In an era when the Heavy Metal genre of yore is so often viewed with a sense of nostalgia (let's face it; the artists and groups of our collective youths aren't exactly getting any younger), many once prominent acts that had fallen out of favor have once again found themselves the focus of renewed interest. Despite this, few of these groups posses the intestinal fortitude necessary to sustain a legitimate 'comeback', ultimately leaving all but the the most die-hard of devotees unsatisfied. Fortunately for all parties involved, improbably long-running Austin, Texas-born veterans Dangerous Toys have boldly forged ahead regardless of the ever-changing musical climate. Recently, oft-outspoken frontman Jason McMaster, always a man of many words and interesting stories, was kind enough to speak with us regarding,among many other things, the keys to the group's longevity.
Todd: You're obviously involved with a number of different groups. What prompted you to become so copious?
Jason: “If I'm available and there's a project or an idea to be worked on and I'm interested, I feel like I should make myself available to do it. ...It's a 'the heart wants what the heart wants' kind of thing. Yes, I am involved in a lot of different projects, but it's not any different than the phone ringing when you're sitting around doing nothing and someone asking you 'Hey, you want to be creative?' and you saying 'Hell yeah, I want to be creative'. It's different with each project, but for a few of them, it's been a situation where a group will have lost a singer and the style might change slightly, but they'll ask me either to do the record or write a batch of songs with them or just bide the time and then. Most of the time, if I truly like the material, I will just stay with them.”
Todd: Does being simultaneously involved with so many different groups offer you additional musical avenues?
Jason: “Being creative is being creative. And it's not necessarily a situation where the more bands you're in, the more money you make. It's not about that. It's not about money. There's no money in Rock 'n' Roll anymore. Back then, there was still record deals going around and the business was a lot different then than it is now. ...Unless you have consecutive hit records, it dries up real fast. The business is changing all the time anyway. The way people buy music is changing all the time. There's not really any one way to do it unless you can find a way to do it that's working and stick with it. It's really hard to play Metal and Rock 'n' Roll, unless you've got a modern spin on it. If you had a career prior to the early '90s that was taking off a decade prior, you could probably still do a tour and make money enough money to survive. I know that as a fact. I open for dinosaur bands all the time and it's just amazing. I'm like 'Fuck, I saw you guys play when I was sixteen years old. I'm fifty now and I'm opening for you'. It's crazy, but things like that happens all of the time. It's pretty damn weird”
Todd: In hindsight, to what do you attribute the less-than-favorable reaction to Hellacious Acres (1991)? Much of the blame was laid upon Producer Roy Thomas Baker (Journey, Queen, Yes). Is that a definitive assessment?
Jason: “Some people would say that. Some people would also say that the record didn't sound as 'sonic' as the first one did. Maybe it's as plain and simple as the songs weren't as good. I think we were about half baked. When I think about half of that record, the songs “Angel 'N' U”, “Best Of Friends”, “Gimme No Lip”, “Gunfighter” and “Line 'Em Up” are great. But I also think that there are a handful of other songs that just weren't ready. They're kind of half-baked. You could also start blaming other thing, too like the climate and the timing. We just weren't ready. There's all kinds of things you could say that all equal blunder. ...I think we weren't ready to make a new record. We were still on tour selling records based off of the first record. Basically, the call came in and we were told 'You guys got to go home and start writing and make a new record. I was like 'Didn't you just call us last week and say the numbers are kick ass and we're blowing units off the store shelves?' ...Whatever the fuck. It's the opposite of strike while the iron is hot in my book. It was like 'Hey, you guys are doing really well. Let's take you off the road so you make a new record now. It shouldn't take that long'. Fuck, you don't know how it's going to take to make a good record. You see the argument. A lot of people say that Pissed (1994) should've been our second record and I agree with them. We were all ready. Every song is killer.”
Todd: Is there a legitimate chance Dangerous Toys will release new music in the not-too-distant future? Regardless of the various semantics, there are many fans who would truly appreciate new music from the group.
Jason: “No. And I've been deemed the one with the worst attitude about that exact question, but I will explain myself. I'm not embarrassed by my answer, but it's a situation where it's too fucking bad that I have such a bad attitude about it. There is a contingency of Dangerous Toys fans that seem to be genuinely interested in hearing new material, but we don't have a budget because we don't have a record deal. This sounds shitty, but I wouldn't say that we don't have the energy to start a Kick Starter funded program. It's like 'Let's make our fans pay for our shitty new record that no one is going to buy', ya know? ...I'll make the best record that I can make, but you know what? It's not going to sound like a record I would make when I was twenty years old like “Teas'n, Pleas'n” and “Scared”. I'm not going to write songs about my dick. I'm a man now, ya know? You want to hear some fucking kick ass Rock 'n' Roll? I'm probably not going to write about doing drugs and fucking hoes. That's what's fun about the fantasy when you're young. You're writing about things and you're pushing the envelope of things that people your age or of a certain age are either hung up on or thinking about doing. It's kind of the peer pressure thing, LEFT? ...When you're a young person, that's part of the party. That's part of the whole thing. It's being hung up. It's trying to get laid. You're not worried about getting a job and becoming a man. You're about 'I want to go out and be a dick and get as much pussy as I can and do stupid shit'. ...It was hard to see it differently back then, but you're young and then when you turn it around and you grow up, sooner or later you're like 'Okay, well, I need to be careful about what I write about now or do I?. Can I still be a responsible human being and write about shitty things? If I want to write about evil and shitty things, it's because the world is hung up on it. And really, that's why so many Rock 'n' Roll lyrics are on the darker side. ...It just is what it is.”
Todd: What are your current touring plans? Being that you're involved with so many different active groups, I would imagine performing live is still a major priority for you. Are you primarily 'fixated' on playing in Austin?
Jason: “I don't tour anymore. Dangerous Toys plays five times a year. That's not a tour. I'm also in a band called Evil United and we play four or five times a year. We would play more if it made sense to, but if it doesn't make sense to, then why? ...My band Broken Teeth has played twice this year so far. There's no revenue at all. ...If you're going to book a tour of a bunch of club shows with a band like Broken Teeth, Evil United or any other type of B or C level band, you'll be lucky if you break even. You'll be so lucky, really. You can spend money on promotion and you can spend money on getting a publicist to set up press for you, get ads for you and get airplay for you, but whether it happens or not, you're still having to pay someone to go do all of that for you. And it doesn't always mean the club is going to be packed and even if the club is packed, it doesn't mean that the money you're going to make is going to get you to the next town and give everybody in the group a hundred dollars that day. ...It's not going to happen. It doesn't work like that. I would rather work the really awesome day job that I have. It doesn't pay well, but it's a such an awesome job. I get to teach kids how to play Rock 'n' Roll.”
Todd: Teaching children to play Rock 'n' Roll? It seems like an entirely fitting alternative career option for you.
Jason: “Oh, my God. It's so fucking awesome. I'd rather do that a few hours a day four or five days a week. Of course, I still want to go out on the road and play a show every night, be creative and sing songs that I wrote in front of adoring crowds and fans and hard core fans. Whether there's five of them or five thousand of them, it doesn't matter to me. It's something I still really want to do. But the important thing is is I have to be responsible. I can't just go out there and then come back and get another job to pay off all the credit cards that pay for the tour which I made no money on. ...All of the things I've just said LEFT here, even with me being elated about my day job, fans don't want to hear. They don't want to hear any of that shit. They want me to say 'I play gigs all the time. It's great being a Rock star'. I don't have that answer for you because I'm telling the truth.”
Todd: At this point, how do you view your tenure in WatchTower? Overall, was it a positive age of your career?
Jason: “It's the legend that won't die. It's a record that people who like Progressive music feel changed the face of what was to become known as Progressive Metal. It's awesome to be able to say that I was a huge pioneer in that, but that's about all it is. That's the only accolade that I've gotten from it. It put my name on the map very early, made an impact and got the underground talking about who I am and what I do prior to Dangerous Toys, so... It was interesting when the Dangerous Toys stuff started coming out because people would call me 'the former WatchTower vocalist'. I'm like 'Where are they getting this shit from? They have to know. There's got to be some insight going on, LEFT?' ...I spent almost a decade of cutting my teeth as the singer in WatchTower, so I'm guessing that if someone graduated from fanzine to glossy Rock magazine and they were still interviewing artists, they would know. ...They would know who I am so they would be able to use all the WatchTower stuff.”
Todd: How did you make the transition from WatchTower to Dangerous Toys? While they are both obviously Metal bands, there are some significant stylistic differences between them. How did this transformation happen?
Jason: “When I was young, I start playing music by playing my favorite Rock 'n' Roll cover songs by AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Rush. Then, a few years later, when I was in my mid to late teens, late I hooked up with people who had taught themselves how to write songs on their own. But the songs that they were writing weren't straight-up Rock 'n' Roll songs. They had this crazy Jazz shit and that was the guys in WatchTower. I fell in with some very amazing virtuosos who were doing what they were doing without thinking about what they were doing. ...That's how it happened. Then, when that started to change, the original guitarist, Billy White jumped ship. He was replaced with the brutally amazing Ron Jarzombek (Blotted Science, Gordian Knot, Spastic Ink), but I was also beginning to moonlight a little. I was jamming with some other people and Dangerous Toys were one of them. They weren't called Dangerous Toys at the time, but that doesn't even matter. ...Six months into that, someone's watching us play at a festival in Austin and they offered us a Publishing deal. Suddenly, somebody from a Management company is calling and the Publishing company and the Management company are saying 'I can get you a major recording contract within ninety days. If I don't get you one within ninety days, it's null and void. You just go back to not having a deal. But if I do get you one, you have to sign with me'. It sounded like a good offer. This was when I was Dangerous Toys and I'd only been working with them for six months when it happened. It was Rock 'n' Roll music and we were having fun writing. I was never credited with writing anything in WatchTower. ...I never made a dime off of WatchTower.”
Todd: You never received any royalties from songwriting or sales? From the perspective of an outsider and novice, it seems entirely unfair that you wouldn't have benefited financially from your time working with them.
Jason: “I was cut out of being involved in any sort of Publishing even though I wrote all the melody lines. ...Someone told me years later that publishing is based on the lyrics and the melody lines. Well, I didn't write the lyrics, but I definitely wrote all the melody lines. That's an argument, but I don't like to argue. Not about that. I was lucky to be there and I knew it. I helped create the scene and helped people find out about WatchTower. I handled all of their fan mail up until I left seven or eight years later. Then (bassist and primary songwriter) Doug (Keyser) took over because he knew that he had to. I'll take some credit, but I won't take all of it. I refuse that. ...It was really hard for me to cut the umbilical cord from a band that I'd been in almost a decade that I helped nurture within the underground and then join a Pop Rock band. But then six months later, we got a fucking record deal, made a Gold record and ended up on MTV. It was fucked up, but that's how it happened. It was just fickle as shit. The music business is so crazy. I've been on the top of the mountain without a pot to piss in and I've been on the top of the mountain with everything you ever dreamed about. Now that I'm back on the ground with barely a pot to piss in, I've got all these great memories that are mine that no one can take away from me along with a couple of bowling trophies. It would've been great to have a super, life-long career and still be playing Rock 'n' Roll at seventy years of age. It really, really would be great to do be able to do that. I have always tried to never say never. But at the same time, I like to see my hand in front of my face these days.”
Todd: You've obviously been successful in maintaining your voice as you've aged. What, exactly, is the 'secret'? Do you do a lot of warm-ups and warm-downs to get yourself physically prepped for a full night of performing?
Jason: “Thank you. The idea of singing like that is to be able to sing like that every night. It's not 'I can only do that for about thirty minutes and then I'm toast'. What kind of shit is that? It's like being a basketball player and saying 'I can only run this fast for ten minutes and then the game is over'. You have to be breathing LEFT and doing it LEFT so you can keep some reeled in for tomorrow. You also have to use the energy correctly or you're going to wear yourself out. You have to be in pretty good shape or you're going to get winded. There's also truth in some of those sayings like 'Don't bite off more than you can chew'. Maybe that really high note doesn't have to be ten seconds long tonight, ya know? ...And don't be a dick, get fucked up and stay up all night. Be an adult about what it is you're actually doing on the road. Why would you sing like shit and give someone a crappy show? ...I think that some people can go all out and still give one hundred and fifty percent no matter what. I like to think that I give one hundred and fifty percent no matter what, but just very carefully. It's not screaming and yelling. Screaming and yelling hurts your throat. What happens when you go to a basketball game, a football game or your favorite concert and you stand up on your seat and sing every word at the top of your lungs for a couple of hours? You can't talk the next day at school or work. ...If you did that every night, you'd be a bad mother fucker. You'd be bullet proof and you wouldn't lose your voice anymore. That's kind of how it works. Next time you go to a concert, be careful about how hard and how loud you sing when you're standing on your chair. I guarantee you'll thank yourself later. You'll callous your vocal cords. ...That's how it all works.”
Todd: Do you view maintaining your voice as a part of 'growing up' and becoming an honest, responsible adult?
Jason: “I'm just trying to be responsible, man. I want to be a human being. I just don't want to be a swinging dick. I'm married now, man. Life is fragile. And it's not even the age, Todd. The things that are important to you when you're a teenager are not important to you when you're older. ...The tattoos that you got when you were twenty? You're not going to like them when you're fifty. It turns into that and there's no way to prepare for it. A year goes by and you're like 'Yeah, that was kind of stupid.' Then you do something else and you say 'Man, I'm glad I did that. Oh, I must've grown up. That was when I grew up'. You can pinpoint shit like that after a while.”
Demonstrations In Chaos (2002)
Vitamins And Crash Helmets Tour: Greatest Hits Live (1999)
The R*tist 4*merly Known As Dangerous Toys (1995)
Hellacious Acres (1991)
Dangerous Toys (1989)
Energetic Disassembly (1985)
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