When handed the opportunity to speak with the frontman of several bands you have enjoyed over the years, you grab that opportunity and run with it - just as I did this week when I was given the chance to speak with none other than Gary Cherone. Gary's other band, Hurtsmile, is promoting their latest release, Retrogrenade, with two new videos and a ton of hype... A fan of his multitude of projects - Extreme, Hurtsmile, Tribe of Judah, and even a solo project - I couldn't wait to discuss the new material, possible tour dates, and so much more.
Gary: Thank you for having me.
Toddstar: Oh, man. Let's rejoice. Hurtsmile is back.
Gary: Ah, thank you, yeah. Very excited.
Toddstar: You guys, in two days, have unleashed two killer tunes. You guys came out with "Good Bye" today and yesterday, you guys threw out there "Hello I Must Be Going," so you've got hello and goodbye all in the same week.
Gary: Yeah. It's funny. At first, you do a video. It was actually hard to have a little restraint, because we finished "Hello" a few months ago and wanted to release it, but I don't know who came up with the staggered release, but I thought it was a good idea - the hello/goodbye connection - and putting one out right after the other would probably garner more attention, and I think it has. We're excited about it. People who got turned on to "Good Bye" on the Taste of Country site will go check out the Ultimate Classic Rock site with "Hello" and vice versa.
Toddstar: You mentioned the websites. You've got Ultimate Classic Rock and then you've got the Taste of Country. As diverse as these songs are, you always seem to stay true to yourself as an artist. How is it Hurtsmile can really pull off two such diverse sounds?
Gary: Thanks for saying that. I guess we don't think about it. Inspired by the music we grew up with. The name Retrogrenade comes to mind, especially on this record. We were inspired by those bands, whether it was Aerosmith or The Eagles or Cheap Trick or Zeppelin. All those influences seem to come out, even with Extreme. They are identifiably Hurtsmile, these songs. I guess we don't think about it. You could hear a song on the radio and that might inspire something. You see a sign on the wall; it could trigger the title of a song. You just continue to try to write passionate and honest music.
Toddstar: You've done that. You've been so diverse in your career. Everything from Extreme to your stint in Van Halen. I even get into stuff like the Tribe of Judah stuff or this year is the 10-year anniversary of Need I Say More.
Toddstar: When it comes to Hurtsmile, what is it about this project that made you return to it and say, "Let's do this again?"
Gary: Good question. A couple things come to mind. Obviously, when my name comes up or Nuno's name comes up, the first thing that comes up is Extreme and anything other than that is a side project or-not dismissed, but it's ‘Gary Cherone from Extreme does…’ project, like the Need I Say More thing. With Hurtsmile, there's a part of me that wanted it to be more than the Gary Cherone side project, so doing another record was important. I love the guys. Mark, the guitar player, is obviously my brother. We spoke about this. I go, "If you want to give legitimacy to this or for this thing to have its own identity, we need to continue, make another record and even a third record down the road, and it will have its own identity. There'll come a time when it won't be Gary Cherone's mistress band, it will just be Hurtsmile," which, that's the goal. As far as what inspired me to do another record is because it isn't just a project, it's a band. At the end of the day, I feel like I never wanted to be more than just a singer in a rock band, and now I got two rock bands that I can be that singer in. It's what comes natural. I love it. I love Extreme and I love Hurtsmile. I love the guys that I play with. I just want to play and write with people that want to write with me.
Toddstar: That's a cool insight. You mentioned your brother, Mark. What is it about working with your brother? What's the best part of working with your brother on this project?
Toddstar: On the flip-side, what's the worst part about being in a band with your brother?
Gary: Yeah, better question. The worst is the same answer: I know my brother. I know when he's got a stick up his ass. He knows when I do. We haven't really run into a lot of that, because Hurtsmile, to us, it's a privilege to be able to play at this point in our careers, being able to juggle the two bands. I got four brothers. Mark was never the problem. I won't name names. They're probably going to check this out.
Toddstar: There we go. When putting this project together, this specific disc, what was the attitude going into the studio? How did you guys approach this in a way to build on the debut release, the self-titled Hurtsmile, yet stay true to who you guys were as a band?
Gary: This came together easier. Again, your first outing, the first record, you're discovering yourselves. I can see it in the songwriting on the first record of where the band was going to go. When we dove into the second record, we were much more comfortable. Again, speaking the same language, whether it was an arrangement question. We pretty much were on the same page. What I said to the guys was, "Just give me what you got. Don't be afraid. It doesn't have to fit into a category. It doesn't have to be a traditional down the strike zone rock and roll song." Some of the pop stuff, I think of "I Still Do," or "Sing a Song." Mark came up with "Good Bye," and I remember hearing it for the first time, it was unfinished, but it just screamed of The Eagles to me. I said, "What's that? That's definitely Hurtsmile. We gotta bring it to the band." He was just starting to write it. He didn't even think of Hurtsmile. It was just a song he was writing. To me, it's one of my favorite songs on the record and that's one of the reasons we put out the video of it.
Toddstar: Cool. Looking back and having the luxury of reading the press release for "Hello I Must Be Going," the video there, who exactly slept with Cheap Trick to produce, as you called it, this bastard child?
Gary: I actually saw Cheap Trick the other day. I should have turned them on to the song. Rick Nielsen would've sued me. I was just playing with some chords and that just came out of us. Hurtsmile, even more than Extreme, probably more influenced by Cheap Trick becomes a bigger influence, even though the Extreme guys are big Cheap Trick fans. Markie and I, that was a staple in the Cherone house, their debut, Heaven Tonight, Dream Police, everything. To me, again, Cheap Trick is obviously influenced by The Beatles, so to me that was a distorted Beatles song. I think every artist tries to recreate some magic from The Beatles. I actually like "Hello." I think it fits in well with the record. It shows the unique personality of the band.
Toddstar: I love the song and being a huge Cheap Trick fan myself, I doubly love the song. Taking this a step further with Retrogrenade, you guys going to put this thing together and take it out on the road?
Gary: That's the frustrating part of it, as far as juggling the two bands and scheduling amongst all the members. I remember the first record, we didn't get out until five months after the record and we had an opportunity to go to Japan and we played some big markets in the States. That's my plan. We did a record release on the East Coast. I want to keep the profile of this record out there, so that's why these videos are so important. Every time a video comes out, I have a chance to talk to people. In between the cracks, right now I'm writing the next Extreme record and Extreme's been doing scattered shows in the summer, some festivals, so it's been difficult, but if there's a little window of opportunity, Hurtsmile is dying to get out there and play. You never know. It's so difficult for even Extreme to get on a tour; it's that much harder for Hurtsmile. Right now, the best I can hope for is scattered dates. Hopefully, we get to play some bigger markets like New York and Chicago, L.A., Vegas, whatever. That would be in the future.
Toddstar: Like you said, you've been doing the one-off dates here and there for the Extreme Pornograffitti anniversary, but we miss you in Detroit, Gary. We look for you in any incarnation in Detroit, but especially so with Hurtsmile, because it seems in listening to it, you sound like you. You always do, but you sound happy. You sound good. You sound like you're coming from a good place.
Toddstar: I've been lucky to see you through the years, so I'm always happy to go see you run a stage. All of that said, looking back through your career, Gary, including Hurtsmile, especially including Hurtsmile because that's what's really relevant right now, but looking back, what are the couple things that you're most proud of and want to be remembered for?
Gary: First of all, surviving. It's very difficult. This second life of Extreme, we're smelling the roses more. We're enjoying each other more. We meet a lot of new fans, a lot of old fans, and they remind us of the Freddie Mercury show. Shows, club shows, which we did on the first record that we forgot about and they remind us. Some of those first experiences I've had with Pat, Nuno, of course, Paul, back in the day. Too many to mention. The Mercury show, the Van Halen experience in my career. Extreme's first videos of "More Than Words" blowing up. That, to me, still amazes me. I think it was in 2012, we played China and Russia for the first time, and to have these crowds singing our songs. That's recent memory that blows my mind. We feel very blessed to be able to still be doing this. I could go on forever. Just mentioning the Freddie Mercury show, meeting your heroes, the band having Brian May come up on stage and play "Tie Your Mother Down." You got Roger Daltry coming up. I hate dropping names, but these things are priceless. You couldn't buy these moments that I got to experience with my band. I'll mention even Sammy Hagar. I think it was after the Van Halen experience, he came into Boston, invited me up on stage. I got to know him through the years. Great guy. That was another hero I got to sing with. I actually just jumped up on stage with Cheap Trick and I'm singing "Surrender" with Robin Zander, going, "What the hell's going on here?" To me, these guys are gods.
Toddstar: Sure. You mentioned jumping on stage with Sammy and that track you guys did is actually one of my favorites off of the Hallelujah Live disc of his. Again, Hurtsmile - this thing's huge. What should be the next single or should have been a single already off the new disc?
Gary: That's a tough one. You have your obvious ones. The shorter, hookier ones. People say 'single' and 'radio-friendly' and all those things I've been hearing my whole life, but you know, there's a battle that goes on within any artist. The singles are great but the deeper tracks are the ones you really are attached to, and when I think of the Hurtsmile record, one song comes to mind, "Where Do We Go from Here?" It's in the middle of the record. The arrangement's a little fatter. The band, the players really show their stuff. It's got this kind of Zeppelin-y kind of blues thing and it's more of an epic song rather than that short, quick - that pop song of what "Hello" is. In the back of my head, I'd like to do a video of "Where Do We Go from Here?" I don't know what it will be yet, but that's a deep track on the record and the singles hopefully turn people on to the record and they discover some of those other songs. I think it's a solid record. It's a very listenable record. It's a short record, so you don't get fatigued by the end of the record. Like the records we grew up on, you know, you would put on an Aerosmith record or an AC/DC record and it'd be done in 35-40 minutes. What did you do? You turned over and you flipped it back on to side one again, sure enough. That, hopefully, I think we tried to capture on Retrogrenade. It's a concise piece and it takes you on a little bit of a journey. It's not 10 of the same songs. Again, that was always a template for Extreme, too-the bands we grew up on, whether it was Halen or whether it was. Even, you think of Alice Cooper. The journey he took you on, on those early records, was phenomenal.
Toddstar: Listen Gary, I know you're a busy man, so I've got one more for you before we cut you loose.
Gary: You got it, Todd.
Toddstar: Any more beautiful tracks like "Change My Mind" still waiting to come out?
Gary: That was an EP. It was an experiment. I loved doing that, working with Leo Mellace, who was also in Tribe of Judah, and his partner, Steve Catizone. We wrote a bunch of songs. Believe it or not, I've got two records worth of that stuff that has never been recorded. It's in my back pocket right now, and again, when the time comes... but there's more of that to come. I love doing that stuff. That was inspired by some of the 70s pop radio I listened to. I think of Hall & Oates, I think of Earth, Wind & Fire - this stuff you just heard. You didn't stream your records. You didn't have YouTube to pick at. You turned on the radio when you were a kid and whatever that was, you listened to. That influenced… still influences me. That stuff is brilliant.
Gary: Ah, thank you. I can't even believe you said it was 10 years ago. That's freaking me out right now, but thank you, man.
Toddstar: Yeah, it came out in 2005 and it hits my CD player at least once a month.
Gary: Thank you.
Toddstar: Listen man, again, I appreciate your time. For me as a fan, it's huge. Thank you, Gary, for your time, and we can't wait to see you take Hurtsmile to the next level and hit the road.
Gary: Thank you, Todd. I'm sure we'll talk again when the next video comes out and look for some new Extreme, as well.
Toddstar: Sounds good, brother.
Gary: Thank you, bro. Take care.