Here’s the interview portion of March’s Featured Band series in-depth reports, an interview with vocalist Nick Walsh of Canadian hard rockers Famous Underground. This was conducted in March 2014, by Iris North. Excerpts of the 69 minute chitchat follow:
First off, I’d like to thank you for granting this interview, and thank you for the good music. I even got to hear some of your Slik Toxik material through a friend who’s operating a radio station – Kyle Sweet at KrankIt! Radio. I remember thinking “Nick has been this good, for this long.” It’s impressive. How did you get wrapped up in this business to begin with?
Well, thank you. Thank you, very much. It’s something that’s ingrained in me, since I was a very young lad. I’ve been in love with music since I was about four or five years old, when I had my first “KISS experience”. And, it’s never left me. It’s something that I pursued at a very young age, and I started playing nightclubs when I was 14. Previous to that, at my public school, while other kids were doing other things for talent shows or whatnot, I was putting together rock bands. (laughs)
Belated congratulations: you guys went gold, and even took home a Juno award. You could have retired on that, musically speaking.
Yes, yes that is correct. You know what’s funny? People always say things like ‘oh, I achieved this’ and I could say I got where I needed to be or whatever, and I’d be happy. Well, not me. It’s not that I’m never satisfied. It’s that to me, it’s something that was never a hobby. It was always a lifestyle, and still is.
Is Famous Underground sort of a joke, like “we’re huge in Japan”?
Yeah, right, ey? Actually, the title came from my wife. With one of our guitar players, we were having a conversation. This was just previous to us naming the band Famous Underground. He was saying how he was a Slik Toxik fan, and he was kind of thrilled that he was at my home, and we were having a dinner together. And he thought ‘wow, this is cool! I used to learn your songs before. Slik Toxik tunes, and play with my buddies, and now here I am, going to get the chance to play with you.’ And I was like ‘give me a break, buddy. We’re just musicians, we’re going to have a good time.’ And my wife says, “oh, yeah, Nick, he’s famous underground.” I went ‘oh my God, that sounds amazing!’ And I didn’t even think of it as a band name. I thought of it, more a brand name for something. You know, some sort of…
Jeans, there you go! Famous Underground jeans. Anything, right? The opportunity came to name the band, and I went “Eureka!” I mean, that would be perfect, because it’s a bit of an oxymoron. Music, heavy metal, hard rock music, you know, it tends to go in cycles: to be underground, and then yet, it comes back up and it’s commercial again, and accepted. Then it goes back underground. There’s a bit of a spin on the name, and it means so many different things.
And the FU initials!
Yeah. Again, at that point, that was a fluke. That was actually something that just sort-of… a friend of mine pointed it out to me. I was so blind to it. Normally, I’m pretty good at these sort-of cryptic things, and that one just didn’t stick out like a sore thumb to me. And when they said “FU” I was like “Oh my God!” I didn’t even put two and two together for that one. “Genius!” That’s good branding when you don’t realize you’ve got something… a double entendre or whatever, so there ya go. Actually, the second record, we’ve been toying with the idea of FU2. (laughs)
You guys originally recorded this a few years ago. Why’d you decide to re-release the album – do you feel you’d get wider exposure?
Well, everyone keeps saying that. Re-release, re-release. It was independent before. Therefore, it wasn’t so much of a re-release, because the only place it was made available was through our shows, our website: things like that. It wasn’t actually physically in stores. Our ‘underground’ (smiles) following were able to get it via the Internet. But as far as an official release goes, it didn’t have one. So, we were fortunate enough that it didn’t get overly exposed enough to become ‘old news’. Once we got management out of Europe, we sought a record deal to release it “proper”. And we did attain that. The actual, what I would call the real release, was just June of last year. It hasn’t even been out for a year yet. Worldwide, (it’s) made available in stores throughout the US, and England, and other places in Europe, as well as Japan. So, it wasn’t so much of a re-release – again, as I said, as an official release.
I like how the songs are really well thought-out, and ‘Los Angeles school’ produced. They’re slick as snot, loaded with hooks & attitude, from hardball to tender and back again. You’ve got all the variety, bells and whistles here.
(laughs) Thanks. Yeah, it’s something that I found in hard rock specifically, because we’re a hybrid of hard rock and heavy metal. You can hear that in our songs. And I found that a lot of the ‘attitude’ that was in hard rock, let’s say from the early 90s or the late 80s, has disappeared.
You even infuse that attitude in to your vocals.
(A) slight elements of sleaze, but snarly… I take my snarl from the old school of Alice Cooper, and ‘that kind of thing’. You have to have a bit of a sarcastic wit, and clever sorts of plays on words and stuff, to be able to come across that way. And if you’re just singing… I don’t know. I’m not trying to say that whatever we’re doing is better then anybody else. I just find that what we do has been missing for a long time in certain genres of the hard rock field. I like the snide sort of… guys like Alice Cooper, and Dave Mustaine. Stuff like that, so I kind of put a little bit of that in to our songs.
One of the things about the songwriting, as well, is that I always like to sort-of play out a ‘yin and yang’ scenario in my songs, whether it be… Because I have a bit of a character voice, where I’ll sing with that snarl, that sort of snide attitude thing, and then I get to the chorus, it’ll give you a little bit of this angelic vindication or something, where it becomes more nicey-nice, and then gets back to the nitty-gritty kind of thing. Or, vice versa, where it’s really nice in the verses, and then the chorus hits, and it gets a little nasty or whatever. I like to have that colorful sort of thing with the songs. So, not only would it reflect in the words, but even melodically or musically, you get that sense of balance between good and evil. (laughs) Ya know what I mean?
Yep. One thing I like about you guys is that you can pull it off live. The vocals aren’t all Auto-Tuned, the arrangements aren’t all studio layers. What you hear on the album is pretty much what you hear live. (Live sounds crunchier and heavier, which I like.) So when fans get the album, they’re getting the real you, not the you “dolled-up in nice clothes, with perfect hair”, so to speak.
Thank you. Thank you.
Could you tell us a little bit about your former bands (Revolver and Slik Toxik)?
Slik Toxik was a band that formed out of a band that I had as a teenager, called Portrait. It was one of those kinds of situations where I was playing with a couple of high-school buddies. Then, as things got a little bit more serious, we had to go kind-of outside that pool of musicians, and attract different people to the band. And, eventually, it became Slik Toxik. That was a band made up of many different kinds of people, as far as the musical landscape and influence go. There were guys in that band that were totally in to like the L.A rock scene – bands like Ratt, Dokken, Crue, and all that stuff. Then there were guys that were more in to the metal side of things, from Europe. Bands like Mercyful Fate, and some American bands like Queensryche, and Fates Warning, and stuff. So, again, to marry the two, was a really cool thing with Slik Toxik. That not only did we have that rock and roll “sex swagger” thing going on, but we could actually play our instruments.
So, that’s what was really cool about the Slik days, and we got a lot of notoriety, even in the US. We got to tour down there, we played with a bunch of bands. We toured with Yngwie Malmsteen, and Faster Pussycat, played with Overkill… you know, did all sorts of great stuff down there. We got played on the radio, got on Headbanger’s Ball when MTV actually played videos…
You were on Headbanger’s Ball?!
Oh yeah! I think somebody’s posted it on YouTube. You can actually see (me) and my old guitar player Kevin Dale co-hosting with Ricky Rachtman or whatever, and… good times. (laughs)
When did Laurie-Ann Green come on board?
When I formed Revolver, but previous to that, just after Slik Toxik, I had put together a little bit of an ‘alt’ rock band, because that was a very… the mid to late 90s for a lot of us, and when I say a lot of us, I mean people that come from my school or the genre of rock music, were in a state of flux, you know. I mean, you could interview a lot of bands, and they would give you the same story. After the whole grunge thing, and boy bands, and solo divas, and all that started ruling the airwaves, and changing the trends of music. We were all in a very confused state of mind. So, I formed a bit of a more ‘alternative rock’ band, trying to stay with the times, and progress a little bit. Expand my horizons, so to speak. And Laurie, I had seen from afar. She was in another band called Jane Doe, and I asked her if she’d play in the band, and she had loyalties to her band Jane Doe, but we remained friends. So, this band I was in, we were called Raised On Mars. We were playing around and stuff. We were using Laurie’s band as a support act. We remained tight that way, and then, after things went for a turn, I got out of music for a little while, as far as being in a band was concerned. I opened a recording studio, and started producing. I decided after that, because I was producing all these young bands, and gettin’ the fire again. I was like “I’ve got to get out there again.” So, I contacted Laurie again, as to jump onboard as the bass player, and she said the timing was perfect. Because her band Jane Doe had broken up, and, you know, it was a good opportunity.
The rest is history: that was like 13 years ago. So, she played with me, with this Revolver band, which was the band that I was forming at the time. Revolver saw some good players in it. A friend of mine, Sean Kelly, who’s doing quite well for himself right now, was one of the guitar players in the Revolver band. And he’s gone on to play with Gilby Clark, and currently plays guitar for Nelly Furtado, and has a new band, called Four By Fate, with a couple of the guys that were from Frehley’s Comet. Revolver was a band that again, was just formed out of me and my love for music. And writing. Because I owned a recording studio, it was one of those things, where I could have been writing the never-ending album, unless I had a deadline. And I finally did achieve a deadline, because I ended up getting a record deal, and having to deliver. (laughs)
How did you get involved with the Moxy project?
Oh, Moxy! Some friends of mine, that are in a band called Heaven’s Fire (from Toronto here). The rhythm section started playing with Earl Johnson, the original member of Moxy, in the Moxy project. And they had another singer, by the name of Russ Graham: Russ “Dwarf” Graham, from The Killer Dwarves. And the Killer Dwarves are starting to do quite well again – they’ve re-united, and they’re playing a lot. They’re going on the Monsters Of Rock Cruise, and they’re playing Rocklahoma this year and stuff. So, Russ didn’t quite have the time for the Moxy project, that he had before. And they called me up and asked if I would do it. To be honest with ya, I didn’t even know any of their music. They’re a Toronto band from the late 70s, a classic rock band. And, I know the name, I saw the logo all my life: my brothers had the records, but I’d never heard them. And when they sent me some tracks to listen to, I thought ‘sure, I could do this. I have the time, I like music, I like performing, Famous Underground’s my baby which, I write (for), and produce the stuff. So, it’s not like I’m going to be leaving that any time soon.’ But, you know, I find that music these days, has become something, because of social media and everything, that artists are able to now expand, and spread out their talents with other people. You know, Dave Grohl… Dave Grohl’s a great example. He has his Foo Fighters, which he’s never going to leave. And then he’ll go and play with Queens of the Stone Age, or… lucky him now, he gets to go play with guys like Sir Paul McCartney and whatnot. But the point is, to be able to do all these different things and keep busy, keep people interested… We live in that ‘fast food era’ now. So, out of sight, out of mind.
If you have enough in you, that you’re able to be prolific enough to be able to write songs, co-write with other people, perform with other people, guest spot on this record, do this commercial – whatever. I mean, I had an opportunity, I just did the lead vocal part for a television show called Bay Warriors, which is part of the whole Bay Blades Japanimation, the Anime thing, which is huge. And my kid was thrilled, to see on the Cartoon Network or whatever, when this thing starts and he hears his dad’s voice, singin’ the theme song.
That’s what I mean – it’s just about keeping busy, and lending my talents here, or somebody lending their talents to me. And collaborating on things is so much fun. I mean, music has to be fun, especially for guys like me that have been doing it their whole lives. If it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t be doin’ it anymore. (smiles) It’s my life. (laughs)
You mentioned that King Diamond was one of your vocal influences. He is the king of falsetto, “to beat the band”.
Oh, totally. King Diamond… people have a love/hate thing with King Diamond. Either people can love the guy, and love what they do, and stuff, or they can’t stand him. And that’s how it is with the people around me. It’s either they totally dig him, or they can’t stand him. It took my wife a little while, for him to grow on her.
I saw King Diamond twice, but both times, I was actually there to see the opening band. So I unintentionally saw him live. Both times, he “brought it” and he sounded great, for what he does.
Oh, yeah? Who were the opening acts at the time, do you remember?
It would have been the late 1990s up until about 2001, so I’d say it was probably bands like Morbid Angel, Cannibal Corpse… stuff like that.
You like the heavy stuff, huh.
Yeah, I like death metal, and extreme metal, but I like hard rock too.
I like everything, as long as it’s good. There’s metal, there’s hard rock, there’s sleaze rock, there’s this, that, the other thing. But, there’s a lot of cheese in it too, right? So, I see black metal guys that I think are totally wicked. Like, I like Satyricon, and certain bands. And then I see other black metal bands, that I think ‘you should just be at the circus, dude.’ You know what I mean? (laughs)
It almost becomes a parody of itself.
That’s it. Some things can, for example, black metal and the whole corpse(paint) thing. Some bands can sell it, and some bands can’t. And when there’s too many of the same sort of things out there, that’s when somebody has to do something completely different, and squash it. Look at King Diamond. He’s been doing that makeup thing… he started off with the whole corpse(paint) thing. If you look at really vintage Mercyful Fate stuff, I mean, he just had the black circles around his eyes, and white makeup on his face, and maybe an upside-down cross on his forehead or something. And all these guys now are taking that, and the whole sort of tribal tattoo thing, and…
It’s funny, Gene Simmons actually told King Diamond that he had to change his makeup, some years ago. From around the time of Them. Because of the way he had his makeup stylings and everything. Gene Simmons said it was an infringement on his copyright or something. Meanwhile, Gene took it from a Japanese mask, a kabuki mask…
(King) always had top-shelf players in his band. Really high caliber musicians, like Snowy Shaw, Sharlee D’Angelo…
Oh, yeah. Snowy Shaw played drums, and meanwhile, Snowy Shaw’s like a heavy lead vocalist.
Working back to your albums… your new album-to-be has that cheeky FU2 ‘tagline’.
Yes. (laughs) Well, that’s the working title, but who knows what’s going to happen, by the time it’s done, right? But it’s even fun to just say that. Yeah, we’ve got six songs recorded, and I’m just working on working out the bugs on another batch, and tracking. It’s great because, in this day and age… this is why I’m not in the business of owning a commercial recording studio anymore. The timing of that was a little bit too late. And what I mean by that is, a lot of people started to be able to get home studios. And with a home studio, it’s a catch 22. You either have the talent and the ears to be able to produce a recording, therefore, a home studio is a convenience. Or, you don’t have the talent and the ear to create a production, but you think you do, because you own a computer.
(laughs) So, this is where the studio business kind-of didn’t work too well for us, because a lot of people would rather take that money, go buy a Mac computer with GarageBand or whatever on it, and think they can record a record in their bedroom. And sometimes you can. But, where I’m going with this, is the good thing for me, is that I’ve had a very good relationship with a recording studio, all my life. So, we’re able to go to a studio, to record the drums, let’s say, because I don’t have a drum room at my home. And then come back to the house, and track guitars, or my vocals, in a very comfortable environment, without having to look at the clock (and see it’s ticking down, and it’s costing me like $150 an hour to be here.) I get to do it when I’m inspired. That’s the greatest thing about having a home studio, and technology being where it is today, for a musician.
If you get an idea at 2 am, you can record it at 2 am, without having to work on someone else’s time clock.
Well, that’s it. Absolutely. I’ve just been working on a brand-new track this week, since Saturday. Again, it comes in spurts and waves, ’cause I’m not in the recording studio, looking at the clock, worrying that it’s burning a hole in my wallet. I’m “eureka! I got an idea!” and I just come in here, fire everything up, and I’m good to go. So it’s cool that way. With this second record, again, just like the first record… We’re getting really good reviews, and critical acclaim, on our first record. Part of the reason that it turned out the way it did, is because we had the opportunity to take our time. To make it as ‘best’ as we wanted it. That’s the thing too – of course, everybody hears an old saying in the music business: everybody “has their whole lives to do their first album. But they only have a year or so to do their second album.” And I like pressure. I’d rather have a year to do an album, because it gets me off my ass to do it. If I had forever, like I said, when I had the recording studio, and I was doing the Revolver project, before I put Revolver together, it would have been like the never-ending album. “Okay, I’ve got 40 songs here. What am I going to do with 40 songs?”
Time for that double CD and DVD box set release.
That’s it. And that’s the thing now – everybody wants everything. It used to be, you’d write like 25 songs, you’d pick the best ten or 11, and go in the studio and record them. Now, because demos even are so good with technology, everybody has everything they’ve ever written, (in) good quality. And now, people want them. Like – ‘make this one an iTunes exclusive’ or ‘give this away for free as a prelude to your album’, or… you know what I mean? There’s always going to be room for content.
What’s your songwriting process like – is the writing collaborative, or does one person come up with most of the ideas?
I’ve got to be honest with you. Famous Underground is the closest I could get to a solo act. But because it’s a hard rock and heavy metal sort of thing, it’s all about the performance. I don’t foresee it being like “The Nick Walsh Band”, calling it that, ’cause that’s just not ‘rock’. You know what I mean? I can write the stuff, I can record the stuff, but I can’t do it without the other members of the band.
A lot of people don’t know that I’m a guitar player, and a songwriter. Because I’m onstage, holding a microphone – but that’s because it’s about the show at that point. It’s about being a frontman: commanding the audience, it’s about getting in to their souls, looking right in to them. Delivering the goods. I mean, sure, there’s been times, even with Famous Underground, (where) I pick up the guitar, and we do a cover tune. We do “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead. And it’s fun. My delivery doesn’t want to be chained to a microphone. I want to be able to try to look at everybody that’s there to see the show. Try to get the point across, of the songs, of the music, get in to them, like getting to the people… look in their eyes, and everything. And I can’t do that, standing at a microphone.
When I was younger, (songwriting) was a little different, because with Slik Toxik, I brought a lot of sort-of completed ideas to the table, then we sort of hashed them out in rehearsal. The difference is now, with technology, I’m able to do all my trial and error, or rather, what we would call pre-production work, on the fly, as I’m creating, as I’m writing. I get to actually hear what the song is going to sound like. Whereas, back in the day, it would be me, with a guitar and maybe a little four track recorder, and a voice, and a crappy old drum machine. And I’d take it to the band, and we’d work out the parts, and then… ‘this is what it’s sounding like’. And it would take weeks of developing and rehearsing to get it tight. And then record it like on a boombox or something, in the rehearsal studio. To get an idea, as our sort of chalkboard, to listen to it and then go ‘okay, we need to change this’, or ‘rearrange this part’, and all this stuff. And it would take weeks. Now, you can get a demo together, of what a song’s supposed to sound like, and the band can actually learn it verbatim, and after like one rehearsal, it sounds great. It doesn’t take a month for it to get tight.
It’s that instant gratification thing you were talking about earlier – the fast food generation.
That’s it. Everything is so immediate. This is what I mean by the fast food era, the social networking… Look at what we’re doing right now. This would have had to have been done either by the phone…
Or in person.
Or, in person, yeah. Now we’re able to do this over the Internet, and it doesn’t cost people anything.
It’s nice. All of this ‘instant gratification’ or ‘instant access’ seems surreal though.
Absolutely, absolutely. You know, one of the other things I feel is lost, is the whole mystique of the artist. The band, the musicians. It used to be an era where, at least for me, what made it so exciting, was like… Let’s pretend it was King Diamond. King Diamond’s got a new album coming out, and it comes out on Friday at midnight. Me and my buddies would go down there, line up outside the record store, they’d unlock the door… I’d go in, buy my copy, I’d come home, put it on… I’d be looking at the album cover, front to back, while the thing is playing. Then, like the next week, I’d see a Circus magazine with the guy on it, and I’d be like ‘I’ve gotta get this, and find out when they’re coming (through town)!’ and stuff. Now, everything is so immediate.
The anticipation doesn’t build up – it’s lost.
No anticipation. Now you know what the guy is eating for lunch. So, it’s not as exciting. That’s one of the things I feel is lost. As much positive stuff there is from technology – to be able to do this (interview), or to record here. But there is that ‘thing’ that gets lost in the translation. Those were feelings that nobody will ever get to experience again. I have a seven year old son – he’s not going to know what it was like to do that. Everything is at his fingertips now.
He’s not going to know what it was like to tape songs off the radio on to a cassette, or make a mix tape.
That’s it! We used to do the Top Ten At Ten, and I’d have my cassette ready! The funny part is, nobody cared about that, or tape trading, or mix tapes back then. But now, God forbid, somebody downloads a song and shares it.
My father actually told me that it was illegal to tape songs off the radio, when I was like 7 or 8. I didn’t believe him, so I had to test it. I had to try taping a song off the radio. I didn’t remember that (experience) until the ‘illegal downloading’ issue came up (decades) later.
That’s funny. And then, the advent of the VCR, right? “Set the timer, so you can record your favorite show when you’re not home.” Same thing.
Then you could fast forward through the commercials and they didn’t have to bother you.
That’s it, ey. That’s what’s funny about music as well. Because we’re living in this fast-food era, there’s so many more bands or artists, and with so many more, there’s a lot more crap out there. Or phony stuff. I always say this – I feel bad for that guy in Milli Vanilli, who killed himself years ago, couldn’t take the pressure. ‘Cause they got caught lip-synching. Now, everybody’s lip synching! All these artists lip-synch! You watch the Super Bowl, or you watch the Grammy’s, and you’re like ‘there’s no way Pink‘s spinning around on that thing and singing.’ You know what I mean? There’s no way. But it’s not about that anymore – it’s about the show. For us, it’s still about being a rock band: a couple guitars, bass, drums, vocals, and the energy! I’m in the studio, doing some stuff with an engineer. I’m recording this Moxy record. We’re having a good laugh over it, because he told me about this sort of young girl, that was in the studio, doing some vocals. And they were literally doing word-for-word, Auto-Tuning everything. And she made a statement. The statement was… ‘How did they do it before, without Auto-Tune!”
And he turns to her and says ‘They practiced, they learned how to sing, then they did it over and over again until they got it right. And this is what it’s about.’ Isn’t that crazy? (laughs)
People get so dependent on ‘modern technology’. They forget there was ‘life before that’.
For sure. Over the Christmas holidays, where I live, in Toronto, we had a major ice storm which left us powerless, for days. I was without power at my home here, for four days. My house got down to like 44 degrees (F). It was cold! You could see your breath in my living room. But, the amount of people that couldn’t live without their internet, or TV, or whatever… Imagine if it was like The Walking Dead, you know. The whole world is… there’s no energy, there’s no power, there’s no nothing. What would people do, to survive? A lot of people who rely on technology, would have no idea how to survive.
So true. How did your most recent Canadian live gigs go?
They went well. They went really well. The thing is, for this band, we feel that Europe is probably our calling, because the lifestyle of heavy metal and hard rock has never gone away. Over here in North America, trends come and go. We’ve seen certain types of rock or metal come up, and go down, come up, and go down, and new ones come out, and all this stuff. Over there, I mean, bands like Saxon, and Motorhead, and stuff – they’re still playing major festivals. There are still guys, young guys with like big back patches that say Venom on them. Or, Michael Schenker Group, or Status Quo, or whoever – all those bands are still prevalent over there. Over here in North America…
It’s “flavor of the week”.
Yeah, as far as the commercial aspect of music goes. Sure, there are still (festivals) like Rocklahoma, or the M3 festival, or these things. But they’re more like retro events. Where some of those bands I listened to in the 80s from the L.A strip or whatever are playing, and the people coming out to these things are the same demographic – same with the Monsters of Rock Cruise. Because it’s not the biggest thing in the world, it’s 25, or 20 years later, and they finally get the opportunity to meet the ‘rock stars from back then’, that were untouchable.
And now they’re everywhere.
Exactly. Now you can go on the Monsters of Rock Cruise, and sit there, and eat dinner with Ratt, or Warrant, or whoever. Again, there’s that cool aspect now, of the fans now, now that they’re all grown up and everything, finally get a little closer to the artists that helped shape them, and the genre of music that they loved so much, and all that stuff. Over in Europe, it’s different. You know what’s so cool about Europe, too? It’s that, at a festival in Europe, you can get a band like Children of Bodom playing, and then you could get like Danko Jones playing, and then you get some black metal band playing. And there’s no segregation between the types of metal or hard rock. Everybody just loves it because it’s great, it’s cool, you know? Whereas in America, and Canada, there’s more of this sort of cliquey business. Like the hardcore metal people stay together, or the hard rock people stay together. It’s not as big of a community.
There isn’t the same cohesion.
There you go, ya know what I’m sayin’? Whereas over in Europe, that doesn’t exist, because it’s all about ‘everything’. Did you ever see those movies done by Sam Dunn? Or the show Metal Evolution or any of that?
Yep! I’ve seen some previews or snippets on YouTube. I know what you’re talking about.
He put together a hard rock and heavy metal ‘family tree’.
It’s genius! Because that’s the kind of thing that I think people should actually look at, to understand the history of whatever it is that they’re doing right now. They could be playing some sort of, let’s say extreme metal, and not realize that it all stemmed from like Black Sabbath or Deep Purple or something.
Or even farther back – that it stems from blues.
There you go. Of course, of course. I’m saying that just the metal thing altogether: “listen, if it wasn’t for bands like Venom, or Mercyful Fate, there’d be no such thing as black metal.” And speed metal, and… When I was a teenager, I was in to all sorts of stuff, like what was considered speed metal back then, a band like Agent Steel, or something like that. Now it’s just like ‘the extremes of what metal has become’. It’s been segregated in to so many subgenres.
Like the same sentiment that you and I have, with liking all types of hard music, “if it’s good, it’s good.” Right? So, I think those (European) audiences would appreciate us a lot. Over here, I’m sure there’s a lot of audiences that would appreciate Famous Underground as well, but it’s a matter of trying to find out where that fits in. I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the reviews, but… the reviewers can’t nail down anything. Like everybody has to choose – you know this as a writer I suppose – everybody has to choose from things they sort of know already, to compare you to. And, when you see such a wide range of names of bands that they compare us to or whatever, that’s pretty good, because it means that we really are doing something fairly unique. Because nobody can pinpoint. They’re not going ‘oh, they’re a Metallica rip-off’ or ‘they’re a Guns ‘N’ Roses rip-off’ or ‘they’re a combination of Guns ‘N’ Roses meets Metallica meets’… ‘if you took Love/Hate and Megadeth…’ I mean, whatever.
I was guilty of that too. I heard some Guns ‘N’ Roses influence. Just the lyrical rhythm and delivery, on only one song. I didn’t think it was a bad thing. (read Iris’s Famous Underground album review here)
Okay. Well, there you go. It’s not being guilty of anything. ‘Cause I’ve got to be honest with ya – I think I wear my influences on my sleeve, but really, they’re so interwoven, and hidden in the music, that people will get out of it, whatever they want, right? And they’ll say ‘oh, he sounds like Megadeth here’ or ‘he sounds like Sebastian Bach here’ or ‘he sounds like this, here’… and…
Those are some good bands to be compared to, and some good influences to have. That’s not crappy music at all.
Absolutely. I was just going to say, ‘whatever makes them comfortable is fine’, as long as they put me in the realms, or the comparisons, with greatness. I love it, you know?
And if they’re comparing me with great people – with fantastic, talented people – I can’t complain. It’s when they start comparing me to garbage that I scratch my head and go “am I delusional, or what?” (laughs) If they’re going to compare me to, let’s say that – Sebastian, or Megadeth, or Metallica, or Guns ‘N’ Roses, or things that I like? Well, then, I’m doing a good job.
Guns ‘N’ Roses are huge. They’re one of the most successful rock bands around right now.
Come on! They changed it. They brought danger back to rock back then, ya know? Everything was getting so corporate and slick, and then all the sudden, Guns ‘N’ Roses came out and flipped the tables again.
How do you sequence and pick tunes for the live set? What I like about you guys is that you’re not just a studio band – you can play all of your studio stuff live, and it sounds great.
Well, the thing about the live show that we like to do is, first off, obviously, we like to come out and crack ’em over the head with a hammer. Say “wake up, we’re onstage”. Then, generally speaking, we like to keep the listener and the viewer interested by creating a show with peaks and valleys in it. We don’t jump from a heavy tune to a ballad, and mix it like (crazy). We like to segue things in to eachother so there’s that adjustment. People can adjust with the set with us. We usually come out there, all guns a’blazing on the first one. Then we get in to like a mid-tempo rocker on the second. And then we’ll sort of transition it into something like the song “Dead Weight”, that has a little bit of clean guitar, and heavy guitar. Then we would segue in to, let’s say, a ballad. And then pick it up again with something different, maybe throw a cover tune in there. Then something really heavy again, to do exactly what we just did to you: bring you on an emotional rollercoaster. Again, to keep the interest with the audience. We like to have the audience feel as if they’re a part of what we’re doing. Whether it be the address – the talking – that I give them in between songs, to segue between songs and everything, I try to make it as personable as possible. So that the experience – the listener or viewer rather – leaves there, thinking they were a part of something, as opposed to looking at a fishbowl.
That’s true, and wise. Because going to a concert nowadays can seem like a souped-up, super loud version of YouTube.
That’s it, you know? That’s a big difference too. It’s funny, you know, going to concerts now, everyone’s got their phones in the air. I saw a bootleg concert of Metallica. What made it funny, for me, was that somebody was in the audience, filming this concert. And James Hetfield makes a statement – he says “Okay, okay, you’re all holding up your phones, and filming the show and everything. But guess what! You’re not going to be a hero on YouTube. You’re here – right now. Enjoy the moment. Like don’t go ‘I’m the guy that filmed it on my phone.’ You stood there, you paid $150 for a ticket, and you’re sitting there with a camera, a phone, filming the show?! Be -at- the show. Be a part of the show.”
Do you have any weird or crazy tour stories? I mean, maybe not the show itself, but the ‘before’ or ‘after’. Anything really off-the-wall?
Well, you know, it all depends on how you look at this. The road can be a crazy, surreal place, when you’re traveling from city to city, especially in my country of Canada, because we live in such a big place, that has a tenth of your population… In Canada, generally, you’re looking at about a four hour drive to the next main city. In Ontario, the province I’m from, I live in the city of Toronto, which is like… the biggest city in the country. But you’re not going to play Toronto, and then play a suburb of Toronto the next night, because it’s the same audience. And there are cities closer: Hamilton is only an hour away. Generally speaking, the major centers in Canada are four to six to eight hours away from one another. So, touring in Canada can be scary during the winter.
Oh yeah. I bet!
Yeah. We’ve gone through the mountains, crossing from Alberta to B.C – British Columbia. In the middle of wintertime. A bus hauling a trailer, sliding down a mountain road with no guard rails…
Going… “Is this our last tour ever?!” So, that type of stuff is quite scary. But to give you a definitive, sort of ‘story’ story… it escapes me right now.
Don’t worry about it. Maybe it escapes you to protect the guilty. Or the innocent. Or something like that. It happens for a reason.
Yeah, really, huh! (smiles) Oh, no, there’s just been some crazy, crazy stuff. Here’s one for you. With Slik Toxik. It’s not a big story, but it’s just something funny. When Slik Toxik was touring in America, and we were opening for Yngwie Malmsteen, we toured with him for about six weeks. It just so happened that… do you know the joke band Spinal Tap?
Yeah, they’re hilarious.
Well, they were on tour as well, and they were like – everywhere – we were going. They were there either the night after, or the night before. It was just kind of funny that we were chasing around, or seeing, the Spinal Tap name. ‘Cause then, when we got back to Canada, we actually ended up playing at a festival with Spinal Tap.
(laughter all ’round)
That’s actually really cool.
It’s totally cool, and Spinal Tap is one of my favorite movies of all time. Why? ‘Cause I can relate to it. It was… everywhere we were going… that was the deal.
OK, here’s a good one. How did you develop your singing voice? Did you take vocal lessons, or sing in choir, or just practice a lot? And how do you maintain your voice?
When I was a little kid, again… I always had an interest in music. So, I was always singing. It all started with me singing to KISS records, or BTO records, or whatever. Beatles records… my dad’s from Liverpool. He’s got an Irish background, but he’s from Liverpool, England, so we grew up in a household where The Beatles were played constantly. So, I sang all that stuff, just as a kid, to myself. I got my first guitar at 6. So, I’ve always been singing and playing. As far as the development goes, I think it was just more the type of music that I listened to. Especially in the early 80s and on, because I was more in to metal bands and stuff, and they could sing. I listened to Iron Maiden, Saxon, and Judas Priest, and stuff like that. So, I just developed it on my own, by singing along with them, and imitating them, wanting to do what they did. I remember when I discovered Queensryche in 1985, or ’84, whenever the EP came out. I heard “Queen of the Ryche” and my mind was blown. So, I wanted to be able to sing that song. That’s pretty much where it all came from. And the cool thing is, I also come from that (school)… character voices. I love David Lee Roth, I love Alice Cooper. I love all that stuff. Guys that people wouldn’t revere as the greatest singers in the world, but have a lot of character, and you know it’s their voice when you hear it.
Yeah, Lemmy’s one of them too! For sure. To be able to develop my voice, and learn how it worked, and imitate other people that I found to be (inspirational) helped develop my voice to the point where now I know how it feels. I know what it’s like when somebody plays hockey, or a gymnast, or something. I know how to do my voice in different ways. I even do character voices for fun. People think I’m a joker, ’cause I’m always doing cartoon voices, and stuff like that. So, it was just from that. I did take just a couple of lessons, but that was more about maintenance: about learning how to warm up and stuff, which, quite honestly, I don’t do very much. After this long, I’ve learned what I need to do, and what I can’t do, in order to have a singing voice. One of them is “sleep”. The other one is “stay hydrated”. And… “don’t yell over loud music at a nightclub.” Bad idea. It will (mess up your voice). You don’t realize – you get off the stage, you’re playing at a nightclub, and people are like “HEY MAN, GREAT SHOW!” and you’re like “YEAH MAN!”… and then I just talk like this (normal voice). I wear a scarf around my neck, keeping my throat warm, and if they can’t hear me, well then, they can’t talk to me.
What’s in the future for Nick Walsh and Famous Underground?
Well… I’m keeping busy by sort of expanding “me” to other projects, doing the Moxy record, which is almost done. We’ve also completed a live DVD with that. I’m in the process right now of doing the second Famous Underground record. Also, still trying to figure out when and how we are going to get over to Europe to do some performances. Just trying to coordinate some of that stuff with my management. It would be great to get over there, to still be able to tour on the first record. But it doesn’t matter to me whether it’s for the first record or the second record. The bottom line is, we just want to get notoriety and make waves with what we do, and spread the word, so to speak. And have people slowly but surely, get interested in what we do. This is how careers are built. Careers aren’t built on one hit wonders, or overnight sensations. I mean, there’s a statement… “Overnight successes take ten years.”
Finally, do you have any parting words for the readers, or your fans?
I just want to thank you guys for your support of Famous Underground. And… thank you very much. I’d just like to see more people get switched on to what we do. Hopefully they’ll dig it.