INTERVIEW WITH GREG TROYAN AND STEVE SMITH OF LIPSTICK
Date: August 30, 2015
THE STORY OF KISS PLANNING AND PRACTICING FOR MONTHS PRIOR TO PLAYING THEIR FIRST GIG HAS BEEN WELL DOCUMENTED OVER THE YEARS AND THAT WAS LIKELY THE SEED FOR KISS’ PHENOMENAL SUCCESS. LIPSTICK IS A RELATIVELY NEW NASHVILLE BASED GLAM ROCK BAND THAT PLAYS SUPER CATCHY SONGS AND WHICH HAS BENEFITED FROM A LOT OF THOUGHT AND PLANNING EVEN WELL BEFORE THE BAND WAS EVEN FORMED. SLEAZE ROXX HAS CAUGHT UP WITH THE INTERESTING DUO OF GREG TROYAN AND STEVE SMITH TO DISCUSS LIPSTICK IN DETAIL INCLUDING THE BAND’S UPCOMING ALBUM WHICH WILL BE RECORDED LATER THIS YEAR.
Sleaze Roxx: Can you please describe Lipstick for the Sleaze Roxx readers and how it came to be?
Greg Troyan: Lipstick started off when I was in high school. I was in a band called Dyslexia. It was a glam rock band — four piece — pretty much a KISS rip-off but it was a good combination of a bunch of influences that I liked. It was a combination of KISS, Sweet, Slade, Motley Crue — it was a glam band. I wrote a bunch of songs in that band that eventually became Lipstick songs. But the look was not very unique and the sound was not as clearly defined as I wanted it to be. So I kind of took a few years off of being in a band and spent a lot of time developing the sound and image for Lipstick while writing songs. And then, I hooked up with a good buddy of mine — Billy Morris — who played with Warrant and Quiet Riot. I recorded a demo with him so that I could better define the Lipstick sound so that people knew what I was going for and what I wanted the band to sound like. And so, after I moved to Nashville, I would play the demo for people who were interested in jointing the band so they knew what they were getting into. I kind of had the look of the band defined so that anyone who would join knew what the visual was and knew what we were about. When Steve heard the demo, he understood what we were about and jumped in and became just as big of a part of it as me coming up with great ideas, great songs and tons of cool things for the stage show. So he has become as intrinsical to the process as myself and it’s been great to find someone who can step up and do that.
Greg Troyan: Well, Billy was never really a part of the band. He was a friend who helped me record some demos but at the time that we just recorded the album, he had just gotten his girlfriend pregnant. He was going to be an expecting father. He was gigging with a lot of bands like Tuff so he was a busy guy and really did that, as a friend, because I asked him to. He did not really have the time to commit to a full-time new project so he did that expecting them to be demos and not expecting them to be a full band. I asked him if he would because I was so impressed with the work that he did on the Warrant album ‘Under The Influence’ and so he jumped right in and helped a lot. He’s been a big supporter but he’s just been so busy with raising a family and he wasn’t going to uproot to leave Cleveland for Nashville. He had a family and a lot of friends back there and he wasn’t wanting to move and be a part of it full-time. He still comes down to visit me on occasion and still hangs out with us but he just does not have the time because of the commitment to his family.
Sleaze Roxx: Steve — What is your background and what brought you to Lipstick?
Steve Smith: I come from a nerd punk background primarily. I grew up listening to a lot of Weird Al [Jankovic] and stuff like that. That was always the sort of music that I pursued. I was running into Greg at open mics here in Nashville and he bought my CD there and later on, contacted me and asked me to play bass for him. I was like “Yeah. Sure.” I came to Nashville to be in like six different bands and so far, I was only in two bands (laughs)! So I thought I should join several more. So I popped over to a couple of shows and once I got the hang of what was going on with the band, I really liked the direction that it was going. The songs are fun to play. It’s cool to dress up in bright outfits and run around on stage. You know, the songwriting style clicks with a lot of what I was doing in a lot of cases. So I thought of stuck it out and Greg has become one of my best friends. Since then, we’ve been working on stuff together!
Sleaze Roxx: Greg — You’ve described Nashville before as the place to be music wise. What is the music scene like in Nashville for both of you in your eyes?
Greg Troyan: The big thing with Nashville is that there is not necessarily a Nashville sound at least for the rock bands. There is sort of a pop / country sound that is pretty well defined. But pretty much every band in this town sounds different and so there is a lot of excitement in terms of the creativity of just how different everyone sounds. And there are so many bands so the competition is really fierce. Everyone is really good so it is tough to pull off a good show because there is so much competition on any given night. Even on a weeknight, there will be some great bands playing. So anytime you book a show, you have to book with the best band that you can get and give it your all every show because there is just so much competition, everyone is so good and there is just so much going on all around you. I was actually driving past a McDonalds downtown and there was a sign that the McDonalds was going to have live music (laughs).
Sleaze Roxx: Wow!
Greg Troyan: And I laughed (laughs) and thought “Are you serious? McDonalds is having live music now?” There is a ridiculous amount of live music in this town and it’s so good. It’s not just in the hard rock music. We have friends that do all inds of music including R&B music. There are so many different genres of music and they are all done so well. So if you’re a big fan of music, it’s just exciting to be surrounded by it because you see so many great artists and it’s just fun to live here.
Steve Smith: We’ve sort of entered with a weird collision of the early punk and metal scene — with the attitude that they had where everybody knew that they were not going anywhere — nobody expected to get rich and famous there so they just did whatever music that they wanted. That’s what everybody around here does with the original music scene. We create the music that we really want to see created. It’s also industry city so everyone are amazing musicians. Instead of having kids that don’t really know how to play their instruments but play heartfelt but kind of bad music, it is a bunch of young adults who really know how to play their instruments who play really heartfelt and really good music.
Sleaze Roxx: Lipstick’s image is very glam and heavily focused on theatrics. What made you decide to go that route?
Greg Troyan: Basically, if you look at all the bands that I liked, I realized that a lot of the bands that I like looked really goofy. KISS, Alice Cooper, Slade, David Bowie — they all wore these crazy insane outfits — and I knew that I would definitely want to wear those insane outfits at some point in my career. If I start with leather jacket and jeans, and then all of a sudden switch to that, people will think that I have gone insane. So I just decided that I am going to do that from the start (laughs) so if I ever switch, people can say “Oh! He has mellowed out (laughs).” I figured I’d start with the insanity right away rather than let people think that I’ve gone insane years down the line.
Greg Troyan: Mr. Cool is probably — no, definitely — more popular than both of us (laughs)!
Steve Smith: (Laughs)
Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs)
Greg Troyan: Basically, Mr. Cool started off as — I mean I am really into animation and comics and making up characters into fictional universes. As a kid, I drew a lot of comic books and one day, I just drew a cat with sunglasses and labelled him “Mr. Cool.” And it wasn’t anything conscious, I just did it as a joke. But then I started just graffitiing everywhere just because it just became a charming extension of my personality. When developing Lipstick from a marketing perspective, I remembered how many bands that I loved that had mascots. Iron Maiden has Eddie. Quiet Riot has that dude in the straight jacket. Riot had that beard whatever thing on their album — that squirrel — whatever that thing is. I don’t know what it is! But I thought “Alright. All these bands have mascots. Why not have Mr. Cool be the mascot for the band?” We’re not quite as aggressive or heavy as Quiet Riot or Iron Maiden. You know, we’re sissies doing glam rock so we’re not going to have something hardcore like a zombie. We have a cat wearing sunglasses. We’re not that hardcore. But the response has been amazing where people go crazy when they see Mr. Cool come out onstage with us at every show.
Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs)
Greg Troyan: We have stuffed animals of Mr. Cool. We have hats of Mr. Cool. T-shirts sales went through the roof when we started putting him on t-shirts. Everybody loves Mr. Cool (laughs). We have sold a lot of merchandise because of that guy (laughs) so he has been a resounding success!
Sleaze Roxx: He was a great marketing idea! Now, Lipstick’s debut CD was released in 2014 but you guys actually re-released it in 2015 with some extra tracks. What made you decide to do that?
Greg Troyan: Well, the album sort of has a long history. It was recorded several years ago as a demo with Billy Morris. And then we just got a lot of people around town asking to buy our music. And we ended up pressing the demo very quickly so I was not super happy with the quality of the packaging. I thought that if we had not rushed it out, we could have done a better job. So I wanted to give it — you know — the packaging that I thought it totally deserved because I have always enjoyed looking at the linear notes of an album — looking at the pictures of the band. That’s what I have always liked the most about buying CDs and owning a physical, which is kind of old school, but I still would really appreciate it. And while we are working on Lipstick too, I have always lived in this classic rock mentality where you try to release an album a year. And once you’ve released that first album, you just release an album a year and just push, push, push.
But because this album will probably be finished by the end of the year and released next year, I did not want this to be a year where we did not release anything. So we decided to gather up some bonus tracks. So we had an alternate mix of “Having Fun” that I really liked. We have two of Steve’s Redgar songs that we play at a lot of our shows and put on the CD. We re-recorded “I Want The World To Know” because I thought that I could give it a better vocal take. Stuff goes on there and it is something to keep the band over while we work on our next album but also we gave that album the treatment that it truly deserves. The songs on it are great and deserve to be presented in the way that, you know, you would present a KISS album or Thin Lizzy album. It deserves to be presented with that same level of quality here.
Sleaze Roxx: For sure. I was actually very impressed when I first got your CD because I looked at the booklet and was like “Wow! This is a pretty nice booklet for a starting band type thing.” In terms of your album, it has a lot of variety so what made you decide to choose “The Conan Song” for the first video?
Greg Troyan: (Laughs)
Steve Smith: [In a deep voice] Obvious marketing ploy!
Greg Troyan: That was — that was pretty much it. It was the obvious marketing ploy. As a song, it’s good in a lot of respects. it has the catchy guitar opening riff. It has a great solo. It is not too heavy and not too light — sort of a nice middle of the road Lipstick song where it really helps to exemplify the band’s overall sound because we do go through a lot of different styles. So it’s a good song to give you an idea of just the band’s general sound. And that combined with the obvious marketing ploy (laughs) made it the obvious choice for the lead-off single off the album.
Sleaze Roxx: You have a new album that you are working on and you stated that you would release it early in the new year. How has the song writing process been now that you two are together and what direction that you think that the new album will have?
Steve Smith: Hmmm. This album is actually going to be a little more diverse song writing wise but a little more consistent tone wise. We’re setting out with all of these songs to make this a consistent album — an album entity — rather than, you know. The bonus tracks as you have obviously noticed — the two Redgar and the “Fight Club” song sound completely different from everything else on the album. So we are taking this songwriting and merging it in so that we have similar guitar tones and drum tones and things like that throughout. Make it sound like a more cohesive album despite being more diverse creatively — not necessarily creatively — but more diverse sonically. And the song writing process is a lot of “We have a number of songs to choose from this table.” Greg might say, “Hey. I wrote this song years ago and I think that it would sound good on this album.” We have a number of songs that I have brought to the table and I will say, “Hey. I got this song that I think matches this style of Lipstick. We could do that?” And with have a couple of songs where we basically sat down and during the course of that night, we say “Alright. We need a song about X. We need a song about this genre of music to put on this album.” We sit down in an afternoon and write it. Probably a quarter of the album is that way and the rest of it is mostly one of us putting together a song and the other guy tweaking it a little bit to make it fit.
Greg Troyan: This album — in a lot of ways — it’s going to be happier and catchier than the last album. My fiancé said that it sounds a little less rock oriented than the last one was. It’s going to be less of the straight forward rock songs that are still going to be on there but there’s going to be a little bit more musical diversity. We kind of look at ‘Lipstick II’ as it is kind of an expansion on ‘Lipstick I.’ Where the two albums will fit together really well, it just feels that ‘Lipstick II’ may be breathing a little more. We’re also going for a heavier guitar tone and thicker production. So the songs might be popper but they are going to sound heavier because of the production. So it is going to balance out and be very familiar to ‘Lipstick I’ in that way in that they are going to be very catchy poppy songs but with that heavy guitar tones, the great riffs, and the great solos. It’s still going to have that heavy quality to it. It’s not like we are going completely pop but rather that we are writing catchier but we are making the guitar tone heavier to compensate for that. And just have two solos per song instead of three (laughs).
Sleaze Roxx: Correct me if I am wrong but it seems to me that Lipstick has mostly been playing shows in the Nashville area and perhaps you are doing that simply because the music scene is so good there. Are there any plans to tour outside of Nashville?
Greg Troyan: A lot of bands go on tour and play to empty clubs and empty rooms and don’t get paid. We don’t find much point in doing a tour unless we know that the tour will be successful. So with this new album, we are recording it and we are going to see what kind of opportunities that we can arise from that. We will see if we can negotiate with a record company who can actually finance and back the tour a little bit so that we don’t come out of it empty handed. I’ve always believed in being efficient with work and not just wasting your time. And so at the moment, we are better off doing local shows and building a strong local following than going on a tour and playing with a metal core band that has a draw of two people. No one will come to see us because they are not necessarily aware of us. There is no point in doing that. We would rather build ourselves up. We do a little bit of out of town shows. Every now and then, we will play a NAMM convention out of town. We’ll do some out of town shows but for the most part, we stick with what actually works.
Steve Smith: They always say you should conquer your home market before you even think about touring. It just so happens that our home market is Nashville so there is a lot of conquering to do!
Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs) Fair enough. Tell me about the songs that are going to be on the new album.
Greg Troyan: There is a lot of exciting stuff on the new album. It’s starts off with — there are two really strong songs very early on. There is a song called “Fight Back” which was written at around the time of all the other songs on ‘Lipstick I.’ It was written around when I was 17. It is this anti-child abuse song that just has a really great groove to the riff. That is one that we are really excited about. It is going to be the first Lipstick song with a cover song. We have a song called “Cha La Head Cha La”.
Sleaze Roxx: You’re going to have to spell that one (laughs)!
Greg Troyan: [After providing the spelling of the song name] That one is interesting. It’s a Japanese song that has been a hit, a top 40 single in Japan twice. It’s the Japanese theme song for a Japanese show called ‘Dragonball Z’ which Steve and I are big fans of. I would always pitch to the guitar players in bands that I was in. I was always like “We should cover “Cha La [Head Cha La]” and every guitar player thought that I was insane. They would never want to cover it. Then we finally found a guitarist that wanted to do it and when we did it, everyone thought that it was a Lipstick song. People thought that we wrote it because it sounded so much like our other material and it’s become a big part of our set where everyone wants to hear it at every show. It is one of our concert staples. People love it. And we have been doing the song for years and we do a great job of it so we decided that it was obvious to record. So that song is one that we are excited about because people love it, we do a great version of it, and it is a song that has been a proven hit in Japan multiple times so we are hoping that we will be the ones to make it a hit States side.
Sleaze Roxx: Like — hmmm.
Greg Troyan: Like Quiet Riot doing “Cum On Feel The Noize” which was a hit all over the world except in America. And so we are like “Let’s take something that was a hit elsewhere and see if we can make it a hit here!”
Sleaze Roxx: Thats cool! You mentioned [off the record] that there might be some Lipstick traditions on this new album. What would they be?
Greg Troyan: Three songs with rock in the title — that is the standard. We have to end with a Christmas song. That is a tradition. And there has to be at least one song clocking in at over seven minutes. All of those quotas are met for the album!
Sleaze Roxx: Last question for the both of you — what are your three all-time favorite records and why?
Steve Smith: [to Greg Troyan] You go first. I think that you have thought about this more than I have.
Greg Troyan: Hmmm. I mean — well — it’s a very difficult question. There are so many albums that I love. The easiest way to do it would be to look at my three favorite bands and take my favorite album from each of them. My three favorite bands would be The Beatles, KISS and Jim Steinman. My favorite Beatles album would maybe be — in knee-jerk reaction — their second album ‘With The Beatles.’ It’s early Beatles so it’s not as experimental. It’s just stupidly catchy pop rock and I love stupidly catchy pop rock and so it is a great album. I view The Beatles as my songwriting mentors and so I try to write stuff in that vain — to make everything extremely catchy and to make everything a hook. ‘With The Beatles’ is my favorite Beatles album. My favorite KISS album is actually ‘Music From The Elder’.
Steve Smith: (Laughs)
Sleaze Roxx: Really (laughs)?
Greg Troyan: It’s cheesy and ridiculous but it’s just so over the top that I can’t help but be charmed by it (laughs). My favorite album other than ‘Music From The Elder’ by KISS would be ‘Rock And Roll Over’ because it is just a great consistent rock record. But if I have to pull out a KISS CD, it is always ‘Music From The Elder’ without fail. For my birthday — when we had my birthday party — one of things that we did was listen to ‘[Music From] The Elder’ in its entirety because I knew that there was no other way to get my friends to listen to that record (laughs). So that is one of the things that we did at my birthday party (laughs).
Steve Smith: Have you done the synchronicity of ‘Music From The Elder’ with ‘Frozen’ to see if they match up?
Greg Troyan: I have not done that yet.
Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs)
Greg Troyan: My favorite work of Jim Steinman — he’s an interesting guy. His stuff is all over the place. He tends to be like a puppet master with a bunch of bands where he will write the songs and produce the albums but he won’t really perform on them. But my favorite album of his is actually his solo album, which is probably my favorite album of all-time. Just in high school whenever I was driving anywhere, that was always the album that I had to take in the car every time. ‘Bad For Good’ is just such a great record and in my opinion, one of the most underrated albums ever. That album is a classic and deserves to be up there with ‘Bat Out of Hell’ and ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ and any of those other rock classics. I think that it is right up there. I still will pull that CD out all the time and listen to it. I will give a runner-up to Thin Lizzy’s ‘Black Rose [: A Rock Legend]’ album just because that album is really great.
Sleaze Roxx: And what about you Steve?
Steve Smith: My three favorite albums are probably Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ because I really like songs and albums with a story — it’s got a really cool story and there are a lot of great musical moments on it.
Greg Troyan: And hey! Bob Ezrin produced that one just before doing ‘Music From The Elder.’
Steve Smith: There you go! How the mighty have fallen!
Greg Troyan: (Laughs)
Steve Smith: And then I am going to say Our Lady Peace’s ‘Spiritual Machines’ which I think is — there are so many things that I love about that album. It is a great blend of unconventional stuff being crafted into still catchy and accessible songs. It is their most experimental album and that makes it stand out as their best. Also, they have a lot of hi fi positivity which I am really into. They had Ray Kurzwell. They took a bunch of samples from his book ‘The Age Of Spiritual Machines’ which is all about futurism and essentially robots becoming intelligent. It’s very positive about it. Eventually, we’ll replace ourselves with better versions of ourselves and that’s a philosophy that I really get behind. And then my other favourite album would probably be ‘Midgets With Guns’ from Goggings’ [Records] Pain, which is a newer punk band from the early 2000s that just did really fun catchy punk songs about chasing your dreams while living in a van and driving around playing rock music and things like that.