Thursday, May 3, 2012

I HAVE FORGIVEN STRYPER: Revisiting Soldiers Under Command and rebellious christian youth

  Jesus!! What an awful name for a band. 

  By His Stripes We Are Healed. Yeah, right. So you choose a name that sounds like the neighbors dachshund ? Heeerrrree Stryper!! 'Hey, George! You seen our dog, Stryper?' Or, worse, could be misread as 'Strypper' (pronounced 'stripper' for all you dimwits).

Yes, I know. Picking on Stryper is a bit like tripping blind people. It's too easy, and more than a bit unsatisfying. But I've earned the right. Scott McMain, the misguided soul, played this album for me in 1985 and somehow took advantage of my childhood innocence by convinced me they were actually cool. I don't know whats more sad. The fact I bought into it all, the flowing feminine locks, the satin strech-pants, or the staggeringly disturbing truth, that for about 36 months, Stryper likely posessed the talent to create some truly amazing music.

You have to give them credit. They had to know going in the entire world was going to fall down from laughing so hard when they heard lyrics like 'He's the rock that makes me roll!'

Stryper have always been a trade off, as you rarely get the honest rock. It's always a give and take.
Yes, we can rock when we want to, but you have to endure lyrics like 'JEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUSSSSS, makes me wanna singgggggg! YEAHH!!' You want to rock out, you want to cut loose and bang your head against the stage like you never did before. But then you hear the lyrics and fall down on the floor. Crying. Usually from laughing so hard. It's an enormous challenge to work the Almighty into metal. Kind of like mixing baby formula with sand. You get the great musicianship, and make no mistake, regardless of how you feel towards their spiritual beliefs, all four members of Stryper, are AMAZING musicians. It's not even up for discussion. But those yellow and black outfits. The interviews where one member had the audacity to say 'We prayed for a limo and God sent us a limo'. What the hell was that supposed to be about ?

Stryper played Ann Arbor Pioneer High School's auditorium on April 3rd, 1986. On March 4th, 1987, in the heart of the mindless madness that gripped our country after 'Honestly' was released as a single, they played Devos Hall in Grand Rapids. March 28th, 1987 they played Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor. And, the real heart breaker, Pine Knob, August 23rd, 1987, the end of summer. I begged, yes I use the word 'beg', my parents to let me attend each of these shows. And each time the answer was a resounding 'no'.

In 1988, I was a year older and the answer, of course, was still 'no'. No, I could not drive to the L.C. Walker arena in Muskegon. And finally, the worst of them all. A sell out show at the Palace of Auburn Hills, December 3rd, 1988, that actually made ABC news. Throw in one more sold-out show, December 6th, at the Saginaw Civic Center and you have six Stryper concerts in two years that I was strictly forbidden to attend. Looking back at what a hellion I turned out to be, in spite of rigid moral upbringing, it was probably a smart move on mom and dads part. After all, I might have run away and joined the heavenly metal circus.

I was raised Baptist and when you're brought up in that backward strictness, you identify with what speaks to you. Stryper had the Jackson guitars, they had earrings, they played 'heavy metal' music, and more importantly, they had a cause. Converting we nasty sinners to a higher plane of moral and spiritual existence.

Soldiers Under Command really doesn't get the proper credit for being a very bold and risky, though calculated undertaking. Certainly it wasn't even close to being the first 'christian metal' album released, but it may have been the best in terms of commercial appeal to that point. The went big, they bold, and they went for broke. How else do you explain the inclusion of the 'Battle Hymn of the Republican a heavy metal album? And their results paid off with a gold album, the gospel industry's best selling for that time.  Stryper had cleverly written their lyrics for the softer tracks to embrace, what we in our little circle of youth group dufuses would refer to as, 'God or girlfriend'. Thus mainstream appeal was always within reach, while at the same time, so was The Cross.

It was nasty enough to annoy our holier-than-thou parents, but they tolerated it.

Lets be honest, the most successful 'spiritual' music, if often that where the artist lets the listener lead the song where they want it to go:
“We are the soldiers under gods command, we hold his two-edged sword within our hands.”
Man, you aren't kidding Michael. It really is a two-edged sword.

'First Love' my introduction to sensitive sad bastard music ballads, who's only purpose at our age was to charm naive girlfriends into going one step further and removing their bra.

“And were fighting ohhhhhhhh the sin! And the good book, it sez we'll winnnwinnn!!'” Hee. Hee. Hee.

Years, later, I'm still rolling my eyes. How does Michael Sweet still sing these songs with a straight face. It's like Sunday School for meat heads. I'm almost embarrassed to admit I attached so much meaning to this record, for so many years.

I was trying to think of a sensitive way to write about this landmark album that held a significant meaning for me at a highly influential time in my life. But looking back, there is absolutely no way to justify the obsessive devotion that I exalted up Soldiers Under Command. I must have been out of my mind. Or 15. Or both.

The long hair teased up to look as effeminate as possible. The hideous yellow and black outfits, that resembled something the Killer B's would wear to Wrestlemania 256. Michael Sweet on stage in Tokyo shouting in most sensitive sing-song voice 'Stry-puh.Rawks.For. JEE-ZUSSS!!”

'Christian Metal' is a morbidly ridiculous sub genre of heavy metal. Devoting entire albums to obsessive spiritual beliefs, whether they be christian, pagan, or charlatan simply isn't art. It's propaganda. You're furthering the cause.

You may find this hard to believe, but I was once impossibly lame.

I spent my Monday Nights rollerskating furiously at the “Christian Rock POWER HOUR!' in Utica, Michigan. What made these endeavor more complicated was my complete inability to know HOW to roller skate.  Laugh all you want, but that's what happens when your parents are Baptist do-gooder fanatics, Hell-bent on preventing you from having any ability to relate to the real world. Your only friends are fellow youth group nuts, all reaching out for some kind of natural rebellion. Also, the fact I know what a roller skate is, in this age of the MP3, qualifies me for VIP entry to The Dirty Old Bastard Retirement Village. Anyway, the roller-DJ got his hands on a vinyl copy of Soldiers and when he fired that disc up, you should have seen the look on the faces of these shut-ins and wenises. They'd all wave their hands in the air, get moving at top speed, and you'd have thought Joshua himself was leading a roller skate charge around Jericho.
And that's where Stryper were marketing geniuses. They knew a captive audience, i.e. 'church kids', 'youth group kids', 'Monday-nighters', whatever category or label you throw on the christian youth of that decade, would happily tune into the lyrics saccharine enough to earn space in every Dickson and Family Christian bookstore, but with a sound heavy enough to land on the shelves of Blockbuster Music and Harmony House.

Nostalgia is a powerful compulsion.

And that's what drew me to Rock of Ages in Garden City for an autograph session with the band. Now, fans, being a platinum-selling, #1 most requested video on MTV, Grammy nominated musician means several things. First, everywhere you go, where fans recognize you, they will address you by your first name. Almost no one said, Mr. Sweet, Mr. Fox, Mr. Gaines. It's TIM!, OZ! ROBERT!, MICHAEL!! To their credit, despite being an hour late, the band signed at least one item for every single person who had been waiting in line, they chatted (albeit, briefly) with every fan, and allowed pictures to be taken. Though they refused to pose or shake hands (colds).

And that's what drew me to Harpos on
My in depth discuss of the deterioration of the once great ghetto fabulous Harpos is a altogether different story, but with all the venues available in Detroit, I have to question why Stryper would choose to play the one venue that's surrounded by some of the most 'economically challenged' neighborhoods in the motor city. Neighborhoods, several anonymous Harpos employees explained politely, where nearby residents enjoyed driving by the entrance and taking random shots at whoever was unfortunate enough to be on security duty standing out front.
But that's where the show was.

And it was good. It really was. For the 80-90 people in the room. Some fathers, mothers and surprisingly, a lot of teenagers. And it was good for me. They rolled through the hits and shrewdly avoided too many tracks from their latest tepid effort, 'The Covering', to recapture past glory. They played with an energy and enthusiasm of nineteen year old garage rock, Jack White fanatics.

So to summarize this nostalgic-laden tripe, it comes down to this:

I forgive Stryper. I forgive them for not taking a few classes in business management. For being a bit short with their shrinking legion of manner less and obsessive fans. For making a 'career' on solid music soaked in religious double-entendres. For 'praying for a limo' which allowed the creation of a ridiculous YouTube video featuring Anthrax's Scott Ian.

I forgive you guys.

And, I'm proud of you.

Dominic Hendryx

Oz. Listen, I can sympathize with your aggravation. Not too many of us have married a reformed prostitute, and the flack for that must be overwhelming. But, come on man. You snapped at fans in Rock of Ages, you snapped at people while getting on the tour bus . .. and backstage. That was just lame. 

But I forgive you. ;-)

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


  Jason Stollsteimer is one of those well known Michigan music cats where the myth, i.e. a rock star jerk who's difficult to work with in and out of the studio, an egomaniac, a mean street brawler who publicly 'disagreed' with former White Striper Jack White, far outshines the reality. In fact, the reality is much less exciting and far less surprising than many of us have been led to believe by the Detroit media machine. Catch him on a good day, and you may have wound up believing Josef Stalin to be a misunderstood, happy-go-lucky fellow, who happened upon unfortunate circumstances. But if you know him personally, or have ever met Jason, I'll venture a guess you found him to be the same way I did: disarmingly charming.
  He dresses like one would expect a successful lead singer to dress, with white cuffs, a jacket with rolled sleeves, tight rock pants, and shoes that would make Jim Morrison green with furious envy. But the rock star fashion cloaks an intriguing and charismatic personality. I found him to be forthright, honest, friendly, and most surprisingly, humble, even in the face of some difficult and endlessly tiresome questions. Imagine remaining calm,You don't often see that in this industry, not in this age of douchebags who mistakenly believe they've 'arrived' after playing one show at the Hayloft. But here's a Plymouth/Canton kid, who obtained national success, toured the world, yet found his way back to his home state just to start the process over on his own terms.
  After spending a few hours with him, I believe what people have either missed, refused to acknowledge, or just plain ignored out of spite, is Jason's precise discipline. In seconds, he can make difficult choices most of us would agonize over for weeks. He can recognize whether a musician's personality, whether it be synchronous or grating, will help complete a single, record, or tour. He has a consistent vision for his creative work, and either you're a copacetic fit, or you aren't. In fact, watching him interact with the restaurant staff, the other patrons sitting nearby who recognized him from The Von, it reminded me of the television promos currently running for the movie 'Limitless'. Because Jason can truly see, not only the larger picture, but the necessary moves two steps ahead. The different parts of the machine must be able to work congruently or what's the point ?
 We spent the better part of a Royal Oak afternoon, dining and discussing the life and times of a musician who is nothing less than 'Pure Detroit'.

  Let's start with Paris.

  It sounds crazy, but The Von Bondies have gone to Paris eleven times and I've personally still never seen the Eiffel Tower.

  You've been to Paris eleven times and have never taken the time to visit the Eiffel Tower ?

  No, It was about playing the music I was writing at that time in my life. That's it. No other reason.

  How's your relationship currently with the media ?

  A lot of band's careers have been ruined by the media. Now with blogs, who knows what anything is doing. It was obvious that a bad article in Rolling Stone in the 1980's killed your band.

  It's like the wild west now.

  Now, it's like the wild west. But, it's people with pellet guns, not actual bullets. Blogs aren't real. Not in the same way as Rolling Stone. (Back in the day) they only had few major music magazines. If one of the major music magazines said something bad, you were dead. Nowadays, there are thousands of blogs, so they're bee-bees. They have no impact, not in the same way. But a hundred of those blogs equals a bullet. That's the difference. And together they're meaningful, but not as obvious of an impact as the large music magazines back in the day.

  Compare the work you're doing now with what you achieved with The Von Bondies.

  The Von Bondies were effortless. When I was young (pre 17), I grew up disliking blues. I grew up disliking garage rock. I grew up disliking guitars. I liked Pavement when I was a kid. I liked The Make Up. I liked Fugazi because of their vocal styles. I liked Minor Threat's cover of 'Stepping Stone', though I didn't even know it was a Monkees song, because I didn't really care about 60's music. I was not a big sixties rock fan, but I liked Motown. I wasn't a big fan of psychedelic. Growing up, I had a very small minded idea of what music was because I didn't play music until I was nineteen. I didn't really care. It wasn't part of my life before that. I went to shows, but it was mostly shows with my friend's ska or emo band. Bondies and what I do with The Hounds Below, is I know what I want now. Back then, I didn't know how to tune my guitar very well. I could only play three chords, and that's the best I could come up with. I was young and I was energetic. I was very angry at the world, like every teen is. That's why emo and hardcore music is so popular lately. That's today's rock and roll. It's not my cup of tea, but I get it.
 For me the big difference between The Von 
  I don't ever need to play music again to pay my bills, to have a house, and have a family. But I still need to play, just because it's in my heart. Maybe I'll do it til I'm 35, or maybe until the day I die. There's 3 or 4 things that I want to achieve still that I haven't achieved before, just to prove that I'm not a one trick pony. To prove to myself, not to anybody else. Now, I'm singing the way I always could've sang, but I was too much of a pussy to try . . During The Von Bondies it was very difficult for me to put my vibrato out there with quiet music. When you're a loud band you don't have to be a good singer. You fuckin' bury yourself in loud guitars and drums. These bands that say 'We've got the world's loudest guitar player', well that probably means that you have a bad singer. Or else, you wouldn't want a loud guitar player because you'd want to hear the singing. There's no point. Black Sabbath was loud but never louder then their singer's vocals, Ozzy had a good voice. He had a crazy weird voice. It was loud rock, but it was never louder than the vocals. Nowadays loud rock and metal bands are so loud, there's basically no vocals. It's like when you see a metal band poster and the name of the band you can't even read it. That's how 'Metal' they are: so metal they don't give a fuck. But then nobody cares who you are.

  How do you respond to accusations that you're difficult to work with ?

  Oh it's totally true. It's totally true. I am very difficult to work with. Why? Some people in Detroit have an unfound ego or confidence because the city is very rough. It can be hard to get your band heard. Then your car gets broken into and you have this attitude of 'FUCK YOU', but there's no reason for that. In the early days of The Hounds Below we'd play Seattle and have three hundred kids show up. Then we'd play in Michigan and there'd be a hundred. And the people in Seattle literally don't (realize) I was in the Von Bondies. Which is great. Not one interviewer from the early tours mentioned my old band until they realized my last name, which would happen in the middle of the interview. So I would ask them 'do you want to talk about The Von Bondies now?' They replied 'No the reason were doing this interview is because we want to talk about The Hounds Below. And That's all I want. In Michigan, I'll never get a true fair shake at any new band I do. Because I already did a band. I'll never get an unbiased opinion about The Hounds Below without people thinking about The Von Bondies.

  So no musician or band can get two shot's in Detroit ?

  No, I can't. Because I already had success with one. And I feel very lucky to have had any success in that band. Besides our drummer being extremely sound at his instrument, the rest of us were really pushing what we could get away with technically. There were songs in our set list called 'Song in A' because we never changed keys. Why? Because we weren't good enough. We wanted to know where to go next. We didn't know how! And that's kind of a beautiful thing. The Stooges were like that. Ron Asheton, their guitar player, was really good, but the rest of them were holdin' on by a thread when they probably first started the band. Asheton was amazing, but in the beginning, The Stooges were knuckle-dragging simple. Which to The Von Bondies was badass, but The Stooges didn't do that on purpose. They didn't have an option, that's as good as they were. It would have been crazy for Iggy Pop to go solo years later and do the same thing. That's probably why 'Nightclubbing' was so different. Because you're a one trick pony if you keep writing the same album over and over again. And, if I did garage rock right now instead of what I'm currently doing, I would be ripping people off. Maybe one day I'll have the urge to play dirty rock and roll again, but not right now.

  Tell me about the personal nature of the lyrics on 'All My Fault' off the 'new' EP.

  All My Fault is a reference to an old keyboard player.  There were a bunch of them. No one will ever be able to figure out who exactly it's about because they're locally all in the same boat. They're all amazing songwriters in their own bands and they have all helped us out time and time again. They're all our friends. One of them who stopped playing with us, became very bitter towards our band. He stopped coming to our shows and he stopped being friends with us. He complained about any success of The Hounds Below had. And, it became crutch for him, as two of his band members quit during this time. He said it was 'all my fault'. The song is very simple and to the point. 'You say you're better than me', that's him talking. I never said I was better than you. Just because I'm touring doesn't mean I'm better than any other band. I just believe it's worthwhile to tour and not play in front of fifty friends every night.

  Has your career in music progressed the way you imagined it would ?

  When I was first started playing music, I didn't want to be in a band. I didn't want to play shows, I just wanted to hang out with my friends and make noise. It wasn't until I was 24 years old I realized that my life had become playing in a band. When I was 19 or 20 and we went to Europe for the first time, I felt 'this is going to end TOMORROW!' This is totally going to end tomorrow, I want to go back to college, I'm drinking too much, I have no idea where we are. I don't know where Wales is ? I'm in Wales . . I think ? That's what was actually going through my head. I don't know whats going on. Marcie and Don, those two want to be musicians in a band and tour. Carrie, the bass player and I on the other hand were different, Carrie had a masters degree. 'This is just fun!' and for me? My friends talked me into doing that band, because I was hyper and could entertain a crowd. But, I had no guitar or singing ability. I was forced into The Babykillers which turned into The Von Bondies. I had no goal of being a musician, ever, in my life. So I was 24, and 'Oh shit, I don't have a job!' 'I'm the luckiest guy in the fucking world. I'm in a band and I had no intentions of ever picking up a guitar, EVER. Or singing or writing a song. at that time I didn't look up to songwriters, I didn't look up to guitar players, I didn't look up to garage rock guys. I tripped and fell in to this. That's what made me humble. Because at the time I didn't want any of it.
  Like when our label sent a limo to pick us up at the airport in 2003, I said 'I'm gonna' take a taxi'. They asked me why ? I told them I didn't want to ride sitting sideways while drinking free whiskey, ha-ha. It was stupid. Then I found out later that the limo cost the band $400 that they took out of our recording budget. But I didn't order the limo. So all the rock star stuff, the buses and fancy hotels? I didn't want any of that. I liked playing music and honestly, connecting with an audience. It sounds cheesy, but that's why I like playing live shows. If somebody is playing a huge stadium there's no connection. Of course every band would like to reach that point, but I'd rather play three nights at a smaller venue then one show at a large one.

  How much did you receive in compensation for selling 'C'mon, C'mon' ?

  Money-wise ?


  On paper, a lot. But after your lawyer takes 10% and your manager takes 20% and you pay 50% in taxes, you get about 20% of what it was worth. It's not a million dollars. When The Von Bondies got signed, Brian Smith of the Metro Times wrote that the band signed for one million dollars. We didn't get signed for a fucking million dollars!?! I personally got fifty grand. That's it. That's what we got paid when we signed to Warner Brothers. But he wrote that we recieved one million dollars. Within a week half of my acquaintances, not my friends, stopped talking to me. Because of what that media guy put in the paper. At no point did any of us ever get a million dollars. Nobody gets a million dollars. But people I know as well as I know you started asking 'When are you buyin' me a drink ? You're rich!!'. Everybody in the band got fifty grand over the course of four years. Four years. We each made about twelve thousand dollars per year.

  But you're not washing dishes either.

  No, because I write songs. Record deals are different. I did a few commercials for TV ads outside of being in bands. I write songs for a living and play music because it's what I want to do.

  If Jack White walked in here right now . ?

  He'd have to leave.

  Would it be cordial ?

  No. No. No, no. In 2002, he blew a hissy fit and didn't get his way for the first time in his life.  I got the out come of that. That's basically what happened. He's the youngest of ten children. His parents are probably in their seventies. His oldest sister could've been his mom in age range. So when you're the youngest of ten, you get your way on everything. I think he's a great musician, amazing songwriter, great guitar player. I simply never liked him on a personal level, even when we were on tour together, which was only for a few weeks. Our shows after those tours were bigger than the shows we did with them, because the Stripes were still small at the time. And they immediately blew up right after we got off tour with them. And we also started doing well, we were selling out The Magic Stick size venues in Boston, with no big support label, and nobody even knew who the White Stripes were on a global scale yet. So we started succeeding without them. But, once they got big, we all got thrown into it. Just like every Swedish band at the time got thrown in with the Hives. 'The Sounds, from Sweden, when they came out sounded nothing like The Hives. But, they got compared to them all the time. It screwed them. But like all good bands they shed the shadows of being from an area with one big band and became their own dominant force.

  You have to be sick to death of discussing White ?

  People want me to say something negative towards the guy. I'm not saying anything negative towards him, I just don't like the guy. Isn't that OK ? I can dislike somebody, especially for a real reason. People dislike me, though they've never met me, just because they liked him. And I say that to 90% of the local haters out there.

  Your sound has evolved considerably.

  This new music isn't as brash and I like the smoothness and the wholesomeness of it. I'm singing from the heart instead of from the gut. I feel that I need to dress the part of what I'm singing.

  So you've matured from the ripped jeans, garage rock persona.

  Well, it's been 13 years since the birth ofThe Von Bondies and I'm happy now. And normally when musician's get happy they write really poppy/sappy songs. I'm still writing sad songs. It's weird, that song 'Cumberland's Crumbling', that song is the only one that gets any play on the indie radio stations across the U.S. In our live show, it's our crowd stopper, because they expect to hear garage rock. When they hear me singing that and they hear how pretty it is, to an extent, people aren't cheering, they are just standing their listening, wondering what is going on, ha-ha.
We have videos of the audience and it's pretty funny, because we want to see their reactions to see when we should put songs in the set. I believe in studying the audience and I sing with my eyes closed, so I can't really watch. I've already done the loud and fast stuff. The Von Bondies had basically ten songs an album, 8 were fast, two were slow. This band is 8 slow songs, two fast songs. I'm just not as angry anymore. It's not on purpose. We realized that most of our songs are structure oriented as opposed to energy oriented.

  Do you think that writing and releasing a song like Pale Bride when you did contributed to your divorce ?

  Funny enough, No. There's a song called Modern Saints on that last Von Bondies record, too, and Pawne Shop Heart.. They all talk about divorce in the middle of me being in a not happy marriage. I was unhappy. . . You could say I wanted a future with someone, but I was just being honest in the lyrics instead of with myself. Which is what I believe I keep doing. 'Cumberland' is about a family falling apart, before I had one. I don't want it to fall apart. When I wrote Cumberland, I wasn't ready to have a family or date somebody with a child . Now I am, but at the time I was dating a girl from Ireland who had a 9 year old. And they were great, I'd go to Ireland and stay there for a month at a time and they'd come here. Things were getting serious, but I wasn't mentally prepared to have a family. And I wrote Cumberland at that time. Ironically, I'm not with her anymore, I'm with somebody else.

  What's different ?

  I'm confident in my faults. I totally know what is wrong with me. All of us have tons of faults. I know what mine are. I avoid being in situations where they'll come up.

  What kind of faults do you posses ?

  I've always had anxiety, ever since I was a kid. I was always the class clown in school. I would make jokes when I got nervous. And I never realized that. I've calmed down a little bit. I was awkward. I was six feet tall in seventh grade. I was one of the tallest kid. You go through that awkward stage. I always thought that people would like me more if I made jokes. I realized now that's not important, but I still randomly do it. Class clowns can be some of the most depressed kids. They think that making the world laugh will make them feel better. You run into that with a lot of comedians offstage. A lot of those people seem very depressed when they're not acting, when they're not doing comedy. Same thing for class clowns. And now I have no reason to be sad. I never had girlfriends when i was younger. I have confidence now, to an extent. But there was a long period where I hadn't kissed a girl. I didn't have a girlfriend. I didn't have girlfriends until I was older. Girls probably didn't talk to me because I was such a jackass.  Part of the reason I'm so anti-putting-anything-funny-in-the-song. I don't put any schtick. Dick Valentine is hilarious, but I couldn't do that. When I play music it's to get all the feelings out I cant get out in real life.
  And now I can do both at the same time. Because I'm surrounded by people that love me, and I love them. Not just my girlfriend, but in general. I've weeded out the leeches, man, and there are a fucking lot of leeches.

  And I'm one of 'em!

  No, no. People that are like . this happened two nights ago. I was at a party and talked to this guy for an hour. As soon as he found out I use to be in the Von Bondies he asked me 'How do you become famous?'. And, that was all he talked about. We ended up leaving five minutes after that. But he just kept talking about it 'Do You have a number', 'can you get me signed?'. That's not how it works. You have to be good on your own. It's not about 'who you know'. It's about going out and being in a place where, possibly, someone can see you that will help you. But if you play in one area for the rest of your life, nobody's coming there to find you. You've got to go out there and bump into them by accident. You shouldn't have to force a good product, it should sell itself. You have to go out there, though. Just because you've got the greatest idea for something, and you (keep) it to yourself, you're going to live a bitter life. 'Oh, I had the greatest idea for a "something". If you didn't go and put it out there, that's you're fault. That's how I looked at music for a long time. I feel like I have something that people seem to enjoy enough that it makes me enjoy it even more.

  Why not re-sign with Warner Brothers ?

It's funny. We got signed by Sire, which is a subsidiary of Warner Brothers. We got signed by Seymour Stein direct. He isn't a traditional A&R person. He 'discovers' talent. And then that's it. You have to pass things by him from time to time and another A&R guy gets assigned to you. The guy that got assigned to us was great, but even if we sold millions of records, he would never get any credit. Because he didn't 'discover' us. So they don't seem work as hard as if it's their own band they had discovered. So that was from day one, that was 2002. So we put out a record and it sold 200,000 copies, worldwide, which is good for a band that didn't sound like the Foo Fighters. So when we went to do our next record in 2006, that A&R guy was gone and Stein disappeared. A new guy took over Sire. We were one of the smallest bands on the label, but I think we raised enough red flags that somebody else looked at what was going on. So I went in to start recording the next record in 2005, 'Love, Hate, and Then There's You'. Finished it, turned it in. The new guy at SIRE said 'Nooo, there's a lot of good album tracks, but no singles'. So I went back and recorded it again. Another forty grand, fucking crazy shit. This is Warner Brothers money, not mine at this point. Recorded it. He says, 'Ahh I just don't hear a single' That was 2006. 2007 rolls around, I recorded it again. All new songs, not the same songs. There's thirty songs at this point, at least I turned it in and he says 'I just don't hear it, I don't know what to tell you'. The reason why he was saying that was, reason one, in our record deal they had to put that record out no matter what. We had a two record firm, not options. They had to put it out. As soon as they accepted it, it had to come out within a certain amount of months. So, he wasn't accepting it and he had taken over our record contract. The other reason is when I asked him what was wrong with it, his response was 'It's not emo enough'. My response was 'I want off the label then, because we're not an emo band' When Seymore signed us, we were a blues-rock band. Singing non-chorusey songs. We didn't have 'C'mon, C'mon' or anything. So he says 'Well, I'm sorry you feel that way.'
I had just spent three years of my life, went through a divorce with all this stress, and all you have to say is 'You don't sound emo enough'?  A week after we got off the label, that guy didn't work there any more and at the time he was the boss of that version of Sire Records.
He ruined three years of my life. In that time the Von Bondies went from selling out 1500 seat venues to not playing any show basically for three fucking years. That guy, in a way, killed the band. I'm not mad they didn't want to put out the record. I'm mad that guy didn't have the balls to tell us for 3 years. And Ironically after that happened we went to another label and some people from Warner Brothers told us 'we really like your new record'. But when we were turning it in over and over again, they never got to hear it because that guy never let anybody hear it. The rest of the label would've put it out. He wouldn't

   So you sued Warner Brothers ?

  I hired a lawyer to get back my record. To get them to give me back 'Love, Hate, and Then There's You', which, funny enough if I had sold a hundred thousand copies of it, I would never have gotten back how much my lawyer fees were. It was just a matter of principal. I wanted my art back. I don't hate Warner Brothers at all. But if I went back there and it happened again. . . I'd be a fool.

  There's a stunning amount of misconceptions about you. If you wanted to make one blanket statement to the the local haters, what is it ?

  Well, because some haters exist it helps me write better songs. I write better songs when they deal with issues. If my life was perfect, I don't know what I'd sing about. I would seriously say thank you to all of them. That's it. I just say thanks. Am I going to be inviting any of them to my birthday party? Probably not.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011


  Accept the bitter truth:
  Radiohead, whether your a Kid Rock-style detractor or alterna-fan, have been the future of rock for going on nineteen years. Not hard rock, not metal, or punk, but the slow fusion over those two decades of all rock sub-genres, including the so-called Alternative-Rock movement and Electronica. They may have started off as your typical alt-rockers in the key of Sponge, loved and worshipped by we followers of 89X. But a uncommon willingness to experiment with the "traditional roles" of each member of the group, has allowed these Abingdon musicians to effortlessly transcend the traditional limitations of the modern recording era.
  Think about it. Giving the songs and album art for 'In Rainbows' away online for whatever amount fans were WILLING to pay ?  Effectively letting 92% of us ungrateful downloading criminals have it for free ! Fusing Maxinqyuae loops and 'Blue Lines' beats with diffused guitars and chronic drums, that have us breathlessly searching for the next sonic fix? How many bands can embrace a monumental change in sound with that level of comfort, and still create a record that doesnt sound forced ?
  Radiohead chose to let their sound evolve naturally instead of clutching desperately to the clever hooks and depressing lyrics that made 'Creep' such a disturbingly fun listen.
'King of Limbs', their newest and possibly most epic musical jewel yet, finds Radiohead happily easing out of the Alternative Music stalwart mode. Yet, they are still fearlessly pushing the boundaries closer to the next evolutionary leap in music: the human Ipod. They've recognized we're all but a breath away from the end of music purchase and ownership in any format, but digital computerized files. And, these files will eventually be downloaded into our nervous systems as we become the 'record player'. The only choice for a band who wishes to stay relevant is no choice at all: evolve.
  Yes, Limbs is clearly the '1984' of 2011 rock albums, with far more in common with Daft Punk's Tron:Legacy soundtrack than 'The Bends'. (Yes, my dear readers, that is a literary reference, not a Van Halen acknowledgement) Yorke and company have long since declared 'Rock Is Dead', and were smart enough to embrace change, unlike most of us nostalgic types, who hold records in our arms like estranged children. You witness the fulfillment of this creed, on songs like 'Little By Little', where traditional British pissing and moaning is successfully filtered until it becomes as easy to swallow as Bell's Winter White in the middle of a Royal Oak Blizzard.
  For all you shut-ins typing furiously in Mom's basement, I get it. Calling a new Radiohead album 'experimental' and 'a mesmerizing work of unsane genius' in light of all their years of critical acclaim, would normally sound like oblivious jackassery. But, on 'Limbs', Radiohead have clearly drank ALL the kool-aid, and signed up for Amway. They've left 'Knives Out' and (incredibly!) 'There, There' so far behind in their career rear view mirror, it's hard to believe this is the same group of musicians. Examine the track 'Feral', which is as much Zero 7, as it is Oasis. Even on their landmark 'OK Computer' record, firm degree of 'rock music' were visible within each track. Subtly buried, under layer after layer of keyboard and studio-created gimmickry, but present. Now the anger and fury, the spit and grit, is barely discernible on tracks like 'Give Up The Ghost' which sounds like as the Aeon Flux woman abandoned the revolution to stay home smoking cannabis. Sure, distant shades of 'Fake Plastic Trees' and 'Talk Show Host' emanate, but they are across the river.
  Still, this is the real world. And I cannot ignore one glaringly obvious point. Radiohead's success remains their downfall. 'Limbs' maybe be a near-perfect example of Thom Yorke's dream world genius, but it's also an excellent case for why the band has so many critics. 'Limbs' is even less accessible than 'In Rainbows', which was less accessible than Hail To The Thief, which was light years away from it's cousin 'Kid A', and so forth and so on. I'm not going to pretend this record is a Bob Seger fan's lesbian fantasy album, nor will I anoint it the second coming of 'Raw Power'. In fact, Limbs took about six complete listens before it FINALLY began to sink in at all, via 'Give Up The Ghost'. But when it does gets a foot hold, it spreads like Captain Trips through your immune system. You find yourself pushing repeat, as these tracks are more daydreams than songs, allow your mind to travel places few of us ever visit. It's a deeper, rich, and altogether more vivid listening experience. So, what will you take away from it ?
  For my brothers and sisters of music who consider Journey to be the pinnacle, . . nothing. And there's isn't a single thing wrong with that. Radiohead, as a band, simply isn't everyone's cup of tea.
  But, if you're the type to spend three hours wandering the DIA, in search of inspiration, 'The King of Limbs is the equivalent of listening to Van Gogh's 'self-portrait'.

Four Stars out of Five
Listen to: 'Codex' 'Give Up The Ghost'

for the DRB

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Strokes 'ANGLES' Review: Parts 1 and 2

Part 1:  The Strokes perform a Christmas miracle.

  The Strokes really had their work cut out for them. It isn't very often a 'first' album ushers in a entire change of musical culture, but 'Is This It?', was literally a force of nature. A musical monument to cities, skinny ties, rock and roll, drugs, and women in push up bras with low self esteem. Unfortunately, what fell to The Strokes at the end of two years of awards, fame, constant adulation, was the unenviable task of trying to follow up a masterpiece with anything that remotely resembled original brilliance. For a decade, we've been watching The Strokes flailing about, furiously trying to write and record 'Is This It: Part 2'. For the first time in a decade it feels like the The Strokes have been able to let go of the yoke that 'Is This It?' became. More importantly, it sound like they've finally stopped trying to top themselves and refocused back on simply writing a decent collection of songs. There's absolutely no doubt, this was a make or break record. If 'Angles' proved to be a failure, another 'Juicebox', it was time to quit. Don't get me wrong, 'Juicebox' is a decent track. But, it's a step-brother of a song, consistently wishing mom and step-dad would love it as much as they love the older brother 'Hard To Explain'.
  Fortunately for both the band and fans, 'Angles' is a thorough and solid success. Every track is a unique thrill, selfishly requiring you absorb each song like your children: equally, but differently.
  But 'Angles' is also a work of art deeply inspiring and curious, much like the monolith from 2001:A Space Odyssey. It's a Midwest cityscape, capturing a era where, amidst a billion tons of concrete, you were a human can of Red Bull. It's a 1982 new wave dream, where Squeeze and the Thompson Twins sold their souls to Satan and joined forces for one truly great album.
  So much so, have I been impressed with 'Angles', that I've devoted part 2 of this review to a dream I had regarding the album.

  Part 2: The Stroke's 'Angles' as several fleeting moments from a vivid windy city Friday night, that to this day, lingers pleasantly in your memory. .

  Upon tearing the cellophane off the cover and brutishly thrusting the CD into the tray, you clumsily press play. The first sweet notes confirm the wild rumors published in The Herald: 'Angles' is indeed a time machine. You close your eyes from the first notes of 'Machu Picchu' (with it's chorus so chocolaty addictive, it's like a musical Kit Kat) and when they reopen, it's July of 2001. Like Marty McFly, you've been transported back to naive glory days where the phrase 'anything is possible' had just barely began to sound like total nonsense. Square toe black lugs are in vogue again. Arthur Andersen seems like a promising company to be employed at, and George Bush, Jr, just became president of the United States.

You are running down the street, struggling to remove your tie and desperate to catch the 6:15 Red Line after a long day of arbitrating consumer complaints for Hershey, Inc. 'Machu Picchu' has your feet moving at top speed, six blocks to the elevated train platform. On this particular Friday, everyone in your social circle of roommates, girlfriends, coworkers, and dipshits is heading to The Metro after work to see that word-of-mouth New York band with the unbearably handsome lead singer. The economy, despite some setbacks, is still humming resolutely, so there's enough money to afford tickets, dinner at the FlatTop Grille, the cab rides, a t-shirt, three beers, and a couple of condoms.
  'Under Cover of Darkness' is a beautiful woman with copper streaks in her short blonde hair, wearing a Blondie -shirt, and an arresting smile, standing nearby at the concert. You're bedazzled by her as she seems to know every song and offers the occasional glance in your direction. Like 'Darkness', she's a mystery with her enigmatic melody, her hook, and the depth of her musical knowledge. She sings along with the band's Duran Duran 'Rio' cover, and forever imprisons you with her deep brown eyes.
  'Two Kinds of Happiness' is the perfect make out song with it's changes in tempo and distilled, subtle back beat. It's playing at the after party in some asshole lawyer's overpriced Wrigleyville condo where you notice (what incredible luck!) the very same blonde. You approach her and exchange words of wit and wisdom. Ultimately, her hand glides up your neck to bristle the hairs on the back your head. The entire party is raging all around, but you're oblivious to obnoxious investment bankers, spilt beer, uninvited guests just off work from the corner 24 hour deli, and voyeuristic Baptist neighbors. All you care about is, in that moment, 'Happiness' is on repeat, and her lips are like a cherry wine picnic at lighthouse point.
  The party shows no signs of clearing out, despite certain guests passing out shamelessly in assorted bedrooms, in the cramped stairway, or right on the puke-green shag rug in the living room. The owner/lawyer is downing tequila shots, two at a time and wearing a antique lampshade. Your dream woman beckons you up to the roof, with her gaze, a cassette copy of 'Angles', and a Sanyo tape deck. Under Chicago stars you make love to 'You're So Right', with it's pulsating tempo that matches the peaks and valleys of your intoxicated passion. 'Right' is wicked indulgence, mixed with allure and two parts passion fruit. In the perfect moment, your only desire in the world is for this night and this song to last forever.
  The sun wakes you. Alone.
  She left neither a name or a number. 'Taken For A Fool' with it's appropriate title and exquisite Sunday morning 'walk of shame' ambiance, prods you up from that worn out, borrowed mattress, and you stumble downstairs to face the sidewalks.
You arrive home to the ridicule of your roommates and a phone message from your mother. You put 'Angles' back into the player, and fast forward to 'Games'. You crash land on the couch, recovering with the Cubs, and a Goose Island Lager. 'Games' is the very memory of her. The track seems to convey even the slightest details of her dress, her drink, and her expression. No one seems to know who she was, but they all noticed her.
On the red line Monday, you play 'Call Me Back' on your first edition Ipod. As the train embarks and buildings gain speed while racing by, you search the empty stares of the other passengers for her face. 'Call Me Back' respects your sadness, it enhances the romance of your chance encounter, and reinforces your hope she'll reappear.
  She never does. She was from Seattle.
  When you finally get home from a late Monday night at the office, you collapse on the couch and click on ESPN. You contemplate how one woman's smile could light up all of Wicker Park. Exhaustion overtakes you, and you descend into a dream within a dream. She's a Shark, you're a Jet, and you hip-hop dance up and down Clark Street to the slightly theatrical 'Gratisfaction'. The only track on 'Angles', where The Strokes take any chances. But, the risk pays in this version of North Side Story, so you and your Shark girlfriend hijack a yellow cab and drive to Milwaukee. There, you're married in a ceremony presided over by Arthur Fonzarelli. Upon pronounces you 'man and wife, heyyyyyyyy!', the wedding band begins to play. Of course, it's The fucking Strokes and after congratulating the newlyweds, they launch into 'Metabolism' and completely bewitch the room. The staff is utterly spellbound. They don't dance, nor do they stand still while caught in the spell of this magnificent ending track. Instead, they sway towards the precipice with a religious devotion because this track captivates and seduces and rightfully expects their attention.
  In the midst of it all, you kiss your new bride on the lips.
  Then it all goes black.
  You wake up from the dream, not in Chicago, not single. Nope, you're married, 42, your wife is overweight and loves 'One Life To Live' far more than she loves sex, and the kids are upstairs screaming for another episode of Dora the Explorer. In other words, you're dreams have been crucified. Better to just accept it, and spend your days growing dumber and fatter on that comfy couch, drowning the growing ache with bingo and sitcom revelry.
  But in the dark, when everyone else is asleep; in the car on the way to the office; anywhere there's a CD player or Ipod during infrequent moments of solitude, you have The Strokes second masterpiece. And 'Angles' will continue to resurrect the memories of what turned out to be the best time in your life with a powerful and faithful affection.


for the DRB-

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


  Laugh all you want, haters. But, it takes brass balls to dress up in yellow and black from head to toe, grow your hair long, and use heavy metal as your vehicle to spread whatever message you're passionate about. Oz Fox, born Richard Alfonso Martinez, has played with two of the most influential bands in the 'christian metal' genre: Stryper and, lesser known, but critically acclaimed Seattle band Bloodgood. The end result: 'To Hell With The Devil', the bestselling album in the history of christian metal, the number one spot on Dial MTV (The precursor to TRL for you young hipsters!) and a permanent place in music history. Stryper are the example of a 'spiritual' group achieving what was once thought impossible, crossing over to mainstream success on radio and MTV. Whether you consider Stryper to be genuine artists or musical curiosities, no one can deny Oz Fox's talent on guitar. He's the sonic force behind tracks like 'To Hell With The Devil' and 'Surrender', which showcase the melodic, guitar-heavy appeal of Stryper's music. And don't pretend you didn't get all misty listening to the lyrics of Honestly while you were slow dancing with some bridesmaid at some wedding in 1987. The Blog was fortunate to catch up with Oz when Stryper recently played at Detroit's historic Harpos venue on their 2011 World Tour.

  Oz, does it feel like fifty ?

  Of course it feels like I'm 50. Actually I became a grandpa in December. My oldest daughter just had a little girl, so I'm really excited about that.


  Thank you.

  It's been said the Sweet brothers 'recruited' you to join their pre-Stryper project. Were you friends at the time, or were your considered a 'hired gun' ?

  No, we were all friends. Michael, Robert, and myself all went to high school together. We ended up hooking up after they started playing the club circuit. Tim Gaines left the band he was playing in, and he was someone they'd been admiring for a long time. When he left his band they got a hold of him.

  Who's idea was the yellow and black costumes ?

  Yellow and black started with Robert. He painted his drum kit yellow and black and it crept out into the rest of the band. Eventually it turned into stripes. By the time I got into the band, they were already all striped up yellow and black.

  When you look back at pictures from that era, particularly those of the skin tight spandex pants, what kind of emotions resurface within you ?

  I don't know if it's emotions or if it's just, uh . . .well, it is what it is. In one respect, you have to say, wow, that was an amazing time when bands were doing their best to look the best and have something different. And we certainly had a different look and different way of dressing than anyone else, which was pretty unique.

  Was Stryper more or less successful than you imagined from when you first joined ?

  I would say more successful. When I joined the band, and when Timmy got in it, we definitely had a Chemistry that worked better than anything else they'd had. I'm speaking of Michael and Robert because they had been playing together as a band for a long long time. Definitely a lot more successful at that point.

  Your style of playing has been compared to Jake E Lee and Mick Mars.

  First of all I have to say, Jake is an awesome guitar player. Mick is a very, very emotional type of player. These guys have been on the forefront of melodic metal for years. I basically just learned my style from a mix mashhh of being influenced by guys like Van Halen, Michael Schenker, Uli Roth from the Scorpions, Mathias Jabs from the Scorpions, Jeff Beck. Rhandy Rhoads, that's pretty much what I learned and cut my teeth on. Learning those guy's licks. And it wasn't really until later in my career that I started learning theory. Nowadays, some of my favorite guitar players are Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. It's funny how later on in my years I really got into Hendrix and Clapton and started to appreciate them more. In the beginning, that wasn't the case. Tony Iommi was a huge influence and Carlos Santana. Like I said, a mish mash of layers kind of got me going and influence me. I don't necessarily feel like I fit in any one particular mold. To compare me to Jake E Lee or Mick Mars, I have no idea what their influences were. Even being compared to George Lynch, and George blows my mind.

  Randy Jackson was a session bass player on Stryper's 1990 release 'Against The Law'. Is it odd to watch him on American Idol ?

  No. It's great to see that he's on American Idol. Randy's an icon. I was sick the day he came in to do that so I was bummed that I missed it. But Tim got a big kick out of it.

  What's been the high point ?

  I don't know. Hard to say when the high point was. Ultimately there's so many different high points, so its very difficult to give you that answer. Playing Budokan in Japan was awesome. Playing Cornerstone Festival in Illinois was a pretty amazing thing. Making it to the number one most requested video on MTV was really a great experience to see that happen.

  Was it overwhelming for you had to suddenly take over lead vocals after Michael Sweet quit the band in 1992 ?

  The show must go on. That's my attitude. And I was just trying to pay the bills. I could never replace Michael. Never. The guy is incredible. I could never sing like him and I can only sing like me. And I personally would not want to replace Michael in anyway. But you do what you have to do. My attitude at that point was 'well lets make this work and put some food on the table'.

  Do you ever wish the band's career had evolved in a different direction ?

  No. I'm glad it went the way it went. The coolest thing about Stryper is that no one else can say, they were a faith based band that crossed over to MTV for the first time. And led the way for a lot of other artists like us to do the same.

  Jerry Falwell once compared Stryper's practice of throwing Bibles (with the Stryper logo on the cover) into the audience as 'casting pearls before swine'. Did the band feed off that negative press or was it demoralizing ?

  That kind of stuff you let slip off. Your heart becomes like silicon. People are blind to the fact God can use any situation to reach people. He can use rock (music) if he wants to. The problem with these people is they get caught up in a spiritual bubble. They can't see past the church doors, which is very sad. God confounds the wise by using simple things to spread his gospel. If these guys are considered the heads of theological knowledge, I don't want to follow them, because they're ridiculous.

  You were divorced in 2006 and you're now remarried to an ex-prostitute who has calling to minister to streetwalkers in Las Vegas under the title 'Hookers For Jesus'. You played guitar in Stryper. Has it been challenging for either of you to accept the other's past ?

  Absolutely not. Annie loves what I do and supports me way more than I have ever been supported in the past. And as far as her past goes, she is who she is, because of her past. It's a miracle she came out of it, and she has an amazing story. And she uses that story to help other women. And I'm blown away by the fact that she chose me as someone she would trust and be married to. It's an honor. She's an amazing woman, she has an amazing ministry. I'm so happy to be apart of it. Some of these women started when they were twelve to fourteen years old being prostitutes. It's a joy to be an example to them and show them what a true marriage, and what a man is supposed to do with his wife. How a man is supposed to love his wife and protect her. And that's what they see.

  How do you deal with the 'stripper for Stryper' jokes ?

  Sometimes I join in on them, you know ? You got to admit it is a funny situation. You got these guys who started out in yellow and black spandex pants and hair up to heaven. There are some funny things you can say about it, but it's all in good fun. Anyone who's serious about hating Stryper or mocking us, . .whatever.

  If there is any band in the christian metal genre that can be considered one of your peers, it's Bloodgood. What's your experience been like playing guitar with them ? 

  Those guys are just incredibly talented. I am sorry they got missed. If anybody should have been watched and had the same success as Styper, it's Bloodgood. Those guys are amazing Christians and have amazing hearts, and amazing talents. Their music was awesome and touched a lot of people. I would love for that band to be recognized, which they already have in the christian world. They got inducted into the Christians hall of fame. They are an incredible bunch of guys. We have a good time when we're out playing together and they're some of my closest friends.

for the DRB