RED REIGN – Climbing The Ladder
July 19, 2017, 10 months ago
Richmond, Va. rockers Red Reign has managed to capture that vintage ‘80s rock/metal/Sunset Strip-era glam metal with fiery vigor. It’s a familiar sound, yet it’s delivered in a fresh and exuberant way on the band’s new self-titled five track EP. Consisting of vocalist/guitarist Carlton “Bubba” McMichael, guitarist Stevie Shred, bassist Larry Moore and drummer Sammy Lee, the foursome are flying the flag for melodic hard rock. Sammy Lee called BraveWords writer Kelley Simms to talk about the new album, working with Grammy-nominated producer David Ivory and what the band has to do to climb of the rock ladder.
BraveWords: What’s the Richmond rock/metal scene like?
Sammy Lee: “It’s hard for a band like us because we’re an all original band and we don’t do cover tunes. Hard rock in general has become a tough sell. But also when you’re not playing any cover tunes that people know, it becomes even harder. It’s got its places where you can play. But for us, we need to play out of state because I think the music is more appreciated out of our city.”
BraveWords: You’ve done some local opening slots with Lita Ford (CD release show) and Saliva. What kind of experience did you gain from these opportunities?
Sammy Lee: “It was fantastic. Those shows were in Richmond. So when you do get the bigger acts in Richmond, then there’s a lot of support. We were lucky enough when people come to see those shows, we win over fans quite a bit. We’ve been very successful with that. We think our music fits that type of mold of the Lita Ford’s and the Quiet Riot’s. We have that kind of music mix that just mixes well and when people come to see them, they’re seeing that same genre of music, but in sort of a newer fashion.”
BraveWords: Is Red Reign still paying to play and what do you think of it?
Sammy Lee: “You have to do it sometimes. I have mixed feelings about it. I’m on the lower spectrum so I would say I don’t like it because most bands that aren’t signed, which is us, but have a team of people; we all work, we all have to go out, we all pay our expenses and do everything else. It makes it tough, but unfortunately that’s the way it seems like the music business has gone and gotten. If you want to be persistent and you want to do what we’re doing, which is trying to get the music out to as many people as we can, then you got to play the game a little bit. I’m not a huge fan of it, but you have to do what you have to do.”
BraveWords: On the new EP, what direction were you steering the songs in?
Sammy Lee: “The way it started, the singer and I Bubba started Red Reign. We’ve been in a previous band in Richmond that had some local success. We’ve always written originals and Bubba has a certain writing style. To us, because we’re a little bit older, a good song is a good song. So when he was coming up with the hooks and the riffs, we just went with it. We didn’t really write a song thinking how to get people to like it. We wrote songs that we thought sounded good. It’s being well received so I think what we did was a good job.”
BraveWords: After releasing your first EP Chasing Shadows, is this new one just a stop-gap for an upcoming full-length?
Sammy Lee: “I believe it will be. But I don’t think it will be in the near future. Chasing Shadows was an EP we self-produced here in Richmond with a great engineer here named Grant Rutledge. When we got sort of a wider listening audience and got some help through a friend of mind at the Classic Metal Show, Neeley and Chris Aikens, helped us a lot. They turned us on to Chip Ruggieri, who’s our publicist, and he liked most of the songs off the Chasing Shadows EP, but the songs needed to be reworked and rearranged a little bit. So that’s when we brought in David Ivory who is an unbelievable producer and helped us. He didn’t change the message of the song or change the way the song was written, but changed the arrangement of the song. We took five songs off the original Chasing Shadows and reworked them and made it into this EP.”
BraveWords: What was it like working with producer David Ivory and what did you gain from it?
Sammy Lee: “The experience with David Ivory was second to none. When you walk into a room with a guy like that and you’re an unsigned band but you really haven’t gotten to the next level up. He could’ve said, ‘It’s my way or the highway,’ but he was never like that. He was very accommodating. I’m not a songwriter, the other guys in the band write the songs, I do more of the business end. But when you have a songwriter who’s open to it, which our guys were, then you can see how the product turned out. If you listen to Chasing Shadows, you can tell the difference between the two per song. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Chasing Shadows, it was good for what we did. But that’s the difference between self-producing yourself and then having a guy like David Ivory produce you.”
BraveWords: Red Reign has that vintage hard rock spirit with an old school ‘80s vibe and this EP reflects that.
Sammy Lee: “We have many influences. We’re a product of the ‘80s as well. I’m a big Van Halen fan and when I’m playing drums, I try to bring that Alex Van Halen boom to it. Bubba has many influences and he brings that to the band. Stevie (Shred) has the Dokken-ish, Poison, LA Guns type vibe and Larry our bass player is a huge Queensrÿche and Rush fan. So obviously when you’re doing that you try to bring that influence into your playing, which brings it into the song. A good song has staying power. If you try to write a hit or you try to write a song that people are going to love, then you’re going to have a harder time than really playing what’s in your heart and what you believe is good. And that’s what we do. We just started playing and we believed the songs were good and luckily we had someone like David Ivory to make them flow better.”
BraveWords: Yourself and bassist Larry Moore lock into that pocket like a good rhythm section should. What’s your drumming technique or style while playing the songs?
Sammy Lee: “I played drums late. I didn’t start till I was almost 14, and I’m dyslexic. I went to a drum teacher who was phenomenal. He actually was on stage a couple of times with Buddy Rich. Buddy had come here to the university and my drum teacher was working at the school of music and got up on stage with him. He was that good. Going to his house and trying to learn music and read music, I really struggled being dyslexic. I also had a little bit of an attention problem. Learning the rudiments became difficult. I didn’t want to learn them, I just wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll. A lot of it is self-taught. My double bass was all self-taught, my teacher didn’t teach me that.
“So I overcompensated, and if you listen to Chasing Shadows I really wasn’t in the groove. None of us were in the groove. I was throwing in drum fills when I shouldn’t have. I was throwing in double bass when I shouldn’t have. So that’s another thing about David Ivory. Every time I stepped off the rail, he’d say I didn’t need to be flashy and told me what my job is. At the age I am, it took me this long to learn that when I was with David. My drum style is more to stay in the pocket and not over shadow the rest of the guys. (To) have the background beat but also have the flair here and there. And once that sunk into my head, that’s what I tried to do.”
BraveWords: Frankly, I don’t listen to the radio. But how has the single “Not That Way” been accepted on the various outlets it’s being played on?
Sammy Lee: “Everywhere it’s been it’s taken a whole new meaning. We have not gotten one word that the song is even OK, everybody loved it. I don’t want to sound like an egomaniac, but it makes you feel good. Anybody who’s listened to it, it’s been well received. That’s one thing about this EP, there’s a song on there for anybody who just likes rock ‘n’ roll. We’re considered a melodic hard rock band but ‘Not That Way’ really is just a rock ‘n’ roll song. ‘Toxic’ is a little more fierce, then ‘Chains’ is a little more melodic, but it has a heaviness to it. ‘Red Reign’ is a hard rock song and ‘What is Love For’ is a ballad. And that’s a good thing.”
BraveWords: What do you think Red Reign has to do to climb the ladder and get more quality gigs?
Sammy Lee: “The plan is to keep building. We are getting ready to leave Richmond in two and a half weeks. We’re hitting the road with Tesla for a week. That’s been a game changer for us. Three weeks ago we played with Quiet Riot here in Virginia. To get those kind of shows and to be not only in front of new fans, but obviously those fans like hard rock and metal. So that’s the goal; to keep booking these live shows in front of these bigger bands and keep spreading the word. It’s been successful so far, so we’re going to stick with that plan for a little while.”
BraveWords: In some way, every band continues to pay its dues. Is Red Reign prepared to do so?
Sammy Lee: “We’re still hungry to play live. This is kind of a funny statement and people might think I’m full of it, but I’ve never played music for money. And for people who don’t believe me, I’ve played in bands with singers who demanded this or that and I gave them the money I made at the bar. And it didn’t matter to me. For me, the goal is to play live and to have that one person come up to me and say, ‘That was a good song and I’ll listen to that.’ Would you like to make money doing what you love? Sure. But our goal is to play live in front of as many people as we can. It’s an achievable goal, but it’s almost unachievable because if I want to play in front of 10,000 people, then I’m going to be hungry to play in front of 20,000 people. So the hunger is always there.”