|Posted on June 5, 2014 at 9:40 PM|
There was a time during the 1980s when hard rock and metal was enjoying its most successful period of popularity. Bands such as Motley Crue, Ratt, Poison and Whitesnake were all household names and cast a very long shadow over the rest of the genre. In that shadow lived some just as talented, but not so well known acts, like Louisiana natives Lillian Axe. But instead of complaining about their situation they just kept on rockin’ and produced a number of outstanding efforts such as Lillian Axe, Love + War and Poetic Justice. Today the band is still going strong with the spirit it showed in the early days and they have just released a new live acoustic CD/DVD titled One Night In The Temple. I had the pleasure of catching up with original guitarist and genuine nice guy Steve Blaze for a chat about the new album, Robbin Crosby of Ratt fame and a serious car wreck incident eight months ago.
Rock Man: Congratulations on the success of the band. When you started Lillian Axe back in the 1980s could you have imagined that it would endure for this long?
Steve Blaze: Well to be honest with you whenever I put my mind to something I really do see it to fruition. I am not a guy that gets involved in things just for small periods of time and lose interest in it; this is I guess my gift from God to be able to play guitar and write songs. So it is in my DNA; so I knew that I would always be playing music and writing songs As far as knowing that Lillian Axe would be around for so long? I honestly really did not think about it. But, you know, if I was to be asked that 25 years ago I would probably say “yeah, I’ll be doing this until the day I die” and that is kind of how I feel right now, so yeah, you know, this is part of my DNA, it is what we do and it is what I do and what I was put here for and so I would say I am not surprised.
RM: Can you tell me about your musical upbringing and who were some of the musicians that influenced you to pick up the guitar?
SB: Sure, when I was six years old my parents gave me my first guitar for my birthday and it was a guitar, I remember they told me it was like $19.00 at the time, and it was in a cardboard box and it was an acoustic classical guitar. And I started taking guitar lessons immediately at school and they told me that I had outgrown the class in a matter of months and that I needed to go take private guitar lessons so that I could get more attention. So I did that and I started playing classical and flamingo as a kid and that has always stayed with me, but when I was around 10 or 11 years old my Dad and I saw Alice Cooper on TV and that was it. That is what twisted my little brain and made me realize I wanted to play that kind of music, so with my musical upbringing and my sense for melody, because I was so into classical music and then seeing the power and intensity of rock and roll that is where I think I kind of merged my two worlds together and started developing my own ideas and own way of doing things.
RM: Congratulations on the release of the live acoustic album/DVD One Night In The Temple you must be very proud of this album?
SB: I am, you know, and I am proud of it as a well done piece of art. I mean it sounds great, the band plays really well, the crowd was great, the DVD came out really well, it captures the magic of the night, there is a lot of really cool additional footage, bonus footage all intersperse and it is a nice kind of cross section of, kind of a macroscopic look at our history. We do songs from every record on this and it is really nice to sit back and listen to it and kind of get a feel for our career in a different type of format. And everything went really well, we put a lot of work into this man, not only into the event that night that we recorded and all the little things that had to be perfect for it to come across, but the months of editing and mixing that we put into it after it was over with. So at the end of the day that coupled with the artwork and the packaging it is just one of the most profound things I think we have ever done. And it seems that once you do that it is one thing to sit back and go “[I'm] very proud of this and it came out really good” but you never know how your fans and the public are going to take to it, are they going to feel the emotion from that night? And it has gotten rave reviews so far, everybody has become attached to it in a high degree and the cool thing about that is it is an acoustic record, so usually when people first of all hear acoustic they get turned off a little bit and then they hear live because it has kind of been over done and a lot of people want brand new material. But it has amazingly gone over like gangbusters, so we are very happy with that and very proud of the way a lot of people worked to make this thing come out the way it did.
RM: Given this was an acoustic album was it as simple as roll up with your acoustic guitars and play or does just as much preparation go into this as a full on electric set would?
SB: Well it is different. I think we may have put more time and emphasis on this, on doing the acoustic stuff, because first of all, the arrangements pretty much stay the same but there are certain things that we changed up a little bit just to make them have a different feel. You play them like the record but you have to adapt some times, as far as soloing is concerned, I kind of have to adapted because I am limited on the ability to play the kind of solos I do on an electric guitar on an acoustic guitar. I still get the opportunity to riff out and blaze a little bit on it, no pun intended, but it is not the same as playing on an electric guitar. Vocals, you have to pay extreme attention to harmonies, because of the fact that everything is stripped down you have to pay attention to detail, I mean you can hear the fret buzz on a guitar if you pay attention and those kind of things, you know, are great live but if you play it well those tiny little sloppy things they are not there. You know, it is live and we wanted it to be natural but it is going to sound live and natural just because of the essence of what we are doing, you do not have to make mistakes to prove that it is live. So we spent a lot of time on making sure we all worked together, the arrangements were good, the harmonies were there and we practiced a lot and so at the end of the day we were well prepared for this and it showed in the performance.
RM: How difficult is song selection when working on a project of this nature. Does it become difficult to find the right balance of classics verses more recent material?
SB: Well we know that there are some songs we have to play at every show, Ghost Of Winter, True Believer, Show A Little Love or the crowd will have our hide. But we also know that there are some songs we have not played live for many years for different reasons, but that we felt were still some of our favourite songs that would come across very well, like Dying To Live and See You Someday that are really built for this kind of performance. So we add those in and we asked the crowd and fans prior to putting this together to get ideas of what you would like to see done on an acoustic show and we take all that into consideration when we sit down and decide which 20 songs we are going to do that night. So it is a little bit of everything, you know, we could have taken another 60 songs and done the same thing with it and they would have been just as effective. Maybe that is an idea, maybe do Another Night In The Temple and do another 20 completely different songs, it is not out of the realm.
RM: So you have included a number of classic songs on this record such as The World Stopped Turning, Nobody Knows, Misery Loves Company and as you have already mentioned, True Believer and Ghost Of Winter. What is it about theses songs that have stood the test of time?
SB: Well, you know, I think there is a few of them like Show A Little Love and True Believer that were songs that got played on the radio, they were more popular because people knew about them. We had a video for Show A Little Love on MTV, Show A Little Love and True Believer got a lot of play on radio and they still do, they still get played on radio stations now. So those are the most in your face all the time and you know how that goes, when you have a song that they so call a “hit” or what not, you know, they are the ones that people are going to know the most, so they are the most recognizable and they go over the best. As far as Ghost Of Winter, that is just one of those songs that I think is the essence of what the band is about, you know, our light and dark dynamic, our melodies, our harmonies, the power, intensity and passion of the songs so it is a good representation, just like See You Someday and Death Comes Tomorrow we have a lot of that signature light and dark contrast type stuff and it lends itself well to playing acoustically. So it is really tough, you get people who come up and they are like “Oh man, you need to play The Needle And Your Pain” and we are like “Yeah we really need to do that” and then somebody else “You guys need to play Those Who Pray” and before long you have 100 songs that people want to hear and you have to take the 5 or 10 that you have to do and take the rest of them and pick them out of a hat.
RM: If I can take you back to 1988 and the recording of the debut self titled album, that record was produced by Robbin Crosby of Ratt fame, can you tell me about your recollection of working with him?
SB: Sure, Robbin was a great guy man. We met him when we opened up for Ratt prior to getting signed and then we got the word that Robbin wanted to produce us and that Ratt’s manager wanted to manage us and get us a record deal and that is how that all came about. So when I met Robbin he was very kind he always was a great guy, he was very friendly, very generous and just a good human being and we became good friends and the sad part about it is after the record, you know, he was going and doing his thing with Ratt and we were back touring and stuff like that and we kind of lost touch a little bit because he was in California and we are down in Louisiana. It was sad to see what happened to him, but Robbin was what I consider a tortured soul I do not think he was really ever comfortable with being a rock star, I think he did not know how to handle it and I think he did not understand it that much and I think it kind of bothered him. Because he was not like your typical egotistical musician, he was sensitive and a nice guy and things bothered him, yet he was surrounded with a lot of people that were the opposite of what he was and so I think that may have led him to succumbing to some of his demons and it is a shame. But he was a great guy and I am sure he is up in heaven right now and looking down on everybody. He was definitely one of the good guys.
RM: You recorded two albums with MCA Records in the beginning, then you were dropped. Then two more with I.R.S. Records before the same thing happened. Do you feel there was a serious lack of support from your labels back in the beginning and if so, do you have a theory on why?
SB: MCA definitely screwed us and they screwed everybody else too. We got dropped from that label with about ten other bands including Alice Cooper and then when we went to I.R.S. everything started of fantastically. Now we did not get dropped from that label, they went out of business so it was a sign of the times, we had our two biggest records while we were on that label and especially with Poetic Justice, they did a fantastic job of promoting that record. But we jumped right into the next record when Poetic Justice still had a lot of life left in it and that is when they were still doing videos for MTV and we should have had a video for True Believer, but they didn’t, they wanted it for No Matter What instead and No Matter What was a single but it did not have the legs that True Believer did, it was a remake in the first place. So when I.R.S. went out of business we went into a hiatus for a few years, but like anything without strong label support, it is virtually impossible to get good commercial success. That goes with anybody, anywhere, anytime.
RM: When you look back at the body of work that the band has been able to produce do you feel the band has gotten it fair share of recognition or has it been over shadowed by other more famous bands of a similar nature?
SB: No we definitely have not gotten our commercial success. But, you know, I talk about this a lot with people close to me, success is relative, it is what you think and what you feel. I know a lot of bands that have had great commercial success and they have put out two or three records and they do not exist anymore, just to be able to do 13 albums and still be around for 25 years is a great feat. There are a lot of bands that should have had huge commercial success that are fantastic, bands like King’s X and Saigon Kick, those bands are bands that should have had huge success but for whatever reason, luck of the cards, poor label support, whatever, did not get what I think they deserve. If I had a nickel for every time we were called the most underrated or under appreciated rock band in history I would be very wealthy. It is just the way it is, it is part of the plan who knows what is going to happen in the future, we do not know. But when I look at what we have been able to accomplish and what we have done with our fans and the stories I hear from fans for the last 25 years it has been hugely successful, you know, I like in certain ways being this underground cult kind of band, I like that because it shows me that our fans are unique. And we are a strange kind of animal here, we do not write about surface level stuff, we are not trendy, never have been, we formed our own unique style, our own unique aura about us and it includes all of our fans and I find that are fans are smart, funny and cool and they are intelligent and I like that. I like listening to the stories over the years about how our music has helped and changed their lives and that is really important to me. So we definitely have been a victim of the lack of the “Big Machine”, you know, to be honest with you, is there really a hugely successful band that did not have a huge “machine” behind them that had the resources to push the band and continue to work with them? No. It is like being a product unfortunately, it is like being a can of dog food, the bigger companies have the most success.
RM: What does the future hold for Lillian Axe? How much longer do you think the band can continue for?
SB: For the future what we are doing is we are getting ready to in September we are probably hitting the road again, working on the next studio record, for sure, I am also in the process of getting ready to film a TV show that I am hosting, it is a ghost hunting show. We do ghost hunting and paranormal investigations throughout Louisiana and we have got a couple of other side projects, you know, just smaller things we are doing for fun. But right now we are gearing up to start hitting the road and doing a lot of shows, as many as we can probably starting in September. So we are going to keep churning out music and keep playing, I would love to come to Australia, so if you guys can get a petition up, see what you can pull, get us over there we would absolutely love it [laughs], as long as I can fit a koala bear in my luggage but they tell me I would get in trouble for that [laughs]. But no man, everything is really good the band is in great spirits and we are playing better that ever, we did some shows this past month, I do not know if you knew this or not but we had a bad car wreck eight months ago..…
RM: No, I wasn't aware of that. What happened?
SB: Yeah, in August on tour, we had a wreck were our driver fell asleep, it was me, our bass player and our stage manager and we were coming up the day of the show, everybody else was already in Dallas and the driver fell asleep and we hit one of those big electric road signs filled with all the batteries, like 16 batteries inside it and we hit that at 70 miles per hour and destroyed the vehicle and flipped the trailer and all the gear was destroyed. Three of us went to hospital, we are still dealing with injuries and fortunately nobody was hurt too badly, no fatalities but a step away from honestly somebody being killed. The EMTs thought we were dead when they pulled up that is how bad it looked. So we were blessed but it freaked us out pretty much, so for like eight months we decided just work on the One Night In The Temple and get that together and kind of regroup and get our gear taken care of and heal our wounds and get our heads together. So that is what we did and we just started back playing again a month ago and the band sounds better than we ever have.
RM: The good Lord was looking after you that day for sure.
SB: It was all God on that, I am telling you man, if you see the pictures, go on the internet and Google ‘Lillian Axe car wreck’ and you will see some pictures on there and it was not pretty at all we were blessed, we are fortunate to be alive.
RM: Once again, congratulations on the release of the live album/DVD One Night In The Temple on behalf of everyone here at Full Throttle Rock I would like to wish you all the best for the future and continued success for the band.
SB: Listen man, thank you so much and I would love to come to Australia, so if the good folks of Australia will have us we will be more than happy to hop a plane and come rock you.
For more information about the band go to the official website at www.lillianaxe.com
Lillian Axe – One Night In The Temple CD/DVD is available on CME Records.