Sleaze Roxx

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If you were a hair metal and sleaze rock fan back in the early 1990s, odds are that you are familiar with the name Nick Walsh, who was the lead vocalist for Toronto based sleaze rockers Slik Toxik. Following the band's demise in the mid '90s Walsh continued with music, including partnering with bassist Laurie-Anne Green in the band Revolver and now Famous Underground. Sleaze Roxx caught up with the driven frontman prior to Famous Underground's upcoming show -- headlining a New Year's Eve bash in Toronto.

Sleaze Roxx: For those who might not be familiar with Famous Underground, can you describe your band's sound?

Nick Walsh Sleaze Roxx InterviewNick Walsh: Well, Famous Underground's sound is basically old school values with, sort of, modern production. It is being hailed by the critics as a combination -- they can't nail it down. A lot of people are saying it is a combination between Metallica and Guns N' Roses or Megadeth or Love/Hate -- I don't know. Also, this stuff is all over the place through different magazines and different sources. It makes me happy because people are putting us in with these bands -- that is a compliment. And at the same time they can't nail us down like we're an exact replica of AC/DC or something like that -- that makes me feel good too.

Sleaze Roxx: Famous Underground's debut CD was actually released independently back in 2011 before being released through a label in 2013. What prompted the band to sort of re-release the album two years later rather than come up with a CD with new material for the label?

Nick Walsh: You know it is funny because if there was no internet around -- I mean, this kind of stuff happens all the time but now with the internet people can sell MP3s via iTunes or other various sources, it would be considered a re-release even though it was never released in those territories. The place that you could find it, or it was available readily, was here in our home country of Canada and/or in the physical sense mostly through live performances. If you wanted a Famous Underground CD you had to come to the show kind of thing. So, to say "re-released" -- well, yes sort of -- but it is more like it is been licensed for various other territories around the world who didn't get the opportunity to get the record. As for new material, I have been working on a bunch of new material and we have been recording a bunch of stuff since early this year. I am still finding it hard to believe that the year has passed so quickly. We have done some new material and we are gearing up to do some recording in the New Year to hopefully see a fall 2014 release of Famous Underground 2.

Sleaze Roxx: One of your videos from the Famous Underground CD is "Dead Weight" which actually dates back to your days in Revolver. Why did you elect to re-record a Revolver song for the Famous Underground debut?

Nick Walsh: Well, a very successful friend of ours -- a woman by the name of Sheron Alton, you can look her up as well -- she was the guitar player and one of the songwriters in the band Toronto and she has had major successes with some hit songs that I'm sure you know, such as "What About Love" by Heart, and some other songs that have sort of made the hit parade. She is a close friend of Laurie-Anne Green, our bass player, and she actually recommended that we redo that track because we were doing it in our live show but it was not even going to be considered beyond that. We already had our tracks picked and everything and based on Sheron's opinion, which I value very highly, she thought that it would be a shame for us to not put it on the record considering that in the Revolver days it was never released as a single or too much notice was taken of the track. So we said, "OK. Under your recommendation, sure, we will do it." We like it. It is a fan favorite so, there you have it.

Sleaze Roxx: It is definitely a good track so it is a good choice as well.

Nick Walsh: One of the things about the song that I enjoy is that with Revolver we did it, but the Famous Underground sounds vary -- people can't nail if we are a metal band or a rock band. I think that we have darker material and we have got some melodic and more dramatic or dynamic material. It is always going to be like that and I think "Dead Weight" is a good representation of that -- it shows sort of the darker side as well as the melodic side. It is a good song.

Sleaze Roxx: For some people you have always been, or will be, the lead singer for the now defunct Slik Toxik. What are your thoughts in that regard?

Nick Walsh: If they remember me from that, then at least they are remembering me for something. Slik Toxik was a band that I had formed when I was very young. It blossomed from a band called Portrait that I had put together when I was about 16 or 17 and you know, it was my first kick at the can so to speak -- getting a record deal, hustling and promoting a band. Back then, we did not have the internet so it was just like that movie Rock Star where bands were playing at a club and we are out front handing out our flyers to the fans or putting flyers on people's car windows and posting them up downtown all along the street, you know? So, that was my first real gig so if I'm recognized for that, I don't mind at all. I mean, there was a time where I did not like it that much because I thought that could be my legacy and that I had more in me. But if somebody recognizes me from that act, and they are willing to go check out what I am doing now, that is a good thing.

Sleaze Roxx: When I look at your past, from let's say Slik Toxik to Famous Underground, it seems to me that there is an evolution from the young partying boy in his early 20s to the more mature producer and married man with kids.

Nick Walsh: That happens to most of us. Some people get stuck in the lifestyle so to speak -- and I have seen those people come and go and have misfortune and so forth. But some of us were fortunate enough to be able to come out of it alive and never really delved too deep into the lifestyle. For me, it was more about the music, the recordings, the songs, the performance, and all that stuff over the partying aspect or the notoriety for that kind of thing.

Sleaze Roxx: It is no secret that Famous Underground has been targeting the European market. You have management and a label based in Europe. What makes Europe so attractive in the band's eyes and what are your plans in that regard?

Nick Walsh: What makes Europe attractive -- and I have said this throughout many interviews I've done so far this year -- is that in Canada, we live in such a big place with not a big population so we still heavily rely on radio. With radio comes the flavor of the week or the moment, whatever is happening in the moment. Whereas hard rock and metal seem to have disappeared here many different times, over in Europe it is a way of life. It is not like it is here, not the hip thing to like anymore so now I am going to go like Justin Bieber or whatever the case may be. There are fans of metal bands like Motorhead, Iron Maiden and Saxon that are still wearing the patches on the backs of their jackets 40 years later and still going to the shows as well. The fact that a Canadian artist such as let's say Danko Jones can hardly ever get played on the radio here but this guy is always in Europe -- he is playing the clubs and the theaters or whatnot in the winter months and he is playing all the festivals in the summer months.

Another thing that is different about it is that here you get the segregation of music. Somebody who likes some form of black metal or death metal thinks that glam or sleaze metal is, you know, cheesy or whatever the case may be. Whereas over there, rock and metal are synonymous with each other -- it is what it is and on one stage you could be watching Danko Jones and the next act is Motorhead and the next after that is a different type of metal. So it doesn't really matter -- it is all part of the same family and that is why Europe seems to be such an attractive thing for not just our band but a lot of other bands of the genre. I mean, some friends of mine just got back home from touring over there and had a great time -- Harem Scarem and numerous other friends and bands that I know are going over there and performing and getting deals and so forth. So it is a very attractive thing for bands like us because our type of music is not the mainstream right now -- hence the name Famous Underground. It is kind of fitting because it takes you back where hard rock and heavy metal were in its beginning stages. It was something that was not prevalent on the radio. If you liked it, you had to buy specific magazines and in our case now you have to go to specific websites to listen to it, to find it, and that is what makes it cool.

Sleaze Roxx: There has been a lot of talk about a resurgence of hard rock and metal in Canada and the United States in the last few years. Do you agree with that?

Nick Walsh: I think one of the things that has really helped this 'resurgence' is the fact that we were dealing with DJs being celebrities, we were dealing with boy and girl bands a lot in the press and when the advent of games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band came out it gave a new opportunity for old bands who actually played drums, guitars, bass and vocals to sort of let a new generation of people hear their music. I know this because some of the guys that play with Famous Underground, or other friends of mine who are also guitar teachers, are seeing that their students are coming in -- you know, 11 year old kids wanting to learn an Ozzy Osbourne or an Iron Maiden tune. They are doing this because not only is the generation of their parents listening to that music, but from these games they are getting an opportunity to hear a bunch of music that otherwise they would have no outlet to hear. So, I think that has helped this 'resurgence' a lot and probably spawned and sparked a lot of new young upcoming musicians and bands to hail some of the music of the past as their influence.

Sleaze Roxx: Famous Underground has recently played a number of shows in the province of Ontario. How did the shows go and can we expect some more tour dates in Canada? I know you have an upcoming show on New Year's Eve in Toronto, but besides that?

Nick Walsh: Yes. What we are doing right now is just a bunch of one offs and that is not necessarily to totally promote the band here in Canada -- it is to get the band ready, get our chops happening, as well as to not neglect the small fan base that we do have here. As I said before, things are different in Canada now. It is not like it used to be where there were many, many, clubs that supported the genre and so forth. We are fortunate in Toronto to have some good clubs that are bringing in some good bands that again we would otherwise not be able to see. But the plan is for us to -- with our management in Germany right now -- we are setting up some tour dates for the spring over there. So, in the interim, we are playing shows here. I would love to go to Western Canada. However, to be honest with you, it is probably a non-feasible thing at this point because we are not on a major label like back in the day that provides tour support, allows you to go across the country, and basically not get paid to promote yourself. We are in a totally different era now where bands rely on everything from their tour merchandise to obviously guarantees at clubs and other sort of revenue streams to keep the ball rolling. So, as to answer your question in full, I would love to play more dates across Canada. I am always being requested by fans in Western Canada to come out to Alberta and/or British Columbia but at this point, I don't think it's feasible.

Sleaze Roxx: How about touring in the States?

Nick Walsh: Well again, it is the same thing, anybody who tells you otherwise is full of shit -- it's a fact. I have had some friends go over there and do some dates and stuff. They are not the greatest so you have to be fortunate enough to get onto a decent bill or a decent tour or something. Again, that is not like it used to be. I hate to be the guy that always brings to light the realities of the music industry, but the fact of the matter is back when Slik Toxik was happening we would get invited by other bands to come out on the road with them -- whereas now, you have to pay to play. They are called "buy ons" and can be as low as $250 a show to play with them and as much as... I have heard to play with a band as big as Bon Jovi it costs you like $15,000 to $20,000 U.S. a night and that is not even your budget -- that is not your food, that is not your bus, that is not your lodging, that is not anything. That is paying to get on their stage, you know? So, it is a lot different these days.

Sleaze Roxx: Famous Underground obviously has a heavy modern metal sound to it. I have noticed that some of the covers that the band plays are rather heavy ones like Megadeth's "Peace Sells" or Motorhead's "Ace of Spades". Is this intentional or is this simply the band playing what they like best?

Nick Walsh: First and foremost, the obvious thing is I have always been a Megadeth fan and we started playing that cover in our shows. I am also a huge Bob Marley fan -- I don't know if you saw that version online but we bust in to "Get Up Stand Up" in the middle of Megadeth's "Peace Sells", which is kind of an ironic mash up that not a lot of people would expect but to me there is a common thread with Bob Marley and what he sings about and what Dave Mustaine sings about and I thought the two would be a great fit. For Motorhead, the same thing -- Laurie and I got on stage with an old friend of ours, Dee Cernile, before he passed away. He played guitar for Sven Gali and we were doing a benefit for him while he was suffering with his cancer. We were planning on getting up and doing a couple of songs. I always wanted to do that song as well and when I suggested that Dee said, "That would be great. I would love to do that song with you" -- he always wanted to play it as well. So, when we did it and my other band members were in the audience -- they weren't on stage -- they were like, "Oh my God! It was so killer! We got to do that song as a band!" So again, to answer your question, yes, we like the songs and have fun playing them.

Sleaze Roxx: What are your favorite Famous Underground songs and why?

Nick Walsh: If we are talking about the debut record -- songs that I probably love the most to perform would be like "Wasteland" because it has got a lot of energy. We usually open the show with that and it sort of sets the tone for the show. I really like doing "On Broken Wings" because I love melodic dynamic music and it gives me and Laurie a chance to harmonize and sing together and show people that we really are singing (laughs). You know, it is not an Ashlee Simpson concert (laughs).

Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs) now, what are your favorite songs from the Revolver era?

>Nick Walsh: My favorite songs from that era would probably be "Turbulence" -- the title track of the album 'Turbulence'. There was some other material I liked. There was a song that we used to do called "Juggernaut" which actually Famous Underground pulls out once in a while. I am like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde when I perform on stage, I take some of my heroes which were KISS, Alice Cooper, King Diamond and I do those types of theatrics but without wearing the makeup and the get ups and everything. I put myself into the roles of the songs and I love the heavy thing. I love the intense nature of heavy songs and being able to stare through somebody's soul from the stage. I also like the melodic aspect like I said -- songs like "On Broken Wings" or "Forever And A Day". Or off the Revolver era stuff songs like "Pandora's Box" because it gives me an opportunity to reach into myself as opposed to bringing the audience into what I am doing and putting on that kind of performance based on my emotions, you know?

Sleaze Roxx: Speaking of KISS, what are your thoughts on them finally getting accepted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

Nick Walsh Sleaze Roxx InterviewNick Walsh: KISS has been a band that I've had a love/hate relationship my whole life with. I swore I would never go see them again, but this past summer I couldn't resist taking my seven year old son to the show to experience what I did. The first time I ever saw KISS in concert, I was eight. My brothers took me and it was a hell of an experience, so just because of my being jaded -- let's say I was not going to not allow my son to have that experience. I definitely wanted him to have it and I am glad I did. As far as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame -- yeah man, they deserved it a long time ago! I don't know why it didn't happen before. The mark that they have left on music, marketing, branding and musicians is unbelievable. Everybody of my era, you talk to them about what got them into music and I tell you -- if it is five bands on one hand, KISS is one of the fingers.

Sleaze Roxx: What are your favorite songs from your Slik Toxik era?

Nick Walsh: (Laughs) Probably some of the heavier numbers -- "Sweet Asylum", "Rachel's Dead", "Midnight Grind" -- again, like I said, my influences are King Diamond, Queensryche, and stuff like that. As a vocalist, I was a metalhead and I liked sleaze rock. Everything I have ever done has been a hybrid of all that kind of stuff. So, I like those songs because of the intense nature of them and a lot of the screams and stuff. I love to use that scream as a weapon and I did not do a lot if on the debut Famous Underground record but on the new stuff that we are doing now, I am bringing more of that back -- a lot more of the scream as a weapon deal.

Sleaze Roxx: How did you get involved with Sean Kelly's 'Metal On Ice' project and why did you end up covering Kick Axe's "On The Road To Rock"?

Nick Walsh: Sean and I go way back from Revolver and we have never had any bad blood, we have always been supporters of one another. We wanted to have an opportunity to do something musical together again and when Sean called me up and invited me to be a part of 'Metal On Ice', I definitely wanted to do it. He was originally hoping that I would cover "Helluvatime" by Slik Toxik, as the other artists on his project are redoing songs that they had before such as "Heavy Metal Love" by Helix or "Metal Queen" by Lee Aaron. And I said, "You know what Sean? (laughs) These guys are a little older and they were also influences on me. So, I would love to have the opportunity to pay homage to one of my favorite Canadian metal bands as opposed to covering a song that I have already written, recorded and I still actually perform with Famous Underground to this day." So, I wanted to do a Kick Axe tune and that song was chosen for me. If it was my choice I would have done "Heavy Metal Shuffle", but I think they wanted to go with songs that people were a little bit more familiar with from being on the radio back in the day so they chose that and I did the best that I could to do it justice.

Sleaze Roxx: I think you did really well.

Nick Walsh: Thank you, and just to touch base on the 'Metal On Ice' project as well, I co-wrote and produced the theme song and that came about as an afterthought. I was just wondering why Sean had not actually put a theme song together for this because there was also supposed to be a live show culminating with the album and the book. He thought of it and he just did not have the time -- he was so busy with the book and the other songs. I said, "Well listen man, I feel really strongly about this -- I think you really need to get this for the album and I already started writing one." So, we had a meeting and I presented what I had and he loved it and then sure enough, a couple of sessions later, we finished writing the tune and the next thing to do was to record it in the studio and bang -- there it is on the record. It was such an honor to be able to produce these vocalists. When I was a kid, I saw their videos on TV and there I am in the control room at Coalition Studios while Lee Aaron is on the other side or Darby Mills or Brian Vollmer. I am sitting there. "No, could you do it like this" and I am thinking to myself, "Are you serious?" (laughs)

Sleaze Roxx: You're in the same league now so (laughs) you should not be surprised!

Nick Walsh: Well, I am still a fan of music so I can't help myself as I feel as though I am on the other side (laughs), you know what I mean?

Sleaze Roxx: Yes -- absolutely. Last question, what are your three favorite albums of all time and why?

Nick Walsh: What are my three favorite albums of all time -- of all time? Oh my goodness, that is a difficult one because I like so many different genres of music. Are we talking rock or metal records? Are we talking in general? Like, I don't know.

Sleaze Roxx: You can choose the genre if you like.

Nick Walsh: If we are talking just like across the whole universe of music -- three favorite albums of all time. You know, that is the trickiest question I have heard.

Sleaze Roxx: Oh good (laughs)!

Nick Walsh: I'm kind of stumped on this -- three favorite records of all time. Maybe... I don't know man. 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' by the Beatles -- now, this is being really vague so 'Operation: Mindcrime' by Queensryche. Geez (laughs) -- I'm trying, I'm trying man. One more -- hmmm. You know what is going to happen? I am going to hang up with you and I am going to go, why didn't I say this album?

Sleaze Roxx: I know (laughs). What is the first one that comes to mind?

Nick Walsh: I just had 20 come to mind! I had 20 records come to mind -- KISS' 'Alive'.

Sleaze Roxx: Even though you have your love/hate relationship with them?

Nick Walsh: Yes. I have to be realistic, if it wasn't for seeing that album cover, I would not even be a musician. When I was a kid, I saw that record and the larger than life aspect of what was happening -- and when I heard, "You wanted the best and you got it... the hottest band in the land... KISS", and then you actually heard an explosion on the album, a big bomb going off. I was like, "Oh my God! This is what I want to do!" (laughs)

Sleaze Roxx [read more] 

Interviewer: Olivier - SLEAZE ROXX

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