As the US hard-rockin’ superband prepare to visit Europe once more AND release their Greatest Hits album, we talk to founder member, songwriter, guitar ace and total gent KEITH NELSON on a pretty decent Transatlantic line…….
FH: Thank you for coming through, Keith. Where are you at the moment?
KN: We’re in Boston, Massachusetts
Really? I thought you were in Los Angeles
We had a gig in Boston and we flew over last night to play the show today. We’re very excited about it, Pete
Good man . Now can we talk about you first as an individual please and then the band? You’re the sort of player that I like listening to but I couldn’t do that stuff myself (I’m a guitar player) because you’re doing this very ferocious, defined sound…now as I understand it, you originally came from Western Pennsylvania?
I’m wondering how you got to hear stuff like Blackfoot, AC/DC that maybe inspired you ?
I don’t really know how that music came to me. It was probably what was going on in my neighbourhood, back then there was no internet so you were kind of a prisoner of whatever was coming out of the local radio stations
Yeah me too, in Surrey
We had a radio station called W ( ? lost that – PS) which was a classic rock station and that’s where I got everything from – Yes and Genesis, King Crimson, to AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynyrd….that’s kind of where I heard all that music…it was the radio
Ok. I thought originally you had a stint on the drums …
That’s true, I started out playing the drums and around the time I was about seventeen years old I decided that I actually wanted to write songs. You have quite a hard time doing that on the drumkit! (Laughs) I switched to guitar and anything I do on the guitar is based around the sounds in my head.
Ok. What I wanted to ask you was something… I went to see you at the Electric Ballroom a couple of times in London. The last time, I took a friend with me who knew nothing about you. After three songs he turned to me and said ‘These guys sound like AC/DC had come from Atlanta!!. But I’m also hearing some Tom Petty in there…’ I’m wondering how you feel about that? Insulted or proud?
(Loud sigh and a pause) I take that as the highest compliment actually because I’m a huge fan of Tom Petty. Mike Campbell’s guitar playing is among the very best out there, I think
You’re absolutely correct there. That guy is a real band player, he works for the song and the band. He does not show off, not ever
Exactly and I just admire that so much, the taste and the skill that it takes a musician to achieve that.—that position of excellence.- There’s an element of that I wanna incorporate in what I do, in my own way.
Oh it’s there. I know lots of American musicians and they come over here and I play with them. Most of them have now come round to thinking that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are the most consistently good band America has produced
Yeah I wouldn’t argue with that ! (Laughs) But at the same time it kinda frustrates me ! Like -. ‘How the f*** did he do that with three chords?’ He’s amazing !.
He did that even back in Mudcrutch days, didn’t he Keith?
Yeah. It’s been a long time man and I really admire what he does. I love the way that band plays together and they make it sound easy, too. Of course, it’s not. The HearBreakers are just head and shoulders above most players
Yeah. He too me I admire him a lot more than many… I’ve got respect for Joe Satriani and Vai for skill but If I’m gonna listen to songs I’m gonna play Mike Campbell or Billy Gibbons because the right notes played the right way get to me…
Yeah. There’s a whole lot of honed guitaring going on there. I think he must be born with it, I don’t know how you cultivate it and I guess then it’s… just there.
I think he has a natural grace and a sense of order because he’s an exciting player but he manages to do it without being crass or gross. Do you know what I’m saying?
Yeah and I whole heartedly agree sir.
Right. Now YOU as player work extremely well with your guitar buddy in Buckcherry. The dynamic is very good because you seem to take solos at the right moment. I would prefer to think that’s organic rather than planned out, but how do you do that?
Well I think a lot of the chemistry between two guys really comes down to personality and philosophy. Really wanting to achieve that so in order to do that you’ve got to have the right ‘partner in crime’ and you have to do what a lot of people refer to as listening.
It doesn’t happen that often!
If you heard my band I think you would think we listen. But there’s no point in blitzing the other guy and the audience sees through it
Yeah you have to listen to what the other guys are doing and play out when it’s right..Now and then we have some conversations about it but we don’t really have to talk too much about it. I think we understand the push and pull and the checks and balances of a two guitar band. Trying to play solos and no one is holding down the core- of it, it doesn’t really work.
No you are absolutely right. I love two guitar bands but I don’t go for the twin leads like Thin Lizzy, but I used to hang out with The MC5 and they used to have one guitar with a fuzzy tone and one really clean. The dynamic they created was very exciting to watch and hear
Yeah anytime we do a twin lead kind of thing it’s gonna be a rare occasion where we really pick our moment to do it. As opposed to having the sound of the band based on that. With that in mind, we’re very conscious of the fact that what kind of guitars we are playing. Sometimes it’s two Les Pauls but not that often. I have a Tele and a Les Paul usually… I play a lot of Les Paul Juniors as well.
I was gonna say to you Keith, you look very much at home with a Les Paul Junior. I know you play other guitars, you’ve got vintage Teles and Esquires but this fluidity that you’ve got really seems to suit you playing a Les Paul Junior
It’s my favourite guitar. I own a Sunburst ’59 Les Paul and my favourite guitar is the Les Paul Junior. Call me crazy but… something about the simplicity of that guitar and the nature of the way the guitar is put together.it makes you work for it. You really have to own it when you play that guitar and not everyone can make that guitar sound good
That’s interesting because I find Gibsons (I’ve never owned a Gibson) when I pick one up I find it’s the frets maybe but I find them a bit too easy to play and a Tele or a Tokai makes me work a bit. Maybe I feel I play a bit better if I have that little bite, or biteback
Yeah. I think with a Les Paul Junior, you wrap the strings round the bridge like that and put a set of elevens on it, tune it to standard pitch and try to make music with it… it’s not as easy as it looks! (Laughs)
(Laughs) Bless you. Now I think you met Josh your singer at a tattoo parlour, is that true?
That’s correct. We were both getting tattooed by this fine fine tattoo artist in Los Angeles named Kevin ..we were both out of bands and were looking for something and he introduced us. That’s kind of how it started
See I don’t ‘get’ tattoos because I don’t want ‘I Love Betty’ on my arm because if Betty f***** me over, she’s history
(Laughs) I understand that !.
How do you choose the ones you like then?
Oh man….sometimes it’s because it has a deep meaning and sometimes it’s because it’s a cool image. There’s really no rhyme or reason for a lot of it. I mean there is rhyme or reason in the moment but at the end of the day when your body is filled up with tattoos maybe it’s a road map to your life. I don’t know.
It has appeal to certain people I realise that. You go and see Buckcherry and you are standing there watching and your girl is not with you she’s moved forward. (Laughs)
(Laughs) Ha ha ! I’ll take that as a compliment thank you very much. The nice thing about this band is there’s something for everybody
Yes indeed. The reason I like watching aren’t you is nobody in the band is doing anything other than making the song work
I appreciate that, man!. The song is the king and we all serve it
Ok. Now Keith, what is the first thing you do when you pick up a ‘Best Of’ or a collective works album ?. What’s the first thing you say if you know the band well?
( Absolutely getting this ) Of course, like any other fan of music you always pick up on the songs that on there
(Laughs) Yeah you’ve got it! I’m looking at the tracklist for the ‘Best Of’ and they’re excellent songs and I can’t knock it. Then the back of my head says ‘I’ve got to ask Keith- where’s ‘Borderline?’, where’s ‘Cream’?, where’s ‘Our World’?, where’s ‘Place in the Sun’? and most of all where is ‘Dirty Mind’?
Great songs man and some of my favourites
‘Dirty Mind’ is my favourite Buckcherry ever and the dynamic of that song is genius
Thank you. It’s hard. First of all, I think that honestly it’s a bit premature for a band to put out a Greatest Hits. Having said that, sometimes business and commerce and art don’t coincide. Conssidering that, looking back over six records and getting it down to ten or eleven songs is a pretty daunting task. Not only that, but the whole business side that you have to deal with getting permission from record labels to put songs on the record. We couldn’t get permission to put anymore songs on there from our first two records. So we had to make our best choices based on that. I would have loved to of seen ‘Borderline’ and ‘Dirty Mind’ on the record. Any number of songs. It’s funny, buying greatest hits records since I was eight or nine years old . Now being an adult and an artist putting a record out there’s a lot of things that go into it that you don’t see behind the scenes. Getting the licensing on all those songs was a bit of a struggle so we did the best job we could. Ultimately, we pulled up radio charts and online activity on the songs, so if there was the question as to whether something deserved to be on there, we let that dictate it. Dictated by the people who play it and buy it
Yeah. Well there’s no statute stopping you buying all the records if you like them and can find them. I’m such a fan of yours I’ve even had to buy crappy soundtracks like ‘Mission Impossible II’, ‘Road Trip’ and some Stan Lee thing as well. If I’m doing that than I am definitely a fan of the band.
Yes you are definitely a fan of the band !!
Having said that, I really like the track on ‘Road Trip’ and that is called ‘Anything, Anything’. Could you tell me something about that number?
Yeah we were writing songs for the ‘Timebomb’ record and Josh said ‘I wanna do this song by Tom Morello, so let’s just demo it and see what happens.’ So we made a demo in our rehearsal room and somehow we played it for the record label. They loved it at the time and submitted it for that soundtrack. It got chosen so what you hear is that s***** demo and that’s one of the first things I ever recorded as an engineer. It was just done in a rehearsal room with the cheapest gear possible. There you have it
I’ll tell you a quick story. I was talking to Randy Bachman and they submitted an album to their label after Guess Who? broke up and the label listened to the album and said ‘Yeah good songs. But we love that last one and we are putting that out as a single.’ They said ‘Oh yeah. What’s that?’ and they said ‘The one with stutter.’ Randy said ‘No that was a joke. We were laughing at the engineer with a stutter. It was bad of us.’ The label said ‘That’s a hit record.’ Randy replied ‘No don’t put it out.’ Anyway, they put a gun to his head and it was called ‘You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet’ and it was Bachman and Turner Overdrive. So he says ‘Pete – what the f*** do I know about records? ‘Cause that was a throwaway track that just crept onto the end of tape as a mistake.’
‘Crazy Bitch’ was recorded as a last minute thing…no deep thinking…just – ‘Let’s record it.’
You’re kidding me?!
It wasn’t even meant to be on the record. So we played the song for a big name producer in Los Angeles who said ‘that’s a good song but you’re gonna have to change the lyrics.’ So nobody knows. If we all really knew what was up. it would be a different game
Yeah Simon Cowell thinks he does but all he produces is bland artists. I’ll tell you one fascinating thing- when you come off stage and you talk to your audience, everybody in the audience has enjoyed different songs the best..don’t you find ?
Yeah. I mean some of them wanna hear the stuff that comes out of their radio in America, some want to the album tracks and we are aware of that. If you look at our setlist, and I don’t know how many shows you’ll see when we are in Europe but the setlist is going to be different every night. Songs that we really like but people may not Josh sent me a text message yesterday that said about one of our B-Sides off the new record and said I really wanna play that song. I was like ‘let’s play it man!.’
Yeah good for you.
Somebody will be there and dig that song
Well I’ll tell you what, at Koko in London I will happily give you a t-shirt and hope that you will play ‘Dirty Mind’! Can we talk very quickly about the last album you did ‘Confessions’? It sounds fantastic- the dynamic, the mix, the guitar work, the voice. What were you doing there that makes that sound so fruity?
It’s a very analogue recording and it was mixed by a true master named Joe.. We did that one in my home studio, which is a professional studio in my backyard. The guiding thought behind the songs was just to push the envelope for ourselves. When you tie in the level of emotional investment that Josh had in the story and the nature of the lyrics it just took it to a whole other level. I felt like sonically and arrangement wise we needed to step up and meet that challenge. That’s why you have songs like ‘Pride’ and things that are different for us but still sound like us
You do understand what I’m saying about that record? It sounds like this tinge of Technicolor that runs through it
That’s not something we set out to do. That’s just the level of complete reckless abandonment that we threw into recording this. You can’t fake that kind of s****. It either is or it isn’t. It just speaks to the band I think
I think you are right. Are you familiar with The Rolling Stones catalogue?
This is your ‘Aftermath’. It’s where you are fully aware of your roots and where you are from, but you’re getting personal
Wow. Thank you for that man. That’s a huge compliment.
Well I will let you get on because I know you’re busy. You don’t have to give up your time to some idiot from England but you did so thank you
It’s my pleasure…I appreciate your questions….
Footnote – we met Keith at the band’s London KOKO show and he was just as pleasant and generous as he may seem from the conversation ..thank you, amigo
For more information visit www.buckcherry.com