Rock City Angels: Use Once And Destroy!
First of all this is an interview about the Rock City Angels new album, “Use Once And Destroy”. To all the folks who loved “Young Man’s Blues”, I appreciate it and will give some background, but honestly, THIS is the album I’ve always wanted to make and I truly believe that lovers of YMB will love this album as well with a few listens. “Use Once…” has made many lists of ten best albums of 2009. Not bad for an album that was put out completely DIY and distributed through CDBaby. If you really liked YMB, you owe it to yourself to listen to the best record I could make without someone constantly questioning decisions and watching over my shoulder. It’s a record I would want to hear but never do, now I can and turn a lot of people to something different.
To put it simply, ROCK CITY ANGELS started in 1981 after I left home at 15 years old. Long story short I was a huge punk rock fan and had a chance to go to punk mecca, Los Angeles, where I was convinced I would become friends with all my hero’s, especially Darby Crash. To me Darby was the new Jim Morrison and I loved The Germs!
Well, I arrived with two older friends about a week after he took his life, but I still managed to track down many of the important people in his life and learned a lot of things about him, maybe a few too many things. Still would have liked to have hung out with him.
Leaving Southern Fla. was one of the best things I ever did. I met many of my musical idols, learned to survive on my own and had a blast. My other objective for moving was to try to get a band I had started with a bass player called The Abusers signed by an indie label, even if only on a compilation. This WAS the home of Rodney on The Rock after all. I became great friends with Snickers from The Simpletones, all of Social Distortion, The Circle Jerks, several cats in FEAR, The Vandals… the list goes on. I could always count on Ray Gange from The Clash movie “Rude Boy”, El Duce, Maggie from Twisted Roots and of course Michelle Belle, crazy as they all were, to take care of me.
After a while I decided to return to Fla. to pursue the band more and work to convince them L.A. was the place to be. After working some shitty jobs, I was able to come up with the money to record some decent demos. The drummer and I still couldn’t convince the band to move, so we decided to go back to L.A, to shop the stuff ourselves.
That was cool but after our rent $$ was stolen after 4 months or so, Billy Blaze, the drummer, flipped and split. I stayed a while longer, I always considered L.A. to be my home. I love the history there. Every building has a story to tell.
I was asked back to play a couple of reunion type shows in Fla. and, outside of the jigsaw puzzle of recording, I love to entertain a live audience. I went back. At our final show before the band went it’s seperate ways, the news came down. A small label wanted to release our demos. That was the way to get the band to go back to L.A. with me, so with nothing, we ended up at the apartment of the label owner. She FREAKED!
Not one of her acts had ever done that before, but I figured we’d get better promotion if we were actually in town. She did her best, but didn’t actually know how to sell a band as crazy and different than her other acts.
We started finding gigs ourselves and once we discovered the “Scream” club, we started getting noticed for real. Micheal Stewart and Dayle Gloria were instrumental in getting us some great gigs in that old downtown Hotel. Soon we were opening for great bands like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, etc. It was at one of these shows with Jane’s Addiction that we really took off. There was a bidding war on Jane’s between labels and, little did we know, us too!
By this time we were also playing regular gigs with Len Fagan at Coconut Teazer, so we had been approached by labels in the past. Most of these label A&R guys were morons and I didn’t feel comfortable talking to them, so I’d blow ‘em off. One question I would ask was my B.S. meter. I’d talk to them about Eddie Cochran, a serious idol of mine at the time, and if they had no clue who he was, I’d walk away. People thought I was crazy, maybe I still am, but I expected someone truly interested in the band to have some fundamental history of music.
I was to find that person in a woman from Geffen Records in Theresa Ensenat. She loved Rock City Angels, was incredibly knowledgeable, and cool. Respect for her came naturally, no games. Sadly she had a partner named Tom Zutaut, they had to agree on all signings. I liked Tom at first, he seemed much like he was, a music geek who had risen through the ranks. I soon detected some disturbing things about him though. He had an arrogance of past achievement, signing Motley Crue and Guns and Roses, that was kind of understandable. With this however lay a slight detachment and an uncomfortable air of power and expectation of artist subserviance in some way. I was much more comfortable with Theresa. She suggested finding representation to protect the band. That came quick. When folks smell money in Hollywood they come out of the woodwork.
We wanted to start the album as soon as possible, but instead only received promises. Producers are important to the sound of an album, and finding the right one all would agree on would take time. Our short list was Glynn Johns,(The Who), Jack Bruce, ( Aerosmith, Alice Cooper), Rick Reuben, a couple others. One by one shot down by Tom. We were signed in mid ‘86, frustration and drugs were inevitable.
One day at Geffen, I met Paul Rothschild, producer of Janis Joplin, The Doors, etc. We hit it off immediately, we met with him at his Hollywood Hills home, talked for hours. Excitedly we went to Zutaut to let him know and he shot us down immediately. Apparently he had one flop so he was now considered washed up by the industry. Unbelievable.
Late evening, I receive an urgent call from Theresa. She’s splitting with Tom and wants us to become her act exclusively! That call killed me. I knew we should go with her, but I was 20 years old and in ‘86 it was still a man’s world. For the first time in my life I was scared to do the right thing. Things went well for her thank god.
Meanwhile I read Peter Gularniks book about Soul music in Memphis and Muscle Shoals and became obsessed with recording in the south. Tom Dowd came out to see us first but while I liked him, there was no connection. Then I met Jim Dickinson. He had just recorded the best album The Replacements ever made, “Pleased to Meet Me”, worked with The Cramps, Big Star, the FUCKING STONES fer Christs sakes. He was the man. Truly became my mentor.
For preproduction we recorded the whole album at Sam Phillips small studio, then did it for real at Ardent Studios in Memphis. It all took about 4 months to finish then let Jim work his mix magic for about another month. It was a work of genius, a REAL record.
Tom flew into Memphis to hear it and HATED it. I think he was looking for another “Appetite For Destruction”. Harder. He asked Jim to remix it and Jim just laughed at him. Like any great artist he had integrity and when he felt an artwork was finished, that was it man. Tom got different people to try to remix, but thank Gawd I still had final approval. They were terrible. Finally the engineer and I were allowed to give it a try, and X~mas day !988 “Young Man’s Blues” was released to the world. Next thing I know we’re on tour with Jimmy Page, Joan Jett, Georgia Sattelites and have a video on MTV. What no one ever seemed to understand, except those who saw us live, was that we were NOT a hairband, just a sleazy punkband with many influences. To me it was quite obvious, but I guess some folks were confused.
This is how our new album, “Use Once And Destroy” was born. This album was to be our manifesto. Rock City Angels had officially broke up in 1993 after touring Japan and working in London with Brian Robertson of Thin Lizzie. In 2001 I had come up with enough new songs to record this new disc. I flew to L.A. to lay down basic tracks at the infamous but now defunct Paramount Recording studio. These went well, my next plan was to finish with the top Memphis soul players to add detail, then mix and release our selves. To do this I needed money, and through the years investment after investment fell through. I was starting to get really discouraged. People who heard it thought it was great as it was and thought I should put it out, but I had a vision for this album and i wasn’t going to give up.
What was I doing through those “lost” years? Still performing in several Memphis area bands, writing songs and concentrating on writing short stories. I love writing fiction, putting myself in a characters place and telling a story. If you’re interested, I have quite a few in my MySpace blogs but I should warn you, they CAN be disturbing. I am also a serious film buff and can’t get enough of foreign films from around the world. Asian cult cinema is like dope to me, but there’s plenty of other great movies from around the world that keeps me going. I went to school as a film major but decided early on singing was a lot cheaper an endeavor.
Obviously I found the cash to finish “Use Once And Destroy”, using the best “old school” players on horns and keys after finding an excellent engineer, Chris Swensen and his studio. There are cats in Memphis that are the only ones left that still play in the old Stax Records soul style and that was important for this disc. Released in Dec. 2008, “Use Once And Destroy” ended up being kinda epic in scope, punk’n’soul music like I never heard before, which was my goal in the first place.
I love performing live and Rock City Angels will continue playing live events ‘till I drop. Our live set consists of half YMB’s songs and half the new one and shows have been going over really well… it’s only gonna get better folks! RCA is the sleazy rawk’n’soul you been lookin’ for without even knowing it.