BILLY ROWE (JETBOY) INTERVIEW:
March 2, 2009
Having recently celebrated their 25th anniversary, Jetboy isn’t ready to disappear just yet. Riding onto the scene during the 80s LA glam explosion, Jetboy managed to stick out from the crowd with their unique looks and punk influenced brand of rock, yet all that failed to make them household names. In this exclusive interview with Jason L., Jetboy guitarist Billy Rowe reveals how the band came back to life and how work is progressing on their upcoming album. Jetboy is back, prepare the ‘Feel The Shake’!
Sleaze Roxx: 2008 was a big year for Jetboy. You celebrated 25 years as a band.
Billy Rowe: Yeah. 25 years, that’s crazy in itself.
Sleaze Roxx: You guys did have some time off in there but still you have to be thinking, wow!
Billy Rowe: Yeah the band was kinda brushed off after the 80’s and everything. I don’t really know how it all went. But last year was a good year for us. It was the first year we were officially a band again. We did all those festivals – Rocklahoma, Rock the Bayou, and South Texas Rock Festival. It feels good.
Sleaze Roxx: How did you guys get hooked up with the big festival scene?
Billy Rowe: It really started with Rocklahoma. Cool enough, Tracii Guns was a big forerunner of seeing that happen. The year prior to that, the band was just getting the wheels in motion. We did a couple reunion shows and then officially said let’s do this. They (L.A. Guns) had done Rocklahoma and we did a show with them and he (Tracii) said, “man, you gotta do this thing Rocklahoma.” That was in ’07, but it was too late and it didn’t happen. The following year we were just kind of persistent with it in getting them our promo pack. We had a few people honkin the horn our way. When our manager, Richard, came on board, he really took the wheel and made it happen. Believe it or not it was a struggle at first. The people that booked it were not into the band. It comes down to sales and it’s political with the business end and all that. At the end of it there were enough people kicking the door down saying you gotta book fuckin Jetboy they were the fuckin founders of the whole glam scene starting back in ’84-’85.
Sleaze Roxx: That is something that just blows me away. You guys were there right in the beginning.
Billy Rowe: Sure. We were the next wave after Motley Cure and Ratt and Black ‘N Blue and Dokken, that “LA Metal” or whatever you want to call it. It was Guns ‘N Roses and Jetboy and Poison, and then L.A. Guns and Faster Pussycat. We were the bands packing the clubs and creating this whole new rock ‘n roll scene in LA. We were from San Francisco so we would make our trips down to LA. We were really conquering two cities at the same time back then. It’s the way the time fell for us. We were one of the three bands that got signed first, Poison then GNR then Jetboy. Then the slew happened after that – Faster Pussycat, L.A. Guns and Warrant, the list goes on and on.
For the whole Rocklahoma thing and festivals, that’s really what happened. We were at the press conference that Eddie Trunk hosted at the Whisky. Each day a member from each band got up on a panel. Fernie Rod, Mick Finn and I went down and Mick went up (on the panel). Eddie introduces everybody and when it came time for us, Tracii grabbed the mic and he goes, “let me do this, I want to introduce Jetboy.” I couldn’t repeat exactly what he said but it was incredible. Everybody’s jaw went to the ground. He basically said Jetboy was the shit, they blew us away on this stage 20 year ago and no one ever wanted to play with them because they’d fuckin kick our asses. He basically said that every band on Rocklahoma this year better look out ’cause Jetboy’s gonna whip all our asses.
Sleaze Roxx: You guys were really cutting edge fashion-wise too.
Billy Rowe: Yeah back then that’s the thing too, once that whole scene blew up in LA and we were down there, we never really fit in. We always kinda slid around differently than a lot of the other bands. We had a singer with a mohawk. We had punk roots. It was very blues driven punk pop, but rock. You couldn’t really put a finger on us.
Sleaze Roxx: I was trying to think of another guy who had a similar Mohawk type hairstyle back then. I was thinking maybe King’s X.
Billy Rowe: Yeah that guy came along and we were like, oh god here comes guys with a mohawk and all that. When we started out Mick’s influences for the mohawk were bands like Exploited and GBH, hardcore punk bands from England. Our influences back then were of course AC/DC, Kiss, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick and all that kind of stuff. But also the underground stuff that was really big at the time, Hanoi Rocks, Lords of the New Church, and a band called Japan that was from England. They were kind of a dirty, rock ‘n roll, hip band – whatever you want to call them.
To me our history is what’s making it happen for us today. Just being that unique band that everybody was like, I just can’t put a finger on really what you guys are, you’ve got this you’ve got that. There’s so many elements in the band that it makes it different. For me, that’s the hardest thing to do in rock ‘n roll, come up with a band and actually stand on your own. For people to not say oh they sound like AC/DC or they sound like Aerosmith or they’re like this. We have those influences, you can definitely hear it in the music, but when you look at us you’ll scratch your head and then go I don’t know. What are they? (laughs)
Sleaze Roxx: Also in 2008, towards the end, you guys got a new drummer?
Billy Rowe: Yeah. We’ve gone through a few drummers. The drummer story, to make it simple, is this. The first show we got offered to do was a reunion show with no thought of even being a band again. Our drummer Ron Tostenson hadn’t played in 13 years. He said he was going to do it, and then he backed out at the last minute because he hadn’t played, and it was easier to say fuck it. I had a band called American Heartbreak going at the time. The drummer from that band did the one show. After we did it, there was such an overwhelming response, and we were like oh fuck we have to do something here. We booked a couple more shows and Ron called and said I’ll fuckin do it, I’m ready. So he came back and we did like 4 shows with Ron. That’s when Mick was still living in Hawaii and we were like going what are we gonna do? If we’re gonna do this we gotta do this. We talked to everybody and Ron was the only one who couldn’t commit basically, to say I can do this, practice, and be in a band, commit my time and so forth. So we said that’s fine, we understand the fact that you don’t want to be a member of Jetboy and we went on.
We got a drummer who was a friend of ours from way back. He was in a band called Specimen. It was more of a Goth type band. They were one of the originators of that scene like Bauhaus and that UK underground shit. He played with us a while but again he couldn’t commit. Once things started going and activities started going, he just couldn’t commit. The guy who was playing with American Heartbreak…which was on its last leg…that band’s over, I asked him if he wanted to do it and he said yeah. That was Jeff Moscone. He came along and did a year with us. We did all this stuff with Jeff and he was great, a great drummer, great dude. But when there’s a chemistry there is a chemistry. It’s nothing against him but that one cylinder wasn’t firing with him. It’s hard to tell people that. It’s not that it’s wrong, it’s just not right.
I have a cover band and this drummer, this dude e-mailed me on myspace. He used to be in a band that used to open for us on the San Francisco scene. He knew Mickey from back then and hung out with him a lot and partied in the early days. He was looking to start a band again and so happens he was a drummer. I’m like, well we don’t need anybody right now but I have a cover band I do for the fun of it. We just do some shows here and there if you want to come down and jam. So he did. He came down to jam and him and I just clicked. We became like really close. Once he came down to play I knew from the first kick and snare he did. I said this motherfucker is the guy. His personality is perfect and not only that, the guy knows what not to do behind that fucking drum kit. It really kind of fell into this timing thing. Mick and Fernie were both like it’s just not jiving with Jeff and something’s not feeling right. I said I know what you’re saying, I said I got the dude. I said I think Doug (Hovan), he’s the dude. He knows our history, he used to open for us in the old days. We have hundreds of friends in common. He’s into all the same music. So I told him, would you be interested? He just fuckin jumped at it. He said are you kidding me, it’s like a dream come true. He came down and played four songs with us and the rest is history. He’s with us now and he’s the fuckin best thing that’s happened to this band yet. It’s very cool. Chemistry and personality and everybody kind of connecting the dots the right way. It’s so important in a band.
Sleaze Roxx: Did you say that the American Heartbreak band is done?
Billy Rowe: Yeah. That’s done. Maybe some day there’ll be a show or something like that. That was a 10 year run for me. It was a lot of fun at moments. A lot of fun time, a lot of down time, a lot of no fun time. It ran its course ya know. It was a good band. We did a couple of great records. The last record I thought was great. But after getting back with Jetboy and that first rehearsal with myself, Mick and Fern, I knew what I missing for 10 years. It’s nothing against those guys in that band. There’s a chemistry that a group of people are lucky enough to get in a lifetime and myself, Mick and Fern have it. It’s undeniable when the three of us get together. When we write songs, or when we play together on stage it just clicks. Can’t even put it into words. Heartbreak was kind of on its last legs and things were kind of falling apart. Burning out on it, whatever. I had to put my energy into what was important and where my heart was. That was Jetboy.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s cool with you guys coming back is that you’re not just gonna do the old stuff over and over. You’re gonna actually start writing some new stuff.
Billy Rowe: Yeah, we already have man. We’ve got one called “Eddie’s Revenge” that we worked on last night. We’ve got one called “Goin’ Down Under the Clouds,” “That Guy is a Creep,” and “Dying Inside.” We’ve got four songs pretty much done. I’d say by March we’ll have a good 10 or 12 brand new songs. And then we’ll record. Mick lives in LA so Fern and I drove down two weeks ago to work with him. Again it was fuckin magic. We just sat down and had three songs. It was effortless, fun, no stress, no nothing. We all said, man we took this shit for granted. You don’t realize when you’re in it, you don’t see it. You get a away from it for a while you realize when you get back together with these guys that wow, this is no struggle at all like its been all these other years trying to do other projects. We’ve all done other music things. It’s a learning experience on top of it. We’ve grown a lot.
Sleaze Roxx: How does the song writing process go?
Billy Rowe: Jetboy has always worked in a real basic process. We worked with songwriters on the second record but it was still the same process, the same formula. Fern and I write music. Then we sit down and play the riffs for Mick. Then we go from there. Sometimes Mick would have a melody. He had one on one of these new songs. He sang it and had words. Then I started playing the melody and riff part along with what he had. Then it was how about switchin to this? Try singing this. For the most part Fern and I write the music. Fern and I balance magically as well. I’ll play something, he’ll play something, vice versa. Then it just flows. We sit around with acoustics and we start strummin away with a tape deck – an old rickety fuckin Realistic Radio Shack special like we’re in 1980. (laughs) That’s pretty much how it’s done. Mick has the words finished and we finish and arrange a song sitting around with acoustics. We’ve always done it like that for the most part. Not always, but 99% of the songs were written that way.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you feel any pressure for the songs to sound a certain way at this point?
Billy Rowe: This band never really felt any pressure. I think the pressure we did feel was during the albums and that period of being signed and young. People tell you you need to write a hit and this and that and your like, oh fuck we got signed off these songs, aren’t these great songs? But that pressure is gone and even if it was there we’d know how to handle it. I can handle that pressure now because I know how to work it. So does Mick and Fern.
Sleaze Roxx: Are there any modern bands out there that you find inspiring to you at the moment?
Billy Rowe: I don’t really like a lot of the mainstream that’s out there today. I’ve always been this way. I’ve always liked bands that never really broke, though but they should have in my opinion. Some of them have. There have been a lot of bands in the past 10 years that I love. One of them is the Wildhearts from England. Ginger from the Wildhearts, I think he’s one of the most talented songwriters out there. The Backyard Babies out of Sweden, they’ve been around 20 years. I love those guys. The Hellacopters too. Out of America…sadly enough there’s not a lot to me. Butch Walker for me, in the last 10 years has been probably the most exciting thing for me. He’s from about the same age group. He’s a great songwriter.
Sleaze Roxx: There is some website I saw where you have listed your top 10 picks of ’08. I think you listed Airbourne as one of them?
Billy Rowe: Airbourne is great too…Australian. They’re nothing new. They’re a derivative, echo, of some of my all time favorites – AC/DC, Angel City, and Rose Tattoo…Australian bands. That’s all Airbourne is, but fuck it, carry the torch. More power to ’em. If it rocks it rocks.
Sleaze Roxx: When did you say you would probably have songs ready to go to the studio with?
Billy Rowe: Ah…I’m hoping, in my head, (I’m just talking for myself) March. The pattern we’re going, if we follow the pattern of what we’re doing – we go to LA one weekend, Mick comes up 2 weeks later and we rehearse it. By the end of March, early April, we’ll have a record done. We are digging out some old songs that were released on some of these independent labels, Perris Records and Cleopatra, through the years which I had put out in the 90s and early 2000s. Songs that I’ve always felt (and everybody else felt) were great. Songs that were written for Feel The Shake or Damned Nation, or even some prior to Feel The Shake. We’ve pulled a couple of them out and dusted ’em off, turned the screws on ’em, and they fuckin rock. They were just never given the tender love and care in the studio because they were just demos. We just threw them against the wall as reference.
Sleaze Roxx: Is there a certain label that you’ve worked out anything with to put it out?
Billy Rowe: Nope. No, not right now. There’s some people that we’re going to be talking to. Jimmy Ashurst, the bass player from Buckcherry, is a long time friend of ours from back in the day. Stevie D, the guitar player, he’s become a good friend as well so that’s a couple good guys who will be out to help us when we get to the point of a new record. That’s about it with that right now. I think the first step is to write a great record and record a great record and let’s take it from there.
Sleaze Roxx: Are you gonna bring in any different instruments or do anything out of the ordinary for you guys?
Billy Rowe: No I don’t think so. We sat and talked about that and like Fern said, hey we’re rock n roll. Let’s do what we do. Just go in there with blues based rock. Let’s do what we do best. Let’s not reinvent the wheel here. That’s what I love about bands like AC/DC, Aerosmith, Cheap Trick, and the Rolling Stones. They have nothing to prove. Why try and reinvent the wheel when this is really us. There’s only one Led Zeppelin. That will be the only one. There will definitely be different flavors like what Jetboy is known for. But for the most part it will be just a great, good ol’ rock record.
Sleaze Roxx: So if you guys have something ready end of March you’ll be set to go out and tour this summer.
Billy Rowe: Yeah that’s the idea. Touring is something that’s totally on our list. In today’s world, reality, we all have our jobs and shit that we gotta do to fucking stay alive. But the goal is, and we feel it’s completely feasible and do-able, to get this band up to a working status where it’s a fucking pay check. We’re not asking for 5 million records. Those days are done. If it happens it happens, if it doesn’t it doesn’t. It’s getting up to a working level of being a touring act and putting product out and with the internet and what you can do now, just targeting your own market right from your own fucking house. You cut out the middle man who took all the money in the old days.
Sleaze Roxx: Will you guys handle your own bookings?
Billy Rowe: Booking is tough. We do do our own booking as of now. But once we get up to that level of touring, we’re going to need an agent. There’s a few that have helped us out. Right now I think it’s a good thing that we are free and clear of any type of obligation or any type of written contract.
Sleaze Roxx: You guys just got your first two albums (Feel The Shake & Damned Nation) up on iTunes. How did you get to do that?
Billy Rowe: We went though the right channels and just got the shit out. Then we had the stuff on Perris Records and Cleopatra. I think right now everything is downloadable.
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah I notice you’ve got quite a bit of material up. It’s pretty cool.
Billy Rowe: Yeah it was surprising, Mick kept pointing that out. Ya know we’ve got like 90 some songs up on iTunes. I said we’ve got that many? (laughs) There’s some shit we never even recorded. There’s also this website we did a deal with, well not really a deal, they’re out of San Francisco called trueAnthem.com. You can download songs for free. You (the artist) gets paid per download. What they do is find a sponsor. You (the artist) do a sponsorship in front of the song, like an introduction and that song is for free. Then they have the same song on there that a person can pay for, if you don’t want to have the ad and all that on there. It’s almost like a free advertising campaign. Here’s music for free, if you like it and you don’t want to hear that ad on the beginning, you can come and fuckin buy it for 99 cents a song or whatever. I kind of see that as the future of where things are headed. Nobody’s gonna stop people ripping off music on the internet. I use to fight it for a while. We make money on downloads and stuff. At the end of the day, if people want to hear music for free, they’re going to get it for free. If they want to pay for it, they’re gonna pay for it. So its gonna be the way it is. It’s just going to get more massive the more people start buying computers and living online.
Sleaze Roxx: There’s so much music out there. The stuff that’s most accessible is what’s going to be heard. That’s where the fans are going to come from.
Billy Rowe: Exactly. That’s how I look at it. At the end of the day when you are signed to a major label, the least money you make out of what you get from the label is the record. It’s the touring. If you can give shit away, all you are doing is building up a fan base for you to go out and make your money playing shows and selling merchandise. So it’s a great thing. The record labels are having a tough time. That whole part of the industry is crumbling.
Sleaze Roxx: Orange County Choppers are your sponsor on trueAnthem.com. How did they come into it?
Billy Rowe: It’s something that’s pitched to you. I think what they do is they pick an artist that they feel would best represent the company. We had a choice of two or three different ones. That seemed like the appropriate one. It’s a great idea. It’s helped us out. We’ve done nearly 3,000 downloads just by that sitting there. I think we should really work that hard and get the word out there more. We could do 10, 20, or 30,000 downloads on an average basis. It’s just a matter of building up that fanbase.
Sleaze Roxx: Are you guys played on satellite radio at all?
Billy Rowe: I’ve heard from people who say they hear us on there. I know Eddie Trunk’s played us. I got pretty tight with Eddie Trunk when we did Rocklahoma, enough where he gave me his cell number and we’ve spoken a few times. He wants to help the band out.
Sleaze Roxx: He’s got that show on VH1 Classic now called “That Metal Show.”
Billy Rowe: Yeah I know. I’d love to get on that with him too. Stump the Trunk! Fuckin A. That’s what we were geekin out about. I’m a big UFO fan and he is too.
Sleaze Roxx: Songs from Jetboy’s debut album were featured on the soundtrack for the movie “The ‘Burbs.” How did that come about?
Billy Rowe: That’s basically because we were on MCA which is a Universal company. The movie was on Universal and the person who was A&R for soundtracks was Kathy Nelson. She’s related to the Nelson’s. We were just one of the bands that were priority and they said hey we’ve got this movie “The ‘Burbs”, let’s pull some songs out. That’s how a lot of those bands that were on MCA got into those Universal films. Like Oingo Boingo or Charlie Sexton, stuff like that. It’s because they were signed to the music division of that. That’s really how that came about. That wasn’t us doing anything but getting a call from our manager saying they’re gonna use “Feel The Shake” or whatever they used in “The ‘Burbs.” We were like, cool. They did it for a Tony Danza movie too called “She’s Out of Control.” Micky Dolenz’s daughter Ami Dolenz was the star of that with Tony Danza.
Sleaze Roxx: Who came up with the early Jetboy logo?
Billy Rowe: Actually I did. I did a lot of the art stuff and all that shit. I was just noodiling around basically which I did a lot in those days, ya know, pencil to paper. Around that time or even before that, that band Girl if you remember them at all…Phil Collen (Def Leppard) and Phil Lewis (L.A. Guns) 1979-80. I loved the two albums they did. I was still in high school when their first album came out. That logo I loved. It was pretty inspirational. If you saw the really early rough sketches of the Jetboy logo you’ll see it definitely was nicked from the Girl logo. That’s where I came up with that. Once we got signed the art director refined it and made it all perfect and nice and fancy. Yeah but the infant stages was me.
Sleaze Roxx: What about the newer skull logo?
Billy Rowe: The skull was done by a friend who was Micky’s roommate at the time. He was a solo artist and was Hanoi Rocks’ guitar tech. Funny enough we knew him before we knew Sammy Yaffa. When Sammy joined the band we said, hey we know your buddy. Pretty funny, it’s a small world. It’s a fighter pilot skull. To this day I still love the whole concept of Jetboy and then you have the skull as a logo, which kind of counteracts the name of the band. It works.
Sleaze Roxx: In the first Jetboy video you were playing that semi-hollow body guitar. These days it seems you’ve gone to the Les Pauls.
Billy Rowe: Yeah. The first few shows (when Jetboy got back together) I did use that Gretsch. I still have it sitting in my living room. That guitar is the world to me, it’s vintage and it’s definitely a collector’s piece. I’d be too stressed out with that thing around on tour. Unless we were on a big tour and we had insurance and I know the thing is coming out of the case and on to the stage, then back into the case and on to the truck where there’s high security. But when you’re playing clubs…it’s worth too much money to take anywhere basically. I’d like to get the re-issue. I’ve got the Les Paul. I’m a guitar geek so I go through the phases. We all do, we love guitars and swap them around.
Sleaze Roxx: “Feel The Shake” is the song you guys are known for. Did you guys know when you were recording that that was probably going to be the one?
Billy Rowe: No. I don’t think so. It was the first single and first video. The song was written after we got signed and were in the song writing mode of doing the album. It was chosen as the first single and title track. It just kind of became that. I never really thought of any of the songs that wow this is going to be the song that’s big. It is the song that’s known.
Sleaze Roxx: When is your website going to be fully functional?
Billy Rowe: Hopefully in the next month or so. We just did new photos, that was a big part of it. It’s been really kind of tough for some of it because Mick lives in LA and we have to coordinate some stuff for when he gets up here. We got a guy who’s handling it all now. He just got all the photos fixed up and doctored up and nice and whatever. The website is going to be really simple at first I think and then it’s going to kind of build.
Sleaze Roxx: Fans can definitely go to www.myspace.com/jetboyrocks and find you guys.
Billy Rowe: Yeah. You can go to either one. If you go to the official one at www.jetboyrocks.com it will direct you to myspace right now. Myspace and Facebook and these other pages are the place to go these days I guess.
Sleaze Roxx: You guys, through myspace, have links to your own personal pages as well. Fern actually has a lot of nice blogs up concerning where you guys are at in the songwriting process.
Billy Rowe: He’s good at that.
Sleaze Roxx: It’s really interesting to read. I think he’s careful not to give away too much. Like he doesn’t go into details about what covers you guys are working on or anything, but you get a good sense of what you guys are up to. I think it’s something that’s really changed with the internet. Our favorite artists are so accessible now.
Billy Rowe: I think about what I had when I was a kid. I had the magazines. That’s really what the internet, these websites are – magazines. It’s great ya know, the whole myspace thing and personal pages, it just connects the fans as friends. You’re just that much closer and it’s cooler. You get a little more personal like that, fans, friends, whatever. But friends come across more. It’s a good idea.
Sleaze Roxx: You would know this. Fans I think have always been important to bands, but now more than ever that connection needs to be maintained.
Billy Rowe: Yeah absolutely. I just wonder, in today’s world, if we’re seeing “friends” replace fans in a strange way.
Thanks to Billy Rowe and Jason L.