INTERVIEW WITH TONI ALEMAN OF RATT’S JUAN CROUCIER
Date: October 5, 2015
THE NAME, TONI ALEMAN, MAY NOT YET BE A HOUSEHOLD NAME BUT MARK MY WORDS, THAT NAME WILL BE BY THE TIME THAT ALEMAN’S MUSICAL CAREER IS OVER. RECENTLY, I HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO SEE RATT’S JUAN CROUCIER PLAY LIVE AND WAS BLOWN AWAY BY THE ENTIRE BAND BUT IN PARTICULAR BY ALEMAN WHO IS A VERY TALENTED 24 YEAR OLD GUITARIST TO SAY THE LEAST. SLEAZE ROXX CAUGHT UP WITH ALEMAN TO DISCUSS MANY TOPICS INCLUDING HOW HE GOT INTO THE BAND RATT’S JUAN CROUCIER, WHAT SOME OF THE BAND MEMBERS’ NICKNAMES ORIGINATE FROM AND WHAT ARE THE FUTURE PLANS FOR THE GROUP AND HIMSELF GOING FORWARD.
Sleaze Roxx: I got the chance to catch Ratt’s Juan Croucier’s show in Toronto and one of the things that really stuck out in my mind was what a great guitarist that you are. When I saw you play, I realized that you were probably holding back a little bit as you kept your guitar playing within the boundaries of the Ratt songs. From reading up on you a little bit, I understand that you were a bit of a guitar phenom growing up. Can you tell me how you got started playing the guitar?
Toni Aleman: Well, you know what? I picked up the guitar when I was 13. It was really funny. I mean, I listened to Randy Rhoads for the first time and I heard the solo for “Crazy Train” and that did it for me (laughs). That’s pretty much it for most guitar players honestly. Randy Rhoads is the first guy. You know, I just continued my playing and did a lot of learning. I did a lot of studying at a school that got me in contact with a lot of great musicians that I have had the opportunity to work with over the — I don’t know — eleven years? I am 24 now so… (laughs). But yeah, I always had the pull towards what you would consider the conservative form of music, jazz and so forth and so forth. I went to the Musicians’ Institute for my Bachelors in Music and it’s just been a constant struggle to try to become better and better every day. You want to take music and take it further than when you found it. It’s a struggle you know what I mean? You see guys like Frank Zappa, Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen, and you look at what they do and how much dedication that they have towards music, and you also want to do that as well. On a personal level for me, music is the just one of the greatest things in the world and I try really hard to continue to learn and study what the music is overall in the world today.
Sleaze Roxx: I understand that you are known as a guitar shredder. Do you like playing more what I will call the regular hard rock or heavy metal songs such as the Ratt material or do you like more the Yngwie Malmsteen type stuff to play?
Toni Aleman: Well, you know what? It’s all context for me. I do a lot of different playing. I’ll do jazz. I’ll do rock. I’ll do the big fast shredding. It’s actually kind of nice because I will lean to that a little bit more. The hard rock — may it be the Ratt sound or some of the other bands that I have played with — is that it makes me really happy. It’s very fulfilling to play that kind of music. So I don’t find it too difficult to kind of lay back and breathe. And I would not say that I am doing that necessarily, I mean the music is respectfully already pretty difficult (laughs) to perform correctly during live performances and everything. In the other world which is the direct guitar shredding approach, it’s just a different world of music and they are both respectively challenging in their own ways. It’s just a matter of artistically just sticking to one or the other or even balancing the two. I mean, as a guitar player, I try to find the balance between the two. You can’t go over the top and you don’t want to necessarily back up too much. That’s the struggle between all the musicians I think. You see guys like Randy Rhoads or Warren DeMartini, who are excellent guitar players and who wrote excellent music. That’s what it is about — writing excellent music (laughs).
Sleaze Roxx: How did you end up joining Ratt’s Juan Croucier?
Toni Aleman: Well, you know what? I met Pete when I was 14 years old — Pete Holmes from Black N’ Blue. I had met him through a friend of mine. His name is Rick Plester. He is a local producer (laughs). Rick actually lived where I live in the Antelope Valley area of California. So when I was 14, I was doing some recordings that I was doing for Rick. It was music that I had written. At the time, I needed a drummer to perform the music that I was recording. Rick had recommended Pete Holmes to play on my little EP. And me being a little kid, here comes Pete Holmes who is just a phenomenal drummer. He just destroyed my idea of what a good drummer is. And I was like, “Wow. At 14, I am never going to find a good enough drummer to play music (laughs).” So I met him back then and years and years later, he has been doing a bunch of different work. Obviously, Pete has been touring with different bands — Uli Roth — and basically, this year, I got a phone call. [It was] actually from Pete asking if I was interested in doing a project, if I had time for a project. Being Pete, anything that he is doing, I would be interested in doing just because Pete is such a respected musician and just an awesome drummer. He sent me a couple of songs to learn. At the time, I just thought it was going to be like just a jam band in local L.A. or something. So he sent me these three songs and the songs were “Round And Round,” “Lay It Down” and “Wanted Man.” Immediately, I was like, “This is weird. Alright, that’s cool. Whatever. No big deal (laughs).”
Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs)
Toni Aleman: And then I had about three days to learn all the material and show up to — this is really funny — Juan’s house. I show up and I am looking around and I am like, “Wow! This is a really nice studio.” Pete walks in and there is Juan just standing there. I’m just like, “Oh my God (laughs)!” So immediately, I start to freak out! I had learned the material and I thought that I had it “ok” but immediately, the pressure was on. It was obvious that something was going on. We ended up going through the songs and Juan was just a really nice guy right off the bat. He was very welcoming to me. He treated me just like a normal human being. He was really nice. So we did the songs and everything. I thought “That was really cool!” It turned out that they were auditioning a bunch of guitar players. They went through a couple of hundred guitar players from what I remember. And then I waited like two or three months and finally I got an e-mail back saying, “Hey dude! Come down to the studio. We’ll do this again with another guitar player.” I showed up at the studio again and met Mike Moore who is the other guitar player. We actually played in a couple of bands together. I was like, “Oh my God! I did not even know that he was doing this.” It was actually a big surprise from beginning to end, and in about May, I got the official “ok” you know, to start rehearsing.
Sleaze Roxx: Cool! That’s really cool. So you’ve talked a little bit about Juan and Pete. What are they like as people?
Toni Aleman: Well, Juan is just a very intelligent and very respectable person. I mean, compared to a lot of people that I have worked with, he is just a really nice guy. He is very down to earth. He is very kind to his fans. He really likes to interact with everybody. Even after the shows, he’ll go out and talk to people. You’ll see guys that will bring 25 records at a gig to be signed, and Juan is the type of guy who will sign every last record. He is just a beautifully kind hearted person in general. I mean, the guy has an excellent soul. He is really well grounded and I really respect him for that.
Sleaze Roxx: What about Pete [Holmes]?
Toni Aleman: Pete is the same way. I mean, Pete is a really funny guy actually. Even when I was a kid, he was a really cool person to hang out with. He’s one of the guys, you know (laughs). He’s just a great player, a great person. You know, he is definitely the light of the room at times.
Sleaze Roxx: I noticed that you have nicknames for at least three of the band members in Ratt’s Juan Croucier. I did not see one for Juan [Croucier]. So Pete [Holmes] is “The Band” while Mike [Moore] is “Robin” and you are “Batman.” What’s the story behind these names?
Toni Aleman: You know what? It was a really funny little thing. With Pete, we were rehearsing one day. We were doing vocal rehearsals. We do a lot of rehearsing with this band. We do three days a week and usually 12:00 to 6:00, which is a lot more rehearsals than most bands that I have ever done or worked with. And so, about two hours before Pete will show up, me, Juan and Mike will do vocal rehearsals — run through vocal chords, harmonies and all that stuff. Just working on different approaches to doing it. One day, we are working on a song. I can’t remember which song but likely something to do with a rhythmic melody something or so. And we were debating the vocal harmonies and how they should be approached and so forth. I don’t remember exactly what it was but I had said, “You know what. Maybe we should wait for “the band” to get here?” What I was referring to was to have hopefully everybody being all there at the same time. Pete had just walked in and he thought that we were just referring to him as being “the band.”
Toni Aleman: And without him, we are nothing (laughs). And so that kind of just stuck. It was just really funny. We were all laughing about it. With Batman and Robin, I am ultimately a big fan of Robbin Crosby. They [Crosby and Warren DeMartini] were my heroes growing up. And so Mike is playing Robbin, you know what I mean? He is playing every Robbin part. So jokingly one day, we were just hanging out having laughs and I called him “Robin” and I’m fucking “Batman.” The duo — the dynamic duo of guitar players. So we ended up incorporating those somehow and we do have the nicknames “Batman” and “Robin” because of the theme of the band. Honestly, Pete is “The Band.” He’s such a good drummer. He holds it down so well. You know, everyone is just so important in this band. So it kind of worked out that way (laughs).
Sleaze Roxx: And what about Juan [Croucier]? Does he have a nickname?
Toni Aleman: No man — Juan is Juan. We haven’t found one for him yet but I am pretty sure it’s going to happen pretty soon. With all the touring and gigging that we are doing, it should pop up at some point (laughs).
Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs) So you guys have played less than ten shows so far. How is that going and what are the future plans for Ratt’s Juan Croucier?
Toni Aleman: Well, thus far, everything has been going really well. We’ve been received very well from the audience. Everybody gets it when it comes to gigs. Promoters and venue owners are just very happy with what they are getting. It’s been a really good experience. The travel has been really fun. I got to hit Canada for the first time. For me, it was like, “Oh my God! I am in Canada (laughs)!” It’s been going really really well and I am just glad that everybody has been very accepting about what we have been doing. Me personally as a guitar player, I am very humbled to be playing these guitar parts. I really really respect Warren DeMartini and I hope that I can play the music well enough so that people — you know — are happy with it. You know, Warren is just a great guitar player and if I can get close to that, than I’m happy. You know, the fans are really the ultimate judges of this so we just hope that we are doing it (laughs) “well” and that people are entertained. That’s what it’s about — about the music and the live show.
Toni Aleman: The future plans of the band — I know that we are trying to gig for this whole end of the year. We have played seven dates so far. We have some more dates in the future. We have a gig in Ontario, California at The Lodge on October 24th and one in Fresno, California at Fulton55 on November 7th. And we are going to continue. We are still booking a lot of stuff right now. We are trying to maintain our performances all the way to the end of the year. We do have some plans to record new material and that is something that will be talked about more in the future. This band will be “our” own band. That is ultimately what will be going down.
Sleaze Roxx: Cool! Have you guys started writing new material or is it just in the planning phase?
Toni Aleman: Well, I have listened to some material. Most of it is Juan’s music — stuff that Juan has written over the last couple of years. I would like to talk a little bit more about it. It’s just that right now, our plans at this point are just to do these gigs and record once we come back.
Sleaze Roxx: I understand that you have also been playing with Gabbie Rae. How did you get involved with her and how long have you been in the band?
Toni Aleman: Well, with Gabbie Rae, I got involved with her last November . What happened was that I have a friend of mine that I went to school with — music school — and he studied in the music business program. I think that he just took that step to study a little bit more music business. He started working over at BigTime Entertainment. I guess one day, out of the blue, I just got a call that Gabbie needed a guitar player. They were looking for someone younger and a little bit closer to her age. I had seen her a couple of times around town and I heard about her through the internet. I knew what she was doing. So for me, it was like “Yeah! Sure! I’ll definitely check it out!” It was something that seemed really great. I finally met Gabbie around November and Patrick Kennison was out with Lita Ford. It kind of just worked out. She’s a really great singer and she has a lot of good stuff going on. Basically, the sky is the limit with her. And so it has just been a really good time playing with her.
Sleaze Roxx: Are your plans to continue with both bands in the future?
Toni Aleman: Yes! Yeah. I mean, both bands are very considerate about each other’s schedules. With Juan, obviously, Pete is in Black ‘N Blue. And me with Gabbie Rae and a couple of other bands here and there. Ultimately, as far as both bands are concerned, they work at doing their runs at separate times. There are no performance conflicts. I really plan on sticking with Juan because this is a really great band and there are some really good things coming up with the songwriting and the new albums and stuff like that in the future. And it’s the same with Gabbie. She’s doing a lot more touring. It is my understanding. She’s doing an album right now and we have some dates booked already for next year . A lot of work for me but I am really happy to play with both of them. They are both great artists.
Sleaze Roxx: I understand that in the past, you also worked with Mandy Lion. What was your experience working with him like?
Toni Aleman: Well, I joined Mandy’s band in 2010. I recently stepped away from that in November  when I joined Gabbie’s band. It was a great stepping stone for me as a guitar player. I definitely filled in for some big shoes. You know, he has had some very talented guitar players come through that band like Jake E. Lee — George Lynch worked with him. Tracy G was another great guitar player that he had. I ended up auditioning and I got the gig when I was like 18 (laughs). It was a cool run and there were other things that I did to continue to grow in that band. Sadly, you know, I’m still moving forward. I had a really good time doing that. It was a great learning experience.
Sleaze Roxx: I understand that at one point, you were thinking of releasing a solo album. Did that ever materialize?
Toni Aleman: Well, you know what, I have a bunch of music written. I have an album that has sort of been sitting around. Ultimately — not that there is any fear or anything but — it’s just an opportunity to release it. I am just waiting for the right time. I had actually planned on releasing it when I did Rocklahoma last year. It seemed like a good idea but as far as distribution and stuff like that, as far as business logistics of doing an album, it didn’t quite fit right. And I feel that there would be a better opportunity in the future to do that. Obviously, I am doing plenty of work to keep myself busy. I want any work that I do to be received well and I want the response to be in the right order.
Sleaze Roxx: Timing is everything!
Toni Aleman: Yeah. It’s a big timing thing. Nowadays, it’s really difficult to do albums with bands just because albums aren’t selling the way they used to and it’s really hard for them not to be ripped off by the internet, Spotify… You have all these things that make it very accessible for people to steal your music. For me, I think what I want is to have the right touring opportunity and the right amount of exposure to be there so I can do that. And that way I get a better shot of at least getting a lot better impressions from people. It’s a little bit different nowadays. I think that I kind of missed the boat back in the 1980s because I wasn’t born yet (laughs).
Toni Aleman: Oh geez, that is a really hard one (laughs).
Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs) You got to have a hard one!
Toni Aleman: Alright, I am going to try it. Oh God (laughs)! There are just so many good albums out there! If I had to pick three? Honestly, the first one would probably be the ‘Blizzard of Ozz’ [from Ozzy Osbourne] because if it wasn’t for that, I mean I would not be a guitar player. [There is] “Crazy Train” and “Dee” and all that cool stuff that did it for me. ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ is a totally very common answer but I really like that album. There is a lot of really good stuff on there and as a young guitar player trying to learn how to play guitar, that kind of answered a lot of questions for me. And uhhhh — I am trying to think of a good one. (laughs).
Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs)
Toni Aleman: ‘Passion And Warfare’ by Steve Vai… If you were to split that, the off side would be ‘Rising Force’ by Yngwie [Malmsteen]. Those two albums go side by side for me so it is a close tie. As a guitar player, those albums just made my life complete (laughs).
Sleaze Roxx: Last question for you — is there anything that we have not covered that you want to add?
Toni Aleman: Well, we talked about a lot of stuff. I am just really happy to be out there. Everyone in the band [Ratt’s Juan Croucier] is just very happy to be performing the music. We are very thankful for the fans that are receiving us and we are very thankful for everybody that is supporting us. And overall, we are just trying to go out there and make everyone happy by performing this music. It’s just amazing stuff and we just want to be well received. For me as a guitar player, I just hope that I can play the guitar well enough to make everyone happy (laughs). I want to do my best to pay my respects to “The Man”, Warren Demartini.