In a time when the already much-maligned Heavy Metal genre is being almost continuously re-defined (let's face it; the artists and groups of our rapidly-fading youths aren't exactly getting any younger), many formerly-prominent acts that had, for various reasons, slipped from the limelight, are finding themselves at the center of intense, re-newed interest. Unfortunately, despite even the most sincere of intentions, many of such resurgences are often marred by dysfunctional line-ups, substandard releases--i.e. questionably-assembled Greatest Hits' or re-recorded Greatest Hits compilations--and poorly-executed touring. Fortunately, this is most definitely not the case with Cortland, New York-born icons The Rods. Recently, drummer Carl Canedy, always a man of so many words, was kind enough to speak with us regarding the release of the group's latest piece Brotherhood Of Metal.
Todd: Was any of the recording process for Brotherhood Of Metal (2019) different from your other new 'works'?
Carl: “(Vocalist/guitarist) David ('Rock' Feinstein) and I have been recording together for close to forty years now. I don't want to say we have it down, but we certainly have a way of working that we can get it done. We can do it. We're used to doing projects long distance, ya know? He'll come me here to my studio, I'll go there or he'll just go to another studio. That's how it works with us. It's definitely now different because the technology has changed. We do everything digitally now. The process now is that we get together and we play the songs in rehearsal. We get the tempos, ya know? Then, David usually comes to my studio and we do a click tracks. Once we know the tempo and we're really happy with that tempo, we lay down the click track and then the scratch guitar track. Then I play the drum until I think I have what's going to work. Once in a great while, we'll re-record something just because, once everything is done, I'll stop and go 'I should change that a little bit'. That's how we do it. And once I'm done with it, I hand it off and David gets to work with (bassist) Gary (Bordonaro).”
Todd: At this point in your career, how would you describe the songwriting hierarchy that exists between David and yourself? Am I correct in understanding you still write together and independently à la the group's ago past?
Carl: “David and I wrote “Brotherhood Of Metal”, then I wrote “1982”. Normally, I write probably a third or so of the material, but in this case, David had songs that he cranked out quickly. And I think our lyrics are certainly more mature than they used be. We're not writing about ladies and cars anymore. In the '80's, we were young and were like 'What's on my mind today?', ya know? But at the same time, we have a saying. It's facetious, but there's a certain truth to it. We say 'If the song has more than three chords or it takes more than five minutes to learn, it's not a good The Rods song. That's kind of the way it works because it's a three piece band and the song has to fit what we do live. The title Brotherhood Of Metal comes from when we first got back together. I was concerned because there are so many great young drummers out there. I was like 'Well, you know what? I've got to know'. First of all, I don't play really a Thrash or Speed Metal style It's not that I can't play to a certain speed, but it's just not my thing. I was like 'I'm not going to try to compete', but by the same token, I was wondering 'Do I have anything to offer?'. It took a friend of mine saying 'You have your own style. Why would you worry about it? You just play what you play and that's it. You shouldn't be worried about that. You have a style and that's huge to have.' But then we started playing gigs again and all these really great drummers admired my playing as much as I admired theirs and there was camaraderie between the drummers and the other musicians.”
Todd: Once it was decided that the group was going to re-unite, were there any concerns regarding your futures?
Carl: “When we talked about it, my concern was that we were not a reasonable facsimile of what we once were. I've seen some bands that have gotten back together they're a tired version of what they once were. I admire the fact that they're back together and I admire that any band is out there performing, but for a band that is known for its energy... I didn't want everyone to be like 'Well, they used to have energy', ya know? I was concerned, but once we played the first song, it was clear that we were the same as we'd always been. Only now we have some more maturity, which makes it even better. And we also have a lot more finesse and we're definitely playing better. David and I have always worked that way. Of course Gary has always been the third piece of the puzzle.”
Todd: For lack of more succinct verbiage, how did you occupy yourself while the group was otherwise inactive?
Carl: “I was working as a Producer, David had bought a restaurant and Gary was out on tour with (Blues Rock legends) Savoy Brown. Everything just wound down. We really didn't break up, there just wasn't anything going on, so little by little, it wound up with us focusing on raising our kids, ya know? There just weren't any gigs that made sense for us financially, ya know? Of course at that time, there was no internet, so we had no idea about our popularity. We had a manager who told us 'Nobody gives a fuck about The Rods'. We were like 'Well, since nobody's knocking on the door, maybe that's true.' We had no idea we had fans around the world. We had no idea. Today, of course, with Social Media, it's a whole different world. But back then, you really didn't know. Once people from the internet started E-Mailing, I started answering them, which is how we started getting on festivals. People started asking if The Rods would come and play certain places and we were like 'Tell us where and we'll be there', ya know? That's how the whole festival thing started happening. It was because of our fans.”
Todd: What ultimately led you to realizing the group had a larger impact that you'd initially realized? Obviously, the internet led to a massive increase in coverages. Was it surprising to find so many fans waiting for the group?
Carl: “When we started going to these different venues and met all these fans with memorabilia they wanted signed. They knew us and were waiting there for us. That was when we started saying 'This is crazy'. It wasn't like we had our own Beatlemania. That's not what I'm trying to imply, but there were definitely fans out there and they were everywhere we went. That was so amazing to us. When we headlined at Muskelrock (på Tyrolen) in Sweden a few years ago, we we're standing there signing stuff, and these really young girls came up. They were in their early twenties at best. They were like' We love The Rods' and I'm like 'Okay, sing me a song of The Rods', thinking they would just go 'Oh, we don't really know any'. But they both spontaneously broke into “She's So Tight”, a song that I'm so sorry I ever wrote, even though I think it's kind of fun musically. ...They knew all the lyrics and the melody and sang until we're like 'Okay, okay. We believe you'. They knew the song, they sang it and they did as good a version of the song as it deserved or actually a better version than the song deserved. We were really blown away by the fact that there were these young fans who'd discovered our music.”
Todd: 'Circling back' to your work as a Producer, how did you become involved with Anthrax on Armed And Dangerous (EP, 1985) and Spreading The Disease (1985)? Were you able to provide the group with any insight?
Carl: “I'd always been involved in Production from early on. I'd always been interested in Engineering and had always had a knack for writing arrangements. When The Rods started and we didn't have a Producer, David and I worked together producing the album. On the first album, we had nobody, so I started doing some local things. I got into Production a little bit and at that point I'd done a few things, so I contacted (Megaforce Records co- founder) John (Zazula) to see what was going on with him. He sent me a band that turned out to be Anthrax. I ended up doing three different projects with Anthrax. ...I remember telling (drummer) Charlie (Benante) 'You're going to be a modern drummer guy. There are going to be so many drummers who love the way you play' because he was such a phenomenal drummer. They just had something, ya know? One of the things they had that I was impressed with was their overall focus. When they brought in (vocalist) Matt Fallon (Skid Row, Steel Fortune)...I hate to badmouth the guy, but he was young and all he was doing was partying. He wasn't paying attention at all. After a week of that, I said 'If you're going to make the leap to the major labels, you've got to change this. This singer is not going to take you there. This is just not the right guy'. They said 'Get Johnny on the phone', so I called Johnny and said 'John, Matt just isn't cutting it. He's not taking it seriously. He's not the guy.' And Johnny said 'Okay, put the band on the phone', so the band goes into the conference room and come back out five minutes later and were like 'John, put him on a bus' and that was it. These guys had the biggest balls in the world. They're in the middle of doing what was their most important recording and they fire the singer. To me, that just showed that they knew what it took to get there. Fortunately, I was able to locate (vocalist) Joey (Belladonna), bring him in and he ended up being the guy, but it was a ballsy move on their part. It proved to me that they were laser focused and it reminded me of myself when I was their age. They had this laser focus where they were like 'I want to practice every day. I want to make sure we get a record deal'. They wanted to do what was right and write the material. They were young and I really fought to make sure they were tight. They listened intently and caught on very quick. ...They're really bright guys and they're all very talented.”
Todd: Am I correct in understanding you are currently working on your second solo release? How are things progressing? Stylistically, will the material on the new effort differ from what you did with Headbanger (2014)?
Carl: “For me, that album was really about my songwriting. I figured everybody knew I was a drummer and that I could play the drums, so I wanted to have a collection showcasing my songs. I write a lot of material and a lot of the things on there aren't heavy, ya know? There's some really different styles of music on it. so I wanted to pull that collection together. It was really hard for me to Produce myself. I was shocked. I've recorded over forty albums and all of a sudden I was like 'Oh my God. What's going on here?'. I was really struggling. At one point, I wasn't sure about me even releasing it. I was working on the song “My Life, My Way”, and I was talking to (Anvil drummer) Rob Reiner and Rob said 'Go in', so I went and played the song and it just wasn't working. I tried it like three or four times and he said 'Just go and play what you're feeling' and it was the pep talk I needed. ...But I didn't want to do another solo project like that. I want to do a whole new thing with a band as opposed to just me doing it. Normally, when I'm working with an artist, I'm helping them by shaping their sound. In this case, when I looked around to see which direction I should go in, there wasn't anybody to my bounce ideas off.”
Todd: How did the recording line-up for the new material come together? Did you already have people in mind?
Carl: “In this case, it all fell together. I've played in an eight piece horn band here for the past twenty years, so when I'm not on the road with The Rods, I play with them. I also fill in with other bands when needed. I try to play as much as I can. The group's bass player is also a singer that comes from a Metal background. He did a lot of original material with the band Totally Lost Cause. They had asked me to do a TV show with them and then from there, we all started talking. The guys were great, the singer's fantastic. Then I did a Canedy tribute to The Godz and it turned out so well that we said 'We've got to keep it running'. You can find it on iTunes. ...We said 'Let's try to work on some material' and that's how it all came about. It was a very organic type thing, ya know?”
Todd: At what point was (former Black Sabbath and Rainbow bassist) Craig Gruber a member of the group? I was under the impression that once (original bassist) Steven Starmer exited the group, Gary immediately joined.
Carl: “Craig was actually in the group twice. Craig and I were very close friends. Craig had been in (the Ronnie James Dio-led) Elf after David had already been in the band, so we all knew each other. In fact, that's how I knew David from years ago. ...We rehearsed in a finished garage while Elf was in the house. I had known Craig from hanging around in Cortland where we all were and we had become good friends over the years. So then initially when The Rods started, we had done a showcase for (notorious Promoter) Cedric Kushner opening for Judas Priest. Cedric felt we needed to make a change in that we needed a different bass player. So Craig Gruber entered the picture. I called him and said 'Craig, we need some help here', so Craig joined The Rods for a period of time and did shows, but then got the call to join Black Sabbath through Ronnie and play on Heaven And Hell (1980). Ultimately, he came back, but while he was gone, he got some money and it was interesting. Then when we fast forward to the Heavier Than Thou (1986) album. Gary was on the road with Savoy Brown and not around to do the album. Craig and I were hanging out all the time, so it was perfect for him to get right back in.”
Todd: What type of set list have you been working with? Have they been a mix of classic and new material? I'm assuming there's a portion of the group's pre-Heavier Than Thou catalog that must be played at every new show.
Carl: “There are songs like “Crank It Up” (from Rock Hard, 1980) that we wind up doing some portion of, if nothing else. And there's also songs like “Hurricane” (from In The Raw, 1983) and “Power Lover”, ya know? There's certain songs that I think our fans expect and they also work well live, but we've also incorporated songs like “Evil In Me” that's on this album. We've opened with it for quite a while now and that also goes over very well. ...We have a lot of material, but our sets are usually short. If you're doing a festival, you might get a forty-five minute set, so you've had to condense it. Sometimes, we'll do a medley of songs toward the end of the set and string a few of the bigger songs together, but it's always a challenge. One of the things we were concerned with was making an album that we could play in its entirety and be comfortable really with it. We wanted to have it be very strong musically, and I think we can with this album. At some point I'd love to do a show just doing that. When we're doing regional shows where we headline then you can stretch out more, but most of the time, you want the maximum exposure and that's what leads you to do all the festivals instead of opening slots.”
Todd: Taking that, and everything else you have accomplished, into consideration, where do you feel The Rods stand within the history of Heavy Metal? Do you feel that you've been able to carve a particularly unique niche?
Carl: “That's a big question. I always felt that it was an interesting that we basically didn't hold a place. Early on, we did the Rock Hard album on my label Primal Records. We did a thousand copies, and I sent a 45 (single) of “Crank It Up” to a station in Rochester (New York) and when I called them a week later, they said “It sounds great on the radio.” We were shocked and thrilled. From there, it just took off. Suddenly, we had a record deal and we got a review in Sounds (magazine), which was the first review we ever had. ...They loved the album and said we were part of the NWOBHM sound. I had no clue what that was. I was like 'what the hell does that even mean?' And then they said we were the 'American Motörhead' and we we're like 'American Motörhead'? Is that a slag? Is that an insult or is it a compliment?' We had no idea because we didn't know who Motörhead was. At that point, we kind of figured it out, but it was the changing of the guard. Shortly thereafter, we did a couple more albums, but we never really didn't find a slot. But it was the changing of the guard. So many of my friends who are musicians who were and were playing The Rods style music didn't see the changing of the guard. They didn't get that it was changing and it changed quickly, so that left our music in a different place, ya know? Now, all these years later, I see people looking back at the different styles of Metal, including traditional Metal like The Rods are. I don't really know what place we hold. Some reviewers have said, and it's been nice to hear, that we've stayed true to our roots and haven't varied from it. I think the first album has a connection to Brotherhood Of Metal, so there's some truth to it. But where do we fit? ...I guess that's up to you and all the other journalists.”
Brotherhood Of Metal (2019)
Heavier Than Thou (1986)
Let Them Eat Metal (1984)
The Rods (Live) (1983)
In The Raw (1983)
Wild Dogs (1982)
Full Throttle (EP) (1981)
The Rods (1981)
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