THAT’S FOR SURE: TONY GAMBINO OF BLESSED BY A BROKEN HEART TALKS POWER, THE ’80s, AND PARTYING!
It’s funny. It seems like whenever I’m lukewarm on a blockbuster act, there comes along a different band that does their thing in a deeper, less entry-level way. Example: When I heard At The Drive-In’s Relationship Of Command, I felt like that energy was what Rage Against The Machine had been driving at. Same for Minus’s Jesus Christ Bobby and Converge. Or here’s an obvious one: Lacuna Coil and Evanescence.
Likewise, Blessed By A Broken Heart’s 2009 album Pedal To The Metal is what I’d hoped for from Avenged Sevenfold: A reformed metalcore band’s full-bore arena jamz no fucks given. Blessed, their name a vestige of their frowny past, still rocks the occasional breakdown, but mostly new album Feel The Power (out today) grafts high-level riffing to the sugary vibe of Journey and the pro-party platform of Andrew WK, like a perkier, shred-based Lostprophets for Christ. I phoned up singer Tony Gambino to talk all about Power, the mental stamina it takes to endure tr00 metal attitude, partying, the ’80s, and their rift with Century Media.
Anso DF: It was yesterday that I first got your new album, Feel The Power. I bumped it all night. Is it hard to get that level of energy and excitement onto an album?
Tony Gambino: It’s not hard. I think that’s what the band has been for a long time. We’ve always been high-energy. We’ve always been a little bit out of the box, regardless of how we think people will respond. That’s who we are and it comes across in the music.
I’m quoting a statement of yours that the members of Blessed are ‘stuck in the ‘80s.’
Well, all of us in the band are around that age that we all grew up in the ‘80s, and … I mean, can’t you agree that it’s one of the most defined times in history with fashion and with music? It was out there. It really brought some of the sickest bands alive, some of the best musicians, singers, and shred guitarists. Obviously the fashion was [laughs] pretty crazy; I’d say it was one of the most defined eras in our time at least. I think ever, to be honest with you. People will always crave that. It’s awesome.
Something that I loved about that time was the way, for better or worse, in the ‘80s a fan could go to a show, party, and be taken away. As opposed to being beaten over the head with some musician’s sad reality.
I agree with that. When the ‘90s rolled around, everybody wanted to do this grunge thing, and Nirvana kinda ruined the party vibe of the ‘80s, I think that was pretty sad. It had to happen really; you can’t have something go on forever, a trend. But the ‘80s had the vibe of good time rock ‘n roll and metal. That’s something that Blessed has embraced. Our shows are good times. We’re not up there playing depressing songs; we play a show to have a party.
It’s weird how ‘90s people party. I’ve been to parties and bars where people purposely put on bummer songs! I feel like saying, ‘Hey, you suck at partying.’
[laughs] For sure!
Can we talk about Blessed guitarist Shred Sean? I’m hoping you can help me understand the chronology and evolution of the Blessed sound. Was that something Sean pushed for over the last couple albums? Or was Sean hired because an existing desire for that change?
There was definitely an existing desire. This was even before I was in the band. Y’know, the band put out the first album, All Is Fair In Love And War, which I think is the worst album in history.
A lot of fans love it. It’s just really raw metalcore back when it wasn’t super-popular. That was a time when it was just starting to get off the ground, that style of music. Then after that, they wrote “Carry On” and “Side By Side” which are two very ‘80s-influenced songs. When they demoed them, that was about the time they had met Sean. Sean came on board cuz Blessed was, like, the number one biggest band on MySpace. Like on the charts [laughs]. I don’t know if you remember the MySpace charts.
So he thought Blessed By A Broken Heart was a big thing just because it had all this popularity on MySpace. Which is pretty funny [laughs]. But really, the band had a deire to go more ‘80s. Simon, who played guitar originally, switched over to keyboards and starting playing all this synth stuff. Then they got a shred guitarist, Shred Sean, and it just evolved from there.
Feel The Power has some major chops on it. Is it fun to expose rock crowds to serious musicianship? Is it ever too much and you want to throw the brakes on?
I don’t think it’s too much at all. I think it’s a breath of fresh air in an industry that’s about copycats and really terrible musicians. I mean, honestly, it’s about product nowadays. If you can copy the next successful band, then you might be a success too. That’s the mentality that people have nowadays. Honestly, how many hardcore and metalcore bands can there be? We’re so over that whole thing. So we’ve always wanted to stay out of the game.
To be honest [pauses], I think we’re one of the sickest bands out there right now musically. People can’t hang with us. There’s hardly anyone that can hang with Shred Sean. If they’re not one of the sickest guitar players in the world [laughs], they can’t hang with Shred Sean. Slater is a ridiculous drummer. I think all of our guys are sick musicians. Any kid with a guitar that can do chug-chug-chug thinks they’re a musician. Which I think is absolute bullcrap.
Uh, I don’t know! It’s the mentality that we have. Even business people, people in general should have this mentality but they don’t. I think it’s a good thing. I’m stoked about it. There’s definitely going to be haters. We get it all the time on Facebook and on Twitter; you get these kids that are like, ‘This is so gay.’ But then you go and look to see what they’re listening to, and they’re listening to all these bands that sound exactly the same. Y’know, that crappy music that’s been popular for the past six or eight years. It’s like, their dis is absolutely not valid [laughs]. They don’t have a leg to stand on when they’re listening to the worst music in history.
[laughs] I think people fail to approach music as openly as they approach food or even people. There’s too much emphasis on what the music is, not how good it is.
How many times a week do you shake your head at some uptight nerd, like, ‘You’re just cheating yourself, dude.’
Ha, at this point I just kinda blow it off. Like, whatever. You know a real compliment when you see it from people that are open-minded and that love real music. And don’t get me wrong; it’s not like we’re getting tons and tons of hate. Maybe one or two percent [of feedback is from people] that think our music is just crap, but those are people that are stuck on bands like … Well, I don’t want to name any and get called out for it [laughs]. But you know what I mean [laughs].
Yes I do.
The hardcore, metalcore kind of bands. Really, our old fans who still listen to the music Blessed put out in 2002. We appreciate the real fans that are into being open-minded and into good musicianship.
Blessed music is a bit arresting, if you will. So the natural human reaction is defensive. But that’s just at first.
I perceive some traits shared by Blessed and some of the big, revered rock bands in Japan. Do Japan’s fans go crazy for Blessed?
They do. That’s definitely our number-one biggest market over there. Pedal To The Metal came out on JVC and now we’re signed to GrindHouse Recordings over there. But as soon as the Japanese got ahold of our music, they started lovin’ it. See, that’s a prime example of what I’ve been talking about: They’re so open-minded and into music that’s out there and real, y’know, [by] good musicians. That’s why we’re huge over there. We’ve opened for Judas Priest, Megadeth, Dokken … I mean, 25,000, 30,000 people all went crazy. We really love it over there. That’s for sure.
I’m glad you brought up record labels. I read an interview with Blessed drummer Slater in which he stated that the band’s deal with Century Media didn’t work out so great. Can you explain how a great band and a great label might not be a great match?
Ummm. Because one of the owners, Oliver [Withölft, Century Media CEO], is a douche bag. That’s what I think [laughs].
He called me and threatened me … He told me I had to fire our lawyer and our manager, and sign a publishing deal otherwise they would be shelving the record and halting all marketing [on Pedal]. I told him to stuff it, and basically they stopped marketing Blessed — at least in the United States, at that point. They pushed the record back; it didn’t come out for almost two years after we recorded it because of that.
They tried so hard to force us into signing a publishing deal. The rest of the label was totally into us and wanted to do big things — and they did in Europe. The staff over there did awesome for us. There’s so many staff that we really loved, but Oliver thought he could manipulate us into making more money for him. To be honest with you, I just think he messed with the wrong dude [laughs]. I can hold a grudge forever [laughs].
That’s a shame. So as a result, are you twice as pumped to launch Feel The Power?
Oh that’s for sure. I think more people will even pick up the last record and love it. But to be honest, this album slays the last record anyway [laughs].
Something I like about Feel The Power is that it feels like an album, not a collection of songs. Is that part of the band’s selection process, not to just pick the 14 best songs but to craft a coherent flow?
I don’t know, man. I don’t think that we got hung up on that too much. It just kinda happened, man. Everything just kinda meshed together. Even with how drastically diverse the album is, everything meshes together. We’ve got a love ballad, freakin’ power metal, Southern rock ‘n roll … It’s diverse but it still flows together, almost like a roller coaster. It starts out on a pretty heavy note then some lyrics make you kinda think about life, then it brings you to a party rock kind of vibe. Honestly, I just think it came together. We didn’t try to force it. It just kinda happened.
That indicates good creative health in the band.
Oh that’s for sure, man. We all put huge effort into this album. I mean, it’s three years in the making. We all work together really well.
Does Blessed’s love of the ‘80s extend to partying, too? I love to party, but would I survive a Blessed tour?
[laughs] We definitely like good times, but it’s not like we’re [pauses] getting hookers and doin’ cocaine. Personally, I’m a pretty extreme dude. If I can get my hands on a dirt bike or motorcycle or a cliff to jump off of into water, that’s what I’m doing. I like to do the extreme kinda thing. We’ll have some beers here and there and have a good time. But we don’t party like they did in the ‘80s, that’s for sure [laughs].
In my column, I’m starting to hammer at this point about how big rock bands are failing to help perpetuate the artform. One part of that is tours and opening bands. For example, Motley Crue lately has taken established bands like Poison and crabby radio rock bands like Godsmack. Also, I bet Blessed would be a major kick in the ass for a Van Halen on tour.
It’s all business at some point. There’s definitely bands that have stayed true, don’t get me wrong. Look at us, we’ve freakin’ changed and changed and changed. It’s not to sell records, that’s for sure. It’s about not playing the same music over and over. You can’t expect Motley Crue to play the same music for 30 years or whatever it is, to put the same album out over and over. They’re getting old and [laughs] … You know what I’m sayin’? Tons of older bands are like that. I guess Journey is putting out new albums and it’s still the same vibe. Not a lot of bands do that.
I guess my view is that it’s totally possible for big bands to use the support slot to feed back into the artform. They could bring some young bands on tour and show them to their fans.
For sure. I would love to tour with bands like that. We were working on a deal where we were gonna go out with Stryper, which would’ve been so sick. But they took that spot with Kiss, so that tour got pushed back. But we’d love to do that in the future, play with bands like that!
I’m curious about how the band chooses people to work with in the studio? A producer, for example.
We probably [considered] about five producers that we really liked, and just chose what we thought would be best for the album. It’s kinda weird because we ended up choosing James Wisner, who’s done more poppy music. I don’t think he’s ever done a metal album. He’s worked with Underoath but I wouldn’t call that metal.
But he’s worked with bands like Paramore, more poppy bands. We just thought it would bring, after talking to him, that it would take metal and make it a little more poppy as far as the sound goes? Just the clarity of it — we wanted the album to sound clear, instead of this muddy metal sound that you hear all the time. [On Power,] you can hear every guitar part, every lick on every solo; the kick drum and the bass is really crunchy. We wanted to go with James because of that. And the overall product turned out exactly how we wanted it. We didn’t anticipate that it’d be as good as it is. We’re just thrilled.
Blessed By A Broken Heart’s Feel The Power is out today. Buy it here!