15 (Eleven Seven Music)
An Interview with singer Josh Todd and guitarist Keith Nelson
By Chris Casella
Photos by Chris Casella
It’s good to see you guys didn’t hang it up and are back on the horse. It would’ve been sad to see the folks today deprived of a good rock band.
Keith: It wasn’t something we anticipated. Circumstances led us to a place where it was just time for a break. Then it was time to come back off the break. Actually, we all kept busy. Josh made a record, and I tried to stay out of trouble as well, and it seemed like the time was right and the thing to do, so we made a record.
Did you guys keep in touch while you were on “hiatus”?
Keith: We talked about every six months or so about business stuff, but our lives got kind of busy and went in different directions, there wasn’t a lot of contact, even though we were in the same town at the same time.
You’ve been on the road for a long time promoting this record. How was it when in the beginning there? Was little support for the band and the record, then everything exploded and people took notice and wanted a piece? (Grammy nomination, platinum record, magazines, higher profile tours, etc.)
Josh: It was very slow and drawn out. We kind of focused on regions: We went to Japan, came back and pounded the States, then up to Canada, and then back to the States, and then over to Europe, then back here. It kind of built into a frenzy. It was pretty awesome.
It seems like you really hit the mark with the single “Crazy Bitch.” It kind of harkens back to the good old days of sleazy, L.A. rock ‘n’ roll, maybe bringing back a little of the dangerousness to the genre. Was that your motivation?
Josh: Not at all. I never think about things like that writing lyrics. “Crazy Bitch” is a really old song. We wrote it before we went our separate ways. I just had this chorus idea driving around in my truck in Cali, and I called Keith up just to record it on his voice mail because I didn’t want to forget it. He actually picked up the phone and we talked about it. I think I called back so I could record it on his machine. We don’t really think about stuff like radio. We come from the school where we love bands like AC/DC & Aerosmith, bands with good melody and big rock choruses. Of course we want to be on the radio and we want to have massive success. We’ve never been a band that didn’t want to be noticed. I don’t get that. I mean, why would you put a band together if you didn’t want people to flock to your shows and buy your records? That’s silly. We always want to write big songs.
It’s got a whole cultural thing to it, kind of something to hold onto. I read Lemmy’s book, and he talks about how many times he’s played “Ace Of Spades.” He still likes it, but he’s sick of it and he plays it anyway. He knows it’s what folks want to hear.
Josh: Why would you not?
It seems like “Crazy Bitch” could be that for you. But you’re having a good time and you genuinely like what you’re doing, like you aren’t just going through the motions.
Josh: I always wondered about bands that don’t want to play the songs where everybody reacts and goes crazy. That’s the most fun thing when you’re on stage. It’s no fun to play a song when nobody’s reacting ’cause they don’t like it or don’t give a shit or it only means something to you.
Keith: “Lit Up” is probably 10, 11 years old, we’ve played it countless times, but we still get off playing that song. It gets a great reaction.
Josh: You know, “Crazy Bitch” almost never saw the light of day. We played for a producer a while back, he kind of listened to it and was like “You gotta change the lyrics.” I was like “What?! That would suck!” It was like, if your going to fuck with that song… We almost never dealt with it again.
I saw you on the red carpet at the Grammy’s talking to Chris Isaak. He asked what you were nominated for and you replied and he kept wanting you to repeat “Crazy Bitch” on network television.
If you saw his Showtime series, you know he totally got it and thought it was the best shit ever.
Keith: Chris Isaak, I think he totally gets it.
It must be fulfilling to have had that break with the band, and then being able to come back and build that credibility back up and be successful and have a successful tour. It seems like you would’ve had to build it back from nothing or start over.
Keith: Absolutely. Actually, when we first got signed, we started from zero. This time around, we started from below zero. A lot of people kind of thought they knew what we were about and dismissed us. At least the first time around, we were given a shot and had people talking about us. It really raised the bar for us. It forced us to be tighter as an organization and as friends and in business and the people we got involved with. It kind of started off with the band and our manager being the only people on the planet who knew what was going on. We got an agent involved. The success this time around is better: It’s bigger and it’s sweeter because we really did it on our own.
When the record came out, there was no buzz around it and people were not paying attention. But it grew and grew, and people took notice because of how good it was, not because there was some label out there pushing it hard.
Keith: That’s what we wanted. What we wanted was an opportunity to put our record out and let the people decide. We didn’t sign a record deal with a big advance, we couldn’t even sign a record deal. It wasn’t about cashing in and making a shit ton of money up front. We just wanted a chance to put our record out and have a chance to work.
“So Far” is a great lead off track. Live and on the record, the lyrics sound kind of like a statement, “This is where we’ve been, and this is where we are, we’re back!”
Josh: Exactly. That’s exactly what the songs about. We just really wanted to get back to the basics on that one, ’cause that’s really what we were doing. We kind of asked ourselves why we got into this in the first place. It wasn’t for money or any of that shit, it was for the love of the game.
It comes across live, you totally sell it, it looks genuine.
Keith: That song was probably written in three minutes. I started playing the riff and Josh started singing something, and we had a little recorder hooked up in our rehearsal space in case we had ideas we could just hit a button. It happened that quick. It’s one of the fastest songs we’ve written.
I’ve seen you and photographed you a bunch of times. At the Rock On The Range festival, it was a great scene having you, Velvet Revolver, ZZ Top: Bands that get what rock ‘n’ roll is about and get up there and sell it. I don’t understand the kids and their either lack of or faux energy. Folks that paid good money to see them put on a show!
Josh: Exactly, it’s entertainment. That’s what it should be.
Josh: I don’t know why, but it seems a lot of bands are covering stuff that’s way too new.
Like Mariah Carey covering “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak.”
(everyone in the room grunts and groans)
Josh: I don’t even want to comment on that.
Keith: Somebody covered a Don Henley song, somebody just covered a Genesis song. One thing about this band, we listen to a lot of music. We all listen to so many different kinds of music. You may not get it from our songs, but we’re really influenced by great music and great songs, it doesn’t matter what the genre. We can do a Dramarama song or an Elvis Costello song and that’s fun for us. We can get up onstage and soundcheck “Whole Lotta Rosie” or “Sweet Emotion” all day long, but it’s fun when it’s something else. It’s a challenge to take something from another genre and make it our own.
Josh: Honestly I’d never heard that Elvis Costello song until Keith said he had a song he thought rhythmically sounded like us, and I was stoked.
What are the plans on a new record and keeping the momentum going?
Josh: We’re going to wrap up this tour at the end of September and decompress for a second, then start writing and recording. If all goes well, hopefully we’ll have a record out by the beginning of next summer. In the meantime, we’re working on a live DVD, so while we’re home writing, there’ll be something people can check out, keep it going until we have a new record. Then the same thing, back on the road…