NO TIME TO LOSE
“Time may change me
[David Bowie, in his 1972 epic ‘Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’]
Lizzy Borden formed the band that bears his name with his brother Joey Scott Hargess back in 1983, a time when Metal was less fragmented and music got around via cassettes and LPs. As Bowie had inferred, attitudes and people change – as had happened since Lizzy Borden released classics of the genre such as “Love You To Pieces” and “Menace To Society”. Band members died and others came very close to a meeting a similar fate. Other still left for new musical pastures (for example one-time Lizzy Borden guitarist Joe Holmes went on to play with Ozzy’s band and ex-LB bassist Mike Davis had joined the ranks of Rob Halford’s solo band.) Nonetheless, the band today sounds and feels stronger than ever.
2011 is coming to a close and as he waited to sing at the band’s first London gig in many years, Lizzy Borden found some time to share a few thoughts with me.
The internet devolved the control of a handful of publications and broadcasting media which used to dictate what fans should listen to.
Yeah, exactly. Or some person who just wanted to have some fun on the day he was due to review us. The internet is definitely the truth-teller.
During Lizzy Borden’s extended break at the turn of the millennium you formed Starwood. The music of that band seemed to be inspired by bands such as Kiss who were a huge influence on you. Was that the very intention, to blatantly acknowledge your music idols?
My influences are probably more London / New York, mid-1970s to early 1970s. Those 2 cities are the ones that influenced me the most. However unless you deeply analyse Lizzy Borden’s music you can’t really tell because it’s Hard Rock / Heavy Metal / Rock ‘N’ Roll with so many different elements to it that you can’t really pin-point influences. ‘Oh, I see that influence from Ziggy Stardust’….you can’t do that with Lizzy Borden.
With Starwood I wanted to make it more obvious. I wanted it to sound Cheap Trick, I wanted it to sound Kiss, I wanted it to sound David Bowie….I was purposely doing it. So that was a great avenue for me. Plus there were no theatrics and I played guitar on stage so it was a whole different animal. And it was fun. During that time, when the industry was starting to collapse, we had put out “Deal With The Devil” and I saw that nothing happened to that record because no-one did anything to make it successful.
We had people who didn’t know that album existed – they only knew the early stuff. Then when they’d hear the newer stuff, they’d love it. Now we always get people come up to us and say ‘I love “Deal With The Devil” and “Appointment With Death” – they’re my favourite records’. That proves to me that we’re heading in a positive direction.
The band Starwood was just a release, it was a fun way of not having to deal with the lack of promotion we were then facing with our Lizzy Borden albums.
The next question I was going to ask has just become redundant. It concerns your feelings of playing a festival with Ace Frehley also on the bill. Anyway, are you looking forward to Hard Rock Hell festival tomorrow?
[Note: a few minutes before this interview took place, we discovered that Ace Frehley had broken an arm, thereby having to cancel his UK dates, including his scheduled appearance at the Hard Rock Hell festival in Wales. Lizzy Borden was originally scheduled to play at last year’s edition of this annual festival but that didn’t happen. Curses seem to afflict this otherwise amazing festival!]
Yes, I am. Last year it was so frustrating. There was a snowstorm which was delaying our arrival so before we even got there we were already changing our set’s time. We had moved our set time about 4 times. Then, when we finally got there, this woman [an immigration official] just decided we shouldn’t be allowed to play. Other bands on the festival were coming through but we looked a little bit different I guess. She knew we were a band and just said ‘No, you’re not coming in’. Eventually she said she’d let us enter the country to attend the festival but if we’d play the show we’d be banned for 10 years. So we said, ‘OK we’re not playing.’ So this [festival] is a whole year coming of mounting frustrations. The “Death Takes A Holiday Tour” was in fact based around this one festival.
I believe you’ll soon also be doing a festival in Germany with bands much heavier than your own. These bands include Vader, Venom and Immortal to name a few. Aren’t you concerned that the fans of these bands will react negatively to your music?
We’ve already played at that festival, actually.
OK, my mistake then. How did it go?
It was amazing. I don’t know when the bands you mentioned went on – I think they played on a different day. On our day there was Hammerfall, Saxon and Lordi.
Perfect combination of bands then.
And the audience went nuts. It was an amazing show.
While we’re on the subject of gigs and festivals, how was it like playing with 1 guitarist, as you did a few years back? Did you have any difficulty then in delivering songs that were originally written for 2 guitars?
We started as 4-piece, went into a 5-piece, then we went back to being a 4-piece band. Most times we’ve been a 5-piece band, though. It [playing with 1 guitarist…..] was never a problem. The guitar player would use splitter rigs to play the guitar harmonies so you would hear the guitar harmonies and everything else would sound the same.
I still remember discovering your music, via the Metal Massacre compilation and vinyls such as “Love You To Pieces” and “Give ‘Em The Axe”. That was around 25 years ago…..a quarter of a century ago. Since then, many bands of your era have split up and friends of yours have passed away. Doesn’t all this make you feel vulnerable?
Yes…..I mean we know we’re one of very few bands from that time that are still around. We know all the bands that were around at that time – it was Ratt, Mötley Crüe and a handful of other bands that all played together on the Strip [i.e. Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, U.S.A.] in the early 1980s. It’s pretty bizarre when you think of it. Bands like Mötley Crüe, who started 2 years before we did, are still doing well, though. And there’s Metallica, of course, who started before we did and are now the biggest band in the world.
Is it hard to keep coming up with fresh musical ideas after all these years?
It’s only hard if people are expecting us to repeat ourselves. Because we don’t. Every record we’ve put out is different-sounding from the one before it – and that’s intentional. That’s why the next album has been taking a little bit extra time to make. I want to go back to songwriting. We knew “Appointment With Death” was going to be epic, musically and lyrically. But now I want to go back to the songwriting style of “Visual Lies” where the music is built around the song. So that’s where I’m heading now. Plus I’m also interested in the modern way of doing things. I don’t live in the past, I only live in the future.
That a great attitude, in my opinion. I see so many hugely successful bands who are reluctant to change a formula if it’s so successful.
I’ve got A.D.D. [laughs] – I can never do the same thing or stay in the same place, I’ve got to keep changing. Seriously though, it’s got to be interesting for me. I’m a singing guitar-player not a guitar-playing singer so I don’t have a direct style – I write songs. Those songs can be musically interpreted in a number of ways. And I know that, so I’m always exploring…..sometimes I’d even record something and listen to it backwards just to find some nuance, some interesting thing in there that I can use.
Something you can expand upon….
Yeah. I don’t wanna just do what we’ve [already] done. Even with our live shows, I’d be the first guy to want to change things. Everyone would go ‘that’s kind of sacrilegious’. And I’d go ‘Not for me it isn’t.’ I’m always pushing for changes – and I’d usually be right because the audience would love it.
Earlier on you made reference to the next Lizzy Borden studio-album. Could you give some more specific information on it? Such as the theme or music?
The last theme I worked on was ‘death’. It was a hard theme to go through because of the people around me that had died. I had used all of that and put it into the lyrics. It was kind of a lonely album because I was writing predominantly all night long, every night. This [the next] album I want to make a little more positive, a little more fun. I want to make it a little bit more up-tempo and new. So that’s kind of where we’re heading. We’re going to play 1 new song tonight – it’s called ‘The Perfect Poison’ – until now it’s been well received. We’ve recorded the Demo version of the new material for Metal Blade and they loved it. That song may be the first single we’ll release but we’re not sure yet. The live version we do is a little looser than what will be in the album and we’re kind of having more fun with it that way. The album version will be very tightly produced, When we go back home, we’ll re-record it and probably do a video-clip of it. If we release it as a single, it might come out in March .
We’d normally write 10 songs and 1 of them will be great. Then we’d demo that song and set it aside.
So you’re not afraid to throw away songs if they’re not good enough?
Oh no. I’ve got hundreds of songs that didn’t make it to “Master Of Disguise”, that didn’t make it to “Deal With The Devil”, that didn’t make it to “Visual Eyes”……
It takes a certain amount of will power to do that…..
You know, I look at other geniuses of the past and every time I think I’ve come up with a great song I’d look at them and say ‘Jeez…..’ [Lizzy pretends to crumple up a piece of paper and throw it away]. I’d write some lyrics, then listen to “Quadrophenia” [1973 The Who milestone] and go ‘Oh shit, I’ve got nothing’. [laughs]
As soon as you listen to some genius’ work you have to look back at your own stuff and ask yourself ‘Is this up to par? I don’t know.’ That’s sometimes my own problem – I overanalyse too much. And that’s why I like to bring in a producer in so after I’d have second and third guessed myself, the producer might say ‘OK, you’re right’ or ‘Let’s change it’.
It’s remarkable that in your 30-year career, you’ve always been signed to Metal Blade Records. Why do you think the label still has some influence over the global Metal scene?
They are the same we are in a lot of ways. They’re not stuck in the 1980s. Whatever’s new they want to present it. When the ‘80s Metal died they went into something else and then when that died they went into something else. Sometimes they’re ahead of the curve and sometimes they’re behind the curve. For example with the Metalcore movement they were ahead of the curve – they got it before anyone else did. With labels, it’s a good thing if you’re ahead of the curve. With bands, well you’re either jumping the bandwagon or you’re a genius.
Lizzy Borden, it’s been a pleasure speaking to you. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Nah, not really. Except to thank everyone for their support.
© 2011 C. Galea
Video-clip of ‘Psychopath’ (1985 – recorded ‘live’): www.metalblade.tv/tv/live-videos/lizzy-borden-psychopath/
Interviewed by Chris Galea