TUK SMITH & THE RESTLESS HEARTS – “Rock ‘N Roll Is More Of The Underdog Than It’s Ever Been”

December 5, 2022, a month ago

By Aaron Small

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TUK SMITH & THE RESTLESS HEARTS – “Rock ‘N Roll Is More Of The Underdog Than It’s Ever Been”

Taking a cue from the ‘70s glam scene, primarily Thin Lizzy, T. Rex, Sweet, and Mott The Hoople, Tuk Smith & The Restless Hearts released their new album, Ballad Of A Misspent Youth, in November 2022 via MRG Records.

Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, currently residing in Nashville, Tennessee, Tuk Smith is a master craftsman of catchy, three-and-a-half-minute rock songs. “I think that rock ‘n roll is more of the underdog than it’s ever been,” begins Tuk. “Not for heritage acts or bands that are around, but if you’re an artist or a band that’s trying to do something a little different against the mainstream, you’ve really got to make it for people to want to listen to it. What I mean by that is, making sure the songs are as good as you can write them. You’ve got to give them a hook, a big chorus. I try to make the songs more pop format, just so I have a f*cking chance with everything else. There’s some things I’m not willing to sacrifice, like artistic integrity. But if I’ve got to make the songs short and hit ‘em, I’m happy to do it.”

In fact, Tuk Smith & The Restless Hearts were so close to being part of the mainstream, as they were the original opening act for The Stadium Tour featuring Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, Poison, and Joan Jett. It was initially supposed to happen in 2020; but was postponed because of Covid. Then it was supposed to happen in 2021; got postponed again because of Covid. When The Stadium Tour finally happened in 2022, Tuk Smith & The Restless Hearts were no longer on the bill. The new opening band was Classless Act. Tuk tells us what happened. “Well… we didn’t even know if the tour was going to happen in 2022. We didn’t know if it was going to be the third year it didn’t happen. I don’t think they even re-announced it until March; I could be wrong, but it was very late.”

“That label I was on, Better Noise, part of their protocol was they do not release records of artists unless, quote unquote, they are opening on a shed or stadium-sized tour. So, I waited a year, lucked out and got that Mötley Crüe tour; I was very excited. But two years later, and I wasn’t allowed to release music, I wasn’t allowed to do anything. They couldn’t even tell me if the tour was going to happen in 2022. Then the relationship with the label started degrading a little bit. I really wanted to release music and move forward. So, it was a risk I was willing to take, to leave the label. That band Classless Act, I think they’re managed by Tommy Lee’s manager. Soon as I left the label, I was kicked off the tour, and my booking agents left me. It was just a political move on their part. It sucks, but there were many pros and cons to that tour. It’s great to say you went on tour with Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard, but the reality of the fact is, I would have been playing for 15 minutes; sometimes before the doors even opened. I took all that into account when I left the label. It was just something I had to cope with. It sucked, but I had to keep moving forward. I knew when I left the label that Classless Act were going to take it, cause they were already affiliated with Mötley Crüe. But tours are very, very expensive to do! I would have had to figure out how to come up with a huge amount of money, just to keep up with that tour. Many factors played into the decision. It is what it is. Hopefully I get some great tours. I’ve already got some festivals I’m going to be announcing for next summer, and some other stuff in the works. Hopefully I made the right decision. I didn’t do it out of fear. I just did it cause I felt like I needed to move forward.”

The current lineup of Tuk Smith & The Restless Hearts has been together since late 2019 and features Tuk on vocals and guitar, his former Biters bandmate Ricky Dover Jr. on guitar, Shane Rickerson on bass, and Nigel Dupree on drums. Nigel’s dad just happens to be Jesse James Dupree, the frontman for Jackyl, and he made a cameo appearance in the Tuk Smith video for “Lookin’ For Love, Ready For War”, which was released in 2020. It’s quite the scenario that led to Nigel joining Tuk’s band. “If you want to know the full story, Jackyl is from Georgia. I knew their name – full transparency, I had no idea who they were. I’d never seen them; I didn’t even know what they sounded like. I thought they were metal, cause I came from such a different world.”

“I heard the name Nigel Dupree around town, but I had no idea. I thought he might have been some kind of redneck rock guy. I don’t f*cking know, man. I was just ignorant. I couldn’t find a drummer, and we had a mutual friend. My buddy Cleave owns a hot yoga studio. I write with Cleave and I produce his records. In return, he would give me hot yoga for free. I started going cause I had so much f*cking anxiety. You’re in there in your f*cking underwear and it’s 105 degrees; with the humidity 113. And Cleave, the owner of the yoga studio, walks in and goes, ‘Hey, I want you to meet my buddy Nigel.’ So, I’m in these little biddy ass f*cking underwear, looking for a drummer. You’ve got to understand, I’d been trying to find a drummer for months! I come out, and there’s Nigel. He’s not this f*cking Dog The Bounty Hunter-looking dude that I pictured. He’s just this nice looking, cool rock ‘n roll guy. I was like, ‘You’re Nigel? F*ck dude, I had a way different impression.’ Cleave is like, ‘You know, Nigel just left his band playing drums, and he’s looking for a project.’ So, I immediately got his number. We hung out, we hit it off. And only then, was I introduced into the circus that is the world of Jackyl. It is f*cking crazy dude! I had no idea. They’re so cool, and their stories are just unf*cking believable. Nigel, being raised in the industry – just listening to his stories are so much fun. I love playing with Nigel, he’s awesome!”

Nigel actually appears in the lyrics for “Girls On The East Side Of Town”. The line goes, “One late night, he was high as a kite, my friend Mr. Dupree got caught in a mess.” “He definitely got caught in a mess,” recalls Tuk. “You want to talk about friend groups colliding – Nigel introduced me to the world of Jackyl, I introduced Nigel to the rock and roll scene of east Atlanta. You know, Nigel likes hanging out with the ladies. So, I introduced him to some of my friends. And I said, these are professional party girls. I don't think you're going to be able to hang with them. ‘Oh, f*ck dude. I can hang with anybody!’ He was hanging out with a few, and the stories of him are all true – he could not hang. They ate his ass alive. It’s great when you can write a song inspired by true events.”

“Ain’t For The Faint” seems to be a pretty autobiographical song. Rock ‘n roll, and the music industry in general, can be a cut-throat, bloodthirsty business. “I feel like a lot of people spend the least amount of time on lyrics, and it’s one of the things that I’m missing – the poetic songwriters of a bygone era,” admits Tuk. “I’m not saying I am one, I’m just aspiring. I want to be great like my heroes. But, ‘Ain’t For The Faint’ – anybody who wants to step outside of the machine and go off on their own – whether you’re going to be an artist, entrepreneur, or a rock ‘n roller, anything. There’s no road map for it. There’s no schooling for it. The instability of it all can really test who you are. So, it’s kind of an outliers’ anthem, I would say.”

Another song along similar lines is “Shadow On The Street”, which contains the lyric, “If I can’t win, I’d rather lose it all.” There is no Plan B for Tuk Smith, it’s rock or bust. “Yes, you’re right. Sometimes you’ve just got to wear your lyrics on your sleeve. But it’s true. I would rather… you have to go 100%. At this point, I can’t function in regular society. I don’t think I could work a job or do anything. I have no life skills, no education – so yeah, to me it is all or nothing.”

The title track, “Ballad Of A Misspent Youth”, isn’t a ballad at all. It’s an upbeat, energetic rocker. That’s quite the juxtaposition. “Yeah, it’s by design. One of the guys at the label was like, ‘Calling this a ballad and it’s not a ballad is going to confuse people. We should call it something else.’ No, no, no – that’s the beauty of it all! I love doing stuff like that. That song’s not necessarily autobiographical. It had to do with me and my upbringing, my friends, the characters I’ve attracted in my life, growing up in the Atlanta punk scene. But it’s more of a celebration of a misspent youth; that’s just what you do.”

Switching musical influences from the lesser-known punk scene to more popular musicians David Bowie and Cheap Trick, is quite a sharp turn. “When I’m talking about punk rock, as a teenager I got into Circle Jerks and Black Flag – the American Hardcore, and some of the British ‘80s stuff. Then you trace back what they liked, and end up with The Buzzcocks, The Clash, and The Dead Boys. You know, ‘70s punk and ‘70s power pop. Then you’re going to trace that back and realize a lot of their favorite bands are the ‘60s stuff, and some of the ‘70s glam. That’s when you get into Bowie, and Mott The Hoople, and Slade. To me, I’m a big fan of all kinds of music – from modern pop music to ‘50s, it doesn’t matter. Sonically and vibe wise, I just found a home somewhere in the ‘70s. I was really attracted to it.”

“Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead’; it’s the quintessential musical tragedy. The lyrics are so accurate! Tuk shares the inspiration behind that song. “Right at 2020, my best friend growing up, that was still my best friend, committed suicide. It was really, really hard on me, emotionally and spiritually. I couldn’t deal with it. So, my way – in retrospect – of dealing with it, was to write that song from his perspective. It also has bigger meanings. You can apply it to all different types of things. Even when you’re a celebrity, everybody says they love that celebrity. It has a bigger meaning, but to me it was very personal. It’s a sad thing, but to me it’s just more of a statement. I’m not trying to invoke pity or be too political about it… it is what it is.”

Avoiding the current trend of minimalist lyric videos, Tuk has taken the old-fashioned route and filmed proper videos, the kind that used to be shown on MTV and MuchMusic for his songs “Ballad Of A Misspent Youth”, “Girls On The East Side Of Town”, and “Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead”. It’s no secret that it takes time and money to make videos like these, but it really makes a difference in capturing the attention of YouTube viewers. “Thank you, man, I completely agree. I feel like a lot of industry people disagree, and they don’t think videos matter at all, and that it’s a waste of time and money. But to me, rock ‘n roll has always been audio / visual. I think it just compliments the record if I can give a vibe with the video. I worked really, really hard putting those videos together – the amount of favors I pull from friends, it’s unbelievable. I’m always very grateful, cause I don’t have big budgets.”

Speaking of friends, Tuk recorded the eight songs that comprise Ballad Of A Misspent Youth in a garage studio that belongs to his friend, Dan Dixon. “Yeah man. Look, the record that was shelved by Better Noise… it was produced by Rob Cavallo (Green Day, Kid Rock, Shinedown) at Steer Studios in LA, which is one of the biggest and baddest, most amazing f*cking studios in the world. I had session musicians, I had runners; it was something that a lot of musicians don’t get to experience, that level of recording. And that was an amazing experience! But some of the sh*t that comes along with that, like A&R people, and a committee. F*ckin’ people getting into your creativity – all that bullsh*t that went with it, I didn’t like. So, this record, the first six songs, I just went back to Dan Dixon – he’s one of my best friends, he a mentor, and I produced a lot of records out of that studio. And yes, it’s a converted garage. He did a lot of work to it, but the thing is, the point I was trying to prove is, you don’t have to go to those giant, mega studios and have a committee of motherf*ckers to make a great rock ‘n roll record. If you’ve got a couple pieces of great gear and some good songs, that’s all that matters. But I will say, Doug McKean (My Chemical Romance) mixed the record. I met him through Rob Cavallo, and I think my record sounds that much better cause he mixed it. Unfortunately, he died recently (in June 2022 from a brain hemorrhage). I think mine was one of the last records he mixed, and it’s very, very special to me.”

There’s a bit of history that goes along with this album as well. The band name, The Restless Hearts, was the title of a Biters song; with Biters being Tuk’s previous band. “Yeah, I was trying to think of a band name, or what to call myself. I just wanted to be real, and I don’t really like my name. It is what it is. I wanted something that is me and feels familiar. That Biters song, you want to remember your past and who you are… it felt like the next chapter of what I was doing.”

Tuk previously stated, “Things used to be about debauchery, and now they’re about dedication.” Succinct, but there’s a whole lot wrapped up in that sentence. “Yeah, man. I’m a work in progress as a human being. Unfortunately, my childhood, the sum of my life experiences; I have a very dark side. I partied really hard. I took it to the edge. I’ve not always been somebody I’ve been proud of. Once I started realizing that… I wanted to get very, very focused on becoming a songwriter and a good person. I want to help people, love people, and do something that’s meaningful, because I was just partying so f*cking much. And there’s nothing wrong with partying. I’m not sober now. I just switched my focus, that’s all. My ultimate goal, if I had a wish list, is for this record, over the next year, to pick up steam and do well enough that I get some great tours.”

Ballad Of A Misspent Youth is a really strong rock record. At eight songs, some may call it an EP as opposed to an album, but if you go back to the ‘70s, that was the length of albums. It was only when the CD came out in the ‘80s, and you could fit 70+ minutes of music on one disc, that bands were making albums with 13 or 14 songs. “You’re 100% right. I had the six songs done, and when I negotiated this deal with MRG, Marti, the label guy, goes, ‘Let’s throw two more songs on it, and make it an old school full-length.’ If you look at Alice Cooper – Killer, it’s eight songs. A lot of those cool, old ‘70s records are like that. Lynyrd Skynyrd has records with eight songs. To me, in this day and age, I would rather give them eight singles and keep moving forward.”



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