Burning Rain - Summer 2019
American hard rock band Burning Rain was formed in 1998 by guitarist Doug Aldrich and vocalist Keith St John. Over the next 15 years Burning Rain would release 3 albums: 1999’s self-titled debut, 2000’s Pleasure To Burn and 2014’s Epic Obsession. Other professional commitments such as Doug’s work with Dio, Whitesnake and The Dead Daisies and Keith’s time with Montrose have perhaps prevented the guys from really giving Burning Rain a fair crack. Having said this, Doug’s love for Burning Rain is without question and he has often spoken over the years of his yearning to create a new record. Fast forward to 2019 and Burning Rain are back with their incredible new album Face The Music, 11 super-strong tracks representing the very best in hard rock. As Burning Rain head out on a promotional acoustic tour of the UK, we catch up with Doug to find out what it means to be back with the band and how the new album came together.
You founded Burning Rain in 1998 and you’ve talked a lot over the last couple of years about doing another Burning Rain record. How does it feel to have now just released the new album Face The Music?
It’s great, man! We’ve wanted to try and give this band a shot since the last record. The first 2 records we were kind of finding our way. We weren’t really sure exactly what we could do with the band. Keith, in that beginning time, had been working with Ronnie Montrose and I started working with Dio, and it was hard to really take time away from anything when you’re doing those gigs. And then of course with Whitesnake I was fully committed. With The Dead Daisies, fortunately they run that band like a business and it’s really awesome. You can really plan around it. So I said to Keith that the Daisies are going to take some time off. The Dead Daisies is my main gig, what I like to say is my day job, it’s an important gig and I really love the guys and love working with them. But I’ve worked with Keith and we’ve talked about it and we got together and wrote some songs and it started to take shape for Face The Music, and I said "Look if we’re going to do this we need to carve it out and get it done. I’ve got some time off next year, does that work for you?" And he was like "Yeah, that would be great!". So I wanted to give it a fair shake for the first time. It felt great to finish the record and to get a release date and be able to stick to it!
It’s been 5 years since the band’s third album Epic Obsession. Returning to Burning Rain what was your vision for this record?
Just to write some songs that sounded like what Keith and I are known for which is bluesy hard rock, catchy in some ways and kind of a little bit experimental other ways. We don’t have the pressures of a band like Whitesnake. When I was working with Whitesnake songs there was a lot of pressure to it but with Burning Rain it’s kind of like we can find our way, we can experiment and basically do whatever we want. So we basically just went for songs that made us feel good, and songs started to come together and the vibe started to take shape of where it was going. That was it – nothing preconceived and we didn’t make a plan to make it sound a certain way. It kind of just ended up as it did and we are really happy with it.
For Face The Music Burning Rain are joined by the stunning musicians Blas Elias (Slaughter – drums) and Brad Lang (Y&T – drums). How did this partnership come about and how have they influenced the new Burning Rain sound and songs or the overall dynamic?
These guys are both amazing players and I think Brad is really the glue behind this whole line-up. When I met him was just very chilled and very gung-ho. Keith and he were friends from Montrose and also he played in Y&T. It was great to meet him and he really wanted to be a part of the team, and I think it was just a matter of timing too. I was at the point where I wanted to let go a little bit myself because working with The Dead Daisies has taught me a lot about what you can do when people work together. It’s very important, you know? So he was great from the get-go, and Blas I had met last year – I’d maybe met him prior but last year we played together a little bit in Las Vegas and he’s just a monster! He’s so good, such a great guy and totally down to Earth. He’s very talented, he sings and plays guitar. Keith and I had the songs together so they kind of fit into it the way they thought was the best. I told Brad "Look, man, just have fun with stuff, working it out and if there’s anything we’ll fix it later, but just go for it and have fun!". And he did! Those guys together just sound incredible! We’ve only really done one show together so far. We played at the release party last week in Las Vegas and I said in other interviews that I walked away knowing that we could have played better but for a first gig where there’s always butterflies and stuff, but I walked away with a smile on my face going "You know what? That wasn’t so bad!". This band’s going to do really well. So it was cool! I just think the vibe is more relaxed right now than it’s ever been, and especially since Keith and I are actually able to come out here and do some promo and some mini gigs. So it’s good!
Let’s talk about the music. Before the album was released we were first treated to the absolutely awesome debut single Midnight Train. This is a high energy track which provides a massive statement of intent and a wonderful way to make an entrance. There also appear to be some phallic references in there…
No, I think Keith would pretty much cop to that! He would say it’s a dark, sexy track. To be honest I’ve always let Keith do with his lyrics what he wants to do. The only thing I would do is sometimes steer him a little bit. Like if I thought ‘Hey, maybe this should go in a little different direction here or I want it to make a little more sense’. Sometimes poets and lyricists put these twists into the words but sometimes it’s the simplest things, just like guitar playing, that resonate the most with people. So as I’m learning myself to simplify my guitar playing and not try so hard I wanted him to do the same. On this record he went in some different directions lyrically which I really love. I think it’s his best record yet! There were some songs like Revolution where I started playing the riff and he started singing something. He scats when he sings and just started making stuff up on the go but he brought up something about politics and I was like "That’s cool, man! Make it an innuendo about politics in the world and politicians or the controlling factor or religion or something". So he put a bit of that in Revolution and I thought that was awesome because we haven’t really had anything like that before. Then, like you said, Midnight Train is more of a traditional, sexual influenced song. It’s got that kind of groove I guess. And then other things like Lorelei has a darker, deeper meaning and stuff like Face The Music is just really simple and fun, you know? We’ve got a good mix I think on the record.
I think there absolutely is a great mix in the album, and let me just pick up on the title track Face The Music. Releasing this track just pushed the anticipation and excitement for the album up another gear. I think there is a wonderful message in there about how music is such an incredible force and I think I every rock fan would associate how the music can set you free. After a generation in rock, what is it that continues to drive you and to inspire you to create such powerful and infectious music?
Well, thanks for saying that! I just still love music and we have certain things in our styles, whatever we do in life, that kind repeat themselves a little bit and come out a little bit, trying to find new things and learn from my experience. One of the things was I wanted this record to be a little simpler. With The Dead Daisies we go really simple! We really – I don’t want to say dumb it down – but we make it like AC/DC so everyone can get it, whereas sometimes with music you can get so technical that it goes over some people’s heads. That’s one thing, if there was any planning, let’s go for songs that are more kind of direct and simple, and I’m just inspired to keep playing guitar. So that’s the driving force right there. It’s just loving what I do and trying to find a niche for this band that’s something a little different maybe. We’re not really sure how we get there, we’re trying to let it happen naturally. There are some influences you can hear on the record - like Aerosmith influences, some Zeppelin, kind of Whitesnake style things, somebody said Van Halen, somebody said ZZ Top. I was like "ZZ Top? Really? Which song?" And they said "ZZ Top’s Jesus Just Left Chicago" and I was like "I didn’t think there was any song on the record like that" but he said "If It’s Love kind of has that vibe". If you think about it maybe it’s got that Rough Boy kind of thing. We didn’t think about it, those were some chords that I was probably thinking about for David (Coverdale) when I was putting them together, just the chorus part of 3 chords, because David’s band Whitesnake is the band I learned those chords from. That’s in Fool For Your Lovin’ and in a lot of songs I wrote with David, and so I probably wrote those thinking David might like this. We didn’t do it so I played it for Keith and he jumped on it. But if it sounds like ZZ Top I’ll take that as a compliment! (Laughs!)
I would like to take a moment to reflect on the album’s cover. It’s so refreshing to see a band invest in how the album is visually represented. How did you decide on the album cover and where did the inspiration to include a mermaid come from?
Keith! We came up with the song Lorelei and Keith was very passionate about that and I love the idea! I thought it was really cool. Originally I thought that because we were calling it Face The Music, the easiest thing to do would be faces, you know, somebody facing the music, but Keith said "We’ll, I’ve got this other idea. I’ve got this vision of this mermaid and this whole scenario of where she lures ships into the rocks". And I was like "Wow, that’s cool! Sounds expensive!" (laughs!). But we talked to the record company and they said "Yeah, that sounds good. We’ll give it a shot". Keith sent them the basic idea and we tweaked it from there. And then it became apparent that Face The Music could be about those guys have to face the music, you’ve got to deal with whatever it is, and I look at it as a positive thing. If you want to make a change in your life you’ve got to face the music and deal with it, you know? If you don’t want to crash into the rocks then don’t chase the girl or the guy or whoever unless it’s mutual – I don’t know, I’m reaching a little bit – but the thing is that I agree with you. It’s something different for us. In the beginning, for the first record, we had a little bit of a concept thing going but it was a little obscure – kind of ‘Pink Floydy’ – but this is something really that ties in, to that song especially. So now that girl is Lorelei.
You have just commenced an acoustic tour. How does it feel to be getting out and playing as Burning Rain again?
Well it doesn’t feel like we’re Burning Rain yet because without the others it’s not the same but it does feel on a personal level fun for me and Keith and even though it’s just day 2, we have some funny stories already. Like he said to me last night "I need my sleep because it’s a brutal schedule", and I go "I get it. We gotta get out of here a little bit earlier tomorrow night" and he goes "We should probably leave around 2pm" and I was like "No, we need to leave at 11am to get to Blackpool" and he said "Nah, I think probably around 2pm is good". We both went to bed kind of disagreeing. This morning I asked if we could get a late checkout and they said not without paying for it. We are on a tight budget so we’re going to have to get out. So I had the cleaning girl wake him up, knock on the door and he texted me saying "The cleaner just knocked on the door and woke me up!" and I went "Yeah that sucks man but we should probably get going" (Laughs!). And he went "That’s okay, man, it’s not you’re fault". Actually, yes it is my fault! (Laughs!)
How did the idea to undertake an acoustic tour come about?
Because we signed on for the Frontiers Festival and part of their agreement was that they didn’t want us to play band gigs around the same time, but we wanted to promote the record and I had this window of free time before the Daisies kicks off so that was the only thing we could do. I think the Frontiers people were a little bit concerned but I think the good thing is that if people like what they see they know that it will be even bigger at the festival. We’re going to do a good job and make sure that people have fun. That’s what it’s about.
There are some lighter and more acoustic moments in the band’s catalogue, for example, the track Shelter from the new album, but Burning Rain are known for full-throttle rock. How do you decide which songs to perform acoustically and did you have to rethink any arrangements?
Well all of them have to be rethought because we’re totally stripped naked. That’s why we called it the Stripped and Naked tour but we’ve had to rethink everything, change arrangements, try different things and we’re still experimenting. I mean it’s only day 2 and we’ve got a lot to learn about how to present these songs in an acoustic way. It’s cool and in fact last night we didn’t even play Shelter and that’s one of the only acoustic songs on the record! But we will! By the end of the tour we will have Shelter in there.
You mentioned that you played as a full band in Vegas for the album’s launch and that you will be playing the Frontiers festival on 28th April as a full electric show. Are you looking forward to having the full band together and can we expect any more shows?
Absolutely! We’re very excited about the Frontiers Festival and we’re going to do this promotion we’re doing right now to try and get the name out there a little bit. Then the guys will fly in, we will do 3 rehearsals and then we will do the Frontiers Festival. Then we’ll go back home for a bit. We have schedules and stuff but during the next breaks we have, which is probably September, we’re looking at coming over and doing a full-blown European Tour, to just the basic main places that want us. We’re not going to try and force it everywhere but wherever we get a good response we’ll come visit and play!
As our conversation draws to a close, we reflect on what an incredible album Face The Music actually is. This is a seriously strong collection of tracks that deserve to be heard and for the record to achieve the huge potential that it holds. With the prospect of a full Burning Rain European tour later this year, it feels like Burning Rain and Face The Music will get the break they deserve.
Find out more at www.burningrain.net. In the meantime check out the video for the title track Face The Music below.