INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
James Christian is a Connecticut based musician and songwriter, best known for being the frontman of the hard rock band House of Lords. Christian started his musician career in the early ’70s, and during the years, he performed with such bands as Jasper Wrath and Eyes before moving over to Los Angeles in the mid-’80s. In Los Angeles, Christian joined the band L.A. Rocks, and then he got to know former Quiet Riot bass player Chuck Wright, who introduced Christian to keyboardist Gregg Giuffria, who informed him that he was trying to get a new band together. This band became House of Lords, which originally consisted of Giuffria, Wright, Christian, guitarist Lanny Cordola and drummer Ken Mary. The band released albums HOUSE OF LORDS, SAHARA, and DEMONS DOWN between 1987 and 1992, before eventually going separate in 1993.
Christian released a solo album, RUDE AWAKENING, in 1995 and performed as a guest musician on several other projects. In 2002, Christian reunited with the original lineup of House of Lords for a couple of shows. The next album THE POWER AND THE MYTH arrived in 2004, but without Greg Giuffria who had stepped down. Two years later, Christian reformed the band and released the album WORLD UPSIDE DOWN (2006). After several changes, House of Lords’ permanent lineup now consists of James, guitarist Jimi Bell, drummer BJ Zampa, and bassist Chris McCarvell. The new lineup released three albums, COME TO MY KINGDOM (2008), CARTESIAN DREAMS (2009), and BIG MONEY(2011), and returned to Europe for their first tour here since 2009. Metal-Rules.com caught up with Mr. Christian in Stockholm in February 2012 and here are the results of our interesting chat which includes all the latest news as well some interesting stories from the past. Read on!
Okay, first of all, the current tour. You’ve now been playing in many places where you haven’t been before. How’s everything been going?
New places and old places, it’s been an interesting time and lots of travel. To me, touring is all about the hard work of getting from one place to the next and doing a great show, and that’s what’s been happening every night.
You were forced to cancel a couple of shows last year because of your health. So, how are you doing now?
So far, it’s stabilized. I had surgery to try to remove most of the problem. That was cancer, no way to go around it. So right now, I’m okay, but, you know, you just never know, so I’m just thankful every day that I can go out there and perform.
Okay, but everything looks good now?
Yeah, right now. I’m really good. I feel good. I lost a lot of weight. I would have preferred to lose it a different way, but the way t had to lose it was that it was, you know, recovery. So now I try to keep it down and try to stay healthy.
House of Lords in 2012: Jimi Bell, BJ Zampa, James and Chris McCarvill
Last year you released the latest House of Lords album BIG MONEY album, and, from what I have been seen and read, it has got some raving reviews. So, it looks like this new version of House of Lords is doing great together?
It’s a great unit. You know why? It’s because it’s a unit of guys who are so hungry to make great music. They were actually fans of House of Lords before they became members, so when they became part of the group they worked so hard to keep the spirit alive of what House of Lords is all about. It’s not easy to write a good record after a good record. It’s very difficult to try to do better each time but so far I think we’ve been really consistent, and that’s the most important thing. We put out good music, good rock records.
I was just going to ask about it; you guys have put out five albums within seven years. Where does all that inspiration come from?
My inspiration is just for the love of being able to be a performer and a singer. I love working with Jimmy’s tracks. Jimmy has a very dark sound to his writing so when he gives me a track, I put the melodic into what he does and the two together make for very heavy melodic rock. People who hear it have people who are heavy headbangers, very heavy metal people, and they love our music. And then we have people that love lighter melodic, and they love the music because it’s a good blend, a good mixture.
So, overall, this new album, you have been in the business for something like 30 years, almost 40 years. If you should rank all your albums in order, where would you put BIG MONEY?
I would put it up there with DEMONS DOWN, and the reason is that BIG MONEY has all the elements of a great rock, melodic rock record, yet new people, people who have never heard of the band can listen to this and go, “Hey, I think I like this style of music.” It’s all about songs to me, and that’s why sometimes people will say, “Well, I’ve written five records,” but if you can’t write ten good songs then you shouldn’t release a record. They got to be songs that people are just going to want to listen to again and again and again, not once or twice. So, for me, it’s all about the songs, and then everything else afterward, you know, guitar solos, special effects, doesn’t matter… really, all it has to be is a good sounding record with good songs, and you’re in good shape.
You have been working with Frontiers Records for a while.
How do you see Serafino Perugino’s role, how important he is for the whole melodic rock scene?
Well, Serafino was first and foremost a music lover before he became a record label president. What he did with Frontiers was he put a place for all these acts to be reborn. It’s a tough thing, it’s a tough business because you have commercial radio and then you have melodic rock, which was always the core of music. We were always what music was all about, but now it’s become the minority. So Serafino has made sure that his label has been able to bring those bands out to the front. That’s a good thing, that’s a good thing. It wasn’t easy to do.
I think that without people like him, the whole genre would be in trouble?
He did a great thing. You know what, the music industry needs melodic rock again because it suffered for ten years. Twelve, fifteen years, it suffered, in my opinion. There were no great rock and roll bands where you thought, “Oh my God, that’s the greatest thing I’ve heard in 20 years.” How many times can you say that in the last ten years, you know? There was fantastic music. Music that lasted…it lasts 50 years from now. But when the music industry changed, it changed not for the good of music but the good of the business, and that’s the problem that the businessmen said, “Let’s put out 50 records, and if one record makes a hit, we still make a profit because these bands were signed for $20,000 a deal.” Where, when we were doing it, it was 250 to 500 thousand dollars a record. So they took the music business, and they screwed it up a little bit, in my opinion.
They raped it.
Yeah, they really did, but it’s starting to recover. There’s starting to be some good music coming out now that I appreciate.
THE OLD TIMES
What if we go back in time a little bit, back to the time when you first started your career?
It was in the ’70s — you started your career with a Led Zeppelin cover band, and you made it okay, right?
Yeah. We were doing tribute bands before tribute bands were even popular. Led Zeppelin was, for me, the band that just defined what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be Robert Plant, but I certainly enjoyed singing his songs until I figured out for myself what I was about. When you’re a young singer, you’re influenced, but then you have to realize that there has to come to a point where you have to become your own band singer, and you have to say, “Ok, I love Robert Plant, but who are you?” But he was a good influence.
Was he the key for you to start singing?
Yeah, a good key, yes.
And then you had bands like Magic and Jasper Wrath…and you had a hit song called “You.”
You did perform that song for a long time with many different bands, but when was the last time you played that song?
When was the last time I played it? Oh my God… 25 years? I’ve never played it in so many years because it was a regional hit song. The song made it possible for other people to know who I was because the song was so popular on the radio. Plus, at the same time, we did the very first radio commercial for Subway Sandwiches, which is very…Subway is a big chain in the United States, and I did the first commercial for them, and that’s how the other song came about. Every little piece, every little seed gets planted, and then one thing led to another. That’s how it works.
MOVING TO L.A.
In the early 80’s you moved from to Los Angeles and started to create your career there. Moving from Connecticut to L.A. must have been a big change, not just for your career but for your whole life. What kind of memories you have from that time?
Los Angeles was a wake-up call. I mean, I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing when I got there. I saw some of the bands and went, “man, some of these bands suck.” No offense, I won’t say which ones they are because where I came from, in Connecticut, all the bands were awesome. I grew up with — Michael Bolton and myself — we lived in the same town, and we played the same clubs, and he did Blackjack, and I did Eyes and Jasper Wrath. We grew up, and we flourished from the same place. All the music back then, John Cafferty and Beaver Brown, these are all bands that came from my little town. So I was used to that quality. When I went to L.A, I didn’t think the quality was as good. But luckily for me, I found the House of Lords, which was high quality when I first saw them.
You mentioned Michael Bolton and Blackjack. Did you also know the future Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick then as he also played on Blackjack back then?
I remember that whole thing. I remember how everything happened. It’s like a dream but believe me when I tell you there was so much great music in Connecticut. I couldn’t believe it. I said, “Wow…it was so much better than what was going on in L.A. where everything was getting signed, everyone was getting signed. My friends were getting signed every day, from Warrant to Ratt to Poison; it was like one after another. “Oh my God, when is it going to be my turn?” And all of a sudden, BAM, it happened.
HOUSE OF LORDS
If I’ve learned right, Chuck Wright did bring you into the House of Lords. How that thing came about?
Chuck Wright was the bass player hired by the band I was working with, called L.A Rocks. We lost the bass player, so they hired Chuck to do the bass parts for a showcase. And Chuck goes, “I remember this voice. You sound so familiar.” I said, “It should be familiar because I brought you a tape, I brought it to your house for Quiet Riot.” And he goes, “Oh, I have been trying to reach you for the last three or four months,” but because I had already moved to Los Angeles, he couldn’t find me. So that’s when he said, “I’ve got a new thing I’m doing now with Gene Simmons. If you’re free, you’ve got to come to meet Greg”, and we met at a Mexican restaurant, and he brought me to the house, his home and asked me to sing a couple of songs. One of them was “Age of your Life” one of them was “Jealous Heart,” and then the next thing I knew, I was meeting Gene Simmons, and one thing led to another, and I became the singer.
Speaking of Gene Simmons, House of Lords was, as far as I know, his first signing for Simmons Records, and not only did he want to change the band’s name, but he also wanted to change the lead singer, and then you got the job. So how you ended up in the band?
Well, Gene was looking for a certain type of voice to complement the music. The voice needed to have a signature, something that people would remember and identify with. Not just be a cookie-cutter. One singer can be a singer for ten bands and doesn’t have an identity, so he heard my voice, and he said, “You have an identity. When I hear you sing, I know who you are. That’s important.” So that was an advantage for me because I don’t try to sound like Robert Plant when I sing now. II try to sound like me. It was perfect timing for me. It was an ideal time. My voice was ready, I knew who I was, and Gene could see that. So that was important.
Right, how did you end up with the name House of Lords then?
Well, it was supposed to be something else. I think it was “Balance of Power,” something like that, and then Gene went, “No, that’s not the name. You guys sound royal, and you sound like royalty. When I hear your music, I think of royalty, like House of Lords.” And I went, “Oh my God, that’s an awesome name.” And that was it. It just came out of his mouth, and he registered it the next day. That was it.
I was just thinking, who owns the name House of Lords now?
I do. I bought it from Gene.
When did you do that?
About six years ago. He owned the name because the name was originally his idea, you know.
So you’re still in touch with Gene?
Yeah, at least every three or four months, we talk to each other. He’s proud that I’m still doing this. “It’s just amazing. It’s great that you keep the name alive.” Do you know? He’s happy.
So that was the story of the name, how about the House of Lords logo, who did create it?
Glenn Wexler. He is a guy that works for Geffen Records. He created it, designed it, and trademarked it. He owns it, but we can use it. He also owns the crown, the actual coat of arms, he owns it, but we still can use it
Once you got the job in the House of Lords, how it was to work with those other guys because you were a kind of “green apple” on that band if you know what I mean?
Yes, I had no experience with anything except singing. That’s the only thing that got me to that point. I gained experience afterward working with great people. Andy Johns did Led Zeppelin, my favorite band of all time. I ended up working on my first record with the guy who did Led Zeppelin, so to me, that was a dream comes true in some other kind of universe. I mean, I can’t even explain it. I would have thought that maybe I’d work with a great producer, but not the producer of someone I was so influenced by, you know. And for that producer to say to me, “James, you sing a song twice, and it’s done.” And I’m thinking, “No, I want to sing it more, I want to sing it five times, ten times.” “No, you don’t have to. Twice is enough.” I was very honored by that. It was amazing. I’ll never forget it.
After you had played in the ’70s and ’80s with many smaller bands, you finally made it a big way with the first House of Lords album. Then you did tours with bands like Scorpions and Cheap Trick. That must have been a fantastic time!
Yeah, it was. It was the best dream come true. But you know what’s important? It’s never the people you play for. It’s to be able to play, period. I grew up playing clubs. I grew up playing clubs that were 100 people, 150 people a night and led me to where I am today. So when I look back at it and say, “Do you miss playing for 10,000 people?” Of course, I do, but that doesn’t make me think that I shouldn’t play for 100 people or 150. I love music. When I hate what I’m doing, that’s when I stop. But I don’t, I love it, so I’m very fortunate and very lucky to be doing what I want to do.
House of Lords during SAHARA era
SAHARA AND DEMONS DOWN
The sophomore album SAHARA was released in 1990, and there were some changes in the line-up?
SAHARA was the same band except for Doug Aldrich. Doug Aldrich came in to do guitars. Lanny got fired, he had some problems with…it was internal problems and nothing about his playing, his playing was awesome, it had to do with other things.
“Can’t Find My Way Home” was originally recorded by Blind Faith in 1969, and it was a successful choice for SAHARA. I was going to ask how you ended up recording that one for the album?
“Can’t Find My Way Home” is one of the best songs I ever heard. I like the fact that we added a different part to the song, but the part of the song that was great was the acoustic part, and when you hear a song like that, it’s like hearing “Maggie May.” You know, “Maggie May” was such a great song that nobody ever re-cut that song, but “Can’t Find My Way Home” not a lot of people know who that was, so when they heard it, they didn’t know that it was a good old song because it was obscure.
Doug told me once that the version of “Can’t Find Mt Way Home” on the album is a demo recording. Was it like that?
It was a demo. Actually, it was my vocal. My vocal was a demo, and his guitar was a demo. We were in the studio writing, putting together “Can’t Find My Way Home,” and he started playing, I started singing, and then Gene Simmons hear it and said, “That’s your next single.” I said, “Okay, we’ll go in the studio and record it.” And he said, “No, you’re not going to re-record it; that’s it right there.” I said, “Come on. Let’s go back to the studio,” he said, “No, there’s something about the magic that just happened. You never can repeat it.” And he was right. So we left it.
So that demo version story was true.
You do have a bunch of special guests on the SAHARA album. Whose idea was that?
There were a lot of background singers. We had Robin Zander; we had David Glen Eisley, Ron Keel, the guy from Cheap Trick, and many more, right. Everyone came in to do backgrounds. I didn’t know about it, but Gregg set it up, you know?
Despite the album’s success, it went to platinum; you soon got dropped from RCA, and Gene also let you down. Whatever happened then?
The music business got screwed up. The guy who was taking care of BMG was really…they had three different presidents in the time that we were there. The record company didn’t know if they would be a blues label or an R&B label, or a rock label. We knew it was time to move on, and that’s why we were looking for a new label. When we found Victory, we saw a guy, Phil Carson, who was involved with all the greatest bands on Atlantic Records, and we thought he was the guy we wanted to work with. So we signed with his label. And DEMONS DOWN was a great record, but the music industry changed, right on time, right there, and… the end of the story.
Tell me something more about the DEMONS DOWN period. You had such an interesting lineup on the album, including Tommy Aldridge and Sean McNabb there.
Well, DEMONS DOWN was a creation of Mark Baker and me, who was my songwriting partner, and Gregg Giuffria was involved with it because Gregg was, you know, was kind of the focal point of the House of Lords at the time. At that time, band direction had changed so many ways with the new label, different members, but the band was awesome. It was a great band. We played a couple of shows, and it was awesome. But when the music industry changed so differently, it made no difference in how great the record was. It was a bad time.
OTHER THINGS IN LIFE
Once the band broke up, you then met your future wife Robin Beck, and you got your first child in 1997. You didn’t do much with the music business at that time, right?
Well, it was a great time for my life, having met Robin, getting married, having our child. I t was a wonderful time. I would never trade it for anything in the whole world. Now I’m back doing it because my daughter is more grown-up, and I can handle being on the road more and doing things, but before I was a father for ten years, all I did was raise my daughter. Me and Robin, that’s all we did.
You still released a solo album called RUDE AWAKENING in 1995. Tell me something more about it?
Well, everybody kept asking me, “You got to do something, you got to do something,” So I would just do it, but it’s not like I needed to do it then. I was just, .they said, “You got to keep your name out there.” So I did it, but it wasn’t until 2006 that I started working with the House of Lords again.
You reunited with the original band, minus Greg, in 2004 and released the album POWER AND THE MYTH, but that didn’t last too long.
No, it didn’t last because I didn’t like the music. They changed the direction too much; I didn’t want to do that direction. I wanted to go back to what I loved: melodic rock.
If you say that you didn’t like the music on POWER AND THE MYTH, what makes a song a House of Lord’s song?
House of Lord’s songs have great structure, where you know where the verses are, and you know where the choruses hit, and the melodies stick in your mind. It doesn’t have to have the perfect lyric. Lyrics are very touch-and-go; some can be funny, some can be tongue-in-cheek, but you got to have something that people will want to sing back to you. When they hear it, they want to sing it with you, you know. House of Lords is all about choruses, big choruses.
Okay, James, our time seems to be up now. Thank you for doing this interview!
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