Billy Kohout of Grimm Jack Interview

INTERVIEW WITH BILLY KOHOUT OF GRIMM JACK
Date: January 3, 2016
Interviewer: Olivier

HAILED AS ONE OF AMERICA’S BEST UNDERDOG ROCK AND ROLL BANDS, GRIMM JACK HAVE BEEN THROUGH A LOT IN THEIR 30 YEAR HISTORY. IN THE FIVE YEARS LEADING UP TO 1990, GRIMM JACK RELEASED THREE ALBUMS INCLUDING THE POPULAR ‘JAILHOUSE TATTOO’ ALBUM. BUT LIKE MANY BANDS, THE ADVENT OF THE GRUNGE ERA AND THE DEBAUCHERY OF THE ’80S GOT THE BEST OF THEM LEAVING ONLY LEAD VOCALIST BILLY KOHOUT AS THE LONE MAN STANDING. TWENTY YEARS LATER, KOHOUT REUNITED WITH SOME OF THE ORIGINAL BAND MEMBERS, WHICH CULMINATED IN GRIMM JACK RELEASING THEIR STELLAR ALBUM ‘THICK AS THIEVES’ IN THE SUMMER OF 2015. SLEAZE ROXX CAUGHT UP WITH KOHOUT TO CHAT ABOUT GRIMM JACK INCLUDING THE BAND’S INTERESTING RESURGENCE IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS.

Sleaze Roxx: Grimm Jack have been around for more than 30 years although the band did have a 20 year absence or so. Can you give me a little history of the band?

Grimm Jack photo 7Billy Kohout: Yeah. We had a little bit of a hiatus but during that time, I had taken over the reigns and it actually was in existence for a while but it kind of shifted gears in members so I was really for some of the time the only original member. You know, the original line-up had taken a hiatus for quite some time. To get that line-up together was in true Spinal Tap form [laughs]. There had been a lot of bad blood that had transpired so I figured that 20 years had gone by and it seemed like a good time [laughs].

Sleaze Roxx: How did it get to the point that there was so much bad blood between the members?

Billy Kohout: In typical rock and roll fashion I think. You know, we were doing so much work in such a little amount of time and it was the decadence of the ’80s so there was that whole lifestyle involved. We were showcasing with a major record company at the time. We were touring. There was too much going on and not enough oversight to kind of monitor what we were doing. And we kind of self-destructed from the inside out. In true rock and roll fashion, there is always a woman involved.

Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]

Billy Kohout: So that had a little something we will say to do with it [laughs] and you know, it kind of became just me. It was me and Tommy. Tommy Lestat I think was the last standing member and then he jumped. I just kind of took it over from there. There are actually a bunch of songs that were recorded if you go on the reverb site or the reverbnation site. They are listed and [they are] a little different than the original Grimm Jack stuff but similar. It’s still me singing and you know, I was writing. But coming back to this point, this is something that I didn’t expect because five years ago when we put this together, I was contacted by Jim to do a project with him. It was him and the bass player G.G., and I heard some of the stuff that he did with a solo project that he had going on called Charming Bastards. I wasn’t really knocked out about it enough to make me part of that thing but I had not spoken with Jimmie in a while so it intrigued me to sit down with him and listen to some music and kind of rekindle that relationship. Within half an hour, we started talking about Grimm Jack and I said, “Why don’t we just start by playing some old Grimm Jack songs?” Man, I love those songs. We had such a great time playing them and writing them and recording them. And relatively fast, it was like “Let’s get the original line-up — try to get it back together.” Within a few days, we met at a local pub that was kind of central to everybody and after a little bit of drinking, [we] decided to give it a shot and five years later, here it is you know? We have a couple of videos out. We have a new record that is doing great. It’s just awesome. I feel like, it is, you know, it’s like reuniting with the long lost family and I am happier now than I think that I have been in my whole career. Every minute with those guys is just magic.

Grimm Jck CD coverSleaze Roxx: Cool! For the new album ‘Thick As Thieves’ and the prior EP ‘Damned,’ are the songs dating back from a long time ago or are they newer songs that you guys have come up with in the last five years?

Billy Kohout: That actually — when we first got together as this line-up that you see on those two releases that you spoke of, the first rehearsal, the riff from “Damned” came about and that was pretty much collaborated on at that first rehearsal we had. It was pretty magical. Yeah man, I mean it just came out. That was like a harbinger of what was to come. All of those songs — nothing is rehashed. It is all brand new material. We are already working on another follow up record. There are about six songs – no, five songs — I think at this point that might make the cut. We’re trying to figure out what song to do for the next video off this record ’cause you know, I love this record! This one is a good one [laughs].

Sleaze Roxx: Yeah. It is definitely a good one. Is there any timing on when the next album would be released?

Billy Kohout: You know, I think that there is a lot of life left in this [‘Thick As Thieves’ album]. We are going to start getting into the recording process early in the year. Obviously, there is going to be another video if it continues with the success it is so far bringing us. We’ll do another video. I am not in a big rush to put out another release yet. I think that we have not really scratched the surface of getting this one out there. The “Rotten To The Core” video is getting a lot of action. There is some talk — we have somebody working with us as a publicist/promoter kind of thing and there is some European talk about using some of the material — TV, commercials, things. I think that there is a lot of life left so you know we are going to push it out and try to get it heard and played as much as we can. Probably by the end of next year? Maybe at the end of next year, I’d like to think that we will have another record out. You might see a leak of one or two songs like we did with the ‘Damned’ EP to keep it a little interesting.

Sleaze Roxx: Speaking of the ‘Damned’ EP, why did you guys think of releasing a three song EP? Was that to test the waters?

Grimm Jack photo 3Billy Kohout: In today’s day and age, I think it’s unfortunately not the record — I call it a record. I still call it a record. I come from the old school. I still picture myself with a 12″ inch vinyl sitting in my bedroom as a kid you know.

Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]

Billy Kohout: You remember that right? That’s what it was all about.

Sleaze Roxx: For sure!

Billy Kohout: In today’s day and age, I think that it’s the single so we decided to release those three and to be quite honest with you, the record was supposed to follow that up within a six to eight month period. It was going to be in less than a year. It was going to be in that same year but I had subsequently got into a very bad auto accident that almost really took me out. I am very fortunate that I am not in a wheelchair or dead. I got hit head on. A kid swerved into my lane and hit me head on — really crushed me. I’ve got neck and back issues. I am out of a neck surgery nine months so that’s still healing and getting back.

Sleaze Roxx: Wow!

Billy Kohout: I am going to be OK but it was a five year process from accident to now as I speak. In February, it will be five years.  During that time, the record was underway and I was in real bad shape. You know, they medicate you and put you on lots of narcotics. That took a real nasty turn so I had my issues with that. You know, the pain with the pills, and then the drinking gets way out of control. I am sober eight months and thank God — by the grace of God — I am still here because that takes you down a path that you don’t see coming. At least I didn’t! I survived the ’80s man [laughs]!

Sleaze Roxx: {Laughs] Yes and you survived your accident.

Billy Kohout: Yeah. I survived the physical accident and my doctors almost took me out. I mean I was close. The people around me — friends and family — saw it. I did not want to deal with it. Thank God my brothers in Grimm Jack stuck behind me. They were patient. So three years later, the record came out and I have to take the brunt of the stall on that. I was just having difficult times. I was mentally, emotionally and spiritually bankrupt. It was a very dark time for me. I am doing great [now]. I am on the other side of that line. Those demons are under control. I’ve been trying to help out some people that have been having those problems ’cause it’s very difficult to do it on your own.

Sleaze Roxx: For sure. Well, that’s great. Congratulations. In terms of the line-up for Grimm Jack, there is one new face with bassist G.G. Zencarten. Did you guys try to get one of your former bassists in the line-up?

Grimm Jack band photoBilly Kohout: Yeah… Just let me think. Grimm Jack has had a slew of bassists over the years but the guy I really wanted — the guy I should say we would have preferred — really wasn’t an option for numerous reasons. But the reason why G.G. was in the picture and stayed in the picture was during this 20 year hiatus, he had been playing with Jimmie Mack and uh, diligently for 20 years. There is a ton of material and brotherhood that has developed there. I met G.G. five years ago when we had that impromptu meeting with just myself, Jimmie and G.G. before Grimm Jack really reunited. And I fell in love with him — his attitude, his heart… He is very easy to work with and get along with. His desire and his hunger to be in the band, to be in Grimm Jack, was you know, a very strong thing to say “I’m sorry because you’re not the original guy.” As far as I am concerned, he’s earned his blood. He’s the guy for the job and I would not change it for anything.

Sleaze Roxx: You had mentioned that there was a guy that you had in mind so now I am intrigued. Who was it and how come he wasn’t able to play?

Billy Kohout: Well, the original guy that was on from the beginning was Scott [Bittner] — but let’s just say the original guy when I was on board. Its inception wasn’t with me in the very beginning. The first two years, it was a different singer — a whole different band. Well, a whole different feel! That original bass player was Scott Bittner and he went on to do a band called Mr. Nasty and he’s got his own thing Heatless Devils. He was not available to commit to what we needed to. The bass player that was on the ‘Jailhouse Tattoo’ Grimm Jack record kind of launched into a bigger space and was Paul Vassa. And again it’s availability and I think that there would have been a lot of clashing of personalities. I mean, I had played with Paul in one of my projects called Rooster. Paul played with me for about a year. I’m not going to say it ended poorly but I really kind of lost the contact and closeness with him.

You know what I think? I think as you get older, you just gravitate to your comfort zone and if it’s not close in proximity or convenient or maybe you lose a little bit of the magic or love for it. G.G. had that and considering that he comes an hour and a half away to be there, he’s showing me something big time there. It wasn’t a real difficult choice to make. You know what it is man? It really kind of fell together in such a perfect format that it didn’t need to be tweaked. The only thing that needed to be tweaked was us shaking the rust off because it had been so many years since we had played as a unit and played full-time again. We all kind of dabbled in what we do bit it changed form a bit. Definitely not as much as we used to when we were out there hitting the pavement and we had the bus and we were touring. So it does take a little bit to you know, to shake the rust off.

Sleaze Roxx: Speaking of ‘Thick As Thieves’ — it has a real retro feel to it which is understandable given that the band has been around for 30 years but what are your thoughts on the record and how it compares to albums today and yesterday?

Grimm Jack photo 4Billy Kohout: I think that particular record — when I was actually part of the recording process with it — it kind of has a bittersweet feel to me because I had a difficult time with it mentally. I was going through a lot. In retrospect when I look back at it now, and listen to it with a completely clean year, I think it’s one of — when I say one of — I think it’s the best thing I’ve recorded so far and there has been a lot of records that I have done. I love it. I think that it can stand up to anything that’s out there today or for that fact yesterday. I say that as an outside listener. What I try to do as an artist is get done with the job; do the best you can with the production, the writing, the performance; and then, go back to it and listen to it as a fan. What I love about the record as a music fan point of view is I love the movement on it. It’s like a great book every chapter. It takes you to another place but it’s cohesive enough that you are still in the confines of those two covers from beginning to end. You know, it’s got a lot of movement. It’s got a lot of different personality within each song.

And it does have the retro feel but that’s kind of the way it comes out. We don’t necessarily go in there and say, “We are going to do a retro record.” We went in there and said, “We are just going to make a Grimm Jack record” but we didn’t really know what the Grimm Jack sound was other than plugging the guitars, getting in the room and just coming up with whatever came out and kind of moulding it. You know, a lot of the songs kind of solidified and come out of the air. You have to be open enough to take that and funnel it down from the universe so to speak right [laughs]? Let it do its thing without kind of manipulating it too much. I think that if you can achieve that with five guys in a room, you have something real special going on. And yeah, I think it is retro because it’s where we all grew up. We all grew up in that ’70s / ’80s so you are not going to deviate too much from that sound. I think it holds up. I think you’re going to hear that record ten years down the line, twenty years down the line, and it is still going to sound fresh in terms of what it is. It might not be the flavour of the day but Grimm Jack was never the flavour of the day. We were always considered an underdog — not because we were not a good band — but we were always that band that held on to what we believed in. We never changed to the flavour of the day and you know, 3o years later, that’s still working. You know, that ‘Jailhouse Tattoo’ record, somebody told me that it was on e-bay for $68!

Sleaze Roxx: Wow!

Billy Kohout: It’s a collector’s item.

Sleaze Roxx: What you guys have to do is re-release it. That’s what you have to do.

Billy Kohout: Yeah, yeah, yeah [laughs]. Hey! Get me a good write-up, some press [laughs].

Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] How did you guys come up with the title ‘Thick As Thieves?’

Billy Kohout: We were having a really tough time with — that whole… We finally got the record done, the physical recording and the engineering and working on the mastering, and now we had the whole artwork thing to contend with. There were limited pictures. We just had a limited amount of stuff to use. We got all that together and everybody was happy with the visual but we had no title. And that becomes a pain in the ass man! You come up — nobody likes anything and you start fighting. Tommy actually said ‘Thick As Thieves’ and he had brought that up. I don’t even think that he realizes how many years ago that he had brought that up. We were talking about a name change like many years ago and that was one of the names. Everybody looked at each other and said, “‘Thick As Thieves’ — that’s crazy man!” Because you have ‘Jailhouse Tattoo’ then ‘Partners In Crime’ [laughs]. Part of the crime accessory after the fact. ‘Thick As Thieves’ — it fits right in with the whole theme so you know, we were kind of cool with that. And ‘Thick As Thieves’ man, it’s sort of like blood brothers. We’re in it. What that little cliche means is very close to where Grimm Jack is as a band. We’re all in it through the muck and the mare.

Grimm Jack photo 6Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] Just prior to Christmas, you released a Christmas song and in this day of political correctness, I mean it’s sort of a slap in the face. I mean you are not saying “Happy Holidays” or anything like that. What made you decide to release the Christmas song?

Billy Kohout: Well, “Christmas Song” has actually been around for quite some time. I think the first time that it came out — I am going to try to really remember when… We release it on occasion. I am trying, I am trying to get you some factual evidence because I am usually…

Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] That’s cool!

Billy Kohout: …because I hate to be in the wrong. What I am doing right now is — oh, my God! Look at that! I am looking at some cassettes that I have kicking around here in my studio. [Laughs] There’s a ‘Jailhouse Tattoo’ cassette! It’s still wrapped up. It’s probably worth some money!

Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]

Billy Kohout: Here we go — the ‘Christmas Tape.’ I guess that it is a white cassette tape. I am trying to see if I got a date on this. I actually don’t but it’s pretty cool though. I think that this was released sometime in 1989 so I think that it was pre-‘Jailhouse Tattoo.’ It was  a different song — a little Grimm Jack trivia for you. It was a song called “Crush On You” that Jimme Mack had written. It would be the original line-up that was only in inception for about a year with the other singer [Robin DesForges] and a different bass player [Sean O’Neill]. He came up with the idea to do a Christmas song — a novelty idea in ’88. I was just on board three or four months. We started playing it in the clubs. We got cassettes made up and we would throw them out. There was a radio station over in Hartford, Connecticut that got the cassette somewhere and they were playing it for five or six years in a row. They would play it right around the holidays. So it’s been around for a long time!

You know, you brought up a really good comment about being politically correct in that whole — you know, in today’s arena — God forbid that you say the wrong word! As a musician, an artist and an entertainer, and if you find offence in what I say or what I do, my response is “Fuck yourself!”

Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]

Billy Kohout: …because you shouldn’t take it that serious. It’s music. In your constitutional right of freedom of expression, if I am not harming you, threatening you in a way, you really have no right to tell me what I can say is politically correct or not. I don’t even like that word and I think that the country and the world in general is taking a real wrong bend with that phrase. I have never really thought of that “Merry Christmas.” You know, I am more… I think you even mentioned it because you picked up the Christmas video and you put it on your site [on Sleaze Roxx’s Facebook page] and I think that my tagline on that was that “Grimm Jack would like to wish you a Merry Christmas.” But I celebrate it and it doesn’t have a necessarily religious connotation to it for me but you can take it whatever way that you would like but it is part of that date. Merry Christmas!  To me, it’s family and love and joy and food and getting together and peace. But I also say, whatever holiday that you celebrate, may it be filled with love, happiness and joy so if you take offence in anything that I say, you have bigger problems than what that sing is about.

Grimm Jack photo 2Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]

Billy Kohout: So enjoy it and you don’t even have to think about that. Just enjoy it. It’s music. You should just get a laugh about it because it’s not even supposed to be taken seriously. If you see the video, that’s definitely the silly side of what we do. Jimmie is one of the funniest guys that I have known. He’s very slapstick. He is the king of the one liners and he’s got that cheesy, you know, humour. So it is fitting that is where that song came from. It’s been doing well since its inception so that says a lot.

Sleaze Roxx: I just got a couple more questions for you. Are there any chances of Grimm Jack touring outside the New York area?

Billy Kohout: Absolutely! It really is just on what comes down the pike and whether it is going to be feasible but you know, we keep options open for everything. I am really looking to take it across the pond. I think that the Europe market is probably as ready as it’s gonna be for us so we have a lot of lines out there. Like I said, we have a new guy that’s working with us and a lot of the efforts are concentrated in Europe right now. So outside of the States or even outside of the New York area, definitely! I think that there is going to be something happening with that soon.

Sleaze Roxx: Last question for you — what are your three all-time favorite albums and why?

Billy Kohout: My personal ones… Well, I am going to have to go… I am going to go with the reason why I play. It’s a personal thing for me. It does not really reflect too much on the music that comes out of me but my first real show was Ted Nugent at Madison Square Garden in 1978. I was front row centre. AC/DC opened up for him and I was already a big Nugent fan so what came over me… AC/DC first of all, that was with Bon Scott. I think that was the first time that they were doing a North American tour so I had no idea who they were. I was blown out. Bon Scott is still one of my favorite top frontmen ever. Still sorely missed today. But when I saw Nugent, something completely changed. At that moment, I said, “That’s what I want to do.” So that ‘Double Live Gonzo’ record is something very close to my heart. I can’t say that I have a top three but i will tell you that my musical love goes from Ted Nugent to Billie Holiday to Tony Bennett so there is a lot of stuff. But I am just going to say that I’ll bring it to that first AC/DC record and that ‘Double Live Gonzo’ record. There are so many that it is hard for me to put my thumbprint on it. But that’s what got me to do what I do.