By: Rob Cavuoto
Buckcherry will release their new CD, Confessions, on February 19th marking their sixth studio album.
The CD’s theme is based off the Seven Deadly Sins and brandishes groove-infested tracks, like “Greed”, “Envy”, “Lust”, and “Sloth”. The songs off Confessions go beyond the thunderous riff or the catchy hooks; each song is laced with intricate guitar fills and nuances that bring them to life.
Combine that with Josh’s personally intense lyrics and you have the making of a Buckcherry punch of masterful songwriting.
On the brink of disaster in 2002, Buckcherry seemed like they dive into a black hole. Through sheer perseverance Keith Nelson and Josh Todd lifted the band up from the ashes to be better, stronger than ever before, and relevant.
I had the pleasure of speaking with guitarist and founding member, Keith Nelson, about this comeback story, the importance of chemistry between him and guitarist Steve D. and gain insights into the writing of their most powerful and honest CD to date.
Robert: Tell me about the song writing process for Confessions, as compared to 15, Black Butterfly and All Night Long?
Keith Nelson: This CD was done the way we have done all of our previous CDs. We make demos then pick the songs apart. We’d make another demo and just work the songs until we compiled a whole body of work. The songs change a lot in the process. It allowed us to step back from the body of work and really look at what we have and what we thought was missing.
Robert: How has your songwriting evolved since the band’s early days?
Keith Nelson: In the early days, if we’d write a song and it wasn’t happening, we’d chuck the whole song. Now if we write a song that’s not happening, but we really like one part like a chorus or a verse or a great lyric, we’ll hang onto it and rework it from there. It’s more of a patient, methodical process, as opposed to taking the first 20 songs we write and picking the best 12 for the record.
Robert: I’m going put you on the spot and ask you how Confessions rates for you personally out of your six CDs.
Keith Nelson: You’re not putting me on the spot at all. It’s my favorite one so far for many reasons. There is a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes that people will never know about; personally and professionally that we’re dealing with while we’re recording the CD. It was a triumph for all of us working together and staying focused on the goal.
Josh chose to write lyrics about some intensely personal stuff. He tapped into it and turned it into songs. It’s actually pretty fucking awesome. I’m very proud when a band plays and gels together so well; that we’ve been together for four CDs and played thousands of shows together.
Robert: Is there any song on this CD that you’re particularly proud of?
Keith Nelson: There are a few that are like high water marks for me.
“Sloth” is about stuff Josh and I talked about but he never talked about publicly. He had the melody and a chorus and I wrote the music around that. The guitar solo was kind of a tradeoff. I’m really proud of that song.
I’m also really proud of “Pride” because it’s just so different from anything we’ve ever done. It started off with Jimmy Ashhurst coming over to my house and strumming a few chords. We put some music together and Josh took it and ran with it. Its probably one of my favorite songs on the CD.
Robert: When you guys are working on songs, how do you and Steve D. decide who’s going to take the solos?
Keith Nelson: I don’t really know. You never know who’s got a vibe for a solo. If I’m in an open G tuning, I’ll say, “That’s all you, buddy. Go for it.” We’ve never actually sit down and say, “I have five solos and you have four.” We’re such good friends and we have so much fun playing together that it’s pretty effortless.
Robert: Do you guys work out the leads prior to going into the recording studio or do you pretty much write them on the spot?
Keith Nelson: When were making live demos and recording there can be times when they’re right off the cuff. That’s usually where we start and then build that into something. We start here and want to get to the end over there so we connect the dots.
Robert: I want to talk a little bit about the chemistry between you and Steve D. It’s so critical with great rock bands like Aerosmith, Guns N’ Roses, and Buckcherry. Tell me about the importance of good chemistry in a two-guitar band and what you and Steve share?
Keith Nelson: It’s so important and really an art within the art of rock and roll. Keith Richards called it.” the ancient art of weaving”. You have to listen to your band. You can’t just plow straight ahead and do everything you want.
You’ve got to listen to what’s going on around you and know when to step back or step off.
I think part of what makes playing with Stevie so much fun is that we are such good friends and there’s a lot of mutual respect between the two of us.
He does things I can’t do and I do some things unique to what he does. Mutual respect, I think, is the key.
Robert: When you hear Buckcherry come on the radio you instantly recognize your signature sound, even before Josh’s voice kicks in. In your opinion what is that special sound that you guys have?
Keith Nelson: It’s kind of a cross-section of AC/DC, Sex Pistols, with maybe some Aerosmith and Rolling Stones. It’s a weird intersection where all those influences meet and kind of come out of the filter. A lot of times the musical ideas will come up first before the lyrical ideas, but not all the time.
With the writing process, I want to give Josh something that inspires him to say something really cool. The music has to inspire and make you want to move your ass a little bit or get a reaction. I think that’s why our music starts out with the signature idea around it.
Robert: Besides great riffs, your songs always have an infectious groove. Two songs off Confessions that I thought were really infectious are “Water” and “Nothing But Tears”. How do you balance riffs with grooves yet giving Josh what he needs?
Keith Nelson: Sometimes the songs start off as just big softball chords coupled with a great vocal melody. And we say, “We’ve got to make this music counterpoint and move a little bit more, in a way that works with the vocal.” That’s usually our goal. With the song “Gluttony”, the music just came out of me and I put it down. You want to respect the vocal, but you always want to respect the song. That’s the almighty that we all serve, at least in this outfit.
Robert: How many songs did you write for this CD?
Keith Nelson: We probably wrote maybe 25 to 30 songs. We always intended to make Confessions an 11-song record, but given the nature of the subject matter, limiting it to 11 songs wasn’t gonna get the complete thought across. That’s why we opted to put 13 songs on the record.
Robert: Do you consider Confessions to be a concept CD?
Keith Nelson: It definitely started out like that. It started out with Josh and I doing an EP about the Seven Deadly Sins. It evolved into Josh writing a story that went along with it and writing the songs from a character’s perspective. That is part of it, but I wouldn’t say it was a concept record because you definitely would have to get the concept to get the record. It was always our goal that if you just got the record and didn’t know anything about any back-story that it would still stand on its own. I believe that we accomplished that.
Robert: I read that you were developing a documentary that would coincide with the CD?
Keith Nelson: There is a screenplay that coexists alongside the record and ties it altogether. It has not been finished yet, but we are going to work on it in the future to get it completed.
Robert: On the song “Dreaming of You”, I envisioned you playing a Gretsch or a big Gibson hollow body. Was that the case?
Keith Nelson: Yeah that’s right! That was a Gretsch 6120 that I’ve used on many records. Usually not that clean though. That’s the guitar I use to get my Angus Young sound. It’s my old 6120, a Tweed 310 Bandmaster with an Echoplex.
I was going for something dreamy and different. The nice thing about owning your own studio and having a big collection of guitars and amps is that you can just experiment. I’ll have an idea of what I’m going for and what I think will get us there and it kind of works out that way.
Robert: Do you write and explore musical styles that you don’t release because you feel they aren’t right for Buckcherry fans?
Keith Nelson: No, we’ve never let ourselves be reigned in by that. We wrote that Christmas song, and it’s a really happy, poppy song. We were like, “Fuck it. It’s our song. We wrote it. Let’s put it out there. Holidays are about feeling good.” I think a lot of people expected a Christmas song about strippers. That’s really only one facet of what we do. “Christmas is Here” is a good example of something that’s completely different. “All of Me” off the Black Butterfly record, same thing.
Robert: Can you define your signature guitar tone or sound, maybe a song that best represents you from the past or currently?
Keith Nelson: That’s pretty simple. A Les Paul into a Marshall. As far as the song goes, I think “Dirty Minds” or “Lit Up” and on and on. It kind of is what it is. It’s pretty much the same Les Paul into a Marshall on every record. [Both laughing]
Going for more simple than intricate. It’s not a high wire act. It’s about keeping it simple and memorable.
Robert: Buckcherry is a great comeback story. The band broke up in 2002, came back even stronger and more successful than before. Tell me a little bit about how you pulled it together?
Keith Nelson: Sheer brute force. We just did not take no for an answer. We got turned down by every record label, every manager in the business but one, every attorney in the business but one, so we went with that attorney and that manager and released the record ourselves.
This was really about having a conviction in what we were doing and not taking no for an answer. It’s really that simple.
We had no delusions of grandeur that we were gonna go out and be big pop stars. We just wanted to make our music.
Robert: I didn’t have the benefit of the liner notes for the CD and was curious to know if you produced or co-produced Confessions?
Keith Nelson: Yes. I co-produced it with Marti Frederiksen. We met Marti more as a co-writer for 15. When it came time to make the Black Butterfly record, my co-producers on that record weren’t available and I needed someone to be another set of eyes and ears. He was gracious enough to join us for that so we’ve done the last three records with him as my co-producer.
Robert: At what point did you begin to understand the term of ‘producer’ and why do you feel it’s worth it to make that extra effort and take on the extra work to produce your CDs?
Keith Nelson: I got a chance in earlier days of the band to work with a few producers. I noticed what they did and didn’t bring.
I was able to step away from the band and work in the recording studio and watch a couple of different producers work. It felt like that was something I could do. I had some very humble recording gear so I started writing songs and making demos.
When we got the band back together and there was very limited money, the idea of writing a big check for a producer to come in wasn’t an option. We didn’t have a budget for that.
I kind of put it to the guys to let me do two songs and if it worked, great. If it didn’t work, I’d never bring it up again.
I booked a studio, managed the budget and delivered the songs. The rest is history. I’m really grateful that they had enough faith in me to allow me to do that.
Robert: When we last spoke, you had mentioned that you wanted to produce other bands, but your schedule didn’t allow. Anything on the horizon?
Keith Nelson: I’ve worked with a couple of bands. I get calls from people to work with bands and to co-write. I’ve done two or three things with bands that haven’t seen the light of day yet so I can’t say much about them.
I co-wrote with Alice Cooper for his last record, Welcome to My Nightmare 2, and that was a lot of fun. I didn’t produce it, but I did co-write with him and Bob Ezrin, which was a dream come true, because those guys are legends.
If you can get in the room with people like that, you should take the opportunity, as intimidating as it may be.
I’m always looking for something to do. But, the band definitely does take up the majority of my time.
Robert: Did you learn anything form Bob Ezrin?
Keith Nelson: Yeah, Bob has a really different approach. He has a great musical mind. I see why he and Alice work so well together. It was like a brilliant tennis match, hitting the ball back and forth. It was pretty awesome.
Robert: From a live band perspective, there’s a lot of onstage camaraderie. You guys are not only working the crowd, but really interacting with each other. Tell me a little about this camaraderie and why it’s important.
Keith Nelson: At this age, we’ve been at this so long. I don’t want to be in a band with a bunch of dudes I won’t talk to or hang out with. I don’t think they want to either.
We all have a lot of respect for each other and we all really enjoy what we’re doing. Any time you see that, it’s real. We’re telling jokes and fooling around because it’s fun. We’ve got the best jobs in the world.