Monday, March 30, 2020

JENNA PARR "Made For This"

(c) 2020 Broadhead Music Group

  1. T.K.O.
  2. Break Me
  3. The Runaway
  4. Made For This
  5. Those Eyes
  6. The Runaway (Acoustic)
  7. Tremble
  8. Breakdown (Acoustic)
Jenna Parr--Vocals
Randall Broadhead--Guitars, Vocals, Bass, Drums, Piano, Programming, All Instruments on 7
Steve Perreria IV--Guitars, Bass, Drums on 1 & 4, Piano on 4
Matt Lane--Guitars, Bass, Drums on 2, 3, 5, Co-Lead Vocals, Piano on 8
Jordan Copas--Rap Vocals on 4

Jenna Parr is a relative newcomer to the Christian pop/rock scene, so I will forgive you if you don't know her name yet.  However, with the explosion of her current single, the Number One ChristianRock.Net hit "Break Me", that forgiveness won't be out there for long, as the music industry will soon know exactly who she is if she continues in this vein.

Supported by Randall Broadhead of We Are Vessel, Parr's 8 song EP is kind of all over the place musically.  And while she is certainly never "bad", it is definitely the harder-edged material that is likely to garner her the most attention.  This is immediately evident with album-opener, "TKO", an edgy rocker with hard grinding, modern guitars churning their way through the track, with a very solid bass presence in this track.  The drums sound like they are programmed, and there is an electronic, programmed element that seems to flow throughout the track, but these aren't necessarily bad things here.  Those hard-edged guitars I spoke of kick the track off in a very promising way, and I really like what the songwriters were trying to do here with the variance in tempo and rhythm.  And that bass is kickin'!  I also applaud Parr's effort here, but I just don't feel she hits the verses with enough attitude.  A little snarl can be a good thing on a track such as this, especially for a young woman like Parr who is trying to find her niche.  Not a bad song, but probably a bit of a gamble as the first track the listener hears when the album starts (if my track order is correct).  I would have probably started things off with the current single, "Break Me", but it's a short wait to get to that now-huge song.       

"Break Me" starts with a programmed keyboard sequence and what sound like programmed drums introing the song, before a buzzsaw guitar steadily builds and Parr's mid-range vocals kick it, with some programmed effects dropped into her vocals as she sustains the final note.  The entire "band" kicks in after this initial run, and the first verse hits, running through the same opening stanza of the song before adding a second line and a brief pre-chorus section.  It is the chorus that seems to grab the listener so strongly, and this is, in my opinion, due to a couple of things.  First, Parr has a very strong voice and knows her range well, so she is not found stretching for notes that she can't effectively hit, nor does she try to sound "edgy" (which I think would have worked on "TKO") with her singing style here, as I don't think it would have fit the almost Gothic feel that "Break Me"incorporates into its modern rock take.  She sings like she sings.  This is made all the more effective by the producer/mixer of this single, as Parr's vocals can be heard to be her own backup, singing in different registers and with different inflections, adding a unique sound to the backing vocals.  There is also a hint of an unclean male vocalist in final run through the chorus, which adds a bit of an edge to the track as well.  Lyrically, the song is extremely simple, with very few variations between the first and second verses, but it is the chorus that grabs the listener's attention and holds onto it fiercely.  That use of multiple layers of Parr backing herself, combined with the conviction with which she sings makes the chorus very infectious and hard to get out of your head.  There is a brief vocal bridge that enters into the mix before the final run through the chorus, but again, it's nothing overly complicated or attention-grabbing.  This song is all about the chorus, the hook, and the performance of Parr.  Check out the video below:



The album's title track and lead single, "Made For This", has an Evanescence quality to it, starting with a fairly haunting piano intro, which Parr joins as she sings about having a dream/nightmare, before the guitars, bass, and drums hit in a big way.  Again, very reminiscent of Evanescence, the guitars are edgy and crunchy, the drums, while sounding programmed, are solid and have enough punch to drive the track, and some additional percussion is thrown in for extra measure.  Broadhead's strong voice enters the fray on the second verse, and while he does good job on his own, for some reason his vocals do not mesh well with Parr's when they sing together.  This briefly results in Parr sounding like she comes a bit off key around the 2:05 mark.  This issue is short-lived, however, and a third voice enters the mix, as rapper Jordan Copas jumps in for a 30 second vocal run, before the male/female chorus section is repeated, with Copas dropping into a couple of spots as it exits the song.  I can see where this song would have been pretty welcomed on Christian rock radio, but there are some vocal issues I would like to see cleaned up to really emphasize the strong points here.  I like the idea of the three voices, even if I'm not necessarily the biggest rap-rock fan out there, and I do think it works well here and serves a solid purpose.  We just need to get the pitches matched up a bit better on the multi-voice choruses.

"Those Eyes" starts with a phone being dialed, only to catch a busy signal, which causes the band to hit full force with guitars, keys, drums, and bass.  A more mid-tempo rocker, this is probably my favorite track here, just ahead of "Break Me".  Parr stays in that lower end of her range, actually coming dangerously close to that snarl I mentioned was lacking in "TKO".  Again, the listener is treated to multiple layers of Parr singing both lead and backing vocals, and the guitars of Broadhead and Lane are more prominent here than on other tracks, which is a good thing, as it really adds to the overall feel of the track.  There is an urgency to the guitars here that is not really present in most of the rest of the album, minus "Break Me".  I really like this song, and I hope that this is pushed as a follow-up single to "Break Me", as I think it could do big things for Parr's rock career...if that's the path she chooses to take.

I say that because for the rest of the record, Parr seems reticent to let go of her softer side, sometimes even drifting toward the more praise and worship-styled music that she likely grew up with.  "Tremble" is a perfect example of this.  This cover song, performed originally by Mosaic MSC, among others, has some subtle programming running the length of the song, some muted electric drums and guitars, and a soaring vocal presence from Parr that finds her singing far more sweetly than on the three rockers here, and doing so in excellent fashion.  This track is very much in the vein of modern worship music that many churches employ today in an effort to reach younger demographics.  She also does a GREAT job singing on the acoustic version of "The Runaway", which is just Parr and a piano, and while I'm willing to bet the full-electric version of this really well-written song will be released to rock radio at some point, I wouldn't be at all shocked to see the acoustic version on the Christian pop charts. The same can be said of "The Breakdown", another vocals and piano track, but this time featuring a duet between Parr and Lane.  The voices work extremely well together, especially on the bridge section where they are singing in unison for much of the stretch.  Very well done, here.  And, while it is not my style of music, I have to admit the song is well-written and performed, and again, I would be this song is released to Christian pop stations at some point.  

What happens to Parr from this point on is probably going to be determined largely by which direction she feels most comfortable going in, as I think she has a lot of potential in both the hard rock and the praise and worship areas.  Yeah, she might cross-over into the Christian pop realm a bit, as I mentioned, but I don't get the feeling that is where she desires to be.  If Parr really embraces the rock sound that half of this EP builds to, I think she will be welcomed with wide-open arms, as strong females in Christian rock, just like in mainstream rock, are something of a rare commodity.  

As a debut effort, there is a lot to like about Made For This, but there are some things to improve upon, as well.  But if the response to "Break Me" shows anything, its that rock listeners are ready for more from Jenna Parr, and there are a couple of musical punches on this album that this young woman still has to throw (PLEASE push "Those Eyes"!!).  Let's hope they find their mark!

Rating:  Rock this at  6.5, with a good dose of promise in between a couple of lesser moments.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

MARENNA "My Unconditional Faith"

(c) 2015 Independent Release

  1. You Need To Believe
  2. Like An Angel
  3. Keep On Dreaming
  4. You Need To Believe (Acoustic)
Rodrigo Marenna--Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals
Jonas Godoy--Rhythm Guitars, Bass, Keys, Backing Vocals
Guilhemme Mello--Drums on 1, 3, 4

Additional Musicians
Sasha Z--Lead Guitars "You Need To Believe"
Geraldo Alata--Lead Guitars on "Like An Angel", Backing Vocals
Cesar Branco--Lead Guitars on "Keep On Dreaming"
Matt Thofehrn--Drums on "Like An Angel"
Aaron Alves--Backing Vocals

Not often, but every now and then an independent release crosses my desk that absolutely blows me away.  Now, a lot of indie bands have great songs, but the production is off.  A few releases have excellent production, but the musicianship is obviously still developing.  Sometimes the talent is there musically, but the songwriting is definitely a work in progress.  But occasionally, everything is there.  Marenna is one of those rare instances where the vocals, the instrumentation, the songs, the production...everything is there!

I honestly have no idea how this EP found its way to my hands, but I am so very glad it did, because Marenna is a melodic rock band that truly deserves to be heard and to gain a much larger audience.  Lead singer and band founder, Rodrigo Marenna, has a rich, powerful tenor that is truly a treat to hear!  The press kit I received states that Marenna, the man, has performed over 800 shows throughout his career, performing with various bands before he decided to put together his own project and pursue the type of music he truly loves.  In my opinion, that amount of work shows itself in a strong way on My Unconditional Faith, as the performances, the songs, and the vocals are all here in excellent fashion.

The catchy, up-tempo rocker, "You Need To Believe" starts things off in a big way.  Reportedly a fairly big song in Japan for a time, "You Need To Believe" is sonic candy, so catchy, so smooth, and so perfectly executed, it just sticks with me for hours after listening to it.  Fans of Journey, H.E.A.T., even Bon Jovi, are going to find something to love on this track (and the others, as well), as the melodic hard rock here is of a very high caliber.  The rhythm guitars here are solid, and the solo from Sasha Z. (Zavistanovicz if you need to know) is absolutely excellent, displaying flashes of speed and a fluid style reminiscent of so many great 80s players.  Check out the video below:


"Like An Angel" is every bit as attention-grabbing as its predecessor, with a catchy, sing-along chorus, a big guitar hook, and a soaring solo, this time from Geraldo Alta.  The backing vocals are expertly done, layered perfectly, which is something that is frequently overlooked on an independent effort such as this.  Once again, Marenna's voice is spot-on, staying mostly in his lower tenor range, especially on the verse sections, while allowing it to climb the scale a bit on the chorus sections, but never overextending to the point where his voice warbles or slips into falsetto.  Make no mistake, this guy can flat out sing!



The last "new" track here is "Keep On Dreaming", the longest track on the EP.  Starting with a nifty little guitar sequence and a big gang-shouted "Hey", this track is another fine example of modern melodic hard rock with some definite 80s/90s influence.  The rhythm guitars have some nice edge to them, and the rhythm section, which I have neglected thus far, is extremely tight.  I like the mix of percussion that Mello employs here, not just sticking to the snare and kick drum, but mixing in a lot of cymbals, high hat, and what sounds like some tambourine as well.  Cesar Branco is the axe-slinger of choice on this one, and while his solo is a bit shorter than the others, he does a lot of lead work throughout the track and has a really catchy run underneath the exiting chorus sections.  Once again, excellent melodic hard rock that will definitely encourage the listener to hit repeat on more than one occasion.



The EP closes with an acoustic rendering of "You Need To Believe", which is not just a stripped-down version of the track, but a nicely restructured rendering of the lead single.  The percussion used here is interesting, and the bass is particularly strong here.  The guitars are clean and free of fretboard squeaks and squeals, and the solo, while much simpler (obviously), is played expertly and serves as a complement to the song, not a "look at me" moment.  The backing vocals are also nicely put together, which isn't often the case on acoustic tracks, especially if the players aren't overly gifted vocalists.  However, it is the smooth, powerful vocals of Marenna, himself, that are on display here, as he expertly glides across the acoustic foundation of the track on the verses, and weaves in and out of the rhythm on the chorus parts.  It is fair to say that this is one occasion where the acoustic version of a track feels like a worthy addition to an album, rather than just a tack-on track at the end.

The production is top notch and the mix is surprisingly clean, again belying the fact that this is an independent release.  Marenna had signed themselves to Lion's Pride Music not too long after this EP was released, and that label is known for their excellent production on their releases.  But this is a self-produced effort, through and through, and I really can't see how they can improve on this effort except with more songs!

Truly a great debut, you would do yourself well to track this little treat down!  I believe it has been reissued with extra tracks, so I may have to chase it down again, myself!

Rating:  A very crankable debut effort!  Give this an 8, with only the album's brevity keeping from 9 territory.  It is really that good!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

TALKIN' TRASH WITH...Anthony Corder (Tora Tora)



In the Spring of 2019, I had the chance to conduct an interview with Anthony Corder, lead vocalist for Tora Tora.  In the midst of getting the interview transcribed and put up on Glitter2Gutter, my office flooded.  Ankle-deep water destroyed a lot of things in my office, including my computer, and the recorder I used was thrown into a box and stuck in the garage.  Fast forward about 10 or 11 months and I have finally been able to salvage most of that interview and am presenting it here.  If it comes across as a bit disjointed, there are small portions of the interview that were lost, and I apologize for that to you, the reader, and to Anthony, who was so cool to talk with and so gracious with his time.  So, here to Talk Some Trash is Anthony Corder of Tora Tora...

G2G:  Hey, Anthony!  Thanks for taking my call and taking some time to talk with us.

Anthony:  Hey man, how's it going?  What's happening?

G2G:  Not much here other than trying to dig out from some snow.

Anthony:  (Laughs)  Aw, man, you guys have had it kind of rough, haven't you?

G2G:  There's been some digging, sure!  How about you and Tennessee?

Anthony:  It's been okay.  It's been like 50 or something today, and it's supposed to get to freezing tonight, but we're not getting anything.  It's been kind of raining and spitting around, but nothing like you guys have been getting.

G2G:  I'll trade you! (Laughter)

Anthony:  (Laughter)  Yeah, no kidding, man!  Y'all've had it for a minute, right?

G2G:  Yeah, we've had a couple of rough weeks.  We've had a couple of days where school has been called off because of ice, and today my kids' school started late because of the snow.  I teach at a different school, and we have classes today, but a lot of area schools don't.

Anthony:  Wow, you're a teacher?  What do you teach?

G2G:  I run an alternative high school classroom for juvenile offenders and troubled youth.  I teach everything.  This semester I'm teaching Personal Finance, English, World History, Physical Science, and Strength and Conditioning.

Anthony:  Holy cow, man!  That's incredible!

G2G:  Well, it keeps me busy! (Laughter)

Anthony:  Seriously, man, that's amazing.  I don't know if you know this, but I'm a teacher, also.

G2G:  I did not know that.  That's cool!

Anthony:  Yeah, I'm the Entertainment Business chair for SAE in Nashville.  It's the Sound and Audio Engineering Institute, but I'm on the Entertainment Business side.

G2G:  That's awesome!  So, I was bothering you in class when I was texting you then!  (Laughter)

Anthony  (Laughter)  No, no, you're not bothering me at all.  Listen, I never thought in a million years that I would teach, man.  I left high school my senior year to do the rock n roll thing, but I went back and got my degrees when I met my wife.  I guess the people that I had around me in my life, my mentors and stuff, they just had this kind of pass it on mentality that, you know, as I gained some experience, maybe I can help somebody that's like me, you know, young and inexperienced in the business.  I just kind of stumbled into it, really.  I started teaching down here in Belmont, and that was kind of because I had worked at record labels and in publishing when I moved to Nashville, and I specifically had been in marketing research, so it was pretty crazy.  Being at the label was kind of like being in school the whole time because you were constantly doing research and stuff, so it was, yeah, it was pretty crazy.  But it was really fun, and for somebody like me, who had been a rock n roll singer, being behind the scenes at record labels and looking at all the different information, we didn't know any of that stuff was going on...(laughter)...we were just like in survival mode!  We were just trying to make sure we showed up in the right place on time with all of our equipment and strings and stuff, you know, just trying to stay organized out there on the road.  But, that was a good education, too.  And so now, I'm kind of at the point where I'm looking at students who come here...it's an expedited program, so they're here for 16 months, which is four quarters...so anyway, I'm working with these students who are going through real quick, but they're working on the areas that they are focused in.  It's pretty cool, you know.  I see them and I remember when I was a kid just getting started, and these kids, they all have great ideas and they're thinking about stuff and just trying to figure it out.  So there's always good energy around these kids.

G2G:  Did you go back to school late, then?  Because, I did, you know...I was actually in radio for a number of years before I went back and got my teaching degree.

Anthony:  Yeah, man, I met my wife when I was about 30, and so, we were...my son was born, and I was still travelling, even after the tour I was still singing and playing a bit, and I just felt like I wanted to take a time out and be home with them for a while.  So, I talked to her and told her I wanted to come home, but I didn't know what to do.  I'd been singing my whole life.  But she encouraged me, and she was like, well, if you want to you could go update yourself in the music industry, you know because the whole world had shifted because of the digital realm of things.  And, so, that was like the early 2000, and it was like the perfect chance for me to say, you know what, I can do a little bit of retrospect and see the things that happened to me, and then kind of prepare for where we're headed.  Which, we're still...man, I'm telling you...it just blows my mind because I see all the potential that the up-and-coming generation has, and I'm like, man, these guys are gonna change the world because of the reach that you guys have with a 24 hour per day, 365 day per year storefront for your music to go direct to your audience.  And that's pretty amazing, you know.  We were more boots on the ground during our whole career when we were doing it before, so to be doing something now, as far down the line as we are, and to still be the four original guys walking into what's going on now with the technology and all that...man, it just blows us away.  We see the potential maybe more than these kids do, I guess.

G2G:  Do any of your students know who you are or who Tora Tora is?

Anthony:  (Laughs)  No, man, they don't know.  I mean, its funny, cuz I kinda said something to them just recently because the record (Bastards Of Beale) is getting ready to come out, you know.  But I bring real life applications of things that are happening to me, and I bring it into the classroom and we'll talk about stuff.  It's not like I'm trying to turn them onto our stuff, or whatever, but...(laughs)...they kinda laugh because a lot of the kids I deal with are urban, you know...they're in a box with ProTools, building beats and stuff, and wanting to do rap and stuff like that, and I'm  like, I'm a rock n roll dude...

G2G:  (Laughter)

Anthony: (Laughter)  So, they get really tickled when they see the music video or something and they're like, "Oh my God, is that really you singing?!"  (Laughter)  And it's just really funny.  But it's a lot of fun, and you know, I don't think a lot of these guys were probably even born when Tora Tora was around before.  These kids are young, like right outta high school, or maybe early 20s, so...  But it's fun.  There's an Events & Touring class, and I'll bring in real stuff, like information off of our touring contract and show them, you know, not the literal things that we're doing, but just like an example of, hey, this is how it kind of works out there in the real world.  And for some kids its kind of an eye-opener, I think.

G2G:  Did you think there was any way in the world that in 2019 Tora Tora would have a new album to even talk to the kids about?

Anthony:  Man, we couldn't believe it! We're so, I mean we're like a bunch of little kids.  We talk to each other all the time, we text, we send each other little notes.  I mean...in the back of my mind, at least for me, personally, I always hoped that we would get together and record something again.  We just couldn't really figure out a time that worked.  We all kind of stepped away to raise our families, to be honest with you.  You know, my children were born and I had gotten kind of to where I didn't want to miss something.  I had traveled some when I very first got married, and I was away for stuff, like Mother's Day or something, and I was out in California, and I called my wife and I was like, look, if I'm not at the point where you're gonna be coming with me, then I think I want to take a time out from all of this and just come home.  And, until my children were like five years old, I was with them every morning when they woke up, an we'd just be home, like rollin' around in our underwear... (laughs)

G2G:  (Laughter) I'm a Dad, I get it...

Anthony:  Yeah, man, I'm not kidding, right?  And until I started at the record labels up here in Nashville...I ended up being a transplant here in Nashville with the record labels...and until I did that I was with them every day.  And when they got old enough to be in preschool, I kinda jumped back into the business side of things, you know.  But, back to the record, you know, it's been wild.  To be 2019 and for us to have an opportunity again.  I mean, we owe everything to the Frontiers people for giving us the platform and the opportunity, and it just landed at the right time.  It just all landed at the right time.  We've all said this in other interviews and stuff, that the planets just lined up.  We were all together at the end of 2016, going through some heavy personal things, some health stuff with our bass player and stuff.  And we had decided we were going on the Monsters Of Rock Cruise and there's a girl, April Lee, who had talked to us and had said, "just block out some time and go.  You're gonna love it.  You're gonna love all the fans and the seeing the bands and everybody again," and so we had that on our radar.  And so Patrick (Francis, bass player for Tora Tora) got a clean bill of health and he just told us, "man, I wanna just go play gigs.  I don't care where we're going, I just want to see the people we were playing with and just hang out and play songs." We all kinda had a new perspective, and for it to be the four original guys, we've been friends since high school, so 30 years now, and Patrick and Kieth, our guitar player and bass player have known each other since they were eight years old, so we've known each other a long time.  I mean, we're still telling each other the same dumb jokes and stuff, but, we didn't take it for granted that we were getting to go and spend time together.  We said, you know, our children are getting older and have their own agendas and schedules, so why can't we just get together and goof around together and see what happens.  You know, maybe play a couple of weekends or pick some festivals, and so we just kinda went from there.  It was amazing.  And people would come up to us at shows and be like, "You don't remember me do you?" and we would be like, "Well, I remember partying with you..." (laughs) but it was like 20, 25 years ago, you know.  It was great seeing people and seeing them still singing our songs, you know.  It was amazing.  Anyway, it was awesome and Frontiers Records approached us around that time, so we talked about it and I said, "well, let's go in and see what they say".  And Nick, their US rep, had moved here to Nashville and it turned out he was one exit from my house, my part of town.  So, we met at a little coffee shop and we just sat down and talked.

G2G:  Such a small world sometimes...

Anthony:  I know, right?  And, I had knew about Frontiers and kind of what they were doing, because they had been around for like 20 years.  But, we knew the name through Jimi Jamison, who sang for Survivor.  He was based out of Memphis, and he sang on every Tora Tora thing we did.  If he was home, he'd come to the studio and sing back-ups with us, and he was just awesome.  He always had this kind of mischievous smile on his face, like he was up to something when he would come in.  But, he would encourage us and tell us to just go for it.  Anyway, years later, after Survivor, he had done some solo stuff on Frontiers and I had heard him talking about them and stuff, so I knew the company, and I knew the roster and knew a lot of the bands that were on the label.  We had toured with some of them, you know, back in the day, and it felt like they were putting out quality stuff and it felt like they (Frontiers) were letting the artists have creative control and put out the stuff they wanted to do, and that's basically what we did.  We're doing stuff that we like.  When I hear Keith and them guys play, I think of stale beer and cigarettes, man...(laughs)

G2G:  (Laughter)  Is that a compliment?

Anthony:  (Laughing)  Yeah, man, I feel like I'm 18 when they crank their amps on and stuff, and I'm like, "oh, yeah!  I remember this!"  And then I start singing and I'm like, "whoa...I'm not 18 anymore," you know...(laughs)  But, its just awesome.  There's just something about the four of us together, we've always been playing, even if it wasn't as Tora Tora, and we've always been writing.  It's just something that we're super passionate about.  But doing it with these four guys comin' together, that is the Tora Tora sound, you know, Keith and Patrick and John, each individually on their own instrument but working together as a unit, you know.  It's just fun.  We were super nervous, we didn't know what it was gonna be like, and I think we were all thinking, where's this gonna go, you know.  It was just really natural, though.  Keith had a lot of guitar ideas, but we all contributed to writing and arranging and all that stuff, so it was really fun.  You know, I think the coolest part was having all the technology, because when we did it a long time ago, it was such a different process.  But in this setting, it was such a...more efficient, I guess.  You know, logistically, with me being away from Memphis, we were playing in different places and filming each other and sending each other the different parts so we could learn them.  And I'd be like, "be sure to film your hands so I can see the parts your doing," you know...(laughs)...it was just so fun.  It was one of the most creative things I've done in a really long time.

G2G:  What else would you say has changed after all this time?

Anthony:  Well...we're rested, you know?  I mean, when we went in and started working, we just went crazy.  I think we wrote enough stuff for two records.  We had had all this time off and we just couldn't wait to get going again once we got started.  We had to kind of whittle things down for the record.  It was really funny, because John's got a little rehearsal place for his drums on the side of his house, a little sound-proof thing, so we went there and we kind of did it old-school.  We took out a poster board and stuck it on the wall, then drew some brackets on there and put title on, and we just started checking it off...you know, arrangements, check!  Lyrics, check!...you know, and solos and pre-production...and we just decided to do as much as we could outside of the studio.  We just had all of this new-found energy from being away for so long.  It was like we were those kids again, man.  But we also did this so we could take our stuff and then go into the studio and be really effective and efficient, because we were limited on our time and our budget, so we were like, "we gotta do this really quick".  So, it was awesome to have all that stuff.  So we got together with Jeff Powell, the guy  who produced the record, and we've known him for 25 years...he was an assistant engineer on Wild America...and he's around our age and was kinda starting the same time we were, so we've all grown up together.  And he knew our sound.  He saw us at a show in Memphis, and it was a fund-raiser show for Patrick to raise some money for his medical bills, and we did a DVD, Rock Out Cancer, to raise money, but anyway...all these bands came in...Roxy Blue, the guitar player from Shinedown,
Zach Meyers of Shinedown
Zach Meyers, he was there at Shotgun Billy's.  Anyway, Jeff was there and he wrote me out of the blue later and said, "hey, do you guys wanna come cut a couple of singles with me?"  I mean, he's cutting straight to vinyl out of Sam Phillips' studio in Memphis, and he asks me that, and I said, "man, you're never gonna believe this.  We don't wanna cut two singles, we're gonna do a whole record."  He didn't know we'd been talking to Frontiers, so, scheduling-wise, we had to find the time when he could do it and we could do it.  I think we signed with Frontiers in December of 2017, and we wrote until the late Spring or early Summer of the next year, and we just went in and knocked this thing out.  I think, as far as the actual studio goes, we were in and out of there in like six days.  We cut basic tracks for two days, sang and did solos for two days, and mixed it down after that, and that was it.

G2G:  That's like travelling at light speed for the music industry, isn't it?

Anthony:  (Laughs) It was old-school, you know?  We had all that stuff done in advance, and we did it on purpose because we knew in advance that we had to do it like that budget-wise, and with me travelling...I was going down there on weekends and stuff...so we were just like, let's block out our schedules so that we know when we can do what, and it was actually really refreshing and kind of wild.  I mean, before, when we would do a record, we'd block out a studio for like eight weeks.  I mean, we'd spend a week just getting drum sounds and changing out heads, and trying amps and stuff, but this time it was just real focused, really dialed in.  We knew what we wanted to do.  I mean, Keith, he's been playing through his rig forever, so he has it dialed in with the sounds that he likes, so I think it just made us really efficient.  We were really comfortable, Jeff, having known us for years, he made it real comfortable, and he just said, "you know what?  We're just gonna hit the button and y'all just play," and you know, we did it live.  I mean, I was in an iso-booth for vocals and the band was out in the room, and we did it as close to live as we could.  I mean it was like if we missed a singing part or if my pitch was funny...or I sang the wrong words...(laughs)...I was in an iso-booth so we could go back and fix that part, but for the most part it was pretty much live and it was awesome.  I mean, Keith and them, they had rehearsed stuff without me, they had the arrangements down, so they put in time because they all live really close to each other so they could get together and work on things, and it made things real easy for me.  I just cut out the time to get down there and sing the songs.  It was awesome.  We're so excited, but, you know, we're still a little nervous about what people are gonna say.  I mean, it sounds really different in places.  I mean the vocals, we ended up putting a slap-back on there, just to get the takes, and I ended up telling Jeff, "you know what, man? I like it.  Just leave it."  So, that sounds more like an old Aerosmith record or an old 70s record or something, and so we just left that...so I don't know what people are gonna say, but we're anxious to see what they're gonna say.

G2G:  Well, I liked it a lot, personally.  I mean, I think it sounds like a natural progression for a band that, I mean obviously you've matured and grown, so while it doesn't sound exactly the same, to me it still sounds like Tora Tora.

Anthony:  Thanks, man.  I think it did, too.  After the first time we sat down and started running things together, I was like, "I think this is gonna work."  But, you're right.  We've had a lot of different instances and life experiences and so, yeah...there was a gap from like, I don't know, the mid-90s to the mid-2000s or something, where we weren't very active at all.  I mean, we've always stayed in touch with each other and were always friends.  We never really had a big blowup, a "band's breaking up" kind of thing, we all just said, hey, let's take a break.  Our A&R guy, he had moved from A&M Records to Interscope, he had gotten an offer from a different company, and it was right in the middle of Revolution Day, so we kind of freaked out.  You know, we were really close to him, and he was straight up with us way ahead of time, but he was like, "this is an offer I can't refuse, this is a really big move for me, profile-wise and industry-wise," and so we were...  You know, knowing what I do now about the corporate side of things now, and you know your voice in the corporate wheel is diminished when that change happened, and with us being assigned to someone else to replace him...you know, he wasn't associated with us or invested in us, he was just assigned to us to see Revolution Day through, and it was just different and it was really, really hard.  We had been running wide-open for like six years and then, all of a sudden, everything came to kind of a screeching halt, and that was kind of a hard pill to swallow.  And I think everybody just kind of looked at each other, and we had put a lot of pressure on ourselves because were wanting to try to keep what momentum that we did have going for us, and we just said, let's just take a break.  And for me, I was thinking it would be like a month...(laughs)...but it was quite a while, it was a few years before we got back together to actually do something.  But saying all that, about getting back together and the sound and where we are as people, I think the new record picked up right where Revolution Day left off.  Definitely the lyrics and the concepts and stuff, yeah, we've had different influences and stuff happen, and especially with me living in Nashville, this is kind of a song-writing Mecca, you know, and with me working in publishing for a while, I know that subliminally or through osmosis, that probably had an effect on me just because of the caliber of people that are here, you know.  But, we're still just having fun.  Every song on this record is about our experiences and hanging out with the people on the road.  We think of them as our extended family, you know.  We got this little hashtag we're doing, #ToraTribe, and it's because of them that we're getting an opportunity to do this in the first place.  And we don't take those people for granted.  We know that we're lucky to be given what we like to do.  We love this, and we missed the playing live part.  We just love the chance to get out there in front of the people and play again, you know.

G2G:  How odd is it for you to say something like "hashtag ToraTribe" coming from where you were 25, 30 years ago?

Anthony:  (Laughs)  Yeah, man, it's so weird.  I mean, this is a whole different approach for us.  I mean we had street teams and newsletters, but we're all about being there, in person.  I mean, I still think that is the most powerful way to make an impression on somebody, but I also know that these are tools that we have to use.  And, to me, it's incredible the reach that you have!  We're talking to people in Japan that remember us from a long time ago, that have flown here and seen us, they've come to Memphis to see Tora Tora, you know...it's just...there's people from all over the place, and it kinda freaks you out!  (Laughs)  But, yeah, to say #ToraTribe?  Yeah, I'd have never thought that in a million years.  It's funny, but we enjoy it.  It's a lot of fun.

G2G:  Now you brought up Revolution Day, and I'm not sure...well, I'm sure you were probably aware of it...but there was a time when that was one of the most widely bootlegged albums of the genre out there, you know?  I mean, I had a boot of it...

Anthony:  Oh, yeah...we know...

G2G:  So was it just the A&R guy, or the grunge movement, or what was it that led to Revolution Day being shelved for quite a long time?

Anthony:  I mean, definitely, the shift in the music scene had an effect on things.  I mean, we were feeling that on Wild America.  That was in '92, right there when it started really shifting, and you know...  My personal opinion is, you know everybody's asked me this on the phone and in interviews, "Did you know grunge was gonna kill your career, and do you have bad feelings toward them," and all that.  And you know, we really didn't.  I mean, we had played shows with Alice In Chains before
they broke out big, or anything, and we just thought they were other rock bands.  We were like, "wow, they sound kinda like Black Sabbath," or whatever, and we played a few shows with them, with Alice In Chains, we bumped into them in Memphis, ran into them in the studios out in L.A., and stuff.  We never even thought of the grunge movement crushing everything, we were just like, you know, it's rock n roll, you know.  It's like rock radio a long time ago, you know you'd hear Zeppelin and Aerosmith and all these different bands, and they all sounded different, so we didn't think anything would change, that the stations would just still play everyone, you know.  We didn't think that it was gonna come in and...you know, from the music industry side of things, at the end of the 80s and the 90s, a lot of the production and stuff on the records sounded a lot alike, the singers started to sound alike, it was kind of homogenized, and when something came around that was organic and authentic, and raw, it was refreshing to people and I think they just said, "wow, that's something I haven't heard lately," you know.  It was hard on us, because it totally affected our records and their performance, you know, and how they were doing and stuff.  The opportunities that we had started slowing down because other bands were stepping up and filling slots.  But it was really a lot of things.  I think the A&R guy stepping down definitely was a big piece of the puzzle because he was our voice in the corporate setting.  But, yeah, the music was shifting and we just kind of always stayed in our own lane, musically.  I also think it was a geographic thing to a degree, with our location and stuff, you know; we never relocated out to L.A. and did the Hollywood thing, we always stayed based in our roots.  So it all blended together, sure.  But, yeah, that record, we knew about the bootleg stuff, and I think originally it was at a different speed...I think somebody got it off of a cassette or some kind of mp3s...

G2G:  It's bad.  It sounded bad.  As I said, I had a bootleg of it and I threw it away when the real deal came out...

Anthony:  We decided we might as well put something out that at least has the right tempos and the right quality and stuff, so we had some access to some of the demos and stuff...we couldn't use masters because that was stuff that A&M owned...but we had access to some of the tracking that we had done for the record, and so Keith and I talked about it, and we talked with some of the other powers that be that were involved with the projects, and we just went with a way we could still get it out.  I mean, I still think it sounded good, even though it wasn't like the finished product or anything.  Every now and then there's like a glitch in the guitar or my singing is kinda off, or something, but I think it was really good for what we could do.  And I still really like those songs, we were proud of what we put together, it's just...it is what it is.  But with that record, and with the whole scene, I think things just played out the way they were supposed to, really.  You know, we were all kind of in a weird place with that record and stuff, and I think stepping away was the right thing to do at the time.

G2G:  How much damage...or benefit...was done to the band by getting lumped in as a "hair metal" band, because really weren't.  You were more of a blues-rock band.  I mean, sure, the Wild America title track kind of rocked toward that Hollywood sound a little bit but, for the most part, you guys were always a bluesy, some people call it hard southern rock...whatever...but you were never hair metal, and you never did the Hollywood thing.

Anthony:  Well, you know, I never really minded being clumped in with all those people.  I mean, we were fans of a lot of those guys...I mean I had Motley Crue, Hanoi Rocks, Bon Jovi, I had all those guys on my walls at home, you know, posters hanging everywhere.  And, really, we wanted to be like those guys, we wanted to be...you know, Keith and those guys were heavier.  They liked Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and stuff like that, and I was more kind of a...I don't know what I was, man...(laughing)...I was kind of an acoustic, hippie kinda dude.  I listened to everything, from pop to...you know, I didn't realize until I got older how much my family influenced me.  We're all from Mississippi, down in the delta, and they're all a bunch of porch pickers, you know.  My mom and her siblings, they all sang country and R&B and gospel, and my aunt and uncle are the first ones to show me chords on a guitar.  They showed me stuff like Neil Young and James Taylor...some Boston...stuff like that.  They were about ten years older than me, so they were introducing me to different stuff.  My aunt introduced me to KISS, which totally corrupted me.  I mean she was like 16 and I was like 6...(laughs)...she played Destroyer, man...I'll never forget it.  She had the 1976 poster on her wall, you know the one with the drummer who has the blood on his head in the do-rag and stuff, and she played "God Of Thunder", and it scared me to death!  (Laughs)  Those demon voices at the beginning, I ran off...(laughing)...but then I was like, "I wanna go back in there!"  And then "Detroit Rock City" came on, and "Shout It Out Loud", and I mean, dude, I was hooked on KISS!  She totally got me into them.  And me and my cousin, we grew up Southern Baptists, and our parents wouldn't let us join the KISS Army, you know, and we live wayyy out in the middle of the sticks in Mississippi, just out in nowhere, but there was a guy who lived about a quarter of a mile from us that got into the KISS Army, and we would go to his house and he would get out the stuff, lay out the belt buckles and picks and stuff, and we would just lay there and look at this stuff.  And talk about merchandising, I mean, to get this stuff out to the middle of nowhere Mississippi..I mean, they were incredible marketers.  Anyway, that had a profound effect on me, and my aunt singing and playing...we were really close, and she turned me onto all kind of stuff,, it wasn't just KISS, but everything from the Beatles to...God, I don't even know...Elton John...and when I got older, I began to realize, you know, she's playing all these records and I didn't realize how much of an influence it was having on me until I got bigger.  But she had a lot of patience and was a huge influence on me in my formative years when I was trying to figure out what I was.  I was never a great picker or anything, but she showed me enough chords that I could start writing my own stuff, and I kind of launched off out of that.

G2G:  When Tora Tora was kind of on their hiatus there for a while, especially with your location and such, and with the bluesier style you incorporated into your sound, was there ever a draw or a pull to try the Nashville thing?

Anthony:  You know, that's a great question.  Not really.  We came here a couple times, actually.  We wrote with a guy named Taylor Rhodes that worked with Kix.  We had toured with Kix and we loved their sound and their records, I mean I'm still a huge fan.  I mean, Steve Whiteman's voice, to this day, it's still great.  I'm gonna see him in like a week on Monsters Of Rock, I can't wait.

G2G:  Love Kix!  I actually had Hot Wire in today!

Anthony:  Yeah, man, they're great!  And Steve's got great vocal chops.  Anyway, Taylor lived here and we worked together on "Amnesia" and "Faith Healer" with him, which were two of the singles off of Wild America, and then he worked with us again on Revolution Day; we wrote a song called "Shelter Me From The Rain", that I still love.  I love the songs that we wrote with him and he always had kind of a different take.  But we never did the Music Row thing. I mean, I was a member of BMI, and they have an office here, but I don't think I ever went in that building until after I was a member for like 15 years, or something.  We just never...if we got even close to Memphis, even on tours, we just went home.  I mean, as far as Nashville, I think we only played here maybe three or four times in our whole career, because if we got within three or so hours of Memphis, we were gonna head on home to the house, you know.  And we could cash in on shows at home, and we would stay home for long periods of time back then.  But as far as Nashville and that, there wasn't anything against it or anything like that, and we wrote with a few people.  There's a guy named Tom DeLuca who wrote on the first record, and he came from Nashville to Memphis specifically to write with us.  He wrote on "Guilty", the second single, with us.  So, we had some connections up here, but like I said, we came up here maybe three, four times for real specific reasons.  I mean, the record label did some homework, and we had thought about it, but they're different up here.  I'm a transplant here,  been here for 13 years or 14 years, and I love Nashville and the creative people, and it's real eclectic like Memphis, but there's definitely an infrastructure and a corporate setting to Nashville, which is good and bad.  I mean the corporate thing means that they're generating money and creating opportunity, which is what I think is missing in Memphis.  I mean, Memphis is exactly like Nashville as far as being musical and eclectic and all that, but Nashville has that corporate machine thing that Memphis really doesn't have, you know.  So it's just different.  Memphis is just really different.  It's like any other river city, it's real transient with a lot of people that are moving through the area that are trying to find their way.  And if you go up the river, you know, to Louisville or St. Louis, or Chicago if you go way up, it's gritty...it's different.  Those towns just got soul.  Not that Nashville doesn't have soul, because there's a lot of good people here, it's just...I don't know.  I'm biased, I guess, because I grew up down there...

G2G:  Going way back to the beginning with your indy album you guys put out, "To Rock, To Roll", which I saw the other day FnA Records is actually pressing on CD finally...

Anthony:  (Laughs)  Yeah, man...

G2G:  How did that feel for you when you realized, regional or not, that's us on that cassette there?

Anthony:  It was pretty amazing.  There was a guy by the name of Malcolm Reichart, who was a local DJ in Memphis back in the day, and he had a show that he would play local musicians on.  And a lot of what happened in Memphis in the late 80s had to do with the support of the venues and guys like him pushing original material.  And because of that, there was opportunity, there were executive showcases and producer showcases, and record executives and management companies were coming to Memphis, and it was kinda like a hot streak for a minute.  I mean, I know it was a reflection of everything that was happening in L.A. but it had kind of spilled over and Memphis had a bunch of studios and stuff, and a bunch of activities and resources.  And that radio station would play your stuff.  So you could cut your demos, or your master cuts, and everybody was vying for that slot on that show, and it was real good competition.  I mean, it was friendly competition because we knew that if somebody else was doing good, it would bring attention to give you a shot to get out in front of some people, too.  So, it was competitive but in good spirits; we were all kind of trying to see if somebody could break out of there, you know.  You know, hearing your song on the radio was amazing, man.  We were all still in high school, you know.  We had our friends calling the radio station, and we were running advertisements for parties we were throwing in town, and the DJ would advertise it on the air (laughs) and it was...it was just a different time.  It was so weird and so awesome...it was just...it was crazy.

G2G:  Do you remember the first song you had played on that show?

Anthony:  I think it was a song called "Wasted Love".  It's a song that's on that EP, and I believe that was the one that we did first.  But, "Phantom Rider" was the one that broke out off that EP.  It became like a Top 5 most-requested song in the region because of that DJ.  And the guy that signed us to A&R Records told us he knew he was gonna sign us because he got to Memphis and he had to rent a car.  And he said when he rented the car, he turned the radio on and our song, "Phantom Rider" was playing.  And, so, that was pretty powerful for us, you know, to be some local kids and have our stuff playing.  Now, Keith, our business-minded kind of dude, he was kind of like a little entrepreneur.  He was going out and cutting deals with the record stores and he would get our stuff on consignment just to get it into the stores.  And he'd ask if he could put our stuff by the registers, just so our friends would see it when they came in, and they'd say, "Yeah, you can do that!" so that's really how we kind of got it going.

G2G:  So how did that lead to Surprise Attack?

Anthony:  We ended up signing a production deal with Ardent Studios.  We won some studio time
through a Battle of the Bands, and we went in and the guy who was the engineer for the day ended up going to the studio and asking us if they would consider signing us to a production deal. He actually had worked with us on a couple of songs, and he played piano on "Phantom Rider", the first version, so they became kind of the middle man for us in regards to everything in the entertainment industry.  They ended up shopping us to labels.  We showcased in the rehearsal space we were in, it was big enough to hold maybe four to five hundred people, maybe.  So we had the record label people come to where we rehearsed, to a party, actually (laughs), and they kind of listened and talked to us, and the A&M guy was one of the more genuine guys there.  He stuck around and talked to us and stuff, and we really liked him.  So we went to the Ardent guys and said, "hey, we really liked this A&M guy, can we maybe go and talk to them?"  And that's what happened, you know.  The guy, the name of the engineer was Paul Ebersol, and he worked with another guy named Joe Hardy, who had done all the ZZ Top stuff, and they both produced the first record with us.  And, you know, we owed them both a lot.  Joe actually recently passed away, which was some unexpected news.  But he had had tons of success, and for him to sign onto the record gave us a lot of credibility in the industry, because people were watching to see what he was working on because of his successes, you know, like Eliminator for ZZ Top.  And everything those guys were putting out at that time was just blowing up, so that gave us a little bit of momentum and, you know, he didn't have to do that for us, and we're just so thankful.  You know, Paul went on to do great things, he did work with Three Doors Down later on, and had all kinds of success.  So, it was cool because we all kind of started out together and grew up in the business like that.

G2G:  Do you remember what it was like when the label first told you guys, "Ok, the record's great and all, but we need videos now"?

Anthony:  (Laughs)  Yeah, we did.  I remember we shot videos, and it was big budget stuff back then, you know.  Video could make or break you.  It was different.  Remember, we were just kids back then, and we were under a big label and stuff, and so it was a crazy experience.  We were way into those things.  They were fun.

G2G:  I remember there was a video for "Guilty", and I'm sure there was one for "Walkin' Shoes"...

Anthony:  Yeah, man.  Actually, we're getting ready to drop a new single next week right before the record comes out.  It's called "Son Of A Prodigal Son", and we actually went down to Beale Street to a place called Handy Hall, in Memphis, and that's actually where we shot "Walkin' Shoes".  It's still the same bar sitting there on Beale Street, and we went there 30 years later!  (Laughs)  It was really nostalgic and emotional, man.  I took my children with me and I told them, "guys, I was your age the last time I was in here shooting a video", you know.  I have three children, 18, 16, and 14, three boys, and I just said, "man, this is where we shot 'Walkin' Shoes'".


G2G:  I think "Son Of A Prodigal Son" is one of the best songs on the record!

Anthony:  Oh, man, thank you!  We were kind of interested how...it's kind of a different song.  There's a couple of them, that one and "Silence The Sirens", those are two outliers.  The rest of the record is pretty straight ahead Tora stuff.  We worked with a guy out of WA Films out of Memphis who had just done some work with a group of friends of ours called The Dirty Streets.  They are a young, three-piece rock band and man, they kick ass...we just did a show with them in December and they were amazing.  So, they turned us on to those guys and they made it real easy for us, I mean...we hadn't shot a video in a long time, and these guys were just consummate professionals.  We just had a lot of fun and it ended up being real easy.  But, like I say, it's been a long time.  When you were talking about the "Walkin' Shoes" videos and all that, all that technology back then was new, believe

it or not.  Because of the video outlets and MTV and stuff, that was just the way you did things back then, and you'd get a video and then you'd get on the radio, not usually the other way around.  It's just so different now days.  And from a business standpoint, Ardent Studios ended up putting together a video department because they saw that video was just gonna be part of doing business, so they jumped in.  That was one thing about the guy who ran the company, John Fries, he was continually educating himself.  He actually started the company in his mom's sewing room, or his grandmother's sewing room, when he was like 14, and it's been around 60 years now.  He's had everyone from Zeppelin mixed in there to the ZZ Top people to the Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Stevie Ray Vaughn...I mean...we were just blown away by the people that were coming through the door back then, it was crazy.

G2G:  You made me laugh just now because other than people like me, who grew up in the Midwest or Great Plains, like here in Nebraska, or like you in the South, nobody knows what a sewing room is!

Anthony:  (Laughs)  Oh, yeah, man!  That's funny!  Listen, John Fries, he passed away a couple of years ago, but every decision I ever made in my life from about the time I was 16, I talked to that dude.  And, we were laughing about the sewing room thing... (laughs)

G2G:  (Laughter)

Anthony:  But, we came along in a time when, you know, if you didn't have a piece of equipment, you had to make it, I mean you had to go solder it together or weld it and make it yourself.  But, John, he was real technology driven, education driven, and he was all about educating yourself, and he was on the cutting edge of technology all the time.  I remember one time, he bought a machine, it was a keyboard with a computer built in, and there's no telling what it cost back then, but he was like "we need it", because it's the newest thing out and we want to be competitive.  So he had his engineers in there, learning how to work it, and he was just an amazing guy.  There's not hardly a day goes by that I don't think about him.  He had a huge impact on my life, not only just as an artist or a singer, but as a person, both personally in my life and professionally.  I just...I just can't say enough good things about the Ardent people.  They totally changed our life.  We went from being this little garage band in high school to being full-blown, out on the road, riding round in buses, playing arenas and colosseums.  It was crazy.

G2G:  How wild did those days get, back in the days of Surprise Attack and Wild America?  I'm not looking for horror stories, or "we tore that hotel room up" stories, but how surreal was it for four kids from the South to all of a sudden be on television and on the radio?

Anthony:  It was, honestly...it went by so fast that we didn't honestly get to take it all in.  I mean, we had the time of our lives, we didn't miss much.  But that was our mentality from the very beginning, we were just like, man, let's ride the lightning.  If something good happens, great, you know.  Keith and I had been cutting grass for a living.  (Laughs)  My mom was a real estate agent, and we were cutting yards, being little teen-ager kids, and we were like, "wouldn't it be cool if we could record", and then it was "wouldn't it be awesome if we could talk to somebody about getting a record deal", and then, all of a sudden, these things were just kind of landing in place.  And the next thing we knew, we had a song out, and "Walkin' Shoes" went to number one on Hard 60 that was on in the afternoons, right after school, prime time.  People called in and voted and "Walkin' Shoes" went to number one and we didn't even know it!  We were out on the road somewhere and somebody told us.  And, anyway, all of a sudden, it just took off, and so for about two years, we were touring really heavy off of that one single.  So, it was quite the ride.  We took three of our best friends out as crew guys, so there was like seven of us, and we were like a little group of Vikings, you know (laughs).  We were little kids who just didn't know what was goin' on, you know, but we were ready to go conquer, whatever it was, you know.  None of us were afraid.  We were all just like, let's go do this thing!  We had never traveled before we put Surprise Attack out, so when we went out the first time, our eyes were as big as saucers.  We were like...there was a whole big world out there that we didn't know anything about, and we loved it.  (Laughs)  And we didn't want to go home!  We called A&M and said, hey, if you'll leave us out here, we'll work.  We just wanted to work and have fun and keep the ride going.  And we were lucky.  They gave us a lot of support and kept us out on the road and gave us a lot of opportunities to get in front of audiences and putus on some good bills.  They had good strategies, and it was just...man.  When I'm talking about it, like with you, it's like I'm talking about somebody else, because it feels like another life, but man, it was so fun.

G2G:  Anybody that you went out on the road with that really took you under their wing and said, "Hey guys, this is the way we need to do this.  We're gonna have fun but we still gotta stay professional and this is what we're doing"?

Anthony:  Well, part of that, I guess...one of our favorite tours was, we went on tour with LA Guns and Dangerous Toys, and that was one of the funnest experiences that we ever had.  When we pulled
up to the hotel, I think it was in Dayton, Ohio, or somewhere, and the tour manager said, "meet in the bar at 7:00," and we were like, "oh, man, they're laying the law down," or whatever.  So, we walked in and all the LA Guns guys were there and they all had drinks and they just said, man, get ready to have the time of your freaking life, man.  Because, you know, they had been out for a while playing, and they kind of had the deal down.  And the Dangerous Toys guys, they were from Texas, and we kind of had a Southern connection and we enjoyed talking to them right away.  I think we were out with them for like 8 weeks, and that was one of the craziest experiences that any of us ever had.  And I think that was...I think at the end they finally just made us, they had to separate everybody.  It was like herding cats, we were all over the place and all hanging out with each other at the ends of shows and we'd get all tangled up and get on different buses and lose people and...it was crazy fun.  We basically...for us, it was our college years, you know, and we were out on the road with our buddies from Memphis, and so we were doing what everybody else was doing, we just kept waking up somewhere different every day, you know...

G2G:  Trust me, that college experience doesn't require you to be in a band!  (Laughter)

Anthony:  (Laughter)  I know, right?!  But, it was just the most crazy ride.  And that was our college education.  I mean, if we weren't out on the road, we were at Ardent, driving them crazy.  We'd come home and record a few demos, and they'd be wanting us to get right back out on the road.  You know, it was all part of that "idle hands" kind of mentality.  We were...you know, it was actually work being out on the road, so that kind of kept us out of trouble because we didn't have these big crews, these big entourages, we had to, like, work, you know.  So...when we got home and we got settled in, that's when we'd start going honky tonkin' and all that stuff.  But that time, it was all just a crazy experience.  I still talk to Jason (McMaster) from Dangerous Toys from time to time.  His voice is still great, he's still a great front man.  He's playing a bunch.  He's in three or four bands, he does the Broken Teeth thing, and he's in a band called Watchtower, and he still does the Dangerous Toys stuff, but they're pretty selective about the dates they do now.  The business is so different now for all of us than it was back then.  You know, we're not on radio, we don't have video outlets like we used to have, so bands like them and us, we're trying to be savvy and smart with what we do.

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Sadly, that is where things cut off on what I was able to recover of this fun, long interview.  Anthony was so fun to talk to and would talk about just about anything that we ended up spending almost 75 minutes together on the phone, and I hope to get the chance to Talk Trash with him again some time.  If you haven't yet, be sure to check out their newest album. Bastards of Beale, as well as their back catalog and the FnA releases of demos and studio rarities from Tora Tora.  And, if they are in your neck of the woods, be sure to stop and say hi to them, as Anthony has stated many times they love to hear from their fans.

Here's a live video of the guys on the 2019 Monsters Of Rock Cruise performing "Walkin' Shoes"...



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Monday, March 16, 2020

BONFIRE "Fistful Of Fire"

(c) 2020 AFM Records

  1. The Joker
  2. Gotta Get Away
  3. The Devil Made Me Do It
  4. Ride The Blade
  5. When An Old Man Cries
  6. Rock N Roll Survivors
  7. Fire And Ice
  8. Warrior
  9. Fire Etude
  10. Breaking Out
  11. A Fistful Of Fire
  12. The Surge
  13. Gloryland
  14. When An Old Man Cries (Acoustic)
Alexx Stahl--Lead Vocals
Hans Ziller--Guitars
Frank Pane--Guitars
Ronnie Parkes--Bass
Andre Hilgers--Drums, Percussion

Almost EXACTLY two years ago I reviewed Bonfire's Temple Of Lies, the at-that-time latest release from one of the truly great German hard rock bands of the past 30 or so years.  Temple... was the second release from the band with their new, powerhouse lead vocalist, Alexx Stahl, who brought a power metal feel to the bombastic hard rock that Bonfire has been delivering since 1986.  Now, just two years later, the Teutonic band unleashes their latest effort, Fistful of Fire on the masses, with the only line-up change being the addition of recent touring drummer, Andre Hilgers.  

As is always going to be the case with Bonfire, the band is first and foremost a vehicle for the expertly crafted hard rock anthems that lone remaining original member, Hans Ziller, spills from his pen.  But with the addition of Stahl on vocals, there is a new dynamic in Bonfire that has given the band a rebirth of sorts.  And Bonfire has seemingly taken this new beginning and run with it.

The new record kicks off with an instrumental intro, "The Joker", which would normally set me into a foul mood instantly, as it is well-known to readers here that I despise about 90% of intros.  Sure, sometimes a band has a musical lead-in that is noteworthy, or even occasionally necessary, but more often than not, the intro is just musical or theatrical bloat in my opinion.  Fortunately, "The Joker" falls into the 10% that I am good with, as there is a true musicality here that adds significantly to the follow-up track.  Utilizing a flamenco guitar, drums, and a flute of all things, a unique musical tapestry is woven in the first 25 or so seconds of "The Joker" before the switch is flipped and the electricity flows through the guitars, and new drummer, Hilgers, goes to work on a driving rhythm that carries the track straight into "Gotta Get Away".  This is a big, area rocker of a song, and Stahl sounds even more confident here than he did on his Temple Of Lies debut.  The guitars have that gritty hard rock edge that Bonfire has always delivered, and the chorus is a fist-pounding sing along that fans will likely eat up the first time through.  I know a lot of longtime fans have had a hard time absorbing Stahl's style, but here...and throughout the record...it feels like he has managed to keep his exuberance under control.  To be sure, Stahl still delivers with power and confidence, but perhaps he doesn't feel as compelled to cut loose on an ear-shattering scream, for example, just to prove that he has the pipes to do so.  "Gotta Get Away" is an excellent start to this new record.

"The Devil Made Me Do It" is one of those songs that is just pure Bonfire for me, especially on the chorus section.  The layered mid-range backing vocals that Bonfire has always used are a signature of sorts with this band, and their presence is definitely felt here.  The band utilizes some keyboards in a supporting role here, giving the song a bit of an epic feel, but for the most part this is still just a straight-forward hard rock number with an absolutely stellar guitar solo that would have many lesser players fingers tied up in knots.  Again, Stahl has come to deliver on this track, and he does unleash a couple of monster screams exiting the chorus sections, but for the majority of the chorus he almost sounds like Claus Lessman for a bit.  On the verse sections, Stahl utilizes a slightly raspier approach that serves him well, and overall, I think Alexx has really found the range that best works for
Bonfire.

"Ride The Blade" again hearkens back to classic Bonfire, sounding like it could have been written for the Fireworks sessions back in the 80s, which most fans still point to as the defining sound of the band.  For the most part, Stahl again keeps his vocals in that same Lessman-inspired range, only climbing the scales occasionally, and then only as a punctuation mark on a particularly powerful section of music.  The rhythm work here is excellent, the galloping drums from Hilgers are thunderous, and once again a strong guitar solo really delivers here.  One of my favorite tracks, to be sure.

Things slow down considerably for "When An Old Man Cries", as the band delves into ballad territory for the first time on the record.  I particularly like the march rhythm that is incorporated into the second verse section, as I feel it gives the song a unique feel, unlike a lot of ballads of this genre.  An emotive string-bender of a solo really gives this track an MTV "Headbangers Ball" feel, and I have zero doubts this song would have hit big 30 years ago.  The title really threw me when I first saw it, but the song has a strong story to it, and the song, as a whole, delivers in a big way.

The lead single hits next, and to be honest, I probably wouldn't have led with "Rock N Roll Survivors".  It's a solid rocker, but the lyrics are a bit on the cheesy side, and I don't think it's really all that representative of the album as a whole.  Again, the guitar tone is pure Bonfire, the rhythm and tempo are solid, and even the solo is a good one, but the song comes off as rather cliche lyrically, and is just not what I would have chosen.  Check out the video to see if you agree.


Now, the next two tracks scream single to me!  "Fire And Ice" is far grittier in its guitar tone and much more aggressive in its delivery, with a lot more meat to the sound.  Stahl nails this track with his vocals being utilized in various portions of his range, and he adds and subtracts a raspy approach as the song calls for.  Again, those trademark Bonfire chorus vocals are there once again, and the drum fills from Hilgers are spot on.  And if "Fire And Ice" strikes the listener as perhaps a bit too aggressive to be a single, "Warrior" should appease you nicely.  Definitely more radio rock in its structure and style (as in 80s radio rock), "Warrior" delivers very nicely in terms of its melodic approach and hooky structure.  Once again, this is classic Bonfire, circa 1988, and Stahl makes the most of his more controlled vocal approach on this track.  Pure ear candy for the harder-edged AOR crowd and pure melodic rock bliss.

"Etude" is a mini instrumental, spanning just 81 seconds, but it is the kind of fretboard running that Eddie Van Halen and Rex Carroll (Whitecross) and so many others would interject onto otherwise not-instrumental albums...just because they could!  Its a fun listen, no more, no less.

Another straight-80s rocker blisters out of "Etude" with the charging guitar drive of "Breaking Out".  I challenge the listener to really pay attention to Hilgers' drum work on this track because he pulls out all the stops here, from riding the hi-hat to crushing cymbals, to big, galloping kick drums, while seemingly constantly changing the pattern up to keep things interesting.  The guitars trade off nearly constantly, as well, and this is just a fun song to sit back and enjoy, and one that I am sure could lead to a speeding ticket or two as you tear down the highway with the top down this summer.

The title track, "Fistful of Fire" slows things down a bit, coming off as more of a punchy mid-tempo hard rocker, with gritty rhythm guitars and smooth lead runs working around a unique tempo and slightly off-kilter, gang-shouted pre-chorus section that leads into a big, sing-along chorus that while simple, is definitely catchy.  The guitar solo utilizes a darker tone than others on the record, which fits the mood and attitude of this track.  I could see this song becoming an extended jam in concert, as the guitar solo section feels like there is plenty of room for an axe-slinging showdown before the last run through the chorus.

Another musical interlude drops, this time featuring some classical piano teamed with a marching snare and some nifty twin guitar harmonizing.  Not really necessary, but "The Surge" serves as the intro to the blazing "Gloryland", one of the two fastest tracks on the record.  While I really, really like the song, this is one that I could see a lot of die-hard Bonfire fans pointing to and saying, "THAT is not MY Bonfire", because there is a decidedly power metal feel to the song's structure, even if the execution is still German hard rock.  Stahl expands his range to a good extent on this track, again utilizing that power style he handles so easily, but the chorus, to be fair, is pretty much classic Bonfire.  A nice fret-running solo section sears its way through the track, even changing tempos and slowing into a bit of a bombastic section, before picking back up and spinning us through the last verse and one more run through the chorus.  While some may not like "Gloryland", I think its a great example of where Bonfire is now, with one foot in the band's past, while striving to continue to expand and grow.  Definitely a top 3 song for me from Fistful Of Fire.

The album closes with an acoustic rendering of "When An Old Man Cries", and while it is expertly performed, I don't know that it was necessary.  The guitars are expertly played here, and it is interesting to hear Stahl utilizes a FAR different approach to the vocals than elsewhere on the record.  Again, I like it...quite a bit, to be fair...but it feels tacked on and doesn't do anything to really further the record for me.          

Beautifully produced and expertly mixed, this is a very clean sounding record, but it doesn't sound sterile or spit-polished.  There is edge where it is needed; there is grit when it serves the song.  There is a definite separation between the guitars, which is a necessity with such a powerful two-guitar attack as Bonfire's, and the vocals are nicely handled and layered, particularly in the chorus sections which, again, is something of a Bonfire hallmark.

Bonfire continues on a strong career resurgence, and Fistful Of Fire may be their strongest release in more than a decade...perhaps longer!  Due out April 3rd, this album should be at or near the top of your must-get list, and it will likely end up in the running for album of the year for many!  I'm fairly certain it will find its way into the Top 20 ranks for G2G at the end of the year...but we have a LOT of time to go before then!

Rating:  Definite crank material here!  9.0 for Bonfire's Fistful Of Fire!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

DENS "Taming Tongues"

(c) 2020 Facedown Records


  1. Even
  2. Foolish
  3. Men
  4. Are
  5. Wise
  6. When
  7. They
  8. Learn
  9. To
  10. Keep
  11. Quiet
Shaun Hypes--Vocals, Guitars
Josh Waltman--Lead Guitars
Josh Tomlinson--Bass, Backing Vocals
Brandon Osborne--Drums, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians:
LeRoy Hamp (War Of Ages)--Vocals on "Foolish"
Laura McElroy (Comrades)--Vocals on "Are"
Gary Spears (Empty)--Vocals on "Quiet"

I am not necessarily a fan of labels, especially when it comes to trying to figure out how to represent a band's sound.  Dens is a band that gives me fits, label-wise.  Are they metal?  Well, no, not entirely.  Post-hardcore?  Grunge?  Not completely and no, not really.  Alternative?  Indie rock?  Sorta.  Maybe.  Nothing completely defines who Dens is, musically.  But maybe that's okay, because Dens isn't about being labelled.  They are about making heavy music that makes you think.  (And before you ask, no, they aren't math metal, either!)  With ambient sections, metal sections, hardcore sections, screaming vocals, barked vocals, dang near spoken word vocals, and deep, heavy grooves, Dens is one of those bands that really should appeal across hard/heavy music genres, yet when I talk to my friends about them, nobody has heard of them.  That, my friends, needs to change.

Immediately, most people are going to notice the message spelled out with the song titles, and as you may have guessed, that was not unintentional.  "Even Foolish Men Are Wise When They Learn To Keep Quiet" is an altered version of Proverbs 17:28, which reads, "Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues" (NIV), which is rather interesting to me as in this day and age, NO ONE seems to hold their tongues about anything, thanks largely to social media.  It's cool that the band is able to do this with the digital and CD packaging as it is, because in the cassette and vinyl days, the message would have been split up into sides A and B, causing a disruption in the flow of the message.  Also, it should be noted that rarely do the song titles actually have anything to do with the song itself, so hopefully no one is expecting "Foolish", for example, to have a chorus of the word foolish just being chanted over and over endlessly.

The album comes to life with a discordant squeal of a guitar, with a heavy wall of guitars, bass, and drums building in the distance and roaring forward.  The surprisingly clean singing voice of Hypes glides over the top of the fray, and I have to admit to waiting for the harsh screams or snarls to hit, but they never come.  After the second chorus, the guitars take on a droning quality for a moment wit some heavy drum work underneath, and while a solo never breaks out, the song doesn't venture into a breakdown, either.  One more run through the chorus and "Even" wraps things up, leaving me a bit overwhelmed despite the fact that I have heard this song dozens of times, as the song has been released as a single and is steadily climbing the Christian Rock charts.



My favorite track here has to be "Foolish", and for people thinking this type of music needs harsher vocals, then this is the track for you.  No, Hypes doesn't shred his vocal chords for the sake of the song.  Instead, the band calls upon LeRoy Hamp from War Of Ages to add his hardcore barks to this track, creating a stark separation from the smooth, clean vocals of Hypes.  This song is pretty much pure aggression, with big drums and jagged guitars ripping their way through the enormous sound wave that blasts through the speakers.  No doubt about it, this is heavy, heavy stuff, and someone needs to explain to me why metal/heavy rock radio isn't eating this song...and band...up.  I mean, at just two songs in, I find myself pretty much sold on Dens.  Anyway, check out another Dens video, this time the cool, "art house" video for "Foolish".


"Men" is up next and after a brief intro, the band hits full force, like a throat punch, but to your ears.  Again, Hypes' vocals seem almost out of place when juxtaposed with the heavy music, but it works so incredibly well.  You can feel the emotion dripping from Hypes' words, and the wall of guitars is an impressive thing to behold, as well.  I really wish I had the lyrics to this album, as I really want to know what Hypes is singing on the chorus, but it is hard to pick up sometimes because of the previously mentioned guitar wall.  The drums are big here, also, and Tomlinson weaves a bass line through the track that fills in the rare nooks that the guitars don't smother.  Good, good stuff.

The album really takes an interesting swerve with "Are".  The song opens with a much softer feel than the previous tracks, with Hypes singing in almost a whisper at first as he drifts through the ambient layers of stretched guitar chords.  At about the 1:50 mark, the gorgeous vocals of Laura McElroy enter the track, taking a turn at a verse by herself before joining Hypes in a duo fashion for a stretch.  It's nearly three full minutes before the percussion joins the song, and Hypes cranks up the power of his voice at the same time, and a heaviness envelops the track without picking up the pace of the song until near the end.  It is hear that Osborne's drums take on a heavier, almost tribal rhythm, picking up the pace gradually as the track bleeds directly into the next one, "Wise".  This new song relies heavily on drums and percussion and has a really cool vibe to it as Osborne pretty much takes over.  Sure, the guitars are still a major presence here, but for me, the power of the drums, the cool fills and the huge cymbal crashes are just impressive.  This is a song that, if played in concert, would likely leave me standing there, almost numb from all that is going on, especially if "Are" was included as the prelude, because together they reach almost 9 minutes of intense musical beauty.  I don't think it a stretch to consider a song/song combo like this to be progressive, as the styles incorporated here are definitely not singular in nature.

"When" gives the bass a bit of a chance to shine as it accompanies the drums in setting the foundation of the song, allowing the guitars to flow across the top.  Hypes is again a strong vocal force here, but once again, it is the somewhat unusual drum patterns that really grab my attention on "When".  In contrast, the guitars are the first thing to grab me on "They", a track that I would imagine will find itself being released as a single at some point, as it shares a bit of the same stylistic approach and a similar accessibility to "Even", the current rock radio single.     

"Learn" features a rather unusual vocal approach from Hypes, as he uses basically a spoken-word approach, or rather a shouted-word approach, on the verses.  I'm trying to think of who it reminds me of, as it is right on the tip of my brain, but I can't quite grab it.  It adds a different type of intensity to the track, and I visualize him standing up on a box, barking to the crowd through a megaphone in the live setting.  The chorus sections are sung, which gives an even greater power to the gruffer verse vocals, while the layered guitars churn away beneath the whole episode.

"To" has some jangly bass and rather angry, discordant guitars bouncing atop a tribal drum pattern to start things off, and the first thing I can think of is an angry Primus song.  But then Hypes takes on an equally angry/aggressive vocal style, turning to barks and shouts instead of the smoother singing style he had used throughout the first several tracks.  Everything is kind of a noisy, jumbled, heavy mess that runs for just two short minutes, but really sets the stage for "Keep" which has a melodic, emotive build at the beginning that stands in stark contrast to "To".  Hypes returns to his clean singing, and the guitars take on an atmospheric quality with the effects employed on the bluesy style of playing.  Good stuff, to be sure, and solid proof of the amazing skill of this band.  I hope this song and the next one, "Quiet", are both incorporated into the live set, as both prove Dens is so much more than just a blazing wall of heavy guitars and thundering drums!

Speaking of "Quiet", this song stands even further out in musical left field than "Keep" does.  After hitting hard to open with some power chords and crushing drums, a choir of fans' voices fills the chorus section, adding a really cool element to the track as they sing/speak "When you speak, the Earth it quakes.  When you speak, the fires rage.  When all is quiet, there You are.  When you speak, the waters flood.  When you speak, the winds they rush..."  Really a powerful section on a song that closes out a genuinely powerful album.

The production here is outstanding, which was honestly necessary.  With the sonic build of a band such as Dens, if great attention isn't given to each element and instrument, there is a huge risk of everything becoming muddy and muddled together.  Fortunately, that is not an issue here, as it is relatively easy to pick out a single guitar, for example, and follow its line throughout a particular song, with the intentional "messiness" of "To" being the chosen exception.  As I stated above, I don't have a physical copy of the CD, so I don't have access to lyrics or liner notes, so I can't comment on packaging here, but generally speaking, Facedown does a good job in this area.

I don't really know who to compare the band to if you have never heard them, because as I pointed out, Dens is really hard to pin down.  There are elements of Attalus in the sound, but the odds are most readers won't know who that is, so that's not a lot of help.  Just know going in that this is lot of record to take in all at once, as there are so many moving parts.  Lyrically deep and musically intense, Dens should be a force to be reckoned with in the heavy music scene if they are given the chance to impact the market.

Rating:  Crank this full-length debut from Dens to a 7.5!