With their latest album, ‘American Illusion’, kicking up dust and the band preparing to bang heads and take names across the UK and Ireland at the end of November, opening for Buckcherry and Hardcore Superstar, PM catches up with Ven Venrez, front man of the band who take his name, to chat about the album, the recording process, lyrical and musical inspiration – including US foreign policy – as well as getting into trouble with the Los Angeles authorities over an illegal tiki bar… and how he might be persuaded to imbibe in a pint of Guinness during the aforesaid forthcoming tour…
I start by asking if the recording of ‘American Illusion’ suffered in any way from that notorious “difficult second album” syndrome.
“There’s actually three albums out,” the Howard Stern-lookalike frontman reveals.
“The first album is called ‘Witches Brew’ and I don’t really acknowledge it that much: but it does need to be acknowledged as it is Jason and mine’s songs…
“But, no, [‘American Illusion’] was really easy [for us]. When we recorded the last album, ‘Sell The Lie’, with a noon to midnight lockout – and that’s fairly taxing: you’re brain goes after about five days, you don’t sleep and [if you do] you’re crashing on couches. So, after that experience, we discussed buying our own recording equipment – which we did and so now we have our own gear at my house… so, instead of being crammed in a studio 12 hours a day, while we still recorded the album live, we did it at our leisure, over about three months – so it was a very pleasant process.”
So, does Ven think that more relaxed feeling comes across on the new album, or is the intensity of its predecessor still there?
“There is more intensity there, for one main reason: when we recorded ‘Sell The Lie’ we were fairly new together… although we had played the songs and played together, it was more of a lot of very talented buys making an album. Six tours later, we recorded our new album, and it’s really the first record of this band of brothers as a true band – and I think you can hear that…”
With using their own studio, guitarist Jason Womack also produced ‘American Illusion’: so, PM wonders what additional challenges this brings, in addition to writing and recording the material – especially for a band still in their relative infancy and finding their feet as an entity?
“Well, I call Jason ‘The Professor’: he’s just a genius… he’s my songwriting partner and we’ve written a lot of good songs together – he writes the music, I write the lyrics – and he has done a superb job of producing the Venrez music. We did use other people to mix and master the album: it was mastered by Matt Mitchell of Pucifer, who pretty much writes, produces and mixes their music, and I think he did an excellent job… but Jason has just been the perfect guy to produce [both] my vocals and the music. That may change in the future, if we are lucky enough to get more successful than we are now, and we certainly would be open to working with some of the top rock producers should that opportunity arise in the future…”
Here we turn to the title of the album: just as ‘Sell The Lie’ was quite outspoken in expressing Venrez’s views on the state of America at the time of recording, we assume that the title ‘American Illusion’ is meant as an ironic stab at concepts such as the American dream (as embodied in trashy primetime TV shows as ‘American Idol’)?
“Well, I feel that way about the world…” he responds, taking another draw on the cigarette that seems permanently stuck to his bottom lip throughout our chat.
“I’ve got a real problem with government, y’know. The song ‘Sell The Lie’ was written about my distaste for corporate greed and government control and blood for oil profits… so I take a stab with a song or two every album. I write about experiences, about lessons I’ve learned, I write about of science fiction stories based on movies and history – so, the album is far from all political statements.. . but there’s usually one or two on every album. On ‘Sell The Lie’ there was one, and on ‘American Illusion’ there’s a couple: the second single, ‘Sanctity’ is about government controlling us and removing our children’s futures and freedom. And then, ‘Intellectual Drool’ I wrote the day after they said they killed Bin-Laden… I feel like Bob Dylan and John Lennon did – not to fear freedom of speech in this country and to give our voice to what is going on the world and make our fans aware of these issues: I think they are powerful issues and that there is this illusion of this being the greatest country in the world – and it might be – but we’re over killing people in Iraq and Afghanistan based on an illusion, when really our more serious issues right now are probably the likes of North Korea and Iran…”
Obviously there must also be a lot of issues a lot closer to home that Venrez feels like writing about and venting his frustration on…
“Well, you know, every country has it’s issues: my biggest issues are lies, deception and government control. I mean, we were thinking about launching 300-plys Cruise missiles against Syria for using gas on their people, evidently or allegedly, at a fucking astronomical cost of tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars – and yet 98 per cent of the people in this country have no health insurance… I think that’s just way out of balance and unacceptable…”
It’s a comparison which could probably be drawn in the UK as well…
“I love America,” he stresses, before adding: “And I love the UK and I’m looking forward to returning. You know, our first two tours [together] were to the UK and Europe, and we had planned to be a band that pretty much consistently toured Europe and the United Kingdom… we toured there in November/December 2010 and then again in July 2011, but unfortunately over the last two years there hasn’t been any good opportunities – until now with Buckcherry and Hardcore Superstar.
“And I’m thrilled, absolutely thrilled, to be finally able to play in Ireland… we’ve played England and Scotland, but we’ve never had the privilege and honour to play in Ireland, and I’m so excited about it…”
Of course, Venrez weren’t originally booked as the opening act for this tour, but were added to the bill after The Last Vegas were forced to give up the slot: given his foregoing comments, Ven must have jumped at the chance to jump on this particular band wagon (sic);
“Absolutely. I don’t know all the particulars of what happened – all I know is my manager gave me a call and I welcomed it with open arms. We have been waiting two years for a tour of this magnitude to [allow us to] return, so it was the perfect opportunity for us…”
It’s a healthy run of ten dates as well, giving more people the opportunity to experience Venrez live and in the flesh…
“Absolutely! I mean, we had been offered opportunities to return and headline, but I didn’t think we were ready to do that and I didn’t want to put the promoters in a situation where the draw wasn’t acceptable, and hurt our chances to consistently tour the UK and Europe: so, we made a decision, as a band, to wait until we could come back with a bigger name – and this was it… And we’re not playing so many clubs, more theatrical venues, so this was the perfect opportunity to go back again – and hopefully we can come back two or three times a year as a headliner after this tour!”
The band came together when Venrez was building a tiki bar at his house in the hills above Los Angeles: Womack, drummer Ed Davis (who had played with the guitarist in Juliette Lewis And The Licks) and bassist Michael Bradford came round to help out, and the building sessions quickly evolved into jamming ones: fortunately, the band has lasted longer than the project which first brought them together – “we got in trouble with the building inspectors and had to tear it down!”.
We can look forward to them tearing down a few bars in the UK and Ireland, for different reasons, later this month…
“I’d love to have a drink with you all, but this is going to be a pretty taxing tour, so I’ll probably be a pretty good boy on this run…” he ponders, before PM offers to buy him a pint of Guinness when the tour hits Belfast:
“I love Guinness! I think we’re on for that my friend! I’ll just have to recover on the ferry back over to England!
“My band loves beer! My drummer’s from Texas and my bass and guitar players are from Jackson, Mississippi, and when it comes to drinking beer those guys have got two hollow legs! I’ve never seen anyone who can put it away like that… but, as a singer, you’ve got to pace yourself: a tour is a marathon not a race and you learn, after seven tours, how to pace yourself – but I am definitely very partial to Guinness and extremely partial to Scotch whisky so I think I will partake…”
We’ll drink to that!
‘American Illusion’ is out now via Monarch Music.
You can catch Venrez when they support Buckcherry and Hardcore Superstar on the following dates across the UK and Ireland:
Saturday November 23rd – Kasbah, Coventry
Monday November 25th – The Ritz, Manchester
Tuesday November 26th – O2 ABC, Glasgow
Wednesday November 27th – Limelight 2, Belfast
Friday November 29th – The Academy, Dublin
SaturdayNovember 30th – Rock City, Nottingham
Monday December 2nd – Academy, Bristol
Tuesday December 3rd – Solus, Cardiff
Wednesday December 4th – Lemon Grove, Exeter