You don’t need to be a die-hard ’80s metal fan to know that the fruits of an artistic alliance between Danger Danger singer Ted Poley and guitarist/producer Steve Brown of Trixter will make melodic rock fans rejoice. Ted and Steve have been friends for a long time. They were playing the same club circuit with their respective bands, Danger Danger and Trixter, when both bands were starting their careers. Over the years, they had a great personal relationship and the idea of doing a record together has been in the cards for many years. Now, thanks to Frontiers this concept has become a reality in their band Tokyo Motor Fist.
Tokyo Motor Fist will be releasing their sophomore record entitled “Lions” on July 10th via Frontiers Music SRL. The album rips with raw emotion, powerful guitar riffs, and ear-worm melodies. Together they celebrate the kind of melodic hard rock that has gone missing since the ’80s. Songs like “Youngbloods,” “Mean It,” and “Around Midnight” highlight the band’s ability as musicians and entertainers.
The band consists of Ted on the mic duties and Steve on guitars, Ted Nugent‘s longtime bassist Greg Smith, and Billy Joel‘s drummer Chuck Burgi. Together they have forged a unique commercial rock path for a new age of arena rock.
Correspondent Robert Cavuoto caught up with New Jersey native and long time friend Steve Brown to talk about the writing process for “Lions”, using the newest technology to create arena rock songs, and the chemistry between the band members. Read the transcript of their interview below.
Tell me about when you started writing “Lions”?
We have been writing and recording the record since January 2019. We started mixing the third week of February 2020, and we completed the last mastering version on March 1st. After making records for 30 years, I think this one is the best one I have ever done in my life. I know that Greg, Ted, and Chuck feel the same way. I feel I am on top of my game, and the band is firing on all cylinders. Guitar playing-wise it’s by far the best thing I have ever done. I love playing in the studio as much as I do playing live, and I think that shows here. The Mutt Lange in me is showing. I can’t wait for the world to hear it!
There’s a lot of variety in the songwriting to be found here.
That’s one of the key aspects that keeps things fresh after 30 years of making records. I also want to do things that are a little different. I still get the same buzz I did when I was a little kid playing with different guitars and amps to find a sound to use to create a song. I love utilizing new technologies like guitar plug-ins instead of using an amp. The technology so is so good I can use simulators for modeling and profiling. When we were kids, we all tried to get the Holy Grail “Van Halen I” album guitar tone; now, you can use a preset. I’m a purist to some degree, but I embrace new technology as much as possible; being an engineer and producer. There are songs where nothing is better than plugging my guitar into my 5150 amp and putting a Shure 57 microphone up to get that that amp sound. A lot of recording for “Lions” happened on a tour bus during the Wizards of Winter tour. Thirty years ago, who would have thought that you could travel with a laptop and a little interface to record guitar parts on a bus!
Can you talk a little about the vision you had going into this album and maybe how you wanted it to be different from the first record?
Frontiers Music gave us the incredible opportunity to make both of our records. They came to Ted and me with the idea of Tokyo Motor Fist. There is no gray area of what they want from us. They want great melodic 80s inspired hard rock with modern rock production, and that’s exactly what we did. I don’t work well in a music democratic situation, where other members are writing. I’m pretty much the cook, the creative force, and visionary for the band. It all starts with a Steve Brown solo record, and then I give the guys the finished demo. The demo sounds pretty much like the final “thing” with guitar, basic bass, programmed drums, and me singing. I then tell each of the guys to add their personality and heart & soul. That’s what makes it a true band effort. Greg adds his awesome walking bass lines; Chuck adds drums that you just can’t get from a drum machine. Ted has a unique iconic rock style voice. He is revered as one of the best from that melodic rock genre with Danger Danger. I write the songs and have an idea of how they should sound in my head, but then everyone adds their parts, which makes it a Tokyo Motor Fist album. The cool thing about this band, it is a true band, unlike a lot of these “supergroups” we rehearse together, record some of our parts together, and play live. Ted did all his vocals at my home studio. On our last record, Chuck recorded all the drums at my home, but on “Lions”, he did it on his own. We have a chemistry and brotherhood because we have been friends for so long.
The band seems to be gelling nicely and evolving since the first record.
Totally, it comes from the confidence that we got from working on the first record. We got overwhelmingly positive responses from critics and fans all around the world from the first record and had great turn-outs at our live shows. It gives us the confidence that we are doing the right thing. We all know the state of the music business, and 80s hard rock is not what it used to be. The die-hard fans and critics of the era are very passionate about it, so if you’re not good, you are going to know about it very quickly. To get a seal of approval from everyone was a confidence booster. On “Lions” we took a lot of chances, and we know the fans will love it.
What were the first songs you wrote for “Lions”?
The first two songs I wrote for it were “Youngbloods” and “Decadence On 10th Street.” When I sent the worked up tracks to Ted, he immediately called me and said, “These were the best songs I ever heard in my life!” I’m turning 50 next week, and we all get that little kid excitement when we hear something we love just like when we put on the first Van Halen record. Chuck has heard a lot of shit and for him to call me up, to say, “This is awesome stuff. I can’t wait to play it!” means a lot.
You have so many different play techniques on this album, how does it factor into your songwriting?
I write the type of music that I love and grew up with, like Kiss, Cheap Trick, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, and Van Halen. Everything I do is influenced by that. I try to ask myself, “What would Mutt Lange, Def Leppard, and Van Halen do?” Frontiers wanted arena rock, and that is what I love to do. I still write the same way I wrote when I was in Trixter, like on “Give it to me Good.” That was written while playing an acoustic guitar and singing. The biggest hit in my career took me 15 minutes to write. “Mean it” was the same way; I had my guitar on and just started writing riffs. I go with whatever happens to come out of me. “Monster in Me” was a cool chord progression I came up with, and the lyrics were influences about a Jekyll and Hyde story that happens with people.
How do you know what songs will make the final album track-list?
Before I start working on a record, I have a wish list of the different song types I want to explore. For example, the song “Sedona” has horns on it. We brought in Mark Rivera from Billy Joel‘s band who is good friends with Chuck, to play a sax solo. Instead of doing another guitar solo, I wanted to try something different to change the color and dimension of the song. That song has a vibe between Toto and Van Halen. I created that riff over 30 years ago after we wrote the first Trixter record. When I gave a copy of advanced copy of “Lions” to PJ Farley, he remembers me playing that riff back when we rehearsed. It only took me 30 years to find a record for it. Having a home studio for 20 years, I have such a backlog of unreleased material. Therefore, I went into the vault and pulled out the “Sedona” riff.
With so many great songs to use as a possible album title, tell me about the importance of selecting “Lions”?
The song has a deep message for the times we are living in. I’m not political in any way, but seeing how the country is divided, I thought I would write a song about the social issues that we are all facing. “Lions” is about coming together. We need to come together and be more powerful in our lives. If you want to make a change in yourself and the world, you first have to be a leader. When you are ready to make social or political changes get out there and do it, be a lion and a leader. Back in the Trixter days, it was always about making your dreams come true and achieving things. It’s always been about positivity, and no matter how f**ked up the world is, we all have the power to get out of life’s hellish situations. I’ve been blessed with my career, and it never gets lost on me. The power of music has saved my life in many different aspects, and I know it’s important to so many others as well.
What are your thoughts on the importance of having a record with no filler like on “Lions”?
I’m a believer of the album as a whole, from the excitement of getting it to reading the liner notes to listening to every track. Nowadays, people are trained to like one song and one video. It’s all about how many views you get for it on Instagram. I’m a firm believer that you still have to have a great record! A record is supposed to have 11 great songs, not two good songs and nine throwaways!
So many bands from our favorite musical era of the late 70s and 80s struggle with making catchy melodic songs nowadays.
You get records from some of your heroes, and you realize that they can’t do it anymore. I don’t think that any of these rich Rock Stars have anyone telling them, a song sucks [laughing]. I wish John Kalodner was the A&E guy for every band trying to make melodic rock album. I just watched the Y&T documentary, which is f**king great by the way. I was a fan of the band but never knew their history. I didn’t know that John signed them. He did it with Aerosmith too. Bon Jovi hired John in the 90s to A&E their records. There is not enough quality control out there. It’s sad. You and I both know there are many big bands who can’t make records anymore. Some of these bands should hire Bruno Ravel and me to write their songs and produce their records because they will make the record of their career.
I recall seeing a photo of you working Bruno Ravel of Danger Danger in the studio together. Was he involved in “Lions”?
Bruno primarily mixed the new Tokyo Motor Fist. He is a dear friend and one of the most talented guys. He writes, plays, and produces. He’s been a big inspiration to me since the early days. I was a huge Danger Danger fan and thought they were a terribly underrated band who got a bad rap. From time-to-time, I fill in on guitar with the band when they play live. Bruno‘s new bad band The Defiants was so successful that it was obvious to Frontiers to get Ted and me to collaborate on a band.
My favorite track is “Around Midnight” what can you tell me about it?
It’s about escapism and a fun summertime song. It’s a leftover track from the 40 Foot Ringos days. I changed a few things to fit Ted‘s vocals, and he knocked it out of the park.
How have you evolved as a songwriter since you were writing with Trixter?
I never stopped growing and learning, whether it’s a new technology or practicing guitar. I still practice guitar every day for hours. I still practice singing to Journey, Rainbow, Paul Rodgers, and my favorite Def Leppard songs.
Will the band be touring when the pandemic clears up?
This past February, we played on the Monsters of Rock Cruise and had two great shows. We have a bunch of dates booked and we were supposed to tour Japan in November, Tokyo Motor Fist Live in Tokyo! Sounds like a great live record. We shine live. We do our songs plus a nod to our history like two Danger Danger songs and two Trixter songs where I sing “One in a Million” and “Give it to me Good.” We even do a Ted Nugent song from Greg’s time with Ted.