BRENT DOERNER INTERVIEW:
September 23, 2007
As a member of Helix, guitarist Brent Doerner reached platinum success and put his stamp on rock anthems such as “Rock You” and “Heavy Metal Love”. Becoming tired of life on the road and generating little income, Brent decided to walk away from Helix and the music business in general to become a carpenter. But now he is back, fronting Brent Doerner’s Decibel (www.bdecibel.com), and as he explains in this interview, writing and recording on his own terms.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s going on it the Decibel camp these days?
Brent Doerner: Decibel, after writing and rehearsing for 5 months has taken a breather. I needed to clear my head of all the goings on for a short while. We were cranking out tunes and ideas for quite a while. The song writing process is not a race, but the ideas kept coming, so we kept going.
I’ve been doing some carpentry work to bring some normalcy back to my head, and I find it very rewarding. You might say I’m REfilling my head with new ideas. Our manager, Cam Butler, has flown to L.A. to talk to a few record companies and should be back later this week.
We are also looking for a bass player/singer from the Kitchener area to join us, without any success. The problem is, the bassist needs to sing WELL, harmonies and lead vocals. This seems to be harder to find than we thought. We wish Hills (our former bassist) all the best with his many endeavors. Hills is a lead singer in multiple different bands around the area.
If you know any bassists that fit this category, please send him our way.
Sleaze Roxx: So once you find a bassist do you think the band will get busy again?
Brent Doerner: Well, we’ll get busy again, but not in the sense of live performances. We are concentrating on writing a group of tunes in the flavor of guitar rock, but different, if that’s even possible any more? I don’t really care for writing 3 chord rock tunes, been there, done that. I need to stimulate myself with something fresh, at least for myself. It’s not really being selfish, but I’ve got to move on with “something else.” I feel musically educated enough now to stretch out and find that “other thing”. That’ll surely keep us busy.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you have any idea what that “other thing” will be?
Brent Doerner: I dunno really? I try to pick unique song titles and subject matter to go with that title. Lyrically, I’m trying to add a sort of tongue and cheek twist to the story line, somehow. The guys tell me it’s workin’ though. I just can’t picture myself up on a stage singing about death and gloom, it’s not me, and I’ve gotta be true to myself. If I don’t look for that something else I’ll never find it. But I’ve gotta try.
From “My Brain Dancin’ to a Tune”:
“Heard a tune about doom – it didn’t wanna play
It had a good riff – but it had no proof”
I’m not trying to put anybody down, just saying like I see it/hear it.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you find it hard to balance being true to yourself and pleasing Helix fans that have preconceived notions about how your music should sound?
Brent Doerner: To be quite honest, I’m not trying to please Helix fans, hopefully I can please the majority of rockers though. But I don’t worry too much about that. We had a guy from Australia who was completely disappointed in our first disc asking “what were you thinking?” I’m a guitar rocker at heart and I continue to write guitar rock, but not basic 3 chord rock if I can help it. Although “Takin’ the Color Outta Da Blooze” on the first disc is just that. It just came out that way?! We’re just trying to come up with guitar licks that are unique.
I feel that without a major label I’m not pigeon holed into writing what the record company wants, or wants to market. That kinda frees up my head and the creative process. So it’s not really trying to balance anything, we’re just trying to forge ahead with some new rock.
Sleaze Roxx: How hard is it to come up with something unique, hasn’t everything already been done with a guitar?
Brent Doerner: Sometimes it seems that way. It’s tough, and I’m not always successful at it either. I mean, I don’t wanna turn into a weirdo band just to say we’re trying to be unique. But if can find something in our melody and lyrics to take us there then so be it.
Taken from one our new tunes:
“When a heart is ajar – you dig your spoon in deep
It’s edge with-out apology – in between the sheets – when a heart in ajar”
“When your heart is ajar – you’re on top of your game
You probably hadn’t noticed – that your head’s not the same – because your head is a jar”
So I’m always poking my tongue into my cheek, whenever I can make it work. So, no, I don’t think everything has been done on the guitar, but unique licks are harder to find these daze.
Sleaze Roxx: Was it your intention from the start to also sing in your new band?
Brent Doerner: It was never my intention to be the lead singer, nor is it now! At the time of recording the first disc we looked around for a singer but never really got hooked up with anyone. The guys in the band said “there’s nothing wrong with your voice”, but to me I’m not a lead singer. I don’t really like the sound of my voice.
I’d prefer somebody like Glenn Hughes, the old bass player for Deep Purple, or the singer for Mr. Big, God that guy can sing! Our tunes would be easy to sing for those types of singers.
Sleaze Roxx: How have sales for Decibel been, and are you happy with the way it turned out?
Brent Doerner: Sales have been the shits. Let’s face it, since the Canadian government said people can download music for free everybody downloads music for free. That really killed sales of all records everywhere, except Germany, where downloading is illegal and sales at record stores are very healthy. Am I happy with how our sales have turned out? Of course not. But what can I expect in the future? Not much I don’t think, not unless the laws change, and I don’t think that’s gonna happen. Even if it did, what can anybody do about it anyway?
I feel that downloading tunes is like stealing from my friends. I still buy CD’s, but I’m guilty too. I’ve downloaded tunes as well. But the majority of the tunes I’ve downloaded are of LP’s that I bought 10 to 15 years ago. They either got ripped off, or scratched too much to play anymore. I’ve got boxes of LP’s in my place, but no turn table. Who has a turn table anymore?! A sign of the times.
In the end, I’m not doing this for money, it’s ’cause I love writing/recording and playing tunes. If I did it for the money, I would have quit 10 years ago.
Sleaze Roxx: What do you think bands and labels can do to make fans want to buy albums again?
Brent Doerner: That’s a tough question! I guess a band could put 10 out of 10 good songs all on the same disc. No filler. That would be a start. We all can’t be bizarre or radical or outrageous, or again, all bands would appear to be generally the same. It’s the hype machine I guess? All bands are basically jumping up and down saying “look at us!”, same with the record companies.
A great live show would help with sales. Touring sells records according to the media, and that’s something I don’t wanna do. I’ve probably played 10,000 live shows over the years and I still get torqued out just before hitting the stage. Playing live is great, it’s the other 22 hours of the day that’s a drag. I guess my answer is, write and record great tunes, and try to get them heard.
Sleaze Roxx: Would it be safe to say that your new band is just a hobby for you this time around? If so, how much more satisfying is it write, record and tour on your own terms with no outside pressures?
Brent Doerner: No, this is not a hobby, I am a full time song writer. I also record almost on a daily basis on my 24 track here in my house. We have great management in Mississauga, and a great sound engineer/producer on board. As an indie band, we can, and do pretty much whatever we want as far as writing, recording, and picking the gigs we want to play. We are very fortunate to be in this situation.
I don’t feel pigeon holed into writing what a record company thinks is marketable, and that leaves us with “creative license”. It’s a luxury.
Sleaze Roxx: Going back to the beginning, when did you first realize you wanted to make music your career?
Brent Doerner: I dropped out of high school 3/4 way through grade 11 and was working in a factory, mig welding. I was 18. That’s when I knew there had to be more to living than going into a day job everyday. I had nothing to look forward to. My future looked bleak. I was rehearsing with Helix 3 or 4 times a week learning copy tunes and playing out every second weekend. It was at that time our new manager said “let’s go full time on the road” and we all said OK. Twelve years later I was still on the road, in a bus or on a jet. It was an incredible experience. I grew into my career and as we keep going it all just seemed natural to me.
Sleaze Roxx: How exciting were those early days hitting the road with Helix and struggling to get a record deal?
Brent Doerner: Well, I don’t really look at it as exciting. It was a lot of rehearsals and hard work, disappointments and let downs. Hitting the road to me was just something I did, it didn’t matter to me what city we where in. Sometimes, we DIDN’T know what city we WERE in?! We were so friggin’ busy with radio stations, “in-stores”, contest winners and press that we barely had time to think or sleep. In-stores are probably a thing of the past I guess? That’s where the radio station would advertise that the band would make a personal appearance at an actual store that sold records, say from 3:00 to 4:30, and people would come to the store, buy the record, and we would meet and greet them. It was all fun, but it kept us busy. That was when people still bought records. Personally, it was almost all work and not much play.
If I could do it all again I would have done things differently. More song writing time and less personal appearances. It just seemed there was hardly time to breathe.
Sleaze Roxx: Looking back at your time trying to get Helix to the public and now trying to do the same with Decibel. How have things changed for the better and for the worse in regards to finding an audience with a new band?
Brent Doerner: These questions are getting tougher all the time! Whew!!!
I don’t think anything has changed for the better. I mean, because of the internet our band is “out there” through Myspace (www.myspace.com/bdecibel) and our website (www.bdecibel.com), but I’m not sure that really helps that much. I think getting a record deal is equally as hard as it was 15 years ago. As far as a live audience is concerned, local club gigs have thinned out for many reasons, and bands wanna perform so bad in front of an audience these daze that a band will play for $100 bucks, or even free?! I don’t want to do a gig for a hundred bucks, I’d rather stay home and write tunes. If a band wants to play bigger venues usually an agent will need sales figures to back up the reason you’re on the bill with other acts.
As far as a buying audience goes, that seems to have fizzled out with, again, free downloading. I think playing live is one way to reach an audience. My twin brother (our drummer) is tied up with Saga for a month in L.A. and Germany, so we’ll just wait for him to get back before we go gigging.
I feel like all the bands on MySpace are all jumping up and down saying “look at us, listen to us! Please!” It also seems like there are 4 times as many bands around, compared to 15 years ago, and anything goes. The music stores must be enjoying their sales.
Ya, finding an audience, the million $ question. I wish I knew what I can do. Any ideas?
Sleaze Roxx: What would you say was your crowning achievement as a member of Helix?
Brent Doerner: Helix’ crowning achievement would be being awarded 4 gold and two platinum LP’s. We gave Much Music their 1st gold album, after that every other band in the country followed suit.
Sleaze Roxx: Was it a difficult decision for you to leave Helix, and why did you decide to part ways?
Brent Doerner: Yes, it was very difficult to leave Helix. Brian and Paul were my life long friends, we grew up together on the road. After years of touring and many sales awards, I still wasn’t making any money, very little each week as a matter of fact. I simply got tired of being broke all the time. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I needed more income, so I had to leave. I felt like I let the guys down in a way, but I had to be true to myself too. It was a sad day in my life, and a turning point.
Sleaze Roxx: Was getting a ‘9 to 5’ job a hard transformation from life in a rock band?
Brent Doerner: No, not really, I’d had enough traveling, 12 years almost constantly. My job was 7:00 to 5:00 framing houses. It was hard work but it really put me in the best shape of my life. I also learned all kinds of practical applications that I use all the time. With what I know now I can get a job almost anywhere.
The transformation was hard, really hard. Again I thought, “Is this going to be the rest of my life?” It was time to pay more dues, and I did, and the money was good. It was hard for me to believe I could bring home twice the amount of money each week and have from 5:00 pm ’till whenever to do what I wanted. I felt like I was free after work! And it felt good.
Sleaze Roxx: What do you remember about the day Paul Hackman passed away due to the tour bus accident?
Brent Doerner: I remember the last thing I said to Paul was “have a safe drive home”. It was the last words I ever spoke to him. We just finished on Saturday nite at the Commodore Ballroom, the last date of the tour in Vancouver. I decided to fly home with some of the other guys, but Paul wanted to do the drive through the mountains one more time. Our flight left Sunday afternoon, but before we even checked out of our hotel the police called and told us about the crash. That’s when he said “your friend Paul is longer with us.” I still miss him as I’m telling you this.
Sleaze Roxx: What are some of your favorite memories of Paul?
Brent Doerner: One time we showed up at Paul’s house to gather him up for a gig. We ring the doorbell and he opens the door with a fishing pole in his hand and says, “Hi guys, what are you doing here?” We said, “you idiot, we have gigs to play!?!” Two minutes later he would’ve been gone, never mind the band meeting, phone calls and gigs.
After playing a gig in London Paul and I did some shrooms and listened to Styx’ Equinox LP and the Lynyrd Skynyrd LP with “What’s Your Name” and “That Smell” on it. Man that was a learning experience and quite a laugh. That stuck with us a long time, and we were influenced by that.
Paul was a hippy type guy from way back, always happy, and wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Sleaze Roxx: I hadn’t heard from you in awhile and then you popped up on the Helix Anniversary DVD. What was it like getting back together with everyone for that show?
Brent Doerner: It was really, really great. All the Helix fans came out of the woodwork and were still digging it after all these years. Helix certainly has loyal fans. I noticed some of the previous members had less hair than 30 years ago. Everybody was just as forking crazy as they were all those years ago. Nothing’s changed. Brian Vollmer went to great lengths to put that gig on, and it showed. I was really out of practice at the time so I rehearsed the tunes 50 times at least, just to get my chops up. But it’s a buzz when you get up on a big stage. The whole thing kick started my enthusiasm, I had the time of my life. Thanks Brian!!
Sleaze Roxx: I’m sure there were a few past members missing from the show, but the one that stood out was Daryl Gray. Do you know why he wasn’t involved?
Brent Doerner: I guess Brian and Daryl don’t see eye to eye? I don’t really know?
Sleaze Roxx: Out of all the songs you have recorded, which ones are your favorites and which ones do you wish would just disappear?
Brent Doerner: I always liked “Shot Full of Love”, “Billy Oxygen” and “Heavy Metal Cowboys”, there’s a lot of Helix tunes that are my favorites. “Animal House” and many others, they just rock on stage. I guess my least favorites are “Make Me Do Anything You Want” and “Gimme, Gimme Good Lovin'”. They’re just not my cup of tea.
Sleaze Roxx: How was the Helix CD release party that you attended last month?
Brent Doerner: It was great, my favorite song on the new Helix CD is Nickels and Dimes. I met a lot of old friends from way back, from all over the place. Helix fans are great fans, the show was sold out. Brian had a great party back at Planet Helix, drank plenty ‘o’ beer with plenty of old friends. Check out the new CD, you’ll like it, it’s straight ahead rock!
Sleaze Roxx: For those of us that have always worked a 9 to 5 job, give us some tour stories that would make us jealous.
Brent Doerner: Wow?! I worked 9 to 5 too! Actually 7 to 5. I was a production line mig welder for about 9 months and worked a few other shipping jobs when I was first out of high school. After I left Helix I framed houses for 6 years and then decks. But I still have all of my fingers, and I learned a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff!!
But of all the tours and stories to tell, the Kiss tour in Europe was about the best of all. We were the support act for the entire Lick It Up tour, it was the first time they took their make-up off. It was 33 shows in 13 countries. We started in Lisbon, Portugal and ended up in Helsinki, Finland. The tour went through most countries we’ve all heard of, and almost every city you’ve ever heard of over there.
Gene and Paul are real pros, they were on EVERY NIGHT. Gene is the nicest guy you ever wanna meet. He’s a real practical joker, he’s very smart, they don’t drink booze OR do drugs, and they were always a good laugh when we hung out. An incredible buzz. Kiss was sold out every night, so we always played to a packed house. What a buzz. Paul Stanley is a better lead singer than the press gives him credit for. He can sing REALLY high, every night. After the tour ended, while back in Canada a year later, Gene calls us up in Kitchener and says “We’re playing at Cobo Hall in Detroit next week, wanna do the gig with us?” Well, I almost shit. Then at the gig a week later I’m ushered into the Kiss dressing room, Gene turns around and says “Brent! How ya doing?” I couldn’t believe he actually remembered by my first name!! It was an experience of a lifetime.
Sleaze Roxx: Looking back, do you have any regrets about how your musical career turned out?
Brent Doerner: Yes, I wish I would’ve worked harder on song writing. I find that I need to concentrate fully – 8 to 12 hours a day – to really get my head into it, and that’s not possible on the road.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you have anything you’d like to say to all the Brent Doerner fans out there?
Brent Doerner: Yes! Thank you one and all for your support all these years. Nothing is possible without you, the fans. We don’t get old and stop playing, we get old because we stop playing!
Sleaze Roxx: Last, but not least, were you the one that hooked up with Traci Lords during the Gimme Good Lovin’ video shoot?
Brent Doerner: No, I didn’t hook up with Traci Lords. It wasn’t me!
Thanks to Brent Doerner