BUCKCHERRY – guitarist Keith Nelson

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INTERVIEW AND LIVE PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA

ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS BY VILLE RUSO

The Los Angeles-based hard rock band Buckcherry was originally formed in 1995 by vocalist Joshua Todd and guitarist Keith Nelson. The original lineup also included bassist Jonathan Brightman, drummer Devon Glenn, and second guitarist Yogi, who joined the band’s ranks a few years later. In 1999 band signed a record deal with DreamWorks Records, and their self-titled debut album was then released later on the same year. The hit singles “Lit Up” and For the Movies” helped the band reach great success. Their sophomore album TIMEBOMB was released in 2001. Although the band then got a great gig as a support act for AC/DC – they surprisingly went into hiatus just one year later when Josh decided to leave the group and start his solo career.  It wasn’t until 2005 that Josh and Keith decided to reform Buckcherry, now with the renewed lineup. Drummer Xavier Muriel, bassist Jimmy Ashhurst, and guitarist Stevie D. were the new members, and together this lineup soon released the band’s most successful album to date, called 15. The album went to platinum in the States with mega-successful singles “Crazy Bitch” and “Sorry.”  BLACK BUTTERFLY was released in 2008, and the following year, the band released its first-ever live release called LIVE & LOUD. Buckcherry’s fifth studio album, ALL NIGHT LONG, came out just a couple of months ago, and it finally did bring the band back to Europe. A package tour called TASTE OF CHAOS arrived in Helsinki in November, and then we had a chance to sit down with Keith Nelson and talk about the band’s current activities, the past, and some plans. Read on!

 

BACK IN THE EUROPE GROOVE

You’re now returning to Europe and Finland with this current TASTE OF CHAOS tour. How do you like to be a part of this kind of package tour when you only have 35 minutes set each evening? 

I’m not excited about 35 minutes, but I’m excited that we have an opportunity to play in a bigger place than we could have if we were to come over here by ourselves.  We would be back playing in clubs here, and that’s the reality of it, you know.  So I’m grateful that we’re going to go out and play a month’s worth of arena shows with some really cool bands.  Papa Roach, old friends of ours, we’ve played with them for; we’ve been touring with them off and on for five years, you know.  The Disturbed guys, I haven’t met them yet, but I’m excited about it.  For us, where we’re at with our European audience, I think it’s perfect for us.  We can come over here, and we can reach a lot of people you know and just got to keep coming back, you know.  Since we’ve been on the independent label, we’ve been pretty good about getting over here and getting our records out over here and doing as many interviews as we possibly can.  And you know, if we were in the States right now at 20 after 6, we wouldn’t be doing an interview, but it’s so important for us to reach the European fans.  I want to make sure that we’re making time to talk to the journalists that want to talk to us.  And I think this tour is really, really good for us.

In a way, this is a kind of new and fresh start for you here in Europe. How many songs are you able to play in this amount of time?

We’re going to jam eight songs in 35 minutes. We’re shortening the songs that we kind of jam on and play longer, like “Dead” and “Crazy Bitch” we like to jam in; we’re chopping that out so we can play more songs.  No ballads, fucking rocking it.  So we’re going to have a good time.

It’s been 11 years since you last played in Finland in the same venue, and then you supported KISS and…

Yes, and you know what?  That was the first time we were ever in Europe was that show. It was before the first album came out. It was a long time ago. I remember we got here, and the snow was up over the cars. It was crazy.  So you guys usually get that much snow here?

No, but last year we had something like 60 cm of snow here in Helsinki.

Wow! I also remember that Josh got really sick, and we ended up canceling those German dates since I was so sick I couldn’t get out of bed with like the flu and stuff, so I just kind of tried to eat a little bit better and get a little more exercise and get more rest, you know all the shit I don’t want to do.  I want hookers, cocaine, more hookers.  No, I guess the doctor says. Well, besides getting sick, that first European tour, is that what you mean? I remember we came to Europe, nobody knew who we were, and we were opening for KISS, which is a very hard thing to do because, you know, people come to see KISS. They want to see KISS; they don’t give a fuck who’s in front of them.  They’re dire KISS fans, so we had a lot of—I remember we had a short set, and we just kept rocking the whole way through, we tried not to stop between songs, we just kept going because people were booing and flipping the bird.  But you know we needed to do it, it was good for us.  And the great thing about which is years later, when we came back to Europe people that became fans of us on that four, we ended up meeting them, and you know we made them into fans. What’s also fun is that I don’t think at that point I’d ever seen KISS before, so that was my first KISS show. I hadn’t seen KISS with their makeup; I saw them when they took the makeup off, not their best time.

I prefer 80s KISS more than 70s KISS. When did you see KISS play live for the first time?

I don’t think I saw them until “Animalize,” when I saw them, which would have been 86, 87?

In 1984.

Was it 84?

“Animalize,” yeah.

That’s the first time I saw them.

Okay, as I mentioned already, you didn’t have any release before the tour, but you still reached many new fans on that tour. I also remember I was thinking: “what that was all about. They’re singing about cocaine, and they just did spit over the audience all the time, and the completely crazy band”…“laughs.”

That’s great, that’s awesome.

THE FIRST ALBUM

What kind of memories do you have about making your first album in 1999?

Making that record, I just remember you know we were just so young.  It’s hard for me to listen to that record.  I know many people dig it, and it’s a moment in time, but it’s really hard for me to hear that record because I think about how young we were, and I just think we didn’t know what the fuck was going on.  We were just signed to a major label. We were a bunch of broke guys from Hollywood, never made money, and got this major label record deal.  So it all happened really fast, and I just think that Josh is a better singer, I’m a better guitar player, we’re a better band, and we’re better songwriters.  So when I listen to that record now I hear, I can appreciate it because you know for what it’s worth, but I just think we’re such a better band, and I don’t want to say different band, but we are a different band now.  We’ve grown, you know, and I think differently in the best possible way.  We’re still a rock and roll band, it’s really obvious, but I think we’ve just evolved a little bit.  I think we’re just better at what we do.  We’ve played a couple of thousand shows since then as well, so that doesn’t hurt.

How about the song “Lit Up”? That was your first big hit single, but as a huge KISS fan, I got to say that it does remind a lot of KISS’s song “Shock Me,” right?

Oh, about “Lit Up”?  I always thought that song was more of a nod to hot legs, you know.  I love you, honey. You know I’m a huge Rolling Stones fan, obviously a bit Ron Wood fan. I love all great rock and roll.  I can see how you would say that about the KISS song, but it wasn’t like I had never written a song and said I want to rip that off, it just kind of was out there, and kind of came up.

Tell about working with Steve Jones. He was one of the producers of the first album, right?

Steve Jones was around, we tried to make that record the first time with a different producer, and we loved the sound of our records but Terry Dave just kind of when we decided we wanted to use Terry Dave, right, because we had started with a different producer. It didn’t work out, and we stopped making the record.  And we went in with Terry Dave.  Terry, because of the sound of our records, I just love those records that he made with those guys.  Terry didn’t know the names of the songs that much. Still, he was great because he helped us as a band plays together better with the songs, you know the songwriting, great for helping me with stuff on the guitar and pointing me in the right direction and making me listen to music, making me listen to Mick Ralphs a lot because of the way Mick played his solos and just all-around great funny guy to have in the studio.  He’s a riot; did you ever hear his radio show?

Yeah.

He’s hilarious.  Plus, he was in the fucking Sex Pistols; you know he’s the godfather of punk, he really is, you know. There are many, many great stories, none of which you’ll get out of me because—but yeah, many stories.  I haven’t seen him in a long time. I hope he’s doing well.

He played a show with Sex Pistols in here a few years ago.

Oh really?

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Keith and Josh: Live at Helsinki 2010

TIMEBOMB

Let’s move on a little bit. Your second album, TIMEBOMB, was a really strong album with many great tracks there, but somehow it didn’t succeed like its predecessor? In your opinion, what went wrong there?

No, it didn’t succeed, and it was very disappointing, you know.  At that time, we were having many issues with some of the people at our record label and issues with our manager that we ended up firing as we were making that record, which was really difficult for us.  The band was not getting along as well. The band started to fall apart on that record as far as the relationships between all the guys.  So I think there were a lot of things going on there.  One of the most important was that the relationship with a few people at the record label was really deteriorating, and you think that, well, the relationship’s going south. However, we still made a great record, and we believe in it.  We’re going to tour it.  Well, we did, but when your label doesn’t promote, you really don’t stand a chance to get promoted and have a chance.  That’s why we haven’t been back to Europe; they wouldn’t send us over to Europe.  And we were a new band, we needed them to support us to come over there, and it never happened because of that.  And we’re still paying the price for that today.  Now it’s taken us a lot of extra work, and you know it’s expensive for a band from the States to come over here and tour.  And when your gigs don’t pay that much money, you’ve got to figure out where you’re going to get the money from just to break even, you know.  So we’re still feeling the effects of the demise of all of that during the TIMEBOMB record.

It’s still a great record, though.

Thanks.  It has some moments I’m really, really proud of.  It was heartbreaking a year and a half after we made the record. I remember specifically having conversations with Josh about how hard we worked on that record, how we poured our hearts and souls into it, and the label just fucked it off and didn’t really care about it.  It was a bummer.  To them, you know, to people at the record label, it’s just another record, but to us, it was our lives, you know.  It was everything that we had worked so many years to get to, and they just were like no.  It was heartbreaking.  You know, a lot of those feelings of heartbreak went into why we took the break after that record, you know.  Many people don’t know that the other three guys in the band had actually quit the band at that point when we got off that record.  So we kind of felt abandoned by everybody. I did, you know. I felt like everyone jumped off the fucking ship just because we had a hit record, and then we had a record that didn’t do so well.  I didn’t really get into this to make fucking hit records, I got into this to make records over a career, and sometimes you’re going to have hits, sometimes you’re not.  It doesn’t mean you fucking stop. So, I mean, there are songs on that record I absolutely love, and there are a few moments I don’t dig that much, but that’s you know, it is what it is, you know.  But I think it’s a great record. It’s not even in print in the United States anymore, but…

As said before, there are some great songs on that album like “Slammin,” which is one of the best songs you’ve ever done.

Oh, thanks, man! Thank you, that was one of those songs. We were getting to the end of making the demos for that record, and Josh said we need another rock song, and I put it off, put it off, put it off, and we had like a rehearsal at 2 o’clock, and at 1 o’clock, I went into the rehearsal room, and I was like okay, what have I got.  I was just thinking I started the drum machine; I was used to writing on the drum machine to get good ideas.  I put that beat down, and I just came up with that little guitar riff, and I played it for him, he loved it and wrote the lyrics on the spot, and that was it.  Like quick, quick, fast, didn’t think about it.

Another gem on that album is “Riding.” Do you want to tell me some more about that song?

“Riding” was written in the same week that “For the Movies” was written, so we made the first record and then went back in the rehearsals and wrote and just kept writing.  And the record was finished, it was going to come out, it was mixed, it was done, and then we wrote “For the Movies” and “Riding” at the same time.  And we were so jazzed about “For the Movies” that we went behind our label’s back and recorded it with a guy that we made our demos with.  And then we just said, oh yeah, we have another song, but you know, and then the label freaked out over it and wanted to put it on the record.  But we wrote “Riding” then too, so we had “Riding” for like two years until we made the next record, and it was good to know that we had a great song to start the record with.

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Buckcherry promo shot from the year 2001

THE LOST YEARS

The band did break up in 2002 when Josh decided to start his solo career. What did you do back then?

I did a lot of yoga “laughs” No, not really.  You know, I was out of money, I needed to find a job, and I wasn’t excited about being in a band at that point.  I was really bummed out about the whole thing. Like I told you, I was really heartbroken over and over and over again on so many occasions. I was just like fuck, you know.  I got to do something, so I started working for a record producer, helping him with the artists he was working with–with their guitars, with the actual equipment, fixing their guitars, tuning them.  That evolved into renting and bringing my gear in to make the records, figure out parts, help the bands in rehearsal, and generally be around for making the records.  And I did that for three years until we got back together.  So it was a great opportunity for me to work in the recording studio and learn everything because they were very cool about letting me ask questions.  The more I saw I’d go down and the more I worked on the records, the more I was convinced that I could make and produce records.  I just needed to have a chance.  So when I was working there, we got out of the sessions at like 10, 11 p.m. I would go to my shitty little room I rented with my little pro tools rig, become a pro tools rig, and just start to record my own stuff and write songs.  I didn’t know what I was writing them for, but I just started. I had to keep making music, you know.  And so, I just tried to learn more and more about recording.  So that’s what I did during then when Josh was working on a solo record.

Around that time, you and Josh also worked briefly with Slash and co?

Well, that was at the end of the band, you know.  Before there was a Velvet Revolver, Josh and I were involved with those guys for about a month and rehearsed as a band, recording the rehearsals every day and working together.

You also did some writing with them?

Yes.

Tell me about that song “Crazy Bitch”. Was that something that was written during those sessions?

We had that song; we had made a demo of it.  It’s basically the demo that you hear.  The song you hear on “15” is the demo we had long before meeting those guys.  And then we had the song, and we took it in there and played it with those guys in rehearsals, but it was our song before we met those guys.

You are credited for writing Velvet Revolver’s “Dirty Little Thing” was written at that time?

That was from actually being in the room with those guys writing “laughs.”

THE REUNION

The Buckcherry reunion thing, you and Josh decided to put the band back together in 2005.  What made you decide to reform the band at that point?

Well, we hadn’t spoken that much during the interim, you know, when he was doing a solo band, and I think he felt like that was coming to a close.  I had some stuff go down in my personal life, you know, and some tragedies going on, and he called me up when he found out, you know.  He was really sweet, and he comforted me as only a guy that I’ve known for how many years could do.  And we started talking about everything other than music when we started talking.  It was about our families and what was going on with me and what was going on with him, and at some point in the conversation, it just kind of seemed natural hey, do you want to try and make some music.  And I don’t know who brought it up, whether it was he or I, but it just kind of seemed like we were both on the same page of like you know it didn’t need to end that way and it never ended, you know, I think in our heads.  But there was no official statement that the band was over. There was no official breakup.  So I just had some basic ground rules that I wanted to lay down before we started.  I said it’s got to be fun, and we have to make the music that we want to make.  We can’t let—because we had a lot of pressure from our record label on the first go-around… to be a certain way.  We fought it all the way. We never gave in to it.  They wanted us to be more like what was really popular at the time, you know.

Do you mean grunge or that type of thing here?

Yeah, they wanted us to be more like that.  And we just, we are what we are.  I wasn’t really willing to give in on that, and neither was Josh, so that’s a lot of head-butting going on there, which has a lot to do with the relationship’s demise.  So when he and I got together and decided we were going to take another run at this, it was about, hey man, let’s just make our own music the way we want to make it and not let anybody fucking tell us how to do it.  I don’t care what the fuck is on the radio, and I don’t care what our label thinks is the best way for us to go.  Let’s make our music.  We dictate the music.  Their job isn’t to dictate the music.

Then you announced the band is coming back. How did the record labels react when they first heard about it?

Nobody cared.  Nobody cared at all.  So to back up a little bit, we needed a band, and my thinking was because those other three guys had left the band on their own, they weren’t kicked out, they left, and they didn’t want to be a part of it.  So why would they want to be a part of-… Don’t know?

When you decided to regroup, did you also ask other former members to return to the band?

No. We decided to get guys in the band… who were actually our friends.  So these three guys are friends of ours, and they happen to be phenomenal musicians. It worked out really well.  So we knew that the camaraderie was going to be there, and we had one rehearsal, and it was awesome, and it was like fuck this is great.  So we wrote the songs for the first record, for “15,” and shopped the demos around, and no labels wanted anything to do with us.  The only label that wanted anything to do with us was Universal Records in Japan.  So they gave us an advance for the record based on the demos, and we used that advance money actually to make the record.  Very cheap.  And then finished the record and shopped it again and still, everybody passed.  So we went with an independent label.

It wasn’t long after you got smash singles with “Crazy Bitch” and “Sorry.” So it was you who got the last laugh there…“laughs.”

Yes, yeah.  Way better than—they did us a big favor, and we did flirt with the major label there for a while because after we sold so many copies. They wanted to be involved, and we did. We worked on the BLACK BUTTERFLY record with them. It was, it just only reaffirmed our disappointment in major labels, and we were like yeah, that was kind of a mistake to go back to a major because, I mean, it cost us more money and didn’t really give us any more results.  Why bother doing it? You know the game has changed.  I think they’re a little bit behind.   Their influence, Atlantic Records, is all about hip hop artists and urban music, and that’s great, but we’re not a hip hop band.  So I don’t think they really knew what to do with a rock band.  So we went back to our independent label, and I couldn’t be happier.

We just talked with Jerry from Papa Roach, and he told us the same kind of stories about the big labels and how great is their state in Seven-Eleven now, Eleven Seven, yeah.  Okay, how did “Crazy Bitch” become so “big” song?

I think it started on the internet. We put that song on our MySpace page, people started to very organically just trade the song and listen to it, and then radio stations in the United States went to our MySpace page and downloaded it off there. However, they did it, you couldn’t download the song, but they streamed it somehow, recorded it, and started playing it.  Because we didn’t even have a clean version, you have to play a clean version on the radio, and we didn’t even have a clean version because we didn’t think anybody was going to play the song.  And I think we were getting ready to go with something else as the first single, and then it fucking started gaining momentum, and we were like good, let’s do a video, and things kind of—you know we just threw it together, we went on the road.  I had to go back on the weekend and give them a mix without the word fuck in it, you know.  I didn’t know what I was doing; I just, who would have thought.  And so we scrambled together a video, and we got some panties, and we printed screened “Crazy Bitch” on the panties and went out and sold out all the panties, and the song started selling, and the ringtones and it happened.  It took a while for it to happen. It wasn’t like an overnight success, but it was very exciting once it started to go. You could feel like something was going on with that song, with that record, just the vitality of the band’s going on.  It was pretty awesome.

The actual album “15” was released in Japan before the rest of the world?

It did come out in Japan first.

I remember I ordered a copy right away, maybe a couple of months before it came out in Europe.

It came out in Japan and the United States at the same time, and then we had a big problem with the European release, you know, on both that and BLACK BUTTERFLY.  It was a real bummer for us. It was really a drag.

Yeah, the BLACK BUTTERFLY. I don’t know what to say, but to be honest, I think if I had to put your albums in order, it’s number five on the list.

So you loved it “laughs”  You know what, it’s all right, everybody—I think that we make the best possible record that we can at a given time and I think that we could have come off the success of “15” and said let’s make that again.  But we didn’t. I mean, those are the songs that we did write, that’s what we were feeling, and that’s the record we made.

Do you see that it was a kind of a mistake afterward to release “Too Drunk to Fuck” as the first single from that album?

I don’t think that was our smartest move ever.  It’s not my favorite song.  But you know we were with a major label, and they wanted that song on the record. So they kind of were thinking that it was going to be “Crazy Bitch” part two kind of….?  Probably in their mind, you know.  Everyone that bought “Crazy Bitch” will buy this song.  And look how many we sold.  I don’t, you know, when they’re holding the money that they owe you, and they’re telling you they want a song and you’ve been working your whole life for this, and it’s not even, it’s money that you’ve already earned, you’re inclined to go oh okay put that fucking song on the record.  It’s our song; it isn’t like it’s somebody else’s.  We did it.

After BLACK BUTTERFLY was out, you also did your second tour with KISS. How was it different this time compared to the first time?

Well, they paid us, “laughs.”  It was great, you know.  We started a relationship with Paul and those guys back in 1999, and it was great to reconnect with them.  You know we had a body of work behind us that we could go out there at night and play five, six songs that had been on the radio, seven songs had been on the radio.  So it wasn’t like when we were the new guys, you know.  We go out there and hold our own and do our thing.  So it was a really good tour for us.

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The new Buckcherry in 2005

ALL NIGHT LONG

Okay, we have like four minutes left. Let’s now talk a bit about your latest album ALL NIGHT LONG…

Let me ask you a question.

Of course!

If BLACK BUTTERFLY is the number five in your Buckcherry album list, where is ALL NIGHT LONG then?

Uh, it’s maybe number three.  I would say “15” is my favorite, and then comes BUCKCHERRY or TIME BOMB. I can’t decide what’s better… it always depends on the day.  But ALL NIGHT LONG, for me, it’s number three, I would say because it sounds a lot like a mix of the “15” and the first album for me.

ALL NIGHT LONG reminds me that it has; it makes me feel like it has songs that could have been on our first record.  Like the song “All Night Long” could have been on our very first record.

I do agree with that. Which one’s your personal Buckcherry favorite album?

Well, you know ALL NIGHT LONG is my favorite, I’ve got to say you know.  The longer we do it; you know I’m very emotionally invested in these records.  I spent a lot of time as the producer, you know.  I spent a lot of time toiling over each and every subtle nuance that’s going on with them.  Even if it’s a live take, you know, ALL NIGHT LONG is the one I think sounds the best sonically, that was such an important—I hate the way, I don’t want to say hate, I wasn’t that pleased with the way BLACK BUTTERFLY sonically sounded when we were done with it you know.  It’s not very digital, I mean, and I wasn’t happy about that, so when we made it ALL NIGHT LONG, one of my big things was I wanted the sound analog, I wanted it to sound warm, and we weren’t making it through a tape machine because I don’t have a tape machine. Still, I had all this vintage outboard gear and vintage guitars.

Am I right? You didn’t have to double too many tracks for that one?

No, I mean, it was about getting one great guitar sound in one speaker. So there was a very conscious effort to leave space, I want to hear the guitar, and I want to hear the sound around it.  I want to hear the bass, I want to hear that big note, and I want to hear that voice just right there.  I don’t want to hear a lot of grease on it. I don’t want you to tune in with a computer. I want to hear Josh singing right there in the face, you know.  And that’s why I’m really proud of it because it takes guts to make a fucking record like that.  Bands don’t make records like that anymore.  They fix everything you know.  And it was about playing it right, singing it right, being in a band, having a band playing it together, not fucking fixing it and trying to make something perfect.  I’m just not down with that shit.

Yeah. Our time seems to be used now.  Thank you, and see you on the show soon!

Thank you.

FOR MORE INFO, GO TO:

WWW.BUCKCHERRY.COM

LIVE PICTURES FROM BUCKCHERRY’S HELSINKI SHOW!

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