HOUSE OF LORDS – Definitive and Indestructible
Melodic hard rock has seen its share of plateaus and plummets in terms of popularity. The heydays were during MTV’s reign of power when the almighty video channel could deliver the latest music coast to coast in the 1980’s. Following their desire to switch to a more alternative rock driven format in the 1990’s, these same acts that would gain gold and platinum record sales and sold out arena tours would now struggle to fill small night clubs or even gain a solid record deal. Caught in the crossfire a number of bands didn’t survive, and had to find alternate means to make a living.
House of Lords would be one of those bands that made quite an impression out of the gate with their self-titled album and "I Wanna Be Loved" video. Two albums later by "Demons Down", the record label pulled the plug on any sort of wide spread promotion, thanks to the Seattle scene music explosion. Vocalist James Christian didn’t let this deter him though – assembling a new lineup in the 2000’s and consistently releasing new product that falls in line with the style they’ve become known for through the years. "Indestructible" is their 10th studio album, and reminds me a lot of the classic hard rock I grew up on- along with rich vocal harmonies and hooks that stay with you forever.
Reaching out to James via Skype, we would have a great half-hour discussion of the band, his personal journey up the ranks, as well as where he sees the future of this style. A fascinating and entertaining chat for sure.
Can you tell us about your own musical journey as far as first initial memories of music that captured your interest as a child and how you made the move up the ranks to become a singer?
"Wow, that’s pretty deep! I guess it all started when I saw The Beatles for the first time, which goes to show you how far I go back. I just had an amazing revelation when I saw that, (that) that is what I wanted to do. I wasn’t really sure if it was something that I had the talent to do, but it was a direction I wanted to try. I took guitar lessons from there, no vocal lessons. I sang with my guitar, by the time I reached 8th grade I was in a local band called Silverline. I’ve always been in a rock band since that time- high school groups, night clubs, show bands, all the way up to when I was 18 and playing the night club circuit in Connecticut, which was very healthy at the time because the drinking age was 18 so there were millions of clubs to play in. I learned my craft, learned how to do multiple nights and be a performer. Songwriting came to me as we were playing the clubs, until I reached a point where I moved to Los Angeles and decided to audition for Gene Simmons for a group he was putting together called House of Lords that would be my first step into the big leagues. Everything prior to that you could say was my schooling, my dues that had to be paid."
So would you say the club scene shaped and molded your vocal delivery instead of any formal training?
"I never did take any lessons- not that I am opposed to it, it’s important for people to have lessons. I worked so much in the night clubs and I felt that I had it together in that way. In today’s era, I would have preferred to have the lessons just so I wouldn’t have put as much wear and tear on my vocal chords. I sing on pretty much ten all the time when I sing."
"Indestructible" is the latest House of Lords studio album. How much work and pre-planning goes into all aspects of the recording and songwriting process for the band? Are there any special surprises or challenges that came up this particular go around, or were things relatively smooth?
"This was extremely smooth, as it has been for the last couple of records with the band. The process… I have to have a track to be able to start anything. Once I get a track I like, and I mean I really love- because I have to start out loving the very first thing that I do. Jimi (Bell- guitar) had sent me a couple of killer tracks- one of them being the title song "Indestructible". Once I got that in my head, the production end of it- I knew I wanted something more aggressive than anything we’ve ever done, and from that point everything took on that form. I wanted a high energy and aggressive record, but with a few ballads, mostly up-tempo stuff."
I’d like to discuss your thoughts on some of my favorite tracks of the record- "Pillar of Salt", "100 MPH" and "Eye of the Storm"…
"Awesome… well "Pillar of Salt", I don’t know if you are a Biblical guy, the story of Sodom of Gomorrah… Gomorrah was turned into a pillar of salt at the city of Babylon. So if you look back at what you do… she was told not to look back or she would be turned into that pillar of salt. We used that as a love song meaning don’t look back on our relationships because we all make our own pillars of salt- bad things can happen. The musically content comes from Jimi writing an absolutely beautiful track as far as chord progressions and where the song was going- I heard Led Zeppelin when I heard that song, sort of a Zeppelin meets Deep Purple type of song. "100 MPH" – I thought the track alone stood as a great instrumental, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with verses or choruses, but I wanted the title to have something to do with speed. I didn’t know why… I guess it came from Sammy Hagar "I Can’t Drive 55". The song had so much drive, I could picture myself speeding down the highway listening to it, so thus "100 MPH", even though it had no lyric or melody. Your whole life catching up with you and the desire to move ahead of it, that’s what that one is about. "Eye of the Storm" was something that I composed on my own. I wrote the guitar riff, melodies, I played the rhythm guitars on that song. The "Eye of the Storm" lyric was just something that I was listening to it… she is the person that catches you when you fall, that was the actual hook line of the song."
Do you find personally particular times of the day or situations work best when it comes to writing new material – and is it helpful to be married to another stellar singer in Robin Beck to bounce ideas/ concerns off if you are feeling stuck?
"It’s absolutely great to have Robin involved in everything because she does most of the background, top part harmonies and having that kind of register with me underneath her and in the middle creates a great harmony base. She is very good with listening to my ideas and telling me when something really sucks or is really on the money. I don’t usually go to her though until an idea is completely done- the whole writing with the melody, the arrangement, because sometimes people don’t hear things the way I would hear them unless they are fully developed. I can listen to a guitar and vocal with bad production or a bad singer and know if it’s a good song or not. I don’t know if everyone else can do that, so I stay on the safe side and wait until I am done with what I have before I show people ideas. Late at night- I work best from 7pm until 1-2 in the morning. I think that’s because we have a child at home, Robin is in the home, I work from my home studio and there are distractions during the day. At night time when people are winding down, that leaves me the time to have a glass of wine and open up the senses to see what I’ve got."
At this point how do you feel about the support of the melodic hard rock/AOR oriented genres in North America in comparison to Europe and other parts of the world? Has the internet and its promotional /social media power swayed things in your favor when for many years in the early to mid-90’s most things melodic in major media took a swift down turn?
"Oh yeah- and that down turn is still down, big time. But in Europe it’s recovered quite a bit. It’s not where it used to be obviously, and in the US it’s nowhere near where it used to be. There are a few festivals now like the M3 Festival in Maryland, a festival we are doing next year, and a few other shows like the Whiskey in California that we are doing in September, there are still places where melodic rock, (the fans) have a need for it. The US suffered the biggest hit, people moved on and people are not forgiving here. Whereas in Europe, if you are a fan, usually you are a fan for life. If I was a young musician I probably would not be playing melodic rock, for House of Lords it was a lot easier because we had a track record and a history. So getting back on the bandwagon wasn’t hard, but there are a lot of younger bands who are discovering melodic rock and they are doing it very well, but they can’t breakthrough. How do you break through in a genre that is having trouble with even its biggest artists, Eclipse is one of the newer bands making an impression."
You’ve been with Frontiers Records for quite a while. What’s it like building a solid relationship with the staff and knowing that they are genuinely into the artists they sign for a long-term basis?
"They were fans of House of Lords before they signed it that was the first thing. They believe in the music that we do- the first couple of albums, we had to actually get each song approved, which I found very strange. In the early days when we were getting half a million dollar deals, we had more artistic control. For some reason on the first few Frontiers releases, it was songwriting that was hand-picked and they had to approve it. That changed after the second record, because I needed to have creative input in a way that doesn’t hinder us from expressing ourselves a little bit more. Since 2006 they’ve been behind us, and they have never faulted- they always renew us for at least two records, and they could do it one by one but they are confident that we are going to deliver for them, and as a result we are really happy."
The current lineup of House of Lords has been together now for a decade – how important is band chemistry in terms of sustaining longevity in your eyes?
"This is the first time I have experienced longevity at this level. House of Lords changed members in the early days every album, there were new musicians or different members. When this band got together, the members that I hired were actually fans of House of Lords before they became members. They knew what they were getting into, they knew the material and stuff I was writing. When we write we write from the same place, and no one is stifling anyone- if somebody has a great idea, use it. Doesn’t matter who it is."
What would you consider the most underrated House of Lords record in your catalog that you hope people would go back to for discovery and impact sake?
" "Demons Down". Hands down and by far one of the most creative records. One of those times in your life when you just seem to have gotten everything right. With producers, the members that we had, people that we used – we used the L.A. Philharmonic orchestra, Randy Waldman who is a conductor of Madonna. We used Tim Pierce, the number one studio guy in L.A. And it’s still considered right now one of the best records that we’ve ever done."
Where do you view the differences between the studio and live performance at this stage in your career?
"Because you can’t go into million dollar studios to do your records these days, and luckily technology has advanced so much that we are able to do great things in home studios, you are not able to spend as much time in a studio environment to embellish the way you would in the past. You get a more rawer form of the music- it’s still produced well, it still sounds great on the radio, but you don’t have to invest as much time in the studio which leaves you a lot more time to perform this stuff live. The live stuff can sound much closer to the studio material now as a result. I prefer live performances, I spent my life in clubs to climb up the ladder, playing in front of 10 people, 100 people, a 1,000 people – it didn’t matter. This was a great learning ground for me to test my ability to work with an audience. When we were opening up for The Scorpions and Ozzy Osbourne with House of Lords, it was a no brainer to me, I was prepared and ready for it."
You have a daughter who is also involving herself in the entertainment industry. Have you observed the difficulties in establishing yourself today with the fast paced world we seem to be living in compared to the times you built House of Lords in the 1980’s? Does it worry you long term in establishing credible headlining successors for rock’s future?
"I tell you, Olivia’s career path is completely different than Robin’s and mine. Olivia is into a musical theater, she’s a musical theater major at Penn State University. Also, she is managed now by the people that manage Zac Efron in Hollywood, and a couple of other major artists. Olivia is only 17 years old, and has more high visible management and creative teams than I ever had at 17. I was never even close to signing a record deal at her age. She is up for 3 movies already, so her career path is so different than ours. Is it easier? I don’t know- because I’ve never been involved in the musical theater end, I just know that having all the things she has, I don’t think she even realizes how amazing this is. I don’t think this is that way for everybody. What does she have to gauge things against? She just keeps doing what she does and people keep responding. Hopefully it will continue that way. In my life, it’s a whole different genre. Getting a record deal was the number one thing- without that you could go nowhere. There are many more outlets for a musical theater performer.
(Rock music today) hasn’t found its footing yet- and I don’t know if it will. I think it’s going to be different in many ways. The 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were such an incredible time for what we did- the albums themselves, the writers like Elton John and James Taylor. I haven’t seen it recently, maybe an artist like Lorde, she’s pretty amazing."
Do you still keep in touch with the former members of House of Lords like Gregg, Ken, or Chuck?
"Yes, I do- I absolutely do. We are cordial, there was a little bitterness when the split happened. I decided to move on with different guys, and it wasn’t because of them not being capable, they are more than capable. It’s just that musical conflict wasn’t letting House of Lords continue on the path of the first three albums. And that’s what I wanted to do. We did an album together in 2005 called "The Power and the Myth", and that was pretty much the determining factor of the split having to happen. They wanted to be more like that album, I wanted to be more like "Sahara"."
What concerns do you have about the world we live in today and need to work on for a healthy future?
"I am a very political guy and sometimes I don’t like to reveal my political affiliation because then I would alienate 50% of my fan base. I am definitely up on all news and world events and I am very, very concerned about where we are right now. To the point where there are times where I don’t even want to travel because I just feel that we don’t have a handle on the dangers that we are facing. It’s probably why on the last three records I’ve always written at least one song in the political vein. I try to write something about the troops because I appreciate what they do for us and I also try to let people know that we live in a very dangerous world, and that people should be aware."
What was it like working with Gene Simmons in the early years of House of Lords- was he able to impart some special wisdom or advice that stuck with you?
"He really was my mentor, he did everything for me. In the beginning, I was the green horn in the group. Gregg Giuffria, Ken Mary, Chuck Wright – they were all in other bands before with Angel, Fifth Angel, and Quiet Riot. They all had experience- I had no experience with media, how to deal with them, how to answer questions, and how to be the person I was supposed to be. And Gene, took me on a promotional tour for 3 weeks. I went to Canada, Texas, and he basically mentored me and believed in me. I listened, I absorbed what he was telling me, and I became a better person."
What’s on the agenda for the rest of 2015 and early 2016 as far as House of Lords, touring, videos- any other recording / guest appearances we can look forward to down the road?
"Tomorrow I leave for a tour of Europe with Robin Beck, we are doing Norway, Spain, Sweden, Finland, and one other place. After that I come home and do a few dates in the south and over to Los Angeles, which will be a big show as I haven’t been back there since I left L.A. in the 1990’s. I think every former member of House of Lords will be there, along with the fans that used to come and see us. We go to Japan on October 10th to do Loud Park Festival, that will be a big show for us. We will finish up after that in Europe- Italy, Germany, Switzerland, we will try to be around everywhere."