interview by Michael McCarthy
The Defiants find Danger Danger and Westworld bass player/songwriter/producer Bruno Ravel reuniting with vocalist Paul Laine, who was actually Danger Danger’s singer for 12 years and four albums in between Ted Poley’s time in the band; Ted is Danger Danger’s singer now and has been back in the band for over a decade. Suffice to say, fans who loved the Paul Laine years of Danger Danger should fall madly in love with The Defiants self-titled debut. As for fans who resented Paul because they wanted Ted back in the band, well, Ted is back in Danger Danger now and this is a side-project so you have no reason not to listen to it with an open-mind. It comes out on 4/15/16 and you’ll be able to stream it, so you have no reason not to check it out. If you’ve ever liked “hair metal” or melodic rock then The Defiants album is for you. It’s a perfect cross between Bon Jovi, Winger and Danger Danger; not a bad thing at all.
In the following interview, I chat with Bruno about the making of The Defiants album and whether or not we might hear a new Danger Danger or Westworld album in the future, among other things.
I dial Bruno’s number and he immediately answers…
BR: On time! I love it!
MM: Hey, how are ya Bruno?
BR: Hey Mike, how’s it going?
MM: Good, good. Nice to finally interview you. I did a hair metal zine in the ’90s and we never made contact.
BR: Well, better late than never, right?
MM: Oh yeah, definitely.
BR: You’re in Jersey?
MM: I’m in Massachusetts.
BR: Oh, you’re in Massachusetts. Oh, OK.
MM: Are you in Jersey?
BR: Yeah. I’m from New York but I just moved here a couple years ago.
MM: So, you moved to Jersey and Ted Poley moved to Pennsylvania.
BR: Yeah. I mean, for me, it was more for my kid. I have an eight year old now so when he was turning five the area I was in in New York was a little sketchy. And I want him to be in the same school at least until he gets out of high school. Same, you know, group of friends. So, we were looking to move and we found a place over here, so here I am.
MM: I understand the idea to make new music with Paul Laine and Rob Marcello was suggested by Serafino over at Frontiers. Who did he contact first to suggest it?
BR: Me. We e-mail back and forth quite a bit and he’s always throwing things at me. Like, do you want to work on this? Do you want to do that? I mean, his main thing was to get a new Danger Danger album and I kept saying no because Steve doesn’t have any interest in doing any new music. So, the last time he asked me about a Danger Danger record I just kind of went, hey, you know what, you should be e-mailing Steve about this because I’m sick of it. [Laughs] Sick of fielding these things. So then, a couple of weeks later, he says do you want to do another record? Originally I planned on maybe partnering up with some other people, not Paul. And he said, what about a record with Paul? And I just kind of went like, you know, been there done that. And he just kind of said that’s all I want. So, we went back and forth and then I kind of realized that the guys over at Frontiers, they’re really big Danger Danger fans. And, you know, they’re business guys, too. So they figure if they can’t get a Danger Danger album they’ll get the closest thing they can. The more I thought about it, and of course, I love Paul, we’ve remained close over the years, and we worked together on some other things as well, so I said, you know what, this might be cool. So, I called Paul up and he was into it and that’s how it happened.
MM: When news first broke that you were making this album was there any backlash from Danger Danger fans?
BR: Not from Danger Danger fans. I think Ted was a little concerned. He was going like, oh, this is the end! I called him up and I said I just want to let you know before it comes out that I’m doing a record and he’s like, oh, this is the end! [Both laugh] And I was like, the end of what? The end was like thirty years ago. I was like, listen, calm down, it’s a record. It’ll help things. It won’t hurt things. And I said, you know, you’re doing your solo thing. So, that’s hurting more than anything I’m gonna do. So, he calmed down after a bit. He was fine with it. And I told Steve about it and he was like, yeah, go for it. He’s fine with it.
MM: Who came up with the name The Defiants?
BR: That was me. I mean, I had a short list and I was seeing what sounded cool and what kind of fit where we are in our lives now and there were a couple other names we were considering and I just said, you know what, The Defiants sound cool. We could play with the word a little. And rock ‘n’ roll is all about rebellion and being defiant so I was like, yeah, this is cool. So, that’s when we finally went with it.
MM: I know you’re a primary songwriter in Danger Danger. Did you write all of the songs on The Defiants album?
BR: Yeah, me and Paul wrote all the songs. I don’t like writing by myself. I’ve never been good at it. I mean, I certainly could crank out songs by myself, and I’ve written by myself, but when I write with other people, I usually will come up with half the song or three quarters of the song, that kind of thing. So, I just like working with someone else. I don’t like doing it by myself. I would like even actually working with more than one person. Because I like getting feedback and criticism and all that stuff. I kind of thrive off of it.
MM: When you write songs, do you use a regular guitar or do you write with the bass?
BR: I usually write with the piano or a guitar. I play guitar pretty well. I’m not a good lead player but I can play rhythm pretty good. So, I usually come up with a riff or I’ll play some chord changes on the piano and then jump over to the guitar and just throw a quick little instrumental thing together and see if it’s vibing or whatever. Sometimes it starts with a vocal. Sometimes I just start singing a lyric. So, I always have my phone around and I just sing into my phone and then when I have like thirty or forty ideas I’ll go over the phone ideas when I’m in the studio and see if I can make something out of it.
MM: Do you ever get writer’s block at all?
BR: Not really, you know? I work well under pressure. I’m not one of these artsy fartsy guys that says, you know, I have to have my right atmosphere to feel creative. I’m creative when the bills aren’t paid. [Both laugh] So, I just lock myself in the studio and I’m pretty critical so I kind of know when I’m writing something if it sucks or if it could be something. I’m not gonna go as far as to say if anything’s great or good, but I definitely know when something sucks and I just kind of walk away from it. There are other times when I go, you know what, this could be something, let me bounce this off of somebody else.
MM: Do you produce other bands when you’re not working on your own music?
BR: Yeah. It’s weird because I’ve kind of done some metal stuff with some local metal bands and I actually work with the band Riot quite a bit. I’m doing some other stuff and I do a lot of demos for rich daddy’s girls. I do that kind of thing. I try and stay busy producing. A lot of people want me to produce their records for nothing, so that’s when the problem starts. ‘Cause there’s no money in music. So, I try to either just get involved with something that I really love and not think about the money or other times I just, you know, I say this is paying well, let’s do that. I just go wherever the work takes me. When people call me up and say, hey, what are you doing? I say, I’m polishing a turd. I do that quite a bit.
MM: Were all of the songs on The Defiants album written specifically for that album or were some of them written when Paul was still in Danger Danger?
BR: No, it was all new. Everything was new. We both discussed how we were gonna write because obviously Paul’s in Vancouver and I’m here. I was gonna make a trip to Canada or vice versa. We were gonna maybe get together for a couple of weeks and write in person. And then I said, you know what, let’s try just doing it with Skype and video chat. We set up a Drop Box account and I said why don’t you just throw your ideas up there and I’ll throw my ideas up there and we will check our egos at the door and we’ll work on stuff that we both agree is something to work on. Regardless of who starts the song. So, that’s how we started writing the songs and I was shocked at how easy and how – no fights, nothing. It was a pleasure. I wish I could’ve written an album like this – I don’t mean song-wise – I just meant without the stress and fighting that Steve and I would go through back in the day when we would try to write a Danger Danger record and it was like war. I think we were a lot younger and our egos were a lot bigger, so that probably had something to do with it.
MM: Did you guys get together at a studio to record the album?
BR: No, actually. It’s the wildest thing. None of us were ever in the same room at the same time. The only time I was in the same room with someone was when we were recording the drums. Van Romaine lives very close to here. He lives about a half hour away. So, I went to record the drums with him. But other than that, everything was done over the internet. Because of the time difference it actually works for me because I’m a morning person. So, I would wake up in the morning and I would call Rob [Marcello] in Sweden and it would already be mid-afternoon. So, I’d say, are you in the studio? And he’d say, yeah. I’d say I need this part for that or I need a solo for this. The way we recorded the guitars was I had all the amps set up here and he would send me a direct track. Like, I don’t know if you’re aware of that, of the recording process, but instead of him taking his guitars and setting up guitars and microphones over in Sweden, he would just literally plug his guitar into a direct box into his computer and play along to the track and then he would e-mail me – or put up on Drop Box – his tracks and then I would get them here and then I would feed them back through an amplifier and tweak the amplifier and mic it up. It’s called re-amping. We did a lot of that. And then he did record some stuff over there. And Paul did the same thing with his vocals. Which was a little bit tricky because I’m very particular about recording vocals and how to record them. So, we had a little back and forth going on before we got into a groove with that, but it worked out fine.
MM: Did he do all the vocals or did you guys do some backing vocals?
BR: Oh, no, I sang a lot, if not all of the backing vocals. Paul [is] used to being the captain, and so what he would do was if he had a background vocal idea he would just record it, all the parts himself. And then when I would hear it, it would sound great, but my main concern with all of that is that every time I hear an album where the lead singer’s singing all the background vocals, I hate it because it doesn’t sound like a band. It sounds like a solo album. So, I said, sure, record your background vocals so I can either record the parts here, maybe grab some other guys and sing here, or I could blend your vocals in with mine, which was what I ended up doing. I ended up tracking most of the background vocals. When I mixed them, I mixed it so my vocal was heavier than his. So, it sounded more like me and him doing it as opposed to just him.
MM: I really like that harmony part at the beginning of “The Last Kiss.” Was that inspired by The Beach Boys at all?
BR: You know, that’s funny. That’s funny that you pick up on that because when someone asks me to sing a background vocal I tend to go to a different interval than Paul would. From growing up and the things that I’m used to listening to and the things I was influenced by. So, when I come up with a background vocal sometimes it’s a different chord than what Paul would. So, when we were coming up with the background part for “The Last Kiss,” he actually came up with that chord and I loved it. I said, whatever you did, it’s great. It’s funny because a lot of harmonies on the record, I’ll listen to them and say I don’t like that whatever – the third or the fourth – you put in there. And he would say, come on, man, it’s The Beach Boys. He’s into The Beach Boys. So, that’s where a lot of that comes from. That’s more him than me.
MM: The intro on the album is called “Carillion’s Theme.” At the risk of sounding stupid, who is Carillion?
BR: When we wrote “Love and Bullets” I was sitting there going, man, I’ve gotta write a real majestic intro for this song because it starts with a vocal. So, instead of like, for instance, writing some music to play before the vocals started – I actually love the way the song starts with just the vocal. So, when I was fooling around with some chord changes it kind of reminded me Ennio Morricone. He’s the guy who wrote all the spaghetti western music from the ’70s. So, I’m a huge fan of that, growing up in the ’70s, obviously. So, when I thought of what is my favorite Ennio Morricone piece it’s that one. It’s called “Carrillion’s Theme” and it’s from the movie For A Few Dollars More. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that movie but at the end of the movie Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef and the bad guy are all standing around a fountain waiting to kill each other and this music’s playing and they’re looking at a watch chime. So, I Googled it and at first it was called “Watch Chimes” and when I listened to it I was like, OK, that’s the music that I want. I was actually gonna use the exact music from the movie soundtrack – I wasn’t gonna re-record it – and then there was all kinds of problems with publishing rights and this and royalties and what not and I was like, OK, fine, I’ll re-record it. So, that’s what I did. I re-recorded pretty much note for note except for Rob’s solo, which it reminded me a little bit of a Guns ‘N’ Roses kind of “November Rain.” So, when I heard that I was like I want Rob to play like a wah-wah solo in the background and it turned out good.
MM: So, was it you who came up with the western theme for the cover?
BR: Well, no, I’m not really that fond of the cover. Honestly, I think it’s a little bit hokey. When Paul and I originally spoke about doing a spaghetti western poster as the cover my original concept was was to have us be way more obscure in the background. Almost shadowy. Where you didn’t really know if it was us or not, you know what I’m saying? When I see those spaghetti western drawings you see the guys – like the bad guys or the heroes – or whoever’s in the movie – you see them kind of pencil sketched, so you don’t really know, oh, is that Clint Eastwood? Or is that Lee Van Cleef? You just see like a guy with a dirty beard. And it’s way in the background. So, when we were working with the art guy, I was too busy doing the record. I said, Paul, you take care of this, deal with the art guy, honestly, I don’t really care about the cover. Because these days most people are buying digital downloads and there’s not many people that are sitting there looking at an album cover or CD booklet anymore, unfortunately, that’s the way things are. So, I said, listen, you take care of this and I’ll worry about the record. So, he was like fine. And he went back and forth with the art guy and one of the pictures that he sent the art guy as an example was the movie poster for the movie Jonah Hex [with] Josh Brolin. So, if you look at that cover their faces are much more up front and you can see who it is and that’s kind of what the guy based the cover off of, the Jonah Hex poster. And when I first saw it I was like, oh my God, this is horrible. I didn’t want to be on the cover. I saw this and I was like, man, is there anything you can do? Can you move us in the background and fuzz us up a little and we went back and forth and time was running out and I just kind of gave up. I just was like, whatever. I was like, fine, just go with it. I’ll live with it. It’s OK. It’s OK. It’s not my favorite, I have to admit.
MM: What’s the name of the art guy?
BR: He name is Stanis, what? Stanis. God, I know his first name is Stanis. And I forgot his last name but it’s in the CD book. His name is Stanis something. He does a lot of artwork for Frontiers. He lives in France, actually. He’s a French guy. Stanis Decker, that’s his name.
MM: Did he use photos to make that cover or did he paint that?
BR: He used photos. We didn’t dress up in the western outfits but we took headshots and then he put the hats on and the outfits. That’s how he did it.
MM: Did he create the logo as well?
BR: Yeah, he did. Actually, we went back and forth a couple of times. He wasn’t aware that he had to make a logo. I went, well, I’m not making one. [Both laugh] It’s funny – I actually really like the logo. When I look at it a little bit close and I go, huh, looks like the Boston Red Sox font. If you look at it, it’s really similar to the Boston Red Sox font.
MM: I understand you’re going to be performing at the Frontiers Rock Festival. How big is that festival?
BR: It’s pretty big. Probably a couple thousand people. It’s in a huge – like a big hangar, like an airplane hangar, that kind of thing. It’s a nice venue. Big, big club and it’s very rare that bands are playing their own shows now, especially bands that are smaller that can’t fill a club or an arena. It’s like a built in crowd. You don’t have to worry about there not being people there. It’s next week. I’m actually rehearsing right now in between interviews.
MM: So, is that going to be the first time you guys perform live?
BR: Yeah. Yeah. Definitely the first time. We’re excited and nervous. [Laughs]
MM: Will you be doing any Danger Danger songs?
BR: Yeah. You know, we were going over the set list and we realized you can’t please everybody. Some people say, the album’s so good, you should just do the album. And I’m like… How many opportunites do you get to play with Paul and revist the stuff we did? So, we’re doing about four Defiants songs and we’ll do a couple of Paul Laine songs and we’ll do two or three Danger Danger songs. But not the obvious ones. We’re not gonna do “Bang Bang” or “Naughty Naughty.” It’s gonna be all the stuff that Paul did with Danger Danger. It’s gonna be kind of weird for me because I’m so used to playing a show where the crowd knows the songs you’re playing. So, now it’s gonna be a little bit different. We’re gonna be playing and there’s gonna be a lot of people looking at us going, what song is that? It will be fun.
MM: Just out of curiosity, will there ever be another Westworld album?
BR: I’m not sure. Tony Harnell’s in kind of a weird place right now with everything that happened with Skid Row. I spoke to him not too long ago and he’s trying to re-group and get himself together and before I even entertained the idea of doing The Defiants we had kind of signed a deal with Frontiers to do another Westworld album and we started to work on it a little bit and we kind of hit a wall. Both of us were kind of like… I don’t want to say we weren’t into it but we weren’t really excited about it. We were just kind of going, yeah, maybe this and maybe that and then he kind of got side-tracked with TNT and then he joined Skid Row, so we kind of left it there. And I’m not sure if there will ever be another Westworld album. There might. Tony and I are still great friends. I guess as long as we’re breathing and we’re good friends there’s always a chance of that.
MM: If you don’t do a full Westworld album, you could do like a Harnell/Ravel album like Sweet & Lynch.
BR: Yeah, maybe, maybe. And, you know, Tony’s, he’s again, like I said in the last bit there, he’s kind of in a different headspace now. So, I’m gonna wait for him to kind of come back full, all the way. Meaning, like – I don’t know what the right words would be to use to describe it but I think he just needs to re-group and when he’s like 100 percent then we’ll see what happens.
MM: What are your thoughts on the Dawn album, looking back? That’s one of my favorite records you’ve done.
BR: Oh, thanks, man. I love that album. You know, look, I always think about this as I get older. For instance, when we did the Revolve album with Danger Danger I was like, oh, that’s my favorite album of all-time. It’s so much better than the first two albums and this and that. Of course, I’m gonna say that at the time I think about it because it’s fresh. It’s a point in my life, which was eight years ago, that I felt very strongly about. Of course, when I listen to “Bang Bang” and “Naughty Naughty” I think it’s kind of silly when I’m almost 52 years old. You know, I’m in a different place in my life. So, I try to be objective and not really think in the moment. I try to look at all the stuff that I’ve done as a whole and look at it for what it was. Dawn is probably one of my favorite albums that I’ve done with Steve and Danger Danger. It’s funny because with the progress in technology in the studio and all of that, the equipment that I have now is so much better. My studio’s way better than when we recorded all those albums. So, the Dawn album was one of the albums that I kind of transferred off the tape and brought into my computer and I’ve been fooling around with possibly doing some remixes because it just sounds so much better now when I get my hands on it. I just start tweaking stuff and I say, wow, I wonder if anybody would care for a remix of this album. Yeah, I love that album.
MM: At the end of our interviews we ask a few random questions, so let me get to that real fast. [Time was almost up.] What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?
BR: I would probably say… The Ohio Players album with “Fire.” I don’t even know what the hell the name of that album was. It was either that or I could be cool and say Kiss: Dressed To Kill. Because that was probably the first rock album that I remember going into the store and buying. I was into like R&B before I started liking rock music because, I guess my older brother was into it. So, I liked Stevie Wonder. I remember that, as a young, young kid, I remember listening to AM radio and R&B and that stuff, but when I first started getting into rock music, of course, it was Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and The Beatles and The Stones. And Kiss is the band that I just really went nuts over. So, I’d say probably Kiss: Dressed To Kill. Or The Ohio Players.
MM: What’s the last movie you watched?
BR: The last movie I watched was probably [Laughs] – You mean a movie that I hadn’t seen before?
MM: It doesn’t matter whether it was a favorite you saw again or one you hadn’t seen before.
BR: Probably, what’s the movie with… What’s it called? The movie with Leo Dicaprio.
MM: The Revenant?
BR: No, an old one – the one with him and – God, I’m having a brain fart right now – Jack Nicholson, Scorsese, um…
MM: I’ll look it up. [Editors note: I believe he was talking about The Departed.]
BR: Either that or you could say the movie Shooter. [Laughs] I watched that the other night. I don’t know if that matters, but, yeah.
MM: One last quick one. What song is stuck in your head right now?
BR: I would say “Runaway” [from The Defiants album] because it was the last one I heard on the internet and it makes me furious that Frontiers can’t spell it right. They put an ‘S’ at the end of it. And I keep saying, the song’s not called “Runaways,” it’s “Runaway.” [Laughs]
Special thanks to Bruno for taking the time to chat with me. Thanks also to Jon Freeman of Freeman Promotions for setting it up.
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