Sunday, March 22, 2009

Like A Bird Of Prey - The FALCON interview!

There’s something about a good pedigree. You start out a band with people from Staind, Disturbed & Whitney Houston’s back-up band, well…eh! Ya know?! So, how’s about we start one with people from CIRITH UNGOL & DESTINY’S END? That might work a little better, you think? Methinks so too. And with that, we have the driving forces behind one of the most killer bands to have released a couple discs over the last few years, FALCON. Sporting Perry Grayson (ex-DESTINY’S END guitarist & Metal Maniacs writer) and Greg Lindstrom (bass & guitar for CIRITH UNGOL), FALCON sports a landmark brand of ‘70’s styled hard rock metal that touches on everything from Pentagram to Thin Lizzy to Mountain. Their intriguing 2nd record, “Die Wontcha?” occupied enough time in my player last year to make me think a conversation was in order…and, here we go!

RAY - Perry, earlier on in your career you were involved with technical power metal like DESTINY’S END. Now for many years you’ve turned your attention to ‘70’s-styled hard rock both in FALCON and the journalism you’ve done. Are you simply a man of many tastes or do you feel you’ve found your true calling with the ‘70’s stuff like Gary Moore did with the blues?

PERRY - Yeah, many tastes. But since I was a kid I’ve always been drawn to the ’60s-70s heavy rock tradition. I like(d) my share of full-on metal, even went through a death metal phase from about the tail end of ’89 to ’93 or so. Plenty of epic, progressive and thrash metal stuck with me, but a lot of the bands with growled vocals began to grate on me. I’ll be a Death and Control Denied fan till the day I die. Chuck Schuldiner had class and a firm grasp on catchiness as well as heaviness. The raw old heavy rock stuff is one of my true callings for sure. Whatever music I’m playing, I approach things more as a creative songwriter than some kind of strict shredder clinician. I’m more of a loose, sloppy and choppy (as in not smooth) type of player. That fits better in a rock context.

I still consider myself a metalhead, although I’ve paid more attention to proto-metallers like Blue Cheer, Bang, Dust, Sir Lord Baltimore, Budgie, Buffalo (Australia), Pentagram, Head Over Heels, Highway Robbery, Ursa Major, etc., for well over a decade. Destiny’s End was the first band people heard me in, so they really only witnessed one side of my playing. I definitely feel my calling is with Falcon and this sort of archaic dinosaur rock. The more common bands like Sabbath, Rush, Aerosmith, Purple, Heep, Thin Lizzy, Alice Cooper, Zeppelin, Cream and Jimi were always in constant rotation. When it dawned on me that there were as many obscure and killer vintage heavy rock acts as there were current extreme metal bands of the day, I started dredging up these long forgotten gems. I got a lot of help from friends like Rob Preston (Doomed Planet Records), who has the most amazing collection of rock and metal I’ve ever seen. Rob Garven (drums, Cirith Ungol) turned me on to a lot cool stuff in the mid ’90s. Greg Lindstrom has hooked me up with more cool vintage tunes than anyone.

To be totally honest with you listening to cassettes of Pentagram and Bedemon while on the Destiny’s End Rebirth of Metal tour in ’99 with Iced Earth and Nevermore helped keep me sane. People just automatically think you’re a one-dimensional guy when you play in a metal band. That’s not me. When I’m in the mood to rawk out, there are always tons of killer vintage platters to pick from. If I’m in another mood I might throw on one of the ’80s to ’90s Rush LPs. Totally different vibe to the early Rush, but Neil Peart’s lyrics and the songwriting just blow me away. There’s something very emotional that ties me to that stuff, lots of memories attached to the tunes. The reggae rhythms and Neil’s little rap in “Roll Bones” grew on me. Likewise with Free, who were only together for a brief time. Started off as more of a blues rock band, but evolved. Some find their mellow stuff sappy, but I’m a sucker for them.

Heavy rock ’n’ metal journalism-wise? I did plenty before I joined Destiny’s End, but it was for smaller zines. I didn’t write much while I was busy with D.E., because I didn’t want to come off as some prick in a visible band criticizing other bands. I didn’t really have many “ins,” so interviewing someone I really wanted to from a ’70s band was out of the question. I think my first interview was with Steve DiGiorgio (bass) from Sadus. As the net grew it became easier to contact some of these old acts. A lot of them put up their own websites.

RAY - I know you were in a band called ARTISAN for some time before FALCON.

PERRY - Yup, that was from ’00-’03, basically I formed Artisan with my friends Mike Bear (bass/vocals) and Ana Greco (guitar/vocals). It was technical and thrashy metal along the lines of Death, Cynic, Sacrifice, Anacrusis, Sadus, Atheist, etc. Lotsa progressive elements. Unlike Destiny’s End I actually contributed vocals to Artisan. They were mostly aggressive vocals. We spent tons of time looking for a singer, but most of the guys who auditioned were growlers and couldn’t even pull that off well. I wasn’t necessarily hell-bent on playing super technical, speedy and deathy metal at that point. Artisan was more an opportunity to play with two of my best friends. Mike Bear had been filling in with local death metal upstarts Inhuman Visions for a while and wanted me to take a vacant guitar slot. I checked them out, but came to the conclusion that if I was going to play that type of metal I wanted to lay the foundation with Mike and Ana instead. I wanted to write tunes and collaborate with my good pals. Mike and I had a long history of jamming together, but never got to play gigs and hit the studio. It was awesome to finally have the chance to do that with Mike in Artisan. He’s a top-notch musician. But it was clear after a while that I was burning out on playing super-fast technical metal. Every time I picked up a guitar I just wanted to rock out.

RAY - How did you & Greg Lindstrom (ex-CIRITH UNGOL) cross paths?

PERRY - I met Greg through Rob Garven, the old Cirith Ungol drummer. I knew Rob for years. He still lives in Ventura, CA, and I used to go up that way a lot. Rob’s a super cool guy. There were never any bad vibes with him. He was always up for a chat. After a while I was ready to pursue the vintage heavy rock thing, so I hit Rob up to play drums. Rob had retired from drumming. The biz really embittered him. But he told me Greg was very interested in returning to music after a two decade hiatus. I initially met up with Greg to interview him as a follow-up to the Critih Ungol Rewind article I did for Metal Maniacs in ’99. We hit it off, and the rest is as they say history.

Greg is the perfect partner in crime for Falcon. He’s one of my all-time fave songwriters and an all-around cool person. Totally down-to-earth. No nonsense. Amazing bassist, guitarist and keyboardist!

GREG - Perry and I first started jamming and working on songs together in late 2002. I was scared shitless when Darin came out in the summer of 2003 for the first time to jam with Perry and myself and record our demo. I hadn’t played with a drummer for almost twenty years, and I wondered if I could still cut it with the youngsters! Come to think of it, I was still scared shitless when we recorded our first album in November 2003, but luckily Chris Kozlowski is a very calming influence in the studio. He has a subtle way of getting the best performance out of you: “Are you sure you wanna keep that solo??”

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE: Hot girl in bell bottoms & a Nehru jacket or a vintage Les Paul? What’s turning your head more? By the way, what sounds better, a Les Paul or a V?

PERRY - Hypothetically speaking... If I was single, not married, I might be tempted to go for the hot chick in bell-bottoms. Wait a minute!? My wife is a total bell-bottom ’70s rocker. Is this a trick question like Cheech & Chong’s “Let’s Make a Dope Deal”? Chong goes for the reds instead of what’s behind Door No. 3. A vintage Les Paul is almost like investing in oil these days. They really hold their value. Me, I’m a player, not a doctor or a lawyer. I don’t have the kind of dough to blow on vintage Gibsons. The old Lesters are bloody amazing, and if I’m sad ’n’ lonely, I can always pick it up and chase the blues away.

Les Pauls and Flying Vs are both incredible guitars. I absolutely love ’em both to death. I have two LPs and one Flying V. I was lucky enough to get a ’76 Deluxe when they were still reasonable. The Les Paul has a crushingly heavy tone and is physically a weighty axe. The Flying V is feather-light with a unique tone—warm, but with a little bit of a high end bite.

GREG - Worst Les Paul related incident of my life: I’m almost too embarrassed to admit this, but I sold my ’69 Goldtop (with P90 pickups) in the early ‘80s to buy a Jackson Randy Rhoads. Just kill me now.

Worst Flying V related incident: Selling my pristine ’76 Ibanez Korina V (see the back of “Frost & Fire”) in the mid ‘80s for some reason I don’t even remember. I still think those mid ‘70s korina Ibanez guitars are the nicest V’s ever made. They’re still around, but it’s hard to find one that hasn’t been dinged up, dented, or modified in some ghastly way.

RAY - “Die Wontcha” … “Why Dontcha” - Has Leslie West’s attorney called yet or anything?

PERRY - Nope. Hey, you can’t copyright a title! And it’s all about paying homage, anyhow. Love Leslie’s playing, his tone and his work with Mountain and West, Bruce & Laing. I didn’t have a very good interview experience with him, but his impeccable axemanship more than makes up for it.

RAY - One thing I noticed on “Die Wontcha” as opposed to the first FALCON disc is a very apparent Thin Lizzy influence on some tracks. Had you listened to a healthy dose of Lynott & Co. before that?

PERRY - I liked what little Lizzy I heard on the airwaves as a small kid, but it took years till I owned an album. I went slightly backwards. I was a die-hard Maiden fan in the late ’80s, but didn’t get into Lizzy and Wishbone Ash until the early ’90s. I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the older dual axe attack bands like Lizzy, Wishbone Ash and Bubble Puppy/Demian than Maiden for a long time now. Maiden popularized the twin harmony leads, but the older bands were a little less one-dimensional. Once I got Jailbreak back in the ’90s I went nuts, snagged Lizzy’s entire catalog. Even the Eric Bell-era stuff. I found myself writing those Irish and Celtic inflected melodies and dual harmony parts. What about my tribute to Phil Lynott on the S/T Falcon album? “On the Slab” is an enormous nod to Lizzy. Specifically the Brian Robertson/Scott Gorham lineup. Phil penned amazing lyrics and was one of the best pick-playing bassists ever. He was a poet, a bad-ass and tortured at the same time. The junk may have made him manipulative, but otherwise he was one of the true geniuses of rock.

GREG - From their first album on, Thin Lizzy has been one of my biggest musical influences, although it may not always be obvious. And even though their early albums are a bit spotty, I’ve got a special fondness for the Eric Bell lineup. Cirith Ungol played covers of “Gonna Creep Up On You”, “Vagabonds Of The Western World”, and “Return Of The Farmers Son” for quite a few years. I’m sure at least one of those songs will end up on the Cirith Ungol box set someday. As soon as we were old enough to drive, Rob Garven and I would make the 60 mile drive from Ventura to Van Nuys to go to the original Moby Disc record store. They carried exotic items known as import LPs. Dana Madore, who was one of the managers there, turned us on to a lot of UK and German bands like Hard Stuff, Stray, Three Man Army, Night Sun, etc. He used to call Rob and I the Thin Lizzy brothers, since we would come in wearing our own homemade Thin Lizzy shirts.

RAY - What do you do about the harmonies live, being in the 3-piece format?

PERY - I play the main part, whichever line sounds best alone. Sometimes a harmony part sounds bizarre by itself.

GREG - We make up for that by making funny faces when we play.

RAY - That’s something I wanted to ask you about: the differences between working in a power trio format as opposed to with another guitarist. Take us thru the differences in the dynamics of that?

PERRY - It’s very different. For one thing you have to carry the band a lot more. There’s nothing to hide behind, especially if you’re having a bad night. I’m human, so I’ve had a couple. You definitely need a bassist who can hold his weight as well. You can’t have things dropout when the guitarist goes to solo. Greg Lindstrom is the perfect man for that job. He’s a mean bassist, just has the knack like Andy Fraser, Geddy Lee, Geezer, Felix Pappalardi, Kenny Aaronson, Tim Bogert and guys like that.

When you play with another guitarist you have to work harder to make sure everybody’s staying in time for one thing. It forces you to be a stronger rhythm player, because you have to keep up with someone else. You also have to pay more attention to details if you do a lot of dual lead work. Sometimes nothing’s worse than hearing a harmony part that sounds like cat’s screwing. Dan DeLucie, Ana Greco and Rich Walker are all great players, and I feel very fortunate to have played alongside them.

GREG - Speaking from the bassist’s standpoint, you do have to adapt your style of playing somewhat. With a trio playing live, there’s a lot of space to be filled, so I tend to play more chords on the bass and maybe show off a bit more. In our case, when we record we add a second and sometimes third and fourth guitar track, so I tend to restrain myself a bit and play more for the song.

RAY - So you moved “Down Under” not long ago!? What caused such a drastic geographic upheaval & compare life there to that in the U.S.?

PERRY - The high cost of living and ri-fucking-diculous real estate market in L.A. was probably the main factor. My wife and I couldn’t seem to get ahead on that end of things in L.A. We wanted to stop paying rent to “the man,” so we decided to move to Sydney. Tanya’s originally from Sydney. She moved to L.A. in the early ’90s to get closer to the rock/metal scene. Everyday life is far better down here. As in working conditions, more vacation time, etc. I’ve been all over the U.S., and I can safely say I think it’s beautiful in Oz. The music scene is fairly healthy too. I kinda dig the pub culture. If you want to, you can usually head on down for a few pints or schooners of ale and chat up your friends. People rag on the public transportation in Sydney, but it eclipses L.A.’s shitty, non-existent system by leaps and bounds.

GREG - Ironically, with the precipitous decline in home values lately in SoCal, Perry could afford a place here now!

PERRY - Greg’s right about house prices going down. Had I stayed in L.A. I’d also be faced with the unemployment thing. Doesn’t matter if homes are slightly cheaper when you either don’t have a job or have one with crap pay.

RAY - What the fuck is a Vegemite sandwich & why were those Men At Work cats so into ‘em?

PERRY - Vegemite is spreadable dark brown yeast extract. Marmite is similar but has animal fat in it. I stick to Vegemite. It sort of tastes like spreadable Guinness minus the alcohol. Dunno much about Men at Work, although they were part of the whole ’80s new wave explosion that I was force-fed as a kidlet. I instantly recognize their tunes when I hear ’em in on the radio, the tube or in a bar. I always had a soft spot for Oingo Boingo, but they’re bloody Yanks.

GREG - I’m glad you mentioned new wave, Perry. Finally! An opening for me to own up to my love of power pop and new wave – stuff like 20/20, Code Blue, The Pop, Pezband, The Beat, and newer stuff like the Smithereens, Posies, etc. You can imagine the other CU guys being less than thrilled when I would show up at practice not with the latest Judas Priest or Sabbath LP under my arm, but with the latest Elvis Costello! But it’s always been my contention that if you listen to nothing but Judas Priest, your own songs are going to sound like second rate Judas Priest (or Primal Fear). Quite a few of the songs on CU “Frost & Fire” were written under the influence of new wave.

PERRY - Hey, Code Blue ain’t bad! I’m more drawn to the dark side. Boingo always had a morbid sense of humor. One of my fave ’80s bands is very far from metal—Red Temple Spirits. Some might call them goth or post-psychedelic. Whatever. I just think they were incredible. Speaking of the ’80s I’ll throw on the early Dead Can Dance records when I’m in the mood, especially if I’m writing at home.

RAY - What’s on the agenda next for FALCON? With you in Australia & Greg in California, does that put the brakes on things completely?

PERRY - We aim to record another album in the near future and hopefully do a couple of weeks in Europe and perhaps a handful of U.S. dates too. The distance thing shouldn’t affect us too much beyond making it harder to play local SoCal gigs.

GREG - We’re working on a new batch of songs now, plus we have a few demos we recorded in our rehearsal room a couple of years ago with Andrew Sample on drums that some folks might like to hear, like our version of “Johanna” by Iggy & the Stooges.

I would love to be able to jam together every week, but Perry and Darin are such gifted musicians that we can learn new songs individually at home, then get together and practice for a few days, and be ready to record.

RAY - Between Greg & yourself, regale us with a crazy, wild, inappropriate or simply dumb story from the annals of FALCON. That’s the annals, not the anals!?

PERRY - Sorry I don’t have any groupie tales for ya, Ray. I went from one long-term girlfriend to another while in Falcon.

Dumb? Perhaps the lamest story involves the one and only gig we did at the Ventura Theater in Cirith Ungol’s hometown. It was meant to be a benefit for a local non-profit organization run by the brother of old Cirith Ungol roadie Kevin Sage. We did it for free as a favor. Three pro bands were meant to headline in the evening after a bunch of the band camp kiddies did their shtick. We played second to last. The band before Falcon was respectful, but the crew and members of the “act” after us were complete and utter jackasses. The crotchety so-called soundman cut the lights and the P.A. on us after 15 minutes. We were there to help our friend Kevin out with a supposedly good cause. We thought it’d be cool to play Ungol’s hometown, but it was just typical wanky music biz bullshit we encountered. Greg Rolie and his clueless soundman buddy commandeered the gig for his son’s Marilyn Manson thing. Falcon was just there to rock and help our pal and the kids out. We’re the most unpretentious dudes. We rock in a very raw, heavy, loud way. There are no gimmicks. The truth hurts. And the truth is that Rolie and his cronies didn’t care about the kids. He sure gave the children from Peace Thru Music a good glimpse at the bad side of the biz. They also decided we were showing his kid up. This burnout of a soundman had the audacity to tell me that my stage volume was louder than Hendrix. (“I worked Hendrix!!”) Excuse me while I kiss the sky, buddy, but I only play through one Marshall stack, not 3 or 4. I may be half that age, but I adhere to a far more hippie ethic. There just isn’t any reason for that kind of jealousy, especially at a benefit gig. Take your ’tude back to the guard gated community, man. Not to mention this was a large venue. You know Ray, the truth hurts when you’re a burn-out. Hey, where Journey’s concerned I always preferred Steve Perry anyhow.

GREG - It’s funny how with all the shows we’ve played in supposedly cutthroat, dog eat dog Los Angeles, we’ve never had problems with other bands, but in laid back, Surf City U.S.A. Ventura, we run into assholes. On a lighter note, I have gotten numerous letters and emails from men who say they love me – in a manly sort of way I can only hope.

RAY - Final comments?

PERRY - Ray, mega-thanks for your support and the space to ramble. It’s always a pleasure chattin’ with someone as knowledgeable about music as you. Also a big cheers to the readers of Ray’s Realm for voting Falcon into their Top 10 of 2008!

GREG - Thanks Ray, for devoting the space and time for Falcon and thanks to your readers for supporting Falcon! And thanks for the Crack The Sky articles- I’m a fan from way back!

What a cool coupla dudes, eh? And not only that, those honchos can play like a bitch. Get out, get up, put on yer bell-bottoms, grab your Flying V and grab both FALCON discs with both hands! You won’t be sorry. And if you don’t, well, die, wontcha?!


J.B. said...

Absolutely terrific interview with top-notch musicians and songwriters. Thank you.

raysrealm said...

Glad you liked it!

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P said...

Thanks again for the space to ramble about Falcon, Ray!

Folks might want to check out my new music blog, the Falcon's Fortress at the link below. I'm posting rare audio and video from past bands like Destiny's End and Artisan over there.

Rawk On!!