AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
If you haven’t heard of The Lizards, you’re missing something big. These guys are based out of New York, and recently released their latest studio album called “Archaeology” – yep – a disc of covers! But it doesn’t dull you with old hits done note for note, these guys rock and take songs like The Baby's “Head First”, Free’s “Fire And Water” and a pile of other lesser known rock classics and add their touch to them.
The band boasts rock veteran drummer Bobby Rondinelli [ex - Black Sabbath, Rainbow, BOC…] and singer Mike DeMeo [Riot]. In this exclusive interview guitarist Patrick Klein and bass player Randy Pratt give us the lo-down on the new album, new DVD and the upcoming album of originals.
Check out: www.thelizardswebsite.com
Why a CD of covers at this point in the Lizards’ history?
RP: Before every tour we would learn a cool, obscure cover, then record them when we got home.
PK: We had planned on doing a CD of relatively unknown covers. With that in mind we were learning songs and playing them on tour. As we talked about the release of the DVD we thought it would be a good time to release the covers CD also since most of it was already recorded. I didn’t want the stuff sitting in the vaults too long.
How did you guys come up with the list of songs for the new Archaeology disc?
RP: Obscurities from my youth that fit our band sound.
PK: I think most of them came from Randy’s head. Although, I know Bobby wanted to do a Humble Pie tune so we did “Thunder Box”. I was only familiar with “Head First” and “Fire and Water” so I got to discover some great new music!
You guys stayed pretty close to the originals, without any drastic changes. Was that important? As opposed to doing different renditions of classic songs?
PK: Not really. For me it was more about doing a better version of what the original band intended. I think we succeeded except for “Head First” and “Fire and Water”- I don’t think those two can be improved from the originals. But they were fun to do, nonetheless!
RP: We didn't spend a lot of time on them and they were already perfect in my mind. "I'm Mad", the John Lee Hooker song that I first heard On "The Animals Greatest Hits" was the one we "re wrote", almost AC/DC style.
Can you give me a few words about each of the songs on Archaeology - who picked it, what you like about the song [the original and recording it] and how it suited you guys?
RP: "Fire and Water" is many people's favorite Free song, which is why, in retrospect; I wish we'd chosen something more obscure. It's the first one we recorded for the record.
"Head First" came out really good, I think. I love the Babys. Along with Detective, they may have been the last classic rock bands. The song is joyous...I told Mike to sing it like he was so happy that he was gonna "get laid"...like a sexy gospel song!
"I'm Mad" I'd completely forgotten how this song used to give me goose bumps as a little kid, listening to the Animals. So friggin 'BAD ASS! Mike really nailed it. We got him to "act" the lyrics.
"Juke It" was a hard one. The original has such a wild groove. This obscure band, led by Mark Stein, right after the Vanilla Fudge broke-up, is one of my favorites. I've worn out copies "Thunderbox" is so sleazy. After a point, all Steve Marriott seemed to write about was having wasted sex with wild hookers...write about what you know, I guess! The lyrics are funny and cool. Our version almost sounds too sober, if I was to criticize it, but I think we nailed it. Mike really got up there in Marriott altitude.
"Tramp" is one we played live a lot. Stray Dog is a super cool band that I somehow missed in the 70s. Discovering them later was a gift. They are so over the top it's funny.
"The Wizard" almost sounds like a veiled Christian song now. It was always one of my favorite Heep numbers. Mike sounds like Coverdale on it, a little behind the beat, with that lazy phrasing. A beautiful song.
"One More Heartache". Detective and the Babys were the end of the classic era, but God, were they great. Tony Kaye, from Yes on Keys, Michael Monarch, from Steppenwolf on guitar, Michael Des Barres, from Silverhead on vocals and one of the coolest bass/drum teams this side of Zep. I'm very proud of our version...I think we captured the "controlled chaos" of the original, which, as best as we can determine, was their drastic re-working of a Marvin Gaye song.
PK: I think overall we liked the original versions of all the songs. They were pretty easy to pick because the Lizards music is based on that kind of classic 70’s rock. All of those bands influence our music, anyway. The recordings were fun because we got a chance to see what it would sound like if we did the songs with the recording techniques we had at our disposal. I mean, we’ve got our own full-blown recording studio. It’s like playing that game “Guitar Hero” except you’re actually making a CD!
Archaeology contains 8 tracks. Were there more recorded or any tough decisions as to what to include?
RP: No more were recorded. I would have liked to, but we wanted to release it at the same time as the DVD, which was getting absurdly over due.
PK: I think there may have been one more Free song that we had but decided that one was enough. So, it wasn’t too tough deciding what to include!
You guys are also in the midst of recording a new disc of originals. What can you tell me about the new songs and sessions? Any proposed release date, guests, surprises?
RP: I'm loving the new one. It should be released "sometime in '09". We're using Scott "the Doctor" Treibitz on Keys. He's played with mein "the NYC Blues Devils" and "Star People" and is fantastic. There are some epics on there. One song about my car accident reminds me of Queen meets "Highway Star". One called, tentatively, "In The Pleasure Dome" is eerily, decadently sexy. One called "The Sins of Our Fathers" sounds almost Arabic with a SUPER high Mike vocal. There's one more, ultra- heavy epic to write.
PK: I can tell you that the concepts and parts we have recorded so far are a little more grandiose. Maybe not as “progressive” or jam oriented as some of the last record. I’m excited about it! If there were surprises, how could I tell you?
You guys had Glenn Hughes on the last disc. What can you tell me about working with Glenn? He seems to guest on a lot of albums, but it is one of the greatest singers in rock history despite being more known to fans in North America [as opposed to mainstream rock radio].
RP: We'd already toured with Glenn for two months before he worked with us, so we were friends. He works so FAST it's intimidating. That big ballad "Take the Fall" (mislabelled on our CD as "Revolution#9) is a great example. He heard it once, grabbed a guitar, sat down and wrote his hook almost without contemplation. His confidence is supreme, but he's generous and easy to work with...and FUNNY. He does a great Brooklyn accent. I'd have to say that he's my ultimate hero, not just for his skills and creativity, but his vision, which I've based mine on...is that ok Glenn?
PK: Glenn was a lot of fun to work with and very energetic and full of ideas. He even wrote a song for us to do with him but we didn’t have time to finish it up. We might put it on the next CD.
You also have a new DVD out, which really showcases The Lizards as a great live band. Do you think you guys come out stronger as a live act?
RP: We were really hitting our stride before I got sidelined by my accident. I'm proud of how we played by '06.
PK: It’s hard for me to say. I spend so much time working in the studio on the records and then also playing them live that I can’t be objective. There is an immediacy to live performance that almost always makes it more exciting even if it’s not as “perfect” as the recording. I think that is what’s captured on the DVD.
One thing about watching the DVD is watching Mike Dimeo. Aside from being a great singer, he can also play keyboards on stage, which adds a good deal to the bands sound and show. What can you tell me about working with Mike and how he's fit in to the band [and added to it], since joining after the 2nd studio disc?
RP: As a band, we create and hang out really easily together. No egos in the way. I feel that it's easy to take an idea and bring it to fruition. Everyone contributes. Bobby wrote lyrics and vocals a lot on our stuff, as well. We endlessly crack each other up. Mike can write, but also happily takes direction. A real gent.
PK: Yeah, that was a nice bonus we got with Mike- the keyboard talent. Mike has fit right in the band from day one. In fact, he came over and sang with us the day after John decided to leave the band. It was a pretty seamless change. Mike’s a bad-ass -- he can sing whatever you throw at him and he comes up with cool vocals.
Judging from your past touring schedule The Lizards seems to have a following in the New York area and overseas. When might fans see you guys in Canada and various other states? Any plans to tour more?
RP: I think we want to finish our 5th studio CD, "Reptilicus Maximus", before we tour again...maybe let the gas prices come down (ha-ha)
PK: Actually, one of our first tours was in Canada with Frank Marino. That was where we recorded our first live CD with John- in Canada. The thing about touring is that it’s expensive. We’re spoiled- we like tour buses and jet planes. We’ve outlived the romance of packing up a van or station wagon and doing a “road trip”. So, it has to make sense for us to hit the road. I’m sure there will be more tours at the right time. We don’t have any plans at the moment but the great thing about show biz is that anything can happen at the drop of a hat! Maybe after “Reptilicus Maximus” is released.
The Lizards haven't been around for a long time, but have put out a strong catalogue of CDs and 3 DVDs within the decade. For many people, you guys are like 'a best kept secret' in rock with 2 guys that played in previous high profile bands. For a new fan, how would you describe the Lizards sound and styles?
RP: Classic Rock works well for me. Heavy, with occasional funk and blues influences. Our songs are often written from jams and we jam in them. Mike likes the Allman Brothers, and you can hear that on some stuff. I love Trapeze, Free and funk, Pat's and AC/DC fan...Bobby likes to PLAY THE DRUMS!!! Put that in a blender...we wear our influences on our sleeves!
PK: I think the best description is “New Classic Rock”. In other words, new music written in the style of classic rock by a band who lived that music and isn’t trying too hard to make it “modern” or burden the process by trying to be something we’re not. It’s not some kind of forced “retro” sound or style. It is who we are and I think that’s why it comes across to the people who are into that kind of music. As far as the sound, as the engineer and producer, I try to make the records easy to listen to. By that I mean you can listen to one of our CDs and actually hear what each guy is playing. I hate how records are made these days so that everything is squashed into the astronomical equivalent of a black hole- so dense that nothing can escape, not even the song!
What else in the works for The Lizards? Any side projects on the go?
RP: I'm almost finished writing a lurid, pornographic, fictional autobiography about being the bass player in the biggest heavy band in the world in an alternate universe. I've loved writing it. I'm up to page 525 and I can see the end. It's illustrated and has a soundtrack. It would make a great movie or TV. series...or porn movie!
PK: Well, side projects wouldn’t be the
Lizards, would it? If a band is doing a side project it’s taking away from the
time they should be working on their next masterpiece. I think the Bible has a
passage that says something like “you cannot serve God and mammon”. That’s how I
feel about side projects! Whatever you’re working on at the moment is your main
project. The rest is pushed off to the “side”.
© Kevin J. Julie (Universal Wheels) November '08
Thanks to Billy James, Ron Mann.