Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bulletboys Refuse To Phone It In

The Bulletboys emerged on the metal scene in 1988 in a sea that was oversaturated with bands. The guys did stand out from the crowd. They did have the hair and the attitude, but the makeup was minimal. They also had a sound that stood out from the rest and a charismatic lead singer who would start drawing some unwanted comparisons.

The band’s debut self-titled album was released in 1988 and came out of the gates blazing. It contained two huge MTV hits (yes, back when you actually could see music videos on the channel) “For the Love of Money” and “Smooth Up in Ya”. The combination of being produced by Ted Templeman of Van Halen fame and the on-stage comparisons of lead singer Marq Torien to David Lee Roth lead to an unfair stigma. The band was quickly labeled as a Van Halen clone and that seemed to follow them wherever they went.

The band saw many lineup changes throughout the 90s, but Marq was determined to keep the band going and he kept marching on. The band has continued to record and tour throughout the years. Now, with a new generation hungry for the sound and feel of the 80s, the Bulletboys are gaining a whole new audience. I had the privilege of sitting down to talk with lead singer Marq Torien after a hot and sweaty show in Roanoke, Virginia recently.

Hey Marq, how’s it going man? That show tonight was just amazing. You guys looked like you were having a blast up there on stage and it was very infectious to us in the crowd.

Thanks man! We were having fun up there; that was genuine. There are too many bands out on the road today who just “phone it in”. They either try to fake it on stage or they stand up there with a major attitude and act like you owe them something. That’s just not us man. I am doing this for my kids, so I can leave some type of legacy for them. It’s been pretty tough her of late with Jani (Lane) passing away and all. That really hurt, it hit me pretty bad. I mean, we’re all getting a little older and you look up and see that one of your fellow rockers has passed away. Amy (Winehouse) passed away too and she was such a good gal. She loved my voice. We had a couple of really cool chats. These artists get ridiculed all the time now. We use to revere our artists and that’s not happening anymore.

There seems to have been a lot of greats in the industry who have left us too soon in the last few years. How do you keep it together and keep marching on?

I feel very fortunate and very blessed. God has blessed me and people can say what they want, but he has enabled me to carry on with what I love doing. I’m a musician man and I think that if you are able to bring something musically that’s relevant and people want to hear it, then you keep going. I love our audience and it’s not a fan thing anymore because these people are our family. I get a chance to see people that I have been seeing for years and I have seen them grow up and get married and have kids and now their kids are fans too. We’ve always been a kind of underground hard rock band. I mean, we’ve sold millions of albums, but we never made it to that next level. We didn’t follow trends. We were never a ballad band even though it seemed like every band from that era was doing ballads. That was purposely done on our part because we were against those bands that did those just to get signed.

Let’s talk about those early days because I have always wanted to ask you about this. The whole “Van Halen Junior” label or clone or whatever you want to call it. How unfair was that?

Well, it was great working with Ted. That cat had worked with the Doobie Brothers and Van Halen and Van Morrison and he taught us so much stuff. I mean, we were young teenagers and out of control and he just kind of let us do out thing. The Van Halen comparisons were really appreciated and we threw our arms around it and loved it, but it was a double edge sword for us because we were not that. We were this aggressive, piss and vinegar rock band that hated the Sunset Strip. We wanted nothing to do with that! We played the Troubadour and that was our home. We were a different band. We were a mix of a lot of things. Here is this R&B, hard rock soul singer and surfer/skater type guy with Lonnie, here’s Nick who loves metal, but can also write a pop song and here’s Jimmy who is hardcore. You mix all of that up and we had a unique sound. We were way less of a hair band and more like this weird cartoon character coming to life.

I agree with you because your sound did have a different edge to you that was unlike anything out there. Your voice was very distinct.

Thanks man! I wasn’t that typical rock and roll screamer guy. I have a Motown base to my sound. I worked, at an early age, with a Benny Medina and Kerry Ashby Gordy, who was Berry Gordy’s son. I met some amazing people and worked with some great people in the Motown family and not too many people in my genre can say that. They taught me to be humble with my talent and I wish I would have done that more in my early career.

You had copies of your 10cent Billionaire CD here tonight. That thing seems to be taking on a second life. I think it’s one of your best and definitely much underrated.

Thanks man! It’s a bizarre story behind it. I was signed with the label and when the recession hit the poor guy’s company went down and he couldn’t get behind it and push it. The record basically went away. We are resurrecting this record, with help from friends and family, and people seem to be loving it. People are just starting to hear it now. It’s been out for over a year and a half and got shuffled to the side. We had some people who were coming out to the last tour who were practically begging us to play some material from it. So, we did and people were singing along with it and actually knew all of the words. The reaction was so strong and we looked at each other and especially Lonnie was like ‘We need to go out and do this record. Let’s forget the old and move forward.’ So, that’s what we did. Even the response tonight was great to the songs we played off of it. We’re basically dusting it off and making people more aware of it again.

There seems to be a hunger for the 80s and the music from it. It was such a fun period that gets raked over the coals, but here we are 25 years later and a lot of these bands are finally getting some props. Have you noticed that while out on the road?

Yeah, I think a lot of times people think of our genre with a lot of contempt. I look at it as something that will never, ever happen again. Everybody was their own person. You had Axl Rose, Sebastian Bach, Mark Torien, Taime Down, Phil Lewis. We all had our own vocal style. That small bit of time carries on until this day and a lot of people still are into that music. People really want to hear rock; real people singing it and playing it. I think you notice that in popular music too. Lady Gaga, a brilliant lady who is so full of love and her music is just amazing. She has guitar players ripping real solos up there and that’s rock and roll. She doesn’t use tapes, she is a real artist. People don’t want to hear tapes and pre-recorded stuff, they want the real deal. That’s what we were and continue to be to this day. Yeah, I may miss a note every now and then and somebody may ask me why I didn’t tune up. I mean, did Keith Richards tune up? Hell no! That’s rock and roll man! Don’t phone it in man. Like tonight, my guitar strap completely fell off! Nowadays, kids panic on-stage when that happens, but you have to roll with it. If it’s too real and polished, then it’s not real rock and roll.

So, what’s next for you guys?

We are going to be doing more shows here in the states and then over to Australia by the end of the year. I’m excited because I have never been there. I hope it works out because there are a lot of fans over there with a lot of love in their hearts for us. I am also looking at making some additions to the band. I may add some back-up singers and maybe a keyboardist. You have to constantly re-invent yourself.

I have to tell you Marq, the show was awesome and this interview has been a blast. I can’t wait to see and hear what you guys have lined up for us next. Is there anything you to say to your fans to wrap this up?

I feel great that the fans give me a chance to be out here still doing what it is that I love to do. It’s been a wild ride and I am glad it’s not ending. We’re out driving 10-12 hour drives between cities to these shows, but I love it. There are a lot of people out there who want to see the band and I want to reach them all. Thank you for wanting to see us after all of these years.

UPDATE: There have been a few major things that have happened in the world of the Bulletboys since this interview. The band lost a former band mate and friend in August when former drummer Johnny G. was killed in a car accident.
On a lighter note, the Bulletboys just released a covers CD entitled Rocked and Ripped.

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