TONY LEONE and SCOTT ROBY OF 21ST CENTURY GOLIATH INTERVIEW:
November 25, 2014
Not many bands could have overcome what 21st Century Goliath endured over the last two and a half years. Just after the North Carolina rockers released their critically acclaimed debut album ‘Radio Destroyer’, band leader and guitarist Scott Roby was forced to serve a harsh twenty month jail sentence for essentially self-defence during a parking lot fight. A little more than a year after Roby’s release from prison, 21 Century Goliath are set to release their sophomore record, the aptly named ‘Back With A Vengeance’, on December 5th. Sleaze Roxx caught up with Roby and vocalist Tony Leone to discuss everything from the impact of the guitarist’s incarceration to the upcoming album and the band’s recent line-up changes. What was readily apparent was just how excited and proud these two guys are of the new 21st Century Goliath album!
Sleaze Roxx: 21st Century Goliath recently parted ways with bassist Cameron Ayers after four years together. What led to that change?
Tony Leone: I’ll let Scott answer that because he’s the one who was with him from the very beginning.
Scott Roby: Cam was the first actual original member of the band, so that means he was the first guy that I found. When he came in he didn’t know very much about the bass, but he had a lot of heart and was willing to learn so I took him under my wing. I actually didn’t give him the job in the band — I started giving him lessons first. I told him, “Well man, you’re probably not sharp enough of a bass player to be in the band but I will give you lessons and then see how it goes. If I don’t come across any better, if you pick it up or if you catch on fire, then you’re in the band. If not, at least you can go forward knowing what you’re doing with that thing next time you go to an audition.” So he was there with bells on and he came out and got lessons from me — he got better and improved over time. We’ve been together for about four years but it was just getting to the point where the relationship was strained a little bit and we weren’t really happy with where the band was going. It was kind of like the rest of the band had one goal and vision in mind and his was more and more becoming an outlier. It was just strained tension — tension strained the relationship a little bit and it just came to the point where we felt like we needed to go in a different direction.
Sleaze Roxx: You have a new bassist named Kenny Keeler. How did you find him and how is he fitting in the band?
Scott Roby: Kenny has actually been in my personal circles for a long time. Oddly enough, we used to play this classic party called PastureBlast — it’s a party out in the woods. It’s a huge event around here and the band played there a few years ago. I didn’t know Kenny played any instruments but I remember afterwards, when everybody was sitting around after the party, he picked up my guitar and started noodling on it. I was all the way across the party — it was in a big field — and I heard him playing “Rock N’ Roll Outlaw” by Rose Tattoo. I was dumbfounded that another person at this party, in the backwoods in the country, knew that song so I made my way over there. Kenny was sitting on the stage playing his guitar so I just jumped in and sang with him and I was like, ‘He’s a rocker. He’s got good taste in music.’ So when it came down to the issue of replacing Cameron, that was the first thing on my radar and I didn’t even know if he played bass. I just knew he had the right taste for the job and we like to find our members off the beaten path — not established local musicians or people that are in other bands. I’d rather find them under a rock because they’re a lot easier to work with.
Sleaze Roxx: So Scott, about one year ago you were released from prison after serving 16 months in jail for what amounted to self-defence in a fight. How has your perspective on life and the band changed as a result of your time in jail?
Scott Roby: When I first went to prison the band was just then hitting its peak and we had been working on it for several years. Just a month before I went to prison, we had actually just played our biggest show to date — we played in downtown Charlotte at the Coca Cola 600 Festival in front of about 20,000 people. That had just happened when I went to prison so I was taken aback by it — about the whole situation — being away from my family and everything else. But I started getting letters from friends and fans. My wife would send me letters, I would get phone calls from people with this crazy outpouring of support and that just really solidified for me that we were putting together something that resonated with people and that they genuinely cared about. So I just committed full board to getting myself in the best shape of my life, working on my guitar playing and really trying to improve so that whenever I got out our product would be better than it has ever been. The album that we’re working on right now is really a culmination of all of that.
Sleaze Roxx: In what was really an unprecedented move, the band elected to wait nearly twenty months for Scott to get out of jail. Was that a hard decision to make?
Tony Leone: At first — well actually, no. It was never a hard decision to make. It was the details on how we were going to do it that became a hard decision. Some decisions made Scott personally uncomfortable and some I had to take the reins after Scott had been doing that for so long. Scott was pretty adamant about us not going on tour and I was completely opposite and said we were going to keep our heads above water by going on the biggest tour we could go on. That is when we went out for forty days, to California and back, and then played all the shows in between. We played South By Southwest and now in hindsight that was a good move because if we had just stayed not working, then it would be like we were unable to keep moving forward. It was very clear when we did that that we still needed Scott as the head of the snake but we were rock and rollers at heart and we couldn’t just suppress that part of it. So at the end of the day, when it came down to Scott coming out, he stepped into a situation where the train was still moving instead of having to pick it up and then start over again. So it wasn’t really a hard decision at all man. I don’t even think we sat down and talked about it — Scott basically said “Keep this shit going (laughs). That’s all that I have to look forward to for 16 months.”
Sleaze Roxx: Since Scott’s return, you have also replaced one of the guitarists since Grayson Flippin is out of the band. What led to that change?
Tony Leone: Well, first Grayson had a baby. At first he said, “I can do this. I can do this” and it only took about a month before his parents and everyone including him realized that he could not do this. Grayson is kind of a country boy up from the mountains, and when the baby came on board, his focus changed pretty quickly. Not to say that in our world we’re not family men, because Scott has three kids and I’m getting married — we found the right people that deal with our shit and it was his choice he could not do both.
Sleaze Roxx: How is your new guitarist Kip Wilson working out?
Scott Roby: Fucking bad ass! I mean, he is as dedicated as they come and he’s picked up everything we’ve asked him to and more. People love him on stage — what else do you need? The guy can play and he can rock. There’s not too much to complain about.
Sleaze Roxx: On December 5th you guys are releasing your second CD called ‘Back With A Vengeance’ and you were kind enough to forward some mixes to listen to. There seems to be a real growth in the sound and the musicianship, do you agree?
Scott Roby: Absolutely! I had to play crappy acoustic guitars in prison and for whatever reason, I guess for the dexterity or just because a lot of times there were a few camps I could get access to an acoustic guitar to play on, I really didn’t have much else to do with myself during the day. So I kind of did the same thing you do when you’re first starting out — kind of just jump into it wholeheartedly. But you know, as the years go on and you play all the time, you kind of get out of the habit of practicing. Just going back to square one and playing a little crappy acoustic guitar all day really gave me the tangible boost in dexterity. And on top of that, I played with the prison band just mainly because I could get access to an electric guitar. I played with a lot of different and very accomplished musicians in prison — it was just a different experience from good musicians that played. A lot of them played old gospel, R&B style music and a lot of times there was keyboards. Sometimes, we even played to a drum machine so I got everything from hip hop to R&B to gospel to country style gospel and new modern radio contemporary worship music and all that stuff. The message didn’t do much for me, but the method and the nuts and bolts of how the music was written really helped me expand my horizons. Also, the energy of being back in a room together after my release was probably even more of a factor — just the fact that we were all together again and we could write. Tony will tell you, writing wasn’t the easiest thing to do when I wasn’t around. That kind of gave us, he and I especially, a big boost when I could get back in a room and we could start writing together and we do that well.
Sleaze Roxx: Where and when was the majority of ‘Back With A Vengeance’ written?
Tony Leone: Here in Charlotte, North Carolina, and in a storage unit — the most glorious storage unit ever. We were on a deadline and sometimes it was snowing outside — other times it was, you know, Satan’s asshole. But we were just kind of crunch timing it and I remember just Scott, Adam, our drummer would be there to play the music four days a week and then the band would come in as a whole maybe another full day, or even two days, just to meet the deadline. It was very military like in how efficient it became just because we had that deadline. We knew no more time could pass before we put out new music. I think that’s the other part of it — Adam being onboard with us and just being there for the entire writing process with Scott kind of shaped what we do. Here we are right now.
Sleaze Roxx: There seems to be more variety on ‘Back With A Vengeance’, just from the three tracks that I’ve heard, compared to ‘Radio Destroyer’. Would you agree with that?
Tony Leone: Yeah, I’d definitely agree with that — in all aspects, as far as the music and the words and how we deliver it. I’m glad you noticed that because that’s what we were going for.
Sleaze Roxx: The first single off ‘Back With A Vengeance’ is “Cold Hearted Woman”. Why did the band end up picking that song for the first single?
Tony Leone: It’s just kind of full circle. It was one of the first songs we wrote after ‘Radio Destroyer’ and before Scott went in. When that song was being played live, for me personally, I sing it with a lot of piss and vinegar. At the time, I was in 21st Century Goliath and another band. I’d gone on a short tour and the chick I was dating was cheating on me, so when we started playing that song it conveys that feeling of this anger — and for whatever reason it resonates with a lot of people. So locally here in Charlotte and the Southeast people are ready to hear that song recorded because they’ve heard it for a long time live and it’s a band favorite as well.
Sleaze Roxx: Scott has mentioned — I think to me or at least in another interview — that you’ve really grown a lot as a vocalist since the first album ‘Radio Destroyer’. Do you agree, and if so, why is that?
Tony Leone: Absolutely I agree. With anything, if you do it more you’re going to get better. So as much as we practice singing naturally, you’re going to get better. That’s part one.
Part two is I started writing notes I couldn’t hit yet and so I kind of demanded of myself to hit them. As time went on — whether it be being how to figure it out by studying vocalists — I would read books on how to get serious notes that you want out of yourself without killing yourself.
Part three is on the album specifically, Scott took over a production role — especially in the vocals. When you’re really close to lyrics, and if you write lyrics, you kind of tie yourself to them and you don’t have the ability to step away from them and see how they sound when they’re out there in the air. Scott was able to help me by just saying, “I think we should sing it like this. I know you can hit this note.” I mean, we scared the co-producer into thinking we were going to break up as a band but that’s just how Scott and I communicate. When I was like, “I can’t fucking hit that note”, he’d reply, “I know you can. I know you can” and we caught it. So it was really kind of a three-part process. ‘Radio Destroyer’ was barrier breaking for me — I wasn’t like that before that album and so it’s all about getting better.
Sleaze Roxx: 21st Century Goliath has sort of bucked conventional wisdom, as instead of not exposing yourself too much, you guys play tons of shows in the North Carolina and South Carolina areas. Is that a conscious effort?
Scott Roby: Can you clarify the question?
Tony Leone: Olivier, Scott’s fucking deaf — he’s got a Marshall banging in his ear (laughs). Scott, he said we play a lot in North Carolina. Is that on purpose, because conventional wisdom states you don’t play your hometown a lot. But I think we should explain exactly where we play and as far as little pockets of people that exist where we are.
Scott Roby: We found that the tours that the band took when I was incarcerated did a lot to carry us online and in the real world as far as giving us a presence — letting people know that we’re moving and playing shows. But as far as to what they did for the pocketbook, not very much. You know, it’s very hard to make a living touring these days when gas is $3 or $4 a gallon and the shows are having less and less people turn out. It is hard to make money on the tours as a self booked band that doesn’t really have any label backing or a bigger band on the bill that you can afford. So what we found was that we needed to fund this album, and we put a hell of a lot of money into it. Around here, people treat us pretty good in that respect — so it was really two things. Number one, as a matter of practicality, we make good money in North and South Carolina. A lot of the venues, they’re not the biggest things in the world, but you know, there is still from one venue to the next a good four or five hours in distance between them. That is just far enough that we can play here and play on the other side of the State and play again somewhere in South Carolina and still be several hours from each other on the shows. We also get the added bonus of being able to play with big headliners and getting in front of bigger crowds. So it was just a number of things that made us do that. This summer we went to New York and Pennsylvania, and we’ve been as far as Tennessee and Georgia in recent months. With the new van, we can really stretch out and go just about four, five or six hours down the road and come back in a weekend and bang out two shows. It’s not a full-fledged tour, but we’ve got a pretty wide reach. You’re looking from one end of that to the other and in radius, you’re talking about a pretty good reach.
Tony Leone: The other thing you’re got to remember is a lot of places we play, even around town, can be separated by 45 minutes and we don’t have public transportation like some of the major cities do around the world — there’s no subway or train system. People are rocking and get fucked up at our shows. They drink a lot of beer (laughs) and so we bring the party to them so they don’t have to do much — that endears us to our fans as well. We’re never going to ask you to come too far out when we can pull 100 people an hour this way and another 100 an hour south. That’s just a harsh reality of where we live but it’s worked out well in our favour.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s next for the band once the album finally gets released on December 5th?
Tony Leone: I hope with this album we can quit our day jobs. Well, you and I don’t have day jobs Scott, but… I mean honestly, we signed a management deal over the summer and I think the first thing we’re looking for is to be able to put something that we know is worthy of pushing out to the rest of the world — that’s exciting for him and us. So as far as what we’re looking for is just quality stuff as far as possible touring with a good band. All the stuff everyone dreams of, I mean we watch some bands that we respect but we also know are no better than we are getting great bills and travelling around the world. I think though for us our goal, as far as touring and writing this album, is coming your way. We have an incredible presence partly thanks to Sleaze Roxx and other people reviewing our albums around the world. We have a great presence in Europe and so I think for us… you’re in Canada? Shit man, they charge us a lot to come down — nobody can do that.
Sleaze Roxx: You could do that (laughs)!
Scott Roby: (Laughs) You’re going to have to be waiting at the line letting me in because you know they’re funny about DUIs. I don’t know about felony assaults.
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, it might be hard to cross the border but it’s only a twenty hour drive and you’re there — no problem. Anyways, when your new album comes out, where can people purchase it?
Scott Roby: It is going to be available on iTunes, CDBaby and Amazon. You can also purchase it in digital or physical form directly from our website www.21cgband.com. We’re working on a possible distribution deal to get it in some brick and mortar stores but that’s not set in stone yet. You know, we don’t have a label — we’re not going to have time to get the album finished, release it and shop it to a label so we’re not even concerned with that. We’re putting it out on our own and we want people to come and buy it from iTunes. It’s ours, and we are putting it out self-released so we want to keep the dividends for ourselves.
Sleaze Roxx: For sure.
Scott Roby: We’re not going to put it on Spotify or LastFM, streaming services like that, because it just doesn’t work out for our benefit very well. If people want to hear it, we want them to buy it.
Sleaze Roxx: For each of you, what is your favorite track off ‘Back With A Vengeance’ and why?
Tony Leone: For me, the one I’m most proud of is probably “Back With A Vengeance” because it’s such an emotional song for us. It’s a composition of sixteen months and talking to Scott all of, what… we had twenty minutes at a time per week to talk to each other over the phone. Sometimes I’d be able to go visit him, but he was kind of far away. I just kept somewhat of a diary in my lyrics book of everything he was going through, whether it was funny or just the whole experience, and I was able to compile that into a pretty ball-busting song I think. When I told Scott, and when he came up with the riff, I told him that riff belongs to this song — I knew it immediately. I think it gave both of us a lot of vigour behind finishing that song and the final product is just so cool man. I mean, I really hope people take notice as to how much emotion is behind that song.
Scott Roby: I feel the same way, it’s got to be “Back With A Vengeance” for me. Musically, it is just a mean straight hard rock and roll song and it’s just catchy. It has got a hook in the music but lyrically, like Tony said, it’s just very personal for me and personal for the band as it relates to our experience. Also, Tony did a great job with making it so it’s not so specific that the average listener wouldn’t be able to get into it. I mean, it’s really a song that has a wide reach as far as who it could impact as an audience and for me that gives it all the elements to make this the perfect song. Not to mention it looks pretty damn cool on an album cover (laughs).
Sleaze Roxx: (Laughs) Last question for each of you. What are your three all-time favorite records and why?
Tony Leone: Oh man, that’s a good question — my God. I remember my parents with one of the first vinyls I’d dug up, was Elvis Presley’s ‘Live In Las Vegas’. He was still young and sharp and in the full-blown leather suit — that just stuck to me man. That was unbelievable, just how Elvis was live — loose, cooler than everybody else in the room and just slaying people with his voice. That was just unbelievable to me.
Second, I would have to say ‘The Temptations Wish It Would Rain’ by The Temptations. It was one of the last albums written for The Temptations before David Ruffin left the band and everything started going downhill. I was just so amazed that how you felt everything behind each song. The guy who wrote “I Wish It Would Rain” wrote it after he found out his wife cheated on him. You feel everything in every word that he says. All of the songs — his voice, he would switch off to other stuff and he had a real deep resonating voice. That album blew my mind.
Third, I’d have to say Thin Lizzy’s ‘Johnny The Fox’ just because there’s an absolute frigging cool factor in that album. One of the highlights of 2014 was playing with Black Star Riders and getting Scott Gorham to sign ‘Johnny The Fox’ — I turned into a thirteen year old kid again.
Sleaze Roxx: Cool, how about you Scott?
Scott Roby: Number one has got to be ‘High Voltage’ by AC/DC because I like the simplicity of it — it’s pre the sell-out crowd base. Those guys just play real good hard old-school rock and roll songs — it’s a legend in my book. The lyrics I think are very simple, very blue collar and very relatable, much like Tony’s tend to be. I always was compelled by the fact that so much was said by saying so little. Even though the songs weren’t inherently heavy, and the message wasn’t anything too deep, it still makes you feel something. That’s the first one out of the gate — first U.S. release and it is and always will be my favorite.
Number two is probably Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Appetite For Destruction’ even though it’s been worn out by classic rock radio and even though when I hear “Sweet Child O’ Mine” or “Welcome To The Jungle” or “Paradise City” I have absolutely no desire to hear the song really, just because they’d all been beat down. I still have to say that as far as for bands coming out of nowhere, exploding and bringing back what I consider to be true rock and roll — it wasn’t about glitz or being the most show-offy or having the most technically adept musicians or just hitting the highest purest notes you could. It was more about the raw guttural essence of rock and roll — that really is one of the best albums to do it.
Number three is probably one that we’ve paid homage to on this album, Aerosmith’s ‘Rocks’. It was a really good example of bad ass rock and roll. It was back in those days, when they were more straight hard rockers was some really kind of effective rock and roll on that album. We have a track on our album called “Detroit 76” that’s a nod to that album specifically.