INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
U.S. hard rock band Y&T was originally formed in San Francisco in early 70’s. The band soon earned a good reputation as a great live band and their self-titled debut was released in 1976. In year 1981 Y&T got its change when they got signed by major A&M label. The band then released a string of strong albums including EARTHSHAKER, BLACK TIGER and MEANSTREAK. In 1987 they switched to John Kalodner’s Geffen Records and released two more studio albums: CONTAGIOUS and TEN before splitting up in 1991 after the release of “farewell” live album YESTERDAY AND TODAY LIVE. Unexpectedly the band got together in 1995 and released album MUSICALLY INCORRECT and then two years later ENDANGERED SPECIES followed. In 2001 band did several shows but it took one more year before the fulltime re-union took its place. FACEMELTER, Y&T’s first studio album in 13 years, was released in 2010. Bands original bassist and founding member Phil Kennemore sadly passed away in January of 2011 but even that didn’t stop Y&T to carry on. The band, leaded by another original and extra ordinary guitarist/vocalist Dave Meniketti, is still going on strong and it seems that this band has still lot to say in the future. The band opened up their six week European –tour in Helsinki on late September and then we had a pleasure to sit down with Meniketti himself and discuss about bands future as well as many other interesting topics. Read On!
THE CURRENT STATE OF Y&T
First of all, what’s going on with Y&T at the moment? You’re just about to start the European tour but is there anything else on the plans right now?
Well, that’s the main thing right now. I mean, obviously, this time of the year for us is all about Europe. It’s fall. That’s where we stay. Fall, it’s Europe. So we usually do seven weeks, which is it will be again this time. And then we go home and play four more shows. That’s the end of the year. And we start back up again. But it’s an important tour for us. It’s the first tour that we’re doing, first year that we’re flying altogether without Phil being alive. And so it’s important for us to keep the spirit and the momentum going.
It’s been almost like nine months since sad passing of Phil Kennemore and it’s been like six months since you announced that the band will carry on without his presence.
And I do remember that you announced that if your fans do lost the interest then you might do something else in the future. So all things have been well since then and you are not quitting, right?
No we are not quitting. The fans have been there for us and they love it and, quite frankly, so do I. I mean we’ve never stopped having good feelings for the band. So that was never in question. It was just a matter of how did I feel about going on without Phil and being the only original band member left. And I just wanted to make sure that it just felt right overall. It’s never nice to be in this position, but the band that I’m flying with, every one of them is fantastic and it just feels like home when we get on stage every night. So it just didn’t make any sense to stop playing.
You have faced so many heavy stuff things during the past year so it must have been really hard times lately both personally and professionally?
Right. Back then it’s come along very easily because we had already been playing with this band while Phil was in the hospital and it fell in line just beautifully. So it was just like this is the band. So, of course, there was always a question mark over Brad’s head whether or not Phil was going to be coming back in the band. And of course, when it was obviously wasn’t and then we just stayed doing what we have been doing for the four months since he joined the band, and the fans loved it. I mean even though they miss Phil, it was kind of one of those things where it was like, “Yeah, we come here to see the band and it’s not the same without Phil but you guys were great.” And so many people on the last tour when Phil was in the hospital were saying, “It’s the best I’ve ever seen you,” and so on and so forth. So I figured, “Hey, the band is good. Let’s just keep going.”
Y&T alive and well in Helsinki 2011
REMEMBERING PHIL KENNEMORE
I remember when you played so in Sweden Rock in 2010 when Phil was still around and it wasn’t long after before he was diagnosed with that horrible disease…
I remember that he did a decent job on stage then and didn’t notice that there was something wrong. I was going to ask how long after that performance the symptoms did begin.
He already had the symptoms. He thought it was a bad back because he always had a bad back. Ever since he was in his 20s I think he had a car accident. It was one of those kinds of things and he just thought he injured his back doing some work in the yard, in his backyard or something. But it was worse than ever. And so he just was on pain pills all year while we were doing the record, when we were doing FACEMELTER, January, February, March, April, the whole time on pain pills. And he kept going to his doctor and the doctor said, “We’ll take a back X-ray and everything looks fine. It’s probably just a pinched nerve or something. Here, take some pain pills.” So we got out here and we did the summer thing and we did, obviously, Sweden Rock and a few other festivals and a few plug shows in between, and he got so bad on one of the shows, it was in Spain where he couldn’t leave his hotel room. He couldn’t get up to even answer the door. I had to get a key and go in. And so, we had to cancel that show and rescheduled it when we came back in fall, which we played. So he went to the doctor that day in Germany. They did the same thing. They just took a standard X-ray. They said, “Your spine looks fine.”
And just gave more painkillers but nothing more?
More pills. So we went out. He went home. Well, we all went home after that three weeks in the summer and I stayed on in Europe for another week or so with my wife just to have a vacation. And I told Phil, I said, “As soon as you get home, go back to your doctor, please, and go see him again.” He did the same thing, nothing, and nothing. The same thing. Because we knew in three weeks when I got home we’re going to start this eight-week long US tour on a bus and I wanted to see if he’s going to be okay. And he went anyway even though he was hurting. And he was so bad out there the first two weeks he didn’t even want to leave the tour bus. So he wouldn’t go into the hotel room. He’d sleep in the tour bus because it was too hard for him to walk up and down the stairs and so on and so forth. So we were about two weeks into the tour and I just told Phil, I said, “There’s got to be something that we don’t know about. What’s going on here? We need you to really get checked out.” And so I called a friend of mine that was a head coach of a popular baseball team in America because we were near the city that they’re from, St. Louis, and I said, “Could you have your team doctors look at Phil? We have a day off.” And so he set the whole thing up. We went there next day and just me and Phil we went to the hospital and they took X-rays, but this time they took an MRI and a CAT scan, very, very heavy duty X-rays and then they found out what was going on. And it was the first day they thought maybe it could be something really bad, but they weren’t going to say for sure. And then the next day, he get one more X-ray and then they told us together in the room, they said, “Yeah, he’s got stage four lung cancer.” And it was basically eating away his spine. And then later on, he found out it was eating his rib cage. It’s eating one of his – all kinds of things, because it had travelled all over the place, and then it went to his liver and it was over in a couple of weeks.
That must have been horrible times for everybody. Should we talk about some more positive things?
Absolutely. But I must say, when I did talk to Phil before he passed away, I asked him too, I said, “What would you do if you were me?” And he goes, “Absolutely go on. You’ve got to. We just did this new record. The band is killing. We sound great. There’s all this catalogue of all this amazing music that you and I put together over the years. You can’t just let it lay there. You have to keep going. You’ve got to keep the spirit going.” And so it was good to hear it from him.
CURRENT Y&T LINE-UP
One of the positive things here is the current line-up.
First of all there John Nyman who’s actually been around Y&T for a long time?
Yes, he has. And he didn’t officially join the band until 2003, but he had been in at around the band since the very beginning of the band, but he started working for us on and off, doing different things and then he does sing background vocals on a couple of our records that he toured with us for a couple of records where he is singing background vocals and did some keyboard parts. And he even got in the rock custom that we have for a while. But he was always a guy that we talked about amongst the band members and said, “We should just put him in the band. He should just be in the band.” But we just didn’t want to have five guys in the band. We wanted just a four-piece band. So when Stet Burns eventually left the band, it just made sense that he needed to come in eventually. So it was great when he finally got in to the right position as the second guitar player of the band, and it just sounded perfect. It was like, “Yeah, why didn’t we do this a long time ago?”
And then there’s Mike Vanderhule. He came in the picture after the original drummer Leonard Haze quit around 2005, right?
Yeah. He came in in 2006 and it was great. I mean we auditioned about 12 people and he and one other guy were just perfect. And then we kept looking at the tape because we videotaped it. And then we said, “Okay, we want you both to come back one more time and then we’ll decide.” And it was obvious that he was the choice.
What’s his background as a drummer?
He was playing in other bands, just a band here for a night and a band there for a night and he was teaching drum lessons. And in fact, he was teaching drum lessons and he still does at Jimmy DeGrasso’s drum studio, who’s our former drummer as well.
And then last but least we have that blonde over there that’s playing bass… “laughs”
Then we have Brad Land, and, boy!, was that a mistake “laughs” No, I’m kidding. I’ve said this many times, but it’s pretty amazing, so I need to mention again that when Phil just found out and he literally just found out, about an hour later, he started thinking about people that we should call to take over for him while he was going to fly back home and get treatment. And also between myself and John and Mike, we all started talking about guys that they thought would be good. And they mentioned Brad and I’ve never met him or anything, but I went online and saw a YouTube video of him playing and they both recommended him. So we called him on the phone and said – I think Joe talked to him or something and something like, “There’s a problem and Y&T needs him,” and we didn’t even get to the end of the sentence and Brad goes, “Yes, I’ll be there.” And that’s the kind of guy he is. And literally, two days later, we’re playing a show with him, and he learned 20 – I don’t know how many – 21 songs in two days and played them perfectly at the first show. And not only did he learn the songs, he learned all the background vocal parts. Not just one, but every one of them because he didn’t know which one was going to be Phil’s for every song, so he could sing whatever when we told him to sing. That was just amazing. I mean first trip, right there, and it never stopped from that point forward and the crowd loved him from the very beginning. So that was good. That was good for me because how the fans take a new member into a band is very important.
THE Y&T ANNIVERSARY AND REMEMBERING THE 80’s
There is lot of different information about the official formation year of Y&T, or Yesterday and Today, but which is the official birthday of the band in your opinion?
Probably January 1974, that’s what we always thought was sort of the official beginning of band. That was when all the parts came together; when Joey Alves joined the band, he was the last member to join and we decided we’re only doing original material and going out this way. So, yeah, January 1974. So, come January 2014, that would be our 40th year anniversary. Now, that’s weird.
Imagine 40 years. It must have been hard to believe that Y & T is there are still almost 40 later “laughs”
No. I mean we never really thought about the future as far as how many years we’re going to be playing or anything like that. That never came into our thought. We just lived for the moment and lived for maybe a couple of weeks ahead or something like that. And it’s a long career and you have had many ups and downs.
It’s been a long ride definitely. Which have been the highlights of Y&T’s career in your opinion? Perhaps the success of EARTHSHAKER was one of those?
Yeah, that was certainly a highlight when we got our new deal in 1981. And EARTHSHAKER was a great record. We didn’t know how well it was doing over the whole of the world. We only in our own backyard and in America how it was doing. And then when we came over in Black Tiger to record that record in England in ’82, we started the tour for the first time in Europe, and then we realized that, wow, they know who we are over here and quite a few of them know who we are, and the EARTHSHAKER record in the Netherlands was voted the best record of the year, best hard rock record of the year in one of the magazines and we’re like, “Wow, really? Cool.” So that was definitely an up period. Right then, in ’82, I’d say, was a very up year for us. The BLACK TIGER record was a good record. We got the AC/DC tour of Europe and of the UK, and that was amazing, two months with just the two of us. So those were good events. But I’d say right now is a great event, right now, because we’re playing on our 37th year together and even though all of these things have happened to the band along the year, some good and some bad, we sound as good as we ever have, I feel. And we still have the same intensity and the same spirit that we all are as it happens. And that’s the most important thing, because I certainly have seen a lot of bands that have played as long as we have and have been together as long as we have, and some of them still have, you can tell, that some of them, you see them and they seem like they’re just kind of going through the motions. And I didn’t ever want it to end up like that. I wanted it to be, if we’re going to play, we’re going to play with the same gusto that we’ve always had. And so, for me, this is a proud moment right now, that I can say after 37 years that I’m in a bad that I still feel extremely proud about and we still play with the best of them as far as I’m concerned.
Those for sure were the highlights of career but there have been some letdowns as well. Many people are thinking that something went wrong when you decided to work with John Kalodner and his record company Geffen. How do you think about that period now afterwards?
Yeah, it was a bit different. John had told us right before he signed us that he didn’t want to mess with our heads very much. He didn’t want it to be all about the record company and not about us. And he was asking us to go back into our minds and go back to the way when we first started out in EARTHSHAKER and all those kinds of records. And of course, we settle. That’s easy for us. I mean we’re like that all the time until the record company tells us that they want us to do this and that and starts pushing us. And so we just took our time and we wrote. And unfortunately, John was not the problem. John was the cheerleader for us. He loved our band and he couldn’t wait to get us on Geffen. But what happened was is when we got on Geffen; Geffen had the first release of Guns N’ Roses that same year. And then they had the breakout, re-breakout, I should say, of Whitesnake’s record. And so those two bands, especially Guns N’ Roses took over the entire company. And so, we got released at a time when we were kind of not a priority. And that’s how John wanted. John wanted us to be a priority on the label, and he was really unhappy with the way that the rest of the company treated the band and didn’t put everything into it. So he promised that the next record, the TEN album, that they would not do that and it was going to be perfect. But I told everybody in the band if they don’t do a good job on TEN, I think we should just forget it and just pack it up and let’s do something different.
I actually interviewed Jimmy DeGrasso, who was your drummer at the time, a couple of years ago and we discussed about making of TEN and he didn’t like the producer at all, and the producer, he hated it because he was…
Yes, taken off the record. I don’t blame him. I mean, I completely – we were in his corner. We didn’t want to replace him for the record. That was the weirdest thing ever. We’re not a studio band. We’re a band of four guys. This is a family. If somebody’s not playing the best part on a record, we just keep doing it until he does it right, but the producer and the record company said, “You’ve already spent this much money, spent two weeks, and your producer says we only have two tracks he can work with.” I didn’t know. I thought we were all good. But they were not happy with it. So their idea was, “Let’s call Steve Smith.” And I said, “Whoa, wait a minute. We’re not going to do that. No.” So I talked them in to giving us one more week. Let’s have a week off. Just let Jimmy calm down with whatever problem he’s having with the producer and come back. If he doesn’t nail it in a week, then we’ll do it your way. And unfortunately, now, of course, the press was really on to come back, and it just wasn’t working. I don’t know why. I think he got psyched out, because he’s certainly not because he wasn’t a great drummer. He was. And when Steve Smith came in, he had all these pieces of paper and he puts them up and he had charted out, because we had done demo tapes of all these songs with Jimmy on them and he thought Jimmy played such amazing parts he charted Jimmy’s parts out. And so that was a testament to Jimmy too. And Jimmy came to that first day that Steve Smith was there, and Steve talked to him and he was great, and Steve said, “You know what, Jimmy? You’re a great drummer. I’m playing your parts.” And this happened to me. When I was in a band years ago, I was in cut and they brought somebody else in and I became a better drummer because of it. And really, Jimmy did too. He went home. He studied with the click. He worked everything out. He kicks ass and he continues to be.
The band was reunited in 2001 and I remember when I met you in 2003 in Sweden and asked about new Y&T album and you then said: “There will never be a new studio album from Y&T.” What changed your mind?
Well, you know what? Because back then, Phil and I would be most in writing and Phil and I were just thinking, “Well, what is going to happen with this band now?” Because we were kind of not playing that much between ’95 and 2001. We were still together, but not playing that much. And so when we got back together in 2001, we were still not sure what’s going to happen to this band. Are we just going to play these few festivals then go home and then… that’s it? But no. It was actually the Sweden Rock Fest that sort of inspired us. It was like, “Wow, this is what we’ve been missing, is getting back in this and doing this the right way again.” And it took us awhile. 2001, we played quite a few shows, but in the next couple of years, it was about 2003, and we played more shows and more shows, and it just became obvious, and then we changed management, and Jill became our manager. And then we played 50 shows a year and it was like we’re back 100 percent. So now we’ve got to come up with a new record. This is no longer we’re wondering what’s going to happen next because we know what’s going to happen next. We’re 100 percent committed to the band. This is it. It’s just like when we first started the band. So we knew it was just going to take an amount of time before we felt comfortable. And once Mike was in the band, we played a few years; everybody was bugging us, “When is the new record coming? When is the new record coming?” We said, “Okay, now is the time. Now is the time.” So it took us a full year to get around to it because we were touring so much, but we finally made plans and said January off, December off, March, April, all of that off. We’re going to stay home and we’re going to finish a record.
How do you like the feedback and response that FACEMELTER got?
I think it was very good. I would say 99 percent of the interviews I did, every person that interviewed me thought that the record was fantastic. And I always wonder whether people are just being nice to me. But the main thing was to me, the proof was we put three or four or five of those songs into the set, along with all of our classic songs, does it sound weird for us to play one of these songs, does the crowd react like, you know. No. In fact, we were actually getting as strong or stronger response from the new material as our classic stuff. So I thought, “Okay, this is good. Everybody is enjoying the record. So it’s good.” I know that there’s probably some fans don’t like it. We didn’t overproduce it. It’s very raw sounding, and some people love that, some people don’t like it. But I wanted to do that sort of as a way of saying there’s too much production nowadays, there’s too many people using pro tools and then 10 tracks of this and 5 tracks of that, and then when they play live it doesn’t sound the same. I want it to be one guitar each, bass and drums exactly like we do. We did not double track any guitars, zero, and we did not do anything different than we would do live, except double the background vocals, a couple of them, which is just to make them fatter sounding. But that’s about it.
Is it completely out of the question to do some more Y&T albums in the future?
Not at all, of course. So my idea is that next year, we will start working on the next one.
Then there’s one more thing, your solo career. It’s been a while since the last album MENIKETTI came out, something like seven years. What’s going on with that career?
Well, it’s been difficult to put both of them together because the band is working full time now. And we played 70 shows last year and it was just really tough to think about how I was even going to get around to coming up with new material.
Can’t hesitate to ask how did the “old school” Y&T fans react when you put out your first solo album ON BLUE SIDE in 2000?
Yeah, I’m sure they were shocked “laughs” I mean there were a lot people that really didn’tknow what to think about that record. And now, strangely enough, a lot of those fans gotten around to buying a record or listening to it and they go, “Wow, this is cool. There’s so much guitar playing on it.” So they like that part of it. But my plan is sometime on the next two years is to come back to Europe and do a solo band tour, ahead of Y&T and then Y&T will come after that.
That’s good to hear.
Because I really love playing that material and there’s some great stuff on there. And I haven’t toured on two records that I have out and I hope to come up with some new material and then tour on that at some point.
Is it going to be the same band you were using on the pat solo tours?
No, probably not. But it might be close. It just depends. I don’t know what’s going to happen with that. It’s been a long time since I played with those guys.
It seems that our time is running out… Here’s the last quick one. How you ended up to play as a special guest on Lizzy Borden’s latest album APPOINMENT WITH DEATH a few years ago?
Well, it came through a friend of ours who knew Lizzy, and they had asked him if they could get in touch with me, and so they did and just said, “Would you mind playing on the record.” I said, “Absolutely. That would be great.” They sent me the track and I did it. And it was fun. It was a good vibe. I liked it. And of course, I really like it when I send the track to them and I wait to hear the response and I’d go, “Is it okay? Is it all right? Do you want me to do it again?” And they said, “It’s great.” And I say, “All right. Good, good.”
Okay Dave. Our time is up now. Thanks for doing this interview with us?
No problem. Let’s talk some more on next time!
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