interview by Michael McCarthy
Tyketto is one of those bands who debuted in the early ’90’s and happened to be good looking, long-haired guys so they were lumped in with hair bands when in reality they were more like a Journey or Night Ranger or Styx. Of course, there were some similarities to hair bands, such as their contagious hooks and blazing guitars, but I feel like if they’d been marketed to the classic rock audience instead of the hair band crowd then they might have reached greater heights than they did. That being said, the band has learned to embrace the hair metal world and has played some pretty high profile shows during recent years, including Download Festival and the Monsters of Rock Cruise. Their new album Reach, their second for the Frontiers label, is easily their heaviest album to date – the drums clobber you over the head – but their strong melodies and vocalist Danny Vaughn’s pipes are intact. With the heavy metal resurgence ever-growing, I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up having more success today than they did when their debut album Don’t Come Easy was released by the David Geffen Company roughly 25 years ago. In the following interview I chat with drummer Michael Clayton Arbeeny about the making of the new album, the band’s history and why they can’t tour the States just yet, among other things.
MM: I know you guys were originally from New York. Is that still where your based out of these days?
MCA: I’m based out of New York. Danny was born in New York. The original bass player was from New York. The original guitar player was from Minnesota. Now we’re a bit of a mutt. Man, my singer is living in Spain. I’m still in the New Jersey/New York area. Our guitar player is British but he lives in Atlanta. And our bass player and keyboard player live in London. So, we’re about as spread out as you could be, yes.
MM: I imagine that makes touring a little tricky.
MCA: I tell everybody, it costs us five thousand dollars just to stand in the same room together. The only one that eludes us the worst is America given the size of the country. From our break from our hey day til now to the resurgence there was a really wide gap of nothing in America. So, even as well as all the buzz going on in the States, we’re more apt to jump on the festival circuit in America where we’re one part of a larger bill. We headline in America – it’s too wide of a country and it’s too risky for us. We have tons of fans asking us to tour the States. We just physically can’t do it at this point.
MM: What about casino shows? I know in Connecticut Mohegan Sun has a free venue called the Wolf Den –
MCA: – I love the Wolf Den. Beautiful. It’s still weird for us. We do M3 or we do the Monsters of Rock Cruise, we kill it. I had a buddy of the guitar player’s call me up right after M3 and he was like, “I know this great theatre in Virginia and I want to put you” – and I forget this other band he wanted to double us up with – I was like, “Dude, don’t be fooled that you saw us playing to 10,000 people at M3. Unto ourselves, Tyketto – even with something like a Wolf Den – we didn’t sell. There’s a pre-disposition on the band that we sold a lot more with our debut than we really did. It was really like a cult classic. I really don’t think we’d draw huge numbers. We headline in the UK we can do a thousand people as a headliner. We never stopped touring there throughout our whole history. So, America is an anomaly I’m hoping to crack. I think the only thing that’s gonna help us down the road in America would be to jump on a support slot with like a Y&T or an L.A. Guns or a FireHouse. If we can do that and expose ourselves to a bigger band’s audience it’ll be a slam dunk. But headlining plans for right now, we’re treading very lightly with that.
MM: Was your last album Dig In Deep also on Frontiers or is Reach your first for them?
MCA: Dig In Deep was our first record on Frontiers. Danny had done a couple solo projects also on Frontiers. Frontiers takes different singers and puts line ups together for specialty projects. So, Danny had a lot of run-ins with them. They’re the largest of the indies. I would consider them a major label now after all the business they’re doing but back then the one thing with the indies and the regionalized labels was are you ever gonna see a royalty, are they gonna fold up shop six months later and you never hear from them. Danny was like, “Dude, they’re straight up guys. They pay right up. It’s a good organization.” So, we met Mario and Serafino. We met them in New York for dinner, I think 2010 or 2011, and what struck me with Serafino especially is he’s still a music fan. He wasn’t coming at me like a business guy. He’s a fan of Tyketto. He’s a personal, huge fan of Danny’s. And he wanted to make the record. He was grounded [with] what we were gonna sell. He knew we weren’t gonna sell two million copies. But he was like, “I just think you’re ready to do a new record.” So, Dig In Deep was our first one. This one, Reach, is our second one. And then we’re hoping in maybe a year or two – see how long Reach has legs for – we’ll do another one with them as well. We’ve got a third one on deck with them, too.
MM: When Tyketto wasn’t active did you play drums in any other bands or do any session work?
MCA: When Tyketto wasn’t active – half of Tyketto’s inactivity, I was doing the Vaughn records with Danny. So, in one shape or another… I think so far as completely inactive I’d say it was right after we wrapped up the Steve Augeri line-up. There was a couple years there. It was such a long road for us and we’d come so close. It was such a heartbreaker. We all just wanted to get the fuck away from it and just not even deal with it. Danny rang me up about three or four years later and he was up in the city visiting some family and was like, “I’ve got some stuff I’d like you to hear.” It was like getting together with an ex you just still have a click with. I felt it instantly. I loved the stuff he did. So, we ended up – I think 2001 – right up until a year or two before the reunion Danny and I did two studio albums. We did a live record with Vaughn. We did a couple compilation records. So, he and I always had a connection. In addition to playing drums in Tyketto, I book 3,000 shows a year on the North East coast as a booking agent. Whenever I need to get my drumming jones out, I work with some of the best players in the country here. So, we’ll just put together a little four piece classic rock thing and I’ll jump up and play. For me as a drummer – remember that scene in Forest Gump where he’s running after his mother dies and then one day he decides it’s time to go back. I’m kind of like that with my drumming. I’ll take a year off. If I’m not feeling it, I don’t force it. It’s a very emotional thing for me. So, I kind of know when it’s time to get back behind the drum set yet. And I know when it’s time to walk away from it.
MM: I was wondering what the longest time you went without playing drums at all was.
MCA: For me, I’m gonna say – like no drums, not even picking up sticks – I’m gonna say it was right after we wrapped up the Shine record. It’s like you just ran a 100 mile marathon and you came ten feet short of the finish line. You’re just all exhausted on every level from it. We didn’t see getting dropped. We didn’t see it falling apart as quickly as it did with the whole grunge movement. And literally, that’s when I started my business. That’s when I started my booking agency. And I just wanted to get away from the aspect of being a live musician for a while and clear my head. That was probably, I’d say, 95, 96 up until 98, 99 I was very inactive.
MM: I really liked that Vaughn album Soldiers and Sailors On Riverside.
MCA: I love it, I love it. My wife just said – I was like, what’s the difference between the two? She said, “It’s like simple math. Vaughn is Tyketto minus Brooke.” That’s exactly what it sounded like. And I liked the direction we went with it.
MM: So, that was why, just because Brooke wasn’t in it, that you called it Vaughn?
MCA: Yeah. Danny was adverse to that. And I just told him that it’s not Tyketto. In retrospect, we shouldn’t have called the Steve Augeri line-up Tyketto. I learned my lesson on the record before that Tyketto is you singing power pop melodic rock. That’s it. And I think the Shine record didn’t really get a fair chance. I told Brooke at the time, I said we should’ve re-named the record Where’s Danny? That’s all anybody asked. It wasn’t if it’s good or better or worse. It was, where’s Danny? This isn’t the Tyketto I know. Steve Augeri’s one of the best blues rock singers out there. And there’s moments on that record that are just brilliant. But it wasn’t really Tyketto. It just didn’t feel like Tyketto to me. So, I’m glad we did Vaughn. And Danny and Vaughn, we had no predispositions. We signed with Z Records for those two albums. It was a different label. Nobody’s really looking for “Forever Young.” It took some of the pressure off of us. We didn’t want to rewrite “Forever Young” again.
MM: How does the songwriting usually work for Tyketto these days? Are you co-writing any with Danny?
MCA: The beauty of it – Chris [Green, lead guitar] came in and he didn’t quite understand the mentality of it. Now we have to factor in, Brooke and Danny and I were very different people. I don’t write a note of music but I do all the arranging. Which Danny said is such a big plus because he goes, “You’re not married to these ideas, to this chord and this line.” I just know as if I’m a blue collar guy turning on the radio what I like and don’t like. So, from day one I’ve arranged all the Tyketto stuff. Brooke was the heavy-handed John Sykes. He was into Stone Temple Pilots at the time. He brought in the heavy-handed guitar riffs. Danny comes from almost a folk background on occasion and brought in the 12 string strum and these pretty melodies. So, there was something about the three of us that kind of made the Tyketto [sound]. If you listen to something like “Sail Away” or “Seasons,” if you take the heavy guitar out they’re folk songs. So, it was this nice balance and then when Chris came in now we have the extra disadvantage of we’re doing this thing remotely via E-mail. We’re in two different countries and Chris and I are in two different States. So, Danny would send in the idea and then Chris would put the riff in and I would say let’s re-do everything and put this riff here and do that, cut this part out. So, it became a little frustrating in the beginning. And what we did differently on this record than any one prior is Danny’s always slow to get going. Danny, when you open those flood gates, you’ll get a song a week from the guy. It may take six months to get the flood gates open. So, I just told Chris, “Look, you and I connected musically. Let’s just start throwing down some musical ideas.” So, I’d say seven or eight out of those 12 songs on Reach started with drums and guitar. We just went for it. In the beginning, I met Danny, I think it was March of 2015 on one of the tours and he goes, “Don’t get me wrong. This stuff is brilliant. What the hell do you expect me [to do]? I don’t know where I fit in.” Because Tyketto always wrote from Danny’s melodies down. This now, almost like a Zeppelin approach, writing from the music up. So, jokingly, I told Danny like, “Take the road map you’ve been looking at for 20 years and flip it upside down. Because we’re on a different path entirely with this one.” Once he let that go… I said, “Dude, it’s like anything in life. If it sucks and you fall down and you fail, you get up and you try.” I said, “Just throw 20 different melodies out. There’s no rush.” And once he kind of found his place with this we started moving and “The Run” came out and “Big Money” came out and “Reach” came out… My wife even said it. I would be complaining about the process, I’d be hitting my electronic drums and E-mailing them to Chris and my wife was like, “Whatever you guys are doing, as frustrating as it may be at times, keep doing it. Because the result is like something I’ve never heard before.” So, we kind of stumbled on this secret formula and there’s something just so special and unique about it. Because it wasn’t done conventionally on any level. Like not even close. And it’s getting the best reviews we’ve gotten in 20 years.
MM: Yeah, I like Dig In Deep, but I think Reach is so monstrous compared to it.
MCA: Dig In Deep, in retrospect, I don’t think we were a united front on where we wanted to go musically. It was a family reunion. It was four original members. It was wonderful. We started feeling the pinch from Frontiers, like we had to get the record done. Dig In Deep, to me, is, in my opinion, four or five amazing songs on a good album. Reach, to me, is 12 amazing songs on one body of work. Because we were only supposed to deliver ten songs to the label. Between Chris, Danny and I, we couldn’t vote on which two would go. We all had different ideas on which two should go. So, we called up the label and we’re like, “Look, we don’t want any to go. We’re gonna give you 12 songs.” And they didn’t complain. So, that’s how all 12 ended up on it. It plays on a full body of work. I think one of my reservations was an hour of record is a lot of music for a listener to digest. And for some reason this record flysby. It doesn’t feel like an hour to me. It really plays well like an Appetite for Destruction or that Whitesnake record. It’s a rare album. It happens to be like the New Jersey record by Bon Jovi. There’s certain records that are just great albums. I feel like we created one.
MM: It’s really one you listen to from start to finish, not picking out certain songs.
MCA: Yeah, there’s no skip-overs. Yup. [Laughs]
MM: I know you’ve done some pretty big festivals during recent years. Could you tell us about a couple of them?
MCA: Danny and I laugh about it all the time. Without sounding cliché or corny, there’s been this mysterious energy just driving us. Just the right place at the right time. Lining up with the right people. Finding fans who are now concert promoters. We got on Download festival because the guy that runs Live Nation in England was a fan of the band from when he managed a small club in Nottingham and always liked us. That’s how we got on that festival stage. Our agent Martin in England believed in the band and was a fan from day one. Our agent in America, Sullivan Bigg, he used to go see us at the Cat Club in the city in 1991. When you’re in business 30 years, I guess your Rolodex gets pretty big. One of the things one of the agents told me is all I did was give you the shot and gave you the booking. All the re-bookings came from what you guys do on stage. We’re not a very arrogant band about many things but the one thing I will definitely pat myself on the back with is this is one of the best live bands you’ll ever see. We go 110 percent. So, we’re entering some of these festivals – we did the Monsters of Rock gig as a last minute add on three years ago from Sullivan wanting us on so he could personally see us. And the promoter of the whole ship was like, get T-shirts that say who the F is Tyketto because that’s all anybody on this boat is saying. Who are these guys? So, it became like a real Rocky story. The other bands were coming to see us. The guys in FireHouse were in the audience and Mike Tramp and the guys from Faster Pussycat, the guys from Queensryche. So, we built our reputation in the last three years with Download Festival, Hard Rock Hell, Rock of Ages, Monsters of Rock Cruise, M3, Steelhouse – they go on forever. We’re making new fans like, “Wow, I just saw you guys for the first time ever and, holy shit, I went out and bought the record the next day.” The festival circuit has really put us back on the map.
MM: When you encounter fans at these shows, do they still ask for autographs or do they just want photos now?
MCA: Now they’re so excited on every level. I think of any genre, ’60’s rock or ’70’s rock or rave DJ fans or millennials, there’s something about that ’80’s era. I was even talking to one of the guys on the boat that does five different themed cruises a year. And he said, “There’s something about fans of this genre that it’s a real community.” I sit and talk with these fans. We talk more than anything. We do the pictures and the autographs but they’re really friendly and they’re really behind you for 20, 30 years and it’s a whole different thing. And what I like about the cruises, which I didn’t think they were going to do, is there’s no artist section and fan section. I’m in the buffet line with the guy behind me talking about the Strength In Numbers record. And it’s a nice mix. It’s really nice. There’s no pressure. Nobody’s a pestering fan. None of that stuff. It’s really just a dialogue to get to know you better as people. I think so many people are reacting to our story. We didn’t go sell two million records back in the day that in our hiatus we can go rest on our royalties. We were broke. We really kind of came back from nothing based purely on a belief that Danny and I had in this thing. I never gave up believing in this band – or his talent – and with Reach we both shook hands on it two years ago. Let’s make a record we want to make and who cares if it sells five copies or five million. We don’t care. This is the album I want to play for my grand kids to say this is what your grandfather did when he was younger. And everybody’s responding to that mentality. Sensing that true belief in it.
MM: To my ears you guys were always more like an REO Speedwagon or a Journey than what people would call a quote unquote hair band.
MCA: Thank you. We didn’t want our picture on the cover of Don’t Come Easy because we’re like, we’re not that. Danny’s a proficient acoustic player. There’s a classic rock element to this band. We’re not an ’80’s – no disrespect to that genre, but we never felt that we were that. But the way the band looked, Geffen saw four cutie pie guys with long hair and hooky choruses and we got rolled into that. I never saw Tesla as that. Tesla was a great rock ‘n’ roll band. Even Cinderella was, too. I thought Cinderella’s not gimmicky, not hokey. We got pigeon-holded into that for the label to sell records. But we’ve kind of fought that throughout our career.
MM: Since you obviously weren’t influenced by the pretty boy bands and such, who were your influences when you were doing like Don’t Come Easy and Strength In Number?
MCA: The beauty of Tyketto is we all come from – Brooke is straight up George Lynch, Nuno Bettencourt, blazing guitar. Danny was into everything from John Denver to Neil Young. Very eclectic. Big fan of Blackfoot. I’m an old school. I like Humble Pie and Montrose and Led Zeppelin. I like that old ’70’s organic sound. So, Tyketto really became a hybrid of that. On an arrangement level, when we made Don’t Come Easy especially, I went to Slippery When Wet and the New Jersey record and Bryan Adams – I think the record was called Run To You – I’m like you just took these beautiful melodies and this great rock music but you arranged it with great pop radio sensibility. If you listen to “Wings,” it’s arranged like a Bryan Adams song. “Burning Down Inside” is. “Forever Young” is. So, we drove from a really wide well. If there’s four Zeppelin fanatics in a band you’re gonna end up sounding like Kingdom Come. It was difficult at times because I’m a backbeat drummer, Brooke is an on top of the beat guitar player, Danny’s not an ’80’s rock screamer like the Queensryche kind of stuff. It took us a while to find our sound. But once we did, it’s still resounding with people two decades later so I guess we did the right thing with it.
MM: I really like the harmonizing on “Circle The Wagons” and “I Need It Now.” Is that something you came up with as the arranger?
MCA: No, what ended up happening is my partner – I also manage Tyketto – my partner in the management company is named Bruce Buchanan – he was a staff engineer at Atlantic Records back in the day. So, he worked on a Zeppelin album, he did some big stuff. All I knew him was as my business partner. I said why don’t you come produce my record in Wales this spring. So, without even knowing a note of work the guy did, I flew him out to Wales [Both laugh]. He goes, “What do you want out of this record?” He and I sat together, played the demos, wrote our notes, and he was like, “What do you want out of this record?” I was like, “I don’t want the big kick snare like everybody has. I want those big Queen tom toms. I want big Queen vocals. This is a big record.” He drove Danny nuts because – I laugh at Danny because Danny and I are like two little egghead nerd genius kids. And we were never contested in the studio. I never spent more than two or three days tracking an entire record. All anybody tells Danny is how perfect he is. So, Bruce comes along and a song like “Circle The Wagons,” there’s gotta be 120 tracks on that. That at one point Danny was ready to rip his hair out. I said, “Dude, this guy is challenging us and I love it.” I’ve never played drums better on a record. These vocals are out of this world with these harmonies. It’s beautiful. So, our egos kind of took a little bit of a hit. We loved it. But it was, again, the whole thing was about an adjustment process. The band members never really sang. Danny did all the harmonies himself. So, I said Ged’s a good singer, Chris is a good singer, I’m a good singer, let’s get the band in there singing with you like Queen used to do. So, the backing vocals were a little painstaking but when we look back – and even with reviews – people are really taking notice. It’s an extra side of Tyketto. Like, holy shit, it’s just really impressive. The backing vocals really made their mark on this one.
MM: If you could bring back any one musician from the dead, who would you resurrect?
MCA: Stevie Ray Vaughn. I was a late bloomer with him and I only started discovering him right before he passed. So, I never got to see him live. I had to go back and enjoy his whole catalog but there’s an old video called Stevie Ray Vaughan at the Mocambo, I think it is, it’s a small little club in Texas that’s one of the best live concerts you’d ever see filmed.
MM: What’s the strangest gift you’ve ever received from a fan?
MCA: I would say it would be a gingerbread house from a fan in New England that was the size of a large dollhouse. Actually, no, I think I have one that trumps that. A Swiss fan for some unknown reason – I think I said in an interview that I really like chocolate and I really like Trenbolone chocolate that’s triangular. This woman found – it took me an hour going through customs when I got home – it had to be a ten pound Trenbolone chocolate bar. I ended up bringing it home. It was my God daughter’s sixth birthday, so she served that at her party. A huge chocolate bar. It was a bizarre gift.
MM: What’s the best gift you’ve ever gotten from a fan?
MCA: The best gift from a fan? Let’s see… Actually, it’s the same fan and I think when she gave me the first Trenbolone she was pregnant. Fast forward and she walked up to me – I think it was two or three years ago – and handed me a ten pound Trenbolone again. She was like, I’m just thinking what a big part of my life this band has been and the last time I did this my son was inside my belly and now he’s in college and I’m still here watching you play. So, that just blew me away. That she remembered the sincerity of it and our little inside joke. My niece who was six is now a mother and she’s 27 and the time just marches on. But this music kept us connected. It was wonderful.
MM: What’s the most awkward exchange you’ve ever had with a fellow musician?
MCA: It ended up being awkward and wonderful. We played a club in Germany. I think it was called The Scum Club. It was a hardcore club that did melodic shows in the early evening. And the manager actually told us when you’re done at nine or ten o’clock, get the hell out of here because it’s gonna be a punk hardcore room and you guys are gonna get killed. Our frosted hair and our boot straps and our polka dot shirts. And some guy got there early and was eye balling us from the side of the stage. He was inked up head to toe. Nose ring. Earrings. Pierced to the max. He comes walking up to me when we finish and I thought he wanted to fight – a real angry-looking dude – and he calls me over and I’m like all right, here we go, and he says, “I just gotta tell ya. I hate your brand of music. I hate it.” And I’m like “OK…” I’m getting ready to punch him in his face. I thought we were gonna go at it. He goes, “But with that said, for what you do, holy shit. I’m very impressed.” I said, “Dude, this is bizarre. I think you just gave me the best compliment of my career.” Even though he hates the genre, we can’t be denied as musicians. I just found something immensely complimentary in that. I was like, “Dude, I was read to go punch you in the face now I’m gonna buy you a beer.” I’m hanging with him a little bit and we became friends that night. It was just an oddly sincere comment. It just really blew me away. It has to be the most honest exchange I’ve ever had with anybody that started by telling me that they hate my music.
MM: That sounds like something Marilyn Manson would say to somebody.
MCA: [Laughs] He looked every bit the part, too.
MM: What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?
MCA: It was a single. It was a 45 single. I was probably under ten years old. And it was “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers. And I fell in love with that song. And I asked my parents if I could use my money to buy it – a dollar or eighty cents, whatever a 45 was – and I played that thing into the ground.
MM: Name three artists from your parents record collection who you actually like?
MCA: Tony Bennett. Frank Sinatra. And as corny as it’s gonna sound, some of the Barbra Streisand stuff from the ’60’s. Absolutely beautiful voice.
MM: Her songs were very interesting. The arrangements and everything.
MCA: Yup, yup, and she had pipes on her, too. Still does.
MM: What do you think of the vinyl comeback?
MCA: For any other reason than I have one to hang on my wall finally, I’m thrilled. It’s good retro. I think it’s a good reminder that not everything has to be digital. I’m looking at my nine year old son and he doesn’t write with a pen anymore. That whole era of communication and media is just unknown. It cracks me up that it’s a cool novelty album. I’m like, this is what I grew up with. And there’s something about putting a vinyl album on your wall. And the irony of this one being on vinyl is Don’t Come Easy was the last vinyl run for DGC back in the day. So, it’s kind of like we went full circle and we’re back.
MM: I was just looking earlier to see if Reach was gonna be on vinyl and I see that it is gonna be.
MCA: Yup, I can’t wait for that.
MM: And it came up on Amazon that somebody who sells vinyl through there had Don’t Come Easy on vinyl. It was currently unavailable, but I was like, shit, I’ve gotta get that.
MCA: When I got it, I didn’t appreciate it because I didn’t know it was gonna disappear. My copy is just mangled. The second I get Reach it’s going in a frame. This whole experience is so sentimental. I’m a little older now. I’ve got a child now I want to leave a little bit of a legacy for. Even when I finished recording the record, I had the band sign the two snare drum heads I used for the 12 songs. And I’m like I’m just gonna frame this. And I wrote the date. This day March 17th, 2016 I tracked these five songs on this head and I’m just gonna put it in a frame. It’ll mean something more than ever. You can’t fake that. I think when you see a band that’s just focused and driven and unified like the old Zeppelin days, their manager was behind them, people feel that and they really, really like that. And I always underestimated how much they respond to that. This is a family like I’ve never seen before.
Tyketto’s sound is superior to that of most hair bands, but they certainly looked and dressed the part when they debuted, so you can’t really blame David Geffen Co for marketing them the way they did.