By Mitch Lafon
When POISON released their first album back in 1986, the hip rock critics panned the band and gave them less than a year to exist. Well, twenty-five years later the band rolls on and drummer Rikki Rockett looks back on his time in Poison with pride and looks forward with eager anticipation. Bravewords.com caught up with the affable skin man to discuss rock’s greatest guilty pleasure, Poison.
Bravewords.com: You’re on tour this summer with MÖTLEY CRÜE. Fans have been clamoring for this double bill since 1986, but the Motley guys never seemed to take Poison seriously and often put down the band. Has that negative energy passed or will this tour truly be a battle of the bands?
Rikki Rockett: “I never had the negative energy and, honestly, I’ve always been a Mötley Crüe fan. Let me put it to you this way, recently, I read this article about motorcyclists from an outsider’s perspective and if you don’t ride a motorcycle you think all motorcycles are the same. You don’t know the difference between a Harley, Yamaha or a Triumph until you’re in it and then all of a sudden everything seems so different. So for a fan that loves ‘80s music they don’t care about… They like a TESLA song, a Motley song, a BON JOVI song and they don’t understand the nuances between the images or this and that. Your general overall fan just likes good music. They like good songs and you can’t have just one band in your playlist. In fact, most don’t even have one genre in their playlist. Most people like everything. If, for example, you look at my wife’s playlist she’s got everything from Motley to MAROON 5 to country. You can’t live by bread alone. I think too many bands get wrapped up in this stuff. I had a beer one time with Lars Ulrich and at the same time there was a cover story in Hit Parader about METALLICA versus Poison. I said to Lars, ‘are we fighting?’ and he said, ‘not that I know of’. People get too twisted about this stuff. What’s worst is when the band starts to get twisted about it too. I don’t know where this stuff comes from. We’ve always gotten along with Motley, but we went through this little period of time where there were some differences and I do understand Motley going ‘we started earlier in rock and if the whole ‘80s thing is coming down – we need to separate ourselves away from it if we want to continue to have a career.’ I get that, but I do think that if you turn tail and run from who you are that can be devastating.”
Bravewords.com: Especially, when fans grew up loving your music and that image. Is there really a difference between Home Sweet Home and Every Rose Has It’s Thorn?
Rockett: “No, not really. A good song is a good song. Mötley Crüe and Poison have been through similar circumstances. The nuances are subtle from a fan’s perspective and the main thing is fans are going to love this.”
Bravewords.com: Absolutely and fans are going to get a three hour show filled with about forty top ten hits.
Rockett: “Absolutely and these tours work because fans can bank on getting a lot of bang for the buck. That’s why, for example, STYX and JOURNEY go out together. They may not be the hippest bands on the planet, but it doesn’t matter because you get great music and you know you’re going to get great music. Whereas when people see a bunch of newer bands… you might see eight of them on a bill but, at best, get six good songs. That’s why packages like ours work in this touring market. There’s not a lot of money to go around and we’ve done everything we can to keep tickets prices down.”
Bravewords.com: Do you adjust your set list at all because Mötley Crüe is coming on after you? Do you include more of the faster songs and pull out some of the ballads?
Rockett: “You know what Mitch, we haven’t sat down as a band and talked about it yet.”
Bravewords.com: What would you like to do?
Rockett: “I’d like to do everything. Obviously, we have to keep our hits in there because people want that, but I would probably open up with Let Me Go To The Show, drag some of the older stuff out and just challenge ourselves a little bit more. Motley is going to have a bigger show because they’re headlining, so I’d rather focus on our songs and what the fans really want. I’ve been reading on Facebook what the fans really want and they want something different in the set. We need to write down all the hits we need to cover, but from then on change almost everything. Do all different stuff to what we’ve been doing over the last years. Leave out all the cover songs and just do Poison songs.”
Bravewords.com: As a fan, I think that would be the best thing. If you’re going to play only (maybe) twelve songs, I don’t need to hear your cover of THE ROMANTICS or KISS. I’d rather hear 'Back To The Rocking Horse', 'Play Dirty' or 'Blame It On You'.
Rockett: “That’s a great idea by the way. 'Blame It On You' is really a fun song to play.”
Bravewords.com: Quite frankly, you could just play the entire first album from start to finish and you’re done.
Rockett: “I would love for us to book a couple of special shows where we just go and do the whole Look What The Cat Dragged In album. Then, in the encores, we could do a couple of the other hits from the later records, but just cover Cat from top to bottom. We could do the choreography and everything. Obviously, we can’t do everything like it was 1986 nor should we try, but we could be similarly energetic.”
Bravewords.com: Do you think this idea is something the band would consider doing at some point? Isn’t this is the 25th anniversary of Look What The Cat Dragged In?
Rockett: “You know Mitch, that’s exactly what this is and this is exactly what I’ve been trying to get the band to do. I think we should lead the tour with this or end the tour with it. In the situation that we are in with Motley, I think we need to mix up all of our songs for now, but if we did some of our own shows; I think that exactly what you and I are talking about would be great. I would love it. I would really love it. I think fans would go crazy and we could do the set-up the same way and I could build a kit… By the way the kit I built for this year’s tour is a knock-off from the original Open Up and Say Ahh kit.”
Bravewords.com: Speaking from a fan’s perspective, I think this would be a great way to celebrate the beginnings of the band. I would love to hear 'Blame It On You' (like I said before), but also 'Cry Tough' and '#1 Bad Boy'…
Rockett: “I would absolutely love it. I wish to God I could re-record those songs because I play so much different now. The core of who I am is the same, but I would put so much better of a spin on it now and throw those little things in that I just didn’t know back then. They always say that you should really go out on tour first, play all your songs and then come home and record them, but that’s not how we work in the music business. We do exactly the opposite, so you don’t always get all those choices. We were on a budget on that record. We were banging out four tracks a day.”
Bravewords.com: The whole album took only twelve days…
Rockett: “Yeah. That included pre-production and all that. We just had no time. Our main idea when we went in to do that record was not to have a technically proficient record because we just didn’t have the time for that, but what we needed to make it do is freaking ‘party’ (and that’s what we needed to do with our videos as well). We just didn’t have the budget. You don’t want to plant tomatoes in the desert. You plant a cactus in the desert. We decided to take what we knew would grow in that environment and did the best we could with it and that’s why I think that record works. That fervent feel of it is contagious. Believe me, we were not at the best place in our lives when we made that record. We had been turned down by every record company and here we were settling… well, at that time we considered it to be settling for an independent, but when I look back I’m glad we did because it put us in the driver’s seat. At the time, we didn’t have any money. We couldn’t play any gigs for a while because we were concentrating on putting together songs for the album (writing and all that stuff). We disappeared from the circuit so we couldn’t bring any money in. We were dirt poor Mitch. We didn’t have anything and we weren’t at the best place in our lives, but our music ‘partied’, we lived in that and we decided to make a record that felt like that because if it lived in us maybe it would live in other people too. It worked.”
Bravewords.com: It did work. It’s been twenty-five years since I first bought it and I’m still not fed up with it yet. I put it on the other day and listened to it from top to bottom. You simply cannot put on that album and only listen to one song. You have to play the whole album. To me, it’s still magical. If you ever play one of those albums shows – make sure you capture it on film and put it out on Blu-ray. You’ll be able to update the sound like you mentioned before, but without having to re-record the album.
Rockett: “Mitch, maybe you should manage us (laughs).”
Bravewords.com: Speaking of albums – isn’t it time for a new Poison album? I see Bret running around doing solo album after solo album and I keep thinking ‘wouldn’t it be great to have CC, Rikki and Bobby on those tracks’. I want some new Poison…
Rockett: “You know Mitch - here’s the thing that drives me crazy, we have learnt so much in our career… in our twenty-five years, yet it amazes me that we are not putting all of those things together (that we have learned) into an album. We could make a really great record at this point. I know I’m a better player than I was even ten years ago. I know everybody is better. Everybody has had more experiences… I can’t tell you how overdue a new record is. I am so with you on that. That’s what I wanted to do this past summer quite honestly and then we could be going out on this tour with a new record. It’s never to late to make a new record in my opinion and maybe it would be really good to do it after we come off of this. We could go back out headlining next year with a new record. I’d love that. It’s time… it’s time.”
Bravewords.com: Do you think it’ll happen? Doesn’t it get to be annoying to be nothing more than a heritage act at this point (and I don’t mean to be negative)?
Rockett: “YES! Absolutely it does. Bret is doing a lot of his own stuff right now, so he feels like he’s not being a heritage act. He’s spending a lot of time on his own stuff and that makes it fairly difficult to work around.”
Bravewords.com: I listened a lot to RATT’s new album (Infestation) that came out last year and the guys hit a home run. Then, you hear the new ACCEPT album and it’s another home run. There’s no reason why Poison can’t hit a home run.
Rockett: “I really wish that Ratt album would get some play because it’s a great record. Blotzer is playing the best I’ve ever heard…it’s a great great record…”
Bravewords.com: And Pearcy couldn’t have sounded any better. As for Poison, what can fans expect apart from concerts?
Rockett: “It’s up to us to make a record. We’re in control of that and that’s what would turn the corner for me.”
Bravewords.com: It’s long overdue… Will you make another solo album to keep the creative juices flowing?
Rockett: “I’m going to continue to try and convince the band to do another Poison album, but I, for the first time, have decided to think about working on a side project. I really want to do something and I’ve been talking to a few people and if this tour didn’t happen that’s what I’d be doing this summer. Obviously, I’m going to have to put it on hold for a little while. I’m all about keeping the focus on Poison, but if Poison is not working next year then that’s what I’m going to be doing and I’m going to have fun with it. I’ve never stepped outside of Poison and tried something in a serious way, but if I do – I’m going to give it everything. I’m not going to half-ass it…”
Bravewords.com: By side project – do you mean another solo album or a new band?
Rockett: “It’ll be a new band. The solo record was a fun project, but as a solo artist I wouldn’t go out and make a covers record. I would make an album of songs that I wrote. That album was just something I wanted to do and it was a fun thing. I though about going through all the eras of music and I think it would be really fun to step up and do an early punk record of covers. Not in any serious way, but just something fun to do. I made Glitter For Your Soul in my little studio to reconnect to some of those ‘70s artists. I reached out to all those people and made friends that I still have to this day. Life is about having these new experiences.”
Bravewords.com: If you do a side-project, would it be an extension of Poison music or will it be the Rikki Rockett jazz album?
Rockett: “It would be a straight ahead rock record very much like BAD COMPANY. That’s my favorite type of rock to play. I like all kinds of stuff – I’m truly a music fan, but this is what naturally comes out of me so why fight it? I love to stretch out and try new things, but I do know who I am and you’re not going to get a Rikki Rockett jazz record because there isn’t a single jazz fan that would take me seriously, but there’s no reason why I can’t throw some influence in there if I want to. That’s all I need to do to make myself feel good about that challenge.”
Bravewords.com: Poison has been around for twenty-seven years or so now – what was the magic that made you last so long? I remember reading Circus or Hit Parader back in the day and you were supposed to be the next one-hit wonder if that…
Rockett: “I have two answers for that. It’s like when you have that damn car that for some reason just keeps running even though everything about it was supposed to have broken down. If you really examine it though, first of all, we have a slew of hits and secondly we built a huge following through touring. Every step that we took somebody said, ‘this will be the last step Poison takes’. ‘They’ll have a flop on their second record (the sophomore flop),’ and then the second one happened and we did even better. Every step that we took was really digging into the roots of what makes a rock band work and be successful. It’s touring and reaching out to the fans – on the first headlining tour Mitch, we played every single ‘B’ market… we played ‘C’ markets. Our thinking was, ‘if they’re not coming to us then we’re coming to them’. That was our goal – to hit every city in the United States and that’s what we did. Besides the hits, that’s eighty percent of why we’ve lasted. Same thing with Metallica and I have all the respect in the world for Metallica because they beat the trail. They would do two or three year tours.”
Bravewords.com: As far as touring goes – you’re essentially a US-only band. You don’t head over to Asia, Europe or Australia often if at all. Is there a plan to hit those markets this year or next?
Rockett: “There’s an offer for a couple of shows in Australia, but I don’t know that we could afford to make it make sense right now. You have to put together a proper tour. We don’t want to go over there and disappoint people.”
Bravewords.com: Does Poison continue forever and do the occasional tour here and there or is there a five year plan to retirement?
Rockett: “At this point, we have no desire to quit.”
Bravewords.com: As long as fans keep showing up – you’ll keep playing.
Rockett: “I think so. I know I will. This has been my baby for a really long time and I really love it. By no means am I bored with it, but maybe we could make new songs because I’m a little bored playing the same songs over and over again. Besides that I enjoy it. It’s a struggle at times too and you could say we’re a comedy of errors, but if it weren’t so funny it would be tragic.”
Bravewords.com: I really do hope that you can get together and make a new album. Finally, how is your Rockett Drum Works company doing (Rockettdrumworks.com
Rockett: “It’s going great. I’m finally getting into that spot, where in a year, I can be big enough to support my guys but not this huge company where there are all these board meetings just to do one little thing. Right now, I can turn on a dime and do anything I need to do. I’m in a really great position right now.”
Credits are as follows:
Photos: (c) 2011 Robin Perine Photography (RobinPerine.com)
Stylist: Eliza Black
Designs: Marc Vachon (MarcVachon.com) & Tattoo Knuckle Gloves