James Durbin and Quiet Riot’s Alex Grossi Talk ‘Maps to the Hollywood Scars’

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Quiet Riot guitarist Alex Grossi and American Idol finalist James Durbin recently announced a new collaboration, Maps to the Hollywood Scars.

Volume One, the duo’s debut five-song EP, which was released today (February 17), sheds light on the darker side of Hollywood and the music industry—at least from the perspective of two of rock’s hardest-working artists.

Songs like “Roads” and “The Lost Boys” showcase the stinging one-two punch of Grossi’s ace guitar playing and Durbin’s powerful voice, while “Never Ending Ride” is a window to a post-apocalyptic world of ruin.

I recently spoke with Grossi and Durbin about Maps to the Hollywood Scars, Volume One—which is available now via Amazon and iTunes—and more in this exclusive interview.

How did this collaboration come about? How did you guys meet? 

GROSSI: I met James in 2011 via a mutual acquaintance. I remember being taken back, not only by his obvious vocal prowess but by his knowledge and love for real rock n’ roll. Then, last year I went to a Vegas show he was doing, and we ended up jamming together at the after-party.

DURBIN: After the Vegas show I was involved in ended, I unexpectedly received an email from Alex sending me some instrumentals. I took a listen and was immediately inspired. We started sending ideas back and forth and before long decided, hell, why not make an album or two?

How would you describe the EP in terms of its sound—and maybe how it relates to some of your past projects?

DURBIN: We both have our own influences, and there’s an age gap between us, but I think that works to our advantage as far as the writing and crafting goes. It’s all loosely based around rock n’ roll, so it’s not hard for us.

GROSSI: It’s honestly like nothing I have done to date. We’ve both been involved in many different projects, but this happened so quickly and organically, it really stands on its own.

You’ve mentioned that this project was meant to showcase the darker side of Hollywood and the music biz. Can you elaborate on that? 

GROSSI: It’s not really about selling the industry—or Hollywood—down the river. It’s more of a reflection of where the record industry was, is and where it’s going. What once gave artists and record labels a medium to actually sell music has now become a place where the general consensus is that music is free. Where some people will gladly spend $4 on a cup of coffee without batting an eyelash but feel totally fine about illegally downloading a song or record that cost thousands of dollars and countless hours to create, produce and market.

You can read the rest of my
gw_logoInterview with Grossi and Durbin by Clicking Here!

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Nita Strauss Talks “Pandemonium” and Upcoming Alice Cooper/Deep Purple Tour

Nita Strauss

Nita Strauss

When Steve Vai asked guitarist Nita Strauss to take part in his new Favored Nations compilation, She Rocks, Vol. 1, the Alice Cooper Band shredder didn’t give it a second thought.

For years, Strauss has cited Vai as the reason she decided to pick up the guitar in the first place, so getting the chance to contribute an instrumental track to the project was a dream come true.

Strauss’ “Pandemonium”—which you can hear below—is a perpetual burn that showcases Strauss’ infectious style of playing while taking the listener on an extended, hook-laden journey of speed and dynamics.

In addition to the new track, Strauss is gearing up for an Alice Cooper/Deep Purple tour that’ll kick off in August. I recently spoke with her about “Pandemonium,” the upcoming tour, her gear and more.

How did you become involved in the She Rocks project, and what was it like meeting Steve Vai?

It was the most surreal thing. As most people know, I started playing guitar after seeing Steve’s scene in Crossroads. He’s always been my biggest inspiration. But I had never met him until last year, and one of the first things he asked me was if anyone had talked to me about the compilation album he was putting together with [former Guitar World editor-in-chief] Brad Tolinski and Laura Whitmore. I told him I hadn’t, and the next thing I knew, I had gotten an email from Brad.

I wrote and recorded “Pandemonium” in a single evening. My boyfriend, Josh Villalta, played drums and Katt Scarlett played keys. It really came together organically in a very cool way.

How would you describe “Pandemonium”? 

I think by the title. It’s a self-explaining name. I’ve never actually said what the song is about but I really wanted to take people on a journey. An instrumental song doesn’t have any lyrics, but it tells a story, and it could be about anything. I love to hear what journey it takes people on.

You can read the rest of my
gw_logoInterview with Nita Strauss by Clicking Here.

Firehouse Guitarist Bill Leverty Discusses His New Single, “You’re a Natural”

Photo by Mario Leo Fasolo

Photo by Mario Leo Fasolo

It’s been 25 years since Firehouse won Favorite Heavy Metal/Hard Rock New Artist at the 1992 American Music Awards, beating out Nirvana and Alice in Chains.

These days, the band—and its individual members—is still firing on all cylinders.

Firehouse guitarist Bill Leverty has just released a powerful new single called “You’re a Natural.” The song, which features contributions by Firehouse drummer Michael Foster and bassist Keith Horne, continues Leverty’s trend of releasing melodic singles full of tasty fretwork.

I recently spoke to Leverty about the new single, his gear, Firehouse’s upcoming tour plans and more.

How did “You’re a Natural” come about?

Just like every song I’ve written lately, it started backwards with the chorus first. With this one, the punch line was actually the first thing I wrote—“You’re a natural, a natural disaster.” I didn’t want it to be real descriptive, so it could be about athletics or any kind of work you do. I took it from that line and started working with the guitar to come up with a riff and chord progression.

What was it like recording with Firehouse’s Michael Foster and Keith Horne?

They’re phenomenal musicians. Michael took the song to an extremely high level of energy and creativity. As a guitar player, I’m usually thinking snare on beats two and four, but his feel and the way he shifts the beat to go along with the rhythm is remarkable. Keith is another amazing player. You give him the song and he just goes off and does his thing.

What are Firehouse’s touring plans this year?

We like to say we’re always on tour. It’s our creed. I think we already have 15 to 20 dates booked. Last year, we did 62 shows and played a lot of really cool places. We played with a lot of really cool bands and met a lot of new fans as well as ones we’ve known for years. We want to do it again this year. This will be another summer where we’ll be out every weekend and catching up on sleep during the week.

You can read the rest of my
gw_logoInterview with Bill Leverty by Clicking Here!

Bassist Nathan East Talks New Solo Album, ‘Reverence,’ and Working with Eric Clapton

Photo by: Kharen Hill

Photo by: Kharen Hill

Bassist Nathan East’s resume reads like a music industry who’s who.

East, a founding member of renowned, contemporary jazz quartet Fourplay, also is one of the world’s most in-demand bassists with credits that include Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins and Whitney Houston.

East’s sophomore solo album, Reverence, is a collection of original tracks and cover material spanning the R&B, pop, rock and jazz songbook. Included is a scorching cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Serpentine Fire,” originally recorded in 1991 and featuring Eric Clapton on guitar and Phil Collins on drums. There’s also a soul-stirring interpretation of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” that features East’s 16-year-old son, Noah, on piano.

I recently spoke with East about Reverence, his time performing with Eric Clapton, his gear and more.

Did you have a particular musical direction in mind for Reverence?

I always try to go in one direction, and it’s the same with Fourplay and all of the other projects I work on. You always try to go for sonic excellence. The idea is to keep the bar high in terms of quality and sound.

How did you determine what material to use for this project?

It’s a little more of a challenge as a bass player because you have to play bass and then any lead bass is in addition to it. So it’s actually two separate sets of basses on there. The idea is to find songs that lend themselves to that format in writing or covering. You always want to come up with something that will translate to the bass. The other thing I like to do is make records that are song-based and not just chops. Songs that touch a nerve or someone’s heart is also a big criteria.

Your cover of Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Serpentine Fire” actually began 25 years ago. How did it come about?

That was originally a project I was working on with my brother called Two Faces of East. We were living together at the time and doing work in the studio, and that particular song was one that we put together. Coincidentally, it was also when I was working with Phil Collins and Eric Clapton. I remember we flew over to England and asked if they’d like to lend their talents.

Sure enough, they put their stamp on it. We pretty much finished it up, but the project never got a deal and the song wound up sitting around in a basement on 2-inch tape.

Read the rest of my
gw_logoInterview with Nathan East by Clicking Here!

Zepparella’s Gretchen Menn Discusses Her ‘Inferno’-Inspired Album, ‘Abanadon All Hope’

Photo by: Max Crace

Photo by: Max Crace

Zepparella guitarist Gretchen Menn’s new conceptual work, Abandon All Hope, is an eclectic study of guitar, art and literature.

The instrumental album, which puts elements of classical and romantic composition through a prog- and blues-rock blender, was co-produced by Daniele Gottardo (Steve Vai’s favorite new guitarist) and—most interesting of all—based on Dante Alighieri‘s epic 14th-century poem, Inferno.

You could say it’s a guitar album that’s 600 years in the making—with a masterful, 21st-century approach.

I recently spoke to Menn about Abandon All Hope, her gear and more.

How did the Abandon All Hope project begin?

I’ve always liked the idea of art that incorporates other art and how you don’t have to just make music but can also make images that accompany it. I’m the daughter of a writer and grew up reading a lot of classic literature. I started playing around with the idea of doing something that would be the music to a work of literature I really liked.

Around that same time, Guitar Player Editor-in-Chief Michael Molenda reached out about doing a collaboration. I remember we met in a coffee shop and he handed me this sheet of paper that said, “Dante’s Inferno: A Journey in 11 Different Musical Moods,” and I was just blown away. It was one of those rare moments where I knew exactly what I was going to be doing for the next few years of my life. That’s how it came about.

You said you pored over orchestral scores and listened to a lot of music to prepare for this album. How did that help you?
I read scores every day, and where some people do crossword puzzles, I do counterpoint exercises [laughs]. But I didn’t want to take “x” from Led Zeppelin, “y” from Igor Stravinsky and “z” from Kate Bush. Instead, I listened to whatever inspired me. I’d listen to Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” but I also listened to Roger Waters’ Amused to Death –a concept album he did with Jeff Beck. I really wanted to explore structure and the intense interplay between instruments.

You can read the rest of my
gw_logoInterview with Gretchen Menn by Clicking Here!

Phil Collen Talks Def Leppard’s Explosive New Concert Film, ‘Live from Detroit’

Photo by: Ross Halfin

Photo by: Ross Halfin

Def Leppard‘s new concert film, And There Will Be a Next Time: Live from Detroit, captures the power and raw energy of one of rock’s most dynamic and celebrated bands.

The disc, which was filmed at the DTE Energy Music Theatre in Clarkston, Michigan, includes a gaggle of hits from across the band’s 40-year career, including highlights from their monster albums—Pyromania and Hysteria—straight on through to their self-titled 2015 release.

I recently spoke with guitarist Phil Collen about Live from Detroit, the 30th anniversary of Hysteria, gear and more. You can check out the interview below.

And There Will Be a Next Time: Live from Detroit will be out February 10—and the band will be hitting the road again this spring.

What made the band decide to do a live project?

During this last tour, everyone—including the band—was saying this was the best they had ever heard Def Leppard. We knew we had to document it. We had also done Live: In the Round, In Your Face back in 1987 and knew we needed to update it. It was a no-brainer. But there was no real concept voyage behind it.

The first real sellout on the last tour was in Detroit, which has always been a brilliant market for the band. So we said, let’s record the most ravenous audience on that tour and the first sellout and update the whole thing, since it was all going so well. That was it.

Are there any extra nerves going into recording a live show, knowing there are no second chances?

Not so much nerves, but I do remember going over to the side and seeing a drone camera floating around by my head, filming me and taking photos. You get distracted and go, “This is not normal!” [laughs]. All of these kinds of things happen, but it’s all part of a live performance. There’s also going to be mistakes in live things, but it just shows that you’re human and it makes the record even more live.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Hysteria. What was your biggest challenge when making that album?

The biggest challenge was that we had been working with Mutt Lange and then he had to go off and finish a prior commitment, which was the Cars’ album [Heartbeat City]. So we fended for ourselves for a while and it just wasn’t happening. Then when he came back into the fold, he had a vision of what it was going to sound like, and that’s when it really started clicking. It was a joy to actually hear it come together because it had been frustrating working on something for two years.

When Mutt came back in, we saw what he was trying to accomplish. It was something unique that I had never heard before. Now you hear it for what it is, but at the time it was the absolute perfect hybrid of a rock album into the pop market.

Read the rest of my
gw_logoInterview with Phil Collen By Clicking Here!

Journey’s Neal Schon Talks Rock Hall of Fame Induction and New Projects

Photo: Schon Productions

Photo: Schon Productions

Neal Schon has a lot to be thankful for.

Last year, the longtime Journey guitarist—and the band’s only remaining founding member—celebrated another season of touring and was reunited with his longtime friend and mentor, Carlos Santana, for the Santana IV album and tour.

The new year is already off to a memorable start for Schon. In addition to the assortment of solo-related projects he’s working on, it was recently announced that Journey–whose current lineup includes Jonathan Cain (keyboards, vocals), Ross Valory (bass, vocals), Steve Smith (drums) and Arnel Pineda (lead vocals)—will be inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April alongside Yes, ELO, Pearl Jam, Joan Baez, Nile Rodgers and Tupac Shakur.

I recently spoke with Schon about Journey’s induction, his upcoming projects and more.

Did you ever think the day would come when Journey would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
I didn’t really think about it. We were up about 17 years ago, and when we weren’t nominated, I kind of forgot about it. One of the main things that got us in was our fans voting so hard. The fans and the music are the main things for me. They spoke and the Hall listened. It’s an honor to be in there and get the nod for some of the staples and cement we’ve made.Do you see Journey’s induction as a stepping stone for other “classic rock” bands to eventually get a nod?

I really can’t say because I have no clue what the voting process is. Personally, I’d love to see it be more fan-based. A hall of fame is about different artists and bands and the legacies they’ve left. Even if the people deciding don’t care for a certain type of music, the artists that have the credentials and sell millions of records deserve to be there.

Read the rest of my
gw_logoInterview with Neal Schon by Clicking Here.

Actress Sara Castro Discusses ‘Christmas Eve’, Upcoming Projects

Photo by: Gaylord Hill

Photo by: Gaylord Hill

“A botched robbery leads down a destructive path for a police officer, an amateur photographer and a strung-out mall Santa as they all converge in one explosive and deadly night.”

With a cast that also includes Eric Close (Nashville, Without A Trace), Adrian Paul (Highlander) and Mary-Margaret Humes (Criminal Minds, Dawson’s Creek), Sara Castro’s next project, “Christmas Eve” is sure to be one of the most talked about independent films of 2017. The film reunites the beautiful actress with director Richard Friedman, who worked with Castro on the critically acclaimed “Halfway To Hell”.

In “Christmas Eve”, Castro plays the role of Kasey Edwards, a mother trying to manage her husband’s alcohol recovery while caring for her sick daughter.

Castro has also earned praise herself for her powerful work in the film, “The Shift” aa well as the genre-defying, award-winning horror/sci-fi, “The Dark Tapes”.

Although “Christmas Eve” won’t be released until next year, I recently spoke with Castro about the film and more in this exclusive new interview.

How did “Christmas Eve” come about for you?

I had the pleasure of working with Richard Friedman again on this project. Richard has a lot of experience as a director and is always putting together interesting things. But it wasn’t a role that was just given to me. I liked the fact that I had to work for it and earn it. It makes you want to work even harder so you can show them they made the right decision.

What was it about the script that piqued your interest?

It was having the chance to work with Richard again, the story and the role. The fact that it had such good names attached to it was another factor because you learn so much from them. Eric Close (who plays my husband, Randall) has been in a lot of series and just finished Nashville. It’s always cool getting to work with great people. It validates why you do what you do.

How would you describe the story of “Christmas Eve”?

It’s a story about a robbery that leads down a destructive path for a police officer who’s reconnecting with his estranged mother. That leads to another story about an amateur photographer and his vindictive fiancé. From there, it connects to a strung-out, mall Santa. He’s my character’s husband and is a recovering alcoholic who’s having a hard time keeping a job. My daughter is very sick and needs assistance, so we really need the money. I’m a nervous wreck trying to make sure the stress isn’t getting to him but at the same time I have my own demons.

What else can you tell me about your character, Kasey?

Kasey is the strong one in the family and has been through a lot with her daughter being sick. She’s trying to keep everything together and under control.

Is there a certain way you like to prepare for a role or scene?

I always try to put together a backstory for my character: where she came from and what’s led her to this point in time.

What do you enjoy most about the creative process?

I love the process of discovery and surprising myself as well as giving the director different takes. That’s the most fun and beautiful part of the process. It can be a bit nerve wracking when you just throw yourself into a scene but you’ll always be pleasantly surprised and find things you never expected. The unpredictability makes it fun.

Are there any other projects you’re working on?

I recently attended another of “The Dark Tapes”. Michael McQuown (Director) has told me that he has plans to do a spin off of it. I believe we’ll be shooting that in February.

What are you most looking forward to about the 2017?

I’m really excited for 2017 and with the help of my team feel I’m getting closer and closer to my goals. The momentum is going so well and it’s only going to get better!

Actor Michael Nardelli Talks ‘Christmas In Homestead’ and Upcoming ‘Dark/Web’ Series

Photo credit: Patrick Maus

Photo credit: Patrick Maus

After making his professional acting debut as Stradivarius Helberg on the television show ‘Quintuplets’, actor Michael Nardelli went on to star alongside Zac Efron in the independent film, ‘Derby Stallion’ as well as the comedy ‘Grassroots’ with Jason Biggs. He’s also had recurring roles on such shows as  ‘American Crime Story: ‘The People Vs. OJ Simpson’,  ‘CSI: New York’, and ‘Nashville’.

But as 2016 comes to a close, Nardelli’s creative prowess is really starting to heat up. Beginning with the new Hallmark film, “Christmas in Homestead’.

In ‘Christmas In Homestead’, Jessica (Taylor Cole), one of the most famous actresses in world, heads to the Christmas-obsessed town to shoot a holiday-themed film. While there, a romance brews between Jessica and a local innkeeper. Nardelli plays the role of Ian Cooper. An aggressive paparazzo who makes his living by chasing down celebrities and getting the dirt on their love lives.

In real life, Nardelli is currently producing, writing and starring in a new digital series called ‘Dark/Web’ that’s slated for release early next year. Each episode consists of a portion of a serialized tale and a stand-alone science fiction / horror short centered around technological themes.

I recently spoke with Nardelli about ‘Christmas in Homestead’, ‘Dark/Web’ and more in this exclusive interview.

How did “Christmas in Homestead” come about for you?

It came up with an audition. My agent sent me the request and I taped it. Nowadays, a lot of auditions (and even callbacks) are put on tape rather than in room. I actually never had to audition in a room with anyone. The glory of modern technology [laughs]!

What was it that attracted you to the script?

I’d just come off several really dark, challenging roles so to run off and make a Hallmark Christmas movie felt like going on holiday! I liked the idea of doing a feel good romantic comedy. I also liked Ian’s arc a lot. Going from someone very self-centered to someone who realizes he must become a better person to keep someone he cares very much for in his life.

How would you describe the story of “Christmas in Homestead”?

It’s an old fashioned, fish out of water Christmas story. “Christmas In Homestead” is about a Hollywood production that goes to a small-town in Iowa to film a Christmas movie. There’s lots of hijinks and clashing of morals: big city folk kind of rediscovering their values in this small town where things like family and tradition are more important than fame and fortune.

What else can you tell me about your character, Ian Carter?

Ian Carter is a paparazzo and makes his living chasing down the big photo and the big exclusive in Los Angeles. When we meet him, he’s very bottom line driven and doesn’t have a lot of sympathy for others’ privacy. He’s been chasing one of the biggest actresses in the world, Jessica (played by Taylor Cole) and follows her to Homestead to get the big scoop on whether or not she’s getting back with her ex. Along the way, he meets a local Innkeeper who kind of changes his entire world.  

What can you tell me about your new series, Dark/Web? 

I really like stories that deal with the human condition and also what it means to be alive today. And “today” means technology and social media. We’ve opened these doors in our lives that will never close again in terms of the Internet and connectivity, and most of us don’t really know its impact on our daily lives and our future. “Dark/Web” came out of that. For this project, I teamed up with my brother, Tim Nardelli and Mario Miscione.

How would you describe the series?

It’s a scary, fresh, relevant take on where we are today with technology and the dangers of a world that is “always on.” It’s reminiscent of “The Twilight Zone” in the way it tackles modern issues we’re all dealing with thematically, but hides some of that in stories that are meant to be entertaining, scary and thrilling. The show has an anthology aspect to it, so a cool variety of filmmakers and actors pop in and out for episodes. There’s also a serialized portion of the show though that spans across the eight episodes and kind of ties everything together. It’s the kind of show where the more you watch the more you see how everything is connected.

Do you have a timeframe as to when it will be released?

We still have three episodes to film in February and we’re hoping to release it in spring 2017.

Did you always know that you wanted a career in entertainment? Was it something you always aspired to do?

Yes. I grew up watching old movies and TV shows with my mom and  always wanted to be up on stage or in front of the camera (or behind) doing the same thing. In middle school, I’d write, direct and act in little shorts that my classmates and I would make. I’d always ask if I could put a little film together instead of writing a paper and sometimes even got my wish! I did all of the theater I could in high school and college. Because I didn’t grow up in Hollywood or New York and didn’t have family in the entertainment business, it was an unconventional decision to make. But there was never any other option for what I wanted to do!

Heart’s Nancy Wilson Talks ‘Live at the Royal Albert Hall’ CD/DVD

Photo by: Christie Goodwin

Photo by: Christie Goodwin

Heart’s epic new CD/DVD/Blu-ray, Live at the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, captures the band’s first performance—ever—at the legendary London venue.

The sold-out show, which took place in June, was highlighted by hit after hit—from “Crazy on You” and “Barracuda” to “Magic Man” and “Dreamboat Annie”—plus tracks from the band’s engaging new studio album, Beautiful Broken.

Besides Ann Wilson (vocals) and Nancy Wilson (guitar/vocals), the band that night included Ben Smith (drums), Dan Rothchild (bass), Craig Bartock (guitar), Chris Joyner (keyboards) and, of course, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Nick Davies.

I recently spoke with Nancy Wilson about the Royal Albert Hall performance, gear and the stories behind some of the band’s biggest hits.

When and how did the idea for a performance at the Royal Albert Hall originate?
We had been pushing the concept of bringing the band over to the U.K. and doing some shows for some time. That was when someone who had been handling big shows at Royal Albert Hall got wind that we were coming over and asked if we’d be interested in doing a World Symphony show. And we were like, “Uhm, yeah! I think we could manage that!” [laughs]. It all fell together very naturally.

What was the process like in terms of putting orchestration behind the band’s iconic songs?
It was a cool thing because we already had some standard charts from Paul Buckmaster, who worked us on Beautiful Broken. But we didn’t want to give it a pastoral kind of sound. We wanted more of a rock-symphony sound. We came over and had one day with Nick Davies looking over the charts and talking them over. We perused through them together and decided what to add and what take out.

The same day as the show was the only day we actually rehearsed with the orchestra. They’re so insanely talented. Once we got out there and saw how great it sounded in the room, we knew right away it was going to work. That’s when we said, “Ok, let’s go have some fun!”

Read the rest of my
gw_logoInterview with Nancy Wilson Here!

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