AN INTERVIEW WITH STEVE BLAZE
By David Iozzia
Photos by Robert E. Brown II
Dave: Hey Steve, thanks for allowing me to interview you. Your band Lillian Axe released its first studio almost in almost 15 years on July 17. Its almost 70 minutes long, and there are 12 different tracks. Please give my readers a preview of what they should expect musically from Waters Rising.
STEVE: I say this about every record, but I firmly believe it: Waters Rising is the quintessential Lillian Axe record. Sonically, its our best sounding record. Song-wise, we had no restrictions and we spent four years recording it. Nobody micro-managed me. We didnt even have a record label until the album was done. My engineer, Rob Hovey, and I spent all of this time making sure it was perfected in our eyes and that it was the best possible record we could do. Its well-rounded thematically, sound-wise, and material-wise. We have a lot at stake in the fact that its been so long since Lillian Axe put out an original album. We released a live album and our b-sides record, Fields of Yesterday. Were putting out a brand new record after 12 years when so many things have changed in the world and in the music environment. I didnt want to think about all of that or over-analyze things. I just wanted to make a record that we like. I didnt want to worry about anything other than doing the best possible record that we could do. I think the fans will be pleasantly surprised. As a band, Lillian Axe has grown and gotten better all-around. I like to think that my writing improves every time. Yet, by the same token, weve maintained the style that defines Lillian Axe. That will never change. The bands chemistry may have changed a little because of the new members but since weve been around for a long time, weve developed our own niche. I think weve excelled with this record and we have a lot to prove in a certain way. We have a new singer, and its our first album in 10 years but so what? Lillian Axe is not going to falter or digress or put anything else out other than what we feel is an advancement in the bands career.
Dave: Many a guitarist has released an instrumental record to showcase different playing styles and to pay tribute to his guitar influences. Youve accomplished both those tasks on one cut from Waters Rising, the instrumental 5, which also appeared on your solo album, Random Acts of Blindness. How difficult was it to write and record that song?
STEVE: It was kind of fun. Its the only song that Ken Koudelka doesnt drum on. My engineer, Rob Hovey, is the drummer in my other band, Near Life Experience, and he plays on that track. People always tell me that I dont solo enough. They say shred, shred, and do a solo record. Id never been a guitar masturbator who plays for my own pleasure. I do my share of showing off that side of me, but I find it meaningless unless its in the context of a great piece of work. I always wanted to record something that encompasses the styles that I feel Im accomplished in, whether its orchestrating parts, blues riffs, minor scale shredding, wah-wah, arpeggios, sweeps, sound effects, or flange. I wanted to do it all. I didnt even want to write a song. I had a bed for a riff, and wed record the different pieces as we wrote them. We did it in segments and by the time it was done, there were 80-something guitar parts. It was pretty crazy and a bitch to mix. Whenever you use that many guitars, frequencies knock each other out. It was difficult, but Rob did a great job. I guess that song is my answer to the people telling me to do a solo record.
Dave: If its safe to say that 5 defines you as a guitarist, Im going out on another limb to state that the track Fields of Yesterday is the bands defining song from Waters Rising. Its my favorite track from the record because, in my humble opinion, it captures the spirit, the emotions, and the musicianship of Lillian Axe.
STEVE: I agree with that Dave; its a great observation on your behalf. When we sit back and listen to what other people say their favorites are, that cut seems to be rising to the forefront. People have given us a lot of positive feedback on Fields of Yesterday. It has a little bit of everything, not only musically, but lyrically and thematically. We may try to work it into the live set but theres a lot in that song. Its our Bohemian Rhapsody, with the orchestrated part in the middle. Because we had a B-sides record titled Fields of Yesterday, people ask us which came first. Actually, the song was written first and I thought it would be a great name for the album. The title hints about reminiscing and about the past. Thats what those songs were; they were songs written that didnt make the record. But I didnt want to waste this song. The older demo version didnt do it justice. I wanted to record it right, mix it properly, and capture the songs spirit for the new album.
Dave: Youve stated previously that you were experimenting with different approaches to this record, but it always came back to the same formula: do what we do, period. Thats a great musical approach, but todays music industry has changed radically since Lillian Axe got its start. What is your business approach with this record?
STEVE: If this was my first album, I would have a different business approach. Its no great secret that Lillian Axe hasnt been treated fairly in the business world. Weve had struggles with record labels. Yet in the big scheme of things, weve had a lot of success. Lillian Axe has fans worldwide, and weve touched a lot of people with our music. We havent had the mega-success of KISS or Def Leppard, and if it was all about the money, I would have taken a different route. I would have sat down and listened to all of the bands on the radio. When I turn it on these days, I hear 50 bands that all sound like Nickelback. I cant tell whos who anymore. Musics a copycat industry, but I cant do that. As far as my integrity is concerned, I cant sell out like that. To make it successfully, you can never tell whats going to click. I love Avenged Sevenfold yet I never thought theyd break commercially. With the length of their songs and the type of music they play, theyre not commercial-friendly. We all know that a huge portion of a bands success is in the machine behind them. If there is half-decent stuff on a record and the label does the right thing getting behind it and sticking with it, placing a song or two on the radio, and putting out money to get the band out on tour, the record will sell. Thats the proven formula for success. But to have continued success, the band has to have what it takes. They have to deliver the goods. I cant sell out on my music. We have three songs that are over eight minutes long on this record. I refuse to cut four minutes from a song with the hopes that it will be a single. It would lose everything. In the past, I might have thought about doing that.
Dave: Given the long wait of music fans for new music from Lillian Axe and the crazy music industry of the 21st century, is it possible for you and your band to have expectations when you release a record?
STEVE: No, thats impossible. Bands have had huge success putting records out and nothing happens with their new record. You just cant tell anymore. Its not like it used to be. Thank God for labels like Metro City and guys like Tim Koukos. They are music fans and they want to do things right. Hes a fan of the bands that he signs and he does it for the music. Thats why we signed with him. After hearing his ideas and plans for building us, I knew this was the guy. Its not Sony and its not Universal, but hes got the right team behind him and his bands. I hate to sound cliché or me against the world but it does have a lot to do with integrity in what we do. Nobody can EVER accuse Lillian Axe of selling out or trying to fit in. Well always maintain our own identity by not letting the wrong people in who might try to force our direction.
Dave: Lillian Axe has been signed with different record labels throughout their history. For Waters Rising, the band is signed to Metro City Records, which is a division of Screaming Ferret Wreckords. When you were shopping for a record label, what are the most important factors you look for in the relationship between artist and label?
STEVE: The first thing I look for is distribution. It has to be out there. Im so tired of hearing for the last 15 years that people cant find my record anywhere. Major label or not, from the first record to the last record, people couldnt find us. It was disgusting. I also want to know where a label wants to go with us and how theyll support us. Do they want to build us and have a career relationship or do they want to do a one-off? Philosophy in general, and the labels thoughts on radio are important, and then we can talk about funding, publicity, and tour support. It all starts in the philosophical arena with how they feel about our band and our record.
Dave: Your band is from the New Orleans area and fans might think the album title has something to do with the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. I can assure them that in a previous conversation you and I had, that album title was picked long before the hurricane. What does the title Waters Rising represent?
STEVE: Its about that boiling point, the pressure thats always building, and the internal struggle. The older we get, the more crap gets thrown at us. More things get into our psyche and if we dont know how to handle them, they can cause us to go off on different tangents. They change how we think and how we react. I love watching little kids because the whole world is innocent and open to them. They have no worries. Some of the songs on this record touch on oddities in human behavior. I think people are getting more and more lost every day. The human race is in a severe type of back-pedaling situation. We all feel the pressure, we all get bogged down, and we all feel like were drowning at times. You have to find your inner peace because the problems we struggle with are not unique. Everybody has them. You have to find what works for you and concentrate on that. The booze and the drugs doesnt work for anybody. It doesnt solve problems. To me, my relationship with God solves my problems. It doesnt make them go away, but it makes it easier for me to understand. Its not Gods fault that human beings are stupid and that a lot of them do really bad things. I also believe that we shouldnt take one second of being alive for granted. Every little action that you perform can have a huge reaction in somebody elses life. Im crazier and busier than Ive ever been, I have more pressure, and Im a stressed-out knucklehead half the day. But I have inner peace. I have it in check. There are days that I want to pack it up and move to the mountains of Montana. But you know what? After 20 minutes Ill be looking for a guitar.
Dave: Hurricane Katrina changed the lives forever of everybody that lived in the areas it devastated. How did it affect you and your band, both as citizens of the area and as musicians?
STEVE: Eric and Sam lost some gear. My damages were to my new house. We almost lost some of the tracks, but we were fortunate that Rob had them stashed. All of the values and lessons that I learned from that ordeal were already in me. It was a reiteration and a reconfirmation of things that I had already learned in my life. I lost my Dad and a few friends a few years before Hurricane Katrina. Losing a house or valuables is horrible, but they are things that can eventually be replaced. I lost boxes of vinyl records that I was collecting ever since I was a kid. Yet all I cared about was that my family, friends, and animals were all safe. So as a musician, it didnt change the way I write or how I feel about things.
Dave: Before I forget, introduce the 2007 line-up of Lillian Axe.
STEVE: Derrick LeFevre is our new singer, Eric Morris is our new bass player. Sam Poitevent is still on guitar. Ken Koudelka is still on drums, and Im still on guitar.
Dave: The last time I had the pleasure of seeing you play, it was at an ANGEL concert in Dallas and ex-Lillian Axe members Ron Taylor and Darrin Delatte opened the show for you. What are they up to these days?
STEVE: They have a band called Lowside, and they play around Dallas. I guess theyre doing some recording and trying to concentrate on building the band. I talk to Darrin every couple of weeks.
Dave: Lillian Axe cut its musical teeth in a 1980s musical environment that was supported by MTV and the promotional videos it featured. How would you contrast that video era to the one present today where bands create their own videos out of pocket for posting at their MySpace page or at YouTube?
STEVE: Its crazy when you think about it. I cant believe that no one has come up with a new network or a television show to show videos again. Its such an open market right now. Why arent the record companies doing something since they already know how videos help sell records. We can go out and make videos out of pocket and post live clips on our websites, but its not the same as seeing them on television. You and I used to watch television shows like Midnight Special and Don Kirschners Rock Concert. Theres no good music on television anymore. You can find anything on the Internet, but its just not the same. Theres no mystery, no rock stars, and no cool anymore. Back in the day, Lillian Axe spent a bunch of money on three videos. I liked the videos because I liked the songs but we had no creative input. Nowadays, that wouldnt happen. Theres no free flow of record company money going around. Financially, things are different these days, and the labels want to recoup their investment.
Dave: Lillian Axe will spend most of September out on the road touring North America to support Waters Rising. Obviously, your setlist will include the classic material from Lillian Axes previous records. How much new material will you work into the setlist?
STEVE: Probably four songs. With six records to pick from material, choosing the setlist is difficult. We have to blend in new songs with crowd favorites and our favorites. Three or four songs from each record rise to the top and become crowd favorites. You have to try and get those in as well as some others that you really enjoy playing. The popular songs arent always the songs a band enjoys playing, probably because youve done them so much.
Dave: Do you have any surprises in store for your long-time fans?
STEVE: They wouldnt be surprises if I told you. Well play a song from the B-side record called Kill Me Again. I want to put that song on the next record. Its a blast. We used to play Pink Floyds Welcome To The Machine, but theres no room for covers. We have too much material. Our fans take to our songs in a spiritual manner, and I love to watch the crowd reaction. It inspires me. Some bands just hit you in the gut with their songs. I think we go deeper into the listener than the beat, the snare, and the guitar riffs. After you see us in concert, Im sure youll agree that our setlist is a killer blend of new and classic material.
Dave: I know that Ill be walking away from the show I attend in New Jersey saying its great to hear Steve Blaze and Lillian Axe play again, and that it was great to hear some of those classic songs played again. For the concert-goers walking away who just saw and heard Lillian Axe for the first time, what type of musical statement do you want your band to make?
STEVE: First of all, even when we do the earlier stuff, they transcend and sound like something we could have written in 2007. I wish people would stop trying to analyze music by the style or what the band looks like. I wish theyd just listen to the song and what it does for them. But thats like asking for world peace; itll never happen. I dont care if our first album was 19 years ago. It really doesnt matter. That material is just as strong now as it was then, and we play it with as much conviction as we did back then. People should quit worrying if a band has long hair, where theyre from, what kind of clothes they wear, and how many tattoos they have. I want the people to hear our songs and walk away moved by what they just heard and hit like theyve never been hit before.
Dave: Do you feel out of place in todays music industry? If so, what are the biggest factors causing you to feel that way now that werent present when you started your musical journey?
STEVE: I learned so much about songwriting and melody from the bands I was listening to as a kid in the 70s. It was a golden age of music and you only heard bands on radio or on your turntable. These days when Im online, it sickens me to hear all the insults being thrown at bands. People can comment so freely without any responsibility for what they say or write. People werent so fricking mean back then. Journalists didnt rip into bands. Music was more of a positive and uplifting part of my life. In the 70s and 80s, it was real and a lot more down to earth. Todays society puts so much emphasis on whats new and fresh while ignoring the fact that the gems from our past can sometimes mean the most. Its sad that music has become more of a commodity than the spiritual gift that music is.
Dave: Writing and recording a record presents its own set of challenges. With one of your other bands, Near Life Experience, you added on another challenge: writing lyrics that youd have to sing as the bands lead vocalist. Id like you to comment on another challenge, possibly a Near Life Experiences greatest challenge: getting their record heard in the 21st century.
STEVE: Youre absolutely right, Dave. One thing Ive learned is that no matter who you are or what kind of success youve had, when you start a new project youre starting from scratch. You do get a few people to listen who normally wouldnt because they know you from your previous band, but youre still starting from scratch. Ive seen that with many well-established artists and their new projects or side projects. They had to fight tooth and nail to get heard. I thought Near Life Experience would have gotten picked up a long time ago. I did not think it would be such a challenge. Yet we started that band right at the time of the big downfall in the music industry. Movies can sometimes take seven or eight years to get made, and records can take years to finally have the right people hear them and get it. Ive learned to be patient in this business and keep doing what I do. My integrity is more important. Im not going to start adding rap to my records to make them trendy.
Dave: Other than your vocals and the bands chemistry together, how are Near Life Experience and Lillian Axe the most different?
STEVE: In a tangible way, were different because Near Life Experience tunes our instruments down lower to get a deeper sound. Musically, were a little darker, but I havent written anything for Lillian Axe since Derrick became the singer. Itll be interesting to see how that pans out.
Dave: How are they the most similar?
STEVE: Probably the fact that any song I write could be done by either band. Only the band chemistry would give it a different sound and feel.
Dave: What future plans do you have for Near Life Experience?
STEVE: Were working diligently writing and recording a new album. We have about six songs already recorded with a plethora of material to pick from. Well probably record 20 songs and pick out the best ones for the album. I hope Metro City will have enough interest to sign Near Life Experience to their label after I present it to them.
Dave: In 2005, you released your first solo album, Random Acts of Blindness. It consisted of mostly ballads, played on acoustic guitar, and your songwriting visited darker and sadder themes. Was that musical direction a result of your headspace at that time or was that musical direction pre-conceived?
STEVE: I did that album more than anything as an outlet for things that built up in me all my life. I have what I call a congenital sadness. Its more a melancholy thing than a sad and miserable thing. Its a sensitivity that can give a person an underlying sadness. You feel others pain; when you see things that are wrong it bothers you. Ive always been like that. When my little sister died when I was 3 or 4, my mother said that I saw angels and things around her crib that no one else saw. I have an innate thing that I was born with. Its not just physical attributes or elements that youre born with,. Theres a genetic predisposition to spiritual and emotional tendencies. I dedicated that album to my dad, who passed away in 2002. I always wanted to write a record that was melancholy with deep touching songs. I never shopped it. It was done just for me and the people who understood it. I probably listen to it more than any of my other stuff. I relate to what I was saying in it more than most of my other stuff. I want to do more of that style of music. I wish I could find another artist whose material moves me in that way.
Dave: Do you have any plans for another solo album?
STEVE: Yeah, when I have more time and less hectic stuff on my plate. After the upcoming tour and the new Near Life Experience record, Ill have to obviously start on another new Lillian Axe album. Maybe after that Ill start writing my next solo record.
Dave: Whats the latest information that you can provide on both the recording and touring plans for one of my favorite bands, ANGEL?
STEVE: I wish that things would get moving but its not my call. Frank Dimino and I have written a bunch of material as has Barry Brandt, the drummer, and Michael T. Ross, the keyboard player. I have so many things going on that I dont have the time to push them. Franks working on some things with a few different record labels to get it rolling. Itll happen brother. I love the band now just as much as we both loved them back in high school. Since I dont run the show, I have to sit back and wait.
Dave: Lets have a little fun with the next two questions. Whenever I share mutual friends with my interview subject, Ill sometimes ask the friend to play journalist and pinch-hit with a question. This one comes from band manager extraordinaire Danny Stanton.
Danny: Hey Steve, how hard is it to find white silk or spandex these days when performing with ANGEL, and are you still working out to make sure you can climb back into them?
STEVE: I havent shopped for white spandex in 25 years, and I promise that Ill never shop for it again. When ANGEL decides that were going out in all-white, Ill be in custom white leather. I am working out though. My kung fu instructor put me on a strict diet, and I lost 30 pounds. Im in the gym and Im playing basketball three times a week. Tell Danny Im a lean mean fighting machine thats ready to hit the road.
Dave: Your MySpace pages have a banner that says Lillian Axe the Bitch is back. I dont know if theres a real person named Lillian Axe, but I was daydreaming that she is the twin sister of Molly Hatchet. The southern rock band took their name, Molly Hatchet, from an infamous prostitute who beheaded men with an axe after they were finished with her. If Lillian Axe had the same technique, who in the music business would you like to set-up for a 3-way with Lillian and Molly?
STEVE: My drummer Ken Koudelka. Getting him hooked up with two prostitutes would be the greatest moment of his life. At that moment, hed be ready to have his head removed from his body and die. Then, I could look up his head to see if theres really anything in there!
Dave: Id pick Gene Simmons from KISS. It would be cool to see his head separated from his wallet!
STEVE: I cant say that Dave, but you can.
Dave: On a more serious note, lets talk about vampires instead of beheadings. Talk a little about your film production company, Velvet Life Productions, and the status of the feature film version of Tao of M.
STEVE: We were supposed to start shooting the weekend Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Obviously, that shot everything to hell. We have a new director, and we just revamped the script with some writers from Top Cow Comics. The producer has it right now, and were trying to finalize funding. The financial deal we had in place fell through when the hurricane hit. Its taken quite a bit of time to regroup. Looking at the bright side, the time delays allowed us to come up with a better script, and well probably end up getting more money to do the movie. Most of the musicians we talked to are still interested so it should have a great rock soundtrack. We hope to start filming near the end of 2007.
Dave: Steve, youre a real renaissance man: a lead guitarist in three bands, a lead vocalist with one of them, you compose music, you produce music, youre an actor and a film producer. Whats your next challenge?
STEVE: Id like to find a way to get paid for sleeping! You forgot to mention that in the business world I own a commercial collection agency. In December 2007 Im getting married. I have a daughter now, but we hope to start a family and Id love to have a son. Creativity-wise, its the acting thing. I love movies; Ive been a movie buff since I was a kid. Its kind of crazy that so many musicians want to be actors and all actors want to be musicians. If I hadnt been gifted with the skill to play guitar I probably would have pursued acting. I dont have any dream role in mind. A vampire is a tragic figure with the depth of character to make it a perfect role for me.
Dave: Thanks again for the interview Steve. Unless you have anything else that youd like to promote that Ive overlooked, please feel free to close with some comments for your fans?
STEVE: I hope everybody checks out the new album and that they come out and say hello when were on tour. Ive said this before and Ill try to keep my word that Ill never wait this long again to put out a new record again. My fans are amazingly dedicated and loyal, and it means a lot to me. Lillian Axe is not about me or the musicians in the band. Its about the music and the spirit of the music and that will always stay intact.
Full Name: Steve Blaze
MySpace pages: www.myspace.com/steveblaze
Birthday: September 25
Birthplace: New Orleans
Favorite beverage: sweet iced tea
Favorite food: sushi
First record you ever bought: Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House
Last CD you bought: I bought the latest records by Marilyn Manson and Chris Cornell at the same time
Favorite U.S. city to visit: Starkville, Mississippi
Favorite international city: Tokyo
Favorite venue to play: The Orbit Room in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Too bad most of the great ones arent around anymore.
Favorite film: Im a movie fanatic. Gladiator is my current favorite.