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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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When I Became A Metal Head: Metal Health

MetalHealthI’m not sure of the exact day, but I can tell you that it was sometime during the summer of 1983. Back when I was but a wee-lad of 13 and innocence was all the rage.

In those days, my father used to like to take my brother and me on drives to visit his friend Hal, who lived in a small ranch about five miles away. In order to get to his house, we would have to take the winding, back roads that wound along the Lehigh, a river which separated our home in Pennsylvania from the New Jersey border.

With windows rolled down, it was always a pleasant drive to Hal’s; particularly on sunny days when (from my vantage point in the back seat of my Dad’s 1977 Malibu Classic) I could take in the beauty of the scenic overlook, smell the honeysuckle in the air and feel the wind rush by my face. Little did I know at the time, but this was going to be one of those special days.

Our visit with Hal that particular day is not something I have any real recollection of. My brother and I were most likely tossing a football around in his back yard while Hal and my father kabitzed about work or something. In fact, it wasn’t until the ride home that I actually had the epiphany that would change my life forever.

We were nearly home and were listening to the local radio station when it came on. At that precise moment, we could have driven right off the road and into the river and I would have been oblivious to it. Once I heard it, I was hooked. The song was “Cum on Feel The Noize” by Quiet Riot and at the time, I had no idea that it was originally a #1 hit for the band Slade ten years earlier. All I knew was that this updated version was the most incredible song I had ever heard in my entire life. Who would have thought that girls rocking boys would have had such an impact on me? It would be the first time that I would ever make a demand of my father. Three words: “Turn It Up!”, to which he thankfully obliged.

I remember we pulled into our driveway and (much to my father and brother’s chagrin), I made them sit there in the car with me until the song was completely over. Back in 1983, there was no way of knowing when I would hear that song again, which in retrospect actually made me appreciate the song even more whenever I did hear it.

I instantly longed to be the one who vocalist Kevin DuBrow put on his shoulders and played the guitar solo instead of Carlos Cavazo. I wanted to be the one standing alongside the thundering bass of Rudy Sarzo and the infectious drums of Frankie Banali. I wanted to be the one to get wild, wild, WILD!

It wouldn’t be long before the album, ‘Metal Health’ found its way into my possession. But Metal Health was more than just an album. It pushed the metal genre into the mainstream and ushered in a new wave of music euphoria for a generation of starving ears. For me personally, the album went much deeper. It actually became a part of me. So much so, that when I started taking proper guitar lessons a year after that drive along the Lehigh River, the very first song I ever learned how to play was ‘Metal Health (Bang Your Head)’. Perhaps it was the reckless abandon of the songs, or maybe it was because Quiet Riot once had Randy Rhoads in its line-up at one time that made the album appeal to me as a guitarist. One of the all time greatest players was once part of the band whose album I now enjoyed. Whatever the reason, I gave up trying to find an excuse for why I liked it long ago. Good music speaks for itself.

I picked this up from Wikipedia: Metal Health was released on March 11, 1983 (thirty years ago), bolstered by the #5 hit “Cum on Feel the Noize” and the #31 hit “Metal Health”. The album is notable for being the very first heavy metal album to reach the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 and knocking The Police’s Synchronicity out of #1 spot in the US. Metal Health went on to sell over six million copies and it is considered a classic among heavy metal fans to this day.

On my last day of junior high in 1984, I remember blasting “Cum on Feel The Noize” from the back seat of the big yellow school bus on my boom box. It was my final year before starting high school in the fall, and I felt like a king. Me, James Wood was privy to musical greatness and I just had to share it with the world.

There are certain albums that you instantly bond with, and then there are those that remain with you for a lifetime.

Making Movies

The other day, while doing some “pre-spring” spring cleaning I stumbled upon a bunch of old 8mm film equipment and movies down in my basement. You know how you have some things in your possession that are, for all intents and purposes, useless but yet you still can’t bear to part with? Well, this equipment is one of those things for me. Something I should have thrown away long ago but still managed to find a place for every time we moved into a new apartment or house over the years.

I don’t really know why it never made it to the landfill but I would soon be glad it didn’t reach its final destination.

Even though the high tech gadgetry that’s available in today’s video equipment has sent my 8mm camera and film projector the way of the dinosaur, I was intrigued to see what kind of treasure was still being held on those old reels. So one night, I decided to go old school and set it all up.

There’s a certain odor that comes from things that have sat idle in a basement or attic for two dozen years. The smell of which seems to get stronger as you start un-boxing them from the places where they’ve sat in silence. Most especially when they’ve sat in an old attic with the extreme hot and cold seasonal temperature changes like these things did. It tattoos an odor on every piece that can best be described in one word: Old.

I suppose it was sometime in the fall of 1984 when my friend Mike and I made our first 8mm movie. I’m sure we would have liked to have made hundreds of them but we weren’t able to due to the high cost of film and processing. I’m sure a lot of it also had to do with the frustration that went along with making them. Unlike today, where you can take anything you can film and edit the video to death, with our 8mm camera you had only one chance to get it right. Every scene had to be done in one take. There was absolutely no going back.

The movies we made were nothing like the caliber of the Steven Spielberg/JJ Abrams blockbuster from last summer. Ours didn’t have zombies, train wrecks or even aliens. Heck, our movies didn’t even have sound at all. And where as the kids in that movie chose to go the romantic route and even include <GASP!> girls in theirs, we chose to go the manly route and make our movies about the greatest superhero of all… Spiderman.

I like to think that in some way the Spiderman movies we made gave inspiration to the three Tobey Mcguire films and the new Amazing Spiderman movie that’s coming out this summer. As you’ll see, considering the technology available to 15-year old boys, our budget and time constraints, I’d say we did a pretty good job. Especially for only getting one take to shoot each scene.

So let me set the scene for you: The setting for this clip is at my house. Spiderman (my friend Mike) has just returned from searching the city for Mime, the evil villain (played by yours truly). Mime is a Dr.Jekyll/Mr. Hyde type character that transforms from good to bad. He has issues (much like the guy who portrays him).

As Spidey is taking off his costume he gets blind-sided by Mime. Spidey quickly recovers and tries to capture Mime by spinning a web around him but Mime is able to escape and bull rush him.

Spidey uses his super jumping ability to leap onto the roof of a nearby house.

As Spidey makes his way across the roof top and back down to the ground Mime has transformed back to his normal self and makes his escape.

Academy Award of Golden Globe nominee? I think so. And now, without further adieu, I give you, Spiderman:

Some classic 1980’s references: My Quiet Riot t-shirt (told ya I was a metal head). Also, if you look at Mike’s sneakers after he jumps off the roof you’ll notice they are different colors. Remember when changing your shoe-laces was all the rage back in the 80’s?

I found myself laughing over and over watching this and remembering just how much fun it was to make. Mostly, I enjoyed the stunt of having Spiderman jump from the ground to the roof. This was actually a dummy that I had spent two hours making before filming. I tied jeans and the costume together with twine and stuffed the entire thing with crumbled up newspaper to fill it out. For only getting one take to film it turned out ok. It reminds me of something you’d see in an old Three Stooges short when they’d fall off a building.

In an age when anyone can post a You Tube video we sometimes take for granted all the technology that’s available to us. I  can, and have, video taped the world around me with HD cameras. I’ve recorded my daughter’s school and sporting events without batting an eye. The technology is even available on the cell phone I carry every day (just in case the moment strikes me). Back then, it was a whole process.

Our children can have a video of their entire lives if we so choose. A living, breathing memoir if you will. And yet, these half-dozen or so 8mm movies Mike and I made almost thirty years ago are the absolute only recorded things I have from my childhood that are not a still picture.

But thanks to that same modern technology, I’m able to extract these precious moments from the film and put them on to a digital DVD before the oxidation process completely destroys them.

It’s amazing to see just how I looked, moved and thought back in a time when the only responsibility I had was getting up for school every morning.

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