Hugo: The fire still burns...
Hugo talks about the recording and release of his new solo album Fire In The Night and a little of the other things in his life.
G'Day Hugo, let's get straight to the new album - Fire In The Night.
Where did the title come from?
It's basically the idea of keeping that dream alive! Whatever it may be, it is a very powerful thing having a vision. Often, it's the one thing that keeps you positive and motivated. For me, it was having music. When I was growing up and I had a shitty day at school or work, I always knew that there was practice or a gig that weekend to keep me going!! It's something we all have and can never let go of!!!!!
You had better let everyone know where it will be available from and how they can pay/purchase it.....
You can get it by going to www.hugothisway.com and please specify if you would like it autographed or personalized. I will be signing all copies that leave my hands!!
It's my way of saying thanks for hanging in there while I figure out a way to get my band over to play for you!!!! And I have a feeling with these guys, that won't be a problem!!!! We love a good road trip!!!!
It's been just over 3 years since the release of the last album - at what stage did you decide now was a good time to start a new album?
Honestly Andrew, my mom had just died at the time and I was so down. Anyone reading this out there who has lost someone close knows exactly what I mean! It's an incredible journey of self-realization and rehabilitation of sorts! What's amazing is that shortly after that I met my wife, Donna. She is so supportive of my music so it wasn't very long after that she said "time for you to do what you do again, baby". Sometimes you know when it's time, sometimes you need someone to tell you it's time. She is definitely smarter than I!
And how long has the whole process been underway for?
It's coming up on a year now! It's been a little crazy with scheduling. I'm glad to be finished!
Why the delay in releasing the album? What did you spend the extra time
doing and why did you think that was important?
This album was created a little differently than any of my past work. The mixing process was basically John Mennen and myself bouncing mixes off each other. We would hear things and make suggestions to bring the mixes closer to where we wanted them to be. John has a quote "...you never really finish a mix, you abandon it...". It's pretty funny because you can mix a song for a month and end up in the same place you started. I think we achieved what we set out to. A melodic album with a contemporary, in you face production.
The album is undeniably smooth - I think a highlight of that is the layered vocals and harmonies. How do you set about recording those and making them work?
John Mennen is very particular about how he records harmonies. Many, many layers!!!!
I had these parts written out, but honestly each harmony was recorded maybe 10 or 12 times to create this texture.
You have Eddie Jelley featured as guitarist on the new album - which is being produced by John Mennen as you mentioned.
How did you team up with each of these guys - and why did they appeal to you as people you would like to work with?
Eddie has been in the NY music scene for longer then me!! We had been in different area bands at the same time but never played together. All along, mutual friends who knew us both tried to get us to play/write together but it just never happened. When I was thinking about the Evolution thing [the Journey cover band], I had gotten Eddie's phone number and got in touch with him.
He was a little freaked out that I was thinking about doing Journey stuff. After I explained that I was going crazy not singing in front of people, he agreed it could be cool. After playing live with Ed, he was the man that would play guitar on this album!!!!!
John Mennen was actually working in the studio that I was recording Time On Earth in. He engineered a lot of the tracks before leaving to start Whiteworth Digita, his production house. I was amazed at how the production moved so smoothly when John was there and how it started to fall to shit when he left!!! We kept in contact and did some demo work but when the time came for a record, he said it was something that he'd be interested in doing.
Who else is involved on the new album - and have you worked with any of them before?
Gus Carras plays guitar on it as well!! He's a great player that John has known for awhile. He played on some demo stuff that I did a while ago and blew me away!!
When John and I had the idea for 2 guitar players, we looked at each other and were like "Guuuusssss".
Gerard Zappa - my great friend from Valentine played some bass as well as Joe Cumia and Lance Millard from Evolution. My brother Chuck played drums on this one. He taught me how to play 30 yrs ago so it's been a long time coming for that one!!!
How many songs were written for the album and how many were recorded?
There were about 8 new ones that I had written in the time between concept and pre-production, including those, there were 14 recorded. "Forever In My Heart" was happily given to the MelodicRock.com CD. 11 will make it onto the record.
Did the song writing process for this album differ from other albums?
Not really for me. I have a certain way of creating when it comes to writing.
While I play and write on guitar and piano, I can play them ok so I make the chorus first and everything else usually falls into place after. I have guitar player friends that start with a riff and work it into a song. I promise, I'm not that cool!!
In terms of these songs, I basically made sure that each one had something a little special to compliment the voice or certain vocal lines!!
You have already made a few comments that the sound of the new album will be more in the vein of the more uptempo and powerful - and highly rated! - debut album. Does that mean you were unhappy with Time On Earth, or just recognize what you would prefer or what the fans want?
I'm definitely proud of Time On Earth. It was a bit of a change in terms of production and again my head was definitely down!! My mom just got sick so I wasn't in the greatest place. I do think that album has some great stuff on it. I really love "Last One More Time" and "Blues For You". I'm such a huge Journey fan that it's almost like for me Raise On Radio is great but it's not Escape. However, ROR has the song "Happy To Give" which is probably my fav Jrny song!!!
I wanted this album to have more of a guitar rockin sound, more in line with the debut album.
What steps have you worked on in the studio to get that sound?
We've done some interesting things like change mics for certain songs. We had access to NEUMANN and AKG mics so that was very cool. Also Eddie plays a Marshall and Gus went through a Boogie amp so being two very different amps, it sounds great when blended together - kind of a wall of cool guitars. We have really made an effort to keep the recording a little drier than what I am used to - less reverbs to wash things out, but better mic tone so you can hear the voice more upfront. I think it gives this album a more contemporary sound without sacrificing the integrity of the type of music - AOR/melodic!!!
Where do the songs come from - are they all new compositions - or are some a few years old and have been dusted off?
Carefully dusted off, bro! Seriously, some are older and reworked. Some are exactly as were on the demoed version and some are brand new like "Hand in Hand" and "Fire In The Night."
Why didn't you want to sign a label deal for the album?
I have been dealing with record company people for as long as I can remember.
People promising tour support, videos...you name it. From Sony on down to the little guys and you know what, it's basically the same thing.
I just want to be able to reach my fans on a personal level for a change. There are plans to make a DVD after the CD is released as well as any tour ops that come my way, God knows my band mates would love to play this stuff live!!
So yes it all costs money, but at least I won't have to hear from some dude in a suit that the label is concentrating on rap this month!!!!!
Please understand that there are some good people in the business who love melodic music, but for me right now I feel the need to reach my fans one on one!!!!
How have you found recording/producing/releasing the album yourself? Tell us about the challenges of undergoing such a huge task and the advantages and disadvantages....
The biggest advantage for me is that there is no-one telling you what and how you should be playing or looking like! Record companies are known for following trends and leading bands into places they do not want to be in!!
I experienced this with Open Skyz. We were excited to go and record another Valentine album and keep that energy. Some asshole in a suit thought otherwise!! While I am proud of the album, I really think we'd have done better on our own. Melodic rock has become the underground scene at this point!! There are not many record stores keeping this stuff in stock so it seems that you have to reach the people who want it! It is a very challenging time for record companies and artists as well. By selling this disc online, I will be able to correspond with anyone who wants to check it out. It really makes things personal for the first time and that's the best part for me!!!
How about the album artwork - who is doing that for you?
I've had a couple of things on the table. I did some incredible photos on wild locations with photographer Andrew Blatz. Ron Smith is a graphic artist who will probably handle the artwork-we are finalizing all of it now!!!!
Any plans to tour as a solo artist on the back of this album?
Andrew, I think we need to put together the MelodicRock tour package - I would love to support this album - play some old Valentine stuff - solo stuff, special guests.
I just want this album done and then we can try to put some dates out there and see if the interest is there!!
Let's take a look at some other things you are involved in - namely the Journey cover band Evolution. What prompted you to start that?
I hadn't been singing as much as I needed to be and I knew that I would be recording soon enough. I just thought that it would be good idea for me to condition my voice, get back in front of people and have fun with good friends. Some people criticized me for doing it because I have music out there on an international level (I guess that must mean I can't have fun anymore)??!!
I never really cared how big or small it became, it's just that I could sing the stuff and the band sounds great and there are no egos! And finally, we are all such big Journey fans, why not? Besides, it beats the hell out of seeing me do Michael Jackson covers!!? Right?
And the reaction has been superb - any plans to take the band outside the local NY area for gigs? Or even overseas?
Well, I'm not to sure about that!. We'd love to play as much as possible and have gone into other states over here -and the response has been wild!!! People go nuts sometimes when they see and hear us - it's pretty funny!!
But we all have a lot going on with life and started this up to have a great time and blow people away - I think we've done that and are happy the way things are.
Do you still plan to do that live DVD release?
I think right now it's really important to have a great record and support that as best possible. I want to follow up with a DVD of some of these songs or a live gig with this stuff, some older stuff!!!!
Any plans to record with Street Talk again? Your 2 tracks on their last album were very well received.
I just spoke with Fred 2 days ago. He's doing great and gearing up for the next Street Talk. We talked about co-writing again and possibly singing a couple of tunes as well -He's a great guy and an incredible talent - I would do that again!!!!
How did you hook up with Frederik in the first place?
Fred had gotten in touch with me and sent me the first Street Talk album. I really loved it and learned the tunes. I thought "I'd love to sing this stuff" - real melodic songs. Fred is pretty good with a computer too. He sent me tracks to sing and write. It worked out quite well!
I would have loved to have Fred play on this one but the distance played a big part - I keep telling him to move to N.Y. but he's just not listening!!
Back a few years now - looking back - what's the best moments on Time On Earth?
I played some drums and acoustic guitar - it was fun to do it and hear it come together. It's cool because we would set up to record one night and if no-one was available to play drums for instance, I would get back there and jam. It was a lot of fun!!
There were a couple of great ballads on that album - and a couple of fine pop songs too.
Thanks man! There were a couple that I really loved too!!
How about your debut solo album - did you enjoy working with Gary Hughes and the guys?
Gary is one of the most talented and greatest guys I've ever worked with!!
Every day was an event at the studio but he made it look so easy!! The guys in the band as well just banged it out as though they had known the stuff for ages. I enjoyed working with the guys very much.
Any chance - future talk here - that you might work with them again?
It's difficult to say. From the first day of production, Gary and I were on the same page - hearing the Ten stuff was enough for me to realize what he could make. We even talked about taking part in Gary's recent Once And Future King rock opera.
Unfortunately, I wasn't sure if Gary was still affiliated with the same record person and didn't want to go backwards!!
We are very far apart but I would love to work with him again
Favourites from that album?
I love "Walk away" and "A Tear in LA" - there are some really good ones on that CD!!!!
Back again - right to the start this time - Valentine. The album is another that is still highly regarded and remains the heaviest album you recorded. What went wrong - why wasn't the band massive?
We had gotten signed to Columbia records - in between then and finishing, Producer Neil Kernon hurt his back really bad and that put us back about 6 months. During that time, Warrant (who was on Columbia) just exploded and after that the suits decided enough long haired rock bands!!
We ended up on a shit label called Giant records with no support, no balls and that was it!!
Do you hear from any of the guys in the band still?
All of the time - we just had a barbeque last week at soundman Vinnys place - surf and turf, unbelievable!!! We all live in N.Y. except old drummer Neil, he's down in FL with his family and doing well.
The band recorded a second - softer - album, which was released on a new label under the Open Skyz name. Why the name change - what prompted that decision?
That was the record company!
We were on RCA and some suit decides that the name is kinda old!!!
Yeah, except we had a shitload of people who knew us and knew we rocked! So you have this record contract from a major company waving in front of you - maybe the thing to do is deal with outside writers, name changes
etc - we were really at a crossroad!! Scary!!
Were there any other recordings after that?
Nothing after that!!!
I am wondering what you did during the period 1993-1997?
I gave singing lessons and a lot of thinking
Outside music, you run a very busy company - a family business is it not? Can you tell us about that?
It's a business that my father started years ago - when I was younger, he was good enough to let me search for whatever it was that I needed to do! After a while, it was clear that music alone would be a very difficult road to travel. It's a Long Island based service providing business. I eventually bought the business from him and it's doing well!!
Is it possible in 2004 for a melodic rock artist to make a living off melodic rock, or is it just too small a scene to do so?
I don't think so really! I do believe that if you love it and it's in your blood - then you just do it!! Something that always kept me going and I've always said it, "if it was that easy, everybody would be a rockstar".
What's your take on the music business today?
I see labels closing and it blows me away - the whole boy band thing freaks me out and I've always thought that rap just sucked!!
It is a blessing in disguise that we are in these times - it's unfortunate that it takes such extreme to finally level it all out!!!!!
How do you see the music trend evolving in general over the next 5 years?
I would have to guess that things just have to get more melodic-bring in the good singers!!! We need a new Boston or a Bon Jovi to break the scene wide open again - I'd love to be part of something like that!!!
Is there anything else you would like to do in music that you haven't yet?
Whenever I've had an album released, people would always write and say that they've used "You'll Always Have Me" or "The Answer" as a wedding song - that is a great feeling. I'm good with things at this point!!
And what's next after this album for Hugo? Anything that you have a definite plan for yet?
Not yet, I just wanna enjoy this one for awhile. I'd love to record some of my favourite song with acoustic guitar/vocals only - sort of an unplugged favourites CD!!
Or maybe live with the guys!!
Anything you would like to add Hugo?
I'm just happy to be able to do it all again - to the old fans, it is once again my pleasure to play for you - I know you will dig it!!
For new ones, thanks for checking in and I hope to get to play live for you - till then, I will definitely get something together for a DVD/video.
Thanks for your time mate.
Talk to ya soon!