Thursday, February 09, 2006

Interview: Warrant


The first time I ever wrote about Warrant was on November 18, 1988 (6,293 days ago) for my high school paper, The Green and White. It's taken nearly 18 years for me to actually have the opportunity to interview one of the members of the band that got me through my senior year of high school.

At the time, I was a 17-year-old heavy metal fan who had attended a handful of concerts (Huey Lews and the News; Ozzy/Metallica; Aerosmith/Ted Nuggent; Quiet Riot/Poison) and who somehow talked my mom into letting me drag my younger brother to Peabody's Down Under in Cleveland on a school night to see a triple bill of Warrant, D'Molls, and local hair metal heroes, Spoyld. We actually went to see D'Molls and were going to stick around to check out just one or two Warrant songs before heading home. Though they were headlining and had gotten a small blurb in the "Rock on the Rise" column in Metal Edge magazine, Warrant were still a few months away from releasing their debut album, Dirty, Rotten, Filthy, Stinkin' Rich. If you click on the link to the article I wrote, you'll see that we wound up staying for the whole show and were mesmerized by this up-and-coming Sunset Strip band.

If you want the Warrant history lesson, click here. This interview isn't so much about history as it is the reunion of all of the core members (Joey Allen, Steven Sweet, Jerry Dixon, Erik Turner) EXCEPT lead singer Jani Lane who left in January 2004 and, unless he cleans up his act and stops burning bridges, probably will never again front this version of Warrant.

After Lane left the band, Turner and Dixon called upon Black N' Blue singer Jamie St. James to fill the spot. Things went surprisingly well when the band hit the road and culminated in the recording of a new album, Born Again, which should hit U.S. store shelves some time in April.

When I got an e-mail from the band's publicist inquiring as to whether or not I'd be interested in interviewing somebody from the band, my first thought was, "Somebody is pulling a practical joke on me. I'm going to get all excited about this, wait by the phone, and then nobody will call." Fortunately, that didn't happen and last Thursday night Warrant guitarist Joey Allen gave me a call.

What follows is an interview that was nearly 18 years in the making.

I have to admit something right off the bat. I wanted to talk to you about the new CD but your publicist didn't have any copies to send out so I resorted to downloading it.

That’s all right, it happens, you know? Stuff gets out there and if people like it – or if they don’t like it – at least it’s out there.

Having been a lifelong Warrant fan, I have to admit that I wasn't quite sure what to expect with Jamie St. James on lead vocals.

It’s different, right?

The thing that surprised me is that you were able to retain the Warrant sound and the way Jamie sings, it doesn't sound that different than the older Warrant material.

It’s an honest record. It’s what we do. Since I got back in the band in 2004 and since Steven got back in the band, you’ve got the whole back line of Warrant with a different singer. Steven sings so much on the Jani Lane Warrant stuff. I know it’s a little different because Jamie St. James is singing and Jani’s not doing all the songwriting. There was a lot more to the Warrant sound than Jani Lane, let’s just put it that way. He was a great songwriter and a damn good guy to hang out with back in the day and it was a lot of fun, but we’ve turned a new leaf. He’s doing his thing and we’re doing our thing.

I think the album really is full of some great songs; my favorite is "Bourbon County Line."

We call that song "Frankentune". From the demo to that version of it, that was the most worked on song. Erik wrote the riff and handed it in in a fetal state. No disrespect to Erik but it was just a riff he had. It was a cool riff and then I think he pieced it together on his computer with ProTools. And then Jerry got into it and helped rearrange it and I think Jamie wrote the lyrics. I’m going to let Erik know you like that one. You’re going to give the kid an ego.

I did have the opportunity to catch a show with Jamie on lead vocals. I saw you guys in 2004 in Cincinnati …

Ooh. Ouch. You saw the shittiest show since I’ve been back in the band. To be quite frank with you, our singer was not seen in his best light. We went on late. Great White played 5 songs for 2 hours with a lot of solos. God bless, ‘em, I love them. I think maybe Mr. Jamie St. James had a little too much of the bubbly that night, to be honest with you.

I was pissed off on stage because Jamie just wasn’t doing well. He’s atoned for his sins and we don’t have that issue anymore, especially with Jani being out of the band and all the issues that Erik and Jerry had in the past with Jani after I left. So it kind of hit home and we took care of it, nipped it in the bud. Regardless of if the audience wasn’t into it, we didn’t play that well. For the Cincinnati fans, we definitely owe them some type of free gig to make up for that. I will definitely tell you out of all the shows I’ve done that was the worst one.

Shit happens, you know?

You're kind of caught between a rock and a hard place. Fans want to hear the classic Warrant songs but they don't want to hear the "new guy" singing them.

No disrespect to any of our fans, but we cannot tour with Jani Lane. He has a hard time touring and that’s the bottom line so don’t hold it against us. In 2000 when I met with Jani, Jerry and Erik after being out of the band for 6 years and we were talking about getting together, Jani was nice about it but I don’t think he was into it and I don’t think he was into getting Steve back. I didn’t want to play in any other lineup at the time. So he had his chance back in 2000 and now it’s just to the point where we can’t tour with the guy so Erik and Jerry found somebody to step in.

Did Erik and Jerry bring Jamie into the band before you rejoined?

He and I jammed together with Jerry and Erik for the first time altogether with Mike Fassano. Steven had declined to get back into the band at that point. Then he changed his mind a few months later.

Call it Internet speculation, but I swear that I remember reading at some point that the original members of Warrant were talking about going on a nostalgia tour where you would all wear leather and make-up, just get really glammed up.

Wow. I didn’t hear any of that. I’m a 41-year-old male. Most of the hair I have left, I’ve bleached the shit out of to make it look like I have a little hair. So, no, going out with full makeup and everything … no.

The main thing we’re trying to do at this point of the Warrant stage is to represent the past as best we can and look towards the future. And no disrespect to any former Warrant members, especially Jani because of the amount that he had to do with it in the beginning, Warrant’s never been about one guy. It’s always been about a vibe, we’ve got that vibe back. We’re having fun. We’re definitely at the top of our game. We’re playing great and we get along great. It’s an adult business for us. Not an adult X-rated business! We’re kicking ass and we’ve got the new record coming out.

The fans make the band. To all the people out there that are pissed because we didn’t change the name, you have to look at it two different ways. Number one, it’s not about one person. If it had been about Jani Lane, it would have been "Jani Lane and Warrant". It’s not about that. It’s like 5 guys getting together on the football field – buddies that all get along and beat the shit out of each other and go have a beer afterwards and smile and laugh about it. It’s the same vibe in the band. That’s number one why we didn’t change the name.

And number two, the name is a commodity. Put it terms of a business. If you owned a business and you had a partner and the business was successful under the ABC name and you split with your partner for whatever differences – maybe he slept with your girlfriend or maybe you have a financial issue – you wouldn’t want to change the name because it’s not the same partner. You’re still making the same product. It’s rock and roll; it’s not rocket science. I understand it at the same time. Hopefully people will understand.

Since you've got a new record coming out, the first new Warrant record of all original material in 10 years, will you be playing new material on this tour or will you stick to the classics?

We’re probably going to do 3 new songs – “Dirty Jack,” “Devil’s Juice,” and “Angels.” We’re kind of moving into it a little bit at a time. We can’t forget about what we used to do. People want to hear “Cherry Pie,” people want to hear “Heaven,” people want to hear “Down Boys.” We'll do18 or 19 songs, a full set. We’re pulling in a few old ones that haven’t been played in a while like “April 2031” and “So Damn Pretty (Should Be Against the Law)”. We’ve also been playing “In the Sticks.”

We’re going to take it day by day. 3 songs out of 18 songs, that’s a pretty good percent. We don’t want to alienate anybody by just playing new songs. I remember being a kid and loving certain songs in a band’s past repertoire and then going to see them live and not having their new record and hearing stuff I didn’t know. I was like, “What the fuck song is that?” It’s a fine balance and we’ll do the right thing. We get a lot of e-mail. We read our e-mail and listen to what our fans say, for the most part, unless they are derogatory.

Is it tough to go from headlining arena shows in the early '90s to playing small clubs in strip malls?

Nope. As long as people have a good time, I don’t care. We started in clubs. We played in nice clubs, shitty clubs, big arenas, and big outdoor festivals. We went from playing in 1987 in a bait and tackle place in Fresno, California to playing the arena in Fresno. It doesn’t really matter.

This summer we’ll have some festivals where we’ll play in front of 20,000 people. It’s not about how many people show up, it’s about how good of a time they have and how good the band sounds.

Most bands from the hair metal era of the late '80s aren't together any more. And the ones that still do tour usually consist of the lead singer with a bunch of hired hacks backing him up. That has to make you happy that you're pretty much all the original members.

At least we have 4/5 going in. Jamie’s a great guy, a great singer, a great front man. He’s one of us, that’s why we get along so well and are still doing it. That’s why we did a record and I imagine we’ll do anything record.

Did you know him back in day?

We laughed about that. After we first jammed together I was like “Dude, did I ever party with you back in the day?” and he was like, “Yeah, I think we partied.” I don’t remember and neither does he. You meet so many people and party with so many people, if you don’t hang out more than once, it’s hard to remember people sometimes. I know that Erik and Jerry were big Black N’ Blue fans and I think he actually sang on some demos even before Jani and Steven were even in the band. In a roundabout way, he sang in Warrant before Lane did.

You left Warrant in 1994. Did you think it was the right time to get out?

It was when the guitar solo died. When grunge came out and put a halt on everything we were doing, it was hard to run a business. I was in the middle of a bunch of personal battles with going through a divorce, a little alcohol, a little drugs. I’ve been very vocal about it on the Internet in the past, but in hindsight, I had to do my own thing and get away from it. I had to grow in a different direction for a while. Like every good thing, it came full circle. When Erik e-mailed me and asked, “Do you want to jam?” in January of 2004, right after Jani had ceremoniously quit, I was like “Hell yeah”. It was the right time.

I think that point in my life [when I quit], it was a personal time out.

The bottom line is that I love playing music and I love playing in Warrant. I can’t say that I didn’t miss it, because I did. It was a difficult time. It was just something that had to happen. We’re having a fucking blast now.

When you left the band in the mid-90s, I read that you went back to school and then got a "real" job.

I had an Engineering degree. I used to build prototype amps for a guitar company. Then I got into Warrant, then I got out of Warrant and I went through a ton of Microsoft schooling. I got certified and I worked as a technical support analyst for a mid-tier enterprise resource planning software company. They made a small manufacturing package. And then I went and worked for a customer as a database admin, because they had the software. I doubled my salary. I was doing that job when I got the e-mail from Erik.

Did you list Warrant on your resume?

Hell yeah, dude, I was a normal Joe. I put Warrant in my resume. I had a professional resume that I wrote. My father is an ex-business executive so he gave me the 50-hour rush on how to write a killer resume, which, of course, took 2 weeks. I had Warrant on my resume, it came out. I didn’t hide it; I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done in my past. I’m still on the right side of the grass, so I’m a happy camper.

Right now I’m in the band full time but I also have a day gig. I have a great gig in the music industry and I can do Warrant tours because we basically do weekend gigs so it’s not a problem.

Shortly after you left Warrant, you put together a band and posted some MP3s on your website. Was it a serious thing or were you just having fun?

I did an Orange County garage-punk thing. I grew up in Orange County from ’72 on and that was the scene. I used to play Priest and Iron Maiden covers. I played other stuff too and since that whole movement came out I just got together with a bunch of buddies and we pounded out some stuff. I put a website together and put some of the music up on the site. Never released anything, it was just a project. And then I got into another project called Flood the Void that was kind of like Jeff Buckley meets Stone Temple Pilots. There’s a 5-song EP floating out there somewhere. That was a totally different thing.

Did you stay close with any of the Warrant members after you left the band?

I didn’t talk to Dixon a lot but I talked to Turner every once in a while. I’ve known Erik since we were kids, before there was a Warrant. There’s never been any animosity between me and Erik or Jerry or even Steven for that matter. I saw Jani last September when he was doing great right after Celebrity Fit Club. I saw him at a Cheap Trick show. It was the first time I had seen in him 5 years and he looked great. He was happy. It wasn’t a bad thing; it was kind of a trip because I hadn’t seen him in a long time. I spent so much of my life with the guy on the road. There is no animosity, it is what it is. We wish Jani Lane the best of luck in health and happiness. We’re moving forward, we’re having a blast.

Did you pay attention to who was playing guitar in Warrant after you left?

Billy Morris is a good guy. I like Billy. I know a lot of the guitar players. I know Rick Steir, I know Keri Kelli. I get along with all those guys. I don’t have a beef, I don’t care. I wasn’t doing it, so somebody should. If the people want to hear the music, I don’t care. It’s not like I’m jealous. I’m back in the band now; you can tell it’s me. The songs are the same, but everybody’s fingertips and feelings are just a bit different, you know?

You're not currently on a rigorous tour schedule. How do these short tours come about?


We get offers, we look at them, if we like them we do it. We put together a weekend of fun and go out. We’ll see what happens. If a big tour comes our way, we just have to look at it and make sure it makes financial sense. That’s what it boils down to.

We’ve stepped it up to a level – we sound great, we look great, we’re healthy, we’re happy.

And, finally, if you can get on a package tour this summer, who would you like to go out with?

We can get it out there and shake it with anybody, especially anybody from our genre. I’d love to tour with Cinderella. I’ve love to tour with Tesla.



> Visit Warrant's website
> Warrant on MySpace

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