Interview with XYZ and ex-Great White frontman Terry Ilous

Photo by Joe Schaeffer Photography

Date: March 11, 2021
Interviewer: Marcelo Vieira (translated from Portuguese to English)
Original Interview: Marcelo Vieira Music
Photos: Joe Schaeffer Photography (first, fourth and seventh photos)


Sleaze Roxx: First of all, I have to tell you I never found the subliminal messages on the ‘Hungry’ album. Can you help me find them [laughs]?

Terry Ilous: We’ll save that one for the autobiography [laughs]!  

Sleaze Roxx: OK, the first question was just a joke. Now let’s get serious. 2019 had XYZ playing the Monsters of Rock Cruise and ended with preparations for a new tour and album in 2020. Then the pandemic hit, and touring and the album were delayed. What can you reveal about the recordings? How is the process going? What can the fans expect?

Terry Ilous: Well, before the shutdown, we had written around 40 songs, some for XYZ, some I may use for myself in the future. We had recorded a few demos when the pandemic hit, but unfortunately with the lockdown, everything was put on hold. Towards the end of last year, we flew out to the studio and tried to work on as much music as we could. Musically, we have a great mix of songs. But albums take time even in the best of circumstances. And with us all living in different states, that makes the process challenging. This album does give us an opportunity to do things we always wanted to do, but were maybe held back a bit by the record companies in the past. What we can reveal is we will definitely have some surprises for fans.  

Sleaze Roxx: The current XYZ line-up consists of you, Pat Fontaine, Tony Marcus and Joey Shapiro. Since the great JK Northrup played on the ‘Letter To God album and mixed/mastered the ‘Forbidden Demos’ compilation, wouldn’t he be the first choice for the lead guitarist position? I mean, you work great together. His songs featuring your vocals are beyond amazing… Also do you have plans to record together in the future? And do you still talk to Marc Diglio and Paul Monroe from the classic line-up?

Terry Ilous: XYZ has been Joey, Tony, Pat and I for nearly 30 years. Same line-up since ’91. JK was kind enough to come on board for ‘Letter To God’, along with Sean McNabb. It was a great experience, but it was honestly more of a solo album. ‘Letter To God’ allowed me to express myself during a very difficult time both personally and professionally. In retrospect, it should not have been called XYZ, as Pat was not a part of it. But XYZ was how I was known at the time. JK is an amazing friend and artist. He’s worked with me on many projects, including helping me write songs during my time with Great White. He just helped out with my album ‘Hired Gun’, and I will continue to work with him whenever I’m able. As for past members, I have run into, or spoken to Paul [Monroe] and Bobby [Pieper], but haven’t seen most of the others in years. We all just get busy with life, and have lost touch over the years.

Sleaze Roxx: Touring has been put on hold for the last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. How has this affected your daily life and how did you deal with the quarantine period? 

Terry Ilous: The stay at home order and venue closures of course has been difficult for all of us in the music and entertainment community. I see many artists and venues have used this time to explore other ways of expressing themselves and reaching the fans. I’ve seen a lot of great projects on social media, from live ‘living room’ shows, to entire bands streaming together. I myself am taking this opportunity to spend time with my daughter, and write music. I have written so much, that most of it will likely never see a studio. 

Sleaze Roxx: Now I would like to get a little into XYZ’s history. In the liner notes of ‘Forbidden Demos’, you state: “No one wanted to sign this band and if it was not for a lucky event, I don’t think I’d be sitting here today writing these few lines.” Which lucky event was that?

Terry Ilous: It’s just one of those great Hollywood stories… XYZ began with Pat around 1980. I came on a few years later. We tried France, New York, Hollywood, and nothing. We went through about a half dozen members between two continents and no one wanted to be a broke musician, or play our music. First of all, we were very lucky to meet famed recording engineer George Tutko once we moved to LA. George believed in us so much, he actually paid for our first demo, as well as producing / engineering it. Then it was just a lucky chance that our friend Pino was riding his motorcycle down Sunset Strip one day and he dropped a glove. Two girls in the car behind him picked it up and caught up to him at the next light. They talked and it turned out one of the girls, Sarah ‘Sharon’ Zulauf, was an intern at Enigma Records. Pino said she had to hear his friends’ demo. He ran to a payphone, and had someone drive the demo over to meet them. Sarah, true to her word listened to it and took it to the head of Enigma Records, Bill Hines. From there, it’s history. XYZ was officially discovered because our friend lost his glove, and our friend — to this day — Sarah, took a chance on us. 

XYZ‘s “Inside Out” video (from XYZ album):

Sleaze Roxx: In an interview with author Hall Laurel for his ‘Soundtrack of Our Youth’ book, Pat describes the Sunset Strip as “Tens of thousands of big-haired kids would descend on the boulevard, cowboy boots and leather jackets, miniskirts and ripped fishnets […].” Since this environment inspired many of XYZ’s songs from the first two albums such as “Follow the Night” and “Face Down In The Gutter”, which aspects would you add to Pat’s description of the Strip? Was it the complete zoo we tend to think? What was the scene like, musically and attitude-wise? 

Terry Ilous: What Pat said was pretty accurate. It was a time of great bands, over indulgence, and just a really fun time. Where else but Hollywood could you arrive in L.A with nothing but change in your pocket and a dream, and eventually end up on magazine covers around the world. We were all kids in the ultimate candy store. Broke one minute, and being handed record contracts the next. I remember wondering where were we going to get food on one day, to suddenly having agents sending a limo with a half naked girl inside the next. That was a time I think that will never be repeated. But it wasn’t just about the party. So many great and iconic bands came out of the Strip. So much talent. You could start at one end of the Strip and walk to the other, and between there, you’d run into Warrant, Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses, Extreme, and just so many more. While the youth of today has the internet as a platform, I think it’s even harder for them to get discovered because there are a million talented kids on social media, but most of them will probably never get the recognition they deserve. In the ’80s, we had the clubs, we had the flyers, and you had the agents scouting the clubs for the next ‘big band.’ You don’t see that kind of thing anymore, and I doubt you ever will again.  

Sleaze Roxx: In that same interview, Pat tells that the band’s relationship with Don Dokken wasn’t always smooth and you hit a few bumps here and there. What was it like to have Don, who was a huge star back then, as a producer for your first release? In which aspects did he help/teach — or hinder — the band in the studio?

Terry Ilous: That is exactly the quote from the article. And that’s just how the recording process is. Everyone has moments in the studio where they disagree. It happens with us all. Pat and I always disagree at some point. I would want to do one song one way. Pat would maybe want to go another way. Don would want to try something else. We’d both disagree with the record company. That’s just the process, you argue a bit, and move on. With Don, we really learned a lot. I mean, here we have someone who is in one of the biggest bands of the period giving us his experience. We were honored to be working with him. And you can’t argue with the results. 

Sleaze Roxx: Many Heavy Harmonies users call XYZ “Dokken clones.” In a time when many bands sounded just the same, it’s pretty obvious that XYZ had a much wider range of influences compared to its peers and also had strong individual talents involved. Did you suffer any pressure from your label to adapt yourself to the musical trends? Looking back at the ‘XYZ’ and ‘Hungry’ albums three decades later, can you tell me exactly what you had in mind on them both?

Terry Ilous: At that time, I think all bands had pressure to stick with ‘the formula’, the things that made the music at that time work. Yes, we had some disagreements with the record companies. Like all bands, we had to make concessions. One was we really wanted “Souvenirs” to be our second single. We argued the point, but the record company chose “When I Find Love” [Editor’s note: Terry must mean “What Keeps Me Loving You”]. Both are great songs of course, but we felt “Souvenirs” had a better chance to hit the charts at the time. When you go into a studio, the record company is initially paying for everything, hoping they’ll see their money back. So of course, they want to do it their way, and as an artist, you just have to hope that you can meet each other at some halfway point….  Looking back, we pretty much did what we set out to do. But if you had heard our original demo, I would say it was way more bluesy, which is what we had in in mind for our original release, but the record company saw that as gamble.

XYZ‘s “What Keeps Me Loving You” video (from XYZ album):

Sleaze Roxx: XYZ sold over two million copies worldwide, had three videos on heavy rotation on MTV and VH1, and toured / played with Ozzy Osbourne, Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, and more. Still, you decided to disband after the live album. What led you to “say goodbye to one another and to all the friends and fans you are so fortunate to have”? And since you’ve toured with Alice in Chains and Soundgarden back then, would it be fair to not include the Seattle factor in the reasons for your disbandment? I mean, many musicians from hard rock bands of the late ’80s blame it on grunge …

Terry Ilous: I wouldn’t say we disbanded. By the time we were on our ‘Hungry’ tour, we got a visit from Capitol Records informing us we were being dropped. And it wasn’t just us, all the rock / metal acts at the time were being dropped all at once by the record companies. The ‘decade of decadence’ was over. With no jobs foreseeable in the future, and our contracts gone, we just went our separate ways. It is true, the scene had changed. Rap and grunge were now king on MTV and VH1. Metal was an afterthought played between 12:00 to 1:00 am, with videos relegated to only air on Headbanger’s Ball. But that’s how things go.

Music changes and tastes change. The excess of the ’70s and ’80s was over. It was a business move. It had nothing to do with grunge or rap itself. The record companies had gone as far as they could with formulaic rock. And they realized they could pay pennies compared to the big arena acts, for garage bands, and guys in flannel sitting center stage with a guitar. 

Sleaze Roxx: “What makes you a man is how you react when you are at your all time low.” Which lows have made you the man you are? I mean, what lessons have you learned from more than thirty years in the music business?

Terry Ilous: It’s the same for us all. The highs are really high, and the lows are really low. Meaning everyone loves you when you’re churning out the songs, but in this industry, you are only as relevant as your last hit. You have to go into this business knowing that. You learn not to take it all for granted, because it can all be gone in an instant. What you really learn, some sooner than others, is who is really your friend. Everyone is there for the limos and champagne, but it’s who’s there when the party is over that really counts. 

Sleaze Roxx: You made a comeback with an album called ‘Letter To God’, which is dedicated to the memories of your dad and your son. Your most personal lyrics are featured there. Moving forward to 2020, if you could actually write a ‘Letter To God’, what would you write?

Terry Ilous: I like to think that I put a piece of myself in everything I write and do. I think if I could write a letter to God now, I would say, ‘I’m still waiting for an answer!’ Of course, maybe I already received an answer, and I just didn’t know it! 

Sleaze Roxx: Back to the liner notes of ‘Forbidden Demos’, you write that there are many other unreleased tracks that the fans may hear one day. Why don’t you just release those tracks? I assure you there’s plenty of interest from the fans! Do you have plans to re release anything from the band’s back catalog?

Terry Ilous: Well, some music did leak out unofficially. And I have seen a video or two on YouTube of songs that were never released.  And yes, there is more there that Pat and I may release at some point in the future. But right now our focus really is on new material. We can put out the unreleased tracks anytime really. We want to take this opportunity now that we are all together to give fans at least one more new album.

Sleaze Roxx: In your latest solo venture ‘Gypsy Dreams’ — which I reviewed — features some acoustic favorites like “Long Train Running’” and “Wicked Game”, but you also decided to give the stripped format to tunes like “Kill The King” and “Heaven And Hell.” Personally I loved what you did — 10 out of 10 — so I want to know where did the idea of an all-acoustic covers album came from, why did you choose some tracks that we could never imagine on the format, and what was the overall reception from the fans all around? Did they dig what you were trying to express?

Terry Ilous: I had always wanted to do a project like this. Being part Latin myself, I was exposed to Spanish guitar, and Flamenco music by my father. But I also listened to a lot of rock and roll. So it was obvious to me to combine the two, but it was something that just remained in the back of my head over the years. Then one year on the Monsters of Rock Cruise, I had the opportunity to hear Heavy Mellow, who play Latin inspired acoustic rock covers. I asked the extremely talented Ben Woods and Luis Villegas to join them on a song, and about a year later, we began to work on the album. On the songs, first and foremost, I chose songs from my favorite artists like Dio. I also chose songs that were part of my youth like “Boys of Summer” and classics like “Whole Lotta Love.” We all pitched some ideas, and chose the songs we felt would work best. As for the reception, I think some fans didn’t know what to think at first when I ran my pre-order campaign. People were just used to me singing hard rock. But it was great. I sold enough pre-orders to pay for most of the album to be made. I got great encouragement from fans. Some diehard metal fans would send me notes saying they weren’t sure, but were willing to give it a try, and later they’d message how much they enjoyed the album. Even though they had never really entertained the idea of Latin infused rock, they gave it a chance and allowed themselves to explore something different than they were use to. Which is what I really had in mind for the album. 

Terry Ilous‘ “Whole Lotta Love” video (from Gypsy Dreams album):

Sleaze Roxx: On July 9, 2018, you were informed through e-mail and the internet that you were no longer with the band Great White. Mark Kendall and Audie Desbrow made some statements that didn’t clear anything. Have you read them? What do you think about them ?

Terry Ilous: How it actually happened was my assistant was woken that morning by texts from media friends asking ‘Is Terry alright’. She was worried something happened to me, and tried texting me, checked my Facebook and saw nothing, then she checked Great White’s… She saw what they posted, and waited about an hour, then called and woke me. I had just got in the night before from playing [Las] Vegas and was getting a cold. She asked if I was OK, and I had no clue what she was talking about. She told me, “Great White just posted they replaced you with some blonde guy named Mitch [Malloy]”… Honestly, I though she was joking. I got up, looked at Facebook, and saw their post… Then I checked my e-mail and saw the note saying they were letting me go… And I had no idea, as we had just played about two weeks worth of shows. We had dinner together the night before. There were hugs at the airport. See you later, and that was it.

On any articles, and interviews by the media, public, or the band, I really try not to read them. What purpose does it serve. Unfortunately a lot of well meaning people send me articles, and message me. But honestly, I really don’t want to know… It is upsetting when someone posts / says something negative, or when something is posted that never happened. But that is just part of the business unfortunately. There was one article where someone I had always deeply respected, who knew the band, said I had some nerve coming out with an album [‘Gypsy Dreams’] when Great White was releasing theirs. I was shocked as not only was the Great White album also my album, but I announced plans for an album nearly a year before the band. But what are you going to do? People are going to say what they want to say. It’s hard not to get disappointed, but all you can do is try not to join the fray, and try to remain positive.

Sleaze Roxx: The best part of your website’s bio reads as follows: “… no plans of slowing down anytime soon.” Besides the new XYZ album, what can the fans expect from you after this health crisis is gone?

Terry Ilous: Well, I already had begun working on several projects in 2019, and in the beginning of 2020, those were unfortunately put on hold. In January 2020, I signed on with Frontiers Records to work with producer Fabrizio Grossi on an album, which is about to be released. Hopefully in 2021, I’ll be touring with XYZ, and also doing some shows with Greg D’Angelo [White Lion, Anthrax] in the band ‘Legends of Classic Rock.’ Of course, I will continue to work with XYZ on the new album, and my own music when I have time. I did just release an album called ‘Hired Gun’ which is actually a compilation of music have been hired to sing by other artists for their albums, many of which are no longer available. This gives fans an opportunity to hear music I have recorded without having to buy whole albums just for my songs, or search for out of print items. I hope to make this a series…. What can I say, I like to keep busy!

Sleaze Roxx: Thanks for your time Terry. Hope you enjoyed answering these questions as much as I did while thinking about the right things to ask. Let’s sum this up with your personal message to XYZ fans from Brazil and Marcelo Vieira Music readers!

Terry Ilous: I want to thank the fans for all their support over the years. We still, every day, get messages from all over the world, from Japan, to South America, to Mexico, Australia, and more. It’s why we keep doing what we do. As long as the fans ask, we will be there. Thank you all for supporting the music scene. We artists, as independent workers, and those that depend on concerts / tours for a living, like bars, clubs, amphitheaters, and their workers are being hit especially hard right now with the closures and cancellations. All our work suddenly disappeared overnight. So I ask all music fans to support your favorite artists, bands, local musicians, and clubs by simply buying virtual tickets to shows, get takeout from local clubs, be active on their social media and YouTube, and buy merch from artists and venues when you can. Only if we all work to together will we keep the industry alive. Let’s face it. The music scene as we know it is in danger of ending if we do not collectively come together to save it. And hopefully we can get to the point soon where we are able to see the fans once again in a live setting.

Great White‘s “Hard To Say Goodbye” video (from Elation album):