INTERVIEW WITH RETURN OF THE COMET AND FOUR BY FATE SINGER / GUITARIST / KEYBOARDIST TOD HOWARTH (PART 2 OF 2)
Date: January 29, 2019
Interviewer: Tyson Briden
AS WE ARE ABOUT TO EMBARK ON PART TWO OF THE TOD HOWARTH INTERVIEW, I WANTED TO QUICKLY ACKNOWLEDGE THE FACT THAT WHEN DOING AN INTERVIEW, IT CAN GO TWO WAYS, ONE BEING THAT IT FOLLOWS THE DIRECTION OF THE SCRIPT THAT YOU HAVE PREPARED OR THE OTHER BEING THAT IT JUST FLOWS INTO A GREAT CONVERSATION. ON THIS ONE, IT WAS DEFINITELY THE LATTER. TO BE HONEST, THESE ARE ALWAYS MY FAVORITES. IN SOME WAYS, YOU ARE REALLY GETTING TO KNOW THE PERSON YOU ARE INTERVIEWING. I HAD ONLY EVER TALKED TO HOWARTH VIA FACEBOOK, SO I HAD NEVER ACTUALLY HEARD HIS VOICE BEFORE (BESIDES ON RECORD OF COURSE).
I THINK IN SOME WAYS THIS IS THE HARDEST PART OF THIS JOB. IT’S THE UNKNOWN. WHAT WILL THE ARTIST REALLY BE LIKE? HOW WILL THEY REACT TO A CERTAIN QUESTION? SO BEFORE YOU READ THIS, PLEASE TAKE A MOMENT TO PONDER THE POINT OF HOW YOU YOURSELF WOULD APPROACH SUCH A CONVERSATION. NOW DON’T WASTE TOO MUCH TIME ON THIS, BUT I THINK AS MUSIC LOVERS, WE ALL FANTASIZE ABOUT THE FACT OF TALKING WITH OUR HEROES. WHAT WILL YOU SAY? HOW WILL YOU BE PERCEIVED? WILL YOU BE SCARED SHITLESS AND HAVE TO CHANGE YOUR UNDERWEAR WHEN THE CONVERSATION IS COMPLETE? IT’S ONLY NATURAL FOR EVERYONE OF US TO THINK ABOUT THE ‘WHAT IF’S’. NOW THAT YOU’VE DONE YOUR HOMEWORK OR AS I TERM IT, YOUR ‘SELF EVALUATION’ FOR THE DAY, PLEASE ENJOY THE REMAINDER OF THE INTERVIEW.
Sleaze Roxx: To be honest, I love the possibility of hearing all the Tod Howarth / Frehley’s Comet material consecutively. What I’m getting at is — hearing some tracks I may not have heard live back in the ’80s with you on vocals. Hearing “Breakout” into “Fallen Angel”, then “Calling On You” — some of these you did perform live yes, but with it being Ace’s name and band, some of your songs didn’t get played live because you had to throw in the KISS songs as well. I have the VHS of ‘Live +4’ in my hands — there’s “Cold Gin”, “Shock Me” and “Rocket Ride.” There’s only two of your songs on there. I am sure the show may have been longer than what’s on the video.
Tod Howarth: Yeah, I even remember, but as far as Return of the Comet, we’re not really doing any KISS songs. We’re going to be doing Comet songs. We did the KISS songs with Ace of course because Ace was with KISS. A lot his fans wanted to hear it. If for some reason we slip in a KISS [song] that’s fun to play, that people want to hear, so be it, but we’re really going to concentrate on songs that didn’t get played. Like Frehley’s Comet’s probably never played “It’s Over Now” because the band fell apart before we could ever get to it, which actually would have been tricky because I played everything on that except for bass and drums. Ace didn’t play anything on it. Not that he couldn’t have played the lead and done the parts, but we would have had to work it out. Now what we’re going to do with Return of the Comet, we’re going to do “It’s Over Now.” John and I have been doing it with Four By Fate for four years now. It’s gone over very well, but we’ll also be doing “Words Are Not Enough” which is a demo. A couple of songs that didn’t get a lot of headway I think maybe from Richie’s time. We’re going to do some of those. We’ll do a couple ‘Trouble Walkin’’ things. I’ve got the list on my computer. I haven’t really gone over a lot of it yet, but there will be some new stuff that we haven’t played. I think it will be fun for the fans.
Frehley’s Comet‘s “It’s Over Now” video:
Sleaze Roxx: That’s kind of what I was getting at — I love the possibility of the fact that it’s going to be purely Frehley’s Comet — songs that you sang. To me, that’s really exciting. My same friend that I spoke of earlier, back in the day when ‘Second Sighting’ came out, he absolutely loved all of your material.
Tod Howarth: Thank you. That’s great.
Sleaze Roxx: “Fallen Angel” was one of them. He would play that song over and over again [cheers Allan]!
Tod Howarth: [Laughs]
Sleaze Roxx: I’d be like, “We’re gonna hear this again? Really [laughs]?”
Tod Howarth: “I’ve heard that enough! Thank you!” I really get that!
Frehley’s Comet‘s “Fallen Angel” video:
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Sleaze Roxx: It was cool. “Breakout” was another one — “Something Moved.” He just gravitated towards what you were doing on both albums, where I was the guy that loved both. He wasn’t really a KISS fan.
Tod Howarth: Different lines of thought — there are a lot of people that just couldn’t stand me at all because they’re big Richie [Scarlet] and Ace fans. They didn’t want anything to do with me. Then they thought it was too light, but in all reality I’m a very heavy player. A very heavy songwriter, but because you know, “It’s Over Now” had keys, they thought it was light. I wrote that song for Cheap Trick to do and they didn’t do it. This was just before I joined Frehley’s Comet. When Rich and I talked, my idea was, and we’ve always kind of known this, it’s just the way it is, Richie’s a great lead player, he’s a great showman and he’s simply a great lead guitar player. He writes some good songs. He’s got a good distinctive voice for singing as well. My voice is completely different from Richie’s and it can stretch into a broader demographic than what Richie sings. So what we’re gonna do is — I’m going to primarily be the lead singer with Richie singing lead on a lot of tunes. Then Richie will jump primarily to lead guitar, which I’ll be doing lead guitar on a couple songs as well. So that’s how it’s going to play out. We’re going to split up “Breakout” for the fun of it because Richie wrote it, but I put my vocals on it and made it a brand. It’s going to be fun to split it up. He’ll probably sing a verse and I’ll sing a verse. I’ll do the choruses or — we’re not really sure how we’re going to work it out yet, but that’s the kind of thing sometimes you just leave to chance and see what happens. You get in the room together and you see what happens [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: Honestly, that is fantastic. So would Richie — I believe he sang “2 Young 2 Die” on ‘Trouble Walkin’?
Tod Howarth: Yeah, I think that’s one of the songs on the list if I’m not mistaken.
Sleaze Roxx: I think that’s the only one on ‘Trouble Walkin’ he sang. Now getting back to “It’s Over Now” — you mentioned it was on the Four By Fate album. I didn’t realize this. I went on our site [Sleaze Roxx] and you had done an interview with Ruben in 2016. So I checked his questions because I didn’t want to say the same things again.
Tod Howarth: I appreciate that!
Sleaze Roxx: I mean, our readers have already read that. I was reading about “It’s Over Now” in that interview. When you re-recorded that song, what was your approach on it? Did you change much from the way you actually originally did it on the Frehley’s Comet album?
Tod Howarth: Umm… no! There was — not a problem with it, but when John said he wanted to re-record it, I said, “Let’s not. Let’s just leave it alone! It doesn’t need to be re-recorded! We’re not going to top it! It is what it was! If it’s going to be re-done it should be re-done by somebody else with their twist on it!” John insisted on it. John and I were business partners in Four By Fate. We financed the record and financed the band to begin with. He said, “No, we really should do it!” I said, “Okay, well let’s cut it and see what happens!” I wanted to change a couple things up, but John was very instrumental in getting that song on the Frehley’s record because I played it for him when we were mixing the first record, in the studio on the piano, just live and I sang it. He goes, “Holy crap, we’ll have do that on the second record!” So he brought it to the second record and he was one of the co-producers as well of course with all his expertise. He helped shape the song as it is. I brought in the parts, the strings, the lead, the keyboard. We assembled it and that’s the way it was.
So when we recorded for Four X Fate he wanted to do the very same thing and his idea, which was not bad, he said, “The song never really got as much attention as it should have back then.” Which is true because they put it out as a third single or something and they didn’t put any money behind it, so it died! So John said, “Let’s try it again!” and I’m thinking, “I don’t know if that’s a great idea!” We did it anyhow and I changed a couple things vocally, but not really. The tag guitar parts — the tag guitar parts on the very end, I changed those a little bit because after so many years of playing it, you just play it differently. You don’t play it the way it was written. The same thing with the piano — the piano is pretty close to the way I wrote it, but to be honest, I don’t fucking remember! I played it a certain way and then after Frehley’s Comet, I never played it again because it was never warranted or needed. I was onto solo bands and doing other things — of course back to Cheap Trick for another six years. When I finally started doing “It’s Over Now”, I remembered the chorus, but I had to go, “What was the voicing? What was I thinking? What was I playing?” Now I’m playing a version of it that’s probably a little bit different from the way I tracked it! Somewhere I have recordings of basic tracks, just piano bass and drums. Also my guitars. It’s just huge! I can hear all the things I played, but it’s just kind of hard to hear the inflections now with complete production
Sleaze Roxx: I’m that guy, I love listening to isolated tracks. It may be weird just with the music, sometimes without the vocal to hear what was actually — just isolating things and listening to just what the guitar is doing.
Tod Howarth: That’s funny you mention that because this new heavy rock that I’m doing — I just played two tracks for our sound guy. Something without vocals and he said, “Holy crap, these are fantastic!” They’re fat, big and heavy. What I want to do after I get these CDs done, I am going to do an extra bonus CD of more isolated mixes so people can hear my drumming, my bass playing, my guitar playing and/or just the singing. I’m not sure I’ll do them complete, but just way up front so you can hear what the hell I’m doing.
Sleaze Roxx: That’s cool. If you remember — VH1 had the ‘Classic Albums’ thing. That intrigued me. I would watch every episode of those because I wanted to hear. They would go in the studio and they’d break stuff down. You’d hear what was in behind the songs. I could be a little weird that way or possibly I love the art of music that much.
Tod Howarth: Well, you’re dissecting it because you’ve learned to like, love or listen to certain tracks and you want to hear what the components were because when you go in and listen to them isolated, you go, “That was completely different than what I thought it was!” You know it’s very interesting. There are a lot of people that want to hear that and I thought it’s kind of fun for people that don’t know me as a bass player, to hear my bass played because I’m a pretty resident Barney Rubble on bass! It’s a lot of fun to play it. I thought people might like to hear all the instruments I like to play. I’m not a great drummer, but it would be fun for people to hear me play. Like one of my drummers in my old cover band from here in San Diego, who played on my video for “Cold Beach” — he’s a phenomenal drummer and he loves to hear my drumming because he says, “You come up with stuff that doesn’t belong, but it’s so much fun!”
Sleaze Roxx: I would totally be all over that. “I want to hear the song, then I want to hear it broken down!”
Tod Howarth: It’s going to be like a bonus thing or a proof or purchase type ordeal. The tracks are there. I just do a different mix.
Sleaze Roxx: That is awesome! I cannot wait for that to come out!
Tod Howarth: It will be a lot of work, but I’m blue collar, so I’m used to hard work! Everything is a fucking chore man. Everyday my ass is just exhausted. That’s the way my work ethic is because I apply that to my music. If you want it done right, you do it yourself or you pay somebody to do it for you!
Sleaze Roxx: That is what my dad always told me!
Tod Howarth: It’s a good thing because I don’t know how old you are, but as you get older, you start to appreciate the things that you worked for.
Sleaze Roxx: Oh I agree. I’m 44! I wanted to talk about Eddie Kramer. He produced the first Frehley’s Comet. I am always intrigued by him. He produced KISS’ ‘Rock And Roll Over’, Ace’s KISS solo album and the ‘Let It Scream” album by The Scream, which is an album I absolutely love. There’s that energy that he captures. What was it like working with him?
Tod Howarth: Well, to be honest, I was somewhat overly ignorant to who Eddie Kramer was. I knew of his Zeppelin and Hendrix notoriety, but I didn’t really know all the stuff that he did with KISS or KISS related for that matter. Growing up here on the west coast, I moved to San Diego — I wasn’t and this is not a KISS slam, but I was not a KISS fan. I didn’t listen to them because I was into bands like Van Halen, Aerosmith, Rick Derringer, Jeff Beck and those types of influences, but when working with Eddie, as I grew to know what he had done and what he was capable of, it was very fun. I think I would like to know now, or later on and be working with him again because it’d be a different thing. What he brought to the table there was probably a lot more than I saw or acknowledged at the time because I’m used to producers to a degree, but I’ve done a lot of my own stuff. Not that I know everything because I sure as hell don’t, but there’s always some stuff you can learn — new stuff, but he did grab certain performances out of me on every level that maybe nobody else would have. He did a tremendous job on the first record I thought.
Sleaze Roxx: Previously, you mentioned “Words Are Not Enough.” I love that song — the version that ended up on ‘Live +1’ E.P. was a demo?
Tod Howarth: Yeah, it was. It was either a demo or — I can’t remember if it was a track that — some of the tracks were cut for the first album before I even joined.
Sleaze Roxx: I listened to an interview John [Regan] did on Three Sides of the Coin a few years back. He had mentioned something about record company politics that played into that scenario. That song could have almost been given a chance to be a single.
Tod Howarth: Well, I don’t know what happened there and John would have to refresh what little memory I have in terms of the politics of that song. The tune and this goes along with a lot of things where people said, even Ace said, “Well Tod put too much keyboard influence in the band!” Well… no. I didn’t because a lot of those keyboards from the first record were already on there before I joined the band. I had nothing to do with it. I embellished things here and there, but I was not the keyboard pusher. I wanted to play guitar. I had enough fucking keyboards in Cheap Trick. So I just wanted to play some guitar and heavy out. With that song, I don’t remember if we worked on it in the studio and then it became — it may have been a demo that was good enough to be on a record. We may have put more stuff on it or not. I’d have to listen to the track again. I’ve listened to it a couple times and I’m thinking, “Is that me singing back up?” I don’t remember.
Sleaze Roxx: I’m going to have to listen to it again myself. I have all three Frehley’s Comet releases on vinyl. I’ve actually had ‘Live +1’ since it came out. I haven’t heard that song in a while.
Tod Howarth: It’s probably something we’re going to end up doing because it’s a good song. I think it’s probably — when I first heard it, I thought, “Well this really doesn’t sound like it’d be an Ace Frehley, heavy rock, KISS type associated tune!” It’s a good song, for back in the day! I thought Ace may have been going for something different. Again, at that point, I was just, not a complete hired gun, but I was brought in to add many different dynamics and abilities.
Sleaze Roxx: So after ‘Second Sighting’, you were more or less told that you wouldn’t be part of the writing process for the next release, which would be ‘Trouble Walkin’.
Tod Howarth: It was explained to me because sales weren’t as good as the first one, which is kind of hard to do, that because I wrote half the album — and the only reason I did that was because Ace didn’t have anything ready for that album — I had a lot of stuff ready, so the suits thought that, “Well, maybe Ace should write and sing everything on the next album!” At that point, I’m thinking, “I’m not really sure what I’m here for!” The only way I was making any real money was to be a writer and getting writer’s publishing. Royalties and stuff. We didn’t do a lot of touring to supplement the band, which would keep us afloat. We got some merchandising, but a lot of it went right back into the band, so I am now, I’m not going to sing, I’m not going to write, so I thought, “What the fuck am I doing here?” So, I called Ace. I called him up myself and said, “I gotta tell ya, based on everything that I’ve been told here, I have no choice but to leave the band!” He said, “Well, I really don’t want you to leave. I think you should stay!” “Well, I’d love to but I can’t do this and not have any form of income! Who’s going to keep me afloat? So I’ve got to go out and take my own chances!” Of course, it near bankrupted me, but that, along with the disillusion of my first marriage, it was not a good year! That was my doing as well, it was time to get out of that marriage. I left. The rumors came out and Ace said he fired me because I was too heavy on the keyboards or something. It’s kind of a thing where it saves face. I get it. It’s business, but the truth of the matter is I quit!
Sleaze Roxx: That makes sense. The point I was actually getting to was did you have any material in mind for what was to become ‘Trouble Walkin’?
Tod Howarth: I had a couple ideas which ended up being put on my ‘Silhouette’ CD. My solo CD that was of very poor production because it was just a little eight track. I didn’t have real drums. I had to program the drums on my keyboard to do those tracks. It was fun. A couple of the songs and I can’t remember if it was “Don’t Go”, which was another big ballad type song. I think that was designed to be on the next record. I can’t remember the other. I’ll have to look at the CD, but yeah I had some tunes that were ready to be worked on.
Sleaze Roxx: I believe in another interview I had listened to and it may have been with John Regan, that you always have songs ready to go.
Tod Howarth: Oh yeah! I’ve got so many songs right now, but I can’t get them down fast enough on tape because I’m doing three solo CDs. One’s kind of like an easy going, acoustic album of all originals. The other is an acoustic of Frehley’s Comet tunes, just the ones that I sang. Then the other one is heavy rock tunes. So, there’s a plethora of songs. I was working on one last night. There’s two guitars sitting right next to me and Alphie, my dog right now and I’m always working on songs. The problem is I don’t have enough time to get them down.
Here’s a problem! Over the years, your ears start to go! Not so much go, but they start to ring. When I used to spend like six and eight hours under the headphones working on songs, I could do that when I was younger, now after about three – four hours of trying to record — that’s me doing everything under the headphones, my ears are just going, “Fuck you!” It’s just too hard on my left ear. So I can only do so much comfortably. Only so much every day, besides all the stuff I’m doing, which again is a plethora of things. Working on the Return of the Comet and Four by Fate, it’s just busy.
Sleaze Roxx: You sound very busy. I frequently see photos of you with your collection of headless guitars as we will call them. Are they Steinberger’s?
Tod Howarth: Yes, they’re Steinberger’s. They’re all old Steinberger’s from the late ’80s, early ’90s. They’re called the GM Series, Embodied. They have bodies on them and they were built in Newburg. They all have binding on them, which later on they took the binding off and they got sold to Gibson. All the funky things started to happen, but I learned about Steinberger’s from Ace Frehley. As a matter of fact, a friend of, or a fan friend over the years, photographer and KISS aficionado, Bill Baker, sent me a whole bunch of pictures and in the backs of these pictures, you can see me playing Ace’s black Steinberger on stage, which is the first Steinberger I ever played in the studio. Ace handed it to me and said, “Here, play this!” I said, “What the hell is this?” I played it and I was like, “Holy crap! This thing sounds amazing!” I played everything through my 100 watt Marshalls. The neck was a little thin. It still is a little thin for my personal taste since I learned on a 1957 Les Paul which was a perfect neck for my hand, but I liked the durability of the guitar because my kids back then were young and they used to run around the house and knock over my Les Paul’s, my Flying V’s and my Explorer’s. It was freaking me out. The Steinberger’s are pretty sturdy. They wouldn’t have a headstock that would break off and they’re kind of novel looking.
Playing Ace’s black one, I went and ordered a red one. I did all my recording on the record with Ace’s black one, then just a few tracks, just maybe the leads with the red one because it came in at the last part of recording sessions. So I only had the red one for years. Then I bought a white one. The GM4T — I think that’s what they call it. And a Transtrem as well. I bought that locally here at a shop that I still deal with — Mark’s Guitar Exchange on Midway Drive here in San Diego. Great guys own the business. Then I started — I found a couple more. Just in the last five or six years, I’ve just been buying and investing in them. The guy that refinishes all the custom colors is the very same guy that worked on them back in the day in Steinberger’s factory. A guy named Jeff Babex and I just saw him at NAMM for the first time in person. It was such a great meet. We discussed a couple more guitars. He’s got one set aside for me that he’ll be starting on next month for another color. Then after that, I’ve got to save up my ducketts for — they’re gonna do a special double neck 12 string and the GM1 six string. Yeah, that’s gonna cost me an arm and a leg.
Sleaze Roxx: I bet. You also have a Steinberger bass too?
Tod Howarth: I have three Steinberger basses. I have a red one. A beautiful black one — I don’t like playing it because I don’t want it to get hurt or wrecked. Then I’ve got a beautiful black fretless. I love playing bass. I’ve also got an old Victor bass that I bought from Tom Peterson of Cheap Trick. He also gave me one of his Waterstone 12 string basses. So I’ve got that too!
Sleaze Roxx: In all, how many Steinberger’s do you own?
Tod Howarth: I have 18 — three basses and 15 M body style guitars, two of them which are GM4T, which is a three pick-up configuration. The rest of them are just the single pick-up in the sweet spot. They are all Transtrem.
Sleaze Roxx: They don’t have Floyd Rose’s on them?
Tod Howarth: No, the Transtrem — they bend all in tune. It bends on a cant. It doesn’t bend like a regular tremolo. They don’t make them anymore. I think they may have started to re-manufacture them, but for years they have not made them and you could not find them. Jeff refinishes them for me when he can find the parts. For a while there, those bridges, when you could find them, would run $2,000 a piece.
Sleaze Roxx: So they have a patent on that design then?
Tod Howarth: Yeah, there’s a patent and it’s several different pieces that go together. They have a quick click type situation with the tremolo bar where you can tune it into one key, click it down a half step and a full step down and it stays in tune.
Sleaze Roxx: That is amazing.
Tod Howarth: Yeah, they’re a very distinctive sound. I came to love them. Just the way it sounded. So, all my guitars have them with the exception of the bass. They all have Transtrem’s.
Sleaze Roxx: I have never actually seen a Steinberger close up or in person for that matter.
Tod Howarth: They’re rare. A lot of people don’t like them because they don’t have a headstock and they’re creeped out by it. I play anything. I don’t care what it is. Tom Peterson also turned me onto these baritone guitars. So I have two custom baritone guitars made by Chandler. They are insane. The strings are really fat. They’re like an octave below regular guitar. There’s six strings. I’ve written on ‘Cobalt Parlour.’ I’ve got about six or seven tunes on it that were written with baritone and I just love them to death. Now I want to get a five string bass and I also want to get a couple seven string guitars. I’ll play anything I can get my hands on. Again… learning something! Having fun. Everybody writes a certain amount of stuff in the same genre or same avenue of chordal structure, so you need inspiration to do something different. With the five string bass or the seven string guitar, it’s like, “Alright! What can I do with this?” Same thing with the baritone guitar, it’s a whole different playing pattern, feel, distortion etc. It like, “Wow!” You feel inspired to write new songs. That’s the way I look at it.
Sleaze Roxx: Too me, that makes total sense. Now, I think, that is pretty much all I have!
Tod Howarth: Well fantastic. Good job!
Sleaze Roxx: Yes! Thank you very much. That was fantastic and I appreciate it very much.
Tod Howarth: Well, I appreciate you asking Tyson and I am glad I could answer some questions!
Frehley’s Comet “Something Moved” video:
Amazing performance recorded live at the Hammersmith Odeon, London, England on March 19, 1988. Ace Frehley: guitar, vocals Tod Howarth: guitar, lead vocals John Regan: bass, vocals Jamie Oldaker: drums