interview by Michael McCarthy
It’s no secret that Warrant are one of my favorite heavy metal bands. They’ve been one ever since I saw the video for their first single, “Down Boys,” on MTV back in the later part of the ’80’s. Their blend of melodic vocals and sonorous music has always impressed me. And, to put it in simple terms, their ballads ruled. Their vocalist at the time, Jani Lane, is one of my all-time favorite songwriters and I still think it’s a tragedy that we lost him when we did. Originally, Jani wrote every Warrant song. The first three albums, Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich, Cherry Pie and Dog Eat Dog, were all his songwriting from start to finish. But by the mid-’90’s, guitarist Erik Turner and bassist Jerry Dixon were contributing to the songwriting as well and that era turned out two brilliant albums, Ultraphobic and Belly to Belly Volume One. (I still wish there was a Belly to Belly Volume Two!) Lead guitarist Joey Allen and drummer Steven Sweet were not with the band for those, but they came back into the fold when Jani first left and Erik, Jerry, Joey, and Steven have been together ever since. Their new album, Louder Harder Faster is their second to feature vocalist Robert Mason, who I’ve been a fan of ever since he did the second Lynch Mob album back in the day. When he joined Warrant he reinvigorated the band and they’ve been kicking ass ever since. In the following interview, I chat with guitarist Erik Turner for the first time in twenty years, having interviewed him four or five times back during the Ultraphobic and Belly to Belly days when I was publishing a zine called Ant, The Only Cool Magazine that Bites. Back then he was one of the nicest, most approachable rockers I ever met and he remains so today.
MM: I know you’re out in California. Whereabouts do you live out there?
ET: I live in Temecula near San Diego. Yeah, Southern California.
MM: I lived in Los Angeles for a few years so that’s why I was curious.
ET: I spent 19 years in Los Angeles and then we moved down to Temecula a while ago. For a change of pace.
MM: Is it more laid back over there?
ET: Yeah, much more. Temecula’s known for its wineries. I think there’s over 40 wineries in the Temucula wine valley. It’s nice. A nice family area. Nice restaurants and, yeah, definitely more laid back than Los Angeles.
MM: Your new album is on Frontiers Records, which is like the new major label for rock bands. How did you connect with them?
ET: You know, it was quite a while ago when we connected with them. We did a record in 2011 called Rockaholic on Frontiers Records. So, probably around 2010 or 2009 we reached out to them or they reached out to us. I honestly don’t remember. It was quite a while ago. But the Rockaholic record turned out really good. We had a blast making that record with Keith Olson.
MM: I really like it.
ET: Thank you. And that was our first record with Robert [Mason, vocals] and here we are six years later and we finally got around to doing a new record, Louder Harder Faster, which is a little more ’70’s, hard rock, blues based rock ‘n’ roll in my opinion.
MM: The song “Perfect,” in fact, reminds me of bands like Foreigner and Reo Speedwagon and Night Ranger. Were you going for that sort of vibe with that one?
ET: We weren’t necessarily going for that vibe, but that’s how it turned out. On this record more than any other record we’ve done our childhood influences are coming out. I don’t know why. When I was 13, 14, 15 years old, I was listening to Foreigner and Reo Speedwagon, you know, Led Zeppelin, all the hard rock bands from that era. And I think more than any record we’ve done in the past those influences have come out on this record.
MM: When did you start writing for the new album?
ET: Well, the first song I heard for this record was probably on Robert’s cellphone two and a half years ago. It was “Louder Harder Faster.” He had started working on it. At least two and a half years ago we slowly started writing. Songs pop up here, songs pop up there. Jerry will write a song. Robert has an idea. I’ve got a riff. Joey has some riffs. But we didn’t really go full blown ahead until we accepted the second option on our record deal Frontiers wanted us to do. About every six months for a couple years they would ask us when are you gonna give us a new record? So, we finally committed at the end of 2016. Blocked out six weeks in the recording studio and had a deadline and that’s when we really got to work.
MM: When you wrote the songs, were you sending ideas over the internet or did you get together at all?
ET: Jerry and Robert got together a little bit. At soundcheck once in a while, we would get together – that was pretty rare – and jam on a song. Jerry and Robert are the two songwriters in the band. They write lyrics and melodies and stuff. I would send riffs and Joey would send riffs and sometimes they might spark a song idea and sometimes they don’t. But, yeah, we did some passing. During the demo process we would send little recording bits from our studios back and forth, but when it comes time to make a record we all need to be in the same room in a studio with a producer. That’s just the way we work best.
Note: “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” is a CD-only bonus track:
MM: You had Jeff Pilson [Dokken, Foreigner] produce this one. I know he’s usually really busy with Foreigner. How did you manage to pry him away from them?
ET: Well, his schedule was open about that time. It was around the holidays. Around Christmas in December. At the end of November, the day after Thanksgiving, we started pre-production and I think around December first we loaded into Jeff’s studio and we finished recording around January eighth. So, we just blocked out the time. He had the time. And it worked out. It was meant to be. Working with Jeff was great. He brings a lot of positive energy and musical knowledge and natural talent that he has. He’s got a great studio. It was an ideal situation for us.
MM: Did he contribute to any of the songwriting at all?
ET: No, but the producer always gets the best performance out of you. Makes suggestions, whether it’s a melody or a background vocal. Or change the end of it. Little things like that that producers do. That are not considered songwriting. Yeah, he had a lot of great ideas for this record. His enthusiasm for the music was contagious. Really, I think he did a great job getting solid performances out of everyone.
MM: I think my favorite track on the album is the ballad “U in My Life.” Who wrote that one?
ET: Robert and a friend of his in Nashville wrote that song together. I think it started out – I remember Robert was playing his piano at home and this riff just started coming out. Melodies, like they do, come from out of nowhere. He played it for his friend in Nashville, a professional songwriter, and the two of them just started working on it over the period of a year and it’s the one true ballad on the record and it’s a really beautiful song. Great performances on that record. Robert played the piano and the guitar solo on that song. It turned out fantastic.
MM: I really like the harmonizing on the song “Faded.” How did that come about?
ET: On “Faded,” that guitar harmony part – the big one in the bridge – I played those parts and I think that was a suggestion from Jeff. We’re in the studio and I’m laying down my rhythm guitar parts and he’s like, hey, try this. And we built it bigger and bigger. It turned out to be a nice guitar harmony part.
MM: Yeah. And there’s sweet harmonizing backing vocals in the song, too.
ET: Yeah, that’s what Warrant’s known for. Steven Sweet sings all the high parts mostly on all our records. Him and Jani would double up on them. Steven and Robert will double up on some of the high parts sometimes. Harmonizing and harmonies have always been a huge part of the Warrant sound.
MM: I read that you played some lead guitar on the album. What songs did you play lead on?
ET: The only song that I play lead guitar on is the “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.” The way that we’ve always worked mostly, in general, we’ll record live with Steven and then Jerry will go back and play the bass parts and then Joey will lay down his basic rhythm guitar. And then my thing is I always want to play something different than Joey. Something that compliments what he’s playing. Maybe different chord voicing. Maybe a little different rhythm pattern. Different guitar tones. Make it a little more interesting than me just carbon copying his rhythm tracks. So, that’s always a lot of fun and can sometimes be challenging. And then Joey will start laying down solos. Maybe Robert will sing a couple songs in one day and then Joey will do a couple solos that same day. We just kind of build it that way.
MM: I’ve always wondered – did you guys go straight from Jamie St. James to Robert or did you try out anyone in between?
ET: Well, after Jamie St. James, Jani Lane came back to the band for a short-lived reunion thing. And then we didn’t audition anybody else. Robert came out. Joey had spoke with him. We all ran into each other at a big music festival we were all playing and it looked like we might need a new singer. Robert said he was interested. The time came when we did need a new singer so Robert flew out and we played two or three songs together and then we knew. Right when I heard him sing “I Saw Red” I got chills up and down both arms and I go, yup, this is the guy.
MM: Who did the new album cover?
ET: A guy named Stephen Jensen. And he has F3studios.com. F3studios.com is his website. Him and his wife also own a clothing line called Wornstar out of Chicago and do a lot of custom pants and stage clothes for us. Him and Robert came up with all the artwork and then the rest of us would throw our two cents in about what we liked or didn’t like. Can you please change this? That type of thing. That was minimal. It turned out really nice. Have you seen the whole booklet or not?
MM: I haven’t seen the whole booklet, just the cover, but I really like it.
ET: The booklet’s pretty amazing. There’s a lot of cool art in there.
MM: I’ll probably buy it on vinyl. It’s gonna be on vinyl, right?
ET: I hope so. We’re asking the label to please do some. We’ll see. If not, maybe the band will do some on our own. But it’s too soon to say. A lot of people ask about vinyl.
MM: Yeah, it’s definitely made quite the comeback. Are you a vinyl fan yourself?
ET: No, but my sixteen-year-old son is. He’ll buy some vinyl of artists that he likes. New bands. And he’ll play records. And he’ll play some of my old records. He actually bought a cassette a couple of months ago. He bought a cassette. [Laughs] From a brand new artist. I guess artists are putting out cassettes as well now.
MM: I’ve seen a little bit of that. Now, I know you guys have done a few live dates recently. Are you headlining or are you playing with someone?
ET: Oh, we did a couple co-headlining dates with Dokken this weekend. We played at the M3 Festival. We went on and then Tom Keifer went on and then Ratt went on, on the big stage. Just a combination of stuff like that, you know. Some headlining, some opening. We’re really blessed to play a lot of cool events. We work a lot every year. This year’s no different. Business is great. And it’s exciting to have some new music to talk about.
MM: Yeah, definitely. Do you think you’ll be playing the Wolf Den at Mohegan Sun again?
ET: Yeah, we’re playing in October at the Wolf Den. On a Sunday night. I don’t remember the date offhand, but it’s in October.
MM: Cool, cool. Glad to hear it.
ET: Yeah, we love playing there. Great staff. We’ve probably played there ten times at least. Over the last 15 years.
MM: You guys have continued to put out new music even if there was a gap between the last couple albums. But many of your peers don’t even bother to put out new music anymore. They just play shows and just play the old hits and that’s it. What do you think about that?
ET: I can understand why they don’t do it. We do it. It’s a labor of love. It’s a lot of work. Pressure. But I think that it also depends on what your expectations are. If you have a band that’s always sold 500,000 records and nobody’s gonna buy that many anymore. So, they think, why do it? But, for our band, every half a decade or so we get the itch to make a record. We know we’re not gonna have a platinum album on our hands. The odds of that happening are not good.
MM: Frontiers supposedly does really well though.
ET: They must do well. They sign everyone from Whitesnake to Def Leppard to bands like Danger Danger – lots of bands, all over the spectrum. Old metal bands like Saxon and ’80’s rockers like Warrant. They’ve been great. God bless them for making it possible for all of us to continue to do what we love.
MM: You guys have four of the original members and, obviously, you have to have a different singer because Jani’s no longer with us, but there are bands out there with only one or two original members. What do you think about that?
ET: I think we’re fortunate to have the situation that we’re in. There was a good ten years where we only had three original members. Jani, Jerry and I. We had a lot of different hired guns that played with us. So, you want to keep doing what you love. The ideal situation we all wish we could have is to have the five original guys, but sometimes life isn’t ideal. So, you want to keep doing what you love, so we just feel fortunate to have four out of five. I always say four out of five ain’t bad.
MM: During the years you just mention you put out the albums Belly to Belly and Ultraphobic, which I think are definitely two of my favorite Warrant albums. Are those ever going to be re-released or remastered or anything? I know the label went out of business.
ET: Yeah, those master recordings – last I heard – were owned by BMG and I’m not really too in tune with all the corporate stuff. I think BMG and Sony merged. So, I have no idea if they’ll ever re-release them or not. You can get them online. You can listen to them on Pandora or Spotify or Apple Music – the music’s out there for people to hear, to go check it out. But as far as them re-releasing repackaged versions, I doubt it’ll happen anytime soon. The Ultraphobic record – for anybody reading or listening – is worth checking out. There’s some good songs on there.
MM: Yeah. I think Belly to Belly is even better though.
ET: Ah, thank you. Everybody has different tastes. That’s nice to hear. We had a blast. We self-produced the Belly to Belly record. It’s the only record we ever self-produced in Warrant history. So, as you can imagine, the six of us had a blast making that record. Jerry owned a recording studio at the time and we recorded the record there. And it was a lot of fun, making that record.
MM: There’s a lot of interesting percussive instruments on there. It had a lot of flavor.
ET: Oh, yeah. There’s a lot of experimenting musically, trying to reinvent ourselves musically. You can hear a lot of the influences of the time of 1996.
MM: What is a fake name you’ve used when checking into hotels?
ET: Rocky Star, I used a lot. Professor Lactic was another one. There was lots of funny stuff like that to amuse ourselves.
MM: What was the first album you ever bought with your own money?
ET: I bought two of them on the same day. I think it cost me a whole six dollars. I bought Aerosmith’s first album and Alice Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare when I was 11 years old. Sheer Music, I believe it was called. Those are the first two records I ever bought.
MM: What’s the last album you bought?
ET: The last record I got was Jack Russell’s new Great White CD. It’s really good.
MM: Yeah, it is. If you could resurrect one musician from the dead, who would you bring back?
ET: John Bonham. Greatest rock drummer, in my opinion, of forever. Who’s ever been. I can’t tell you how much I love John Bonham’s playing.
MM: Tell us three things from your bucket list that you have yet to do.
ET: Yeah, you know, I have some friends that have just recently checked off some things on their bucket list and I realized I don’t have a bucket list. [Laughs] One thing I would like to do someday is travel the country in my RV with my wife and my dogs and my son if he wants to go along as well. He might be off doing his own thing by then. He’s almost 18. I think it would be fun just to travel at leisure. I’ve always traveled for work my whole life. Here, go here, be there, gotta get there, go there. Don’t have time to see anything. To look around, you know? You rarely have a day off with nothing to do. So, it would be nice to travel the country and go where we want and stay as long as we want. I think that would be my one bucket list thing that I can think of.
MM: I’ll ask you one last one. If someone was giving you a million dollars to give to charity and it all had to go to the same charity or cause, which would you give it to?
ET: Well, I don’t know. We’ve donated to a lot of different charities. We work with Animal Friends of the Valley. I would want it to go to a charity where 100 percent of the proceeds help the cause. So many charities these days are so corporate. You send them some money and then they turn around and spend it on postage and fancy envelopes asking you for more money. I hate that. I would want to help some people. Maybe if I had a million bucks I’d find ten worthy people that were down on their luck and give them a hundred grand each to restart their lives. That would be great.
Special thanks to Erik Turner for taking the time to chat with me and to Katy Irizarry and Jon Freeman of Freeman Promotions for scheduling it!