It was a wonderful surprise to longtime Coney Hatch fans when a new album was announced for 2013, with the 4 original members, exactly 30 years after the same line-up last released an album, and 28 after the last of 3 Coney albums in the ‘80s. Even more exciting is that not only do we have a new album, but we have a Great hard rocking kick-ass disc from the band, certainly heavier than their second and third albums, and closer in aggression and production to their classic debut album.
This interview with Carl took place in November, on a day he was getting on the road to a weekend gig in Toronto with members of Santers and guitarist Sean Kelly [ex Crash Kelly] and author of the new book “Metal On Ice”.
Carl commented on the upcoming show – “It's mostly old rock cover stuff, some of my Coney Hatch stuff, and Mark will Not play Santers’ stuff in this band, I think he will only play it with his brother, which - I can respect that, if it has that meaning for him then I'm not going to push it....I'd love to! I'd love to play Road To Morocco, or Can't Shake You -- some of that stuff.” From there I brought up the topic of some of those classic Canadian bands of the early ‘80s [and there was a lot] that all had a few years of relative success before slowly fading out.
Thanks to Carl for his time, and to the whole band – a great album! About time!
For more, check out www.coneyhatch.com www.frontiers.it www.carldixon.com , and look up Coney Hatch and Coney Hatch “Four” on Facebook.
That whole scene around Toronto and Southern Ontario from the late '70s to early '80s, there was more than a handful of bands like Teaze, yourselves, Santers, and a few others that put out 2 or 3 really good albums, and then just didn't have that push over the top.
Yes, and it might have been, in some ways the same problem for everybody, it's hard to sustain it indefinitely without seeing some success breakthroughs, and the other case is there was probably a different reason in each band for not sustaining. But ultimately for those Canadian bands it came down to you can only keep (I guess) the 'hope' going for long in the face of 'no money - no funny'. It wears you down after a while.
Well, I look at a band like Santers and yourselves that had 3 albums, and a band like Teaze that had a string of albums, and everybody sort of had a break - you guys did the Iron Maiden tour and a Judas Priest tour, and Santers did the Ozzy tour....but at some point it kind of faded out there in the mid '80s.
Well the market changed too, and I think once the 'hair metal' style took root, it wasn't something we were about to do, even if we hung in there longer, and Santers sure wasn't about that.
Did you get a lot of pressure to? I mean, look at some of those pictures from the Friction tour - with the spandex and everything, and Barry's hair!?
Well, that was just sort of moving with the times. We just chose what we thought was rock 'garb' at the time. I mean, we had different ‘glammy’ sort of outfits when we started. When we got signed there was talk that we only got signed because we were a 'pretty boy' band. And isn’t that a funny thing to think about now when you see the type of boy bands that have come around since!? We were anything but a pretty boy band; maybe girls liked us, but we had no conscientiousness of that at all, we were just trying to pound out tough rock n roll!
Did you, over time, and particularly with Friction, get a lot of interference from record company or producer as far as the sound went?
On Friction, certainly there was a pressure that 'this has to be the breakthrough album'. In fact there was a real conscious effort by Max Norman to streamline our sound to make it more like other rock bands that were out there at the time and that had sold big. If you recall on the first 2 albums there was a lot more guitar interplay between Steve and I, and just more unusual kind of approaches to the arrangements, and Max really stripped all that down when we were working on the third album. The songwriting came from us, and the ideas, but he streamlined us to keep it simple, and keep it more direct, not so much information going on in each song.
For me Friction lacks 2 things, first the shared vocals between you and Andy, and also there's songs that, for me, have potential to be heavier, but they seem more spaced out and then there's a keyboard bit dropped in or something.
Well, I think that was a conscious effort to be more like Def Leppard; I mean - we weren’t thinking that way, but in retrospect I think the producer was, or maybe the record company was - "give us something that sounds like that", you know!? And we were under all sorts of pressure to not fail on the next record. We spent the most money on that one than we'd ever done, the most time working on it. In fact, what's interesting is I've learned in the last couple of years that it was way more popular in Europe and England than the other ones were.
Yeah, I've heard you say that before. That's funny.
It sold something like 3 times as much as the other two.
I sent you at one time [the pic of] the Australian cover [the one with the girl on the banister on the Friction album cover]. Had you ever seen that before?
Yeah, I had never saw that used in that way before. Somebody wanted that, I think Andy and Steve wanted that to be the Friction cover, and I freaked and said "No Way are we doing that!" So I compromised and let that be used on the insert sleeve somewhere, I think. And in Australia somebody decided - "No, that's going to be the cover." I didn't know about that at the time, and didn't hear about it, well until you, really. I had no idea.
Moving on to "Four", how did you [guys] approach this album differently than the first 3 - in that - did you have a plan set out like "Ok, this is what we're going to do, and this is what we're not going to do" - type of thing?
The plan evolved as we went along; a great deal of it was formed by the constraints of the budget - we didn't have the same kind of money to work with that we had in the old days. So a lot of decisions are based on either calling in favors with people, or making the budget stretch somehow. Andy - I asked him to be the producer, and I'm really glad I did, because that really kept things organized and kept it from being pretentious, because if I had been the producer - there probably would've been fights! (Laughs) I was the one that pushed for that, and I'm grateful that he accepted, because it was no easy job, and man - he worked bloody hard! But, he also had the connections to call in favors, and make people help us out in different aspects. The plan of making the album itself was based on remembering what Coney Hatch is supposed to sound like, based on where we started and what the fans liked about us. We did not want to be one of those bands that came back after all this time and unveil the "new improved model". We felt it was very important to stick to what people always liked about us. The record company even said in the contract - "Make a Coney Hatch album - No surprises!"
Well, a few things I like about it are first that you guys are sharing the vocals more, again, and second that songs, the sound has a certain heaviness and aggression that the first album had, and I don't think the other two did.
Right. I think we have just an appreciation of the best of what the band is about now, that we didn't have the perspective to see that before. In the old days, of course, we were so worried about not failing; now we just felt the freedom to make the best album we could.
I had read Andy talking about some of the songs being things that may have been left over from the past ...
It was a whole mix of things, you know? The song "Connected" was based on just that guitar riff that opens it, and when we first got signed to Anthem and Kim Mitchell was going through our demos, or the songs that we were playing live - that was a song that Andy wrote before I was even in the band called "I'm Lazy". It was almost like a new wave number [sings the riff], so Kim had to slow it down to see what we could make out of that. So, that's really the only part of the old song we retained was that riff, slowed down heavier. And the rest was newly written and the chorus was new music. "Holding On" is a song that I roughed-out around the time of the Friction album, but we never used it for anything, but I always had a feeling that there was something to it, that I'd like to capture, and so when it was time for this record, I re-worked the music and re-wrote the lyrics, and simplified the melody. I used to try and make things too complicated when I was younger; so that helped the song to be more direct and convey what I really wanted to say in it.
Just about everything else was pretty new.
One thing I really like about the album [as well] is Steve's playing, because it's really comes out different with his solos...
Yeah, in fact I played just about all the guitars, except for the solos. His soloing I could never come close to anything like that. What I've said about Steve for many years is - he is brilliant when you can get his attention! He was so caught up in other projects. The hardest thing about this album was getting him in to do some work, and to focus - to get his head into what we were doing; and once he did it was amazing! But I'll tell you, it was right down to the last minute before we got some of that stuff.
Well, that solo he does on "Blown Away" is something that doesn't sound like anything he's done on any other albums.
Yeah, that was really a neat thing. That song came together in so many ways as a collective energy. Andy had the music for that - the rough 2 sets of changes that were chorus and verse, and he gave me that on a CD with a bunch of ideas, and I was driving around with it in the car and that one jumped out at me, and I just started writing lyrics as I was driving around.
Now, you guys have always shared the songwriting credits, but I've always assumed that the vocals meant it [song] came from that person.
The vocals are usually an indication of who wrote it, that's right. The exception to that is "Devil's Deck", and actually on Friction there were a couple of exceptions to that too. But Devil's Deck was the first time I'd started singing a song for Coney Hatch. Andy brought it in, ready to sing it, and Steve said to him "oh come on we gotta give Carl something to do, start sharing the vocals more..." Andy did not want to let me be the lead vocalist when I first joined the band; he was very determined that he wanted to have that role. So, that's why we ended up sharing. So yes - at Steve's urging I started singing Devil's Deck. I think I changed maybe 4 or 5 words in the whole thing. There was a couple of others too on Friction, that Andy was supposed to be singing, but he basically was trying to compete with me in that kind of singing range, and he couldn't do it. So Max Norman let him try it, and then said "mate I'm pulling you off this song - go call Carl in." I was annoyed; I wanted to get the hell out of there, Max was driving me crazy! So I wasn't happy that I got called in to take over, and I felt bad for Andy too, because that just made him so upset. But, you know - Max was the producer and there was no arguing about it. I think "This Ain't Love" is one of them, if I'm right...
Yeah there's a couple on that album that have that sort of punchy feel to them, that I could see Andy singing them...
This Ain't Love was one of them, and I think "Burning Love" - he started it and I finished it, and he was supposed to be singing that too. And "She's Gone", he wrote most of the words, but I was always going to be the singer on that one.
That one [She's Gone] and the one you guys left off the first album ["Where I Draw The Line"] - I really like, because they have a really different melody...
Yeah, that one was a neat one. I really wished it had gotten on to the first album, but we had 10 tracks, and I was sure it was going to be on the second album, to tell you the truth.
Did a lot of that stuff [the outtakes] get in to the live set?
In the old days?
Oh yeah, we were playing Where I Draw The Line and a song called "Fly On", which is on the English version of the "Outa Hand" album; we were playing both those live all the time. And I don't know if you're familiar with the Rock Candy version of Outa Hand!? It's got 3 unreleased tracks on it - Your Kind Of Love, Fly On, and Nobody Gives You, and we used to play all those live. We played Where I Draw The Line a ton(!) , and Your Kind Of Love, and we played Fly On in the time leading up to the second album, I guess, but never ended up recording it.
I know on the famous "Live In Cleveland" [radio show recording] there's a few on there, like "Car Stares"...
Car Stares, oh my goodness I forgot about that [laughs]. Yeah, that was a song Andy had wrote before I was in the band.
Now I'm going back even further [sorry], but what did you know of the band when you joined?
I only knew of them through an ad in the Toronto Star classifieds - that they were looking for a "singing / guitar player". They didn't want to say it was a lead vocalist because Andy didn't want a lead vocalist; they wanted a singing / guitar player. And it said "management", and I thought "oh good - I could use a band with management!" So I went and saw them at the old New Shamrock Hotel at Coxwell and Gerrard. And that was with the guy I replaced Paul van Remortel still singing. They played all their originals at that time, and I remember thinking it was the strangest collection of originals I'd ever heard from a rock band, but at least they were writing and they had lots of songs. So I thought that was a good sign of their intent to be successful. And they were also playing bizarre covers like "Crew Slut" by Frank Zappa, and "Walking On The Moon" by The Police, and "Drugs in My Pocket" - [laughs], Oh and Steve used to sing "The Cradle Will Rock" - the Van Halen song. Funny stuff!
So Steve was there a good bit before you?
Yeah, Steve was there probably a year before I joined.
One song you guys always had in the live set was "Marseilles", and I'm wondering was that ever intended to get on a studio album...?
Andy picked that up from the group Angel City, from Australia, and he loved the song, and that was one of the first songs we learned when I joined the band in our first rehearsals in February of '81. Andy's been singing that song ever since then. And we always thought it'd become a signature tune for our band at a certain point - one of Andy's songs. And when he needed a song in the live show, we always made sure that one was in. So it finally became the time to put down our version of it, and the record company only wanted originals at first, but we got them to give us special permission to throw that one in.
Well it's been your set forever, and obviously The Angels' version doesn't get played over here.
No, it's not very well known here.
About the cover art ...
Don't read too much meaning in to that...somebody projected to me that it was an expression of, sort of - old stuff, reassembled, and shined up, and looking spiffy, and launched again. And that's what the cover art is meant to express. And you know what - maybe that's what the artist had in mind!?
Well it's jumps out at you, I saw it on the rock at HMV and it was 'wow', it's the only yellow one on the shelf.
Well, that's the idea. You have to have it jumping out, especially with the small size of CD art packaging.
There's other songs I really like, like "Revive", and Andy's "Boys Club"; so for me it's the most consistent album since the first one.
I agree! To me it's right up there with the best stuff we've done.
What's the plan - will there be another video, or something?
The plan is evolving, because basically [as I've said] - budgets are small, 2 of the guys have full-time jobs; there really wasn't a very good job of promotion or distribution here in Canada [or North America] by Universal - who have the distribution rights through Frontiers. So we've lost some ground already, by not knowing that going in - that they weren't going to do anything. So now we're trying to catch-up with getting radio promo ourselves, and trying to get more air-play out of "Blown Away", because we've had basically zero! It was quite surprising, and quite disappointing! You know, just feature plays here and there; I think one station somewhere played it 2 or three times, but that's not going to change anything. So, really it'll be about cherry-picking live shows when we can, and going forward when we can get our own schedules together and we find offers that make sense. I think most of our focus will be the festivals, as they come around again, and then some special event kinda shows.
I see just through your Facebook page people often ask 'when are you coming to Florida', or here or there.... Do you ever get any serious offers for those sort of things?
No. Fans hope we'll come to where they are [ha ha], but the fact is, there has to be some promoter who thinks he can sell a show before we'll ever get there.
I wanted to ask you about "Lucky Dog"... if the intention was to be acoustic album when you started out, and do you forsee yourself doing that again, as a solo direction?
Yes, it was based primarily around my acoustic presentation of myself for the last number of years. I wasn't physically or psychologically capable of making the next 'big rock album'; plus I've done that enough times that I probably don't need to do it again, for a while. In fact, I do find more versatility in the sound that I make on the lighter vein. I really enjoy rocking the way we do with Coney Hatch, but I'm not really sure the world needs another Carl Dixon rock album.
It will depend on which way the writing takes me. Although, I did just get interest in a new album with me, and the Santers boys [Mark and Laz], and Sean Kelley - I'm going to get him in on it too. So, that could be the next rock album I throw together.
One thing, how important was it and how key of an ingredient was it to have Dave Ketchum back on drums? He adds a certain heaviness and straight rock approach.
Yes. To the outside observer, to people that aren't in bands or part of that structuring of the sound, it's hard to imagine how much of a difference a drummer's style can make! You'd think the important parts are the singing, the songs, and the musical element, but that foundation - it's like having that solid foundation that you build your house on. And not only is the guy's style perfectly suited and powerful and the right sound for Coney Hatch, and a number of things that go with it - it's his personality. My saying has always been "people play their personality, people sing their personality". But that steadiness, that reliability, that power - that's the man to a tee. And the band is the proper band when he's behind us.
Now he moved up north, there's not much known about him.
He is basically a prison guard; he works in a juvenile detention center.
The stuff in the vaults, like the Cleveland [radio] show - would you guys not ever do anything with that?
I don't know if we have the rights. But it's also sort of a cost-benefit ratio calculation. It would depend on what it would cost to make it available. If it was cost effective to offer it as an internet download, for instance - I'd be happy to do that as something off our Coney Hatch website, which is sadly neglected because there's nobody to do it except Andy and I, and we're so busy with other stuff all the time. So stuff like that does interest me, to make it available for fans and just have it as a historical record, because that was a great sounding show.
There are things out there on the internet, being bootlegged, that people can find - and it would be good if you guys had it...
Yeah, to control it ourselves. That'd be an idea... There's also a good 4-track recording of our show at the Eiddleweiss Tavern in Kitchener, from last year.
And where's that?
It's in my house! [laughs] It doesn't exist anywhere else yet. So, I'm trying to decide what to do with that; and that's the kind of thing that we do control, and I could post, probably....
There's also an Edmonton show out there, from '85 ....
Ooh yeah, I think that one wasn't very good; I don't think I was happy with it.
[Talk ensues about other Carl Dixon and Coney bootlegged material and unreleased Kevin "James" LaBrie recordings - "There were 2 decent songs on that. But the problem really was Kevin's singing, and that's why Anthem wasn't interested in doing anything more with them."]
Reviews: © Kevin J. Julie (Universal Wheels) November 2013