BILLY ROWE (JETBOY) INTERVIEW:
March 24, 2010
Websites: www.jetboyrocks.com – www.myspace.com/jetboyrocks
Interviewer: Ruben Mosqueda
If you’re a regular Sleaze Roxx reader, there’s no doubt you read the review of Jetboy’s great new EP Off Your Rocker. When I was approached about doing an interview with Jetboy guitarist Billy Rowe, I jumped at the opportunity, but I hadn’t heard the band since 1990’s Damned Nation. So I dusted off the first two albums, bought Off Your Rocker from iTunes for some inspiration, and was all set. Here’s my interview with Billy Rowe, a hell of a nice guy and good interview (his third with Sleaze Roxx) . After reading please head over to their website, sample the new music, and buy it — it’s damn good.
Sleaze Roxx: Why did you decide to record an EP as opposed to a full-length album? Were you guys getting your feet wet again?
Billy Rowe: It just morphed into what you hear on the EP. We started thinking of things in an old school way, in the ’70s a lot of stuff was re-introduced with EP’s. I like the idea of giving people a little bit and then hitting them with a full-length. We got some good feedback about it so we threw in three live tracks that had previously been released on studio albums, and three new studio tracks, and just went with it like that. It’s a little different. I think it’s like feeding you a little bit to bring back some more later.
Sleaze Roxx: Is the Off Your Rocker going to get a physical release or just be digital?
Billy Rowe: We have CD’s available through our website and the idea is to do vinyl as well. Everything is so on your own now, we wanted to stay away from anything having to do with a label. Most are just so picky as to who they are going to put out physically. Digital is kind of the way things are these days, a large percentage of people buy downloads. I’m a fan of both vinyl and CD’s, I’m a collector and a rock ‘n’ roll fan. The EP will be available at shows and maybe we can get some distributed to whatever record stores are left.
Sleaze Roxx: Is there going to be a full-length album coming in the near future? What direction will that go, in the same vein as the stuff featured on Off Your Rocker?
Billy Rowe: Yeah, that’s pretty much where we are headed. When we started out we had this kind of punk edge to us, I think we still do in a rock kind of way. Jetboy is a stripped down rock ‘n’ roll band. I’m not into trying to reinvent the wheel, rock ‘n’ roll is timeless.
Sleaze Roxx: As you just mentioned Jetboy does have a more stripped down rock ‘n’ roll sound these days that is more akin to classic Aerosmith. Was that intentional or was that just how things turned out? I swear Mickey Finn has Steven Tyler like vocals, only grittier.
Billy Rowe: Mickey’s voice has just aged that way. If you’re familiar with the band, when we did Damned Nation we grew as musicians and as song writers. Vocally Mickey grew a lot, keep in mind he didn’t sing for a number of years, so his singing is a combination of him getting back into it and his voice changing as he gets older. He’s stoked about his voice, it’s in great shape and I think the band sound better these days actually.
Sleaze Roxx: I agree with you there. If you dust off Feel The Shake and throw it in and then play Off Your Rocker it almost sounds like it’s a different guy.
Billy Rowe: To a degree. It’s funny, our old bass player Sam Yaffa is playing with Michael Monroe, we went to see him play and Fernie Rod and I were on our way to L.A. and we were listening to some Hanoi Rocks on the way down. We didn’t realize just how much Mike Monroe has changed into this gravelly, masculine voiced singer over the years. I think even Steven Tyler, on the first couple of albums, sounded like a different guy than the one we hear now. I think the one guy that still sounds the same as when I first heard him is Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander. I think he’s one of the greatest singers on the planet.
Sleaze Roxx: How has the writing process changed in the twenty years between studio recordings?
Billy Rowe: Interestingly enough, it hasn’t changed one bit. It’s always been Fern and I, we walk in with a riff and we bounce ideas off one another. Once we have the bridge, verse and chorus we present it to Mick and he just starts writing lyrics. These songs just came together very organically. We made trips to L.A. to write the songs with Mick. We sat there in Mick’s living room, Fern, Mick and I, with our acoustics and our little Radio Shack tape deck. Some of the first songs that we wrote during those sessions are the ones that made the EP.
Sleaze Roxx: What led to the departure of your rhythm section of Michael Butler and Doug Hovan? How soon after the completion of Off Your Rocker did they leave?
Billy Rowe: As you know, we’ve had some line-up changes in the band throughout the years, the core band has been Fern, Mickey and I. There were a couple of internal issues and we got to the point where we were fine tuning things and we needed things to run a certain way and we had to let them go. I think it worked out for the best, for us and them. Nothing against those guys, it’s just the way things happen. Not just in rock ‘n’ roll, but in life in general, people get divorced, married and divorced again. All I can add is that it’s human nature stuff.
Sleaze Roxx: How is the search for new members coming along? Do you have a new rhythm section already?
Billy Rowe: We sure do, we are up and running and better than ever I might add. We are having rehearsals in L.A. — we’re doing M3, we’re doing a show at The Viper Room in about three weeks and we’re going to start to book some more local dates just to get our feet wet. After that we just need to get on the road.
Sleaze Roxx: What are you plans to promote Off Your Rocker? It seems like bands really have to be selective and make the right moves so they can get some money in their pockets.
Billy Rowe: You’re right, it needs to be the right situation and not a waste of time. There have been some ideas that have been thrown around, we have a great agent working with us right now. Of course we’d like to land an ideal gig, we feel we deserve it, but it’s a matter of waiting it out and seeing how things shape up.
Sleaze Roxx: What are some memories you have about the album Feel The Shake?
Billy Rowe: Those days, and I’m sure I speak for everyone that was in the band at the time, were great days. We were super green at times, we didn’t know what we were doing but we knew we were a good band and we had a buzz in Hollywood and L.A. It was a good time and we went to work with Tom Allom, who produced Judas Priest, and our neighbor in the studio was Rod Stewart at the time. Thinking back now I don’t feel that the band was captured in the way that it really was at the time. I think back now to Off Your Rocker, if we had full control like we do now back then we would have gotten the album to sound like the band should have sounded.
Sleaze Roxx: How about the album Damned Nation? As you stated the musicianship and songwriting went up a couple of notches on that one.
Billy Rowe: Yeah it did from the songwriting, we got a chance to bring in some outside writers who were recommended by the label. That was a great experience for me and the other guys. We got an opportunity to get some tips from other people and got to see how they write songs. Duane Baron and John Purdell, who did the record, were behind the band 100%. They loved us and we felt that we recorded something special and I’m very proud of that album. Until we did Off Your Rocker that would be the album that I would give to someone if they wanted to hear what Jetboy was about.
Sleaze Roxx: What are your thoughts on MCA’s handling of Jetboy?
Billy Rowe: We got great reviews and shit loads of press. MCA wasn’t known as a rock label, but they put out The Who, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Tom Petty, all successful rock artists who are now legendary. At the time they were hitting it hard with stuff like Bobby Brown. MCA did do a lot for us, we got a lot of promotion, but again thinking back now a lot of the things that went wrong were due to management. The manager is the one who swings that bat for you and makes things happen. We had strong management to a degree, but I don’t think it was the right people. We had a manager from the early days and we let her go, she was into the music, believed in the band and was very passionate about working for us. Once we let her go things began to crumble slowly. If we had a hard hitting manager at that time like Allen Kovac, who handled L.A. Guns, or Alan Niven, who was working with Guns N’ Roses, I think we would have been in a much different position. The people at Gold Mountain Entertainment weren’t the right people for us and they had other priorities I guess.
Sleaze Roxx: How was it working with Sam Yaffa? How did he get involved with Jetboy?
Billy Rowe: Well, you know at the time Hanoi Rocks had fallen apart, we all know the story there. No one knew just what Sam was doing but we did know that we had to replace Todd Crew, as hard as that was. Personally we didn’t want to replace Todd but it needed to happen. Our manager asked that if I could have any bass player in the band who would I want? I wanted Sam Yaffa. It was as simple as getting the contact number of someone in Europe who was working for Warner Brothers in Europe. That person got in touch with one of Sam’s former girlfriends who got the message to him and one thing lead to another, he took the ticket and never went back. We bonded instantly with the guy, in fact he kicked the band up a few more notches when he joined. He had tons of experience compared to us and he was one hell of a bass player, and to this day we are like family.
Sleaze Roxx: I was told that you have a business where you distress guitars? Tell me about that? It sounds like you’ve done some work for some pretty big names.
Billy Rowe: Yeah, there’s a line of relics which Fender and Gibson do, it started picking up about five years ago. I’ve always been into a nice beaten up guitar. When I was in high school I built my first guitar in wood shop, I’ve always been crafty. I started getting into making them, sold a couple, and saw that there was a market for them and invested into it myself with my credit card and built a nice little business out of it. Now I’m known as one of the top relicers out there for Fender Telecasters and Stratocasters, I’ve recently gotten into Les Pauls. I’ve built a couple for my friend Stevie D. from Buckcherry and I’m currently working on a second guitar for James Hetfield of Metallica. I can’t complain about the day job. In fact the three of us all have music related day jobs, I do this, Mickey works with our friends at Lips Service (he’s been working with them for close to 25 years now) and Fern works at the big repair shop in the city for Gary Brawer, they work on Joe Satriani, Journey and Metallica’s guitars. We are lucky that we have that for our survival and we are lucky enough to be able to do Jetboy again. I can’t complain.
Sleaze Roxx: I thank you for taking the time to answer some questions Billy.
Billy Rowe: Thank you for your support.