Review by Greg Maki
Let’s take a moment to appreciate Scott Weiland for the truly gifted performer he is. Stone Temple Pilots, of course, emerged along with the grunge scene in the early 1990s, but as early as their second album, Purple (1994), they began to separate themselves from the pack. In the middle of the decade, when Weiland began to assert his own distinctive vocal identity (mercifully moving away from the Eddie Vedder-like moan) and a Beatles-esque pop sensibility began to creep more and more into the STP sound, they produced one of the best rock albums of the ‘90s in Tiny Music (1996). It was also around this time that Weiland’s personal demons caught up to him; he spent parts of the next several years in and out of both rehab and jail, preventing STP from gaining any serious momentum during the latter half of its career.
Following STP’s demise, Weiland hooked up with former Guns N’ Roses members Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum to form Velvet Revolver, one of the few “supergroups” that actually delivered on the promise of its lineup’s pedigree. That partnership lasted for just two albums and now Weiland is going the solo route with Happy in Galoshes, a collection of tunes even more curious than first solo outing, 12 Bar Blues (1998). (more…)
Review by Greg Maki
Apparently, it’s been awfully noisy inside Axl Rose’s head during the past decade and a half. And he’s spent that time pouring all the sounds rattling around his brain into the 14 songs that make up Chinese Democracy, possibly the most anticipated album in rock history. Spending millions, employing a small army of musicians, producers and other collaborators, and recording in more than a dozen studios, the disc sounds like Axl spent every day of the past 15 years working on it. It’s almost too much to take in a single listen, with the entire recording threatening to explode into chaos at any given moment. There are layers upon layers of guitars (as many as six guitarists appear on a single song), bass, drums, percussion, keyboards, piano, strings, electronic loops, hip-hop beats, samples of Cool Hand Luke dialogue, even a few words from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And, of course, there are Axl’s one-of-a-kind vocals. An inhuman shriek near the start of the album-opening title track lets us know his pipes are still intact. His familiar wail dominates most of the tracks, though he also throws in a meaner, edgier tone and an occasional falsetto. The vocals, too, are often layered, adding to the density of the recording. (more…)
On the Eastern Shore of Maryland, we don’t get too many big rock concerts. It’s not uncommon for country music stars to hit Salisbury or Ocean City, but an established rock act that has yet to hit the where-are-they-now file is a rarity. Getting three bands that rock radio staples and legitimate headliners on their own is virtually unheard of. (more…)
Review by Greg Maki
More than three and a half years passed between albums for Mudvayne, but these four musicians have been busy. The New Game is the first of two new records in the can, and—oh yeah—vocalist Chad Gray and guitarist Greg Tribbett found a little time to write, record and tour for a year with Hellyeah. (more…)
Six Feet Under’s Death Rituals is now the eighth studio album from vocalist Chris Barnes and company. The band, once a side project of legendary death metal band Cannibal Corpse, is not taken seriously enough by the online metal community (partially due to their death metal covers albums, Graveyard Classicsand Graveyeard Classics 2 covering AC/DC’s Back in Black album), and for whatever reason, people seem to have a genuine disliking for Barnes. Admittedly, his blunt, incoherent barking and gargling-underwater vocal style is hard to get used to, but he’s the face of Six Feet Under, as ugly as it may be. (more…)
Dutch hardcore metal band Born From Pain has been at their game for more than a decade. Their last album, War, was the band at its peak, chugging and ripping their way through top-notch hardcore metal. Since then, they’ve had a shakeup, with a new drummer, Roy Moonen, and a new vocalist, Rob Franssen (former BFP bassist). Franssen screams the album’s opening lyrics, “This is the sound of survival/This is the sound of the truth/This is the sound of the world coming down on you!” There’s no turning back from here. (more…)
Years ago, when Bigelf first came to be, retro-rock wasn’t exactly hip. Bands were going for modern sounds with new technology, yet vocalist/keyboardist Damon Fox had a different path set out for Bigelf. Huge fans of The Beatles, the ’70s psychedelic era of rock n’ roll and the ’80s guitar era, Bigelf became a hybrid of all these things. Now, in 2008, retro is in and so is Bigelf in a big way. Following the success of the long-delayed album, Hex (review), in 2007, the band is back with Cheat the Gallows (review), an album even more daring and psychedelic than its predecessor, if possible.
In an interview with Live-Metal.net’s Jeff Maki, Fox talks in-depth about the band’s many influences, the current state of the rock ‘n roll industry and the essence of Bigelf. Fox is highly opinionated and just from reading his words, you can feel his undeniable passion and love for rock n’ roll. According to Fox, Bigelf just missed out on the opening support slot for the AC/DC tour. Even so, you can sense they are due for a tremendous breakthrough at any given time. This band is doing something right now that no one else is, bringing decades of rock music into the modern era, re-imagined in only a way Bigelf can accomplish.
How did you get your start into music and then into the formation of Bigelf?
Damon Fox: You could almost write a novel. Early on as a kid in the ’70s, there were lots of lasting memories of rock n’ roll—lots of Cheap Trick shows and Van Halen. In the mid-’80s, I started playing guitar and keys at the same time. When you’re a beginner, you go through a lot of situations when you’re trying to find people in the same headspace and when you’re young you’re obviously not very accomplished. I remember wanting to be like Let It Be or something, it was sort of the focus for me and the original bass player in Bigelf, Richard Anton. We were looking for people that were into the same kind of thing as we were, which was not very in at the time. But it’s very hip now. Everyone’s into it these days—vintage instruments, it’s just normal fair. A Mellotron on a Bon Jovi record is just normal. It’s everyday that you see a band with facial hair. Everything is back in a rock n’ roll-vintage kind of way.
The beginning of Bigelf was more of a reflection of what wasn’t existing, we wanted something that felt real. And now looking back, the funniest part is … the ’80s feel real. But at that time you’re just saying, “Oh man, what happened to the 70’s?” The ’80s was such a guitar era and now it’s seems funny that all those guys, all the rock bands at the time, they could all play their asses off, actually. But that doesn’t always qualify for being a good band. It’s opposite now, there are so many bands but nobody knows how to play. Nobody knows how to do anything anymore. It’s just sort of like a business.
It’s kind of like the “in” thing to get into high school and join a band.
Which is cool. I know some young lads that are fantastic and they’re doing all the right things, but that’s a small percentage. I’m not going to complain about kids getting into rock n’ roll, but it’s pretty trendy right now. Just go to any department store and it’s AC/DC baseball caps and—
I can’t even believe it when I walk into the Wal-Mart down the street from me and see the giant AC/DC logo with all the T-shirts and stuff set up.
It’s all good, but it’s getting a little cartoonish. [laughs] But better that than not at all!
Yeah, better than country or most of the hip-hop out today.
Well, the thing now is The Beatles, which honestly is the band that encompasses everything for me. I remember when we started Bigelf, The Beatles were The Beatles, but what are they now? The Beatles are beyond things. I remember in the early ’90s, people weren’t reaching back as much in sense of reflection of influence and stuff like that. I remember The Beatles not being that big of a deal as it is now. The Anthology hadn’t even come out yet. And now reflecting, it’s odd how a decade gets behind you and, really, music changes. The big change is the perception of how you look at a scene and the cultural movement of things.
Is there any particular story behind the name of Bigelf? I hadn’t heard you guys until the album, Hex, dropped on my doorstep last year through the site and I was just like, “Bigelf? What in the hell?” But I had to listen to it with a name like Bigelf. I really had no choice. I’m obviously glad I did.
I was one of those kids that Dungeons & Dragons pretty much dominated my life. Candles, the dice … sub-reality to your mental state when you’re playing your character … I wish all those urban legends came true because it was definitely a good time. It’s funny that you should ask about the name because I just broke out a bunch of books because my son was asking me about it. I was showing him some stuff. It’s crazy to see those books on eBay with out of control prices. People are actually getting into D&D again.
I get the urge once in a while to try and call some people and break out the old DM’s guide and Player’s Handbook and all that stuff, but it hasn’t come together … yet. [laughs]
That was the genesis of the name. We just wanted a band name with the word Elf in it and I think Rich [Anton] said, “Bigelf.” And I said, “That’s it.” Yeah, little giant, kinda like Iron Butterfly, it’s an oxymoron. That’s the perfect name for this kind of band. It brings to mind that late ’60s, heavy psychedelic mood. It’s funny thinking about it now because you were just asking what got me into music and rock n’ roll … thinking about Dio … When we first started Bigelf, someone told me Dio’s first band was called Elf. I was like, “Oh really?” Back then, you would only know this if you were a scholar of rock music or had a lot old-school records or if you had a a lot of rock n’ roll journals or books, it’s not like the Internet was there. Kids today know everything. There are Wikis with the history of everybody’s life and networks notifying everyone on what you’re doing up to this minute. [impersonates a narrator-like voice] “Right now, I’m on the phone with Damon Fox doing an interview.” [laughs] There’s so much information, it’s just funny because back then, it was just like, “Who in the hell is Elf?” And I was a huge, huge Deep Purple fan and a pretty big Sabbath-Dio fan as well. We actually opened for Dio in Sweden and he saw the name and said, “Hey, cool name!” He was a cool guy.
The album, Hex, was only just released in the U.S. in 2007 but was already out years earlier in other parts of the world. So was there any story behind the delayed U.S. release?
I wish there was an interesting story, but I don’t think anyone really wanted to put it out. It was just frustrating to all fucking hell. We had released Hex in Scandinavia in late 2003 and we assumed in would be released here in the states. We were lucky enough to partner up with Warner Music at the time, they let us go into the studio and do whatever the hell we wanted. They really believed in what we were doing, which is the way rock ‘n roll should be. When we came back to the states after the release of Hex in Europe, I thought we’d get it out here because we had Warner behind it. But it turned out to be one thing after the other and it didn’t get released, so it was confusing. Though, you have to remember, things were different five years ago. Today, people look at Bigelf as an alien kind of thing, but back five years ago it was really alien. I think it took somebody like Linda Perry to put it out. She’s a visionary and felt it was worthy of getting people’s attention. [Perry is a songwriter and producer and was a member of 4 Non Blondes. She runs the record label, Custard Records] Several big labels and even some good indie labels just passed on it. I was shocked. It wasn’t like we were trying to cut any weird deals or anything.
Are the lyrics to songs like “Rock ‘N Roll Contract” and “The Evils of Rock ‘N Roll” a reflection to the issues with Hex‘s release or is this a message to other bands and artists?
They’re stories and they’re all true. It’s all related to the band, nothing’s made up. Every little bit is something that’s happened to me or the band at some hotel or something. “Rock & Roll Contract” was pre- Hex and the “Evils Of Rock & Roll” was a continuation of that concept. “Evil’s” is more broad, about rock n’ roll and it’s a dangers, there’s a lot of pitfalls involved in it. It’s not like snagging crabs on “Deadliest Catch” or anything. But there’s a lot of shit you go through with it because it’s art. You’re rockin’ and partying, sometimes you don’t pay attention and things go sour. You’ve heard all the stories. Huge artists think they got their shit together, then they lose 15 million dollars. And yeah, there’s frustrations from Hex. There’s frustrations now. I still think the business and the music industry is a joke. We’re gonna to have to see where it goes from here and what kind of recovery it can get, to get solid musicians back into it again. Because certainly nobody’s making any money.
Do you have any grand revelations to fix the business? Any ideas?
I think where where we are going now is completely uncharted territory. Everyone’s trying different things, making some kind of a new format now and with technology, it’s a gray area. For myself, I find the problem is just the quality. There’s too much glutinous product and too much homogenized crap. Labels are signing anything that has a couple million MySpace hits. But where is the actual quality? Where is the artist development? Where are the actual artists, whether it be rock or pop or any genre? It seems hurried and it’s all just some glossy product. I think it has to come from an art point of view first. We get everyone complaining about how sales are down but it’s a lot easier for music to exchange hands these days. It’s a different world. Don’t cry about it. Fortunately with the Internet, there’s a lot more people discovering bands like Bigelf. I always get e-mails from people saying they were looking around for things like Black Sabbath and found Bigelf. And that’s healthy, but it’s still very underground.
Musicians used to be entertainers. It’s an escape. It’s some kind of release for a fan. When I go to a show I want to be part of it. When you go to see a show, it’s a spectacle, you’re blind to reality, it’s just the band’s reality and their images and what their songs are about. It seems like on the artist side, the fans are still waiting. On the artist side, I think it’s a little thin. There’s just not that much charisma anymore or actual hardcore talent. Maybe it’s out there, but the labels aren’t considering it. Everyone’s just too fucking scared because they’re not making money. They just wanna stay with what’s gonna sell.
Speaking of entertainment, what are the touring plans for Bigelf?
We’ve been working really hard to get a good opening slot for a couple months now. We just missed an opening slot with AC/DC.
So you were close to the AC/DC slot? What happened there?
We were pretty close, yeah. Just to even be in the conversations was huge for me. But yeah, we’re trying for an opening slot with somebody big, but if not we’ll probably go out on a headlining tour. We’re trying to get things on a bigger-clubs/smaller-theater level. Because a Bigelf show, when done correctly, is a cool atmosphere and it has a theatrical nature to it. There’s a grandness to it and when it comes to a club or bar, it honestly gets lost. Clubs get hard to do because we’re doing something that’s more of a spectacle. We’re trying to get [an opening slot] with The Raconteurs or Mars Volta or something of that nature.
Other than the influences we’ve already mentioned like The Beatles, Sabbath or Floyd, is there any one band that has influenced Bigelf that would come as a complete surprise?
[long pause … Damon thinking …]
[laughs] It’s hard. Everything comes into play when you’re talking about influences. Obviously with Bigelf the influences are part of the scope of what we’re doing because we’re trying to bring something back, trying to carry a torch for rock n’ roll. We’re doing it as a service to this kind of genre. This category of music deserves to be replicated and continued on. I think we’re sort of like a hybrid.
But surprising things? Nothing that would shock you. Paul McCartney is my all time fave, that’s the guy where I’m just like, “Wow.” I used to listen to a lot of things, speaking of Jay-Z, I used to think that Run D.M.C. was the shit. So in a way, they were definitely an influence, how they were able to hybrid styles together, rock and rap. Those guys were pioneers. I don’t consider myself a pioneer, I’m simply trying to bring this music forward to another era. It’s odd, people were psyched when ’80s new wave music came back into style. Punk rock crashed the scene for like the 10th time and nobody complained. And people don’t have a problem with hip-hop and rap being recycled, but god forbid you bring back psychedelic or progressive rock, because then you’re retro. It’s bizarre, a taboo area of music for sure.
In my review of Cheat the Gallows, I wrote something along the lines of “You’ve heard Bigelf’s songs before, yet their re-imagined in a way you never would’ve thought” So I guess it all makes sense.
I think people give us a lot of flack about certain things and that comes with the territory with bands like Bigelf. We’re goin’ to take Master of Reality, Wish You Were Here, Night At the Opera and Abbey Road and bring it into the millennium. It’s not totally original, but what is totally original? And if you are totally original, it’s usually not something I wanna hear. This is one thing that I could talk about forever, the “influence” game. I know what Bigelf is about, I created the band. With that said, I feel it is 100-percent authentic. We don’t hold back with the “real” factor. We just make the music the way we hear it and we put it out. There are other bands that have a retro influence, but I think most of them are half-baked. Maybe it’s because their label doesn’t want them to wave that retrospective flag, so they quarter bake it or half bake it. To me that seems really contrived.
The thing about prog-rock or psychedelic rock is, it’s very hard to recreate. I believe it’s some of the best music that was ever written and recorded. So who wants to recreate that stuff, because you’re gonna be compared to the best—like if you’re being compared to Black Sabbath, they pretty much created heavy metal. Hopefully, the way things have been going in the last couple of years, people are more open to old school rock n’ roll. Today, you’ll find more 17-year-olds saying, “I just heard Soft Machine … or this band … ” because they can check it out on YouTube or wherever, and that’s healthy. Kids are getting into all kinds of music, even if it has jazz in it—metal music that has jazz in it, metal music that has classical in it. All those things, kids are just obsessed with. As tired as it may be, we’re just another brick in the wall. We’re just another limb on the tree of rock n’ roll. We’re just trying to do our thing and fuckin’ be true to what’s in our heads. And it isn’t calculated. It’s not something that’s thought out. It’s just something that comes natural and if it’s too much of a throwback, then go listen to a Nickelback record or something.
Review by Greg Maki
If you’ve heard Hinder’s multiplatinum debut, 2005’s Extreme Behavior—considering the number of hit singles it spawned, you’ve probably heard a good chunk of it without even trying—then you’ve essentially heard the follow-up, Take It to the Limit. (more…)