Brent Fitz – Econoline Crush, Union, ex-Vince Neil

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INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA

Brent Fitz is a Canadian-American drummer and multi-instrumentalist, probably best known for his work in the band Union, including former Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick, former Mötley Crue singer John Corabi and bassist Jamie Hunting. The current Econoline Crush drummer has also played, e.g., Vince Neil, in the solo band Theory of a Deadman and Harlequin. However, the man is on tour with Alice Cooper, replacing temporarily the band’s permanent drummer Eric Singer, who is currently busy with Kiss. I met Brent in Melbourne, and here are the results of our good conversation.

ALICE COOPER

You are right now touring with ALICE COOPER and filling Eric Singer’s place when he’s busy working with KISS. How did you get this gig?

Obviously, I’m friends with Eric. It actually goes back to the time when I worked with my band UNION with Bruce Kulick, Eric Singer, and I’ve been friends from back then. Even in early 2000, I had a chance to play with ALICE COOPER, but I was still working with VINCE NEIL and didn’t feel like I wanted to move over. I wanted to stay with Vince, everything was cool, and that’s when Tommy Clufetos came in to play with Alice. Now with Keri Kelli and Jason Hook, both ex-VINCE NEIL guitar players, playing with ALICE COOPER, it just kind of makes sense that we all work together.

Besides Eric, Alice has obviously had had a bunch of different drummers over the years. Was it a challenge stepping in those shoes for this tour?

Yeah, there’s like a momentum created by all these other great musicians and not just drummers. If you look at the original band, it’s tough even to think how you’re going to match those five guys’ original magic because it was a BAND. I would say that all I can do is not to try and emulate Eric Singer or Jimmy DeGrasso, or Tommy Clufetos. While all the drummers have left their stamp, some of the early magic was created with Neil Smith. So if I’m going to set my radar on one drummer, I’m going to start with him and kind of work in his Keith Moon-ish style.

Is it possible that you might continue to work with ALICE in the future?

I can’t predict it because I have commitments already. I’m very involved in my other band, ECONOLINE CRUSH, our new record [“Ignite”] just came out. On the flip side, if I don’t do the tour as Alice’s drummer, in a perfect world, there might actually be an opportunity for my band to play with Alice on tour at some point as an opening act. I’d be honored to.

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Brent behind the kit in Alice’s band in Melbourne 2008

ECONOLINE CRUSH

As you said, you’re now also a member of ECONOLINE CRUSH, can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Well, there’s a KISS connection, which is cool because they had done some reunion dates as an opening act. The singer Trevor Hurst and I are both from Winnipeg. I’ve known him for many years. We’ve both crossed paths and been in different bands but never been in the same band together. We’ve both had mutual respect for each other, so I was a fan of the band back in the day. I had moved to Los Angeles but had always kept my ear on what was going on in Canada, and ECONOLINE was huge on the radio, lots of music videos, etc. I was always rooting for Trevor, and then we just crossed paths a couple of times. Then eventually, we went to the Juno’s [an award show] this past year and thought maybe it was kind of time we both worked together. He said he was making a new record, and I said I’d love to be involved. The guitar player in ECONOLINE CRUSH, Kai, had worked with Tommy Lee in METHODS OF MAYHEM. Ironically, with him working with Tommy and myself working with Vince [Neil], there was this MÖTLEY connection again. We’ve made a new record, and it’s a very UNION feeling to me. It’s got the name ECONOLINE CRUSH that people are already familiar with, but I relate it as a new band. Yes, we’ll play some of the other material as well, but it’s a new band.

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UNION

A lot of people are probably curious to know what the situation with UNION is right now. You haven’t actually split up, officially anyway, have you?

That’s true, but I think we’ve chosen to do other projects; John [Corabi] is very much a member of RATT, Bruce [Kulick] is very much a member of GRAND FUNK [RAILROAD], and I’m a member of ECONOLINE CRUSH. I would say that that band had a certain energy, you know, being a band, four guys just going out there and playing, you might call it the best band that nobody ever heard. Many people in a lot of bands categorize people with these post-grunge things, and that’s where we got lumped into. There are two guys from KISS and [one] from MÖTLEY CRÜE, and it pigeons holes a band sometimes. I came in as some guy from Canada, and when I played with UNION, there wasn’t a long track record. That band still has a lot of my heart and soul on those original records, and should we do another record, it’d be awesome; it’d be great. I know we could, John still sings great, and I work with Bruce [Kulick] all the time on his solo records. Jamie [Hunting] and I always had a really good working relationship. Obviously, he played with me in VINCE NEIL because I brought him into the band. Again there’s the million-dollar question… who knows?

So, in retrospect, do you think it was perhaps a mistake emphasizing KISS and MÖTLEY CRÜE members’ involvement in UNION?

Yes, but I can understand where maybe the record label or someone investing in this project might want to try and use some of KISS’ or MÖTLEY CRÜE’s momentum, so there are two sides to look at. For me being a non-member of KISS and MÖTLEY CRÜE, I could have cared less. It was like this is a great band, this is the four of us, and we’ll go out in a van if we have to and tour America and work this as a band. Unfortunately, John and Bruce had already been working hard with some other bands, and I’m sure that it might have been a different mentality than mine for them. We did have tour busses; we had vans, we did small clubs, we did theaters, we did all different levels and not only in America because we also did shows in South America and Europe. So we were able to tour the band, it was great because it was a new band, and the expectation might have been there because it was guys from KISS and MÖTLEY CRÜE, but weirdly, it didn’t have much of that, it didn’t sound like MÖTLEY CRÜE, it didn’t sound like KISS. So I think we did the right thing. This is what it is, it’s UNION, and it’s a new thing. If we had just come out from the starting gate without any KISS fans to come to see us, or MÖTLEY CRÜE fans, you know, we might have been playing to crickets. It’s really hard, and you’ve got to start somewhere.

The first UNION record was produced by Curt Cuomo, who also worked with KISS on the CARNIVAL OF SOULS record. Do you think it was his involvement that influenced the kind of grungy sound of that album?

It wasn’t Curt; I think it was a little bit more Bruce [Kulick]. There was some underrated music on CARNIVAL OF SOULS, maybe it wasn’t as good of a KISS record, but it was a good record, just like the record that John [Corabi] did with MÖTLEY CRÜE. And I bet you those guys, looking back, Nikki Sixx and maybe even Tommy Lee can go, “You know what, that was a great record!” but it might not have been a good representation of MÖTLEY CRÜE. Maybe the CARNIVAL OF SOULS record isn’t as KISS oriented, you know, for the overall sound of KISS, the PSYCHO CIRCUS record had a more rounded sound, and it was more in the KISS vein. Again, maybe over time, people will come back and re-listen to those records and realize there was some good music there. Bruce was just able to hear a very modern sound with the CARNIVAL OF SOULS record which also translated into the UNION stuff.

The second UNION album, THE BLUE ROOM, had a bit more traditional sound to it. Was it a conscious decision to go that route?

THE BLUE ROOM is the record that I would listen to… less. Only because with the first record, the songs were made from early demos from like the roughest of ideas, some of the stuff we worked on was very… if we liked the energy of a recording, we kept it. Those kinds of things, some of the drums tracks had to be reintroduced on the album after we had already recorded a whole song and I had done demo drums, and then we went in the studio and re-recorded the real drums on the top, but without a click track. I was in there trying to play with myself and unsure if this would be tight. A lot of heart and soul went into the first album, the second album song-wise had really good structured music, and Bob Marlette was really great with getting us on a schedule and coming up with parts in songs and completing them. Still, it also had a more militant approach. We worked on songs, and as we started to play them live, I felt like I wanted to change my parts. The only thing for me on “The Blue Room” is… it was done in a more studio-oriented way. I guess the first record was just more innocent; we didn’t know where we were going with it. On the first record, I was just like, “Wow, this is killer!” and on the second record, you go, “Well, alright.”, maybe we needed a third record for me to decide how great THE BLUE ROOM is. That’s probably the right answer. We need a third record to decide the fate of THE BLUE ROOM!

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In-between the two UNION studio albums, there was a live record called LIVE AT THE GALAXY. What made you decide to put a live record out after only one studio album?

We had an opportunity, so we took the chance to do that, and I think it’s good. I think the songs breathe a little bit more on the live record. There were some cool covers there, we always played good CHEAP TRICK, and we always seemed to have scrappy energy that came across with some of our cover tunes. We love THE BEATLES, so we had to throw in some BEATLES tunes. It was just for the fans. We’d done a bunch of touring in South America and stuff. We recorded it in L.A. at the Galaxy Theatre, and it’s a good little fun record.

Although UNION did quite a bit of touring, you mostly just headlined your shows instead of teaming up with other acts. Was there a particular reason for that?

When we were on Spitfire, my opinion was that they had ALICE COOPER, and DIO was that we should have gone on tour with DIO. I’ve done that with some other bands that I’ve been in more recently where you have the same management or the same label. It just makes sense to do a package. We didn’t have that opportunity, and we just went alone. We did Sweden Rock Festival in 2000; that was cool.

UNION last played some shows in 2005 but with Eric Singer on drums. What was the deal with that?

We were scheduled to do some dates in Japan as the original band, what happened was I the kabash on it, not by choice, but after working with VINCE NEIL, I started working with this Canadian band called THEORY OF A DEADMAN. When I made a judgment call, I talked to Bruce about it, had a heart to heart, and said I really wanted to pursue this situation and gave me his blessings. Because of the fans and Eric and I being close friends, it didn’t make sense for UNION to pull the gigs. So Eric was invited to do the gig, but it wasn’t like he’s in UNION now. It was great that he was willing to do that. I’m very thankful.

In 2005 a live DVD from UNION called DO YOUR OWN THING LIVE was released. Whose idea was that?

Well, Bruce is the bandleader because he’s very diligent, a hard worker, and knows how to be the leader in the band. He’s usually the one suggesting things, and we’d all agree on those things, but Bruce is very much the catalyst. He had a lot to do with the DVD; some of the footage came from different people. Bruce and I watched it a lot and talked about what should go on it. It was a band effort for sure.

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Union live in Sweden in 1999

BRUCE KULICK

After the UNION thing got put on hold, you still kept working with BRUCE KULICK on his solo stuff, right?

Yeah, I’ve done his first two and his soon-to-be-released third record. We did that in L.A. a little while ago, so three for three so far. Eric [Singer] plays on the records, too, and I think Bruce had Kenny Aronoff play a couple of tracks. He’s a great drummer. We get along great, we understand each other, and we both love the same types of other bands, THE BEATLES, anything with a lot of melodies. I understand where Bruce is coming from all the time. We just work great together.

With you two working together on it, and even John usually involved, too, isn’t it almost worth considering putting it out as UNION?

It’s probably just the politics of the band. Like the band I’m currently in, ECONOLINE CRUSH has been around for a few years and released some records before I joined the band. There was a time when the lead singer Trevor [Hurst] had opted to do, basically, his own thing. Sometimes when people are familiar with the name, the name kind of carries on. It’s larger than life. I think the expectation when we do UNION would be that Jamie [Hunting] would have to be involved, and that would be my preference. If we make some new music [as UNION], I’d love Jamie to be the bass player; he’s so musically gifted, probably one of the best musicians I’ve ever worked with. We all contributed to UNION. It wasn’t always the smoothest process to get the end product. Actually, for the most part, compared to a lot of bands that I’ve been in, it was a pretty diplomatic band.

Have you any idea what Jamie Hunting [UNION’s bassist] is up to right now, by any chance?

I don’t. After UNION and VINCE NEIL, he took a little break from touring when we worked together. When we toured with VINCE NEIL, it was a little bit less about the music and more about the entertainment, and you know… there was a lot of shenanigans and fun. We kept the partying up a few notches when we toured, and I think we were all just exhausted for a little while and took a little break. We weren’t really partying in UNION, we were just out there trying to make our band happen, and with VINCE NEIL, we were having fun, Vince is a great guy, and he loves to have fun; we were all enjoying being on tour. I think after VINCE, Jamie wanted to take a little chill pill for a while. Hopefully, he’ll resurface. I need to call him.

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Keri Kelli, Chuck Garrick, Brent, and Jason Hook

VINCE NEIL

As you said, you toured with VINCE NEIL a lot. How did you end up joining his band in the first place?

Here’s the classic line: “It’s who you know.”, but it’s also “Who knows you?”. When I had come out of UNION, I toured a bit with GILBY CLARKE [ex-GUNS N’ ROSES], and just after that, I was doing a bit of studio work and played on some stuff for THE BULLET BOYS, actually. Then out of the blue, I got a phone call. I’d been recommended by some people that had worked with Vince or had worked with me. They’d heard that not only could I play the drums but also the piano, which was an asset, apparently.

I needed it for the song “Home Sweet Home,” right?

You’ve got to do it, and it’s got to be in the set, a great song. So people had called around, and my name had come up several times, so I didn’t audition. It was like, “Great, you’re in the band.”. I just came down and started rehearsing with Vince and was asked, I believe, about a bass player. I didn’t think too hard because I had so much great touring experience with James, so I recommended him. We all just got into a rehearsal place, it just gelled right away, and we put it on tour.

The live album from VINCE NEIL with you on it, LIVE AT THE WHISKY: ONE NIGHT ONLY”, came out in 2003. Any particular reason there aren’t any of Vince’s solo songs on that record?

I don’t know the whole story on that, but I was there the night we recorded, and we did play some solo stuff. I remember playing “You’re Invited (But Your Friend Can’t Come),” and I think we did “Breakin’ in the Gun” off CARVED IN STONE, maybe “25 or 6 to 4”, you know the CHICAGO tune. Anyway, I know we had some songs [other than MÖTLEY CRÜE] in the set, but it’s not my decision what gets put on the record. It would have been cool to have some of the songs from his solo albums on there, but it just never made it to the record. C’est la vie.

So true. Thank you for your time, Brent!

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MORE PICTURES OF ALICE COOPER SHOW IN MELBOURNE

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