THE UNDER SUSPICION melodicrock INTERVIEW!
Under Suspicion are the new band on the block, featuring a bunch of guys that have already been around the block and back again.
Their debut album is one of the brighter new comers for the year and is fueled with their own brand of trans-Atlantic fuelled AOR.
In the hot seat is drummer/keyboard player Klay Shroedel.
So Klay, most readers at this stage will know you guys as Jimi Jamison's 'backing band' on his Empires release. But the truth be told - you guys were more than that - you were collaborators for the project. I'd like to start by asking how you originally hooked up with Jimi's Survivor?
The record company had contracted me to see if I was interested to produce what then was Jimi Jamison's Survivor together with my long time friend Michael Sembello. I spoke to Mike and we said "hell yeah".
Were you a part of his band before the record deal was signed?
I wasn't at all. I met Jimi in L.A. for the first time when the basic tracks, except for vocals and guitars were already tracked. I, of course, talked with him a lot and sent him rough mixes of the material before he actually got here.
You have continued as a band after Jimi, were you a band before hand and how has the line up changed?
Jimi had a touring band which consisted of Chris Adamson (guitar), Pete Mendillo (drums), Hal Butler (keys) and Jeff Adams (bass). They toured extensively throughout the world. By the time the recording for "Empires" came around, Jeff had joined with Starship and Pete was in negotiations with someone else, forgive me, I can't remember who. When Jimi came to L.A. and we were working for a while he asked me if I wanted to be in the band and it didn't take long for me to accept. After we were done recording, we went on a promo tour throughout Germany and did a lot of radio and TV gigs as well as some stage performances. We were scheduled to tour Europe (or Germany at least) but then the label folded despite a great and admirable effort on their side to make this album a success and we were forced to cancel the dates.
What about the other guys on the album?
Since I was in the band only briefly, I can't really comment too much on Chris's and Hal's background. I know that they played with Jimi for a long time and are very respected musicians in their homeground Memphis as well as nationally and beyond. As far as the players on the album there is Rudy Richardson, an amazing pianist/keyboardist and long time friend of mine. He worked with a ton of people in the industry and he's my first choice whenever I need a keyboardist for the stuff I can't play. Then there's bassist Jorgen Carlsson whom I've met through Mike (Sembello). He was playing bass with Mike's project "The Immigrants", which featured a lot of great players such as Jennifer Batten, Vinnie Colaiuta, Jeff Paris, etc.
In regards to working with Jimi, the album was a long time coming and there were many songs written and demo's recorded. The end result had a harder edge sound eventually ending up on the record.
Very true. When Mike and I first started to work on the arrangements we immediately had the notion of really rocking this thing out, so the arrangements that were written tended toward a heavier approach.
Pretty early in the record Mike couldn't continue due to scheduling conflicts and other projects he'd committed to and I teamed up with Peter Roberts who's the co-producer of "Empires". He liked the idea of a heavy Survivor (Jimi) record and so we talked to Jimi about it - he dug it and we stuck with it.
Empires is a very cohesive piece of work, how as producer, did you influence that to work so well?
I had nothing to do with choosing the songs. I came in after the fact. However, in every record I'm involved in I try to keep an identity, meaning, whenever you put ten or fifteen songs together performed by the same artist, it better have a threat following throughout, connecting every piece of music in a manner where the listening audience can make sense of it. Otherwise it's just a bunch of songs with stray apart from each other. I think that's a mistake when producing records. I'm not saying one can't take chances but you have to know your limitations. Naturally, every band has a certain character which forms the music they play and to capture it is an important task for the producer.
Were you happy with the end result?
I totally love this record and still listen to it. I think Jimi has outdone himself vocally on "Empires". He sounds so powerful yet honest and that's not easy, man! A lot of times you think you've just gotten a great take in the studio and you think "Wow, that's it!", but then you listen back and you don't believe what the guy is saying (singing) to you. For me and I'm sure for Peter as well, it was the most important thing to feel and be convinced of the merit of the lyric. Peter and I were very hard on Jimi and I won't even dare to repeat some of the things he called me during the recording (we're still great friends). But man, you just have to get it out of them. Whether it's a vocalist, guitar player, keyboardist, drummer, whatever.
If you don't feel it, it's not going to be on one of my records, period. Luckily, all the players of that album were exceptional. We got great performances from everyone and had a blast doing it.
Did you get caught in any of the politics of the naming rights issue?
Not at all. I was informed what was going on but had no active part in it whatsoever.
How about the response to the album, vs the sales? I for one loved it and saw generally very positive reactions to it, but did the sales reflect that?
Thank you for digging the record. It means a lot. However, in a genre like melodic rock you don't expect to sell millions of records nowadays. That's a given.
It's a market for people that cherish that type of music, which is a very true art form, since the artists have to actually play note for note and it takes quite a bit of time to make a good rock record. So, if you ask me - did the work that went into this album justly reflect the sales, the answer is clearly "no". That is really not the point, though. In the 80's and early 90's we saw budgets for rock records escalating into the hundreds of thousands of dollars where labels pushed the artists on heavy worldwide print, radio and TV campaigns with gigantic tours to follow. Rock was mainstream and it's not so anymore. Budgets and P&A are a fragment of what they were and anyone making a melodic rock record these days has to come to terms with that.
Good call Klay. At this late stage, do you ever see that album being released in any form (more likely as a Jimi solo CD) in the USA?
As a matter of fact the record will be released soon in the US. I've just send out a new master to the label with the revised songs. The live cuts are omitted but another studio track is added. I don't know the street date yet.
Oh, great! What's the new track?
It's called "Keep It Evergreen" and it's a Christmas song believe it or not. We recorded it right after "Empires" was released and wanted to make it a Christmas single. That didn't happen but we send the song to a few radio stations and they played it several times a day all through the Christmas season. I like it a lot - it's very emotional and we even added this huge gospel choir in the end.
Jimi was originally slated to appear on the Under Suspicion album, with a duet, so I gather that you guys still keep in touch and the relationship is in tact?
Oh hell yeah, we're good buddies. He got over me making him sing after he's eaten a Fatburger, ha ha. As far as the planned duet, we just got behind a bit and Jimi couldn't schedule to come in since we had to move the recording date. I'm sure we'll do something together again in the near future and I look forward to abusing him yet again.
Onwards to your new band and the debut album - Under Suspicion. When did you start writing for this album and when was the line up finalized?
I think it was around November last year when Jeff came to L.A. to write with us for the first time. I went to Europe for a while during the Christmas season and we picked it up again around February. All the songs were written by May and send to Frontiers for review. We then recorded two more and had the label pick which ones they thought would be best.
This is a complex record, without being over produced. I found that the songs have a good depth, so you can't memorize them instantly, with repeated listens offering new melodies etc. That was also true of the Empires record....
Very true. I'm glad you brought this up. To me and I'm sure, that goes for Peter and Jeff as well, one of the worst thing you can do is play it safe.
What I mean by that is, when you write a melody to a track - it wants to go a certain way and hit notes which sometimes might be something different then what you expect. I think it's a good thing to allow for that. When it's done you listen back and either love it, learn to love it, meaning it grows on you, or throw it out. It's a big mistake to force a melody or track, at least that's how I feel. The same goes for arranging and producing.
So, how long did the total writing and then the recording process take?
We were always writing and recording at the same time. We've written a few songs by the time we started the master recording in March. Whenever the muse kissed us we took a little break, wrote some more and then started recording it. With Peter and Jeff, the writing process was so easy and fast for most of the songs that we never worried about not coming up with what we thought is a cool theme. Of course I remember this one time when I went over to see Peter and we had planned to write something. We sat there, I don't know, probably a few hours and realized, it's not going to happen today. On my way home Peter called me in the car and said "Man, did we just suck today or what!" It made me laugh, 'cause he said it with such disgust. A couple of days later we met again and wrote "Welcome to my Life" in about two hours. Just goes to show that you gotta let it happen and take chill pill when it doesn't.
Where was it recorded?
Most of it was done at Peter's studio "The Blue Danube". I've done some tracks of "Hold On" at my "Uprising" studio and I've recorded Kip's vocal at his "Rising Sun" studio in Santa Fe.
The album has a diverse style of sounds, from a harder edged Love Without A Net, to the moody, almost sultry End Of The Game, to the big ballad Hold On, but it all sounds like the one band....
Thanks Andrew, that was the idea and I hope the listeners will feel the same. We tried to make the album diverse and interesting but not to the point where you loose identity. I just hate records where every track has the same vibe or on the other hand where every track is so distant from the previous one you think you're listening to a compilation. We actually had a track which in the end got thrown out because it was too much of a departure from the feel of the album.
Ok, sounds interesting! Let's take a look at the songs on the album:
Welcome To My Life
One of the later tracks written but a good album opener we think. It depicts, what now becomes even more chilling in the wake of the recent terror attacks on the US, the thoughts of a madman thinking of himself as a hero for what he has done when all he did gain is a cell with bars. When I wrote this lyric I purposely kept it vague to leave room for interpretation of what kind of a madman this person actually is. I like doing that sometimes, since not everyone interprets a lyric the same way.
Love Without A Net
Peter wrote this track that just ripped my head off the first time I heard it. He probably had a lot of coffee when he wrote that. It had so much energy and drive that it was an easy pick for the record.
End Of The Game (Duet w/Kip Winger)
This song, which is actually my favorite, came out of something Jeff and I started. We had about 45 minutes before I had to take him to the airport after a long day of recording, totally bored we were laying around my house. Jeff picked up the guitar and started playing something. I don't know what caught my ear, but I immediately went to the keyboard and we had the basics of the song 20 minutes later. The next day I met with Pete and it took another hour before him and I wrote the melody. That night I went home and wrote the lyric. Jeff came back two days later and we recorded the song in one day never changing a note or a word.
Needless to say that when my friend Kip Winger agreed to sing on it, we were thrilled. I went down to his house and studio in Santa Fe and recorded him. We had a blast. It was easy going and the whole thing was done in a few hours.
Another Mr. Roberts song. We immediately loved the hooky chorus line he wrote. It was such a sing-along that I remember going to bed and waking up with it. "Come Tomorrow" was actually the first song we recorded. Sometimes the first thing you do on a record gets re-cut later on but we chose not to, since Jeff had such a great feel when he sang it.
This song I wrote while staying in my parents house in Germany during the damn cold winter months of 2000. When you got the fireplace going and it's dark and snowing outside, what else are you going to write but a ballad that reflects on the loves of your life?
Just Your God
This was the first thing the three of us wrote together. It came out of nowhere after spending at least 4 hours trying to get something on tape. Nothing seemed to materialize and we went to dinner, bummed out. We came back to the studio and after another two hours we had a rough but no one was sure about it so we put it aside. It was six to seven months later that we dug it up again and felt pretty good about it. The hardest part was to write the lyric. Peter asked me to not write anything fancy but I couldn't make it work. Finally, not knowing what the guys thought I had an idea after listening to the damn thing about twenty times. It took all night to write it and I was sure that Jeff and Peter would hate it, but thankfully they didn't.
Fly (Duet w/ Mickey Thomas)
"Fly" was also an early song. Jeff stayed at my place for the first time and he came up with a great, sorta floating kinda progression which I liked a lot. We then structured it a bit and wrote a chorus to it. The next day Jeff and Peter worked and they wrote the rest of the melody. When I heard what they've done I immediately thought of the word "Fly" but it was months later after seeing a documentary of a "strung-out-once-famous" movie star that I got the concept for the lyric.
Then Mickey came in and sang the duet. Say no more - the guys is just beyond amazing.
No matter how much you plan life ahead, there will always be surprises, new roads to take and decisions to make. In our opinion an awesome lyric by Gary St. Clair, one of Peter's friends.
I Will Live
This was a song I've had for a while, however it wasn't in that particular form. I played it for the guys when we first started out and they didn't dig it too much so we left it. About six months later I played a variation of it for Peter and he dug it. We've worked out a new verse and that's that. The lyric is self-explanatory. No matter what - life goes on. Hard knocks will happen to all of us, some more or less devastating, but we have to go on. Life is energy and energy cannot die, so we will live forever.
Traveler Of Time
Frontiers asked us for an epic kind of a song and so Pete and I did it. We had no idea what we're getting into but we just wrote it. This song came from just putting parts together. We had a streamline but it lacked the epic feeling. Thank god, Pete came up with the guitar melody you hear repeating after the first chorus. Then we wanted to speed it up and so it went from half time to normal time. Then I was just slap-happy and started soloing and so that went over the break down. It was still not enough and we brought it back down to half time after the out-choruses with Pete repeating the theme on the guitar. When I presented Pete and Jeff with the idea of having a classical ending they wanted to call a doctor. Nevertheless, I did it and then Pete and I put some finishing touches on the thing and there it is.
Thanks for the run down there Klay. The two duets on the album are almost not duets, they are still very much dominated by vocalist Jeff, but the guest artists are still featured there. It's a cleaver entwining of the two voices....was this your intention?
Yes, absolutely. We wanted to blend the voices as an alternative approach to the common recording of duets where it's very clear who sings what.
Hopefully, people will dig that. However, on both songs the two vocalists have about an equal number of lines that they each sing. On "End Of The Game" Jeff sings everything up to the end of the first chorus. Then Kip takes over until the 2nd chorus where Jeff joins in. The out-choruses are both of them. On "Fly" Jeff sings the first half of the 1st verse and then Mickey takes over until the chorus which they sing together. Jeff has the second verse and Mickey the second B-section. Choruses are again both of them. The bridge is Jeff and the out-choruses are both of them going off (mind you "going" not "getting").
Cool, listen carefully then! Besides the two duet tracks, there are other moments where it clearly sounds like you have two vocalists in action, who is supplying the second voice, or was that studio overdubs?
On Hold On for example, I could have sworn I could hear Loverboy's Mike Reno in full flight!
Fooled you - it's all Jeff, man. The guy is a chameleon. He has a very distinct sound but if you ask him to sound like someone else he'll do it to the "t". We actually weren't going for imitating different vocalists. We just asked him to sing certain harmony lines with different inflections.
You're obviously a band that likes to play live, is there any chance of this happening in the current, near or distant future?!!
It's all up to the public and the label. If the record sells well, I'm sure they'll put us on a tour and we can't wait to do it.
Now, not content on resting on your laurels, you are also heavily wrapped up in two other Frontiers projects! Tell us about what involvement you have in the Mickey Thomas and Michael Sembello solo albums recently announced...
I'm in the midst of arranging and beginning to produce the "Heavy Weather" album which is Michael Sembello's new band. It's a bit of a traveling situation since Mike moved back to Philly and just acquired a new studio in Florida as well. So, we're meeting up wherever we can. I'll record most of it at my studio in Hollywood but some of the tracks will also be done in Philly and Florida. Don't you love flying?
He's also still writing new material but we should be finished by the end of the year. With Mickey Thomas I'm producing a new Starship record. Most of that will be recorded at my studio and at Peter Roberts'. We're not in the production stages yet and are still picking songs. I think by early to late spring we'll have it in the bag.
A new Starship album rather than a Mickey solo record, or are both coming?
No, it's actually "Starship, featuring Mickey Thomas". That's the name under which he's touring and we didn't want to confuse anybody.
Mickey's a fabulous singer, I love him to death. What style are you looking at there and what can we expect?
You're right, Mickey is absolutely amazing. I don't know where he got his pipes from but he'll brake your compressor if you don't watch out. The album will be a heavy and slightly progressive rock record with some diverse styles, incorporating heavy guitars, loops together with live playing and most of all - good solid melodies. I don't know, Mickey and I are talking about a lot of things and I'm looking very much forward to getting into it. We'll just have to see where it takes us.
How about Michael Sembello, another great singer and another promising release?
Oh man, Mike's a musical genius and that's no b.s. Just like Mickey and Jeff, he's a phenomenal vocalist, but that's not all. The guy can play and I mean play (!!!) his ass off. Come to think of it, I don't even know if he's still got one (have to make a note of asking him about that). As far as what to expect I can say that Mike and I always wanted to make a rock record. We've talked about it for years and now we're doing it.
I can see how you know Mickey, but when did you and Mike Sembello become friends?
Well, Sembello is actually an alien. I don't know if you were aware of that. No, it's true! You can read about it. I'll turn you on to some literature that has definite proof and when you meet him you'll know that he's not from this planet...(I'll better stop before I get an ass-whooppin' comin').
O.k., all silliness aside - Mike and I go back to 1994 when I first met him through "The Immigrants" which featured Jennifer Batten, Vinnie Colaiuta, Jeff Paris, etc. I was involved in hooking him up with a licensing deal for that band. We became friends very quickly and through the years worked on a ton of movie and TV tracks together. We're not just work-buddies, if that's a term, we went through thick and thin and he's one of my dearest friends.
I remember seeing the Immigrants listed, but never got around to getting a copy!
I have always liked Michael's songwriting, but he is a diverse singer who touches on pop, jazz and rock. What direction will this album take do you think?
It'll be a heavy rock record. If I had to bring it to the point, imagine a mixture of Kings X and Toto (with less keys and more guitars) if that's anyhow possible, and no, I'm not on drugs. These things are always hard to foresee since the course of an album a lot of times gets refined during the recording process. One thing's for sure though - get ready for some killer vocals.
Damn, sounds great! Anything else you are hiding up your sleeves?!!
Together with my partners Bobby Hart and Barry Richards I'm putting the finishing touches on a new Musical called "Uprising". This project's been in the making for over 4 years and has finally reached completion. It's an action-adventure love story set against the background of the South American rainforest. We have a number of great talent singing on it such as Ali Woodson (Temptations), Michael Sembello, Jimi Jamison, Ellis Hall (Tower of Power), Lisa Frazier (remember her from "Empires"?), Julie Griffin (toured with the Black Crowes), Gary Wright and lots of others. It's a touring show which has a 200,000 sq.ft. theme park attached to it and is scheduled to being constructed in early 2002. I'm also doing a couple of film arrangements in the next few months but nothing too extravagant. I've been talking to Frontiers and other labels about future record productions but haven't formalized anything yet. We'll see.
And I will presume we will hear a second Under Suspicion album in due course?
You bet! We've already got a few new songs and can't wait to record the follow up. It's really up to the public though. If the listeners dig us we'll keep on making records and perform live for as long as there are people willing to listen to Under Suspicion.
(Left to Right: Peter, Jeff & Klay)
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