On Feb 14th, the New Orleans based hard rock band, Lillian Axe will be releasing the 11th album of their 24 year career entitled, "XI: The Days Before Tomorrow." This epic, ten track masterpiece will finally give Lillian Axe the recognition that they rightfully deserve, in their criminally overlooked career. And although many artists always believe their most recent work is their best, Lillian Axe leader/songwriter/lead guitarist Steve Blaze truly feels that this is, in fact, the band's best work to date. With new vocalist Brian Jones, Lillian Axe has reinvented itself once again, and Blaze has taken his songwriting and guitar playing to another exciting level. Lillian Axe is without a doubt, a band on a mission.
What follows is an exclusive interview with one of the most talented musicians in rock today, Steve Blaze. During this interview Blaze discusses the new album, their change of vocalist and much more.
RockMusicStar: Steve, I want to start out by saying “bravo,” on the new Lillian Axe CD, “XI: The Days Before Tomorrow’, which will be available Feb, 14, 2012. I thought it was so awesome, that I went back and purchased your last release, “Deep, Red Shadows.” I’m really impressed by your guitar tone and your songwriting skills. You really are on the top of your game.
Steve Blaze: Well, thank you! That really means a lot that you dig it.
RMS: Yes, I really do. Now, you have a new vocalist, Brian Jones, in the band. He really is a great fit judging from the new CD. What is the story behind him getting involved with Lillian Axe?
SB: Getting Brian in the band was a true blessing. Brian was a fan of the band since he was 15 years old. His dad actually took him to see us, back in the day, before we were even signed to our first label. I remembered seeing him. He would always come up to us and talk, and he was always really energetic and eager to talk. And we kind of became friends over the years. Every few months or so, he would give me a call and we would talk. I knew that he was a really good guitar player, but I had no idea about his vocals. And then when Derrick LeFevre, our last vocalist left, Brian contacted me and said, “Listen. I think that I can do this job, just give me a chance.” I told him to send over a demo, so I could hear it for myself, and I thought it was really great. I started thinking that bringing him in as vocalist could really work out well. I started studying up on him, and he has a really great command on stage. He has a lot of energy.
So, I brought him into my studio and showed him some of the new songs that I was working on, and had him sing on some of our catalog material, and then I decided it was time to get the rest of the band together and start rehearsals. This was about a six month long process, and everything kept pointing to Brian. His attitude, his desire and his talent. And having a guitar player/singer was also helpful in a lot of ways. Because, sometimes when you are dealing with vocalists who are not musicians, it is sometimes difficult explaining some of the basics of music, like keys and half steps and such. But, it’s a bit easier communication with a singer who is also a musician as well. So working with Brian went really well, he’s very knowledgeable and a very smart guy.
We really spent a lot of time with him, making sure that it was going to work. Bringing in a new singer is a big step, and we wanted to make sure that with this being our third singer, that we were making the right decision. We didn’t want to make a mistake and rush into things. But after six months, it was obvious that Brian was the right guy for the job.
RMS: Did you have any of the material for “XI: The Days Before Tomorrow,” written before Brian joined?
SB: I had maybe three or four songs written, so those are the ones that we really got into, first. But right when he joined, I started really getting into the writing because I had an understanding of his vocals. And that really helped me with my writing, especially when I was doing the melody lines. You have to take into consideration that a vocalist is like another instrument. So you have to take all of that into consideration. We had a situation prior to Brian joining the band in which, for a brief period when Ronny Munroe was in the band for a month or so. When it looked like he was going to be our singer, I had to totally revamp my thinking because his style of vocals was going to be something completely different and unique. But, that situation didn’t pan out, and then I learned about Brian. And then everything (as far as songwriting) just started to flow. But things happen for a reason. You just have to be smart and make the best decisions. And we did that, because Brian did a fantastic job.
RMS: I agree. I think that Brian’s vocal are a great fit for your music. I have to admit that I was a bit befuddled when Ronny Munroe joined the band for that brief time period. I was kind of curious on how you guys were going to pull that off. He’s a great vocalist, but I think the band’s sound would have really changed drastically.
SB: (Laughs) Yes…there were a lot of people really curious about that. We (the band) were even a bit curious. But it was a great experience working with him. If anything, we certainly got a lot of press out of it. Ronny is a great singer and a good guy. But for different reasons, it just wasn’t the right fit. And it was on both ends. But the spit was very amicable. He was only really only with us for a month to six weeks and we only did one show. So in the history books, I wouldn’t really say that he was an official vocalist in Lillian Axe. It was just a trial run. We both thought that it could work, but we have to be around each other a lot, and he and I are both control freaks. And I mean that in a good way. We are both very commanding in what we do, and we are in charge of our own thing. So, it would have taken a lot of compromise from both of us. All of that combined with logistics and stylistic differences, made it a bit difficult to work it out. But he is a phenomenal guy and a great talent.
RMS: Yes, I loved his work in Metal Church. What happened with your prior vocalist Derrick LeFevre?
SB: Well, we did three records with Derrick, “Deep Red Shadows,” being the last one. He just didn’t want to be hitting the road. He wanted to keep things local. He was in a new relationship at the time, and I think maybe that had a little to do with it. And it’s rough out there on the road. I think he just got to the point where he didn’t want to go through all of the headaches and hard work of hitting the road. Derrick likes to sing. He just loves to sing, whether it’s in a studio or in a cover band, he just loves to sing. In Lillian Axe, we are very goal oriented. We have a lot of plans for the future, and it was at the point where he didn’t want to be involved in all of that craziness. He told us that he wanted to finish the “Deep, Red Shadows” record, and do whatever shows were had lined up, and then move on. But Lillan Axe has been around for over 24 years. So you look at our first vocalist Ron Taylor, he was with us for 16 years. Derrick was with us for seven years. That’s longer than a lot of marriages. You go through changes, it’s just part of life.
But the thing about Lillian Axe, it’s about the essence of the band. It’s about the songs. And the songs are always going to be there. And there will always be Lillian Axe. The second incarnation of the band, has been a together a long time. People have a way of relating to a band in their own nostalgic needs. When we came out with our first four albums, they were successful to a certain degree, and our most successful so far. But when you go away for a while, and then come back (later on), things aren’t the same. And people sometimes go, “I want my old band back.“ Sometimes fans don’t realize the whole situation. And with the case of Lillian Axe, much is still the same. I’m still the songwriter. Which should make fans happy, because, I’ve written over 95% of the songs - from day one. And I’m still here, and still writing the songs. And as a band, we move forward. Every time we had a member change, I don’t want to say we made an improvement, because all the line ups were great, but we need to move forward. If anything, it’s to maintain the same quality that we pride ourselves on. Sometimes people (fans) have to learn how to grow. A small numbers of fans will not be happy no matter what we do. We could write the next “Dark Side of the Moon” or “Abbey Road” and they still would say that it wasn't as good as our first four records. And that’s because they relate to a time when they were less miserable then they are now. (Laughs) Those first four records are still important to us, but we need to keep the legacy moving on. We have eleven records in this band and we plan on getting better with each one.
RMS: Yes, I agree. “XI: The Days Before Tomorrow” really is an incredible, hard hitting yet melodic release.
SB: Yeah, I know everyone always says it, but I really feel that it’s the best album that I have ever done.
RMS: How far into the writing process did you realize that you were onto something really special?
SB: Probably at the very beginning when I was writing “When Death Becomes Tomorrow.” And then I started writing “Gather Up The Snow,” I started feeling the same way creatively as I did when I wrote “Psychoschizophrenia.” And that was a very special time, where everything that I was writing seemed like it was coming from somewhere else. I was really inspired and was going into a direction in which I didn’t feel like I had any restraints. It was dark and beautiful, and powerful and majestic. I was thinking, "Hey, I’m starting to get the hang of this.” And that’s how I felt when I was writing this record. After I wrote a few songs from the new album, I started to notice that it was really cohesive, and started thinking that I had something really good.
RMS: One of the aspects of for “XI: The Days Before Tomorrow,” that I really admire is the way the album flows. How much time did you put into putting the track sequence together?
SB: You know what, it only took me ten minutes. I sat down, and my first attempt turned out to be what we used. It just all seemed to fit together and it was rather obvious to me what the order need to be. And I haven’t doubted it once. You’re right, it really does flow well together. I wanted to get people’s attention right from the first note and that’s why we lead off with “Babylon.” When people listen, they want to hear their favorite songs right away, they don’t want to wait until track 6 or 7. But, I look at the album as one whole piece of work.
RMS: Yes, I can’t agree with you more. It’s going to great to hear these tracks live. What are the tour plans for this release?
SB: There are a bunch of things in the works. We are looking to playing some gigs in New York in March, and there are also some tour possibilities. One option would take us out on a package tour throughout the US until July. We are working on some European stuff. We are planning on going over there in October, but we would like to go over sooner if possible. I think after the record comes out, we will have a better idea of where we are going to tour.
RMS: Last question, you are also involved in the 70’s glam band Angel. Are there any plans to do any gigs or recording with them in the near future?
SB: Yes, I’m involved with them, however we haven’t done anything in several years. I joined Angel in 2000, and basically right now they are on a long hold. The singer, Frank Dimino, is kind of bummed out because of the way the music industry currently is now. It is difficult, but Angel were one of my favorite bands growing up and I’m really hoping that we can get back together and do something. So we are just basically waiting for Frank to be in the right sprits again. But everything I’ve done with them so far has been a real blast.
For more on Lillian Axe, please visit www.lillianaxe.com
Special thanks to Chip from www.chipsterpr.com for setting this interview.