INTERVIEW WITH GUITARIST BILLY MORRIS (BILLY MORRIS AND THE SUNSET STRIP, TUFF, EX-WARRANT, EX-QUIET RIOT)
Date: May 18, 2019
Interviewer: Greg Troyan of Lipstick Generation
THE THREE-PART BILLY MORRIS INTERVIEW FROM 2015 (PARTS 1, 2 AND 3) IS THE SECOND LONGEST AND MOST IN-DEPTH IN THE HISTORY OF SLEAZE ROXX. IT WAS EASY TO DO, AND NOT JUST BECAUSE OF HIS EXTENSIVE MUSICAL PEDIGREE OF PLAYING WITH BANDS LIKE WARRANT, TUFF AND QUIET RIOT. BILLY MORRIS WAS ALSO MY LONG-TIME FRIEND, MY BANDMATE AND BROTHER IN ROCK, CO-PRODUCING AND PLAYING ON LIPSTICK’S DEBUT ALBUM. LAST YEAR, BILLY MORRIS RELEASED A PHENOMENAL NEW ALBUM CALLED ‘HOLDIN’ ALL THE ACES‘ THAT SIMPLY BLEW ME AWAY. IN A LONG OVERDUE FOLLOW UP INTERVIEW, I GOT TO TALK TO MY GOOD FRIEND BILLY MORRIS ON BEHALF OF SLEAZE ROXX TO GET SOME INSIGHTS INTO THE NEW RECORD AND HIS LATEST BUSINESS VENTURES.
Sleaze Roxx: First off, let me say thank you for taking the time to do this interview. So, what’s new in the world of Billy Morris?
Billy Morris: Well, I’m still playing but I graduated onto a new business venture. It’s called Audio Bay Productions. It’s a recording studio, but our main focus is on video streaming. I feel like the new way to tour is to stream your tours and stream your band. Let’s face it, I can leave Cleveland, hop in a van and drive over to Columbus and play for 75 people and then drive to Cincinnati and play for 40 people and then go play in West Virginia. Or I could play in my studio, promote it like crazy, to a worldwide audience with a four camera video shoot. It’s a great studio. It’s a really cool place. It’s got moving lights, a stage, smoke, and even lasers. So that’s what I’m currently focusing on. It just got going and I’m really excited about it.
Sleaze Roxx: So, even though you’re focusing on streaming and using Twitch, you haven’t stopped doing live shows. You recently opened for Stryper. How was that experience for you?
Billy Morris: Well, that was definitely an item I got to cross off of my bucket list. I’ve never gotten to play with Stryper — in my band. I’ve played with Stryper in other bands, like with Tuff. Tuff actually did a show with Stryper and I approached Michael Sweet, who is the nicest guy, and we tweeted back and forth a few times and we started following each other. When we played the Beachland Ballroom together, he was the nicest guy. I gave him a copy of my new CD and hopefully I’ll be able to stay friends with him. He’s a very cool guy.
The show itself was badass. It was the Beachland Ballroom, which is an iconic venue in downtown Cleveland. It’s very cool. I love that place. We had about 500 people on a Monday night. I think that’s amazing. Think about it. Nobody goes out on a Monday night anymore, right? So to have 500 people there showing up early to see us with their fists in the air, applauding and screaming and yelling is just awesome. We played really well and the crowd was great. Then Stryper came on and they kicked ass. It was a great show.
Sleaze Roxx: I want to touch on the new album, ‘Holdin’ All the Aces.’ It’s been a long time between the release of this latest album and your previous solo album, titled ‘Billy Morris Band.’ How long has it been between releases?
Billy Morris: Yikes. Probably around ten years, and boy does time fly. So, right when I left Warrant in 2005, the last CD came out. I put out the Billy Morris Band self-titled CD. It had 10 or 12 songs and the single was a song called “1994.” It was a feel-good record and it did really well. Then fast forward to, holy cow, 2018. We’re talking about 12 years. I just released the new album in August of last year, and it’s called ‘Holdin’ All The Aces.’ It’s out on a record label called HighVolMusic out of the Baltimore area. Bill Chavis is the owner of the label and we’re label mates with Every Mother’s Nightmare, who readers will probably remember from Atlantic Records back in the day.
The label has a really nice roster of bands and Billy Chavis is a stand-up guy. He put the record out. The packaging is great. But most importantly, you know, you mentioned that it’s been a long time since I put a record out. I had over 70 songs that I had written and recorded over the years to pick from. So, I picked about six or seven of those and wrote four new ones. I think the album is great, if I don’t say so myself. The first single is called “Party Like the Weekend Never Ends”.
I’m proud to say that I got my friend Kevin Figueiredo on the record. He’s the current drummer of Extreme, badass drummer with the fro and pork chops. He just lays it down. The reason I got to know him was because I fell in love with band named Damone, a band out of Boston, and they played the best pop songs. I fell in love with this band. And then they broke up, like all bands do. So, I was surfing the net one day and was curious to see what those guys were up to, and find out the guitar player Mike Woods now runs a studio and is a producer. I went to his website, and it has his phone number on there. So I call him, he doesn’t pick up, but I left a voicemail saying, “Hey, this is Billy Morris, formerly of Warrant,” you know, I threw that in there, and said, “I’m interested in putting together a record. Give me a call back.” Ten minutes later, he called me back. We talked for about 30 minutes and became really good friends from that phone call. And he goes, “Send me some songs. Let me see if there’s anything I can do.”
So the first song I sent him was that song, “Party Like the Weekend Never Ends”, which I was really excited about. It’s my rock n’ roll anthem. When I was writing the lyrics, I was kinda giggling, because you know when you first start writing songs, you go through a phase where you want to be very artsy and serious and have some really in-depth lyrics, but that never really got me anywhere. So I thought to myself, I want to write my version of “Rock And Roll All Nite”, “Nothin’ But A Good Time”, and that was the song I sent to Mike, and he loved it. Mike ended up re-arranging the song and added a lot to it. I respect him a lot. He’s really, really great. He really took the song to next level. I had programmed drums in the demo version, and we built the song off the demo. And he asked me, “So, are you going put real drums on this thing?”
And I said, “Yeah, I’m going to have my drummer play on it.”
And he said, “You know, I’ve got this one guy, you might want to consider.”
And I said, “Nah, I’m gonna use my guy.”
And he said, “Ahhh…. I think you might want to consider my guy.”
“Well who is he?”
“ Kevin Figueiredo. He’s from Extreme.”
And I knew who that was. I’m a huge Extreme fan and I was a huge fan of his drumming. So I said to Mike, “You know this guy?”
“Dude, he’s like me and he’s like you. He’s a really nice guy.”
So, he arranges for the guy to play the drums on it, and he NAILED it. He’s such a great drummer. Tuff played in February on the Monsters of Rock Cruise, which Extreme was also on, and I called him excitedly and said, “Dude, we’re finally going to be able to shake hands!” And we did. He’s a super nice guy. I’ve been working on some new songs and he’ll definitely will be a part of my recording process in the future, as will Mike Woods. If you want production and song arrangement and the best guy to work with, just look up Mike Woods on his website. He’s the former guitarist for the band Damone, stand-up guy, and I can’t wait to send him my new songs. It’s exciting when you write a great song, but it’s even more exciting when you know that once you get it back from the producer, it’s going to be even better. That’s what you get from Mike Woods.
Billy Morris and The Sunset Strip‘s “Party Like The Weekend Never Ends” song:
Subscribe to be alerted when we add new videos – http://bit.ly/SubscribeHighVolMusic | From the album HOLDIN’ ALL THE ACES. Get your copy August 24th!: http://bit.ly/HoldinAllTheAcesBuyNow
Sleaze Roxx: I would say the production on the album definitely impressed me personally. I expected good things from the album, but it surpassed my expectations. I’ve worked with you in the past and I know the level of quality to expect, so I had high expectations, the album was above and beyond what I expected.
I want to touch on a couple of things. You obviously have a wide array of musical tastes. There’s some pop-punk sensibilities on the album, a little bit of Weezer influence you can hear in there. That kind of sound was a lot more prevalent on the previous album, the self-titled Billy Morris Band album, but on this album I noticed while the pop-punk influence was still there, you leaned much more into a more melodic ’80s sound than on the previous record. In particular, the title track has an almost Joe Lynn Turner or Journey vibe to the song. Was that a conscious decision? What was the spark that brought in those more ’80s sounds? I know that those influences are important to you and a big part of your sound, but they weren’t really on the previous record. Was it something that came about naturally or was it something you deliberately decided to do?
Billy Morris: I think it was a little bit of both. It wasn’t so much a conscious effort to do it like that. It was a conscious effort to, you know, screw writing for what is popular and not doing whatever is trendy just to be noticed. I just wanted to write a great record and whatever came out, came out. I didn’t go, “This song sounds dated! I can’t release that! I’ve got to be modern!”
And then the production of Mike Woods also added to that. Greg, I’ll pull up the demo of that song and send it to you. The demo of ‘Holdin’ All The Aces’ is drastically different. What he did to that song completely changed it for the better. He really took it to the next level. When I heard what he did to it, bringing in kind of a Def Leppard sound to the verse, was brilliant. It was weird because the song is up-tempo but the verses had this “Love Bites” kind of vibe. The rhythm and how the bass and kick drum work together was all his idea. That wasn’t in the original demo. And the chorus, he re-arranged as well.
The lyrics were written about an experience that I had. “We don’t care what you think of us, we’re gonna make it boom or bust.” And it’s kind of a song about people in your hometown not believing in you. You try to please those people for the longest time and then you’re finally like “I don’t care anymore.” Why should I care if this guy isn’t gonna like my band when I’m playing the Monsters of Rock Cruise. I’ve played on giant stages with bands like Warrant and I’m losing sleep over people in my own hometown not liking my band? Not everybody, but certain people. And I was just like, I don’t care anymore. We’re gonna make it, boom or bust, and we’re holding all the aces.
Sleaze Roxx: I want to touch on another song that I felt was a lyrical high point on the album. The song “Don’t Know How To Quit” is brilliant and one of the best lyrical pieces you’ve ever done.
Billy Morris: That is one of the older ones. That’s just about slugging it out, man. You’re playing every weekend, put your lips up to the microphone, another verse, people slammed up against the stage. Maybe you’re a little bit jaded about where you are in your life but you don’t know any other way and you just don’t know how to quit. And I think I’m a perfect example of those lyrics because I’ve been doing it my whole life and I’m still doing it with no plans of stopping. You’re right, those are great lyrics.
And that song is great, but like I said, I was more excited about the newer stuff, but the record label listened to a lot of the songs, and they would say “that song has got to be on there”. My proudest song on the new album is the ballad called “Cold And Bittersweet”, which was originally going to close out the album. Then the record label came back and said, “You can’t end on a ballad. You’ve gotta rock.” And so I said, “Alright, I’ve got this other tune,” and it ended up being the heaviest song on the album. It’s called “You Won’t See Me Coming”.
Sleaze Roxx: Excellent shredding on that one.
Billy Morris: Shredding! Yes! That one was just sitting on the computer. I had no plans of putting it on the album, but the label insisted I couldn’t end on a ballad. “We need metal!” Going back to “Cold And Bittersweet”, I wrote that song about a girl who was dissing me, back in like 1993. That’s how old that song is. I had that song in my back pocket for years. Fast forward to 2010, when we were recording the first Lipstick album, I recorded a whole bunch of songs with Tim Burris. You remember, he played on the first Lipstick record?
Sleaze Roxx: Yes, he played on “We’re Here To Rock You.” Phenomenal drummer.
Billy Morris: Right? But I never finished any of those solo songs I was working on. I just had some guitar tracks and some drum tracks. So what I did was eventually I finished the whole thing, but I realized there weren’t really any harmonies on it. I knew I needed some harmonies. So I called my buddy Mike Szuter, who has been my best friend and writing partner since forever. We’ve been best friends since the ’80s. And I said, “I’m going to send you a song and I need you to sing some backgrounds on it.” And he said, “No problem!” He’s the vocal harmony master.
So, I went on a cruise and I when I got back, I opened my e-mail and there was a zip file in my inbox that had been there for about two weeks. And I went, “Oh my God, I forgot he sang that song and did those harmonies for me.” I opened it, and it was the most beautiful four-part harmony that just was insane. I’m so proud of what he did to that song for me and how it turned out. As a matter of fact, when I talked to Michael Sweet the other night, I said, “Dude, Michael, you’re a harmony master. You’ve GOT to listen to the harmonies on this song.” But that’s just one example of 14 songs chocked full of catchy melodies, rippin’ guitar solos, harmonies, and unexpected twists. By the way, the artwork is fantastic. HighVolMusic did a great job with the album art. I’m impressed with the whole thing.
Sleaze Roxx: As am I. If I had to describe the album in a single word, it would be “triumphant”. The album is a musical triumph. Not to toot your horn too much, I think it’s one of the best things you’ve ever done, and you’ve done some amazing stuff.
Billy Morris: I appreciate that, Greg. I know that you’re being truthful because we’re very good friends and there’s no reason for you to too my horn for me [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: Let me put it this way — if I didn’t think the album was great, I would just avoid talking about it with you. I would barely make any comments [laughs].
Billy Morris: I know that [laughs]. But you know, you get that when you put your heart and soul into something you create. You put your heart and soul into ‘Lipstick‘ and ‘Lipstick II.’ When you put your heart and soul into your records, like you and I do, you can release it and be very proud of it. I’m super proud of this release, but honestly, a little disappointed that it didn’t really sell like crazy. But you know what? When it comes to selling stuff, if an artist gets mad that the album didn’t sell, they only have one person to blame, and it’s himself. And I’m not giving up on this. Like I said, it came out in August and it hasn’t really done a lot. But I’m not giving up on it because, going back to the first part of the interview, I’ve built this video streaming studio, and once we work the bugs out, we’re going to make some videos. And I’m going to make a video for every single song, whether it’s a live streaming video that we post on the web on YouTube or whatever, or we do some production of us messing around having fun in the studio, or me riding my dirt bikes and things like that. But I’m going to keep promoting this because a lot of people reading this interview have never even heard this album and when they hear the record it’s going to be brand new music to them, so I’m not giving up on this record.
Sleaze Roxx: I think it’s great and don’t think you should give up. The album is truly fantastic. You mentioned ‘Lipstick II’ a moment ago. You played on the entirety of the first ‘Lipstick’ album and co-produced it. Despite how busy you are with your different projects, you still found the time to do a solo on ‘Lipstick II’ and still continue to support the band, and for that I want to sincerely thank you. What are your reflections on that experience?
Billy Morris: Wow. How much fun did we have recording that first ‘Lipstick’ album? We had a blast doing it together. I was really happy to be involved. But, as usual, some of my best friends move away. And you moved [laughs]. You followed your dream down to Nashville and I respected that. I remember one day you called me and asked if I would do a solo for ‘Lipstick II.’ I immediately said “Yes” and then you sent over the song to me in an e-mail. I loved playing the solo and would do it again. I had a great time doing it and when ‘Lipstick III’, I’m ready, willing and able to play on that as well.
Sleaze Roxx: I want touch on Tuff. What’s going on with Tuff currently?
Billy Morris: Tuff is an outlet for myself, Todd [Chaisson], Stevie [Rachelle] and Jimi to play out every six months and fulfill our rock star dreams. So we don’t get together and go out in a van and play night clubs. Now, we do some club shows, but it will always be around a big festival. In the fall, we did a big ’80s weekend in Minnesota. It was Tuff, Winger, Queensrÿche, Stryper, Scrap Metal, Mark Slaughter, Lita Ford, Dokken… All of those cats were there. So we play the festival but we also played a club show in Green Bay tied to that festival. Three or four months later, we were on the Monsters of Rock Cruise, so every six to eight months, we’ll hop on a festival. And it’s fun. I’m the lead guitarist of Tuff right now. We know the songs, we know the set and we have a great set. We don’t practice, we just fly in, get onstage, rip it up, and meet the fans. It’s a great vehicle for Stevie to keep Metal Sludge going.
I consider the guys in Tuff my brothers. We talk all the time. We’re great friends. I’ll call Stevie up and we’ll chat about football. I’ll ask him about the latest rock gossip in the hair metal world, and he usually has something cool to tell me. Tuff is just gonna be there for me and my brothers to get out there a couple times a year to fulfill our rock star dreams. Speaking of that, in October, I’m fulfilling my rock star dreams opening for Tom Keifer of Cinderella at the Goodyear Theater in Akron, Ohio. I heard they are looking to add another band onto that show and I heard that band just might be Enuff Z’Nuff.
Sleaze Roxx: Now that sounds like a fantastic show.
Billy Morris: Definitely worth a drive up to Cleveland.
Sleaze Roxx: Speaking of things worth driving up to Cleveland for, how goes things with your food truck, Smokin’ Rock n’ Roll? I had it for the first time since our last interview and loved it. Amazing, excellent food. The champagne sorbet is still a topic of conversation in my household.
Billy Morris: So, let me give everyone a little insight on Smokin’ Rock n’ Roll. It all came back to when I was in Warrant. Everybody knew that Jani Lane and I loved to cook. We would stop in at rock clubs, and instead of going onstage to jam, we’d be the guys who’d ask, “Can we go back in the kitchen and make something to eat?” “Yeah, sure! Have at it!” We’d make wings and all kinds of awesome stuff. I had my club in Lakewood, Ohio called the Hi-Fi Concert Club, which was later called The Foundry, and Jani would come by and hang out and cook. I had this passion for cooking, so, I thought to myself, “I’m gonna buy a smoker and try to offer a combo of catering and music. I’ll get a smoker and call it Smokin’ Rock n’ Roll. I’ll smoke for ya, then I’ll rock for ya.” So it started off with the trailer smoker. I did some parties and the band played. You know, you make decent money with the band, but you make great money with food. What does everyone in the world have in common?
Sleaze Roxx: They need to eat.
Billy Morris: They need to eat. Then, I was on Craigslist and found an old Cleveland Public Library box truck, and I went and bought it. Forty thousand dollars later, I had my first food truck. And then, of course, if you eat savory, you eat dinner. What do you after dinner?
Sleaze Roxx: Dessert, of course.
Billy Morris: Dessert. You gotta have dessert. So I invested in an ice cream trailer to tow behind the barbecue truck. Then I decided to buy another truck because I wanted to make a macaroni and cheese truck. So that’s what we have right now. We’ve got the trailer smoker. We have the truck called Smokin’ Rock n’ Roll with a big pig on the side of playing guitar with a flaming guitar pic, and we call that truck ‘Shredder’ because you shred metal and you shred pork. The other truck is called the ‘Mac Truck’ and that does all macaroni and cheese, which we’ll cover with pulled pork, brisket, and buffalo chicken. The cool thing about, if you go to our website and check out our menu, we’ve got cool rock n roll names for our dishes. The pork sandwich is called ‘Master of Piglets’, the beef brisket is called the ‘Judas Beef’, the mac n’ cheese is called the ‘Fleetwood Mac n Cheese.’ We have an item called ‘Cowboys From Hell.’ That’s mac n’ cheese with brisket and jalapenos on it. So it’s all rock n roll themed in terms of the names of the food. It’s a good money maker for me until the snow falls, and then I just do music and take it easy in the winter time.
Sleaze Roxx: Any other messages or anything else you want to say to the Sleaze Roxx readers?
Billy Morris: I just want to say thank you, Greg, for interviewing me. I will end this saying rest in peace to my friend Jani Lane. He made my rock n’ roll dreams true. Whenever I do a concert and sing one of the songs that he wrote, I always make mention that Jani is looking down on me. Jani was the songwriter. Long live Jani Lane. And I think the guys in Warrant ought to mention that once in a while because he wrote some damn good songs for those guys.
Sleaze Roxx: What a great note to end on. Thank you so much for doing this interview.
Billy Morris: Thank you.