As a consummate fan of the Hard Rock and Heavy Metal genres, I have often found myself 'dallying' within the realm best known as Glam of Hair Metal. While my initial flirtations were entirely focused on the hairspray and mascara-encrusted offerings of Guns 'n' Roses (Appetite For Destruction), L.A. Guns (L.A. Guns) and Poison (Open Up And Say...Ahh!), a steady diet of Headbanger's Ball and RIP magazine ultimately led to my discovery of Los Angeles, California denizens Great White. This, of course, led to a fascination with the multi-Platinum blockbuster ...Twice Shy (1989) and, as a result, my unabashed appreciation for many of the releases that would follow. Recently, vocalist Jack Russell was kind enough to speak with us regarding, among many other things, the release of He Saw It Comin', the full-length debut from the aptly named offshoot Jack Russell's Great White.
Todd: What prompted you to alter the title of He Saw It Comin'? Wasn't the initially 'planned' title The Gauntlet?
Jack: “It was basically a smack in the face from the other band when they put out Elation (2012), ya know? It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what that was about. I was going on with that as a tit for tat, ya know? And then I thought 'That not what I'm about'. It shouldn't be about anything but what's going on in my life right now, ya know? So we changed it so it had some meaning other than the workings of my past. I had some great times in my past. It wasn't all filled with misery and hatred. ...Besides, who actually wants to hear about all that?
It's not something I dwell on anymore. I've learned to accept responsibility for it. It was my fault. I really wouldn't have wanted to play with me either, ya know? And I would have fired me, too but nobody could fire me because I was the president of the corporation. Two of those guys weren't even in the band, they were just hired employees. But I didn't want to take it to court. It's all over now and I'm so happy I'm here making music.”
Todd: Did (rhythm guitarist/keyboardist) Tony Montana joining the group have an impact on He Saw It Comin'?
Jack: “Yes and no. (Lead guitarist) Robby (Lochner) recorded most of the guitars. Tony opted to do some stuff when he was still busy with his solo project, but he definitely still added a lot to the band. On the next record, he'll be a lot more integral in the writing process. And you also have to understand Robby and I had already written a lot of stuff before Tony had even joined the band. ...He definitely helps make it a complete band. It would be very, very different without him, ya know? Plus, the studio we used is in Robby's house, so it was easier for him to lay down the parts instead of having Tony to drive down. It was a lot more effective. So in the end, it didn't really matter. On some of the other albums when (rhythm guitarist and keyboardist) Micheal Lardie was in the band, (lead guitarist) Mark (Kendall) still played all of the guitars on them, ya know? Micheal definitely could have done them with complete confidence, but he didn't need to. Sometimes that's how it all is.”
Todd: Has it been difficult to find the right new musicians whenever it's become time to make a line-up change?
Jack: “No. It definitely took me awhile, ya know? ...When Tony and I were talking about it after I had fired my first bass player (current House Of Lords bassist Chris Tristram), he was like 'Dude, you know what? I'm sick of sitting here watching other people play my riffs and get paid for it. I'm in!' and I said 'Good. Welcome home'. Like I said, he adds a lot to the band. He played on some of the stuff and he wrote some of the stuff. I don't want discredit him in anyway, but without these five people, it wouldn't be the great band that it is. (Bassist) Dan McMay, who was the last piece of the puzzle, came from the band Montrose, (drummer) Dickey Fliszar used to play with (Iron Maiden frontman) Bruce Dickinson's solo band (on Balls To Picasso) and Robby used to play with (Judas Priest frontman) Rob (Halford's) solo band Fight, so they were all definitely true veterans, ya know? They know what they are doing, everybody gets along and knows exactly what it takes to keep great chemistry.”
Todd: Is it the chemistry between the individual members of the group that ultimately pulls everything together?
Jack: “You have to have the chemistry even in the studio. If it wasn't for the certain magic that Robby and I have together and that Tony has when he was working with us, we wouldn't have come up with this selection of songs. ...I was apprehensive before I sat down with Robby, ya know? I was like 'I hope this guy has good ideas', ya know? I was hoping he wouldn't come up with something terrible, ya know? We actually saw better than eye to eye, if that's possible on the direction of the music, ya know? We didn't pre-plan anything or say that we wanted it to sound like anything in particular. The only thing I said was I didn't want to sound like a rehash of an old Great White record, ya know? That's what I don't want to sound like and it doesn't. We never wrote anything that sounded like that, so we didn't have to get rid of anything. There were certainly songs where we ended up saying 'Okay, this one is worth chasing any further than this' after we had worked on them for a while. We knew when to call it quits on a song because, like they say, you really can't polish a turd and make it better.”
Todd: At this point in your career, have you found that you have been distancing yourself from your tenure with the 'original' group? How do you reconcile those feelings when your voice was such a large part of that tonality?
Jack: “I'm not really trying to distance myself, so to speak, ya know? I have my own voice and my own sound. I have my own musical ideas and you know that I was a very big part of Great White. Now I have a different co- writer and that makes a huge difference. ...It makes a huge impact on what the final product is, ya know? This album was really a collaborative effort. It used to be me that wrote all of the lyrics and all the melodies, ya know? I helped define how the music was going to sound. ...But anyway, that was then, this is now. I don't want to forget my past nor do I want to be locked to it. The reason I wanted to keep part of the name was one, I had every right to since I was the one who started the band with Mark, I've been doing it all these years and its part of me and I'm part of it. And, also, because brands are so important. I never used to believe that. My ex-Manager Obi Steinman used to say 'If I had five monkeys, I could make money off of this band. Just the name alone' and I was like 'No way', ya know? He was like 'Even if I replaced you with a monkey, I could still sell it' and I was like 'Dude, there is no way you can take me out of the band and it will sell', but he proved me wrong.”
Todd: How did the video for the single “Sign Of The Times” come together? The end results, particularly with everything being shot in black and white, were striking. The addition of the background photos was so amazing.
Jack: “It came from Frontiers (Records). The Director they sent was just amazing. He shot the video in three hours and then added all the slides and backgrounds later. We were walking around pointing at the wall and looking at it, but there was nothing there because he superimposed everything. He edited it overnight and the next day we had the product. I was like 'Holy crap'. We used to spend a whole day and night with all these cameras and lights everywhere and would do a thousand different takes. ...You'd be beat to hell when you were done and wouldn't want to do anymore, but you'd have to. I'd be like 'You've already got ten miles of footage of my nose. Really? One more take? What are you talking about?' and they'd be like 'Well, we still need to get shots of your left index finger.' There would be all of these shots that they never even got close to using. Just miles of tape on the floor of the editing bay and we'd spend a hundred thousand dollars doing it. It was so ridiculous. I remember when we passed a million dollars to the video company we used. We all got matching jackets. We were laughing, saying 'This is what we get when we spend a million dollars? You get a free jacket?'”
Todd: The videos of your past were obviously meant to convey a much different message of glaring debauchery.
Jack: “They did and that was the intention. That's what life was like on the road back them. That's what life was like back then. For me, there was the women thing on the road, but not the drinking, smoking and all the other stuff. Two weeks before the beginning of a tour, I'd stop smoking, stop drinking and stop doing everything else until the last night of the tour. As I would walk off stage, there would be an open bottle of Jim Beam, a lit cigarette waiting and an ounce of blow in the dressing room. And it was on until the next time I needed to sing.”
Todd: What makes He Saw It Comin' your 'greatest' effort to date? While such sentiments are often used when discussing new or forthcoming releases, what ultimately separates He Saw It Comin' from your previous works?
Jack: “I think its a better realized vision for me. It has huge harmonies and some truly extraordinary playing. The songs take you on a ride, ya know? Lyrically, it's spot on. Overall, it's just a better record than what I've done before. There's a really super talented group of people involved. Taking nothing away from anybody else, these guys are just really, really good. My guitarist is sincerely a musical genius. ...On the song “Godspeed”, he told me he wanted to make it A capella and was like 'What? You're kidding me, right? Like straw hats and red and white striped shirts and a bamboo canes?' and he says 'No, like a '50's thing'. ...When he came back and played it for me, I started laughing hysterically and he had this look on his face like I'd just punched his kid. He says 'Oh no. What's wrong' and I say 'Nothing, dude. This is the most incredible thing I've ever heard'. It had all these harmonies weaving in and out of each other, ya know? ...I just couldn't believe it. I said 'This definitely gets two thumbs up for me'. It's definitely the most diverse album I've ever worked on. I've always thought my second solo album (For You, 2002) was the best thing I've ever done and this just blows that away. And that had some great players on it, too like (ex-Meatloaf guitarist) Bob Kulick and (bassist) Tony Levin. Those guys aren't slouches, ya know? It was a great record. It was very Adult Contemporary, but it was still a great record and I think this one is even better. That pretty difficult for me to say, actually. It's one of those records that the more you live with it, the more it grows on you. I've had people hear it the first time say 'I like this, I like this I love that song' and a week later say 'Oh my God. I never actually heard this. I never go this song until just now', ya know? And I think that's great because a lot of records that you fall in love with right away burn out real quick.”
Todd: Taking into consideration the various histories between yourself and you former band mates, do you find it ironic (or perhaps even outright unusual) that both versions of the group are now signed to Frontiers Records?
Jack: “Yes and no. There's really only one label out there that has any interest in bands of our genre, so it's not that surprising to me. I'm just glad we have an opportunity to put our music out. If it came down to it, I'd sign to 'Joe's Records' where 'Joe' walks around selling CD's out of a backpack, ya know? ...I just want to make music. The creative process is what I live for. It's like taking nothing and make it into something tangible for everyone to share. Music is this weird, enigmatic thing that you can't taste, touch or smell, ya know? It's pure emotion or listening to somebody's soul or .collective soul when it comes to a band. You either have a dark black cloud or you have a really bright light cloud or somewhere in between. And, as it is in life, some souls are good some souls are evil some souls are middle of the road. It all depends on that, so there's music for everyone, ya know? Music can be really dark. I've written really dark songs. There's a really dark song on this record about my addiction and there's also light playful songs like “She's Crazy” along with other more serious songs like “Sign Of The Times”. In a funny way, it's got everything. Everything that I want to put out anyway. I'm just really happy with it. I don't mean to keep saying that like I'm trying to do this big sales pitch. ...Honestly, I'm just really, really loving this album. And that's my truth. If people want to buy it, go to Amazon. ...That is my pitch.”
Todd: At this point, how is your health? You've had some very public battles with different issues over the years.
Jack: “It's actually really good except for the constant pain from degenerative disk disease, ya know? I'm okay, but I've lost four inches in my back. Gravity is really a bitch. It was much worse when I was still drinking. It really was a drag, man. I was falling down everywhere I went. I was like 'Damn it, gravity!' I hated it, but everybody goes through different trials and tribulations throughout their lives. Plus, there is always somebody that has it worse than you. But its all relative, ya know? Everybody has pains that are their own. It really all comes down to what do I with my life. ...Sometimes you just have to bear with everything and keep moving on”
Todd: In the past, you've mention that the death of (former Warrant frontman) Jani Lane had an impact on your decision to embrace sobriety. Was that the proverbial 'straw' that broke the camel's back' or was there more to it?
Jack: “It wasn't as impactful as it should have been, ya know? My addictions were so incredibly strong that it literally took me being in a coma for five days with my liver almost completely shutting down. I woke up to a room full of my friends and my band. The doctor came in and said 'If you drink again the way you drink, because your wife is telling me how you drink, you're are going to die'. He says 'I'm not telling you you might die or you could die or you should die. I'm saying you're going to die if you drink one more time because your liver cannot go thought one more run of the way you drink'. The way I drink is not the way ordinary people drink. so I have no doubt he wasn't lying to me. I ended up saying 'Okay, that's it' and it made it all really easy for me. I'm not going to pick up a loaded handgun and put it to my head and pull the trigger, ya know? So why would I pick up a drink when I know its gonna end in the same manner only it's going to be much, much more painful? ...So I opted to not kill myself in that manner. Everybody's got their day and I don't want to make mine any earlier than it has to be. I don't feel young, I'll tell you that, man. I feel like I'm ninety, but I still look good.”
Todd: What are your current touring plans? Is the goal to be on the road very consistently for He Saw It Comin'?
Jack: “Were touring a lot and we've got a few new dates on the books right now. Its an ongoing process. My agent is still our there pumping it, pumping it and pumping it. We are getting closer to our goal, which we will, when we fill up the summer. We're looking for better quality gigs than last year and were getting them, so releasing the new record is going to help even more. We plan on touring as much as we can like we always do. ...We had some really really good shows in front a lot of people and, the good thing is, it's really been cool because a lot of people have been there no matter what time we go on. Were getting raving receptions and its just like, 'Wow. Who knew?'. ...People are becoming more aware of this particular incarnation of the band now.”
Todd: What type of set list are you working with? I would imagine there is certain material you just can't ignore.
Jack: “We're doing the classics. All the hits, ya know? We're also throwing in a couple of the new songs even though we don't want to bombard people by saying 'Here is a whole new album', ya know? ...Some bands do that, but were not. We obviously have to play certain songs. We have to play “Desert Moon”, “House Of Broken Love”, “Mista Bone”, Once Bitten, Twice Shy”, “Rock Me” and “Save Your Love”. It's a lot of the classic songs people love along with some of the new stuff. ...And, of course, we do some Led Zeppelin just because we can.”
He Saw It Comin' (2017)
Back To The Rhythm (2007)
Can't Get There From Here (1999)
Let It Rock (1996)
Sail Away (1994)
Psycho City (1992)
...Twice Shy (1989)
Recovery: Live! (1987)
Once Bitten... (1987)
Shot In The Dark (1986)
Great White (1984)
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