The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

MALK TALKS TO STEVE BLAZE

OF LILLIAN AXE

ABOUT THE NEW ALBUM 'THE DAYS BEFORE TOMORROW'

 

 

 

 

Of all the people I’ve had the chance to interview in the two and a half years of The Rockpit Steve Blaze has to be one of nicest guys out there. Lillian Axe has just released its eleventh album in ‘The Days Before Tomorrow’. It’s an astonishingly good album: epic, thought-provoking and Steve tells us it’s the best Lillian Axe album he’s worked on to date. Its early morning in Australia when Steve calls, and it’s raining and dark in Louisiana…

 

 

STEVE: Hey, what’s going on Mark?

 

 

MARK: Just getting ready for the day. How are you this morning?

 

 

STEVE: I’m doing wonderful man.

 

 

MARK: I think we last spoke just before your last record came out so it’s great to be able to get the chance to catch up with you again now the new one has hit. I see in the news that you are in Firefest this year which is pretty exciting?

 

 

STEVE: Yes that should be good. Are you going to try and make it?

 

 

MARK: I think I am. There’s a great bill, so good enough a reason to go back to the old country and see you guys.

 

 

MARK: When I read before I had actually heard the album that you had called it the best record you had ever written for Lillian Axe I thought, wow, that’s a pretty big statement to make How do you think about saying that now?

 

 

STEVE: I feel I would still stick by it. You know I always think that every record has been a progression and in a perfect really objective world I think every record we have  
done has got better to a certain degree but  there is something really unique about this album. All the pieces of the puzzle just seemed to fit perfectly, the mixes, the sequences, the tracking, the way Brian fits into the band, the performances, the artwork, the way that the interviews start lining up, the reaction and stuff, everything just seemed to be very positive and you know I’ve noticed one thing that every year people become more critical of everything around them. People become more prone to be a little bit meaner about things. A lot of people around the world just seem to be ready to rip into somebody else. It gets more and more of a challenge to make people happy with your music each year.

 

 

MARK: I think that’s definitely the case.  I mean I personally love ‘Deep Red Shadows’ but I can definitely see the progression here; it’s a combination of things.  I don’t know whether it’s the fact that over the years I’ve gotten more used to the direction that you are heading in but certainly lyrically and musically, and Brian of course is a bit of a revelation He fits in so well. I know you guys have probably been with him eight or nine months now but he seems to fit in beautifully.

 

 

STEVE: You know it’s funny because like I tell people we could have gotten Rob Halford or Robert Plant to sing with the band and there would still be contingent of fans that would say it’s never going to be like Ron Taylor.

 

 

STEVE: We were talking about trying to please everyone and you know it’s a difficult thing as an artist the most exciting thing for me is getting an album into people’s hands and really wanted them to get excited. Like I am when any one my favourite bands put out an album and I couldn’t wait to hear them – you know it was an exciting time. So we want to make sure that people like what you do but there are always going to be people no matter what you do that you cannot please, you know there will be people who are stuck in the past and that want you to do something like you know ‘Poetic Justice’ or ‘Love and War’ – and they want repeats of that. But there will never be a repeat of those records; people need to grow with the band so that in five years this album reminds them of this point in their lives. So I have to just follow my heart and put out the best possible album I can and dismiss all of the ‘I’ve got to do this’; ‘This works here’ I just write what comes from my heart and the band grows, we get better as a band, better as a team and the audience hopefully grows with us. And I think 90% of the time they do, but there’s always the ones, like a guy who sent me an email to say he didn’t care who was singing if it wasn’t Ron Taylor he wasn’t buying the new record! So I said hey man you are really going to miss out!

 

 

MARK: At least he’s still in touch! (Laughs)

 

 

 

 

MARK: As a creator of music that really is the only way you can go. There’s no point in trying to recapture the past. Saying that there are of course certain bands out there that I love the glory days of, but equally there are bands that you can take the trip with and see how they evolve over the years and grow with them. I just think it depends on the band, I mean if the last Lillian Axe album I had bought was in 1989 maybe I’d say that too.

 

 

 STEVE: I think some people just don’t want to try new things. And one thing I will say is that we have not jumped band wagons we had our biggest records in the mid nineties when the grunge thing was really huge, and we didn’t turn grunge. We didn’t turn rap metal when that was really popular we don’t try to sound like Nickelback now like every band under the sun has! We have stayed true tour roots and that is going to evolve and sound better as technology changes, we may write more dynamic songs now, and lyrically did deeper because hopefully as a human being I’m hopefully getting smarter. I mean look at how many bands out there have done a 180 and changed what they do to try and get airplay and fit in with what is popular now.

 

 

MARK: I thought Nickelback were trying to sound like Kid Rock now anyway? (Laughs)

 


STEVE: You know I thing everyone is just trying to hit on what is popular and you know what if I knew what was really going to work, what style or what song is going to take over the world we’d all be doing it. But you never know, and the only thing I can say is that the more money you invest in it and the bigger labels that get involved you are probably going to do real well. They have the pockets to go and make sure that every person on the planet is going to hear the music, and we’ve never been afforded that luxury. You know had the millions of dollars to get on the right tour. If we were in the face of every person on the planet I truly believe that we would be immensely popular, I don’t think that people who like Lillian Axe music are this weird cult of people with strange personality disorders! (Laughs)

 

 

STEVE: Our fans man, love great music, people that like Queen, Sabbath and Zeppelin and music that moves them and there are millions upon millions of people on this planet that are that way.

 

 

MARK:  I think the thing I love most about Lillian Axe is that indefinable quality, it’s not quite hard rock, not quite metal, it’s epic, there are great songs, great lyrics. It’s a great package. Last time we talked about Deep Red Shadows you mentioned that the lyrical themes you were exploring were around Vampires, but this one is looking at various themes: the outcasts of society, the disenfranchised, the ‘Human Zoo’ tell us about the themes on this album?

 

 

STEVE: The deep underlying message if there was one theme that permeates every song is the power of good and the power of the human soul and the importance of fighting the good fight and trying to live life as a good human being and helping others.

 

 

I’ll run through them real quick: Babylon the first song, we have a show over here called Billy the Exterminator, he’s a guy who is a friend of mine who goes out and does things like wrestle alligators and stuff like that, kind of like the Crocodile Hunter. But as I say he’s a friend of mine and he and I got into a long conversation one night and we started to talk about things like conspiracy theories, the end of the world, alchemy, supernatural things that are going on on this planet that no one really knows about. It’s about the End Times. I’ve always been a fan of the supernatural and things we don’t understand, and I’ve always wanted to learn about things and know about things: UFOs, ghosts, the spirit world and the paranormal, anything to do with things that aren’t easily explained. So I wrote that song kind of inspired by that conversation. And the lyrics “When the dead walk the Earth it’s a sign for the innocent” and such may sound kind of dark and morbid but it’s not, it’s about the dead walking the planet at the end of time. And there are people out there who will swear that Zombies do exist, that it’s some kind of medical condition and sometimes dead bodies do some back to life. So there are so many crazy theories out there. So many stories and so much going on it will test someone’s faith. So if you listen to all that it really does test someone’s faith and you’ve just got to sit back and realise that at the end of the day there’s a lot of unexplained crazy stuff going on in the world but if you have your faith and you keep yourself grounded all the rest of that with just fly by you and keep you path solid. And that kind of underlying theme is there in all my songs.

 

 

‘Death Comes Tomorrow’ was inspired by Conan The Barbarian, the idea of a man living his life by himself, battling the elements and trying to find out who he is, just like Conan was. He was a warrior, a solo man with no family or relationships. And that theme can relate to any time, to today, just being a man trying to find out what are we here for? Where are we going? Where is my soul going? What is my place on this Earth?  And so that song is pretty universal. It’s something we all do to a certain extent, but I turned it into a story of a man fighting the elements out in the wilderness on his own. And at the end of the story he dies and the blessed come to take him away to heaven, but again there’s that underlying theme. 

 


 

‘Gather Up The Snow’ is about appreciating the beautiful moments we have on Earth, you know this planet is a beautiful place, there may be a lot of bad things that happen but if you look at it through another set of glasses, it’s a wonderful place, there are a lot of wonderful people and great things out there. You can either do one of two things you can either allow the bad things to take over your life or find the right path. You know if you have a choice you can either take the good path or the bad path, what’s the point? I’m taking the good path and I’m going to have to fight the same things on each so you want to know your soul is going to the right place. When you talk about atheists, why would you even want to believe there is no God, don’t you know that if you don’t  believe in anything you know exactly where you are going – nowhere!  Don’t you want to believe that there is something good at the end of all this? It doesn’t make sense to me. So the song is about all the good things and the things we can cherish and all of the good things we have on earth.

 

 

MARK: That was one of the songs that really stood out for me, I must admit.

 

 

STEVE: ‘The Great Divide’ is another about the end of the world. Originally I was going to call it angels and Demons, but it sounded too much like the Dan Brown movie. I pictured the earth splitting and Angels and Demons and this huge battle to take over mankind. And also it talks about how blessed we really are and what we have to be thankful for like your kids, and me being a Christian, how much God loves us, so many million times more than we can even understand. I spoke to a lady a few months ago who actually dies – she was injected with the wrong stuff at hospital and she actually went to heaven and came back to tell about it. And her description was absolutely unbelievable; she said you know how much you love your kid? Well that is infinitesimal to Gods love for us. And she wanted to die again just to go back to heaven, so I started thinking about that, the Great Divide, the battle and the older I get the clearer it all  is to me. And you know living the good life, taking care of others and doing the right thing, it’s not silly. I think a lot of people think it’s cool to be hard, a badass, or hardcore, or whatever but to me it’s kind of silly. I would rather be strong, like a warrior rather than be a slug trying to get by. I believe in the strength of the human condition and the strength of the soul; and while lots of people think it’s not cool, it’s not Hollywood…

 

 

MARK: I think a lot of that Steve, does come through the feeling of family, and having those close relationships and people you care about.

 

 

STEVE: And I think that does make me take negativity to heart more than usual. If I hear someone saying does he really mean these things he’s writing about or is he just trying to elicit emotions. Ad I just think well if I didn’t feel them I would have no idea how to do that/ I have no problem at all telling people how I feel.  That’s who I am.

 

 

MARK: The lyrics are very bare and open and I guess that may be where it’s coming from. People may feel that they are too bare an open, or revealing, and shy away from them.

 

 

STEVE: Yeah I’ve gotten a lot of that especially on this record. People saying wow he’s really bearing his soul on this one. There are probably millions of people that feel the exact same way and they might not know how to explain it, it may just be pent up inside, but if they can listen to the lyric and thing ‘yeah that’s exactly how I feel’ and the music enhances it, then that’s a great  thing for me.

 

 

MARK: I think it is a fine line though, I remember as a kid reading Dickens and thinking this is just too sentimental, but I think you are on the right side of the line, the lyrics are more measured and more heartfelt, without being cloying.

 

 

STEVE: I agree, and I don’t want to make my lyrics too mushy, but the weird thing is some people say my lyrics are dark; and some say they are very open an emotional. And I think they are both. I mean I am very sentimental about some things but I like to think, for want of a better word, not in a cheesy, pretentious way. But that’s just the way I am I have respect for things and people and relationships. I have a two and a half year old baby boy who is my whole world and that gives me perspective.  It is what it is; I’m not going to lie about what I think just because people might not understand.

 

 

MARK: I actually see it as a pretty brave step to bear the emotions. Getting back to the album you recorded with Sylvia Massey who has quite a profile, recording with some big names. How was that experience?

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEVE: Well Sylvia actually mixed ‘47 Ways To Die’ the song from Deep red Shadows it was on a movie called ‘The Hit List’ and it was just about played in its entirety over the opening credits. We were introduced to her by a radio promoter who had worked with her in the past, and he takes projects to her every now and again. And even though she seems to be very selective she liked the song, and was very complimentary, she even knew about our history. So she mixed it and it came out great and we always thought that we’d like to use her for the next record, and very graciously she did. And my gosh, what a great ix! What more can I say! She obviously understands the band and knew what we were looking for on a sonic level.  She knew how to layer the mixes and we felt so comfortable.  What we got was such a loud in-your-face, yet warm mix; I just can’t say enough about it and she and her team knew exactly what we were looking for and as far as I’m concerned she can mix everything now. It was an honour to have her work on this record.     

 

 

MARK: How have the initial live shows gone? I know you recently played the Howling Wolf in New Orleans – how was that? 

 

 

 

STEVE: That went real well, it was the first show we played in a long time, before that maybe six months ago we played a warm up show with Lynch Mob, that went great. So we did this free show in New Orleans and it was phenomenal, we played six new songs and we have this acoustic breakdown in the middle of the show where we do a selection of about ten ballads, but with eleven albums now it’s kinda hard to pick a set! It was just really smooth and every song was like fan favourites, but it was great and we’re now looking at getting back on the road again, looking at options, but the band sounds great. Brian is a great front man, great singer and the band is as tight as its ever been and you know playing new stuff is always a lot of fun. We can’t wait to get back out there.

 

 

MARK: Are you thinking of playing any songs you’ve not aired for a while, mixing it up a bit?

 

 

STEVE: Oh yeah, we play songs off of every record. There are certain ones we have to play, you know: ‘Show a Little Love’; ‘Misery loves Company’; ‘True Believer’; ‘Ghost of Winter’; ‘All’s fair in Love and War’ – so we do a fair amount of each record, and we try to really work on the dynamics of the set. And so we do this acoustic medley now as people always want to hear the ballads, and when you have about 15 it’s hard so we try to please people so we put a medley together and play: ‘Nobody Knows’;  ‘See You Someday’; ‘World’s Stopped Turning’; ‘Promised land’; ‘My Apologies’ off the new record and ‘Bow Your Head’. I was concerned about it at first as I was worried it might be over-long and we might lose interest as it’s a breakdown, but man, it went down really well and was really appreciated by the fans – who loved it. It allows us to play a lot of songs that we wouldn’t normally get to play.

 

 

MARK: And then you have Firefest later in the year: how did that come about? Had you been asked before?

 

 

STEVE: No man that was the first time. Through AFM the European label the word got out, and you know we haven’t really had a proper European release before, we’ve had the label curse forever so AFM has done a wonderful job. And next thing you know they wanted us to play Firefest and any chance to play Europe is a great thing. They did want us to play a lot of the old stuff as you know everyone in Europe loves ‘Love and War’ and ‘Poetic Justice’ and ‘Psycho…’  so we’ll do that and of course play some new stuff. We’ve been over there several times now back in 2004 we played ‘Bang Your Head’ and played Switzerland when I was over there playing with Angel, so I was playing with two of the bands.

 

 

MARK: I know Michael T Ross told me about those shows

 

 

STEVE: Michael is a great guy I love Michael, is he still playing with Lita Ford?

 

 

MARK: You know I’m not sure I haven’t spoken to him for a while.

 

 

STEVE: He’s hilarious, he thinks I’m the funniest guy on the planet – ask him about it. He’s just the funniest guy, always cracking up laughing! I used to make that boy laugh so hard he couldn’t speak!

 

 

MARK: Now that would be some feat, that guy can talk!

 

 

STEVE: (Laughs) I know! He’s a talker!

 

 

MARK: I guess there will be some other dates when you are over.

 

 

STEVE: Yeah we’d love to but it’s kind of up in the air as we have two or three possible tour situations right now that we are working on, one of them is July and another might be in June so we really don’t know yet. But for Firefest they are flying us in then back so maybe not.

 

 

MARK: Have you seen the line-up? Anyone you are looking at seeing?

 

 

STEVE: I did have a look, but I can’t recall the whole bill, is Danger Danger there?  The Stagedolls? I met Bruno and Steve from Danger Danger and they were cool guys so it would be nice to catch up with them and it would be nice to hang out on the fays were not playing and doing some promo.

 

 

MARK:  On the day you are playing there’s bands I’ve not heard of for a while like Brighton Rock and I think Fiona and Pete’s band Farcry. There’s also Terry and XYZ.

 

 

STEVE: You know I haven’t talked to Terry for maybe five years, you know that we talked to him right before Ron Taylor left when we were looking for a singer right before Derek. So he and I got to be phone buddies, he’s a great singer. Hey can you hold a while I just have my son here. 

 

 

STEVE: Hey can you say hi to Mark?

 

 

STEVE’S SON: No!

 

 

STEVE: He’s my inspiration, man you have to get a real copy of the record as my little boy talks on a hidden track on the record – he says ‘The Impossible is Born’ which sets up the whole theme of the record. It’s kind of cryptic, but cool. The hidden track on the US version ‘You Belong to Me’ is my Lillian Axe lead vocal debut!

 

 

MARK: Can’t wait to hear it!

 

 

STEVE: It’s an acoustic track, pretty spooky!

 

 

 

MARK: The first single from the new album ‘Caged In’ to me is almost the odd man out, it has an almost Velvet Revolver sound to it, do you get that at all?

 

 

STEVE: You know you are the second person who has set that, and the funny thing is that song is about 15 years old, that one and ‘Lava on my Tongue’ I wrote a long time ago, but everything else was written this year. But those two have been in my catalogue of unreleased songs for so long, but they just really seemed to fit. You know ‘Caged in’ is about anger and how to hold it in because personally I have a very long fuse, but I have a really bad temper when it comes out! And I wanted the song to be like a nervous train running through the song, that constant sound running down the track and we wanted to make you feel that you were on the verge of exploding with certain guitar sounds, and it’s funny you said that because I see a few parts of Brian’s delivery sound a bit like Scott. Good observation.

 

 

MARK: I think it was the vocals that did it for me, you’re right. Is there any new stuff that you’ve been listening to since you started the album that has caught your attention or any good bands you’ve seen live?

 

 

STEVE: You know the last concert I went to was Judas Priest at a 2000 seater and it was amazing – the best I’ve ever seen the. But before that it was Def Leppard and Heart and then Rush. But the new stuff? I’m not really into Death Metal, just because I like singing. Not that some of the bands aren’t great musicians; it’s just that I like to hear the vocals and like melody. So I love stuff like Shinedown, I like Chevelle. I think one of my favourite bands of the last ten years is Muse: an outstanding band. It’s funny that I  always think of bands I like when I’m not doing an interview but when I am I go blank! I just bought the latest Van Halen; I got the new Scorpions – a band I really respect. I strive to have a consistency like that.

 

 

MARK: And they are still on that Farewell tour I saw them on in 2010!

 

 

STEVE: Man, how many Farewell tours are there out there! Kiss has been on there’s for like 15 years!

 

 

MARK: There’s talk of a resurgence of melodic rock over the next few years. Do you see that coming?

 

 

 

STEVE: Yeah, I think so, even through grunge and rap metal and whatever is going on out there now it always comes back to quality you know; great songs and good performances and the chemistry of a band means everything. I get all the guitar hero accolades but to me it doesn’t mean as much as when someone tells me they appreciate me as a song-writer. That’s the most important thing as that’s a combination of everything and that’s the test of time, not the guitar solo or how high the vocalist screams it all comes back to the song and I think that the media always tries to have something to write about. Like when I first read ‘hair metal is dead’ and all the sheep out there jumped on it for the sake of something to write about. So all the kids that have come onto the scene in the last ten years have been missing out, so now they get a chance to see Van Halen again and Rush and The Scorpions and all these great bands show it always comes back to great rock and great songs.

 

 

MARK: I think the thing that always dismays me is that whenever you see all the top touring acts of the year it’s always rock acts and yet the majors just don’t seem to be doing much to get more rock out there.

 

 

STEVE: It’s sad man, not like it was in the seventies when labels would do all they could for bands, now it’s like they’re commodities like a can of soup to sell.

 

 

MARK:  Since you started your label is that working for you?  Have you found a nice balance or are you spending a lot of time on the non-musical side of the business?

 

 

STEVE: Well actually I think I have found the right balance, my wife teaches college and I’ve been in to speak to her class on the topic of balance. How to have personal balance, spiritual balance, and balance in your job. And it’s hard for me as I have ten thousand things to balance! But once you find that balance everything really does just fall into place.  And it’s great for me as I have such a great team around me and it makes me want to work with other people more because I respect the people I’m working with so everything just falls into place.

 

 

MARK: I think you can look at people like Joe Bonamassa who have managed to do everything themselves. It’s taken hard work and a lot of years to do it but now there must be that great sense of achievement through self-belief.

 

 

STEVE: You know sometimes I feel like were just kind of getting started on that path.

 

 

MARK: It must feel so rewarding though at the end of it to know that you’ve done everything yourself?

 

 

STEVE: You know when I got the actual copy of the disc with all the artwork, all shrink-wrapped and everything. It was the first time I was able to sit back and hold it and look at it. And I though wow! This is a year of hard work, and I could sit back and take a breath and think it’s done!

 

 

MARK: I know it’s an almost impossible question to answer, but what is your personal favourite on the new album?

 

 

STEVE: My favourite song on the new record huh? It’s hard, but you know what it’s probably ‘My Apologies’ because I wrote it for my son.

 

 

MARK: For me I love the lot but yes I’m with you, it’s a great song, as is ‘Gather Up the Snow’ and some of the heavier ones like ‘Take The Bullet’ – the one with the really cool drums in it and ‘Babylon’. Sorry for taking up so much of your time.

 

 

STEVE: Hey that’s my pleasure man, always good to talk to you.

 

 

MARK: Best of luck with the new album. See you in May.

 

 

STEVE: You know how to get in touch. Hopefully see you soon but if not take care and have a good one.

 

 

 

Mark spoke to Steve Blaze of Lillian Axe February 2012  

 

Check out all things Lillian Axe here:

 

http://www.lillianaxe.com/home.htm

 

Catch the band at ROCKLAHOMA (USA) and FIREFEST (UK) This year. More dates to be announced.