BILLY MCCARTHY INTERVIEW:
July 13, 2004
The name Billy McCarthy may not be recognizable to many music fans, but you may remember him as drummer Billy Dior of the D’Molls. After years of touring and recording, Billy has shifted his focus to writing. His debut novel, The Devil Of Shakespeare, was recently released and he agreed to talk about his musical past and literary future.
SR: You recently released your first novel, The Devil of Shakespeare. For those of us who haven’t read it yet, what is the story about?
BM: It’s the bitter consequences of small-town America and Hollywood. My main character, David Faulkner, struggles to break out of his dismal surroundings and into the glamour of Hollywood. Once he achieves his dream as the greatest actor to ever live, David, now Darian Fable, decides to bow out and pursue the normal life he never had as a child. His sudden decision threatens the lives of the most powerful people in Hollywood–including his own. David Faulkner is an underdog, which is why I believe my readers connect with him. America loves an underdog. On the other hand, The Devil of Shakespeare is far from just the story of a boy’s pursuit to conquer his dream. Darian Fable is a hero, and celebrity, so you have both worlds. It’s a reminder of how ridiculously obsessed today’s society is with celebrity. Today, you don’t have to be loved or admired to be a celebrity–you just have to be remembered.
SR: How are sales for The Devil of Shakespeare going?
BM: They’re going excellent. We’re almost through our first print run, which is very rare for a first-time author in hardcover fiction. More so, it’s only been almost seven weeks from the book’s initial release. I attribute the strong buzz to the fact that this story is something everyone can relate to. It’s believable fiction. I don’t trip my readers up with snooty literary jargon in words like, “Indeterminate.” This is a provocative book. You may need permission from your parents, but you won’t need a dictionary. I can’t tell you how many music lovers have made The Devil of Shakespeare their first piece of read fiction. I hear it all the time. Now, that’s cool, getting people to try knew things and them wanting more.
SR: Was it difficult adjusting from writing song lyrics to full-length novels?
BM: I wasn’t much of a lyricist in D’Molls. Arranging and writing the music was my strong suit. As for writing novels, I rely on the pulse of my drumming. I believe in writing with a pulse, a beat, keep it snapping, yet very sensible. It’s a weird analogy, but it’s a subconscious approach that works for me.
SR: Do you have any other books in the works?
BM: After my publicity campaign, I’m going to resume and finish my next novel, Funnyman Jack Smack. I have a good three novels in me now, a few chapters of each. I don’t write everyday and harp on a new story–it’s just too much on a plate. The stories I started some many months ago, even years, are stored away in my head for the appropriate time of attack. I do have them on paper, a few chapters of each, but you know, I write for the times we’re in, so they could change.
SR: The Devil of Shakespeare includes a CD single inspired by the novel, how did the recording for this song come together?
BM: Chip Z’Nuff and myself wrote and structured the song in like an hour. It’s a power-ballad. It was great because Chip and I would write songs till four in the morning when we were kids growing up across the street from each other in Chicago. Jani Lane came in and did a great job on vocals, Ron Flynt from 20/20 on keyboards and “JY” from Styx on guitar. It was a pleasant session with down-to-earth people. The concept came from a manager of mine, and it’s cool. It’s the first time a single to a novel has been written and recorded from an author and gone to commercial radio. The song is doing quite well in certain key markets. A CD of the single is included with the book.
SR: What was it like working with people like C.C. DeVille and Ronnie Younkins during the early L.A. metal scene?
BM: CC was virtually an unknown, but had this fire in him. He was so raw in personality and playing, and he was driven. He was very naive, but looking back, it was an asset. I was in a band called Kid Rocker, who, had we not had a problem with our lead singer’s “vices,” would have probably been one of the biggest rock bands in the 80’s. CC was unrelentless in getting a shot to play guitar with Kid Rocker–and got it. Ronnie Younkins was another player who during his discretion with Kix was in at lead guitar. Ronnie and Kix are so underrated–I’ve never understood why. Perhaps poor management or being mistaken for good ole’ Maryland boys. CC and I were then in Screamin’ Mimi’s. It was the most powerful four-piece band I have ever played in. It was just the biggest, trashiest wall of sound. We were eight years ahead of grunge. So there you have it. Strike three.
SR: How did D’Molls come together?
BM: Desi Rexx was beating around in Chicago around 1985, with Lizzy Valentine and SS. Priest, who was playing in Diamond Rexx at the time. I had returned home after Screamin’ Mimi’s slip up and saw them play one gig in Chicago at a tiny bar. I knew Desi from my neighborhood in Chicago, and said, “great band, fire your drummer, I just got back from LA, have some good connects, I think we can get a deal.” He obliged, we rehearsed for a year and hit Hollywood. Two weeks later after arriving we were offered a deal from Atlantic. Sounds like a fairy-tale, but we didn’t ink until other bids came in, finally settling on Atlantic nine months later. It was a lot of Dominoes pizza during that year, and beyond, I should add.
SR: How satisfying was it to sign to a major label and were you happy with the debut release?
BM: It was cool to be signed and get paid for your art. Lizzy and I were not happy with the release of our album. We had management with good intent, but no connects with Crue or any arena bands at the time. A producer who never worked with a rock band, a singer who socialized little publicly, didn’t party, and there were a lot of politics over at Atlantic Records. These aren’t excuses, these are reality. From day one in Hollywood, D’Molls were taunted as being a multi-platinum release on Atlantic. Then Kip Winger showed up, right before we were going to MTV. It was a choice between us and him, because that’s how all record labels worked at the time. One or the other new act, and Winger got picked. I suspect because Beau Hill produced him and Beau Hill was money to Atlantic. After all, Hill produced Ratt, who made millions. Doug Morris, who was Atlantic’s president at the time, heard “777” and flipped out in a good way, but it was a disastrous mistake. He thought it would be huge to release to MTV and radio. He was so wrong–and everyone knew it. That song was so wrong. We weren’t about “777”–and I wrote the damn thing. We were about four white guys, with soul out of Harlem, who played sleazy rock blues with hooks. D’Molls had a groove, and nobody from Atlantic knew what to do with it. “D’Stroll” or “All I Want” were the singles everyone missed. We should have been dropped after our debut, but Ahmett Ertegun, (Founder/CEO of Atlantic), loved us, said we had a “Zeppelin thing” about us and should have another album. We got the second album, but Doug was still in bed with Winger and Hill. We moved on to record Warped.
SR: You toured behind bands such as Guns N’ Roses, BulletBoys and Warrant, could you tell that these bands would soon be huge?
BM: Guns N’ Roses, I saw them live before we played together. I thought they were too messy live, didn’t get them. Then, Lizzy, our bass player, played their debut album before its release. I was blown away. I think every musician was petrified when they heard the production on GNR’s debut. They were so “garage,” so honest. It all made sense the next time seeing them live. I played with Izzy Stradlin very briefly before he joined GNR. I remember, I’d look at him and think…this guy has something about him…this guy is going to be big. He had that “thing,” his rawness on guitar was very much like CC’s.
Warrant. Jani got sick on their first tour with us when we took them out. He left after a few weeks and quite frankly D’Molls were just stunned, and thinking, “Where’s the balls of Jani Lane coming from to leave a tour, a few weeks from their debut release?” We thought, they’re (Warrant) going to get dropped, no record company’s putting up with this shit. But you know, listening to that debut album, it’s a classic, it makes you feel good–and that’s what it’s about. Not to mention them and GNR were a true gang, true loyalty among all members. That is unbreakable in any band, and always wins. God Bless them for the tenacity.
Bulletboys. Cover song, MTV, great video. These bands all had great front men who knew how to move club crowds first and auditoriums next.
SR: What was it like being in D’Molls during the fistfights during the Warped recording, could you sense that the band was falling apart?
BM: That’s funny. You have a great memory. The weird thing is, we fought like boxers every other day, and when we’d hit stage, it was like it never happened. We’ve talked a lot since then and come to realize the tension lied in the fact we had a singer who didn’t need the monetary reward that comes with success, seeing he was left a good bag of loot from his family. That killed us, because there was no carrot for him. Looking back, I was a reasonable guy, SS is reasonable, Lizzy is reasonable. Now, Desi is not the fall guy in D’Molls demise, but it is funny how every major brawl physically and emotionally centered around him.
SR: Was it a shock when Desi Rexx told you that he was leaving to play with David Lee Roth?
BM: More like a certainty of fate. During negotiations for Warped, Desi actually hinted he wanted 100% of the merchandising off the tour! Anyone knows, in a group situation, it’s not only insane, but narcissistic. Desi always wanted to be a solo artist, ever since I met him some thirty years ago–but he never made a dent with that dream. He believed his next ticket after playing with Roth would be a solo deal, through Patrick Whitley, who manipulated him to believing that. You see, we fired Whitley, who managed Roth. Whitley knew after hearing the unreleased of Warped he was in danger of loosing his reputation as “puppet boy” for Angeles, because Warped is still today, one the strongest albums in rock. Pete Angelus (who I truly respect) was Whitley’s boss and Whitley was protecting his ego of having lost us because Scotty, Lizzy, I and Atlantic were on to him. Whitley thought, “get rid of Rexx, and the project will break”. Which it did, but, the Warped album will never vanish. Tapes don’t lie.
SR: What did you do after the D’Molls breakup?
BM: I was always in LA during most of the mid 80’s, just dropped out on the music side–which was my decision, after D’Molls. I then did the National A&R Radio Report, and produced demos for a few record labels and up-and-coming acts around LA into the early 90’s. I returned to Chicago, because I just needed to return to my roots and re-group. I left home at 21, so coming back in my thirties was welcoming and refreshing. Also, it was perfect timing to delve into my passion I abandoned as a kid–writing.
SR: What are some of the craziest things you saw during the L.A. Strip days?
BM: It wasn’t so much crazy, as one of the most exciting and memorable times in my life. It was college 101, with bands just waiting in line to break national. For me, it was smoking a joint in the one-bedroom below Kid Rocker that Nikki Sixx, Tommy and Vince shared, with Nikki turning to me over hearing the Scorpions on radio, saying, “Dude, this is a real rock band.” Little did he know, Crue would be head to head in rock history with his then idols, the Scorps. It was Tommy Lee jumping off the balcony into the pool at 1040 N. Clark. Izzy Stradlin taking the bus everywhere. CC living with his parents in Studio City. It was just the girl and boy next door from rural America who came to the playground in West Hollywood. Sadly, a lot of them failed and hit rock bottom. There will never be 1981 to 1990 on the Sunset Strip again. It was pure hallucination, even when the twelve packs of beer were gone and the sun came up from the night before. Struggling back then was welcomed, and at many times I’m sure missed, even by those who have the star status of being a rock legend today.
SR: What are your thoughts on the following bands?
BM: I’m thinking twelve in the ring with Michaels and Dall. Winner gets the chicks.
– Sgt. Roxx
BM: The bass player/monster.
– Diamond Rexx
BM: SS and those guys are still rocking… love it! Nasty Habit is the real deal up front.
BM: Lizzy came within an inch. Too many line-up changes. Enough.
– Motley Crue
BM: Indestructible. If a nuclear bomb hits, I want to hide out with my woman and these guys!
SR: How much of a hand did you have in arranging Poison’s hit “Talk Dirty To Me”?
BM: I was the only hand in the arrangement–which Poison karaoke’d off Screamin Mimi’s version. If others differ, I’m waiting to hear or see it.
SR: What are your thoughts on the rock scene today when compared to that of the mid to late 80s?
BM: In the 80’s everyone had a shot. Today, it’s hip-huggers, stringy hair and the power of the producer and pr. agent. Who are we putting in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ten years from now? Jet? Outkast?
SR: Any chance we will see a D’Molls reunion?
BM: After this interview, I doubt it.
SR: What do you currently find more satisfying, making music or writing novels?
BM: Hands down, writing novels. Music is my desert.
SR: What can the fans expect from you in the future?
BM: More novels–and songs to novels. Novels that have meaning through fiction and speak the truth on the world today. I want to write great books and hopefully better the world. Only then, will I share my finished works.
Thanks to Billy McCarthy (Billy Dior)