|IAIN ASHLEY HERSEY
There was a time when guitar fans were obsessed in their quest for the next guitar hero. Cities like LA, New York and Austin continue to draw young upstarts in a pilgrimage for that elusive pot of gold. Iain Ashley Hersey wasnt exactly looking for the end of the rainbow, it just sort of found him. When I saw The Monkeys on TV, I just bugged my mom until she set me up with guitar lessons, explains Hersey from LA where he recently signed a deal with Avex Records in Japan. After I went through The Monkeys phase I gave up the lessons and started to listen to Grand Funk Railroad and then got into the British rock/blues thing, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, John Mayall. I also started getting into Mike Bloomfield, Johnny Winter, and Mountain.
Eventually I heard Deep Purples In Rock, which at first, I didnt get. But in about six months time became totally absorbed in and thats when I became completely bent, and would not put the guitar down. The result, some years later, has led to an exceptional showpiece for guitar fans entitled Fallen Angel. The CDs main appeal is its diversification in the genre of Hard Rock and Iains direct approach to his music. About the songs, the guitar veteran calls them heavy, bluesy, classic rock with a hint of fusion and describes the muscle behind them by saying, nothing beats a vintage Strat powered by an old Marshall. Iain adds about the long list of musicians that guest on the CD, I used people I knew and liked musically. There's something magical about really connecting with the other players. Theres a certain magic and energy thats very hard to describe, you really have to experience it.
Guests include Paul Shortino, Pat Regan, Mike Stone, Jim Austin and Dante Marchi.
THE COMPLETE INTERVIEW
THE CUTTING EDGE: When did you first know that the guitar would be the instrument for you? Who were your influences?
IAIN HERSEY: I started playing guitar when I was 12. Earlier on I had been forced into piano lessons which I hated and eventually quit. When I saw The Monkeys on TV, I just bugged my mom until she set me up with guitar lessons. It was not too exciting as the instructor was not too hip, and we basically played Mary Had A Little Lamb type crap. Eventually we started playing Beatles tunes. I learned my basic chords and how to read a little bit, but knew nothing about improvisation. It was so long ago now, its hard to remember when I got really serious about it, probably a couple years later. After I went through The Monkeys phase I gave up the lessons and tried to figure out what I could on my own. I started to listen to Grand Funk Railroad, and then got into the British rock/blues thing, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, John Mayall. I also started getting into Mike Bloomfield, Johnny Winter, and Mountain. Eventually I heard Deep Purples In Rock, which at first, I didnt get. But in about six months time I became totally absorbed and thats when I became completely bent, and would not put the instrument down.
TCE: Was it difficult competing in a market as saturated as LA?
IAIN: Yes and no. Yes the market was over saturated, but the majority of it was crap. So in a sense it would make anything good, stand out. The down side of that though, was getting anybody in a power situation, to come out and hear you. After being inundated with so many third rate acts, they quite understandably, had become somewhat jaded and apathetic to it all. Lets just say they were not quick to respond or receptive to seeing someone new. More times than not they either, wouldnt be on time and miss the show or simply not show up at all.
The other negative was dealing with the clubs, aside from the ones scamming on the ticket pre-sales, initially youd always get terrible time slots (try getting people out on a Monday or Tuesday night at 8 pm or midnight) and almost always would get cheated on the door count. (That way, they could justify not giving you a better slot, keeping these spots filled and not paying you!)
TCE: What is your worst gig story? Or your best?
IAIN: That's a tough one! Actually one of my more embarrassing moments was just recently, and not actually at a gig, but sitting in at a friends party. They had rented a club and invited all these people, who I causally knew but hadnt seen in years, and of course theyre all going Oh I cant wait to hear you play! etc. My friends used to have a band and had played a couple of sets for old times sake. The third set rolled around and I heard my name being called to come up and play. The bass player I knew (and was aware that he was not much of a player), had invited up another guitar player friend of his, who immediately was trying to call the shots. He launched off into the intro of Little Wing (with no count or sense of meter that I could interpret.) The rest of the guys fumbled about trying to come in and attempting to catch up. None of these guys could play in time, especially the drummer, the bass player didnt know the changes, so I had to play facing him so he could see my fingers. When it was time for me to take a solo... they also couldnt count, cutting the end break short and coming in two beats early. Without my fingers to watch, the bass player didnt have a clue where to go. It was a complete train wreck. After a second botched attempt at trying to solo over this mess, it was just too much. I simply put my guitar down and walked off. Something Ive never done before in my life. Ive been conditioned to be professional and hang in there to the bitter end, making the best of a bad situation. But this was a lost cause. I just did not want to be a part of it.
In terms of a bad gig, I would have to say in Helsinki. We were there, doing a three-week stint and had hired this bass player at the last minute. He must of had the worst musical memory retention in the world. Ive never seen anything like it! By the third week he was actually starting to remember most of the arrangements. During the day of one of our last nights, this individual had consumed a whole fifth of vodka. By the second set, he was starting to sound bad! By the third set he not only could not remember any of the arrangements he was SO out of meter... and playing so loud, all I could hear were these horrible overtones coming out of his amp, which were just drilling holes through my head. It was impossible to get his attention, as he was completely oblivious and totally in his own little world just grooving away...at least in his mind. When we finished the third set, I was so livid and my nerves were so shot that I was actually shaking. I told the drummer (who was technically the band leader at the time) either the vocalist (who incidentally was adequate on bass and at least knew the arrangements) would finish the night off on bass or I was going back to the room. Somehow, we managed to get through the last set without resorting to that, but what a nightmare!
As far as a best gig... Im again going to have to say in Helsinki. The day after the incident I just related, when this guy was coherent, I just unloaded on him and read him the bill of rights. Apparently he got the message, because the next two nights were great. It was like we could do no wrong. There's something magical about really connecting with the other players, the audience is getting into it and everything is just flowing. Theres a certain magic and energy thats very hard to describe, you really have to experience it. Those last two nights, especially the last couple sets, in Helsinki were great. Its for moments like this, that we play music!
TCE: Have you ever got to jam with one of your idols? If so, how did it hold up to your expectations?
IAIN: Yes, a few of them. Keith Emerson, Joe Lynn Turner, Glenn Hughes. Its funny because at the time Im not really focused on so much who it is, as just locking in and playing well together. Afterward you kind of reflect and go , oh yeah... I just played with so and so.
Also playing with Louis Johnson has been a great experience. When I first started working with him, I knew who he was, but not being real familiar with the funk genre, he wasnt like a big idol. So in a way, that was kind of cool, as I came in with a fresh attitude and no preconceived notions.
So I guess what Im getting at is that its really more a matter of perspective. As a kid I most likely would of been in awe and disbelief, but at this point in my life, when Im playing with somebody that I admire, while certainly being appreciative, I dont really think of them in the Idol respect. Its more like theyre one of the boys. I also ended up on a track with Glenn Hughes on Stuart Smiths Heaven and Earth CD. The song is See That My Grave is Kept Clean. I wasnt credited for it, but I played some back-up guitar on the heavy 'riff' in the middle and end, as well as the harmonic sustaining stuff at the very end.
TCE: On your new CD, Fallen Angel you have roped together quite a star-studded ensemble. How did that come about and how did you work with the other musicians and singers.
IAIN: Essentially, I used people I knew and liked musically. Dante Marchi, I used to work with. He was more into R&B, but I convinced him to do some rock tracks for me. I thought he sounded great. Hes since done work with Glen Ballard and Trever Rabin. In fact, hes on the sound track of the movie Eraser (its at the end when they start rolling the credits.)
Mike Stones vocals Ive always admired and for years had wanted to work with him. Hes got the epitome of the whisky voice, but with range and control. As it turned out when I was ready to do more vocal tracks, Dante was too busy with other things. I called Mike in Boston to found out that he was going to be in LA on other business. Perfect timing.
Ive always dug Paul Shortino, plus I was playing around town with him, so he was a likely candidate.
Dave Sutton had played bass with me at some seminars at MI and I really liked his groove, sound and feel. When Dave went out on the road with The Rembrants, and than Tears for Fears, I brought in Marvin Sperling to finish up the bass tracks. Wed been playing together in some other situations, plus I got him hooked him up with Stuart Smith and Keith Emerson, so he owed me one.
Jim Austin (whos been musical director and keyboardist for Toto vocalist Bobby Kimball) was my first choice for keys. Wed played together since high school doing Deep Purple covers, so he basically knew where I was coming from. He moved back to Maine before I could finish tracking everything, so I got Pat Regan who was mixing and producing the CD, to finish up the keyboards. (A great player by the way.) Pat also produced Stuart Smiths Heaven and Earth as well as Hell or High Water (Deep Purple), Stranger In Us All (Rainbow) and Blackmores Night.
For the Bond intros I used Jeremy Yeremian, from France. Id met him at MI and wed played together in some other situations, he also had a MIDI-studio with some great string sounds. He also tours with the Transistors and Gorky Park.
For drums I used Jimmy Griego, as wed played together live most of the songs on the CD. Hed contributed a lot to some of the arrangements and knew the songs inside and out as well as having a very distinctive style and feel, which I really feel enhanced the tunes. Hes also played with Bobby Kimball for quite awhile and is a very versatile player, which I like a lot.
TCE: How did you match the musicians and the songs?
IAIN: Sometimes I had no choice but to use who was available at the time. On the song Hold On, Mike Stone had already done it, but it needed something different. The performance was fine but to me it sounded too dated. At the time I was working with Paul Shortino, and I kept trying to imagine his voice on it and had a feeling it would work. On the other hand On the Edge is classic Mike Stone. I cant imagine anyone else doing it any better.
TCE: Could you go into some detail about your relationship with Keith Emerson and Stuart Smith?
IAIN: Stuart I met from going to jams in the valley that Paul Shortino was hosting. On one of these nights, I think it was Stuarts birthday, I had just sat in on Red House. He came up to me, introduced himself and said he enjoyed my playing, than invited me over to his house after. Weve been good friends ever since. While he was working on his CD, he asked me to help him out on a song that he had started. It was right up my alley, a nice moody instrumental! I came up with a pre-chorus, bridge, and harmonized the melody. He liked it, so it got included on the CD. I also got to play on the track which was called Road to Melnibone. That was great.
I basically got to know Keith through Stuart. Id been in Europe doing something and when I got back here to LA Stuart had run into Keith at the House of Blues. Theyd met before way back when, so already knew each other. Apparently Keith at the time hadnt been working with anybody, as hed been having problems with one of his hands and had to have surgery. Stuart managed to get Keith involved playing again with people and eventually started a band called Aliens of Extraordinary Ability. At some of the rehearsals and at some sound checks we managed to jam a little bit. At one of their shows, Stuart was gracious enough to let me take his place for one of the encores.
Also at a gig at the Baked Potato in Hollywood with Paul Shortino, Stuart had invited Keith down. Later in the night, I looked over to see Keith playing with us. Very cool!
TCE: What was it like to get signed? What were some of the struggles along the way?
IAIN: To be honest it was such a long drawn out process, that when it was over I felt more relieved than anything else. It probably was close to six months before we actually signed contracts. Dealing with so many little details, crossing the ts and doting the is, back and forth, it was definitely a challenge. And it all has nothing to do with what you do know...playing and writing music. You suddenly find yourself in a situation where you have to wear a lot of different hats and learn very quickly about stuff you didnt know a lot about before.
Im currently working on an American and European deal, so I will have to go through the whole process yet again.
TCE: Do you have a favorite CD right now?
IAIN: I cant say I have one particular favorite, but I do have some artists I like. Jeff Beck is a biggy. I really liked Guitar Shop. The last CD he did had some great playing, but I cant say any of the tunes stuck with me. Ive always been a fan of Ronnie James Dio, but more his older stuff from Rainbow, Sabbath, and earlier DIO era. Scott Henderson I love to listen to, hes blues CD Torn Down House is a favorite. Joe Lynn Turners Undercover I really enjoyed. Basically Ill listen to anything if its good. Unfortunately I find I dont get a lot of time to just sit and listen anymore, except when Im in the car, than I listen to the radio.
TCE: Why the Fender? Why Marshall amps?
IAIN: Strats have such a unique voice and are extremely expressive. Theyre very much like a fine violin. If you dont know what your doing the results can be terrible (they can be very unforgiving,) but in the hands of the right player, they can sound so beautiful and amazing. They also cut well and come across in a big room. I have several from the 50s which just sound so sweet.
Marshalls ... what can I say, they are the standard for this type of music. I particularly have an affinity for the older ones from the mid to late sixties. The ones from this era to me are just very warm and mid-rangey. They are also little bit brittle sounding. If Im doing something funky or I need a real clean chorused sound, I like Fender Amps.
TCE: I want a take on some of my favorite cuts on Fallen Angel. Why the James Bond Theme? Its effect on No Stranger?
IAIN: Its a great opener! Kind of creeps in on you and is very moody. It sets the stage so to speak. It actually is a carry over from the live shows. This was the way I would open the set. It would get the audiences attention and interest, than BANG wed bring up the lights and brake into License to kill. It just seemed very apropos. Using it again as an intro to segue into No Stranger, reintroduces the vibe and ties the set together with a overall basic theme. At the same time, being shorter and in a different key, its works more as an echo of the first time its used. It worked well live, so why not on the CD!
TCE: Dante Marchi has a great set of pipes, how did you two hook up? Mike Stone?
IAIN: I first met Dante at this merchandising gig I was doing at the Rose Bowl for the World Cup soccer games, he was doing the same thing. Well hed invite me down to his gigs in Santa Monica at the Amazon and I was just blown away. He was singing everything from Stevie Wonder to Paul Rogers. I knew than I wanted to get him involved with this.
Mike Stone I first heard on somebodys demo tape when I was teaching at MI. Later on when I was slugging it out in the LA clubs, a number of times the band he was in would be on the same bill as my band. So I finally got to see him in action and he was just as good of a front man as he was a singer. We struck up a friendship and talked about doing something together, but at the time he was getting involved and too busy with ex-DIO guitarist Craig Goldies band , so it never happened. After the Northridge earthquake, I lost touch with him. Hed moved to Seattle. Years later, I eventually tracked him down in Boston. He had formed a band called Clover, which for a while, had a deal with Mercury.
TCE: What did having Pat Regan handling production add to the record?
IAIN:A lot! I was getting to know Pat through Stuart Smith, whose CD he was working on at the time. I really liked his approach and with Stuarts help worked out a deal with him to finish my CD. At this point the only thing left to do was finish the keyboards and mix. Pat has some amazing ears and can be a bit of a perfectionist, but I like THAT KIND of challenge. The professionalism, sound quality and his input really added to the overall impact of the CD.
TCE: Distant Memories is killer. What a hook! Where did this song come from?
IAIN: What can I say...one tends to write about what they know or experience. I actually wrote that with a singer I had worked with in Sacramento, Jim Viger. He was the original singer in the band Steal Breeze (hes also from my home town. A great vocalist in his own right, I actually would of used him on this one if I had known where to find him at the time.) As best I can remember, I had written the basic musical parts, chorus melody and had a sketch for a lyrical direction. Jim came up with the main chorus line and a lot of the arrangement. Its gone through a few incarnations, so now its hard to remember who did exactly what. I know a lot of the verse lyrics on this version came from me.
TCE: Hold On is another winner. How did having Paul Shortino guest develop the song?
IAIN: Glad you liked it. As mentioned earlier, I originally had Mike Stone do it, and he had done a very faithful rendition of it. But the melody seemed too structured and was a little bit too rigid sounding. Having written the song I was a little too close to it to be totally objective, but I knew it needed something. Pauls style at times can be a bit loose, and improvisational. So I asked Paul to give it a try, interpret it in his own way and use a little artistic license. With Pats feedback we got what we were looking for. The verses came out kind of loose and sleazy. On he hook and chorus, we had Paul mirror the original. Overall Pauls performance was more blusey and emotional which gave the song a fresher, more modern vibe.
TCE: On the Edge and The Outcaste are arena rock at its finest! They were meant to be played on a big stage! How did they grow into the monsters they are?
IAIN: Basically these songs were developed from playing live. Lets just say they were written with the big stage in mind and were performed and honed in front of an audience with that attitude. I love Mikes performances on these. On the Edge is also reflective of living in Hollywood at the time, or just taking a chance in life and getting in way over your head.
TCE: "They call the wind Moriah", you even have the track start with a storm, how does this instrumental differ from "Steeple Case?"
IAIN: My main intention was to leave the listener with a nice moody, reflective piece. Sort of like an epilogue at the end of a movie. It also works well as a segue back to the beginning of the CD where the Bond theme comes creeping in. The CD was also done in several different stages. Moriah along with License to Kill, Goin Down and Dirty, and Distant Memories were from the earliest sessions. (These tracks were also produced and mixed by
Joe Seta who's worked with k.d.lang, Rickie Lee Jones, Walter Becker, not Pat Regan. Though I did have Pat do a remix of Moriah.) So my other thought was by beginning and ending the CD with material from the same period and session, sandwiching the newer stuff in the middle, it would tend to round it out more, making it more consistent.
Steeple Chase on the other hand was cut from the last group of songs to be recorded and I think reflects a slightly different attitude (a little more reflective of where Im now at.) It actually could be a good candidate for an opener, which in a way it does, as its the first song after Distant Memories. An interesting anecdote is that this song was written as a means to appease the drummer Jimmy Griego. He wanted to keep speeding up Tangled Web, which I didnt want to do, so I had him play the tempo and feel that he wanted and basically wrote the song around that.
JUST ADDED: Andrew McNeice of melodicrock.com has Iains CD included in Best
Recommended for 1999 !!!