INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ AND LUXI LAHTINEN
LIVE PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
TRANSCRIPTION BY NICLAS LINDSTRAD
Brooklyn-born James Lomenzo started his musical career in the late ’70s. His first bands included Empty Sky, Clockwork, and Rondinelli, but it wasn’t until 1984 before he found big success after joining the hard rock band White Lion. PRIDE was released in 1987, and with the help of hit singles “Wait” and “When Children Cry,” it sold over two million copies in the U.S alone. That band did huge tours opening for names like Aerosmith, Ozzy, and AC/DC, and they were on the top of their game. BIG GAME came out two years later, but it still went to gold, although it failed to reach its predecessor sales. The last White Lion album, MAIN ATTRACTION, was released in 1991, but its sales figures stayed proportionally low. James and drummer Greg D’Angelo left the soon-to-be disbanded group in 1991. James’s following years included touring with former KISS guitarist Ace Frehley and forming a brand new band called Pride and Glory. Ozzy guitarist Zakk Wylde and drummer Brian Tichy. Unfortunately, that band didn’t last too long, and they split up after just one album, which was released in 1994. James and Brian Tichy continued working together and joined Slash’s Snakepit -touring in 1995. A few years later, James joined David Lee Roth’s band and recorded the album DIAMOND DAVE. In 2004 Zakk Wylde asked James to join his Black Label Society, and James agreed. HANGOVER MUSIC VOL 4 came out soon, and although James briefly split again with Zakk, he soon returned, and another album, MAFIA, came out in 2005. Later, in the same year, James decided to leave the Black Label Society for the last time and try to find some new challenges. It wasn’t too long before it was announced that James was chosen as the new bassist for legendary thrash metal band Megadeth. James played his first show with the band in March 2006 in Dubai. UNITED ABOMINATIONS was released in May of 2007, and since its release band has been more or less constantly on tour across the world. The band started their European leg of the tour last February from Helsinki. Then we could sit down with James and talk about various topics, including Megadeth’s current state, James’s work with some of his former bands, and many other interesting things…
MEGADETH FOR LIFE
First of all, it’s great to have you back in Finland!
Thank you. I think this is my 6’th time in here?
I think so? You first came here with Slash’s Snakepit around 1995, and you played here twice with Pride and Glory. Then, about three years ago, you played in the Tavastia club with Black Laber Society, and last summer, you did you played in Sauna Open Air with Megadeth… I think that was everything?
You probably know better than me,” laughs”?
Anyway, now you’re here in Helsinki with Megadeth. What is really great is that this new tour seems to be the band’s most successful tour in Europe in ages, and your latest album UNITED ABOMINATIONS is doing great on the charts. Do you see any particular reason why Megadeth is now again getting bigger crowds, especially here in Europe, and better album sales?
All the time since I´ve been in the band, we´ve been doing a lot of leg work to re-establish ourselves on this side of the ocean, through playing, traveling, and trying to make Megadeth what it used to be, at least as good as it used to be. With the lineup that Dave has chosen and how he has gone about piecing together the new album and promoting Megadeth as the classic act that it always has been, it´s not wasted on me. I was a peripheral fan and coming to join it as it´s starting to move along again, I respect it for what it is, and Dave does too. I think that´s maybe why people are taking it seriously.
Everything seems to be well in Megadeth, except that the band has again faced line-up changes…
Yeah, what´s up with that? What is that? ”laughs.”
Chris Broderick is your new guitar player, and he’s been in the band for a few weeks now. How is he doing with you guys?
Chris is a fantastic guitar player. I think people are gonna be really thrilled by him. I was really pleasantly surprised. I didn´t know what to think after Glen (Drover) left because we had really bonded and become a tight band, so I was concerned. Sean actually recommended that we check Chris, so we did right away, and I got together with him at Dave´s house five weeks ago. We talked a bit, and I liked his attitude, and we looked at some songs. He didn´t know very many, but neither did I when I joined the band, so I appreciated his situation. We finally had learned some more songs; it was obvious that he had what Megadeth needs, a familiar and exciting style. He does play a bit like Marty Friedman.
Well, he even looks a bit like Marty as well?
Does he? He´s MUCH taller! ”laughs.”
UNITED ABOMINATIONS is your first Megadeth album. How you ended up being in this band, and how was it to work with Dave Mustaine for the first time?
I had trepidation coming up. I had just finished working with Black Label Society, and that´s a very wide-open kind of music, very blues-based. A friend of mine called me up and talked about Dave Mustaine, and to make the story short, I met with Dave and listened to the music. When I say I was a peripheral fan, I was aware of maybe two or three of their songs. I was busy having a career on my own and didn´t listen to a lot of current popular music. When I started listening to it, I realized how intricate it was and how much into the metal style it was, and that was a style that I hadn´t really been playing. Even if I had played in metal-esque bands, I hadn´t played in THE metal bands. When I joined, I said to Dave, ”You know, I may not be the guy for this job. I´m more of a blues guy”. And he said,” No, no, I know what you can do. look at what I play, and if you can pick it up, I know that you´ll be fine.” That´s the way we did it. Before we got into the studio, we played maybe one or two shows. It was cool; what he did was to really let me go, and that was a shock because you have this image of him being very controlling. But he was really fluid about letting us come up with parts, and then he would direct it based on what he wanted to do lyrically.
Were you able to write and arrange and your bass lines for the album?
Absolutely, he really encouraged that. It was a very positive experience, and we really bonded as a band making the record, which is a strange way to do it. Usually, you do that on the road or in a bar or something. Megadeth´s music is quite different from all the bands that you have played with before.
Which kind of things do you find most fascinating and fun to play in Megadeth?
Honestly, it has to do with the precision and power, playing everything precisely at a rapid tempo. With all other bands, that kind of treatment was done in spurts. You had a little turn-around where you pulled it together, and then it went back to more of a mess. Megadeth is one of the defining metal bands, and rightfully so. It´s a band where you keep it together, and you keep it as tight and as energetic as possible. That´s the challenge. It´s a sport in a way to get every note in progression and not get it slow and keep it tight.
It´s not a kind of music where you can jam?
Without a doubt! But surprisingly, I found some spaces where you can stretch out. Not many, and they go by so quickly, but there are some spots. I enjoy it. In a way, it´s keeping me young, know what I mean? When you do this for so long, you tend to get jaded, but when you get on the stage and play, and the audience really knows its stuff, it´s cool!
Do the older fans still ask about former Megadeth bassist Dave Ellefson?
I don´t hear much of that at all. I´m a big fan of Dave Ellefson´s, and I love what he did in Megadeth. He defined part of their sound. I respect that, and while I have my own way of playing, I try to lean in that direction so that when you come to see the show, it still sounds like Megadeth. I can play as fast as him with my fingers, but it just doesn´t sound right, so I respect that.
TOUR AND TOUR
Tonight’s show in Helsinki is your very first with this new lineup. How about the setlist, are there going to be any surprises or obscure songs on the set?
Not just yet. Unfortunately, this will have to be a business as usual setlist simply because the time since we´ve brought Chris in has been extremely busy with him learning all the songs and solos. The surprises will come in time; we´ve discussed songs that people haven´t heard Megadeth do for quite a while. The thing is to get the boy comfortable, get him on stage, and get the band to come together.
You did your own live debut with Megadeth in 2006 in such an exotic place as Dubai. How did it feel to play your first show in a Middle Eastern country?
It made perfect sense to me. Join Megadeth, go across the world. It makes more sense now. This is truly an international band.
How was it an experience for you?
It was really nice. It was good to see it, and it was a strange time because the Gulf war was kind of still moving along. Being 50 miles away from Bagdad is strange conceptually but not very strange once you´re there. I think Dubai itself was a very interesting place; it reminds me of a summer camp I went to when I was 13. The teacher was setting it up, and I went to work there, boys on one side of the camp and girls on the other, and they didn´t figure out how to keep them apart, so everyone was going back and forth doing what young people do. Next year they figured it all out, and there were people watching and everything. I think Dubai is in that stage; they´re building it with freedom coming on, but it´s a matter of time before you get all these little cities, and then they will figure out if it´s gonna work or not.
Is there any city in the world that you´re looking forward to playing in more than anywhere else?
I can´t say. I love big cities. I always love playing in London. I can´t remember where we´re playing, but it´s a new one, and I´ve wanted to play there for a while. Then some places where I´ve played five times, and it seems familiar to me. It gets nostalgic by this point, and I get a charge out of that. Every show stands on its own, but the big cities are always memorable because of the periphery, which hangs around the edges. The audience is always the same and is exciting to see, so what you do around a gig is what decides if it becomes memorable or not.
I´ve heard that your favorite place to play is Madison Square Garden in New York. How many times have you played there?
Once. I only did it once.
What makes Madison Square Garden so special?
Anyone from New York knows that Frank Sinatra´s spot of the world: if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. All those great concerts! I saw Queen there and Paul McCartney when he rolled through there back in -75. Every great band I saw at Madison Square Garden in the 70s. To sit under that great roof… it´s built like no other place in the world with the roof and the slopes, and it has a different sound and everything.
SOME OLD BANDS
Speaking of your old bands, have you been following what’s going on with White Lion nowadays?
Yeah, I talk to Mike (Tramp) all the time.
Have you heard their new album?
No, I haven´t.
Well, the current incarnation of that band includes only Mike Tramp left from the original lineup. Do you have anything to say about that current lineup of the band?
You know, he and Vito (Bratta) have tried and tried, and I thought there was some hope after Van Halen got together again. If THEY can do it, trust me, it was a feat of strength getting Eddie and Dave together again. So I thought if they can do it, Mike and Vito can. But…
Time will tell?
Hopefully, we´re all running out of time, though.
Actually, I saw them live last summer in Swedenrock, and it was an OK show.
Yeah, they´re all really good players. There was something, I wouldn´t say magical, but something with White Lion that made it work more personally than as a band. If Vito and Mike can´t get it together, somebody´s gotta do something. So God bless him.
WORKING WITH THE SPACEMAN
One guy who has reactivated his career recently is Ace Frehley. You used to play with him in the early ’90s…
I love Ace Frehley!
How did you get to play with him?
Do you know this guy Eddie Trunk?
Actually, I do know who he is.
He does these VH1 shows and has his own website. He used to work for some companies and… * coughs * Excuse me a second. Just thinking about Ace Frehley chokes me up! Anyway, he called me when I was visiting my folks in New York. I was finished with White Lion and was waiting for Zakk to do some things. It was just after he started the OZZMOSIS record. So he said,” What are you doing this summer?” and I was just planning to kick around. So he said,” Ace needs a bass player.” I just went,” I´m there!” went down to audition, and we did a summer of most clubs. I never laughed so hard in my life! He´s hilarious.
When this actually happened?
I think in -90 or -91?
After the TROUBLE WALKIN album was released?
Yeah, that was after that album was released.
You probably have heard that Ace is currently on tour in the U.S, and he’s even coming to play shows over here in Europe next summer?.
Yeah, I got an e-mail from him, and he said he was touring and had a new record coming out.
New Ace album, it´s been in the works for at least four or five years, but maybe it´s finally coming?
Haha, well, he says it´s just about done.
He has a great band with Anthony Esposito on bass and Scot Coogan on drums.
Beautiful! He always attracts great musicians to his band.
RONDINELLI AND RAY GILLEN
Back in your career’s early days, you used to play with Ray Gillen and Bobby Rondinelli in a band called Rondinelli. Tell me some more about that band?
Ray was one of the sweetest souls I ever met. We used to share a room at Bobby´s (Rondinelli) parent’s house. We shacked up in Long Island and rehearsed in their attic out there. He was a great guy, a very soft-spoken guy. We were doing a thing with Bobby, and his brother Teddy was playing guitar, and I was playing bass. Before I came along, Felix Papalardi from Mountain was playing with them, and they had a guy named Jeff Fenholtz singing who was in Jesus Christ Superstar. Felix Papalardi was killed by his wife – girlfriend – and Jeff Benholtz just up and left, so there were the three of us without a singer. So we started parading vocalists who would come out to Long Island and sing, and when we were just about to give up, somebody sent Ray over. He just opened up, and it was magic! Truly magic! He wasn´t singing anything that made sense, but his voice was very Led Zeppelin-esque to us. It´s a shame that the band didn´t do very much.
You released an album called WARDANCE, right?
It´s not even an album. It´s mostly stuff that we recorded on a four-track that I was engineering. Some of the other stuff was done in a studio that I don´t remember. That was a demo that we put together and tried to sell to the record companies. So it´s not a proper album at all. I´m still waiting for royalties for that. Bobby called me up seven or ten years ago and told me he would put it out. I haven´t seen him twice since. Bobby, at least get me a copy of the album! “laughs.”
Did you ever do a proper tour with the band?
We just played locally. We went up and down Long Island and New Jersey and played some clubs. That was actually how I ended up in White Lion. We played in a club with Rondinelli, and the manager said,” That guy is perfect for White Lion! We gotta get him!” So they asked me, and I went to check them out and went,” These guys are just like Van Halen, man! I´ve already got a band; what´s gonna happen with these guys?” So I actually passed on the whole thing and moved out to LA with another band for a while. Then a friend of mine from New York called me up and said that I should try it out because they were still looking for a bass player. I´d had a motorcycle accident and was out of work and was out of cash, and he said the magic words: ”They´ll fly you home!” So I said,” Wow, home is a great place; that´s where there is food in the refrigerator.” So I didn´t expect anything. I came home, joined the band, and enjoyed it right away. Then they said,” We´re going to Germany to do an album. What do you think?” ”Never been to Germany, let´s go!” So it began.
Right after that, Ray joined Black Sabbath for a while, wasn’t he?
Yeah. I was even there when he got the job.
DIAMOND DAVE AND ZAKK WYLDE
One interesting person who you have worked with in the past is Mr. David Lee Roth. You played for several years with him, didn’t you?
Yeah, more than that. He was fantastic, honestly! I just sound like I like everybody, but I like playing with them, great people! David Lee Roth is one of those guys that everyone thinks is a real hardass behind the scenes, and he can be, but he appreciates his musicians, and he provides this environment that keeps you inspired. He´s just like P T Barnum, ”Let´s go out and put on a show, guys!” When you get on stage, his presence is really just so broad and so big that it´s exciting just to be on stage with the guy. It´s like you get a show while you´re working. I loved that. We did the Sam and Dave tour with Sammy Hagar, and we were like the best Van Halen cover band you´ve ever seen!
Who else was in the DLR band back then?
Ray Luzier, who is now with Korn, and Brian Young.
Brian was at Sweden Rock last year with Jeff Scott Soto’s Talisman.
That makes sense.
You recorded one album with David Lee Roth.
Yeah, the album was called DIAMOND DAVE. He was kind of testing the waters. He didn´t really want to do an album, but he wanted to do something, so he picked many covers.
I heard a rumor that he actually did a promotional video from one of the album songs. That video did cost a fortune, but after it was finished, it was never used anywhere. Were you there when that video was shot?
He spent a lot of money on it. I showed up while running around his property like Cecil B DeMille with a megaphone and a camera. It was pretty crazy. It was fun. I played acoustics and upright bass, and we basically put a soundtrack on it live. It was really cool playing Django Reinhardt and stuff. He´s esoteric, and it´s like a Halloween costume party every day you´re with him.
Have you seen any Van Halen reunion shows?
No, I haven´t. I´ve seen them on video, and it was really good. A friend of mine is still working with them, and he´s telling me that the shows have been great.
Like you said before, you played with Black Label Society before you joined Megadeth. Was it hard for you to leave that band?
No, it was very easy. It was time to go.
Actually, you then left Black Label Society for the second time, right?
Yeah. They say the definition of madness is repeating the same action over and over again, expecting a different result. I probably shouldn´t have rejoined the band, but you know what? A lot of the shows were great, and I had a pretty good time. I loved the guys in the band, but it was time to go.
So what was the best and worst thing about being in Black Label Society?
The best thing was acting like you were in a biker gang. I actually drive a motorcycle, so for me, it came a little natural. More natural than for some other people in the band. The worst thing, honestly, was trying to keep up with Zakk. Man, he´s one of a kind! He just doesn´t stop…
I remember when I saw you playing in Sweden Rock with Black Label Society, and then you had this ”Black Label beard”? Did you had that beard in Zakk’s demand or…
Oh, I was growing that when I was with David Lee Roth. I was doing that because I realized he likes to have characters, like the big Samoan guy and the black guy, so I thought I would be the Klaus Voormann guy. You know, the guy who played with John Lennon and all those guys? He was into that. So when I met Zakk again, I just moved right down the street and was back in the band. I had a beard. I was ready to go! ”laughs.”
How about the acoustic album BOOK OF SHADOWS that you did with Zakk in 1996?
I loved that record. It´s one of my favorites. I love the drummer on that record. He was terrific, the production team was great, and I think it´s one of the best records that Zakk has ever done sonically and emotionally.
That album could have been the second album of Pride and Glory. Do you agree with that?
No, not without Brian Tichy. It´s not Pride and Glory without him. Same as it´s not Pride and Glory without me.
Is there any chance that you would someday record again with Pride and Glory?
You know, I talk to Tichy about it all the time, but right now, it´s a weird time, and if he ever wanted to do that, he´d have to figure something out.
BITS AND PIECES
You´ve said that you would be a photojournalist if you weren´t a musician in some past interviews. Want to tell some more about that?
Here´s the thing, I was very interested in photography from an early age and music. I studied photography and music together and became a musician. So that´s an unfulfilled dream. What´s a respectable job that´s almost like music? Well, a photojournalist. You travel the world, and you tell stories. I play music, which is like telling stories, but the whole image is the story of a photographer. There´s a challenge in that, and that´s the art of it, not just taking a snapshot. For my first few years in White Lion, I carried a giant bag with a couple of cameras and three or four lenses and film and all that. That was really a lot of work when you think about digital photography now. But I carried all that stuff with me and barely got any photos at all because I was so busy doing this. So I kind of put that away. So when I´m looking down maybe 20 years when I retire, maybe I´ll get one of whatever cameras they´re using then and hit the road and become a real journalist.
Do you take any pictures now while you’re on the road?
No, no, no, no, no! The point of telling you that White Lion’s story was because it was so frustrating. I had all that equipment and didn´t use it. When I was in New York working as a messenger and was much younger, I always carried it with me. 5 dollars an hour running up and down, but I got some fantastic photographs.
You´re also a designer. I actually own some CDs where you are credited as a cover designer?
I´ve done graphic design. A friend of mine asked me to do their album cover, and I had some working knowledge of the programs, so I jumped in, and with photography and all that, I could just put it together. So I did Gilby Clarke’s album cover, and many other friends of mine, I did something for Mike Tramp. I went from there to doing professional retouching for agencies as a freelancer. Pretty big agencies, so my billboards would go by on trains and busses. I enjoyed that; that was great. For three, four, five years, I was actually out of the music business for a while after Slash´s Snakepit disbanded. It was fulfilling, rewarding, but I got tired of sitting on my ass and not playing bass.
Ok, James. Our time seems to be done. See you later at the gig!
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