INTERVIEW AND LIVE PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
U.S. icons Ratt are back. The band has gone through many major changes in recent years. After many various steps, turns, lineup changes, and public drama, things are finally solved, and the band is back to stay. The current line-up has three original members: vocalist Stephen Pearcy, guitarist Warren De Martini, and bassist Juan Croucier. The band is complemented by longtime guitarist Carlos Cavazo and drummer Jimmy DeGrasso, who joined Ratt this spring. The band is currently on tour, and now it’s time to find out what they want to do in the future. There has been a talk of a possible new Ratt album and many other things. I met the bassist, Juan Croucier, in June in Sweden Rock. We discussed the band’s plans, the new album, Juan’s solo career, and his early days with Dokken. Read on!
BACK IN BUSINESS
First of all, it’s great to see Ratt on tour again. Apparently, all the problems have finally been solved, and now the band can go ahead normally. If I’m right, all that legal stuff is over now?
Juan Croucier: It’s over. It’s over, and we’re moving on. It was an unfortunate thing, but out of that, I like to look at the positive. Stephen and Warren and I came out of it. We survived it, and now we want to do what we do best, and that’s Ratt and Roll. So, I don’t like to get into the details of what happened. It’s public. You can look up everything on the Internet. So, I really don’t have much to add to that. But I’m very thankful that things turned out the way they did.
So, there is not going to be more fighting about the name and other stuff anymore?
Juan Croucier: Not at all. No, it’s cut and dry. It’s been adjudicated. The judge has rendered his decision, and that’s the law of the land. Believe me. He saved the band. I could tell you what I think about it, but I believe that it’s probably better that I just refrain from getting into the details of what I personally feel about it. Because the bottom line is that we’re moving forward, Stephen and Warren, and I, and we are pleased about that. We have Carlos Cavazo and Jimmy DeGrasso, and so the band is playing better than ever. We take it very seriously, and we intend to build it and be consistent, and that’s very important. We haven’t been to Europe for a long time. We stopped… We started touring. We did the M3 festival in Columbia, Maryland, and then we stopped, and then a period went by. Then the next summer we did a series of shows. We did about 20, approximately 20 shows. We were about to start up again, and then we stopped. We did a handful of shows in 2014, and then everything came to a halt. So now we want to do these plenties of shows, and then in 2018, come right back again and keep going. I don’t like to make promises because I’m one of the… I’m the kind of guy who looks; if we’re making a record, then we say we’re making a record.
You said IF you’re going to make a record. Does it mean that nothing has been confirmed yet?
Juan Croucier: Honestly, I think it’s inevitable. What Ratt does is… we perform live, and we record music. We create songs. So, the thing about creating a record is that it needs to be for me. But it needs to be on the level that we were previously on. Quality is very important. I don’t want to make a record, just to make a record. So, my main thing is really simple. I want to know that we all have songs that we agree to do. Songs that fit our style and that are appropriate for this point and time. Then we start making the record; it is just making the record. What’s really important to me is having the songs, that’s it. That’s the number one thing. Once you have that, you’re good to go.
I know that you were not in the band when the band released its latest album, INFESTATION, but what do you think about that album?
Juan Croucier: I think it’s a very good record. I think that it’s a great effort. Now records are different because there are no record companies, and radio is different. People don’t just go to the record store and buy the record; they download it; they just steal it. So, it’s a different era. However, I think that the effort was great. I know that they worked really hard on it, and I respect that. It’s about caring. Every step you make is an important one. Every single show is very important. Everything that you set out to do counts. The day you stop caring about that is the day that things probably start descending. So, I think that’s one thing that’s really kind of helped us. When I have been involved… There was a period when I wasn’t there. I was doing my solo bands, raising a couple of kids on my own, and recording many bands in my studio. But even though I wasn’t in Ratt, Ratt never left me.
It’s a part of your soul.
Juan Croucier: Forever.
THE OFF YEARS
Ratt broke in the early 90s, but it united again in 1997. Did they ask you to join the band then?
Juan Croucier: Look, we broke up in ’92. Stephen quit; there was a lot of tension. Having to do it over again, I’m sure that we would have just said, look. We’re going to take a break. We’ve been making records, making videos, touring. We’ve been doing that for a decade. It’s time to give it a rest. We haven’t stopped. We just go, go. However, things were as they were. So, we broke up in ’92, and then in ’97, some of the guys wanted to get back together and were being really pushy about it. I just wanted to make sure, at that point in time, that everything would be right. We met, and we discussed it, and then as I said, some people whom I won’t name were being very pushy about it, and it was basically my way or the highway. I wasn’t in the position with the responsibilities that I had raised two kids. To just say, yeah. I’ll do whatever it is we’re going to do. I needed to know what was happening. Of course, there were a couple of other little factors there too. But it didn’t come together at that point in time. That’s part of the reason we’re here today. Because some things happened at that point in time, that was not legal. So, I didn’t push the issue. If my partners, my bandmates wanted to make a living. I wasn’t going to hold them back from doing that, in a sense. I was trying to be a good person. However, there are agreements that we had, and those agreements just didn’t disappear because you wanted them to. So, look, being in a band is a difficult thing. Most bands don’t last that long. The average life is about three to five years, and this is 35 years later. You learn certain things along the way, and you have mutual respect for each other. You accept each other for who they are; you are, we are. That leads to longevity. So, I believe, just speaking for me, I’ve learned from my mistakes, and the bottom line is I want Ratt to move forward.
Although things are now solved, how did it feel when someone talked so much rubbish and even called you a liar in public without mentioning any names?
Juan Croucier: Look, an insult is only as good as the person who is insulting you. There are certain levels that I will not descend to, and I refuse to engage in a war of words and insults. It’s not good for the fans, and that’s who I care about the most. It is a tough business. If you don’t have thick skin and can’t take a blow, don’t get in the boxing ring. I wish things had worked out differently in many ways. One thing I’ve learned is I can’t control other people and their actions. I can only control what I do. I like to treat people like I want to be treated. That doesn’t always happen. People don’t always reciprocate respect, and there is nothing I can do. If I can’t add to somehow defusing it and making it go away or make it a better situation, I refrain from saying anything. There was no way, during the period that you were alluding to, nothing I could add would help alleviate what was going on.
That was a very polite answer. It must say that you’re talking like Paul Stanley when asked some “difficult” question “Laughs.”
Juan Croucier: Paul is a good guy. I like Paul. I think it’s a compliment. Thank you, “Laughs.”
At the end of the 1990s, you had a band called Liquid Sunday. The band released an album of the same name in 2004. Would you tell us a bit more about the project?
Juan Croucier: There was a band… Honestly, what’s interesting here, a good question “Laughs” I’ve had solo bands for about 20 years now, and right around the time that in ’97 when some of the guys were talking about getting back together, I had a solo band going. So, it was me and my brother Rick and a couple of other guitar players. I started making my solo music, a lot of songs that Ratt just didn’t do, and then some Ratt songs. I liked to make something that would represent the different styles that I would be getting into. So, I did the EP. I ended up playing everything and singing and producing. I did the whole thing by myself, with my brother playing drums. Because I wasn’t sure if the musicians I was playing with were going to stick with me for very long. Okay. So, I did that. You can pick up that CD on CD Baby or my website. It’s really kind of obscure stuff. I plan on beginning a new record, a new solo record, in the very near future. But right now, with Ratt working, it’s very difficult to be in two places at once. So, I’m going to wait for Ratt to finish up the shows that we have, and then at that point, I’ll get back in the studio. I’ve been in the studio. I just haven’t been able to go all the way.
When I first heard the Liquid Sunday album, I found many elements, riffs, and melodies that could easily have been on any Ratt album. Do you agree with that?
Juan Croucier: Right. I play guitar. I’m a bass player, but I also play guitar. I consider myself a singer-songwriter. Ratt has always had a lead singer, and I love that and respect that. In the studio, Stephen and I have figured out how to create something that either one of us wouldn’t do by ourselves. A lot of it is Stephen’s voice, juxtaposed with my voice on the choruses. So, you have sort of a ratty, sort of dirty kind of vocal, and then you have clean harmonies in the background. That kind of brings together a part of the Ratt formula. If you want to call it a formula? So, it’s one of those things where you try to find what is the thing that sort like defines you. So, over the years, many of the riffs that Ratt plays are parts that I wrote. I don’t like just to go; I wrote this and that. It’s about the band. But inevitably, that’s part of our style. It’s a natural thing.
Everybody’s doing their parts, and that makes the sound of Ratt.
Juan Croucier: Right. That’s what really important and unique about the band.
MORE ABOUT THE POSSIBLE NEW RATT ALBUM
You mentioned earlier the possibility of a new Ratt album. So, what is the actual situation? Do you already have some material written for it?
Juan Croucier: Here is the truth of the matter. It’s not a question of songs. I have a very large back catalog of songs. I’ve never stopped writing. When you’re a writer, it just comes out of you. It’s like painting a picture. You see a vision in your head, and you just have to get it out of you, even if you don’t make a formal recording of it. As long as you have the sketch on a small cassette player or whatever, you know how the idea goes. You mark it down for future use. The key thing with Ratt is that we just need to agree on what songs will constitute a record. With me, I speak only for myself; my main thing is that I want to know that we’ve got the songs. When we’ve got the songs, then we start making the record. I wouldn’t call it a piece of cake. It’s hard work, but the hardest part has to have good ideas. That is on the level that we want to maintain. That’s first and foremost. It’s kind of like when you want to buy a car. There is a Corvette. There is one thing you really got to have, money. So, to me, the songs equal the money, and the record is the car. You want that record to happen; you got to have those songs first. One thing, by the way, I’ll add this. Which is kind of an interesting sort of slant on it? For many, many years, Ratt did records according to our schedule. So, we make a record, do the videos, go on tour. Over and over again. So now, at this point, I want the priority to be that we’ve got the material that we believe in and we’re standing behind, and that will really showcase us the way we should be at this point and then make the record. Then it doesn’t matter if we produce it ourselves or get a producer. It doesn’t matter what studio we use because we know what we’ve got is good.
One more thing about the possible new Ratt album. If you had the freedom to choose freely, Who would you like to produce a new album?
Juan Croucier: Me.
Yourself? But are not you worried about being a little too close to the band?
Juan Croucier: No. When you’re an objective producer, you don’t want to operate on your family member a lot of times. Okay? But the point is we already know what we do, and we know how to do it really, really well. I’m not saying that I would end up doing it because my ego is not wrapped up in it. What I’m saying is that we already know the guys in the band. We really know what Ratt is about. We’re not trying to search for this new thing, to find ourselves. I’m not saying there are not many great talented producers that couldn’t bring something, and we may even decide that. However, when you’ve been doing it this long, and you know what Ratt and Roll is about. It’s like, come on, guys. Let’s just get the record done. A record is a lot like doing a demo; it’s just a lot more elaborate and with a lot more of a critical ear on what’s going down. So, to me, it’s not something that we can’t do on our own, and most of the time, a producer is there just to diffuse any type of thing that might happen and keep a clear vision on getting the record done.
You have worked with many great producers and engineers, so; I think you know how to play the game.
Juan Croucier: I’ve worked with some of the best people in this business, no doubt about it, and I’ve learned a lot from them. Beau Hill, Mike Shipley, Mike Stone, there’s a lot of talent. I’ve also spoken with a lot of producers. When you’re in the music field, it’s like anything else. What are the other guys are doing, you hear. On any occasion, you run into them. It used to be in the ’80s, producers were very important, and they had a lot of say. Sometimes it worked out for the better, sometimes not so much. I give a lot of credit to Beau Hill. He really helped shape the Ratt sound in many ways in the early days, and so there is something to be said for that. When you already know what your sound is about, and what your style is and where you’re going. Then it’s a question of just actually putting the pieces together, that you don’t need to be there. For example, I could use almost any band. A Van Halen record is a Van Halen record. You know what to expect, and there are surprises, sure. But you know what you’re getting. You know it’s not an Abba record. You’re not wondering; you’re just curious. It’s much the same for us. I think producers are terrific. There was a period when they were very expensive and had a lot of control. Then that era sort of passed, and then things started just to evolve.
In the 1980s, producers were like rock stars “Laughs.”
Juan Croucier: Absolutely.
And sometimes they made more money than the bands themselves.
Juan Croucier: Yeah. They made a lot of money. They were very, very essential—a sort of a conduit between the band and the record company. And many times, the record company would say, we’re looking for X from this band. Bring it to us. Look, there is no denying that folks like Mutt Lang and Bob Rock did a great job. It was just amazing to work that they turned out. So, there is no way to knock that. It’s just that once a band understands where it’s forte, where its niche is. You’re not going to hear Ratt doing a song that Steely Dan would do. It’s just not going to happen. So, we pretty much understand that, and sometimes an engineer, who is also a little bit of a producer, could be perfect because you get the direction and you get the feedback. You get that extra ear. But as a band and especially in a Ratt’s case, you know what’s got to be there. If those components aren’t there, then you got to rethink it and keep going. Sometimes a song will start out really promising, and by the time you finish it, it’s at the bottom of the list. Sometimes the song doesn’t sound like it’s going to make it, and it ends up being one of the best. So, it’s a hit and misses no matter what you do, and that’s part of the art.
One more question about producers. Desmond Child produced a DETONATOR album, and many people still think that he wasn’t the right choice for the job. What do you think about that?
Juan Croucier: Look, I didn’t agree with that at that point in time. I went along with it because I wanted to be a team player. I wanted to go back to the EP style, and I’ll never forget that we made the record. I’m not going to blame anybody, and Desmond Child is a terrific artist. He’s very talented, and that’s the fact of the matter. However, I remember when I was on tour. We were starting our Detonator tour. I was in this one hotel room, and I’ll never forget it. Because the TV was up on the wall, up high and I was laying in my bed. And I saw Metallica, the new Metallica, and I went, “There it is.” I’m not saying that we should have been like Metallica. I’m saying that what Metallica was doing was raw, heavy. I believe it was “Enter Sandman,” and it was just like, “That’s what I’m talking about.” Just in your face, powerful and kind of aggressive. You know what, it’s an approximation. You try to do the best, but it’s a compromise. Sometimes compromises are right, and sometimes they’re not right, and you learn. You turn, and you go, oops. I shouldn’t have done that. Oops! But that’s part of being in a rock band. You got to sort of give each other a little room.
You’ve made a great career with Ratt and producer, but you were also a Dokken member at the beginning. Tell me something about the band’s early days?
Juan Croucier: Listen, back then Don and I and Greg Pecka, we started as a three-piece. Then we elected to get George and Mick in the band. We had done a lot of work in Germany, and Don was really, really determined. So, we found a studio. We played in a club called The Sounds Club in Hamburg, and across the building, there was a recording studio. We met this guy, and he said, “Hey! If you guys want to come over late at night and record, come on over.” That was Michael Wagener. So, we recorded some stuff… A long story short. We ended up bringing Michael to the United States to finish the Dokken record. While we were waiting, Michael recorded the Motley Crue EP. He recorded Black ‘N Blue; he did Great White and a few other bands. We were going, “Hey, you were supposed to finish our record. What’s going on?” So Dokken was a band that I was very fond of. However, when we got George and Mick in the band, the chemistry changed a lot. Some for the better but some not so good. George and Don really didn’t get along because you had two leaders in the band.
It must have been a challenging situation, “Laughs.”
Juan Croucier: Right. I remember one time I brought in the song “Lack of Communication.” I showed the riff for George, and he turned around from his armchair, and he goes: “I’m not doing that song.” I said, “Why?” He was like, “That riff is too simple.” I go, “but you got to hear the rest of the song. It’s just the guitar part.” He goes, “I’m not doing it.” Right there and there, I kind of knew this is going to be tough. This is going to be hard. If I want to work with people who will work with me, this may not be the situation. Then, of course, the feuding with George and Don became famous. But that’s just Rock and Roll. Sometimes people get along; sometimes they don’t. But the music is good. So, they kept on doing it, even though they didn’t get along.
What kind of memories do you have on BREAKING THE CHAINS album recordings sessions?
Juan Croucier: BREAKING THE CHAINS was a really weird record, and the best way I can put it is, it was a conglomeration of a bunch of demos. My brother Tom played bass on three or four of the songs, and Bobby Blotzer played drums on a couple of songs. Peter Baltes ended up playing bass on it, and I co-wrote a couple of songs on that record. So, it was a sort of thing that just had a lot of pieces to it. Back then, it was tough to get into the studio. It was really hard to record a single or a record. So, Don’s determination made it so; he just put the pieces together little by little. Then there were times when… There was a short period of time when I wasn’t in the band because we were going to tour Germany. I said Don, “Are we going to make any money?” He goes, “I can’t guarantee we’re going to make anything.” I said I couldn’t go to Europe and lose my apartment. I got to live somewhere. So, these are all things that bands had to do to make it happen. So, the record is a great reminder of what bands do, to try to in that time to try to make it.
Do you still remember the Dokken EPs that were released as bootlegs before BREAKING THE CHAINS was out?
Juan Croucier: Yes, I do remember that it’s funny you mentioned that. Because I remember, and I still have them in my record collection. We would pick up a lot of bootlegs back in the day. Records like that were called “rat droppings,” “Laughs.” People that would record us and then make print records. There were several here in Europe that Dokken found and we found. That’s just life.
Our time seems to be at the end. Is there anything else you would like to say to all the Ratt fans out there?
Juan Croucier: I think Ratt is a kind of a band that we just do what we do. We’re not trying to become something different and new. We just do Ratt and Roll.
PICTURES OF RATT AT SWEDENROCK 2017