Forgive me Jimi for I have sinnedÖ
When I received the PR release for Bullets and Octane I wasnít overly excited about the band. It can be difficult to convey, especially to someone who could wallpaper his house with press releases, why a new band is important. Trust me, it really doesnít take long in this business to get an "Iíve heard this all before" jaded attitude. And youíre right, itís not fair to anyone, but it happens. As penitence Iíll recite four Purple Hazeís and maybe play "Little Wing" on my bass. Confession complete.
A few days after committing this atrocity I picked up the DaBelly snail mail and found the new Bullets and Octane CD, "In the Mouth of the Young" (RCA Records). "Interesting album cover" was my first thoughts. I mean the girl will catch your eye, but thereís something more happening. In a world of mindless fluff and unbridled aggression somebodyís making a statement here, OK Iím in. I unwrapped the CD and spun the volume to deafening. The CD hasnít left my changer since.
You can call Bullets and Octane a baby band, call them retro, call them what you will. But B&O own the songs that they play. They earned them on the road and in clubs. They forged them by beating on every door until the door opened or fell down. There are no excuses in their presentation and you should expect no apologies. They are a stripped down version of the real deal, maybe not as shinny as some but certainly more honest than most.
Right around the end of June, beginning of July I called Gene Louis, lead singer of Bullets and Octane. I had a chance to ask all the questions that had been buzzing around my little brain since numbing my brain on the CD. It went something like thisÖ
DB: Hello can I speak to Gene please.
BO: This is him.
DB: Hi Gene, this is Dave Schwartz from DaBelly.com. We have an interview scheduled for right about now.
BO: Yeah, yeah, how are you doing today?
DB: Iím well. Is this a good time for you?
DB: Great. Well first of all congratulations on the new record.
BO: Thank you very much.
DB: Iím sure youíre excited about it. Itís obviously been a lot of hard work.
BO: Oh yeah, we have a long way to go but these small steps are good to accomplish.
DB: Well letís talk a little here about the new record. What can you tell me?
BO: The new record. Well, the exciting thing about the new record was working with Page Hamilton. We are big fans of producers that are hands-on. We did our first record with Gilby Clark, who was obviously the Guns and Roses' guitar player. So that was a hands-on thing and now weíre working in a whole different spectrum with Paige Hamilton who is also great. The guyís written scores, heís done commercials and obviously helped change music in the '90s. It was great because he comes from a completely different aspect than most musicians and from what we are used to in the band. So watching him be the fifth member, outside the box, hands on with the band was a great experience.
DB: How did you hook up with Page? How did that connection happen?
BO: He was in contact with Matt Marshall who was our A/R guy at RCA. It was cool because heís not some "Big Shot," hit-making kind of guy. Heís new at this as well. We are a new band on a major label and heís a new producer and we kind of needed each other. In Bullets and Octane we like to work with people who are as hungry as we are. There are times when you have to work with people that donít really need you. As a small band you can end up on the back burner.
DB: I read that you only spent a month in the studio to record this album. That seems incredibly fast.
BO: Yeah, it was definitely a quick situation but we didnít want to over think it. Obviously, itís like anything. You can always sit there and try to make things perfect. Your ears get worn out on the song and you start to over think it. Itís just something as simple as rock and roll. Iím sure youíve listened to the record. Itís really just striped down. Itís exactly like we are live. No bells, whistles, screams and all that kind of stuff. Itís guitars, vocals, drums, just straight rock and roll songs. Thereís a song on the record, "Signed in Alcohol," that was written and recorded in about an hour and a half-- and thatís what we wanted to do. We wanted that vibe. By it self, the song doesnít seem like an amazing tune. But as far as the body of work, it has a great place on the record.
DB: After listening to your album itís obvious that you caught the freshness of the music in the recording. And that freshness mixed with the style of music that youíre doing translates into a sense of honesty. I think this record has captured the bands identity and personality in many ways.
BO: Well thank you. That is what we were going for.
DB: Itís a difficult prospect, I know. I mean so many other bands spend an eternity in the studio and they eventually release a very produced, very homogenized body of work. On this record you seem to have captured the moment. The vocals may not be perfect and you might mistake some of the guitar work as sloppy rather than live. But it seems that live is exactly what you wanted along with a sense of the room and the spontaneity of the moment.
BO: Vocals not perfect? (laughs) I understand what youíre saying. Itís very important to us to be able to hear the passion of the song and the intensity of the moment.
DB: So where did you find the record's title?
BO: "In the Mouth of the Young" is a lyric from the song, "I Ainít Your Savior." We were trying to come up with the artwork and everyone was like, "Youíre a rock band-- sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll." Thatís such a clichť of the '80s and itís something that we would like to steer away from.
We were on tour with Avenge Sevenfold at the time. I got up early one morning and I just sat there and started to think. What exactly is dangerous? What came to my mind was that weíre a little bit older now; weíre not in our crazier teenage years. And that there is a "reality of life" kind of danger all around us.
And with the title came the idea of the artwork, which was a funny situation to bring up to a record label. We said, "Thereís this girl. We want to have her pretty much topless and breastfeeding a baby." That was a fun adventure. Then we tried to explain our idea and it was obvious that we were trying to say a lot more thanÖ Well, obviously itís always nice to have an attractive lady on the cover, that always seems to catch an eye or two, but what we are saying is a hell of a lot more important and I hope that when people look at the cover theyíll get the visual. I mean look at this lady, obviously sheís broke down and in a bad situation, in a bad apartment and raising a child. It has to do with the whole idea of children having kids and drugs going around and that weíre abusing ourselves. Thatís what the comment is here. I look at this right here as much more important than just putting some logo on the cover or a picture of the band.
DB: The image is very provocative. And when you couple that with the title there is certainly the genesis of a story. I think thatís important and I hope it will invoke commentary and discussion amongst your fans.
I noticed that on this record you revisited a song from an earlier release, "Save Me Sorrow." Why?
BO: A couple of reasons. Weíre fans of all types of music. Two bands come to mind right now are Bad Religion and The Cure. Both of these bands are completely different yet they share something. If you look at their records youíll notice that both bands have release several versions of certain songs. I always thought that it was a real neat to hear bands how have grown or maybe they didnít like the version of the song the first time around.
We felt that "Sorrow" still held water in the set. It also fit well with the songs we had written for the new record so we had some ideas to revamp it. We were playing it live differently than we wrote it. So we thought we would record it again to see if it still made sense. Coming down to the chopping block of the record the song still held water. In fact it turned out much better than we thought it would.
DB: Itís interesting how a song, when given a chance to breathe a bit, evolves and occasionally becomes something greater than it was.
BO: Thatís true. Once you take it away from the microscope you were staring through, you get a better look at it.
DB: If I were to paraphrase what weíve just been talking about, I would say it had a lot to do with perspective. Your bio spends a great deal of time talking about the "left field" perspective of Bullets and Octane. While thatís certainly an interesting catch phrase, for me every band is about perspective. And any good band certainly offers the listener a viewpoint that occasionally pushes the bounds of the mainstream. This is done to be entertaining or confrontational or in some cases, to educate. Most obviously you did this with your album cover. I think that when a listener has a sense of discovery they are drawn closer to the band.
So where do you think Bullets and Octane developed its perspective?
BO: For us itís about doing what weíve always done. Weíve taken a lot of chances. Weíve been around since '98-'99 just trying to beat this thing and still keep real to ourselves. We write the songs we want to write. You know, the topics and the style of music we want. Ty [Smith] played with Guttermouth and The Vandals; heís obviously going to be a very fast and hard hitting drummer. So no matter what obscure idea we bring to the table, with Tyís ability and also with Jamesí [Daniel] ears, heís a straight rock and roll guitar player, very flashy, no matter what type of song we try to play it will always be a Bullets and Octane song. Our only goal is to create music that we can appreciate.
DB: Thatís excellent. It takes a level of fearlessness to reveal ones self on a record. And I think that openness is very important
I know that youíre a young band, but Bullets and Octane has already had an interesting journey, from St. Louis to the big show by way of Orange County, California. Itís been kind of a bizarre road for you. How did all this come together?
BO: Our bass player [Brent Clawson] and I have been playing together for many, many years. If you play in St. Louis for a long time, itís easy to become the big fish in a small pond. When the national acts came through the promoters were putting us on the show but once the circus left town you were still stuck in the town. So we decided it was time for a change. By that time, our drummer Ty had already moved to Southern California and was playing with Guttermouth and The Vandals. So we were talking to him on the phone and we decided to relocate to Orange County. When we arrived, we realized just how difficult it was to make a name for yourself in Southern California when everyone and their grandmother is in a band. Itís hard to get into venues, especially when youíre a rock band from a different city and rock and roll isnít a cool thing. Right now our style of music is a hell of a lot more accepted than it was five years ago. Music went from punk to pop-punk, from emo to screamo, but it all had nothing to do with rock. It was almost a clichť for them to have a rock band play at their club. So it took a while for people to realize that weíre real and weíre doing it. It was a struggle but thatís what makes success so much sweeter.
DB: Iím sure looking back Orange County was the best place you couldíve gone. Orange County has long been a haven for back to basics, twos and fours music. It doesnít harbor quite the pretension as L.A, and yet a number of big bands have emerged from the scene.
BO: When we moved here our friends asked why we didnít just move to L.A. instead. I think that wouldíve destroyed a lot of things for us. I think that it was good for us to be a little out of the picture. There is a clichť up in L.A. that rock is kind of washed up. Itís also easy to get caught up in the party of the L.A. scene; soon your music has nothing to do with anything. But we know that at the end of the day it all comes down to our songs. The songs have to be great. Thereís a hell of a lot more to this than image.
DB: Letís talk about touring. Youíve just finished your first headline tour. How did that go?
BO: Yeah we did our first headline tour and then we went right back out with Panic Channel, Dave Navarroís new band. That all went great. We are home right now and actually working on new songs. Itís kind of funny because the new record just came out, but it's never too early.
DB: Yeah, I agree. You might demo a song today, not care much for it and cast it aside only to rediscover it six months later. Youíll have a different perspective and may decide to change a few things and suddenly you have a cool new song.
BO: Totally. Thatís exactly how it is. In a few weeks we will be starting the "Family Values Tour" with Korn. Thatís going to be real cool.
DB: I looked over the itinerary for the tour. Have you played outdoors in Phoenix in August before?
BO: Oh shit, thatís right!
DB: Yes, it shouldnít be more than 105 to 110 degrees at show time. But if youíre lucky, in the late afternoon a monsoon comes through and soaks down the area. The good news is that the temperature drops to about 90 but it feels like 110 because itís so humid!
BO: Oh great! (laughter) Weíve played Phoenix a few times. We did the West Coast portion of the "Warped Tour" for about four years; that was hell. The first couple years we even brought our own stage. We would get there super early to set up, stay around all day watching bands play and then have to tear the stage down and pack it in a U-Haul.
We closed the interview trading war stories about the road. As you can tell, Gene is easy to talk to. Iím happy that I took the time to discover the new Bullets and Octane CD. Iím happier that I was reminded just how important my job is and that ever band is worthy a listen. Iíll do better next time, I promise.
Until then check out the Bullets and Octane Web site at http://www.bullets-and-octane.com/ And by the way, their MySpace site has a real cool video filmed at Chain Reaction in Anaheim, California. Trust me, it worth a look!
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