With a comeback studio album a live money shot under their belt - Saudades de Rock and Take Us Alive respectively - it was a given that Extreme would continue to build on the momentum. Word that guitarist Nuno Bettencourt would be touring extensively with Rihanna in 2010 sent the rumour mill into panic mode, however, making the news that vocalist Gary Cherone was launching a new project sound like the crack of doom. The band has been clear in their intention to release a new studio record, and had the overly exciteable members of their fanbase paid closer attention they would have realized that Cherone’s new band, Hurtsmile, was launched in 2007, around the same time as the Extreme reunion.
In all fairness, if you blinked you probably missed it.
“Don’t beat yourself up for missing the first signs of Hurtsmile,” Cherone advises. “It was really at the beginning stages, it was a project. I just put some demos out on the internet for the Extreme fans, but I had to put it on the shelf because Nuno and I got to talking. I told the guys in Hurtsmile that the mothership was calling because I’d be waiting to do another Extreme record for the longest time. It was put on the shelf for a few years, and when Nuno had the opportunity to tour with Rihanna I decided immediately that I had the time to finish what I’d started.”
Hurtsmile’s brief appearance in 2007 was enough to get people talking, in some cases about a much needed Extreme reunion. Cherone’s high profile stint with Van Halen from ‘96 – ’99 fell flat for seemingly everyone but the band, and his industrial-flavoured Tribe Of Judah solo project from 2002 also failed to catch on.
“Obviously there’s more to the record than the few demos from 2007, but the majority of people liked Hurtsmile and a lot of them said what you did, that Tribe Of Judah had a few too many bells and whistles going with their rock n’ roll.”
Tribe Of Judah’s sole album, Exit Elvis, proved to be much too cold and impersonal for fans that had quite literally grown up with Cherone playing the role of flamboyant rock star. It was as if the life had been sucked out of his music.
“Looking back on it, I agree,” says Cherone. “If you put Tribe Of Judah in context of me coming out of Van Halen, the last thing I wanted to do was put together a four piece rock band. I was open to working with some new people and trying to do what I do on a different template. But, you are what you are and it was more of an experiment. This is what I grew up on, and my favourite bands are three and four piece rock bands.”
Hurtsmile is quite literally a homegrown affair for Cherone, as it features his younger brother Mark as the band’s guitarist. He considers is a long overdue musical partnership.
“We all grew up in Boston in the clubs, and my brother is a few years younger than me so he started a little later than I did,” Cherone says of their roots. “Back in the day we were playing the same clubs, though, and the singer in Mark’s band was Nuno’s brother Paul. We were a very tight knit group. Mark and I have always been close. He’s a great guitar player and a great songwriter, and I knew that someday the schedules would permit us to work together. When we started Hurtsmile in 2007 I wasn’t bummed that Extreme was getting back together, but I was bummed for my brother because I’d been looking forward to doing some music with him.”
Comparisons to Extreme were guaranteed the moment Cherone put his voice to tape. Fans will find they’re able to take comparisons further with regards to his brother’s guitar work, which has a definite Bettencourt flavour. Cherone is quick to point out, however, that working with a different guitarist brought out different qualities in his own songwriting.
“When Mark was growing up there was no one in Boston that wasn’t influenced by Nuno. Mark was a little younger and Nuno was so prolific – he was on another planet back then (laughs) – and they were and are very close. Not that Nuno tutored Mark, but Mark learned a lot from being around him. For me, it wasn’t until Mark moved to L.A. and got away from Extreme that he kind of found himself. They both have the same heroes, but Mark reminds me more of an Angus Young whereas Nuno’s playing is more Van Halen influenced. That does bring out different melodies and attitudes from me. The first song we worked on was ‘Just War’ and he’d written the verse and the chorus, and I put my chorus melodies over his verse and the verse melodies on his chorus (laughs). He thought it was great and just wanted more of that”
As he looks ahead with Extreme and Hurtsmile, it’s Cherone’s hope that the fans will do the same rather than dwelling on past non-performance. He admits there has been some discontented rumbling from the Extreme fanbase over Hurtsmile’s full-fledged return, but those are the same people that saw Bettencourt teaming up with Rihanna as the End Of Days. Cherone understands their thinking but doesn’t see a problem.
“That’s a difficult situation because the fans are diehard; they want me to eat, sleep, drink Extreme. I guess it would have been different 10 or 15 years ago, when people didn’t have instant communication with the band. With the internet, Nuno and I are doing enough interviews on our own that we reassure the fans, and it usually shows up on a website an hour later. It’s still very sensitive, but anyone who saw the last Extreme tour and heard the last record, we’re as passionate about Extreme as we ever were. As a matter of fact, we feel like we’re a new band.”
Simply put, Extreme is nowhere near dead or dying.
“Yeah. So far so good. Nuno and I will be writing for Extreme while Hurtsmile is touring, and as long as I don’t refer to Hurtsmile as Extreme we should have no problems. Of course there are going to be a lot of Extreme questions and comparisons, but I think the Hurtsmile record stands on its own.”