Interview with Lipstick frontman Greg Troyan

Date: January 31, 2017
Interviewer: Olivier


Sleaze Roxx: Congratulations on your new album ‘Lipstick II.’ It seems that it has been a long time coming since we were already talking about it the last time that Sleaze Roxx interviewed you back in the summer of 2015. What took so long for the album to come out?

Greg Troyan: Life, basically. As an independent musician, you only get so much time you can spend actually making music, because you have to work around whatever day job you have, and then you’re working around the schedules of everyone else in your band. The bands I love are ’70s and ’80s rock bands, and those guys would release an album or two a year, so the incredibly slow pace of releases nowadays is something frustrating to me as an artist. But those guys would be in a non-stop cycle of recording and touring, and for an unsigned band, it’s pretty difficult to do that because you have to find some way to eat, pay the bills and then perform and record in whatever time you have left. Even bigger name musicians, like the singer for Accept, have day jobs nowadays. There are a few musicians I know who make their full-time income as musicians, but for a lot of us, we need side-jobs, and that makes the recording process take longer.

So, that by itself would make the album take a long time, but then add in the numerous guest spots on the album and working around everyone’s schedules, and the fact that I got married, moved and entered into a new career field this year, on top of trying to shop the album to labels, pushed everything back farther than we would have liked. We had the entire record finished in September, but the music video wasn’t going to be finished until October, and we wanted a full year to promote the album as a “new” product, so we opted to wait until January to release it, because if you release stuff late in the year, a lot of the press ignores it as last year’s news if you try to get them to talk about it by February. So, it was frustrating to delay it, but from a marketing perspective it was our best move.

Also, a space alien named Xandor stole our masters midway through the process, so that made the album take a little bit longer too!

Sleaze Roxx: Why did you decide to call it ‘Lipstick II’?

Greg Troyan: That was always the plan. I liked the way Led Zeppelin named their first four albums and I thought it would be cool to do the same for Lipstick. So, for the first four albums, the plan was/is to call them “Lipstick,” “Lipstick II,” “Lipstick III” and “Lipstick IV.” We may continue beyond that and keep it a band tradition. I’m a big fan of the Final Fantasy series and love comparing the different entries because each of them is so different and people have their preferences, so I thought it might be fun to compare Lipstick albums in the same way. So, we’ll see if we can continue that tradition going forward. And for the nerds out there, the best Final Fantasy games are VII, IV, IX and Tactics. And Chrono Trigger if it was a Final Fantasy game.

Sleaze Roxx: The album cover for ‘Lipstick II’ features the band members and a number of other people in cartoon format. What is the idea and/or significance of the album cover?

Greg Troyan: Well, we had a lot of guest musicians on this album, and a lot of them don’t live in Nashville. Billy Morris and Dougie Lixx are in Cleveland. Kyle Hebert lives in LA. Greg Loyacano lives in Texas. There’s no way we were getting everybody together for a photoshoot. So, the idea of the cartoon thing came from me realizing there was no way we could get everyone together for a photoshoot with the different schedules and locations of everyone we were dealing with. It’s partially inspired by ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’ and partially inspired by the title card of Dragon Ball Super. It’s a large cast of characters with different personalities, and the style made sense for us since we were already working with an artist that drew some of our characters like Professor Woofenstein and Ellie the Electric Pussycat in that style. I’m really happy with the way the cover and the packaging turned out for this album. We’re still friends with everyone who has left the band, and the people who left the band come back and play shows with us all the time, so it feels like nobody ever really leaves Lipstick but rather takes a break from playing shows. So, in my mind, everyone on the album cover is a member of the band.

Sleaze Roxx: How would you compare ‘Lipstick II’ to the debut album ‘Lipstick’?

Greg Troyan: ‘Lipstick’ is a harder rocking album with focus and a mission. The first album was about defining the band and the message, and because of that, it comes off as a little bit more ambitious, despite being simpler in a lot of ways. ‘Lipstick II’ is a bit more loose in terms of direction and is a bit more eclectic, but the songwriting and musicianship has greatly improved. Some of the songs are songs leftover from the first album that didn’t fit thematically with that album. This album is less focused on a theme and more about expanding upon the foundation already built in the first album. Overall, I think ‘Lipstick II’ is a better sounding album than the first album and is overall more lighthearted and fun. It’s not trying to prove anything. It’s just trying to be a fun record.

Sleaze Roxx: Which are your favorite songs on ‘Lipstick II’ and why?

Greg Troyan: “Stop” is probably my favorite song on the album because it’s a fun, catchy pop song and I love catchy pop songs. “Fight Back” has probably my favorite guitar riff I’ve ever written, so I really enjoy that one. “Love Of Some Kind” is really special to me because that’s the song I proposed to my wife with. And “Fake Nerd Girl” is a song that really ended up shining on the album. The recording of that song is really great.

Sleaze Roxx: You released a video for Lipstick’s cover of the Japanese progressive rock song “Cha La Head Cha La.” What was the idea behind the video?

Greg Troyan: Ever since I started listening to music, I’ve been a big fan of music from an international perspective. I listen to a lot of stuff in Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and some stuff in Spanish and Russian. There’s great stuff from all over the world so it’s nice to not limit yourself to simply English language music.

“Cha La Head Cha La” is a song I’ve known for years as the Japanese theme song from Dragonball Z. One day while on YouTube, I stumbled upon a live performance that the original singer, Hironobu Kageyama, did in 2009 and I was blown away. He was decked out in black and leather and looked really awesome. He performed like an arena rocker and I realized how cool the song could sound with a little bit more grit and edge, so it inspired me to want to do a cover of it. We covered it with Lipstick and we captured that sound live, so it made sense to record it.

For the video, it made sense to do an homage to Dragonball Z given that we already have the superhero and cartoon aesthetic, and given that Dragon Ball Super was coming to America soon, it seemed like the obvious choice for both the single and the style of the video. In the video, we battle the supervillain Doubt, who is the manifestation of all of the doubts, fears and anxieties of humanity. He’s the archnemesis of Lipstick and regularly makes appearances at our shows, so it felt appropriate for him to be the villain of a song all about following your dreams. In a way, the video was awesome because I got to live out my childhood dream of flying through the air as a superhero. What’s more fun than that?

Lipstick‘s “Cha La Head Cha La” video:

Lipstick Generation – Cha La Head Cha La

Music video for the Lipstick Generation song “Cha La Head Cha La” (the original Dragonball Z theme) from the album “Lipstick II”. In this music video, Lipsti…

Sleaze Roxx: You had a large number of guest musicians scheduled to play on ‘Lipstick II.’ Two of them will likely be familiar to Sleaze Roxx readers — guitarist Billy Morris of Tuff and guitarist/singer Igz Kincaid of Hessler. How do you know each of them and how did you end hooking up with each of them for the new album?

Greg Troyan: Billy, I’ve known for over ten years now. I met him at a backyard party where one of his local cover bands was playing. He saw me wearing a Poison t-shirt and thought I was cool so we got to chatting and he invited me onstage to play with him. Then we became friends and over the years we would perform together, and when doing the first album I had him produce it and play guitar on it. We’ve stayed friends over the years, and since we were having so many guests play on the new album, we thought it would be cool to have Billy do a guest solo. It’s great because it ties the two records together and helps give a sense of continuity. Billy has always remained a close friend, so even being states apart, we’re still able to create awesome music together, which is really exciting for me. He was actually in Nashville the other day and we got to hang out and catch up and it was awesome. Great player, greater friend.

Igz and I are buds and I’ve known him for years through the hard rock scene. I first met Igz at a Hessler show but I was aware of them for a long time before that show. After the gig, we chatted and became pals and have kept in touch since. Igz and Corey were the only guests originally slated to appear on the album that weren’t able to appear. Hessler and Lipstick have been undergoing the same situation in both bands where we had everyone leave except for the creative leader and the bassist. We both took time to lick our wounds, and Lipstick’s solution was to embrace the fact that we had a cast of thousands willing to play with us and created a musical collective similar to P-Funk. Igz’s solution was to buckle down with Erik and really focus on them as a duo with hired guns backing them up. It takes time to recover from losing bandmates, and with recording the new Hessler EP and our own album falling behind schedule, we weren’t able to make the guest spot happen. Scheduling conflicts make it difficult to collaborate, sadly. That’s just the nature of the beast though, and I’m glad Hessler is back in action and sounding better than ever. Igz and I are still pals, I still love him and am glad the new record is kicking ass. And who knows, maybe he will appear on ‘Lipstick III.’

Sleaze Roxx: Were you satisfied on how Lipstick’s debut album was received?

Greg Troyan: For the most part, yes. The album sold very well at shows and we developed a devoted fanbase who really loves that record, and the reviews as a whole were pretty good. I was surprised how well we did with the critics. So, in this modern musical market, the album actually sold pretty well, all things considered, so while it wasn’t as successful as I would have liked but it was still more successful than a lot of records coming out nowadays, so I don’t feel I should complain too much.

Sleaze Roxx: You had recently hinted via Facebook that you may be done with music or thinking of retiring as you were switching your artistic focus to writing. Was this just a fleeting moment or are you close to the end of your musical career?

Greg Troyan: I sing about following your dreams and doing what makes you happy. Writing is a big passion of mine, and it’s been a passion of mine longer than music. I have a lot of stories I want to tell, but I also have a lot of music I want to create, and my time to split between the two of them is limited. I always said that if I haven’t “made it” in music by the time I’m 30, I’ll shift my focus from music to writing. I fully acknowledge I’m a better writer than a musician, but I still love creating music and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. But, rather than spend 80% of my creative energy on music and 20% on writing, I may shift the focus where I focus more on writing. But I’ll never give up on music. I just may do less of it or shift the way I approach it. Lipstick may shift into more of a studio band, so to the outside world, we’ll be much more active, but we’ll focus less on marketing, so to me it’ll feel much less intense. It’s all about perspective and time put into it.

Sleaze Roxx: In an interview with Heavy Metal Time Machine about a year and a half ago, I thought that it was courageous of you to open up about your difficult childhood and how rock n’ roll turned out to be a real positive in your life. Why did you decide to open up about something so personal?

Greg Troyan: I started listening to music in 2004, so by the time I started listening to music, a lot of my favorite bands had already released box sets that were a retrospective of their entire career. My heroes had written autobiographies and had put their life stories on the line, so I got used to the idea that one day, my life story would be public knowledge if I became successful, so when the appropriate interview question came up, I would be able to just casually convey the information. For me, being open and honest about my experiences is a coping mechanism that helps me heal and deal with trauma. Hiding it makes it worse, so I’d rather just let it be out there and face it.

I assume you’re talking about the child abuse thing at the hands of my stepfather, which was the lyrical inspiration for “Fight Back” off of the new album.

Sleaze Roxx: Yes. That’s what I am talking about.

Greg Troyan: That’s an old song, written around the same time as most of the first Lipstick album. I wrote that back in 2007, along with a bunch of other Lipstick songs like “We’re Here To Rock You,” “Rock N Roll Forever” and “On The Eve of the Attack” from the new album. I left that one for ‘Lipstick II’ because I didn’t want to be known as the “child abuse” band. If you have a song like that right out the bat, it leaves an impression, and it wasn’t necessarily the impression I wanted to leave people with. Plus, “Fight Back” sounds like an anthem for returning — for a sequel — so it felt appropriate to help lead off the new album. I have a lot of great songs that haven’t been on Lipstick albums because they haven’t been representative of what I want the band to be at lyrically that may be released at a later date. I’ve written well over 600 songs, and a lot of it is great stuff, but it doesn’t always fit what Lipstick is currently doing. So, there’s still songs from over ten years ago may appear on future Lipstick releases [laughs]!

Sleaze Roxx: Your biological father Greg seems to be a big supporter of your musical ambitions. How important is it to have someone like that in your corner?

Greg Troyan: My Dad has always been one of my biggest supporters. I’ve had a lot of people tell me how great my music is and how it inspires them to follow their dreams, both friends and strangers, and it’s been one of the things that has kept me going all of this time. People have told me, “I would’ve given up hope, but then Lipstick inspired me,” so that kind of stuff keeps me going.

My Dad is a great supporter of all the things I do in my life and has always treated me with respect. He allows me to make my own choices and serves as a great cheerleader for whatever choice I may make, be it marrying the love of my life or making awesome rock music. It feels good to be loved and supported by your family, and it’s nice for him to get a little shoutout. My mother and grandparents also support my music, but my Dad has always been the biggest supporter of my music because he sincerely appreciates it both as a Dad and as a fan of awesome rock. He doesn’t have to pretend to like it just because I’m his kid, so it’s nice to have someone close to you sincerely appreciate your art. It helps give me a sense of pride.

Sleaze Roxx: What’s the status on your Elvis Presley book?

Greg Troyan: It’s been largely pushed to the side for the time being. I got a new job, new house, recently got married and just put out a new album, so the book has been largely put on the back burner for the time being and will probably continue to be on the back burner for a few months while we do a big push on the new album. The first draft is about 75% completed, and once I sit down and work on it, it would probably only take about two months to finish the first draft and then maybe a month or two to edit. Alice Cooper once said he couldn’t become a professional golfer because he’d be away from music for too long in order to do it right, and so this is a prime example of the conflict between music and writing for me. In order to have time to record music, have a job, spend time with my wife and my friends — which to me is more important than anything else in my life — I have to sacrifice a little bit of the time I’d like to write. But the book is mostly done. I’m moving again to another part of Nashville, so once the move settles and we’re about midway through the year, I hope to get the rest of it knocked out.

Sleaze Roxx: What are Lipstick’s plans for the rest of 2017?

Greg Troyan: We’d like to record a new music video or two to promote the album and hopefully book some shows where we open for somebody bigger than us. We’ve kinda pushed the local scene as far as we can go with Lipstick as the headline attraction, so we’re hoping to open for some touring bands as they pass through. We’re looking at some management and distribution deals, so hopefully something goes well with that but I’m always a cautious optimist. Idealistically, I’d like to get started on recording a new album because I don’t enjoy long gaps in between albums, but we’ll have to see how busy we are with playing shows and promoting the album.

Sleaze Roxx: Is there anything else that we haven’t covered that you’d like to mention?

Greg Troyan: I just wanna say to everyone out there, follow your dreams, do what makes you happy, and it’s okay if your goals change. My goal used to be dominating the world with rock n’ roll, and now, I’m happily married and surrounded by the best friends in the world — many of whom appear on the new album. For me, the goal of my life is now appreciating the friendships and bonds I’ve made in my lifetime and going on new adventures with those friends. Music is a big part of that journey, but instead of the goal, it’s become my pathway for the journey. I don’t know where it will take me, or what level of success I’ll find, but I think my music will be better because it will be a celebration of friendship, love and life. I hope you’ll take the time to check us out and hope that more people will be able to find happiness like me. The reason I started doing music was to spread joy, so hopefully I’m able to spread a little your way. Thanks and God Bless. Also, Olivier, you’re awesome and run one of the best websites in the world. Thanks for carrying the torch!