Interview with Red Dragon Cartel bassist Anthony Esposito – Part 2 of 2

June 4, 2022
Interviewer: Jeff Onorato
Photos: Olivier (first and second photos), Jeff Onorato (last five photos)

In Part Two of my in-depth interview with bassist Anthony Esposito, we delve farther into his tenure in the Ace Frehley band as well as the undertaking of creating Red Dragon Cartel’s under-rated second album Patina. It was recorded entirely at Esposito’s Obscenic Arts studio where he currently records and develops a wide array of both new and established artists spanning various musical genres. He also candidly shared his views on several hot topics within the music industry and even offered some advice to fledgling bands just starting out. In this final instalment, we also look ahead at the future of Red Dragon Cartel and various projects that he has in the works including a potential solo album.

Sleaze Roxx: You played bass with Ace Frehley from 2006-2012, did two world tours…

Anthony Esposito: Actually, no…. I was in it until like 2015. 2014-2015 was when I finally got the axe. The snip. Over a case of beer.

Sleaze Roxx: A case of beer?

Anthony Esposito: Yeah, I got fired over a case of beer. ‘Cuz I was tour managing, I was doing merch, musical director, I designed the stage sets. Pretty much put the setlist together and put the band together. And I had gotten tired of the guys in the crew and the band having to buy beer at the venue after the gig, ‘cuz Ace was sober. And Ace would never be on the bus, he would always fly. So, I put on the rider “a case of beer” with the pizzas after load-out on the bus. I knew Ace would never be there, so it wasn’t like temptation on him. And he got mad at me. He’s like “Don’t you know they put those riders on the internet? Paul [Stanley] and Gene [Simmons] are gonna see a case of Heineken on the rider and think that I’m drinking again, and then I’m not gonna get back into KISS.” And I was like “OK, I’m sorry. I should have asked.” I shouldn’t have just put it on there. But I mean, a warning would have been nice after all that I did. He fired me over it. So, I was like “OK, you’re the boss. It’s your name up on the marquee. I get it.” We’re still friends. We still text every once in a while, but….

Sleaze Roxx: Still, you’ve played bass with three of the greatest guitarists of our time. That’s got to be a surreal thing for any musician.

Anthony Esposito: I’ve played with a lot more. A lot of people don’t know, but I was in a band called Pisser that had Frank and Richard Fortus, and then Fortus left and we got Bumblefoot. And then when I was in… I was in the BulletBoys for like two weeks. It was Jason Hook from Five Finger Death Punch. So, I’ve played with a lot more guitar heroes than… Those are the three that I’ve recorded with and toured with, but I’ve played with a lot. I’ve been blessed to have been chosen to be in the situations to play with those guys and get to… I mean, I’m proud of all the records I did with George [Lynch] and Ace. The [Ace Frehley] ‘Anomaly‘ record is really good, and [Red Dragon Cartel’s] ‘Patina‘ I love. I kind of want my legacy to be, whatever I did with anyone it was always a high quality / high standard, you know, not a crappy throwaway record.

Sleaze Roxx: You definitely have succeeded at that.

Anthony Esposito: I mean ‘Wicked [Sensation]’, ‘Anomaly’ and ‘Patina’ are pretty good. And I think that they’re good records in the legacy of the guitar players. You could put ‘Wicked’ up against anything George ever did. It’s pretty much one of the best records that George ever played on. Same thing, ‘Anomaly’, as Ace’s solo albums go is pretty far up there. I would put it after the ’78 solo album. And then ‘Patina’ is really quality, and it’s a great work and it shows Jake’s talents and I’m proud of that one too. So it’s like those three are my moments with those three guys that I’m proud of, you know?

Ace Frehley performing “Pain In The Neck” live at the Nokia Center in New York City, New York, USA on March 21, 2010 (video from KISSARMYHQ‘s YouTube page):

Sleaze Roxx: And with ‘Anomaly’, you worked with [drummer] Anton Fig of course….

Anthony Esposito: Yeah, it was really good. That record could have sounded a lot better. It got hijacked. I owned a studio in New York, and we hired Jay Messina to engineer, who is Jack Douglas’ engineer. He did like, the first five Aerosmith records, John Lennon. He did the first two or three Cheap Trick records. I mean, Jay is like one of the greatest engineers rock ever had. And I knew him because the New York Dolls recorded a record in my studio with Jack and Jay. So, when we were going in to record, it was me, Ace, and Anton. It was like, “let’s get Jay to engineer it.” And then I had [Steve] Thompson and [Michael] Barbiero mixing it. And they were the guys who did Tesla and they mixed ‘Appetite [For Destruction]‘ and they were right over the bridge. Ace was living in Ossining. They were right over the bridge in Nyack. And something happened.

Ace got a new manager. I got pushed off to the side. The record got hijacked, taken to L.A., the cover song was recorded — “Fox On The Run.” Where I told Ace “No covers man. People want to hear… You haven’t made a solo album in twenty-some odd years. People want to hear you. They want to hear what’s going on in your life. They don’t want a cover song.” And the record got hijacked, it went to L.A., got mixed in L.A. — it doesn’t sound nearly as good as it could’ve been. And I think it sounded too modern. And I didn’t want that modern thing. We recorded it old school. And I wanted the “Parasite” licks. I wanted the Ace Frehley guitar, Ace Frehley lead guitar. The guitar hero guy that everybody loves. And the record got hijacked, it went to L.A., I got pushed off to the side, and I thought it deteriorated the end product a lot.

Sleaze Roxx: I know he wrote one song on that album with Sebastian Bach.

Anthony Esposito: Well, it was called “Hard For Me”.

Sleaze Roxx: Right. And they changed the name…

Anthony Esposito: “Foxy And Free”, which I had nothing to do about that and I thought “Hard For Me” was brilliant and also, there was this nasty instrumental called… It ended up being called “Space Bear” for some stupid-ass reason. And it was originally called “Skells” because Ace’s friend was an EMT guy in New York City. And these old, withered heroin addicts, whenever he had a call, they would call them “skells” on the radio. “I’ve got a skell on 14th and 10th Avenue.” So, we thought that was a cool title. That got changed. A lot of stuff got changed. The record was a beast when I was involved. And then, I don’t like the mix on it. I really don’t like that they had a cover. But it’s not my band, it’s Ace. Ace had the call, and he had new management and…whatever.

Sleaze Roxx: It’s still a cool album though. Even the packaging.

Anthony Esposito: That was all Ace. Ace designed all the graphics. He’s very good with… He does all the merch and the backdrops and stuff. He does the digital graphics. He’s talented with that.

Sleaze Roxx: Nowadays when you buy a CD, you’re lucky if it comes in a case. His album had the pop-up.

Anthony Esposito: You got the gun with ‘Love Gun‘, the poster or, you know, KISS next to The Beatles, they were the geniuses of marketing. It came out the same year as ‘Sonic Boom‘, and ‘Anomaly’ got better reviews and I think sold more than the KISS record that came out that same year. It’s pretty close. I don’t know. But I know the reviews, there were a lot of comparisons because they came out at the same time and ‘Anomaly’ always came out ahead, which I was proud of.

Sleaze Roxx: Ace fans regard that album as being up there with ‘Trouble Walkin’.’ His KISS solo album was always my favorite of the four.

Anthony Esposito: Of course, mine too. I mean, Ace… He’s Ace. He’s an icon. He’s like the Keith Richards of hard rock/metal. He’s an icon, you know. It’s a shame that KISS did him wrong.

Sleaze Roxx: Did you work with Marti Frederiksen on ‘Anomaly’?

Anthony Esposito: No. That was after it was hijacked to L.A.. I didn’t like the cover song and I didn’t like the one in drop-D. I forgot what it was called. The single… I hated that song. Ace is such a prolific writer, and he comes up with such great shit that I don’t think an outside writer… The outside writer was the manager’s friend. “Outer Space”? I forget what it was called. But it was in drop-D. Ace should never play in drop-D. That was the single, and then the cover song got added, and then it ended up getting mixed in L.A. whereas it sounded ripping where we had it. I mean, it was like ‘Appetite’. It was raw. It got really modern and polished when it went to L.A., which I don’t really care for.

Sleaze Roxx: Marti has worked with a lot of people. Aerosmith, Buckcherry…

Anthony Esposito: He wasn’t the one that mixed it. I think he just did the cover song or he might have done “Outer Space” and the cover song. He didn’t do the rest of the record. I think there were like 12 songs on it and we did ten of them in New York. And it was me, Anton…. I think [Scot] Coogan played drums on “Sister”. But the rest of the record’s Anton. It was basically me, Ace and Anton – the three of us. And I lost my lease on the studio. I had a 15-year lease on my studio. The landlord wanted to charge me like five times the amount I was paying because the neighborhood went from Hell’s Kitchen to Chelsea. So, I ended up closing the studio and racking up all my gear and bringing it up to Ace’s house and we finished the record up there. But we did all the basics in my studio in New York.

Sleaze Roxx: Was that the Schoolhouse?

Anthony Esposito: Yeah.

Sleaze Roxx: You’ve recorded a lot of well-known bands. You recorded Green Day, right?

Anthony Esposito: Green Day was the ‘Nimrod’ album. We really didn’t get to much recording with them. They booked out the studio for six months. We wrote the record in there and then I think [producer] Rob Cavallo wanted to take them to the West Coast. And they went to San Francisco to do it. But they were in the studio for six months just hanging out and soaking up the New York vibe and they wrote that record there.

Sleaze Roxx: And one of my personal favorites…the Toilet Boys.

Anthony Esposito: Yeah! I got to do a couple songs with them. Barresi did the first album and Sean [Pierce], I love Sean and Miss Guy. They were a great New York band. New York back then was pumping. There were a lot of good ones. We had fuckin’ Warrior Soul, Quicksand, and it was tons of great music in New York. And Toilet Boys had that niche. They had that following and they were great. And then I got to do some stuff later on, after they lost their deal, I did a couple of songs like “Gimme Everything” and stuff like that. And then Sean was with Theo [Kogan] from the Lunachicks. They got married and they had a band called Theo & The Skyscrapers ‘cause everybody in the band was like 6’5 or whatever. Sean’s really tall. And I did that record too. That was a fun record to do. New York was a great place to be back then.

Sleaze Roxx: [Toilet Boys singer] Miss Guy is so cool and went on to release the ‘Dumb Blonde’ album. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard it….

Anthony Esposito: No… She was an incredible DJ. There was this party in New York every Friday night at Don Hills in Tribeca, right by Ground Zero. And every Friday night was this legendary party called Squeeze Box. And at like 12:00/1:00 at night, they’d have a house band and these trannies would come up and sing cover songs and they’d always have an original band play at like 10:30/11:00. Do their set, and then the house band took over with the trannies singing all these cover songs. Miss Guy was the DJ for Squeeze Box and she was an awesome DJ. It was great and that was like the party every Friday night. It was packed. It was such a good party to go to. It was a good vibe.

Sleaze Roxx: Do you have a personal favorite album out of all those that you’ve played on?

Anthony Esposito: ‘Patina’, because with George and Ace, the bass playing you kind of have to play a certain way to let their guitar style shine. You can’t really shine too much on bass. There’s not enough room. And with Jake, Jake encouraged me to play more. So I got to play more melodically and show a little bit more of what I can do bass playing wise on ‘Patina’, which is all due to Jake. I just think that I’m proud of my bass performance on ‘Patina’ — probably the most. Although ‘Wicked’ is a record that will always be… just at the time, and everybody heard it and the touring we did. It was probably the highlight of my career — that year or two where we toured on it and it came out and we recorded it and wrote it in Arizona. It was a magical time. My son was born. So I think that record is always going to be endearing to me ‘cause of the time period. It was my first barbeque, and it is such a great record. I think performance-wise, ‘Patina’ is probably the best thing I ever did.

Red Dragon Cartel‘s “Crooked Man” video:

Sleaze Roxx: To your point, one of the things I was going to say about ‘Patina’; you had stated how Jake really gave you room to shine on that album. Another thing that I love about it is that you can hear all of the instrumentation separately.

Anthony Esposito: Yeah, well that’s Max. Max Norman mixed it. I had said to Jake, “You know, your biggest album is ‘Bark At The Moon’, my biggest album is ‘Wicked’. What’s the common denominator?” Max Norman. I’m like “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get Max Norman involved in ‘Patina’ in some way?” He’s like “Oh, that’s a great idea. What if we throw him some stuff to mix?” So, Max came out to the ranch. We played him some of the roughs. And he was like “This is a great album. I want to do it.” And I don’t even think he got paid to do it. He did it as a favor. He just wanted to be involved in it. And there’s a BBQ joint like three miles past Lake Meade. It’s like a biker bar. And we went there one afternoon to get some BBQ and have some beers. It was Jake, Max and myself. And so, Max was like “I’m gonna go hit the head.” Jake’s like “I’m gonna go out in the parking lot and call my wife.” I was like “OK, cool.” I went over to the jukebox and I put “Bark At The Moon” on. And so, Max walks back from the bathroom and Jake comes back from the parking lot and all these biker guys and girls are shooting pool and singing along. And little do they know that Jake’s there, the guy that wrote it and played it. And Max is there, the guy that produced it.

It started getting them going on “Yeah, this record, all of the keyboards are too loud. The guitars need to be louder.” They just started going with all the “Bark At The Moon” stories and, you know, it was just great sitting with the two of them with that song playing and it sort of conjured up all these old memories for the two of them. And meanwhile, all these people in the bar had no fucking clue that Jake and Max are sitting right there. I love doing little pranks like that [laughs]. We had one night, there was a local pub down here called Flapjack’s. Now it’s called Devil’s Eye right on [Route] 15. And we would go right after recording sessions. When it was Flapjack’s, it had a little pub-style room in the back with a porch. These biker guys were there and Jake sort of commandeered the jukebox, playing all this old Grand Funk and these old Cactus tunes. The biker guys came up to Jake and they’re like “Hey man, did you put these songs on? These songs are great.” And Jake’s like “Yeah. I threw some money in there.” And I was like “What kind of music do you guys listen to?”  He’s like “Ozzy and old stuff, and Sabbath.” And I was like “What’s your favorite Ozzy record?” And the guy goes ‘Bark At The Moon’. Jake’s standing right next to me and I said “Oh, Jake E. Lee – cool. Yeah, he’s a great guitar player. Did you ever get into the Badlands stuff?”  So, he goes “Yeah, I like Badlands a lot.” And then Jake was like “What about Lynch Mob? Did you ever listen to Lynch Mob?” And he’s like “Yeah, I like Lynch Mob but I like Badlands better.” And Jake was basking in that. And then finally, I was like “We’ve gotta tell the guy” [laughs].

Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] But how does he not know that he’s sitting there talking to Jake E. Lee?

Anthony Esposito: Yeah, but you’d never think that Jake’s going to be at a locals only bar in Pennsylvania. You know what I mean? So, we had to let the cat out of the bag. But it was funny. And Jake was basking because the guy liked Badlands more than Lynch Mob. [Laughs] I heard that for a while.

Sleaze Roxx: Did Lynch Mob and Badlands have a lot of competition back in the day?

Anthony Esposito: We were different. It was more like mutual admiration. Because we weren’t a hair band. There were bands like Blue Murder and Badlands and Lynch Mob. You could throw The Cult in there. We weren’t like the Poisons and the Warrants. We were respected for our craft and our playing and our songwriting. So, we were in that circle. So, we admired all the bands in that circle that wrote really good songs and played really good. And were still technically proficient but not at the deterioration of the song. It was always about a song and then delivering musicianship in the song. We talked about Badlands, and Jake admitted that Badlands talked about us. Compared member to member. Who’s better in the line-up and all. I mean, it’s kind of hard with Ray [Gillen] and Jake. You’re starting with two gems on their instruments. Ray, to me, was one of the greatest singers to ever walk this earth. I went to a soundcheck at the Mason Jar in Phoenix one time, and it was the first time I ever formally met Jake. Ray had invited me down because I knew Ray from New York. He’s the first singer that I ever heard say “Take my vocals out of the monitors. Almost put them to nothing”. ‘Cuz he wanted to project, and he wasn’t worried about his notes. Every singer is like “Gimme more vocal in the monitor” and Ray’s like “Take me almost out.” And they were a fuckin’ incredible band. When you’re starting a band with Ray as your lead singer and Jake as your guitar player, it’s amazing. And the rhythm section was great.

Sleaze Roxx: Eric Singer and Greg Chaisson.

Anthony Esposito: I didn’t get to see them live with Eric. I think it was Jeff Martin. He played on ‘Voodoo Highway‘ and he was the one, when Eric went to KISS.

Sleaze Roxx: Right.

Anthony Esposito: Alice Cooper and KISS. Then Jeff came in. And Jeff was known as a singer from Racer-X and nobody knew that he could play drums that great. And they were a great band. And then we did this one MTV thing where it was both bands. Everybody but the singers, cause Ray and Robert at the time didn’t do it. Robert had just joined. And MTV used to do those sports things. And we did this Grand Prix thing where we raced. And we had to go to high-performance driving school. Get SCCA-certified so that we could be on the track, and we had to take lessons. And that’s where I really got to know Jake. We hung out a lot at the school and at the events. It was out in Detroit or Des Moines. We had to do the Grand Prix right before the Indy cars. And that’s where I really got to know Jake better.

Sleaze Roxx: So, we are here at your recording studio, Obscenic Arts. You’re working with a new band called the War Brothers.  

Anthony Esposito: Oh yeah. It’s four brothers, two sets of twins, two years apart. Great band. My good friend Rob Esposito — no relation — had been talking about them to me for a while. He finally arranged a meeting, and they came down to the ranch from Connecticut. Rob had seen them play live and thought they would benefit from working with me. And we started the process, maybe like three years ago. We started with three songs and by the time the process of recording those three songs was done, they had grown so much as a band and writers, that when we started the next batch, we decide to make that three-song almost like an EP. It’s almost like, you know how Mötley [Crüe] did ‘Too Fast For Love‘? The Leathür Records one doesn’t sound like ‘Shout At The Devil’. It’s that kind of thing.

The EP is more garage band / street rock, and then the new thing that we’re doing now is ten songs. It’s got a cover, “Time of The Season” and we’re developing their background vocals. They’re very Van Halen-ish. Van Halen, Mötley with a dash of [Led] Zeppelin. But mostly 80’s style metal. But Zack [Crosby], the guitar player, is phenomenal. Their last name’s Crosby and Zack is gonna be a guitar hero. I think he might be the one to bring the guitar hero back to the mix. So, we’re presently talking to a couple of labels about putting an EP out while we’re working on the full-length. But they’ve grown so much over time that I’m not rushing it. ‘Cuz they keep getting better and better and better. And I want their first full-length album to be a really good first impression. So, they’re working on their live show, working, developing as a band, and developing their harmonies. And it’s good. I really like working with them. I’m like Uncle Anthony to them. It’s just great.

War Brothers performing “Wild Child” at Bleachers Bar in Bristol, Connecticut, USA on August 7, 2021 (video from Pete The Video Guy‘s YouTube page):

Sleaze Roxx: You had mentioned that there’s a Van Halen influence in their sound. Is their name a nod to Warner Brothers, the label that Van Halen was on?

Anthony Esposito: The name is a nod to the movie ‘The Warriors’. Because when they play, they’re almost like a biker gang. They ride down from Connecticut on their Harleys to record here. And they always wear the no-shirt with the leather vest like the Warriors. And they always go “War Brothers…come out to play”. It’s more that kind of line because they’re almost like the movie ‘The Outsiders’ meets ‘The Warriors’. Originally, they were called Crosby, which was more of a Van Halen nod. And I was like “You can’t call it Crosby, because everybody will think of David Crosby and you guys don’t sound anything like that.”

Sleaze Roxx: It’s a cool name.

Anthony Esposito: Yeah, War Brothers. It took a while. We went through a bunch of names. It took a couple months of throwing out some really bad band names to finally get to that one and it works for them. And now they’re just tightening up their live show and they bought a Winnebago and they’re ready to go and start opening for nationals and touring. And we have to find a home for this EP and then continue for the full-length to shop to a major. They’re one of those bands. They deserve to be heard. And I think that the progression with Greta Van Fleet doing well, that was almost like a Zeppelin/70’s vibe. The next step is bringing back metal. It seems like the next logical step in the progression. And I think that they’d be a really good vehicle to do it. They’re all really good musicians, but Zack is especially good. He’s a special guitar player that he’s gonna turn some heads. Next time they play out here, you have to come.

Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, I will. As a producer, what is the biggest challenge to working with new artists? 

Anthony Esposito: Well, the biggest challenge is not working with the up-and-coming artists. The biggest challenge is promoting myself and promoting the studio. I’m horrible at tooting my own horn and promoting myself online to get clients. But as far as working with artists, every artist is different. Some of them, you have to be confrontational with and challenging. And some of them, you have to be coddling and “Oh, it’s going great. You’re doing such a good job. Just try this here.” As opposed to “You drove 16 hours to come to this studio to play like that?” And then they get pissed off and all of a sudden, they kill it. You know what I mean? You kind of have to be almost like a psychiatrist to be a producer. But I learn as much from the artists that I work with as they do from me. I mean everywhere, from high school bands to working with guys like Jake, it’s always the same way of approach. I don’t make demos. I make albums. I make quality. My name goes on it just like theirs does. And I want my name to be associated with something that’s good. And it’s like, the development process is something that I love. You know, some artists will fight me more and some artists will go along with it and trust me. Some artists. I have to show what I can do to help them and then they buy in.

But every situation is different. It’s just like dealing with humans. It’s never the same. But I love it. Any day in the studio is a good day for me. It’s like people say about fishing. You can’t have a bad day fishing. It’s the same thing in the studio. It’s creating and making music with people, and their trusting you with their babies so you can’t just go out and say “No, this sucks!” You kind of have to approach it as “Well, let’s try this.” And even if we try it and it doesn’t work, it may lead to another thing that does work. That’s why I don’t like to do hourly because I like to experiment, and I like to try [new ideas]. And if you’re doing hourly, there’s no real time for the artist to grow because you don’t have time to nurture it. It’s like “Oh my God, we have two hours booked. We’re gonna do fuckin’ guitar leads and background vocals and percussion today in two hours. We only have enough money for two hours.” You know, that’s not a way to make music.

Sleaze Roxx: Yeah. With that mentality, there’s no time to explore ideas and tweak things.

Anthony Esposito: And I want to know too. Like “Yo, what if I take this microphone and stick it in the vacuum cleaner hose and put that on the guitar amp. What’s the solo gonna sound like?” I want to be able to experiment too. So, it’s like, if you’re on their dime and you’re charging them hourly, you don’t have that luxury of approaching things or trying things. Some singers, you may go through five, six, seven different vocal microphones until you find the one where that guy’s voice just sounds incredible. And I don’t want them to think “Oh yeah. He’s just trying these to milk the clock so he makes more money.” If there’s no time clock meter running, it’s like “Oh, I can hear that. I hear the graininess of that mic. I hear the warmth on this mic. I hear the high-end smoothness on this mic.” And then, they’re part of the process and they’re learning as well.

It’s almost like, when I have clients here, it’s Pro-Tools 101. Everybody wants to ask questions about Pro-Tools and how to run it. ‘Cuz most of them have it in their home studios, and they’re doing demos and getting their ideas down and stuff. And then they’ll come here and make a record. And it’s kind of like “Oh, what does this compressor do?” Plus, I designed this studio… I mean, you see the vibe here. People don’t want to leave. They feel very comfortable. It’s a great place to make music and I don’t really want to hurry people out like “Oh, you’re 4-6 and I’ve got another band coming in 6-9. See ya, goodbye.” Like hang out, shoot the shit. Pop open a beer. Let’s listen to some tunes. “What gets you off? Who’s your favorite guitar player? What song inspired you to write this?” I mean, that’s how you get to know your artists. You’re not gonna get the best out of your artists unless you know them as people.

Sleaze Roxx: You definitely have a cool vibe here.

Anthony Esposito: Yeah, we try.

Sleaze Roxx: You offer analog and digital recording?

Anthony Esposito: The analog tape machine I have is from Electric Lady. It was the original from Electric Ladyland. And most people don’t wanna buy tape. Tape is really expensive nowadays. And actually, I think the only place that manufactures tape in America is ATR in York. Right here. But it’s expensive. So, a lot of artists are just like “No, no, no. We’ll stay in the digital world.” So, I haven’t turned on the tape machine in probably 15 years. So, it’s on my hit list for my tech to go and fire it up. He actually was the tech at Electric Lady that worked on it back in the day. Now he lives in Wilkes-Barre. So, he drives down, or I drive up and he works on my gear. But that’s on our hit list, is to get the analog back going again. Jake and I had talked about, if we do another record, maybe we do it analog. Because we can. A lot of bands benefit by the editing in Pro-Tools. And the unlimited tracks and all that. But I would love to go back to analog. Just because that’s what I learned on. And I’m not afraid of it. I know how to cut tape and I know how to splice, and I know how to do all that kind of shit. Go backwards and flip the reels and slow the tape speed down and you get different effects when you bring it back up. It’s just, I miss analog recording. With analog recording, you need to make choices right then and there. It’s like, punch over this – you can’t save everything. It requires knowledge and an art to recording analog and a lot of people don’t have that ‘cuz they never were exposed to it.

Sleaze Roxx: What is your opinion on the prevalent use of auto-tune in modern recording?

Anthony Esposito: I don’t even own it. I don’t have it on my plug-ins. I don’t have the box. I don’t have any of it. I think if you can’t sing the part, change the part. That’s why the bands that I work with sound like the finished product live. And it’s another thing with drumming. I make the drummers play the part. If they can’t play the part, they change the part to something that they can play that’s as interesting. I’m not one for triggering samples on drums. I’m not one for editing drums and moving around kick-drums and snare hits and it’s like “No. You play. And then when you go live, you’ve done it already and you can do it live.” There’s not this whole, built-in-the-studio and all that, you know.

Sleaze Roxx: Yeah. There’s a rampant issue right now with a lot of bands playing to tape.

Anthony Esposito: Well, I mean, back in the day, on the ‘Wicked’ tour, we used to use tape live. We didn’t have the budget to take out a keyboard player or background singers. So, when Max did the record, he brought in Dave King from Fastway. And Dave King sings incredibly, sickly high. So, when it came time to tour, Mick and I couldn’t hit those notes. They weren’t in our range. I mean, listen to my speaking voice. There’s no way I’m gonna sing like Michael Jackson. So, we would play to a click track live and then we would have some super-high background vocals, some percussion, and some keyboard parts ‘cuz we didn’t have a keyboard player. It was just the four of us. But that was the extent of it. Everything we were doing was on and live. There were no lead vocals obviously. We embellished our live sound with stuff. And it was playing to a DAT tape, the click track.

Nowadays people take out Pro-Tools. And they’re doing lead vocals on tape and stuff like that. That to me is… If you’re onstage and you’re playing, you should be playing and you should be on. There’s one thing because a lot of bands don’t have… I mean, you take a keyboard player out that sings backups and plays keyboards. That’s another hotel room. That’s a salary. That’s another bunk on the bus. You’re incurring an expense that a lot of bands can’t afford. So, I think if it’s used as an accessory to embellish the sound of the guys playing onstage, that’s different than replacing what they’re supposedly playing onstage. I mean, there’s that line. I mean, not every lead singer can play percussion. You put tambourine, and shaker and stuff, or you put five-part harmonies on it [the album] and you’ve only got two guys singing in the band. How the hell are you gonna do that? So, I think it’s OK to embellish what you’re creating onstage. And we only did it on certain songs. It wasn’t all the songs. But I think bands like Marilyn Manson and stuff, that the whole thing’s basically on tape, there’s a Pro-Tools rig running under the stage kind of deal. That’s a puppet show. That’s not a live rock band.

Sleaze Roxx: I’m a huge Marilyn Manson fan.

Anthony Esposito: So am I but hire guys to play it. Like, he can’t? He can find guys that can play that stuff. I’ll do it. He can hire me. I’ll play bass for Marilyn Manson.

Sleaze Roxx: Do you have any advice for new bands that are starting out?

Anthony Esposito: Practice. I just think that the music industry is in such a mess right now. I wouldn’t know where to start as far as getting signed. A good sounding recording, and I’m not saying this to toot my boat and promote what I do. But a good sounding recording can probably do as much leg work as about 3,000 gigs. If you get a good sounding recording of a really great song that’s on the right desk of the right person at the right time, you can probably save yourself 3,000 gigs in a bar that nobody’s gonna see or promote your gig or your career. Although, play live, get good, practice your instrument. Practice your background vocals. Focus. I mean, like when I was a kid, we practiced seven days a week, five hours a day. It wasn’t an afterthought. We lived it, we breathed it, we sweat it and we loved it. That was it. And it’s like, there’s no substitute for hard work because every night in America, there’s probably half a million musicians playing that are working harder than you.

Sleaze Roxx: A lot of its luck.

Anthony Esposito: A lot of its luck BUT, when yu’re put in the position to get the opportunity, you have to have the goods to take advantage of that opportunity. If you’re not prepared, opportunity and luck are just gonna fly right by. So, be prepared. And another thing is write original songs. Enough is enough with all these fucking cover bands. There are so many great people, great musicians wasting their talents playing Bon Jovi covers on a Friday night. It’s like, split it up. You wanna do some covers? But do some originals. Nobody picked up a guitar when they were a kid because they wanted to play in a cover band.

Sleaze Roxx: It just seems that now that the whole business is different than it was back in the 80’s.

Anthony Esposito: Yeah, they ruined it. Record companies were sleazy, and yeah, they ripped off their artist, and yeah, you hear all of the stories BUT, they did provide a funnel. Everybody sent their tapes in, they knew where to send their tapes in. If they got listened to, they were weeded out and the ones that the labels thought that they could make money on were the ones that got signed. So that funnel is gone. Now people are in their basements or their bedrooms recording stuff to their computer and uploading it to the internet. Yeah, everybody has access to that listener, but that listeners got to go through so much shit to get to something good. Which is like, the labels used to provide that funnel. And they knew how to promote. And they knew that because they were invested in the band monetarily, they wanted to get a return on their investment, and they knew how to work a band to try and make money off the band. And that promotional machine is gone. It’s a bad time. A bad time for music. And it seems like only the shit music is what people hear or are exposed to now. It’s like all the good shit is getting stepped on and washed away and hidden by all this other crap.

Sleaze Roxx: It’s a catch 22 because anyone can put anything out there but then it’s just as you said, the listener has to weed through everything to get to the good stuff.

Anthony Esposito: Yeah. And I mean, how many albums are released every week?

Sleaze Roxx: Dozens.

Anthony Esposito: Because there’s nobody funneling it.

Sleaze Roxx: Major labels… dozens. More than that if you count the independents.

Anthony Esposito: Yeah, but what about the people that upload their albums to Spotify or one of those rip-off stations that pay you .000005% of a penny for each airplay? It’s a joke. It’s a rip-off and you used to be able to understand the music biz. And you used to know how to lay out your dominoes to succeed. To try to succeed. Now it’s just this big mystery. Like “Oh. I’m gonna record these three songs and upload it to Spotify.” Meanwhile, there are a million bands on it.

Sleaze Roxx: You have a website. It’s and it has the rundown on your studio’s offerings, your gear and you also have a contact form on there for new clients. Is there anything else you would like readers to know about the studio?

Anthony Esposito: Well, Obscenic Arts has a Facebook page. I have a musician page and my personal page. I’m not very difficult to get ahold of. I love working with bands. And we have on-the-ranch boarding for the bands. The bands come and stay here. And they write and record and I work with them. So, it’s not only drawing from the immediate vicinity. I have bands that come in from all over the place. That come and stay, and they’ll come in for a week. And they just crash here and its music 24/7. And it’s just like, if they need to get ahold of me, I’m really easy to get ahold of. I’m not a mystery to get ahold of. And I love bands. Any bands that want to work, it doesn’t have to be a full album if it’s three/four songs. If you want to do eight, if you want to do ten. Whatever it is, and it’s good. And I love having bands here. Love working with new bands. I love to help rekindle older bands. You know? Every day in the studio is a good day.

Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, and you have a really cool vibe here for bands to write/record. One last question. Whatever happened to your band Pisser?

Anthony Esposito: Pisser started out… I mean, it was Pisser before I joined. And then I ended up joining and the original line-up was Frank Ferrer on drums, Richard Fortus, me and Eric Toast is the singer. They had a band called Honky Toast. And then when Honky Toast didn’t really go anywhere, they were signed and everything, then they started Pisser. And um, I ended up joining, and then Fortus had another gig. So, he was out of the picture. And we got Bumblefoot. We did a bunch of gigs. It was Frank, Bumblefoot, with me and Toast. And it was kind of like because Bumblefoot and Frank were playing with Axl, and I was playing with Ace, we wouldn’t really have time. We’d do like one gig every other year or so. And we would play New York, and there would be tons of people who couldn’t get into the gig. It was always packed because the vibe on the band was so great. And the first ten/fifteen rows of people would all be bands standing there staring at us, trying to rip off our shit or whatever. And there wasn’t really enough time because we were doing other gigs, touring and stuff, to really promote it. And then we started and Bumblefoot left, and we got a new guitar player. We started to record and once we started the recording process, it was evident that people wanted to go in different directions. And that was when I kind of threw the towel in. They went on a little after me, but it didn’t really do anything.

Sleaze Roxx: Anthony, thank you for your time today. Is there anything else that you want to say in closing?

Anthony Esposito: Please listen to ‘Patina’. It’s worth the listen. I’m really proud of it. I’m really proud of everything that went into that. Jake’s proud of it. And it deserves a good listen even if you don’t buy it. Listen to the songs on YouTube. And if you like it, buy it. It’s worth a listen. It’s a really, really good record. And we’re really proud of it.

Sleaze Roxx: I agree. And it’s still on Amazon so you can have it to your house in a day.

Anthony Esposito: [Laughs] There you go.

Red Dragon Cartel‘s “Bitter” video: