July 11, 2007, 16 years ago

Special Interview By Mitch Lafon

bob rock feature

As a producer, engineer and/or mixer Bob Rock took bands on the edge of greatness and helped them create their defining albums be it Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet, Mötley Crüe’s Dr. Feelgood, The Cult’s Sonic Temple, the career saving Permanent Vacation by Aerosmith or the juggernaut the black album’ by Metallica. In 2007, Bob was pegged to helm the new Mötley Crüe album, but an incestuous lawsuit between band members (basically everybody versus Tommy Lee) has halted that process, so Bob along with longtime collaborator Paul Hyde have resurrected their classic Canadian band, The Payolas. And Bob has decided to do what he loves most: write songs, play guitar and hit the live stage. I recently sat down with Bob to find out more about The Payolas and their new album Langford Part I, but also to get his thoughts on Metallica and others.

Mitch Lafon: Let’s talk Payolas. Why a reunion in 2007?

Bob Rock: “I don’t think it was anything that conscious. The album is called Langford because that’s where we met. That’s where we spent our wild years and that’s where we formed the idea of being in a band. We had a love for the NY Dolls, Iggy, Slade, T-Rex, Bowie and stuff. I’ve spent years producing and will always do that, but I didn’t stop writing. I just love writing music and the guy that I’ve connected with so far has been Paul (Hyde) and I think looking back at our catalogue we realized that they weren’t all these sappy pop things. They sound good today and so we started writing songs and it took us a long time to find songs that we could be proud of.”

ML: Is The Payolas reunion just for the summer or do you plan on doing more? What’s the plan?

BR: “Well, the summer is just to get back into playing. What we’d like to do is finish another album in the fall and then we’d like to play every nook and cranny of Canada in the new year (from St. Johns to Victoria) and we’d like to continue to write music and play when we can. To me, music is a full time gig and Paul wants to do that. It depends on how we do, right? We’ll see how it develops.”

ML: Is it important for you to play live? After all, you’ve been a producer for 25 years – you don’t need to do it, so why the need?

BR: “Because to me there’s a craft and a certain thing to production, engineering and mixing and I love doing that, but you don’t just stop writing and when you write songs you want to get out there and play them. I love playing guitar – this is my holiday. This is where I get to spend two weeks just being a guitar player and I’m just very happy about that.”

ML: Did you produce this album as well? It says ‘produced by Jens’, but Jens is your middle name...

BR: “Yes, my alter-ego Jens did it. I just get tired of seeing my name on album covers. So, I’ve been using Jens in Canada.”

ML: Is there a reason for it? Is it to divert people’s attention, so that they don’t focus on the production?

BR: “Well... maybe. I just do it because my mom loves it. I’ve also used ‘Flood’ and ‘Spike’ so now there’s ‘Jens’.”

ML: This doesn’t mark an end to your producing...

BR: “Oh, God no! I’m finishing off Gavin Rossdale’s solo album as well as the new Offspring. There’s a couple of other things I got going (outside of production), but I can’t talk about them now.”

ML: Are you producing the current Motley Crue album?

BR: “At this point because of the lawsuit – who knows if there will be a Motley Crue album. When you sue the drummer in the band, that usually puts a damper on things. So, we’ll see how that settles.”

ML: That’s kind of a kill joy isn’t it?

BR: “Yeah, that kind of spoils the party a bit, but that’s kind of their life. When I did Dr. Feelgood and ever since I’ve known them there’s been drama with those guys non-stop... Fun and drama. Fun-drama. So who knows?”

ML: The Payolas next album – will it be an EP (like Langford Part I) or will it be a full album?

BR: “It’ll be a full album and because everybody has been so patient in allowing us to put out an EP first – it’ll be everything (there’s going to be twelve songs). We’re also going to record the show at the Commodore and we’ll include that as a bonus thing.”

ML: What can people expect at the live shows?

BR: “These six new songs and the very best of The Payolas. I told Paul last night, that this is the first time I’ve ever played with the band and I’ve loved everything we’re playing. Everything we’re playing are great songs. When you’re first in your career sometimes you just don’t have a great set, but this set is the best of what we’ve written and I’m pretty proud of it actually.”

ML: I think back to the big hits like ‘Eyes of a Stranger’ or ‘Dirty Water’ and nearly thirty years later they still sound fresh.

BR: “I agree with you. We’re not playing anything off the ‘Here’s The World For Ya’ album because that wasn’t us. That’s what broke up the band basically, but all the other albums have a real integrity (both lyrically and musically).”

ML: We don’t have much time left, so let me ask you how was it working with Metallica and can you comment on the St. Anger album?

BR: “It was the best and happiest fifteen years and some more stuff. It’s the extreme of emotions with those guys. Fifteen years of my life is a long time and it was fantastic. It was the best anybody could hope for. As for St. Anger, lots of controversy there.”

ML: A big controversy was the drum sound...

BR: “Well... yeah. Realistically though if you really think about it – it was the fact that there was NO real songs. That was because the guy who writes the songs – couldn’t write the songs because of where he was personally. So, what St. Anger became was what the band could do at that point and it is exactly that. It was riffs strung together... The way I look at it was like raw power or a garage band. It was just riffs... It was garage band and that was supposed to sound like that and what I learned out of it is that people in metal just don’t want it to change. So, it’s best that Rick Rubin continue the metal thing and not Bob.”

ML: It was also criticized for not having guitar solos...

BR: “Everybody has their theories, but the truth... You watch the movie and you think it’s some big conspiracy, but the truth is that Kirk had a chance to do a solo on every one of the songs. The only thing we said is ‘if the solo doesn’t add something – then we’re not going to add it.’ That’s the truth. It was like ‘Kirk you’ve got as much time as you want. Come up with something original and great... That doesn’t date it’. They were just trying to reach for something new and basically every time he did (come up with a solo); James and Lars (with me) said ‘No, it’s better without.’ And it came down to nothing is really sounding great so ‘ok, let’s not have solos.’ That’s the truth and Kirk agreed, but of course if you look at the movie... They took two and a half years and had to put a movie together so they grabbed all this stuff and kind of formed a way that it could be looked at, but it has nothing to do with what happened.”

ML: Movies only semi-reflect reality at the best of times.

BR: “Yeah, exactly. It was a good learning process for me. The more we get into those kinds of documentaries – it becomes something else. It’s not necessarily the truth. It’s an angle or a view of the truth and the truth of St. Anger was the band was broken-up. They were done.”

ML: Just by the fact that you were playing bass on it shows that they weren’t a band. They weren’t four guys.

BR: “They had three guys, but two of them couldn’t stand to be in the same room. They had all these problems personally and they never wanted to be with each other in the same room or speak to each other again. They broke-up. There was a couple of weeks to a month where it was over. All I did because I played bass when we put together the Mission Impossible song... They said ‘we can’t really add somebody new at this point. Just do what you did with Mission Impossible.’ I was there as a friend and not as a producer and if I made a mistake – that was it. I didn’t do what other guys would do which is ‘just phone me when you got the songs’. There are producers that do that. They don’t really do anything – they go ‘just write the songs and when they’re good, I’ll record them’. I didn’t do that – these guys are my friends. I love these guys. They’re falling apart and I’ve got to be with them so be it. I was there because I was a friend. I stuck with them for two and a half years of my life because they needed someone. That’s what I was there for. We stuck together and basically what Metallica fans have got to realize is - St. Anger is the reason why they’re still a band and if I was the sacrificial lamb then so be it. I’d rather have those guys now, as human beings, and me not work with them than anything. I just wish them the best of luck. They’re just a huge band and amazing musicians. I’ve nothing, but great things to say about them.”

ML: Can you comment on your work with Bon Jovi? You mixed and engineered Slippery When Wet and New Jersey and you produced Keep The Faith.

BR: “They were fantastic. I just love them. Right from Slippery, they were these guys from New Jersey that came in and shook up Vancouver, Bruce Fairbairn and my life. We were just hoping it would go Gold. We were like ‘God, if it goes Gold we’ll at least get to do another album’ and, of course, it did what it did and New Jersey did what it did. They’re the hardest working guys. They’re the nicest guys and in terms of commitment to his career and his band, Jon is second to no one. I can’t comment on what they do today except it seems that he always seems to redefine what it is so that he can keep doing it. It’s amazing what he does.”

ML: Everything you touched became massive – which led to you being inducted this year into the Canadian Music Hall Of Fame. Did you ever expect that?

BR: “Not at all. Realistically, all I ever wanted to do is what I’m doing for the next two weeks – be a guitar player in a band. I just wanted to make a living in music and growing up in Winnipeg and then Victoria and then being in the Hall Of Fame... You can’t even describe it. It’s a huge honor for my family and myself and I’m very proud of it.”

ML: You deserve it. You’ve made a lot of my favorite albums including Honeymoon Suite’s The Big Prize...

BR: “Yeah, that’s a great album and which is why Bon Jovi wanted to work with me.”

ML: Really? Because of Honeymoon Suite?

BR: “Yeah.”

ML: How did you get into producing?

BR: “Working with Bruce Fairburn, I could see... In a funny way it was down to money. On New Jersey I made $12,000 Canadian and when I did Permanent Vacation (Aerosmith), Bruce tried to beat me up and said they could only afford $8,000 and I was like ‘wait a minute. American engineers/mixers are getting between $30,000 and $50,000 US and you’re going to give me $8,000?’ So, I had to step out and do it on my own. I took a shot and it just worked out. I was lucky, but I think I was prepared because of who I had worked with before. Bruce Fairburn had a lot to do with that and Mick Ronson was a huge influence on me (when he did The Payolas albums you know). It was inevitable. I had learned from so many people on what my version of making great records is. I just tried to do what I think makes a great record and that’s what I still try to do.”

ML: Has producing great records changed over the last 25 years?

BR: “The funny thing is... I just did Michael Bublé’s new single. I did ten years of jingles and I ran around with punk bands and Christian bands. I did Olivia Newton-John... at Little Mountain (Studios) I did everything and what you find out is – music really comes down to the song and the soul of the lyrics. So, to me, doing Bublé or Metallica is the same thing. It’s obviously sonically different, but it’s really about the songs and before you brought up St. Anger and that’s what’s missing on St. Anger. The main songwriter of the band wasn’t there. I think the big question is: is he going to be there this time? And knowing James Hetfield – he’ll be there! And that’s the perfect example because it comes down to the songs. So, is it the same? Yes, it comes down to the songs. It comes down to does a song move me? Does it do something for me? So, that’s what I strive for as a producer. I just want to get the essence of what a great record is and song is. If the song is right it can be as simple as a Michael Bublé song or Metallica. You want the simplest form of the song to get it across.”

ML: It should sound good on an acoustic guitar...

BR: “This is the thing and that’s a hard thing to do. When I did the ‘Black Album’ there was four guys that wanted to be the biggest band in the world and they had eleven or twelve songs. They were basically good songs. There were lyrics missing, but the main riffs and the core of the songs were all there. I could hear that. When we did New Jersey – they came in with fourteen songs and we did the whole album in six weeks because the songs were there. Same with Aerosmith. Same with Dr. Feelgood. Same with The Cult. Every big album, I’ve ever done – the band were prepared and they had great songs before coming into the studio.”

ML: By the way – I love Permanent Vacation and with the exception of Pump – it’s the last great album they’ve made.

BR: “I like Permanent Vacation because, to me, it’s just a little rawer, but what a band. I played ‘Train’ Kept A Rolling’ on stage with them at Club Soda in Vancouver. How do you think that felt? Oh my God! Huge HUGE fan!”

ML: Before you got to run – can I get a comment on Mötley Crüe’s Dr. Feelgood?

BR: “Once again, I got the band when the four guys were sober and wanted to be bigger than they were. That had the ideas of some great songs. We just went in and did it quickly and it was a whole pile of fun and that’s all there is to it. They were motivated guys with focus. The biggest thing with bands is having focus and a vision of things you want to do. Jon Bon Jovi during Slippery When Wet. Nikki Sixx during Dr. Feelgood. James and Lars and Kirk on the black album. Ian and Billy on Sonic Temple. Focus - that’s what always works.”

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