LILLIAN AXE – Striving For A Better Tomorrow II/II
It’s not an easy going music industry in modern times. With thousands of choices at most people’s fingertips, gaining (and keeping) a music fan’s attention when a new release hits the streets or touring your part of the country can be a challenge to maintain. So imagine you’ve been releasing a series of critically acclaimed efforts, even from your late 80’s commercial hard rock beginnings- and yet you’ve not achieved the breakthrough you probably deserve while other bands with lesser songwriting skills or talent seem to ascend the ranks.
This is the story of Lillian Axe in a nutshell. Developing a sound that’s addictive, harmonious, and straddling the line between hard rock and heavy metal, this Louisiana band seem to live in what comedian Rodney Dangerfield was well noted for in his routines- ‘they can’t get no respect’. It’s 2012 and they have a new record deal with AFM Records in Europe (CME for North America). Their latest album "XI- The Days Before Tomorrow" possesses killer hooks, thought provoking lyrics and wonderful melodies from their newest singer Brian Jones.
Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with guitarist Steve Blaze while he was traveling on the streets of New Orleans. The hour long conversation proves to me his commitment for Lillian Axe is as high now as when he began in the mid 1980’s with the group- which is promising and should be a reminder to the younger generation that if you really want something, you need to put your heart and soul every day into the achievement of your dreams.
Do you believe it’s been beneficial for you to live in Louisiana, which may not necessarily be as well known for a hot bed in the hard rock community but keeps you away from say the trend hopping that occurs in a New York or Los Angeles music scene?
"I think that was something that hurt us in the beginning in a certain way. We came out on the tail end of the glam scene, when Motley Crue and Poison were peaking. We were coming from Louisiana where anyone ever thought about was blues and R+ B music. It kept us from lumped into that, but it kept us out of the cliquey brotherhood. Now- to this day, until we got inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame last year, we always felt that the city of New Orleans did not give us or any rock bands the attention and respect that they deserve. The bands… Zebra is a fine example, I’ve been seeing them play out since I was a kid in grammar school- they finally got inducted three months after we did. You wouldn’t see us or Zebra on the cover of local magazines but you would see a 95 year old blues guitar player who put out his own record and sold 200 copies would be on there. It’s been a sore spot with me. Crowbar is from here, Down- there are a handful of hard rock bands, next to Zebra we’ve been around the longest. Zebra turned everyone on to Led Zeppelin, David Bowie and stuff like that. Then we came out and we brought metal to the city- as a cover band we did unusual songs, we dressed different- we got put on some shows opening for Ratt and Poison back in the 80’s and that’s how we got signed."
Have you heard from your original singer Johnny Vines and how often do you keep in touch with some of the ex-Lillian Axe members through the years?
"When we first started with Johnny Vines, Michael Darby, and Danny King- we were together for four years… and what happened is we were together up into 1987. I was approached by MCA and they signed me to the label, but they wanted to sign me and not the other band members. It was a difficult decision for me to leave and pursue the record deal- after 22 years I’m reunited with all three members. Danny as you know stayed with me for the first two Lillian Axe records. We have a new project and a new album coming out, the band is called Circle Of Life and it’s coming out in April. The album is called "Rebirth" and it’s an album of songs that I had written back in the early Lillian Axe days that still have held out well. So I’m excited about that. I don’t know if AFM will put it out, but we are going to present it to them soon. CME will put out in the United States. We healed the old wounds and got back together- we are older and wiser and it just clicked. We may do a few shows as well. Lillian will always be my priority, but we are going to release this album and it’s really good."
What do you think sets apart your following in Europe and the Far East compared to North America? Do you believe that certain parts of the world connect with music on a deeper level than others?
"It’s kind of weird, because I can only view that from inside my head. I think in the United States we are so spoiled, we have easy access to everything we need on a sensational level. If I want to find out what colored jacket Gene Simmons is wearing, I can go on the internet and find it out. There’s no mystery to it. We’ve become desensitized, you can download an album instantly when a band puts their heart and soul into the release. It’s more than just music, it’s artwork, the whole package- but for someone to go on Itunes and download it for 99 cents a tune, it gets treated cheaply. You go to see live shows, I saw Def Leppard recently and there were only 3-4,000 people in a 10,000 seat arena. I don’t get it. Judas Priest I saw in a 2,000 seater, they should be doing at least 10,000 a night. Every time I’ve gone over to Europe, people will travel for days to see you play at multiple shows. They actually appreciate you. The one time we went to Japan we went to the Hard Rock café and we had 100-150 girls screaming at us. They are fanatical , they were crying and shaking to meet us. It rattled their soul. For the internet everyone has an opinion where they feel it’s valid and they can say whatever they want. It’s opened up a lot of negativity, and I don’t think certain people deserve that privilege because they just don’t get my music. I know I’m not the only musician who feels this way. In the USA people think their opinions are so important- why can’t people appreciate the fact that we have freedom that other countries don’t have. In other parts of the world they don’t have the exact abilities that we do. We have amazing opportunities and we end up being a bunch of whiny brats. I don’t think anything will change it- it’s a cultural thing. I love going to other countries, they give us gifts and appreciate the music."
You’ve been severely underrated through the years- probably because your hard rock style has more musicality behind the performance and songwriting aspect, similar to other American acts who haven’t gotten their just due like King’s X and Saigon Kick. Do you think the difficulty lies in capturing the full essence of what Lillian Axe is all about- because your faithful following certainly adores all the recordings from your early efforts to now…
"Those are the two bands that over the years that I mention in the same bands as us that people felt were in the same boat as we were. Those are two of my favorite bands period, they are both great. I wish I knew the reasons why we haven’t gotten our just due. It’s not from lack of anything other than trying. I’m friends with Ty Tabor of King’s X, he mastered our album and we are good friends. That is the million dollar question right there. Commercial success… there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have it. The journey is worth it if it ends tomorrow. I’ve met a lot of amazing people who have affected my life. The business side of things can be ugly, but I’m still alive to be able to doing this."
How would you describe your personality to others first meeting you? What do you believe are your personal strengths and an area of weakness that maybe you need to improve in the future?
"That’s a hard one for me to answer because I don’t see me the way other people may see me. I think I’m extremely sensitive to other people and I put other people ahead of me all the time. I think I’m impatient, but at other times I’m very patient. Bad drivers- I have no patience for that. I give guitar lessons and there are people that don’t practice that I am very patient. I respect everyone, I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, even when I’m getting screwed over by other people. I have no patience for rude people. I’m a hard worker, I have a two year old boy and my wife and they are the two most important people to me. I’m loyal to a fault. I have very strong religious beliefs, I try to do the right things in life. I like to give people optimistic hope, the tiniest things can change people’s lives. I don’t write anything that I don’t believe in. I feel I have a responsibility to be honest. On the bad side of things, I need to learn more how to be patient with people. My mom says I need to rest more too."
What are Lillian Axe shows like today? Are you seeing multiple generations of people now that you’ve been around the scene for so many years- including teenagers who weren’t even born during the "Show A Little Love" or "Dream Of A Lifetime" video eras of the band? Also, how do you balance out the set list between fans who want to hear the early hits and satisfying yourselves with playing the newer album tracks?
"Absolutely. Our singer was like that, he saw us 50-60 times with his dad. I like seeing little teenage metal heads that show up with the Slayer shirts on, they know who we are but they have no idea what to expect. A lot of them thought we would be more like Ratt or Motley Crue, and then they come away astounded. It’s a great feeling, we have a mix of people who have seen us for 20+ years and then newer people. Music is timeless, it transcends everything. If it’s a great song, it’s a great song. We have so many records we can do a history of the band- it’s tough to do a setlist. We do an acoustic medley of eight of our ballads, the fans love that. When you have a lot of material, you find the ones people really like- the ones that are much better live. At the end of the day you do a two hour set and you find there are 30 other songs that you want to play, it’s cool but it can be disappointing to have a time restraint on how long you can play."
Are you upset by the NBA’s handling of the Chris Paul trade to the LA Clippers? It seems like the chances of the Hornets staying in New Orleans may be fading fast if they don’t get a strong team to field this season…
"I heard about that trade… I’ve been playing for 12 years in a New Orleans basketball league. I love playing it, I don’t follow the NBA until the finals. I’ll watch football all day, love the Saints. There is so much b.s. with the Hornets- professional sports is so much about the money it takes the coolness away from the game. A lot of the athletes are too spoiled, then you see athletes like Drew Brees or Tim Tebow, they are class acts. The people who get arrested, that’s just stupid. I have been taking martial arts, I’ve done that for 15 years, I love playing sports but I am not one that knows every stat of their favorite professional players."