By: Jesse James Mazzoccoli
Celebrating the release of their tenth record, Lillian Axe guitarist and song writer Steve Blaze has a lot to talk about. Although he could have bragged himself to the high heavens with the recent news surrounding his band and himself, he was extraordinarily humble when describing their latest achievements.
Deep Red Shadows is made up of new material from Lillian Axe and older songs from previous albums that have been “acousticified.” The first single, “47 Ways to Die,” which firmly grips mankind’s fascination with destroying itself, was produced and mixed by the world-renowned Sylvia Massey. If that’s not enough, Lillian Axe recently welcomed aboard to their permanent lineup Ronny Munroe, formerly of Metal Church, to front the band. This is definitely going to be a great year for Lillian Axe.
Lillian Axe was also recently inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, being the first hard rock band to share this honor with the likes of legends Louis Armstrong, Buddy Guy, Little Richard, and the list goes on like a cymbal-crashin’ rodent!
Blaze is also involved in several other projects, including the band Near Life Experience, with his brother Craig, who was the long-time drummer of the almighty Black Label Society.
With so much going on, Blaze puts family first. He has admittedly become quite the “juggler” of tasks and projects, and testifies that it’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.
Jesse James: How many projects do you have going on right now?
Steve Blaze: Actually, the top priority has always been Lillian [Axe]. The thing with Angel came about ten or eleven years ago, but that’s pretty much seldom done, and I don’t know if we’ll ever even do it again. Frank, the original singer, he and the original drummer are together. They’ve kinda really burnt out on the music industry. You know how the industry can be, sometimes they don’t care about you unless you’re like a week old. [Laughs]
My other band, Near Life Experience, has a new record in the can right now, but there’s no big rush on that because, hopefully, if this album does well for the new label, we’ll put the NLE album on the label, as well. Lillian’s always been my first priority.
Jesse: OK, so you just started to answer my next question. [Laughs] So with Lillian being number one, where does everything else fall in the hierarchy of importance? Is everything else a close second?
Steve Blaze: Yeah, I always try to fit everything in. I have offers to go out with different acts, and if I have the time I go do it. If not, ya know, a lot of those things, people want you to come out and play for them and sometimes it all just falls apart in the end. That happened to me with W.A.S.P., Sebastian Bach, and Lita Ford. They call and want me to go out as a hired gun with them and as we start gettin’ into it, it crumbles for whatever reason. You take those things with a grain of salt.
And I’ve got a new baby boy. He’s a year and two months old, so my time is very meticulously looked at before I commit to doing anything.
Jesse: What’s his name?
Steve Blaze: His name is Jude. Yeah, he’s the best.
Jesse: And even before you had kids, time management was important. You even declined a spot in Jim Dandy’s band. How much does time management affect your decisions?
Steve Blaze: Every time you get the opportunity to play with somebody, especially somebody with notable talent that you respect; it’s a tough decision to make. But there are so many other situations that you have to sit back and look at.
Some of the situations like this that came up looked like they were gonna actually happen, I wound up at the end feeling like it was a blessing that it didn’t happen, because if I would have been with this particular band, I would have had to spend three months with them in Russia, and come to find out these are the types of people I don’t wanna be associated with [Laughs].
You have to be careful about things like that. I’ve always made pretty good decisions concerning these things, but I think God watches out for me. Sometimes, things that I got really disappointed over when they fell through were really a blessing when it did, because if I would have gotten involved in them they would’ve been bad for me.
Jesse: How do you maintain so many irons on the fire with a baby at home?
Steve Blaze: Ya know, that’s tough, but the new born comes first, and I own my own compan, too, so I spend five days a week when I’m not on the road in an office running a company with my partners.
I also do a lot of band business, but the second I get outta there I’m home with the baby. I’ve had to cut out a lot of the extracurricular stuff [Laughs], but I do have a studio at the house so when I go to demo and write I take him [Jude] out to the studio. Now he’s getting to the point where he wants to play with everything, so I gotta be careful. He’ll be changing and turning knobs every five seconds if I let him [Laughs].
You pick your moments. And when you’re free and not doing an interview or writing a song or in the studio doing something of that nature, you’re right there with the baby and the wife. You gotta make it happen. Everybody always accuses me of never getting any sleep or taking it easy or never resting enough. Man, I ain’t got time for that.
Jesse: I know, I get the same thing. We can sleep when we’re dead.
Steve Blaze: Yeah, exactly. Ya know what, that’s what keeps us alive and keeps us fresh and motivated. People that sit stagnate with no motivation or incentive kinda dry up. I can’t have that happen here.
Jesse: I read somewhere that the big question is “When’s Lillian gonna get there big break?” And personally, I think you have had great success. I mean, you didn’t sell as many albums as Metallica did last year, but have you checked out the comments on your YouTube videos?
Steve Blaze: Yeah, I do.
Jesse: Man, you guys have so many fans talking you up. I think that’s a success in itself.
Steve Blaze: Thanks, man. And that’s another thing, to me, success is relative, and we’ve had great success to be around 22 years and putting out our tenth album. And the fans and stories and dedication, it’s success at a commercially lesser level than I feel we deserve or than I’d like, and that really stems from just wanting to continue to do it.
A lot of people don’t understand that bands just don’t wanna sit back and have this lavish life style and make billions of dollars and live it up. No, it’s because they wanna be able to do things like pay back their record company, tour, make another record, be able to give 100 percent at their shows. Some people don’t understand the expense just in touring and the way the live scene is now.
If you don’t have tour support, you’re screwed. I’d like to have the commercial success so that we’re ensured that we’re gonna be able to continue to do everything we wanna do musically. That’s a big, big, big ‘if’ there, because if you don’t sell enough records and your label doesn’t have enough money, you don’t get to do another record.
Those things are important, but you’re absolutely right, success is relative and we’ve been successful on many different levels, and that’s been a major fuel behind our fire. We’ve got people that really get it out there. Now let’s get more people to get it. That’s the goal here.
Jesse: I saw hundreds of comments on your YouTube videos about how ‘badass’ this band is and even the noobies are asking, ‘How come I’ve never heard of these guys before now?’
Steve Blaze: [Laughing] Right, exactly.
Jesse: So you’re working with Ronny Munroe from Metal Church…
Steve Blaze: Yes, Ronnie starts with Lillian Axe in August. We’re going to rehearse on Aug. 2nd, then we go to New York to B. B. King’s, and then we rehearse. And it looks like in September they’re talking about sending us to do a co-headline jaunt coast to coast.
Jesse: So Derrick will be doing vocals on the new record, not Ronny?
Steve Blaze: Yeah, Derrick informed us about leaving about a week before he started recording his vocals. It was kind of an unexpected move. He wanted to do sporadic shows and weekend warrior-type stuff, and it can’t be done, it’s impossible. He wanted to stay close to home. We gave him the opportunity for weeks and weeks to make sure he was making the right decision and to think about it.
It was very amicable. We were upset, but not mad. Sometimes we have to honor someone’s situation; some people just get burnt out. And we’ve been fortunate enough to immediately get things worked out with Ronny. He’s a great singer and individual, so we’re really looking forward to it.
I don’t let obstacles bring me down. Nothing knocks me down. It was a big obstacle to overcome, but the band and organization stood up and said, “Alright, look, here we go again, another obstacle,” and we don’t lie down. We go eat it and we get better. So that’s what we did.
Jesse: And the type of performer Ronny is, I think you guys are gonna be just fine…
Steve Blaze: Oh yeah. I’m excited about it to be honest with you.
Jesse: Oh, and congrats for getting inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
Steve Blaze: Thank you, yeah that was an unexpected surprise. We’re very, very happy about that. That came out of the blue, but being the first hard rock band inducted with all of those other legends is like ‘Wow.’
This is one of those moments that no matter what you go through in your career, good, bad, and ugly, it’s a kind of vindication, and no one can take that away from you. It’s solid, it’s in the history books, and it’s a great honor. So we’re very humble and appreciative of that, and we will wear it like a badge [Laughs].
Jesse: Cool, Steve. And regarding the new album, you said it’s got a ‘fresh outlook with the same approach.’ How’s it gonna differ from the previous nine albums?
Steve Blaze: I think that the more that we record, each album is an evolution for us. We’re not a band that’s had a signature sound that we’ve stuck to, with the exact same formula a la ACDC, which is a wonderful thing because nobody will ever be another ACDC, but we haven’t have a signature guitar or drum sound; we have more of a signature vibe.
We evolve in the writing of every record; I do 99 percent of it, and I change all the time. But we still sound like Lillian, and whether it’s because of the melodic changes, the guitars, or the harmonies, you hear us. And it’s gotten to the point that since we have so many records out there, we sound like Lillian, and we’re not compared to other bands. People always say, ‘You sound like Lillian Axe,’ and man, that’s a great honor right there.
We just get more comfortable in the studio, and we start to do more things sporadically and differently than we would have done in the past. I feel more and more open to do so much more mentally that we’ve ever done before.
I also wanted to tell you about a book coming out called Guitarsonists written by Matt Touchard. It’s coming out later this year, I believe. It’s stories from 40 different guitar players, and I’m honored to be one of them. Myself, Les Paul, Eric Johnson, Randy Jackson, Johnny Winter, Jennifer Batten, guitarists from all different genres and it’s all about love of the guitar.
It’s not about gear or equipment or anything like that, just the love of the guitar. Each artist has like 10 full-color pages and it’s a big, coffee table-type book the size of an LP, and it’s beautiful. I was honored to be a part of it. Les Paul wrote the forward to it, one of the last things he did before he passed away. Keep an eye out for it. It’s gonna be a great book when it comes out.
Jesse: Absolutely, I will. I’ll have to put it on my desk because I don’t have a coffee table [Laughs]. Regarding the new album, what are we looking at for the subject matter of the songs?
Steve Blaze: It started off as kind of homage to vampire mythology and romanticism. I write a lot about love, life, death, emotional things. One side of me is really melancholy, and the other side is very majestic.
There are four songs that are very heavy, and for the lack of a better word, dynamic. They’re kinda like a rollercoaster ride, and the themes are about immortality…one song is about the physical and emotional transformation of a vampire. Another song, “47 Ways To Die,” is about how man constantly finds new ways to hurt himself and kill himself as greed takes over.
And then we did four brand new songs with the main theme being bloodlust and the lifeline of blood in vampires and immortality, and we did four older songs all acoustically that are tracks from other records, and a new acoustic instrumental.
So we’ve got a heavy and acoustic mix, kind of light and dark. The acoustic tracks were supposed to be bonus tracks, but they wound up turning out so well that we said, ‘This isn’t an EP anymore, it’s an LP.’ It had this really nice continuity to it.
It’s half brand new and half new acoustic versions of older songs, and it has a really nice flow to it. I think a lot of people are gonna dig it. A lot of people are saying that this is our best record.
We were fortunate enough to have Sylvia Massey mix “47 Ways to Die.” Sylvia is a well-know producer and engineer who has worked with Jonny Cash, Prince, The Deftones, System of a Down, Tool, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Black Crows, you name it.
She loved the song, and we asked if she’s be involved and she said she would and she mixed the song, did some edits on it, and it came out great. We’re trying to get her to produce the next record with me next year.
Jesse: Let’s talk about Near Life Experience…so you’re the front man?
Steve Blaze: Yeah, I had the urge to do vocals in a 4-piece band: two guitars, bass, and we started off with my brother Craig, who was the drummer for Black Label Society for 10 or 11 years. He just resigned about four months ago. He’s a phenomenal drummer. He’s out there right now just hangin’ with his family, but someone’s probably gonna snatch him up quickly [Laughs].
He’s still in NLE with me. We put out a few albums independently since 1996, but I’ve always had Lillian going, even when we broke up for a couple of years. NLE has a new album in the can already, so I think with the success of this new Lillian record we’ll probably remix and release the new record this year sometime.
Jesse: And you did some work on a Metallica tribute album, right?
Steve Blaze: Yeah, that was just me. I sang “Master of Puppets” on that.
Jesse: Who was the backline for you on that?
Steve Blaze: I don’t know. It was a band out of Texas. I think they had one band that did all of the music for that. “None Blacker,” I think it was called. Usually I’m asked to come in and do the guitar parts, but they asked me to do vocals on this. It turned out better than I expected it to.
Jesse: What other instruments do you play besides guitar and vocals?
Steve Blaze: I’ve been playing the guitar since I was six, so that’s just like another part of my anatomy. I play bass, but I play bass like a bass player and not like guitar player playing bass, which takes a lot of studying.
I dabble enough on keys to be able to play, but if we need something more intricate we’ll hire somebody. I can program the hell out of a drum machine, but get me behind them, it’s comedic.
Jesse: When people ask me if I can play drums, I tell them that I’m a guitar player, we all think we can. [Both Laugh]. And on your website, you have the “Create Your Own Song” feature. What’s that all about?
Steve Blaze: Well, there’s a lot of people out there that wanna be able to write songs, right? But don’t really have the innate talent to do it. They might have lyrics, but don’t play an instrument, and they wanna dedicate a song to someone they care about like parents, child, sibling, significant other or whatnot.
And they might have ideas, but can’t make it what they’re wishin’, so I decided it would be interesting to have people work with me with whatever ideas they have, even if they’re very primitive, and be able to write, arrange, record and produce a song for them. It will be their song written specifically for their individual.
And in the end, I’d be doing the bulk of the writing on it, but I split the royalties 50/50 with them. So not only do they own a song, but possibly, if it ever got re-recorded, they can make some money on it as well. They pay me one flat fee, and I do the work from there. It’s a lot of work, as you can imagine. It’s not cheap, but it’s not ridiculous.
Jesse: You are quite the entrepreneur…
Steve Blaze: [Laughs] Yeah, man, thanks. This other project I have going on is a completely instrumental guitars and keys lullaby record. There’s a huge market for that. Everybody’s got kids or grandkids. Actually, I would listen to it myself because I’m a huge fan of children’s lullabies.
I’m using about 15 songs that are public domain, so I don’t have to deal with writers and getting permission. You know, like “Twinkle, Twinkle” and “Rock-a-bye Baby”, the real pretty ones, and I’m gonna do an all acoustic and keyboard instrumental record for kids. I’m gonna name it after my son and put his picture on the cover.
Jesse: Cool, man. So do you have anything that you want to say, any burning desires?
Steve Blaze: We appreciate all the fans that have stuck with us for so long, and our way to pay them back is by continuing to improve and do better things every year. That’s one thing we’ve been able to do. We put out three albums in three years, so we’re working hard here, and we have a lot going on with Ronny gettin’ started, and we’ll be on the road hopefully all of this year. We look forward to seeing everybody out there.