A Conversation with Stephen Pearcy of RATT
Stephen Pearcy of Ratt needs little introduction… As the lead vocalist of the multi-platinum band, RATT, to releasing his 4th solo album Smash via Frontiers Records on January 27th, to his racing interests, and the marketing of his line of products and books, the guy is busy… always has been. He’s also never been shy about speaking his mind. And this interview is no exception. Stephen had plenty to say about his latest solo album Smash, developments within the RATT camp, Bobby Blotzer, and meeting Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin…
On Bobby Blotzer: “Redeeming qualities…? You mean is he worth a shit? No…”
Tom Leu: Really excited about your new solo album Stephen, Smash, coming out on Frontier Records on January 27th. I’ve been listening to it quite a bit since they sent it to me, and I want to tell you right off the bat, that I think it’s great. You’ve got some real diversity on this record that I haven’t heard on some of your other solo stuff, so kudos to you and the guys in the band, Erik [Ferentinos] in particular. Erik was your main co-writer on this one, yes?
Stephen Pearcy: Oh yes, definitely.
Smash has a modern yet classic rock sound to it, to my ears. It’s certainly you. Your voice is unmistakable, but it doesn’t sound like Ratt in a lot of places to me, and that’s a cool thing. Was this by design with you guys, or is this just something that sort of happened organically?
It kind of happened organically, but we were very aware that we wanted it to be very diverse, try things, and not be limited… We weren’t intimidated by anything, but we just wanted to do something different.
It’s very diverse. Certainly the songwriting seems like that. As a drummer myself, I pay a lot of attention to the rhythm section. The bass and drum parts on this record are really cool song-to-song. Is that something that just sort of happened, as well, with your rhythm section, bassist, Matt [Thorne] and drummer, Greg [D’Angelo], or was that also something that you guys tried to do on purpose?
Those two guys actually, they’re very tight. Especially when we get in the studio, they’re very tight in what they’re about to deliver. Yeah, those two are pretty in tune, especially in the studio. They want it to be right, and there’s no stone unturned there.
Both Matt and Greg in your solo band will be out touring with you when you do your solo dates? Is that right?
Yes, correct, as is Erik Ferentinos and … My old guitar player, Frankie Wilsey from Arcade, is back in the solo touring band also.
I see you had a guest lead guitarist on one track on the record, Chris Hager, back from the Mickey Ratt days, right?
Yeah, he co-wrote that song. It’s actually the first song on the [album].
How was it playing with an old compadre that you go back with so many years? Was that a fun thing to do?
Yeah, it was great. He was actually playing in my solo band for a bit. At least we got this one song. He co-wrote this one song, but he wasn’t at all of the sessions, except for that one.
Four albums into your solo career, how’s the process or the feelings, for that matter, different today than when you came out with your first solo record all the way back in 2002?
Well, it’s a much more sobering experience first, and that’s a first (laughs). It’s just the process of knowing what to do and not to do, and that kind of thing. You just learn, how not to waste time and really think about things because this record is pretty thought out in every way.
It took quite a while for this to album, Smash, to come together start to finish. What was the total process from beginning to end?
Correct. Yeah, we recorded “I Can’t Take It,” with Beau [Hill]. That set the schematic for it, and then we really got… We recorded off and on, and then we really got into it when the Frontiers deal came about. Then we just said, “Oh well, now we’ve got to really get into this,” and we did. We spent about… The last three months were very much [spent on] the record before it came out.
Was working with Beau Hill in the solo capacity different than when you worked with him on the RATT stuff in the past?
Yeah, but there’s a different process because Beau actually was only able to mix and master that one song. Matt, myself, and even Erik produced and mixed the record at the end of the day. It was only that one song that Beau had his mitts in. I wish he could have done the whole record, but he couldn’t. He was out doing something else.
The song, “Rain,” is a stand-out track to me. I really like the lyrical content. I believe that’s a song about your daughter correct?
The breakdown part in the middle of it, and then at the end with the piano and the strings, is a really nice touch. I haven’t heard a lot of that type of production on many of your records. Do you play piano at all, or was that Matt? How did that part come about?
No, that was Matt and Erik. Yeah, we wanted the song to have some kind of a cool, climactic kind of a thing going, and the song to build up.
I really like that song. It’s got a nice texture to it. I know on your previous solo records, you wrote a lot of the stuff on guitar yourself. It sounds like on this album, Erik did the majority of the guitar, if not all of the guitar playing. Is that right?
Yeah. I just helped with arrangements. I mean, my songs didn’t even get close to being recorded. We had so much music, and every time I thought we had proper songs to record, here comes Erik with some other stuff that’s blowing my mind, and I go, “Shit. Okay, time to change tracks.” You know?
Yes… The strongest material survives, right?
Oh, yeah, definitely. We’ve probably got about 15 songs sitting there waiting to go. We’ve got a couple in the can and recorded. It’s crazy.
Will some of these see the light of day in the future then?
Oh, of course. Without a doubt.
You mentioned that one difference between now and the past, is that this has been a sobering process for you. How did your lifestyle change these days affect this solo record Smash, in particular?
I just wanted to personally clean up things and hang around. You know?
It’s no mystery. It’s no secret. I don’t make it that public, and I could really care less who knows what I do. Everybody knows what I’ve done. What I do is another story, but yeah, we’re just at a better place. The whole band … Same with my RATT guys, some of us, the ones that are together right now. But with my solo group, yeah, we kind of turned a corner one day, and it just kind of happened. Me, I had to go get a tune-up, but with the band, we were pretty much headed that way. We just wanted to play. You can party without the utensils. You know?
Absolutely. And the fact that it’s kind of a group thing as well, is great. That’s got to help everybody just from the support standpoint…
Yeah. I mean, we don’t care. We get in, and it’s all business with us. We get into a show. We go there, set up, get ready to go, and walk in there ready, and boom, away we go. There’s no time for that. It’s just our ethics. We want to sound as good as we can, and when you, [you know]… Of course, clouding up things make you a little goofy, you know?
For sure. I know from experience as well. I commend you guys for that. I’ve got about 14 years of sobriety myself.
Yeah, life’s so much better this way. I never thought that was going to be the case, and I never thought it was possible. People said it would be, but I didn’t believe them until I did it for myself. We’ve got to experience things for ourselves in order for it to be real.
Oh, yeah, that’s so true, so true! It’s crazy. I’ve never been this close to a year sober in my life.
Really? Wow! That’s amazing!
Yeah, so it’s been good. When I say it’s a sobering experience for the record, it only benefited our thinking process by making sure everything was just perfect.
You can hear it in the tracks. And beyond all the business parts of it, the personal stuff… that’s even more important, and I think it’s worth noting. Which is why I brought it up…
On the solo tour, you’re obviously going to be playing some of the Ratt classics… Are you going to be playing stuff from across all four of your solo records then, as well?
It’s possible. We haven’t gotten into rehearsal [yet]. I know we will be playing at least four songs off Smash. I mean, the songs are too good, and we recorded them so we could play them live. You know?
They sound like they lend themselves to a great live experience, for sure.
Will any Arcade or Vertex material see the light of day on your solo tour this year?
It’s quite possible because Frankie [Wilsey] is back in the touring solo group, so maybe we’ll have to … Yeah, we could throw in some Arcade. Why not?
Good deal. There’s a bunch of people who probably would like to hear some of that stuff…
I know. I know. That’s true. I’m going to have to [work on that].
Stephen, what’s your take on the music business today, with streaming, all of that? A lot of artists and groups don’t record full albums anymore. They record singles and release them more frequently. Is that something that you ever see yourself doing? What’s your view on that?
I was actually going to do that… I was going to put out Sucker Punch, which was to be a four-EP with four songs released in succession, but I decided not to. Albums are… They are important. They’re like stories. I was reluctant to put lyrics in this [album], but they had to go in because of what I was actually talking about; things I didn’t want to get misconstrued. You know?
I believe you said this is only the second time you’ve included lyrics with any of your records.
Correct, and the last.
And the last…? You sound pretty certain of that. Why is it the last?
Well, I’m old school. You pick up an old Zeppelin record or Deep Purple or Sabbath, and you get the music. You’ve got to listen to it over and over, and you look at great pictures, and a great cover, and… Yeah, man… People are short-minded. But it’s like, “Well, I don’t need to be. Well, here, you guys, check this out. This is how we used to do it; we listened to it when we were doing our thing.”
I’m with you. I’m of that age bracket myself, but it is nice too, though, to get the lyrics sometimes. I can imagine, as a songwriter, you don’t want to be misconstrued or misunderstood so you say, “Here’s what I’m talking about.”
Agree, yes. In that realm, it works. You know? On any other record, I don’t know if it would have fit, but on this one, it needed it.
Is the freedom of being a solo act, at this point in your career, more attractive and satisfying than working within the confines of the Ratt machine?
Sometimes, but not… The thing is, they each have their own power outlet and stuff, and they’re different. I get to try different things that I couldn’t do with RATT because, believe me, I’ve written whole songs for Ratt, and I’ve come in there going, “All right,” and they just look at me like, “What?” “This isn’t Ratt-like.” I go, “Well, it’s going to be soon enough.”
Speaking of RATT, have you confirmed who your touring drummer is going to be? Or is that still up in the air?
That is still [being worked out]… We’re still questioning it… We might have somebody fill-in for a small duration, but I think I’ll keep that a mystery, right now.
So it’s still under consideration… Is it possible that it could be Greg [D’Angelo] from your solo band?
Oh, I would love for Greg to step into that seat… that hot seat.
It IS a hot seat for sure… And speaking of Ratt drummers… How over the [Bobby] Blotzer stuff are you at this point? Where are you at with it all yourself personally?
I’m over it. It was a terrible, unfortunate incident. It’s like a car wreck, you know? But it’s over, and the dust is settled, or it’s continuing to settle, and it’s one of those things. But one thing we didn’t want to keep going is this nonsense of changing our history. You know?
Yes. You worked with the guy for many years. Are there any redeeming qualities of the ‘Blotz’ that you want to share in this interview? I haven’t seen anybody ask you that.
Like, is he worth a shit? No…
Okay. That’s what I wanted to know.
Is he worth a shit? No… To each his own, man. I mean, that’s why there’s devils and angels. You know?
Got it. Say no more. No redeeming qualities then…
I don’t even comprehend that word in this conversation towards that person.
All right, fair enough. Speaking of bands that go out and play with just one or fewer original members, the Foreigner situation concept comes to mind here, the only original member that plays in the band, and that’s only some of the time these days, is Mick Jones.
What’s your thoughts on that? Does it make a difference because Mick wrote the songs?
Oh, I think so, and he’s been around longer and has more of these redeeming qualities. I mean, that’s the guy. He wrote the words and music. I mean, what are you going to say, “You can’t do that”? Anybody can play anybody’s music, but come on, give respect. That was the analogy this other person [Blotzer] is trying to use in the [Ratt] situation, but it doesn’t work because we wrote all the music, including myself.
To see it just destroyed and somebody getting… “Hey, I’m awarding this guy for playing in a cover band.” What did he do? “He sings your songs.” Okay…
The awarding of the Gold record thing to the members of his band was a shocker for sure.
Oh, I don’t even want to dwell on this shit. It’s just psychopath [stuff]… He needs to call 5150, rehab, bring it on… Since I’d watched all of it. It’s just a scary situation to think of. It’s like, “Whoa! Help is needed, please.” You know?
It seems like there may be other issues there at play there beyond the music business.
Oh, yeah. I’m afraid there is.
RATT has a bunch of dates booked already this year, including the M3 festival and other events. Do you have any acts that you can mention that might go on the road with Ratt coming up in 2017?
No, we can’t really talk about some of those things, but it won’t be an extreme kind of thing. It’ll be more like… There’s some things in the works, but we’re still adding these festival dates. The Smash shows start in early April, and they wind down… They don’t really wind down because I have offers to do a package thing I haven’t really had time to even think about because Ratt’s doing some things. But I don’t want to disrespect one or the other. You know?
Certainly. Your first book, Sex, Drugs, Ratt & Roll: My Life in Rock was great. I read it very quickly because it was that good… the stories, the personal stuff you shared, the whole thing. You’ve got to have another book in you at some point. If so, when and what might be included in a second Stephen Pearcy book?
Yes, I would like to get started on something maybe at the end of the year. That’ll probably be the best time to write when we’re doing writing sessions and recording. I’ll be probably be leaving out a lot of the partying and the … the pleasure and the party [stuff].
That’ll be great. I’ll look forward to that for sure.
Yes. Without a doubt, I do want to get started on it. It’ll be more about life, music, people in the band, much more interesting subject matter.
It would probably have a different feel and flavor to it, again back to what we were talking about earlier, and the fact that you’ve got sobriety going on these days and all of that. I know from personal experience that changes how you think about things, and how you write and look at life and all of that, yes?
Oh, 100%, yeah. 100%.
What’s a question that nobody ever asks you, but you wish they would?
Are you really crazy?
No one ever asks you that?
No, they know I’m fucking crazy. What else do they not ask me…? Do I know any music theory?
Fuck no… That would be a good question to ask: do I know music theory? Fuck no. I just started by picking up the guitar and playing records and going through the motions. That’s how it was in ’76 and onward for me.
And what a ride it’s been. Last question for you, Stephen. If you could interview somebody, musically or otherwise, who would it be and why?
Oh, that’s easy… I would interview Robert Plant. And why? I’d want to know about all his thoughts on his “Stairway to Heaven.” I know what he writes about, but I’d like to know the real, his real takes on all of his emotions.
Have you ever met any of the guys in Zeppelin?
Yeah. Yeah, I’ve met Plant. I had a brief meeting with Page.
Yeah, Plant was very cool. I go, “Hey, my name is Pearcy. You’re Percy,” because his nickname is Percy, right? He goes, “Yeah, I know who you are.”
I go, “Okay.” I think that pretty much says what I wanted to know.
That had to be a pretty cool moment… Robert Plant knows who you are. Sweet.
Yeah, he made me have to pull a trick on his guitar player.
What was the trick?
Oh, I don’t want to get into it.
It’s not for publication or broadcast?
It’s too long, but it had to do with music, and it was just funny.
It’s ironic the way I met him. It’s in my book. I’m in a gift shop with some fan… We were in Europe, I guess, and some fan goes, “Oh, great, can I have your autograph.” I go, “Sure,” and he goes, “Oh, now I have my best two singers’ autographs: Robert Plant and Stephen Pearcy.” I go, “Oh, that’s cool. I like that.” He goes, “Yeah, he’s right [over] there,” and I go, “Excuse me a minute, kid. I’ll be right back. I’ve got to… I’m a fan too, pal.”
Wow, what a cool story! I forgot about that being in the first book. That’s great…
I go, “I’ve got to go say hello to somebody. Back off.”
Yeah, right. “I’ll be back in a minute… maybe, or maybe not.” (laughing)
I signed his thing. I signed it… (laughing)
I appreciate your time today, Stephen. Best to you on the upcoming solo tour, and the Ratt tour this year. Smash is great. It was a pleasure to speak with you today.
Thank you, brother. I appreciate it.
Stephen Pearcy Discography:
1984 Out of the Cellar
1985 Invasion of Your Privacy
1986 Dancing Undercover
1988 Reach for the Sky
1991 Ratt & Roll 81-91
1995 Vicious Delite
2002 Social Intercourse
2008 Under My Skin
Stephen Pearcy: www.stephen-pearcy.com[separator style=”line” /]