pet Sounds & all that. Oh, man. I mean, those chords are so beautiful & the words are great. I saw that show. He basically redid parts of Smiley Smile, the original album. I just couldn't believe what I'd seen. The perfect singing from all the people he worked with. They all played different instruments. It was the best thing I'd ever seen in my life. I remember [late drummer] Cozy Powell & I ... when Cozy was in the MICHAEL SCHENKER GROUP we would be rehearsing, you know when we did the Assault Attack album, & Cozy would say 'You gonna come over to my house tonight?' So, I'd go over & he'd say 'Let's put some real music on.' Of course, he puts on the BEACH BOYS. That was his favorite band ever. Him & Jeff Beck love the BEACH BOYS. I couldn't believe that we all had the same ... you know, I was kinda shy to say I liked the BEACH BOYS. It was a bit like saying I like the PARTRIDGE FAMILY or something. It was so un-rock-n-roll, you know, but then suddenly Cozy cranks up Pet Sounds as we're driving home & we're just saying 'Listen to that ...' I mean, "God Only Knows" & all those songs. & the album Surf's Up. Have you heard that album? That's a really great album.

AJ: Remember, Graham, Paul McCartney has said it was Pet Sounds that inspired the creation of Sgt Pepper.


AJ: That album basically revolutionized music & that inspired the creation of how many bands? So, the BEACH BOYS. They are un-assuming, but it is amazing. That's one of my favorite albums.

GRAHAM: I just love the later albums. Carl & The Passions was another album. Though, all these guys are dead now, Carl [Wilson], the brothers. Those guys inspired me. The harmony side of it. I love harmonies. I like to do my own backing harmony & that kind of thing. They've always inspired me, ever since their earlier albums when they did like "Barbara Ann" or whatever. You know, those kind of songs. But, I've always been a harmony freak &, of course, later on when I met up with the BEE GEES in London. When we'd all get our acoustic guitars out we all sat around singing BEACH BOYS songs & Stevie Wonder songs. There were 2 things we used to play. Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb & Robin would sometimes be there, but usually me, Barry, Maurice & my cousin Trevor would sit around singing BEACH BOYS & Stevie Wonder. That was our thing to have fun at a party.

AJ: Graham, what have been some of the influences on you as a singer in terms of how you sing technically? Has there been any influences on that which have effected or changed the way you sing over the years?

GRAHAM: Yeah. The first people I listened to were people like Paul Anka from the 50's when I was a kid. I'd stand in front of the mirror lip-syncing to Paul Anka songs when I was 7. Then later on, because I had an older brother, he was a teenager & I was a little kid, but he brought home these records by Fats Domino & Little Richard. I love Little Richard. How does he make that sound with his voice? That rough, edgy, shouty, whatever it is he's got about him. He's one of my favorite singers. I love him. I love his phrasing. Again, he's just one of those guys that it just comes naturally to him. The way he did all his ad-libs were just like throwaways to him. It was nothing, because he was into church music, obviously. Who else do I ... ? People like the RONETTES, the CRYSTALS, FRANKIE LYMON & THE TEENAGERS, which is like the original JACKSON 5, I guess. Have you heard of them? Do you remember those guys?

AJ: I know who you're talking about.

GRAHAM: & Ronnie Spector. She always said, 'I always wanted to sing like Frankie Lymon.' So, she emulated his voice. That's where she got her style from. I always like Ronnie Spector, because we used to do, when I was playing in my little band in pubs & things when I was 16, we did a lot of RONETTES stuff. I found out later, Brian Wilson's daughter said something like 'You know what my dad plays every morning? "Be My Baby" on the piano. Every day.' So, Brian Wilson was a RONETTES fan, too. You can hear that in some of their earlier songs. There's very much a Phil Spector type thing going on there. But, then, of course, he developed his own style. He's one of those guys I would just love to sing more of his songs. You know, what I mean? I respect the guy to death. The BEACH BOYS are the American BEATLES, to me anyway. Not to everybody, I know.

AJ: I understand. I understand, totally.

GRAHAM: People tend to think of the BEACH BOYS as being the surfy thing. You know what I mean.

AJ: That's their stereotype, but when you really get into the history of music they are a necessary stepping stone as you discover the major influences in the history of music.

GRAHAM: Oh yeah. There's a lot of people, but as I said, a lot of the time I was influenced by girl bands. I don't know why. Probably because they were singing in my key. That's where all the high notes came from, I think. I'm not sure about that, but there was something about it. But, Frankie Lymon was like my hero. I thought he was great as a kid.

AJ: Do you listen to a lot of the new music out there? Do you keep your thumb on what's going on in the moment?

GRAHAM: Yes I do. I hear it, but I don't hear anything that grabs me & says 'That's something new.' I'd love to hear something new & I haven't heard anything. Everything is so damned processed at the moment. Everything is ProTools to death & auto-tuned. Blah blah blah. A lot of it sounds like elevator music to me. I hear some bands are influenced by LED ZEPPELIN or RAINBOW or DEEP PURPLE or whatever. I couldn't tell you all the bands names at the moment, but I hear that. You can tell they've been influenced by 1960's/70's bands. What's happening is a lot of distortion on the guitars & everything to make it sound a bit ... to make it interesting. A lot of not really very good singing. Whereas back then ... it sounds like I'm an old guy, doesn't it? But, back then there wasn't that trickery that there is now. So, if you have a crappy day singing you just auto-tune it. You can tell. Those kind of records I can't stand them. They just sound like commercials to me or something, for butter or something. But, it's very difficult for me to ... I want to hear something new like 100 years ago when QUEEN first came out. I was a BEATLES fan & that was it. There was no other band in the world. Then suddenly I heard QUEEN & I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I'd like to hear something like that again, that surprises me.

AJ: Maybe you have to be the one to create it?

GRAHAM: Well, shit! ... Your challenge for this week is ... !

AJ: I'm giving you some homework, Graham.

GRAHAM: Yeah, yeah, shit. If I could get some new ears to listen.

AJ: Let me ask you an easier question. Is there anyone out there who you'd like to work with but you haven't?

GRAHAM: Brian Wilson would be great, as I said. I'd love to work with him. Let me think. Jennifer Batten. Do you know her? She played guitar with Michael Jackson for years. She had to cop the Van Halen lick. She was very worried about that. She said she slowed it down & everything. I've been in touch with Jennifer for a few years now, but we've never worked together. I saw her 10 years ago. She did a little guitar clinic thing here in my area & I took my daughter down to see her. I said she had to meet this girl. She plays like Steve Vai, but it's a girl. So, we went along, got her autograph & photograph & all that. I've been speaking to Jennifer over the past year or so about doing something & she sent me stuff. But, because of the way things are ... she's having to work. She's gone back to Japan. She was over there when the tsunami hit, then she flew back here & then she went over for a benefit or something. But, now she has a manager who is a guiding her career & so she said to me 'I don't think this thing between you & I doing an album together is going to happen.' Obviously her manager has given her a new path to follow like managers do. 'You'll make more money on your own, baby. This is what you should do. Do this on your own. You'll be a star by yourself. Don't worry about it.' But, she's one person I've admired for a long time & she knows it. As I said, talked on the phone, e-mailed, over the years.

AJ: When you're not stressing out over having to make money & doing a new album, how does the non-performing Graham Bonnet do to relax or distract himself? Can you reveal the real person off the stage a bit?

GRAHAM: I'm just like everybody else. I mean, my dog died last year, but I used to take him for a walk everyday. I'm now divorced, unfortunately. I was married for 30 years. So I have my 11 year old daughter with me now. She stays with me on weekends & she'll come here after school during the week. But, during the week when she's at school I ride. I do a 2 hour bike ride every day. That is my sport. I've got a nice Trek bike & it weighs like nothing. It's my Lance Armstrong thing. I'm a rider. I've been riding for years. I used to ride in Australia. A guy made me a bike in Australia. I was in a junior cycling team there. So, that's what I do. I ride for about 2 hours every day & there's some tough hills out here. You know what California is like.

AJ: Do you write? Do you work on your music every day, & things like that?

GRAHAM: In my head on the bike.

AJ: I mean, do you sit down at a desk at some point & go 'Okay, it's 2 o'clock, time to work on some lyrics now.'

GRAHAM: Sometimes. But, I usually make up words when I'm on my bike. For instance, The Day I Went Mad album. All those words came to me while I was cycling. You're out there seeing the world & you're passing things & you see things & get inspired. Things come at your mind when you're exercising. I don't know why.

AJ: It's a physical thing with your head, I've read. When you're moving it actually settles the thoughts a little bit. It focuses you in. I've heard that many times.

GRAHAM: Yeah, yeah. Something sparks up in there. Suddenly an idea will come to me & I remember it & then I write it down when I get back. I don't actually sit down & actually write a tune in front of a tape machine or whatever ... but sometimes I do, especially if its somebody else's arrangement. Then, at night I will sit & play my guitar & think of how an arrangement should go or something. I play the guitar every day. With the other guys in the band I have to sit down with a recording device of some kind, headphones on, & think about words.

AJ: Speaking of which, we're nearly the end of our time together, Graham, & I want to make sure you talk or mention at least what you're currently working on. What projects are in the works that people can look forward?

GRAHAM: Okay. ALCATRAZZ is playing the House Of Blues in Hollywood with HURRICANE. We're also playing in San Diego. Those are 2 gigs that are coming up & we're trying to fill-up our daybook. Our dance card isn't very full at the moment. But, those are 2 gigs that are kind of exciting.

AJ: Is there an album in the future for ALCATRAZZ?

GRAHAM: There will be. But, at the moment I'm recording for some friends of mine & the album is sort of a rock opera. It's called Lyraka [i.e. Lyraka Volume 1 & also on Volume 2]. That is something I'm starting on now. There's 6 tracks I have to sing on. Then eventually get around to doing the ALCATRAZZ thing, one day. The songs are there. It's just a matter of standing in front of a microphone & doing it.

AJ: & not passing out.

GRAHAM: I maybe will, but that's the way life is with me, you know.

AJ: Graham, is there anything more you'd like to share?

GRAHAM: Is the rapture coming? I think it's going to be a rupture?

AJ: If it's coming then I guess this is your last interview.

GRAHAM: Do you have your ticket? I've got an all access backstage pass.

AJ: Graham, I have to tell you how pleased I am to have spent an hour with you. You have my absolute thanks.

GRAHAM: You're welcome, Aaron. My son's called Aaron, by the way.

AJ: I think you've done some great work over the past 40 years or more.

GRAHAM: 40 years.

AJ: I'm sorry, making you sound old again.

GRAHAM: I don't think I'm ever going to get old. I've made my mind up. Something that other people do.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"It's one sexy woman in a lot of different outfits." An Interview With DAMOND JINIYA, TROY ALLEN MONTGOMERY, TOM SPITTLE

Click here to visit the official facebook of Montgomery Gun Productions.
Click here to visit the official facebook of the Rebel Pride Band.
Click here to visit the official facebook of Damond Jiniya.
Click here to visit the official facebook of Damond Jiniya's band Retribution.

October 2011 (live broadcast, Roman Midnight Music Podcast Episode #34)

Under The Gun, the only album by Montgomery Gun Productions, fuses hard rock with outlaw country ballads via an array of all star talent, featuring the late guitarist Matt LaPorte, mostly known for Jon Oliva's Pain. It also includes Savatage & Jon Oliva's Pain founder pianist-singer Jon Oliva. While the other half of the vocals are by Damond Jiniya of the final Savatage line-up & more recently of an array of Florida cover bands, including one dedicated to Nine Inch Nails, & recently released an album of originals under the name Herman / Nebula. The album is the child of songwriter Troy Montgomery of Florida who spent a lifetime loving music & writing lyrics, but, as he says in this interview, was "too busy being a serious businessman" to ever make his dream come true of making music. Under The Gun is that dream come true that through its decade in the making had close encounters with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Iron Horse & the Outlaws, plus was a key in forming the core of Jon Oliva's Pain. It's also nothing but a gold nugget in the discographies of all involved, though greatly under-looked.

This was the first episode of my podcast where I interviewed exclusively a songwriter. I had always talked to folks who were singers-songwriters or guitarists-songwriters, but not just a songwriter who didn't appear on his own album. The one live show ended up taking on its own flow beyond my expectations with surprise guests & a history of the album I didn't know. Surprise guests calling in included guitarist Tom Spittle of the Rebel Pride Band who helped in the initial demos & Damond. We had reached out to Jon to call in, an interview with the talkative musical genius a prize moment, particularly as I'm a fan of Savatage. He didn't & I don't know if he ever heard the show or even knew about it. One can hope & he liked what he heard. Damond had been invited but expected to be gigging the night of the broadcast with his covers band Retribution. It should be noted that for nearly a decade he had refused most interviews, particularly those related to Savatage, It was only a few months earlier he'd broken that doing a print interview in a Brazilian publication. I had promised him that if he should be able to call in, outside of obvious references, I would ask no direct questions about Savatage, of which I kept my promise. But, for the fans, we would later do a pre-recorded interview about Savatage I would broadcast as this first interview went so well. This was the first interview related to Under The Gun & the only one that brought this trio of contributors together. It was a very unique experience talking to these 3 guys, brought some new people into my world who I still communicate with, & was a highlight of my interviews. This is why live radio is so much fun.


AJ: Troy, welcome so much to my show. Thank you for taking time out to talk with me.

TROY: Aaron, thank you so much for having me on. I've been looking very forward to this & very excited our project Under The Gun.

AJ: Troy, you have this new album out, but you also have quite a career behind you building up to this album that is, in many ways, a part of the reason I asked you to join me. I was really excited by some of the stories you have e-mailed me about your experiences. They're very unique & there's a real excitement about what you went through in your career that eventually led you to forming Under The Gun Productions. Just briefly, because the beginning really is the best place to start, can you help me out? Who is Troy Montgomery?

TROY: Sure, Aaron. I grew up like everybody else. I loved music & very into stuff. I grew up working as an insurance adjuster, working for my father when I got out of high school, straight into the business world. I always had a big passion for music, but I was too busy being a serious businessman & just being a serious guy. Once I reached about ... well, I actually started writing lyrics 22/23 years of age. I got to where I would literally just pull over to the side of the road in my travels & I would write a whole song or a half of one, ideas & lyrics. I did that for 15 years, Aaron. My passion grew for music. I got older & older & saw that time was just slipping away. You know I just wished I could have done it over & started out playing guitar when I was 16, but I didn't. So, as I finally hit about 37/38 years old I finally had enough material, plenty of it to probably do a couple albums, but irregardless, it got me to where I was ready to do the project Under The Gun. Like I say, I was always a business person doing what I do, like most of these guys spent their whole lives & career trying to be a musician because that's where they're at. So, I started a little late in life. However, it's never too late to follow your dream & follow your passion. That's what I did. As time went on I basically wanted to put this thing in gear & make it happen. One thing led to another & I got fortunate enough to meet ... a friend of mine knew Damond Jiniya & another guy in the studio where I began recording this, where Under The Gun first started. It's like I say, one thing led to the other. I basically went into the studio with a buddy of mine, Tommy Spittle, from the REBEL PRIDE BAND. I really had no experience about writing a song or didn't really know much about how to approach it, but I knew I had some good ideas, good lyrics & I wanted to make it work. So, that's where it all started. I brought Tom Spittle in. At that same time he introduced me to Matt LaPorte. Matt was just a young guy then in his early 20's. Phenomenal, amazing guitar player. Real nice quiet guy that was just absolutely the most amazing guitar player you'd ever seen. So, we went into the studio. That's where I met Damond. Matt came in with me & Tommy in the studio & he just couldn't stand it. We just started hammering on the first song & it just started going real smooth. We started to record his first guitar tracks & Matt just got so excited he jumped in on it & took over the project, basically, as far as the guitar parts. Things went real well. Obviously, long story short, before it was over with we ended up with Under The Gun. But, in that process, right off the git go, once we started this album I did not know Jon Oliva. I knew who he was but I did not know him personally. So, I was working with Damond & even though Damond had just done touring for 4 years with SAVATAGE [with Jon], I didn't know Jon personally. So, it just happened, the way it worked out, I knew another friend who introduced me to Jon at the same time I began working in the studio. It all worked out. Next thing you know, I met Jon & we were working on this project. Everything just grew & took off real quickly. We started talking about who were some of my inspirations, people that inspired me in the music business. I was a huge TESLA fan. I said to Matt 'I love TESLA & I love the acoustic guitar & I want to do something kinda TESLA.' So, that's how it grew. We started working on "Under The Gun" & it just caught on fire & seemed to be a great song. Before you know it, we finished the song & we just thought that it seemed like a hit. It was the first song we'd done in the studio & it was a great start. So, from there, basically, Matt wrote this guitar riff which turned into the song "Illusion/Fantasy". After we got about 2 or 3 songs in the studio that's when I met the great Jon Oliva. He saw where I was at with my project & next thing you know magic happened. We spent the next 2 years in the studio, but we accomplished it. That's where it all began, Aaron.

AJ: That's a long story short, I know. Now, you had written to me once that you had brought Jon in, but at one point he offered even to help fund the project or to take some of the money through his company. He also contributed a song because he was so enjoying your project.

TROY: Absolutely. We started working together & at first it basically Jon was going to be a musician for hire type thing. We got along so well & liked each other's personalities. I guess the honesty & sincerity of who we were as people. It just took off from there & he was no longer a musician for hire. We were songwriting partners. We were working in Audio Lab Studios at the time & Jon was recording a 2004 [JON OLIVA'S PAIN] album, I think it was 'Tage Mahal actually. So, he got to use some of his studio time with his record company & book some of our time through the studio & help donate to the project. So, like I said, it turned into a partnership.

AJ: Excellent.

TROY: It was a 2 year fill. It was very interesting all this culmination of musicians that came together to create this album. Greg Marchak whose traveled the world with Jon as Jon's personal live sound engineer. Greg was an awesome guitar player. Greg has passed away since then. He sat in on 2 songs & played a beautiful 1972 Telecaster on "When The Heart Breaks" & "Love Now". It was just beautiful music & Greg had a deep passion for what we were doing, as well. So, several people got to donate to this project & very talented people. I was very fortunate & very blessed, Aaron.

AJ: That's great. It's a real group effort. Troy, I have someone on the phone who I'd like to bring on. Hello, caller, who am I talking to?

TOM SPITTLE: This is Tom Spittle from REBEL PRIDE.

AJ: Hey! We've got on the phone the guitarist from the REBEL PRIDE BAND, which is one of the bands who work with Troy & Montgomery Gun Productions. Tommy, thank you for calling up & joining us tonight. It's a real pleasure to have one of Troy's associates with us.

TOM: Glad to be aboard.

AJ: Any immediate thoughts on your mind?

TOM: I like to hear Troy pumping us all up. It's great to hear his voice on the radio.

AJ: Excellent. Tommy, you work with Troy through your own group REBEL PRIDE. How would we describe them? A southern rock band. LYNYRD SKYNYRD-ish, am I close?

TOM: Yeah, that's correct.

AJ: Also you were involved with Under The Gun, right?

TOM: First time I recorded on Under The Gun was in my garage. I came up with the melody. Troy had the lyrics, I came up with the melody line. Brian Jefferies from REBEL PRIDE came up with a lick to go with it. We recorded it on an 8 track recorder here in my garage. That's where it got started. I still have that demo.

TROY: How'ya doing there Tommy?

TOM: Great.

TROY: Aaron, it basically started with Tommy & REBEL PRIDE. I became friends with them & was actually a big fan of theirs for years. As time grew I later became their manager for a couple years. They were really dear friends of mine & it started there. Like he said, the birth of Under The Gun started in Tommy's garage. We did a rough demo & from there Tommy introduced me to Matt LaPorte. Me & Matt ended up in the studio & Tommy, all 3 of us, & things just started to grow from there.

TOM: That's what I get for being too busy! I missed the studio thing.

TROY: Yeah, Tommy got so busy he didn't get to hang in there for a lot of the stuff we did. He's a busy man. He plays with 3 or 4 different groups at a time, rotating with different bands. Great writer. A songwriter in his own right. Tommy is an awesome guitar player. Tommy is such a talented man. He plays the flute, he plays guitar, he plays keyboards, he plays drums, he plays bass. The guy can play anything. A very well rounded individual, musician & a very long time friend that I call him a brother for what, 15 years now, Tommy?

TOM: Yup. You can know many things, but it all starts with that lyric, doesn't it?

TROY: It all starts with the idea, I guess, it sure does.

TOM: Starts with that lyric.

TROY: I just started writing a song. It really come from Brian Jefferies. He told me one time, 'Troy, I want you to write me a song about a ramblin' gamblin' honky-tonkin' truck drivin' man.' That was where it all started. I thought what could I come up with. Before you know it I started writing & when it was over I realized I had written a song about myself, pretty much. It pretty much was about me. I got done with it not realizing it. I guess I just told my story.

AJ: Guys, what was that first song you all hashed out in Tom's garage.

TROY & TOM: "Under The Gun".

AJ: Tom, obviously you were on the demo, but are you on the finished recording?

TOM: I don't think any of the parts I did make it on that final cut. I was in the studio the first day. Matt was there. He had better ideas. He ran with it & I let him.

AJ: But, hey, you're on the track as much as Troy is. It's those initial ideas. Troy, can you tell me the musician line-up for the final version of "Under The Gun"?

TROY: Basically, on that originally was Brian Jefferies. Matt did all the guitar parts, including bass. Steven Wright played the drums. Damond Jiniya did the vocals. That's pretty much it. You know what happened, Aaron, this is something we haven't even touched on ...

AJ: Go ahead.

TROY: When we started working on this project I was friends with the late great [guitarist] Hughie Thomasson from OUTLAWS, also he toured with LYNYRD SKYNYRD for 9 years. I'd known him from when I was a child growing up. Basically, once we started working, we targeted "Under The Gun" for LYNYRD SKYNYRD, so that's where you kinda hear a lot of these riffs. We built the song, after we wrote it, we basically built it around LYNYRD SKYNYRD for them to record it. We actually made it so far that Tommy was at my house, Hughie came to my house, Matt was there. We sat down & talked & basically I demoed that song to Hughie. Hughie was in Fort Myers, where [guitarist] Rickey Medlocke lives. They were working on an album [Edge of Forever]. Basically, Hughie heard the song & he played it for Rickey & they absolutely loved it, fell in love with it. Hughie sat at my house & told me how they loved the song & they were going to record it. He said that if something happens & LYNYRD SKYNYRD does not record the song he'll definitely do it as the OUTLAWS. He told us that in a couple years he planned on getting back & starting up the OUTLAWS again, which he did. So, basically, ]guitarist] Gary Rossington was the one who wanted 50% publishing rights to the song, which basically is what stopped the project. I got an entertainment attorney that kinda advised me, 'Troy, they didn't do anything to deserve half the song.' I was willing to cut them some publishing rights, of course, but they wanted 50% & we kinda bowed out on that. But, anyway, LYNYRD SKYNYRD loved the song. Johnny Van Zant personally heard it on Hughie's radio. He's like, 'Who was that?' Hughie just said, 'Some boys from Brooksville.' Tommy is on the other line, so I'm sure he'll be witness to all this. All the guys from SKYNYRD heard it. All the boys loved it, but they basically wanted half the publishing rights, which really wasn't a fair deal. To make a long story short, that's how far that song got & then, of course later on, Hughie, after they wouldn't renegotiate his contract & give him the number he wanted, he started back up with the OUTLAWS. Unfortunately, he was making his brand new album & he passed away while the album was in the process. That's how close "Under The Gun" came to being a LYNYRD SKYNYRD song & an OUTLAWS song. Figured I'd give you that stuff & Tommy is my witness here.

AJ: Tommy?

TOM: You know, it's great to hear Matt play again. I haven't listened to his stuff since he passed away & it was like he came back to life again. It's amazing. The guitar work is phenominal.

AJ: Thanks for reminding us of this. He was a great musician, many of us know him, many of us don't, but I'm sure anyone who listens to his stuff is going to start playing air guitar. Or, maybe it's just me. Also, I love hearing Damond sing on this, because I only know him from SAVATAGE & that's only bootleg youtube recordings. Here he's doing something a little different & showing this great range. It's fun for me to hear.

TOM: You know Damond is still going around town kicking butt. Right now he's probably out singing right now here in Tampa.

TROY: A great contributing factor. I mean, everybody played a part, of course, in that song ... I have to tell you that I don't ... That song, also as you know, Aaron, got re-cut by [guitarist] Ronny Keel, he was doing an album with IRONHORSE. [Singer] Jason Aldean is with the label, I can't think of it off the top of my head, but irregardless they recorded the song & actually sent me the whole album. They were ready to get signed & they got as far as they did recording "Under The Gun", but it ended up they did not get the record deal. So, to make a long story short, Ronny Keel actually did re-record that song himself when he had Matt join the band. So that song almost got picked up by SKYNARD, re-recorded by Keel, but never released. That song has got a lot of history. But, getting back to Damond Jiniya. That guy, he really made the song. Damond put his heart into it & he brought that song alive with his passion & his vocals. Just a little of enough grit in it just to make that song ... he brought it alive. Even when Ronny covered the vocals, he just didn't ... he did a great job, but nobody has come close to what Damond did to that song.

AJ: He doesn't dominate any of the songs on Under The Gun. He lets them take him somewhere vocally.

TROY: Absolutely, that's right.

AJ: That's really what you want. Actually, I think, Troy, listening to the album, it is really a group project. You gave these guys this platform & they let it envelope them.

TROY: Absolutely.

AJ: They didn't come in & say 'I'm Jon Oliva & I'm going to play this way.' No, he worked within what you gave him & is inspired by it. It really is MONTGOMERY GUN PRODUCTIONS, not the Troy Allen Montgomery album.

TROY: It was a group effort & everybody played a very serious part in it. Everybody was mutually important. Everybody did their parts. Like I said, they brought the song alive. I don't know anybody that can sing that song better than Damond. Anybody alive out there now.

TOM: You're a good team builder, Troy, that's why it all came together that way.

TROY: Thank you, Tommy.

AJ: I have someone else here on the line, guys. We'll expand the table settings here. Hello, caller, who do I have here?

CALLER (DAMOND JINIYA): This is Damond Jiniya.

AJ: Oh, my goodness!

TROY: Hey, Damond.

DAMOND: Hey, buddy, how you doing?

TOM: Hey, Damond.

DAMOND: What's going on, guys?

TROY: I was just telling about your killer vocals.

DAMOND: Wow, it was really cool. I turned the podcast on right at the end of it. It was really cool to hear Matt.

TROY: Yeah, he was perfect on that.

DAMOND: It just sounded amazing, you know.

AJ: Damond, it is a pleasure to have you on here. The former voice of SAVATAGE, the former voice of DIET OF WORMS & now playing in the Tampa area of Florida with your own cover band RETRIBUTION. Damond, thank you so much for joining us this evening. It is a pleasure to finally get to hear your voice after you & I have chit-chatted on e-mail.

DAMOND: Oh, yeah, definitely. I was glad I was able to give you guys a call tonight. We were actually booked to play. The venue turned country, so we were kinda out of a gig. Which is no problem, but we don't play predominantly country. We do a little bit more, you know ...

TOM: Gotta get the REBEL PRIDE BAND.

AJ: We've got someone here, Damond, who can take that slot. Sorry, Tommy, you missed the gig tonight. Damond, before we go any further, let's make a mention of RETRIBUTION. Would you mind giving a little plug or sharing about your current music?

DAMOND: Sure, RETRIBUTION started about 2 years ago as basically a cover band working to try to, you know, work as a musician. It's kinda tough to be a songwriter & make a lot of money. So, I went in & started doing covers. I developed a really good repertoire with my guitar player & we became a really good songwriting team. For the last year & a half we've been working on an original record that we're kinda putting the finishing touches on.

AJ: Excellent. I know you guys are booked with gigs through the end of the year, so you guys are playing a lot, too.

DAMOND: Yeah, we've been really blessed. We added Shawn Lowrey, our drummer, whose in CARNIVAL OF CRUE. He's a real good asset to the band. He's real diverse. We try to play a little bit of everything. You know, it's a broad audience, from heavy metal to country. We even do "Rockin' Robin'" & "Unchained Melody" in there somewhere.

AJ: Excellent. Well, Damond, Tommy Spittle & Troy were telling earlier about recording Under The Gun in Tommy's garage & Troy detailed the creation of this project a little bit. Meeting up with you & later with Jon Oliva & Matt LaPorte. Can you share some of your memories & thoughts on Under The Gun?

DAMOND: Oh, yeah. I was living at DIET OF WORMS studio, which was basically a house that was made into a studio by myself & our guitar player. It was basically for our band & then our guitar player went on to get outside clients & started working with Troy. I was asleep one day & I got up & walked into the studio & met Troy & Matt. They were working on a really good song. It was "Illusion/Fantasy". It was really cool. As Troy may have mentioned, it was very TESLA-ish.

AJ: Yes, he did.

DAMOND: & one of the greatest guitar solos in any song I've ever heard. I'm a big JANE'S ADDICTION fan & it kinda reminded me of something Dave Navarro would have written on some of the earlier stuff. A really interesting mix of blues, funk & soul, rock & psychedelica. So, I was really interested. I was kinda offered the gig. My guitarist had mentioned that I sing & I hit it off with Troy & he asked me to sing, you know, to demo the record. Of course, I loved it, so I took him up on it. It was a great experience. We worked really well, Troy & myself, at putting out that song pretty quickly. It just came together. Then "Under The Gun" came after & it was also a ... it didn't really take very long, so I guess it's good when it doesn't take very long to accomplish. Some people go into the studio & it takes them a year to write a good song. While Troy was able to accomplish a lot ... Troy & Matt both, were able to accomplish a lot in a very short amount of time. I mean, that was really rare ... as far as my professional dealings.

AJ: Damond, as I said, most of us know you not necessarily from DIET OF WORMS, but with your time with SAVATAGE, which is a particular type of prog metal singing. I've heard a little bit of RETRIBUTION, which is also rock. But, here you are with Troy working with what he's created, which has a bit more of a country outlaw element. It rocks, but as he was telling us earlier, it was a song written with LYNYRD SKYNYRD in mind. As a vocalist coming at this project ... for someone like me who knows you for a particular style ... do you have any thoughts on this?

DAMOND: My mom [Maureen O'Connor] was a singer & she was basically a country western singer. I grew up in Nashville. My earliest experiences were ... I was 4 years old when I got on the stage to join her & from that point on it was love. I sang in her show. I was this little kid act. I would get into talent contests. I sang with unknowns that became super stars, like Randy Travis, John Michael Montgomery. They were hosting like open jam nights or talent contests that I had entered. So, that was really my background, older country. When I met Troy it just seemed like a good fit. I'm very diverse in everything I like, but my heart is really in country music. I love it. Nothing makes me feel better than when I'm listening to Patsy Cline or Hank Williams or something like that. That really touches a unique deep spot in my soul.

AJ: Fascinating to hear you say that. Tommy, Troy, Damond, let me pose a question to each of you. You've each played a different role in the creation of this album over many years. Let me ask, starting with you, Troy, what has been the biggest challenge that you've dealt with in this project? The same question to all of you.

TROY: The biggest challenge in this project?

AJ: Or, maybe not challenge, but the growing moment, we could say. Whichever is easier for you.

TROY: The album came together really well, though everything is about time & money, you know. We've got the time but not the money, or the money not the time. So, they both became a challenge sometimes, but that was some of the biggest things I was up against. & working with guys that are such a stellar talent as Damond & Jon. You know, Jon being a very important man & a very busy guy, working on TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA projects writing their music, writing his own album, plus working with me. Jon was working on 3 albums in one year at one time & the next year he went on to work on another JON OLIVA'S PAIN album. Basically, the biggest challenge I found was trying to get studio time booked that was good for me, good for the studio & open for Jon & guys like Damond, because sometimes I had to work around their schedules, being blessed & lucky enough to work with these guys. It came together good, but Jon was probably the challenging one, being the busiest guy, probably. That was my biggest challenge. How about you, Tommy?

TOM: Same thing, it always is for Time Management Tommy. I passed it off to Matt & introduced you to Matt, simply because I was just so overwhelmed with things going on in my life. That's one big regret that I have, that I didn't have more time to help you out with it.

AJ: Damond?

DAMOND: I was lucky, because, you know, I kinda came in as a hired guy, so I didn't have to experience the labor of love of the whole songwriting process & Troy was very easy to work with. I guess logistically it was location. I had moved back to Nashville in 2003 & Troy came up to Nashville to finish tracking with me up there & then when I came back down to Florida to track he had booked time. He worked with me a lot, so there were no challenges for me because Troy was very accommodating to my schedule & everything that I had going on.

AJ: Damond, of the stuff that you sang on the album, outside of "Under The Gun", do you have a favorite song or one that as a vocalist that you really got into?

DAMOND: "When The Heart Breaks". Yeah, that was my favorite.

AJ: Why?

DAMOND: There were a couple songs that we demoed at my house & it was after not a lot of sleep, a lot of work, & I kinda worked on it at 4 o'clock in the morning with Troy. He gave me the melody & I was tired & I was raspy. It was just like blah. My voice was shot. With this melody that he had given me it just came out so emotional, without intention, you know, I wasn't trying to intentionally be emotional. His melody was so beautiful with the raspiness that it was just kinda like chocolate & peanut butter or something. It just kinda worked.

AJ: I have to tell you, Damond, it's fascinating. I'm a little shocked that this is the song you'd choose. It's probably my favorite on the album.

DAMOND: Oh, cool.

AJ: When Troy first sent me the album & I was listening on headphones. I stopped that track mid-way, pulled off the headphones, turned on the speakers, turned to my roommate & said 'We are going to listen to this new album, because I've gotten through half the song & I'm loving it & have to share.' It's funny, because you said this was the song that came in that maybe less than perfect moment, but yet is the one that really drove home.

DAMOND: Troy was very smart to put that at the beginning of the album because it really does hook you. Everybody I've played it for says that they like it. It just grabs you, whether you like country or not, it's got something to it & it takes you on a journey, you know.

AJ: It's interesting you saying that. I had the opportunity to interview vocalist Graham Bonnet of RAINBOW & I played my favorite song by him. He told me that was the song he only recorded once, because as soon as it was over he passed out as he was as drunk as a skunk singing it. Yet, it's the song that everyone says is one of his best. So, it's ironic that here you are an artist preparing your voice & keeping it good, yet it's that 4 am recording session when you're barely awake that turns into that gold nugget.

DAMOND: Oh yeah. You know emotion is better than performance sometimes.

AJ: Guys, I just want to say before I forget, thank you all for joining me tonight & sharing this experience. It means a lot to me.

TROY: Thank you so much, Aaron, for having us.

AJ: This album was a near decade long project. Troy, when you look back on this on this project, what are your overall feelings about this journey?

TROY: I'll tell you. We took a couple years recording it & about 11 years to get it out & for sale. Basically, I'm just glad finally ... I kinda dropped the ball on it. I tried shopping it. We just recorded it to be demos, basically to sell in Nashville. Well, after the industry took a dive & record companies were going out of business & Napster & all these downloads & stuff, it was just so hard to sell. So, I kinda just let it go in limbo. Finally I said, 'We've just got some great stuff here. There's a couple really good songs here. We're just gonna take this demo out & print it & sell it as an album.' So, it was never intended to be an album. But, finally, I just did it. I shot for it & there you go, we got it. Glad I did.

AJ: Taking what you just said, this is really an expensive demo, you could say.

TROY: Absolutely.

AJ: With that in mind, going back, if you had known when you did it that it would be an album, would you have done things differently? If this was intended to be an album not demos?

TROY: The only thing I would have done differently maybe ... We kinda rushed through some of them. Some of the ones that Jon did the singing. A couple of them we probably could have cut the vocals a little better. But, he still did a great job, of course, but I think we could have gone back on a couple songs & fixed them up a little better. Made them a little prettier, so to speak. They still turned out well, but like I say, even though we spent a ton of money & time it was a demo. If I was just making an album I'd probably spend a little more production on the thing. That's about it, really. That's all I can say.

AJ: Tommy, this is a project that started as a bunch of guys getting together in your garage. I don't know what your garage looks like but I'm sure its like everybody else's ...

TOM: Little.

AJ: Exactly. Now, here it is, 11 years later. Your brother, your friend, your fellow musician & artist, is now presenting something to the world. What is your response?

TOM: Hey, if I'd known he was going to take it this seriously then, I would have taken it more seriously then. But, I was in other projects & I kept telling him I was too busy & now I really regret it because it came out great. It's a great album. Damond, you sound awesome. Just great songs. It was a good project.

AJ: Damond, the majority of the tracks on the album are your vocals. It's a stellar project to have on your resume, but again it was something you did a few years ago & here we are sharing what are demo tracks under the guise of a real album. When you listen to yourself singing what goes through your head?

DAMOND: Good times, you know. I had a really good time working with Troy & Matt as well. Matt was just a beaming ball of light. I would literally do a lot of these sessions, since I lived at the studio. From the time I woke up I would come in & do sessions, all sleepy-eyed & I hadn't had my coffee yet or whatever. Within 5 minutes of hanging out with Troy & Matt I was laughing & joking & in a great mood. So, it just brings back feelings of joy & elation & happiness.

AJ: Matt was a great guitar player who passed away this past year. Jon Oliva once called him the only guitarist who could replace his belated brother Criss, the two of them founding SAVATAGE & Jon basically leaving when Criss died. Troy, let's give a moment to Matt. Can you tell me the story you wrote to me. You are actually responsible for Matt getting into Jon's band JON OLIVA'S PAIN, where he would become well known.

TROY: Matt never knew Jon when I worked with Matt. He knew who he was, but he was not working with Jon. Basically, through our network of guys, I'm working with Jon & he obviously got to hear Matt's work with me & he was so impressed. That later led to Jon bringing Matt aboard. Basically, for those that know the story, he really loved his brother Criss. After all these years, the only one who ever filled the shoes of Criss Oliva was Matt LaPorte. When Matt passed away it was hard on everybody. It was hard on Jon, because Jon had felt like he had finally grasped a replacement or as close as he could get to his brother. It was a tragic loss.

AJ: Criss's death through Jon into a tizzy & a downward spiral into different addictions as he found his band moving out of his hands into those of producer of Paul O'Neill. Though, the irony is that from this tragedy eventually SAVATAGE would morph into TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA, which would become more successful. Damond, did you record all your vocals after the music was laid down?

DAMOND: Nope. The first few tracks were being re-recorded at DIET OF WORMS studios, so I was there during a lot of the early process.

TROY: The beginning.

DAMOND: I know a lot of it was re-recorded later, but I got to be around for a lot of the early performances. Like, one of the songs on the album, "Grey Rider", I was there in the studio while Matt was playing that. It astounded me to see his fingers & the solo. I don't think I had ever, even with all the professional people I had worked with, seen anybody play that well & have so much emotion in their fingers. The solo at the end of that song is another incredible solo. There's so many solos on the album. I just remember coming in there & seeing him play that & I was just completely blown away. Incredible.

AJ: Damond, you've mentioned this a few times & I know what this is, but just for those who don't, you talk about the DIET OF WORMS studio. That's named after a musical outing of yours. Can you clarify what DIET OF WORMS is?

DAMOND: DIET OF WORMS was actually based on Martin Luther & it goes back to the 17th century Germany. Basically he protested the Catholic Church. There's nothing remotely religious about the Diet Of Worms, but it was an interesting notion of rebellion & rebelling something that was the status quo. That's kinda where DIET OF WORMS spawned from.

AJ: It a studio & the band you were in.

DAMOND: You always remember it. 'Diet of worms, that's gross.' It was an electronic band, kinda conceptual. I was writing a lot at the time. Trying to work on the great American novel, you know. When we were doing the recording process, especially for our second album The Aquarius, we brought in a lot of the science-fiction I was writing at the time. It's kinda weird, now with everything kinda happening in the world, I sorta ... you know they always say science-fiction becomes science fact ... last year we toyed with the notion of revamping The Aquarius, Aquarius II for 2012 as that was one of the mentions in the story that was written in like 1997. A lot of similarities to things that were going on. It was kinda geeky stuff at the time, but now it's all sort of coming true.

AJ: The irony of it. Here you mention you have this electronica outing, you did heavy metal with SAVATAGE, I also know you auditioned for the TV show Rockstar: INXS. You were a finalist for that even though you decided it wasn't your cup of tea. You've done now some outlaw country rock & here you are with RETRIBUTION doing 80's rock & heavy metal. There's probably others, so excuse me if I haven't mentioned other things. & I know you're also a writer & a poet. How do you see the music of Damond Jiniya the vocalist? How do you see his career? His output?

DAMOND: I don't look at it as a career, but as a life's body of work. To kinda make it a career is to sort of make it final, I guess, & put something on it that almost cages it. In the end you're only remembered for what you create & I hope to create a lot of different things for a lot of different people, because you never know whose going to listen to it.

AJ: That's an excellent response. That's a perfect response. I'm not implying that you have topped your bottle any. I hope you will share with me your new music & we can continue this story someday.

DAMOND: Absolutely.

AJ: Let me just ask in closing. Is there anything we haven't hit on that you'd like to share?

TOM: Back in the time that Troy started that CD I missed out on it & I regret it, but I was making my own CD at the time, so check out REBEL PRIDE BAND. A shameless personal plug.

AJ: I'll add that if one youtubes REBEL PRIDE there's a few videos of you up there live. A great southern country rock band that draws from the classic rock repertoire, really, playing a classic rock style.

TOM: Yup, we kept it alive.

AJ: There's not enough people doing that. Damond, anything else that I've not asked about or you'd like to share?

DAMOND: RETRIBUTION is playing in Tampa, Florida! Come & check us out. We play all the weird music that people may nor or may want to hear. We also have a duo called NAKED BEACH, that's just kinda what it sounds like - stripped down. We don't get naked. We strip the music down & just play it acoustic.

AJ: Troy, anything you'd like to share?

TROY: Once again, I just want to thank Damond & Tommy both & all the guys involved in my project. Pick up a copy. Not only did we have Matt LaPorte, but gotta remember Greg Marchak is a killer musician, who also played guitar, who passed away. So, there are 2 musicians on that album who were just awesome, stellar & they have both passed away. So there is some amazing work on that album that can't be repeated again. I encourage everybody to get a copy of that. I thank Damond & Tommy for doing such a great job helping with with my album.

TOM: Our pleasure.

DAMOND: No problem. It was a pleasure.

AJ: How does Troy Montgomery of 2011 compare to Troy Montgomery rocking out in Tommy's garage? How have you changed?

TROY: I'll put it this way - a lot of experience. I've lived through so much growth in the 11 years. When I started out I couldn't play a guitar. Now I can play a guitar. I'm not a great guitar player by no means, but I can pick up a guitar & play about 20 songs. & I've been in the management business. Managed REBEL PRIDE. Managed to get them on CMT [Country Music Television] & did a show called The Biggest Redneck Wedding Ever. It's as redneck as it sounds. We always talked how we'd love to get REBEL PRIDE on CMT & we did. Whether it was 2 minutes or 3 minutes we made national TV & that was our goal our whole time. So, we hit it. The short time we got didn't matter, as we hit our goal. I did a lot of learning & a lot of growing, Aaron. I learned a lot from my fellow musicians. I'd love to do another album. This time it would be pretty much outlaw southern rock, which is pretty much what's on my mind. I've got all my lyrics wrote. Just trying to keep my mouth shut as much as possible & my ears & eyes open. I'm sure we all grew together, but these guys have a career in this stuff & I didn't even get involved in recording until I hit late 30's. I'm glad I finally picked up on it.

AJ: Thanks, man. I'm going to let you all head out now, but just want to say a big thank you for joining me tonight. Troy, if I had the time I'd just play the album over & over on the air from front to back.

DAMOND: He's a great writer.

AJ: It's just really great & we've really barely been able to touch upon it in our time together. There's so much more we could talk about. Just to have you with me, Troy, just for this little bit I thank you so much. If there's anymore I can do for you don't hesitate to ask. Tommy, thank you for calling in.

TOM: Thank you, Aaron.

AJ: I really appreciate having your point of view here of this guy who was just jamming, you know, with his buddy. I rarely get that point of view in an interview. I've listened to REBEL PRIDE on youtube & I look forward to hearing more.

TOM: I want to make one more plug, speaking of youtube videos. Make sure you check out the video that goes with "Illusion/Fantasy" from Under The Gun. That's a good rock video right there.

AJ: That's a video that features 2 things. Damond on vocals & lots of sexy women.

DAMOND: It's one sexy woman.

AJ: It's just one?

DAMOND: It's one sexy woman in a lot of different outfits. To create the illusion & fantasy of a lot of different women.

Monday, November 9, 2015

"Inspiration is a bit of a whore" An Interview With SHAYFER JAMES

Click here to visit the official website of Shayfer James.

October 2011 (live broadcast via phone, Roman Midnight Music Podcast Episode #32)

NJ vocalist, pianist & songwriter Shayfer James might be described as a songwriter in the tradition of Billy Joel, but with the musical charisma, unpredictability & vagabond gin drinking groove of Tom Waits. Described as being in the noir-pop tradition, Shayfer has built up a fan following & fleshed out what that genre tag means via 4 albums, countless concerts & even at-home live internet broadcasts. His newest album, Haunted Things, was released but a month ago.

When I first started blogging music reviews my rule of them was I wanted to share music that was unique. Something with flavor. Shayfer's CD arrived early in my work & was exactly what I was looking for. When I later started a podcast I knew he was probably from day one he was always on my list as a future guest, which finally happened in the show's second season. We spent an hour live on the air talking & sharing in what ended up having an intimate feel. The show was broadcast in the shadow of his second album The Owl & The Elephant just as he was about to release Counterfeit Arcade. As part of my introduction I mentioned that he reminded me of a street musician with a monkey in tow.


AJ: Shayfer, thank you very much for joining me this evening.

SHAYFER: Thank you. I like that monkey bit. I would not be opposed to having a monkey.

AJ: I know in your shows you've done things like folks hanging down crawling down a curtain. So I don't think a monkey would be too far off.

SHAYFER: That may be true. We've done some wild stuff. You know, I'm open to making it & growing it as an experience, not so much as I don't want folks coming to shows & folks saying here's another singer/songwriter or here's another band. I appreciate your introduction as a storyteller, because often the way I'm looking at the world, if I can translate that correctly through my music & people appreciate it, then that's a profound experience for me. Because, to me, a lot of the time, it's chaos. It's just happening. I'm writing & it's just coming out sort of spontaneously. But, I want to translate that, you know, that fire, & if it's enhanced by things like aerialists or fire-breathers & shit like that, than that's what we'll do. Just to get people tuned in to what I'm trying to say & what we're trying to produce on stage as a band as well.

AJ: Let's take care of the basics first. What is the experience of Shayfer James & company?

SHAYFER: That's a tough question to ask me, for sure.

AJ: Alright, let's get the hard questions out of the way.

SHAYFER: The experience that we have ... they're not on the line with me to introduce. My group is Dusty Jones on drums. Jeremy Gillespie on bass & Dante Edmont on keyboards. These guys are amazing musicians, but have a fire for the storytelling & the message. They get it, but we get each other. So what you're experiencing on stage is sort of this unbridled embrace of what I'm creating in this dark little room, where I'm actually sitting right now, where I'm writing this music & arranging it. Putting it out there for everyone to hear - well, maybe not everyone, but eventually everyone - but, the experience I hope people are having is you should be disturbed, you should be interested & you should be hopefully captivated. I feel arrogant even saying that, but I think that that is what we do. We work at getting better at that by being sincere. Sort of throwing everything else out & letting ourselves be the artists that we are.

AJ: Could we say walking a tightrope at times?

SHAYFER: You betcha. We sure could. I think that's true & reflected in our daily lives as well. I certainly do ... today is a good example. I'm sitting here writing & there were these fucking dogs & they just kept going crazy. You know it's unbelievable. You talk about a tightrope. I felt like Summer of Sam, like I was about to go purchase a sniper rifle. I mean, I love dogs. I think they're cute little creatures, but these particular dogs. So, tightrope, yeah, maybe we're all a little bit loose cannons, a little unhinged. But, it's in the best way, I think.

AJ: In my introduction, besides the monkey, I also used the word "noir-pop." I know this word does get used in your PR & people describe you as that. How do you describe your music? You've covered the experience, what's the music?

SHAYFER: It's my gut. The music is the real interpretation of what I'm seeing. It's through my lens, you know. So, you're experiencing exactly how my brain translates the world around me. So, the music itself, I mean, it's dark. It is dark. I've been a dark-minded fellow my whole life. So, it may seem at times, & the new record too may even seem, a little bit disturbing to folks. The new record is Counterfeit Arcade which is coming out in a couple months. It may be a little bit disturbed, but it's honest. I feel like so often people or artists are afraid to tread, you know, deeper into the water. But, I think this is shit we all think. When we're all lying in bed staring at the ceiling, it may be heavy, it may be grim, but I don't think its alien. I'm just saying it out loud.

AJ: Why do you think folks are afraid to say it like you're doing it?

SHAYFER: I don't know. I don't want to generalize, as a clever politician, I don't want to generalize or alienate anyone, but truly I think people are afraid to tap into that. People want this sort of mystification of life. There's this happy place where we exist. For me it's not true. Happiness exists in acknowledging the fact that that's a myth. In fact the only way you can exist comfortably is by journeying or wading into those depths. I think people are uncomfortable with how hateful they can be or how scornful. Possibly, depending on what you believe, evil they can be. I think everyone's equally capable of it. So, I'm not necessarily afraid of that & I'll put it out there when some folks might be afraid to.

AJ: I find as a music listener & being a bit of a musician I'm a big fan of Lou Reed. People ask me why do I like him. I say that's his lyrics are great because they're dark. I've always felt that darker emotions make for realistic & powerful songs, sometimes the most honest songs, versus singing about how I love you & we're all going to get along. I've always felt people like the darker stuff because there's an honesty there &, like you said, there's a gut thing there you don't get in the nice stuff.

SHAYFER: Right, right. How fascinated have you been by, or maybe by yourself, in a conversation when you tell it like it is, how it really is? Not the way somebody wants to hear it or maybe not even like how you want to hear it, but how it actually is. You get this rush out of somebody telling you. Brass tacks. It's not pretty. That's okay & maybe that's the prettiest thing about it. So, yeah, I think that's true. I think its totally true.

AJ: Like you said, you take all this & you regurgitate it out there. You do it in a myriad of ways. You do it sometimes just you & a piano. There's also times with a full band. You've got 2 albums out there & a new one about to hit the shelf that we'll talk about soon. You also have a visual component. You're not just playing music, but there's also a very visual side to this musical persona you've created. You've done stuff on ustream. Obviously, nobody can see you right now, so 2 questions for you. One, can you tell people where they can go to find out about your music & maybe to see you. Then, can you tell me a little bit about the visual side of your world?

SHAYFER: You can go to the official site, which is with links to all the other social media sites. Myspace I really don't keep up with, to be honest with you. I don't know if I should or not.

AJ: Nobody does anymore.

SHAYFER: I actually logged in the other day & put upcoming dates & told people to go to facebook. I think that says a lot about myspace. The facebook is just shayferjamesmusic. As far as the visual, when I set out I wanted to, with the site & everything about it, I never wanted anything to feel contrived. I feel like everything that I do or that the team that I have around me does, which is an amazing group of folks, the conversations been had about not so much reflecting me but reflecting the collection. So, The Owl & The Elephant's art I felt was really representative of what I was saying & I feel like the new one's the same way. I feel that the website is a general representation of how the music sounds. I can't say it's too far off from where I am. You know, you're not likely to see me without my boots or hat strolling around the town I live in. I think it's real. It's just enhanced. & I think that's necessary.

AJ: Instead of everyone seeing this big picture of your life you are basically giving them a zoom on a particular aspect. It's a little bit exaggerated.

SHAYFER: Sure, sure. Absolutely. But, the music is exaggerated too. I mean, I get up in the morning & I have my coffee & I have my breakfast. But, I don't write about that. It's not like I ...

AJ: Not yet.

SHAYFER: That will be my 11th terrible record that I write. But, do I wake up & have a glass of whiskey? No. Do I wake up thinking about it? Maybe. There are various elements to our lives & certainly I think even when we meet new people we represent ourselves in a magnified. We show ourselves in a way that we want to be perceived by that particular person.

AJ: Since we've been speaking about your music, is there a song from your last album that's very special to you?

SHAYFER: Let me think about that for a second, because certainly when I was writing the songs ... because they take on their own life after you write them especially after you record them, you find a place for them so you can re-translate & regroup & assign new meaning so it stays fresh & interesting for you as you perform it over & over again. But, I think the song "When Heaven Closes" still resonates really deeply with me, for sure.

AJ: Great. I'll tell you, there's not a bad track on the album. You have an incredibly strong output, so I was curious about what you would choose if anything. When you write, obviously you're churning out your worldview within confines of the idea you have for the song or album or whatever, do you ever write something where maybe you get a little bit too personal or too dark, to the point of thinking you can't share it?

SHAYFER: No, never.

AJ: Never?

SHAYFER: No. If something is too dark or too personal that means I'm on the right track. Its the other stuff that I'll tend to throw away or walk away from. I don't like things that aren't ... a lot of times when I'm writing the initial ideas will come at a moment that's completely random. I'll be crossing the street & a line for a song will happen. In a particular situation recently I stopped in the middle of a crosswalk to question myself. 'Why that? I don't even know what that means.' You dig a little deeper & you get personal & you realize, or I realize, that my mind is telling me something maybe a little bit deeper or darker than I expected. At those moments I get really excited about writing, because I know that I can really dig in & see what's going on. It's often inspired by a moment of complete spontaneity. It comes from out of nowhere, like struck by lightning or something.

AJ: What's the hardest part of composing for you?

SHAYFER: The hardest part ...

AJ: Or challenging.

SHAYFER: I guess the most challenging part at times is being patient with myself. I think inspiration can be, & I said this to some friends, inspiration is a bit of a whore. She goes off & she does whatever she does & then she comes back. You get a little bit upset about it, then you realize she learned a whole lot while she was gone & you can embrace that. So, I think the most frustrating thing is being patient enough with myself. Not to pressure myself to write. I try not to. I try to just wait. I want to write. I want to constantly be creating, but there are some days when you get up & if you're trying too hard you're making a terrible mistake.

AJ: Speaking of patience, you actually go into something I've heard you talk about in other interviews & I want to bring it up just briefly, because you're the only person I've heard had this situation & this is a situation that called for patience. That is the story of learning to play piano as therapy for your hands. Would you mind sharing again how you got started on the piano? You know the story I'm referring to.

SHAYFER: From what I remember. When I was very young I lived on a rather large property & there was a tractor used to haul & move things. I was on my father's lap. He put me down. The tractor was running. There was a hole in front of the tractor. I stuck my hand in front of the tractor & the fanbelts stripped away a good part of tissue, you know, scarred flesh, twisted, cracked some knuckles. So, just under 2 years old I was sitting with my hand stitched on to my abdomen to graft skin on for the damage that had been done. Doctors said to my mother, 'He'll write, but it will have to be with his left hand. He'll not be able to this. He'll not be able to do that." My mother refused to believe that, of course, so she thought the best way to have therapy would be to sit with me at the piano. She would sit with me on her lap & she would exercise these 2 damaged fingers on my right hand & get them working & get them to a place. I never went with the doctors' ...

AJ: Recommendations.

SHAYFER: Yeah, with all that happened. They thought I would be in special classes or what have you & never have that problem. Eventually, years later, when lightning struck the first time & I decided to write a song, it wasn't the guitar, it wasn't the bass, it was the keyboard that attracted me. I think that's for a really really heavy & personal reason that I didn't even really fully understand even at the time.

AJ: It was just ingrained, the piano, the fingers. It moved beyond the therapy. I will add something else to the health benefits of playing an instrument. I have a friend here in NYC, 96 year year old piano player Irving Fields [in 2015 he turned 100 & still playing weekly]. He still performs 6 nights a week here in Manhattan. Probably one of the oldest folks I know performing this steady. He has horrible disfiguring arthritis in both hands. He says the piano playing keeps the pain away, because he doesn't take medicine. He's not in pain.

SHAYFER: Now that's some crazy shit right there.

AJ: He says he won't stop partly because his fingers will cramp up again. So, a piano, unlike other instruments, has mysterious healing properties that people may or may not realize.

SHAYFER: I can play other instruments & I've written on other instruments, but there's something about the piano. It's just such a beast. Just crazy. Maybe it's appreciated by some people, maybe under-appreciated by a lot of people, but it really is a profound instrument.

AJ: & we all have an instrument that we connect with. There's certain instruments that better bring out music in you than another instrument.

SHAYFER: Sure, sure.

AJ: & then there's other instruments ... the ukulele isn't happening for me. I'm not getting any inspiration out of this kazoo.

SHAYER: It's true. I can't play the cello, but there's no instrument I've heard so far that makes me feel like the cello does when I listen to it. You know, when I listen to the piano I hear piano. When I hear other people play piano the performances are beautiful. I enjoy listening themselves through any instrument. But, good God, the cello. There's just something in that instrument that just resonates with me that is just absolutely incredible. But, I can't play it. I wish I knew every celloist in the world so I could call someone everyday & say 'Hey, you want to come by & play the cello?' & never feel like I was imposing on a friend.

AJ: I understand that. The cello has this very nice tone. I have something with trombones. I hate trumpets & saxophones. It's like they are too tinny, so I don't listen to horn music much. I can't hear what they're playing. But, if you pull out a trombone it's like I'm swooning. I can't play any horn at all. Then, when you're getting into that mood it brings out things in you, like albums, like The Owl & The Elephant. When I first heard this album, a year or so ago when you sent it to me, & I could feel that there was an artist or a composer behind this writing a book, writing a story. Now, I didn't necessarily get the story on the first listen & that's normal, but I could feel that there was this flow of people & places & things. Later on I read an interview with you that said, either you described it or the interviewer described it as a book with 2 parts & an epilogue. Will you tell a little bit about your album? Or, I should say your novel?

SHAYFER: I wrote the album rather quickly & it was during a time of ... recently my father had died, there was a lot of heavy heavy, you know, unpleasant stuff happening. So, that was the inspiration for it. It was sort of a tunnel. You know, they say, I could have gone about my days & just dealt with it the old fashioned way, whatever that means, but I decided to just go deep into what I was feeling & what I was experiencing. So, a lot of the album is about that, particularly my father's death & what that relationship meant. & then as I anaylze the relationship with him I anaylzed the other relationships in my life & what they meant. It was really self-exploratory. The album begins in a way ... even as I was writing it I knew what the order of songs would be. It's sort of bizarre in that respect, as I knew how it would go. When you say a novel you're not too far off, because as I was creating it I had ... I didn't go out at it saying I'm going to write this plot, but as I was writing it was like they all made perfect sense together in this particular order.

AJ: They're strung together.

SHAYFER: Yeah, yeah. You often hear artists say how the album order would go & that it was a pain in the ass. The album order was actually the easiest thing for me. It went without saying. So, yeah, I think there are 2 parts. I think they are pretty distinct. You finish "Tombstone Road", which is track 5 & then you get a song called "Your Father's Son" & from there it sort of slips back downward into the depths. The epilogue is, of course, "For Now Goodbye." The interesting thing about "For Now Goodbye" & "For When Heaven Closes" is they were after-thoughts. Those 2 songs were actually added during the recording process. I had written them both really after most of the album had been recorded. After I wrote them I said 'These have to be on the record. They have to be on the album. This makes perfect sense.' I actually ditched a couple of songs in favor of the new songs that made sense. & the great thing about the couple songs that I ditched is I don't even remember what they sounded like. So, I know this was a good addition.

AJ: No bootleg Shayfer James recordings.

SHAYFER: Not for those anyway. Plenty exist, but not those.

AJ: At the same time, your songs do string together, but yet they can be taken out of context. So, you're not struggling with a live concert where you have to do the songs in this order to tell a story. They can be mixed & matched & they still breathe & are understood.

SHAYFER: Right. I think that part of songwriting is when you're struck with an idea you take it & you mold it in a way that's not dishonest, but makes sense so that it can exist. Because what's the point in doing something so cryptic & so removed from yourself? Because if its so cryptic & removed from yourself, so bizarre that no one will understand it, then where's your message going? It's going as far as your bedroom. So, there's a way to write a song, I think, again I don't necessarily think about it, but I don't believe you should just kinda purge & think 'oh yeah, this is good enough.' Sometimes things are for you. They are totally personal & that's okay, you know.

AJ: You feel it, what you're trying to say. Outside of here you don't think about this stuff. I want to talk about the new album. But, before I do I want to say there's so many great songs you've done & they're all a little different. There's just piano. You've done stuff with the band. Some are up, some are down. That's a compliment, as you've crafted something where it's hard to pick favorites as they all show different sides to your personality. If you have a single from the album it's certainly "Life Is Beautiful." I know you have a video already for this on youtube & it's the lead-in song to the album. Shayfer, I like your arrangements. I like the quirkiness, for lack of a better word, & unpredictability of your playing. It feels different, even if it's compositionally not. I find that one of the most attractive things in your playing style.

SHAYFER: Thank you.

AJ: You are unpredictable & quirky both in your piano playing & singing.

SHAYFER: Thank you.

AJ: But, you've mentioned that The Owl & The Elephant was in the shadow of your father's death. If I'm right you've had some other deaths & some things in your circle that have fed into the new album, Counterfeit Arcade. Let's talk about this new release.

SHAYFER: The album will be available next month & then soon after the formal release event will be at NYC's Bowery Electric. When you talk about the new album as more personal than the last ... it was written over the course of a year, rather than a few. The last album was written quickly, but there were some songs that were, you know, that I had time to sit with & you know ...

AJ: Flesh out?

SHAYFER: Yeah, to flesh out & to think about & say 'Where do I go with this? Is it right? Yeah, it was right.' Sometimes what I'll do is I'll take a song completely in the wrong direction & then go back & put it on the record the way it was when I first wrote it. You know that's sort of part of the process. So, while the last album wasn't long term, it wasn't as fast as the new album, which was really truly written over a year. I think because of that it's more of a journal. It's more of a personal exploration. I feel like the storytelling is still there, but it's definitely closer to me. In fact, the guys in the band will tell you when we left the recording process I sort of had this weird decompression where I felt as though I had accomplished nothing. Maybe it's some sort of post-postpartum bullshit. I don't know what it was, but I really was sort of at odds with what I had just done. Then a few weeks later I listened to it & said 'I did it. This is exactly what I wanted.' That's how personal it actually was. The passing of my grandfather was just massive to me. He was a part of my life. I can't put into words, so I guess that's why I wrote the song. It's called "L.V.S. (Your Lady Waits)", which are his initials. I can't think of anything more solemn than his dying, but he was a beautiful life & want to celebrate. But, certainly he is missed every moment. He's my mentor in many ways. He taught me to be the man I am, so its definietly complicated & equally beautiful & dark in its own way.

AJ: What does the album name mean or imply?

SHAYFER: There's a song called "Weight Of The World", which is the first track on the new album, & "counterfeit arcade" is one of the lines. The line is: "Beneath the crumbling arches of our counterfeit arcade." To me it means many things. It means a personal illusion. We have this idea of ourselves, what's right & what's wrong & all stuff often goes to shit in the face of various circumstances. & we live within these false walls, false columns, under false lofty beautiful ceilings of stained glass. But, what it is really? You know, we made it pretty, but how much weight can it bear? But, I think it also extends, because some of the album is reflective of the nature of the world, of our race, of our species, & we are very much built just that a counterfeit arcade, I think. We're past the point of no return in a lot of ways. So, I think it has a few meanings. That's why that line from the record. I don't really like naming albums after songs. I don't think a song defines an album. I think a concept does & what was the best line from the record that sort of encompassed everything & I felt like that was it.

AJ: I like what you just said. ... This album may not be the story that The Owl & The Elephant was, it's more of a journal. Obviously on a personal level you have gone through some difficult stuff. You've hinted at how Shayfer James has changed as a person & how this is a more personal album, but how has Shayfer James changed as a musician with the new album?

SHAYFER: Great question. For me, it's more generally upbeat than the last one. When I was doing the arranging & the writing I found myself moving my body a bit more when I was writing the grooves. It may not be upbeat as compared to say punk or any number of genres, but for me there's sort of a danceable aspect to it. That was something I flirted with on "Tombstone Road" & "Your Father's Son" on the last record. & I just sort of pushed that a little bit, not to say I didn't push the ballads either. I think I pushed those further as well. There's a new song called "Peace", which is actually just simple drone, prepared piano, cello & vocal. I wrote it as sort of ... I've had pretty extreme nightmares most of my life & I felt like I needed to create some sort of oral representation of those. So that's what I set out to do with that song. That song is called, ironically, "Peace." I think I've pushed it. & working with the guys in the band in the studio, whereas The Owl & The Elephant was really based around music that I had recorded, then bringing in musicians & having them play with the stuff I had done already. It was a backward process & I'm very proud of it, but it was, in terms of the recording process, it was very backward. & what's amazing with Counterfeit Arcade is I went in with a live group who knew these songs & we'd rehearsed these songs, so the rhythm section was allowed to be a rhythm section, you know. Dusty Jones [drums] & Jeremy Gillespie [bass] were allowed to breathe with the parts rather than The Owl & The Elephant which had to be very regimented & very strict in the way I was presenting it. The arrangements were true, but the way we had to translate it to tape was very strict. This breathes, it moves, it's not cut to grid, it's not edited within an inch of its life. It's just real & I'm very very excited about that. I think all the guys are too, because I think it represents their personalities as players.

AJ: It's interesting, as you've said this is an album written in light of tragedy, but it's the most upbeat & free-flowing of the music you've created so far.

SHAYFER: Definitely.

AJ: 2 extremes in the same sentence.

SHAYFER: It's the truth & I think that's pretty much how it goes generally anyway.

AJ: Shayfer, we've coming to the end of our time together. I've enjoyed & am very pleased to be able to talk to you tonight. One of these days when you perform in Manhattan I will come & introduce myself. I want to ask if there's anything we've not touched on that you want to share still?

SHAYFER: I am forever grateful for my band & everyone whose involved & supports me. I've been lucky enough to attract a group of people who are not just on board to play music, but who actually believe that what I'm doing is something special. I think that is, you know, I couldn't be more grateful & more appreciative of that. That's really the most important thing I have to say. I could be all fire & brimstone. I could be all self-promotion. But, I won't be. I think I'll leave it at that. I'll just keep making music & hope that folks like you continue to appreciate & spread it around.

AJ: That's my job. This is my music. My music is to share your music. So, for the last hour together we've been in a band together & you just didn't know it.

SHAYFER: I haven't been drinking nearly enough if that's the case.

AJ: The night is still young. There is one more question I want to ask you. On one hand maybe it's a very simple question, on the other hand it could be very difficult. Outside the new album, what is the future of the music of Shayfer James? Where does he want to go next?

SHAYFER: I'm already halfway through writing the next record.

AJ: Alright.

SHAYFER: I finished the 5th song today. So, as far as where I want to go, I'm really already there. Creatively speaking. I think in terms of touring there's a lot to be done, there's a lot of ground to be covered. I'm lucky to have brothers-in-arms who will go there with me. I think a lot of it lies now, the album will come out & we will just wear down our boots boots as thin as we have to to get it out there. The creatively speaking is I don't really stop & I can't stop writing or creating, so I've never necessarily had a drought. I'm sure it will come at some point. Like I said, she's a whore & she leaves me once in awhile, but she comes back & she's ready to participate. I've never really had down time. I wake up in the morning & I'm writing. Normally when I'm falling asleep I'm writing as well. It's what puts me to sleep. But, I think there's a lot of work to be done & a lot of ground to cover otherwise to get this music out there.

AJ: So, Shayfer James, the man whose writing puts him asleep. I think we'll leave that one off the promo.

SHAYFER: Now you made it sound terrible. I'm boring myself.

AJ: But, my audience loves it.