LITA FORD INTERVIEW:
November 24, 2009
One of heavy metal’s leading ladies, Lita Ford, has returned. As a member of The Runaways, and then as a successful solo artist, Lita was one of the few females able to thrive in the male dominated metal scene of the 80s. With her new album Wicked Wonderland, Lita worked with her husband Jim Gillette to update her sound, proving that this time around her music really is a family affair. In this exclusive interview Lita Ford discusses her new CD, the reason she decided to make a comeback, and how touring has changed with her husband and kids in tow – drugs and alcohol have been replaced by Elmo and poop!
Sleaze Roxx: You’ve been away for almost 15 years now. What made you decide to finally come back?
Lita Ford: Well I hope you are happy about that! I got bored. I wanted to rock n roll. It’s in my blood. I can’t help it. My kids are getting older and they are able to travel without having a nanny or babysitter or anything like that. The music scene is changing so I though it was a good time for me to come back and give it my last shot. I’m 51 now so if I’m going to rock and roll I better do it quickly. What am I going to do, wait until I’m 71 and go ‘let’s make a record’??
Sleaze Roxx: There are still people playing out there that are older than you.
Lita Ford: Oh I know. I don’t know how they do it. I’m the youngest of the living legends here.
Sleaze Roxx: Wicked Wonderland is quite a departure from your previous CDs. How difficult is it for someone like yourself to juggle being current and pleasing your old fan base?
Lita Ford: Honestly I didn’t really think about being current. We just wrote the album. We didn’t think about it. We didn’t even listen to what is current. I don’t listen to anybody. Actually I did an interview the other day for Elle magazine and they kept asking me about this band, and that band, and these bands that have been famous in the last few years, and I didn’t have a clue as to what she was talking about. I felt like a real idiot because honestly on our island where we live we don’t have TV, and we don’t have radio. My husband has a little cellphone that he uses for business and that’s pretty much it. We are on the computer a little bit, but other than that I don’t listen to these bands. I don’t really know them. We just wrote Wicked Wonderland because it’s what’s in our hearts and not because of what we’re trying to be like or sound like or fit in with. This is just us.
Sleaze Roxx: Are you surprised after all this time that so many people are still interested in your music?
Lita Ford: I am actually, because the welcome back response is absolutely overwhelming and I didn’t realize. We played Rocklahoma last year and that was a big festival. That was the first show I had done in 15 years and the vibe at the festival was like somebody was there from a higher level or a higher ground and I’m walking around thinking, ‘wow, this is cool I wonder who’s here’ and everybody’s coming up to me going it’s you Lita you dumb-ass. It’s you. I’m thinking oh my God they are really happy I’m back and I’m so glad to be back.
Sleaze Roxx: You’re probably wishing you came back a little sooner now.
Lita Ford: No. I think I did the right thing. I love my family and I think the music industry is OK with me coming back now, before it was just kind of grunge music. Timing is very important in rock n roll. I think I did the right thing.
Sleaze Roxx: A lot has changed in the music industry since you left and CDs hardly sell anymore, so how pleased are you with the sales of Wicked Wonderland?
Lita Ford: That’s a weird thing. What we are going to do, I believe we are going to go for a reality show. It seems that is the thing these days, not album sales. Its more reality TV and how many viewers you get and I think we have a very interesting story to tell. I think we are an extremely colorful family and we’re a little not normal on a very normal level. We are today’s norm I guess you could say.
Sleaze Roxx: Does it make you wonder if it’s even worth it to put out records anymore? Nobody seems to be selling very much.
Lita Ford: CDs don’t sell. Let me throw Jim on. Let him answer that question because Jim has been my manager and he’s been involved with Warner Brothers and different record labels and he’s gotten the actual inside scoop on record sales, CD sales.
Jim Gillette: Hell no, records don’t sell anymore… (laughs).
Sleaze Roxx: I just asked Lita if she thought there was any sense releasing CDs anymore because it doesn’t seem like anyone buys them.
Jim Gillette: We almost didn’t release CDs this time. What we almost did was make the entire thing available for free download, artwork and everything. Then when we played we could bring a physical product, more like a collector’s thing. Have it autographed to buy and everything for the few people out there who like buying CDs.
Sleaze Roxx: I still like to buy them but I think I’m getting to be one of the few.
Jim Gillette: I was just talking to the head of our distribution, Tom Zigler, great guy. He’s the biggest music fan on the planet that’s why he’s in the business. He loves it. He’s in the industry and if a record is coming out Tuesday he’s first in line at Best Buy to buy it, when he could get it for free a week later. He doesn’t want to wait. He wants to buy it. He loves to rip open the shrink wrap, he loves the whole experience. He’s a huge, huge fan and that is probably why we get on so well and he told me the other day that he had no idea it was coming this fast. He thought it was coming, but he doesn’t think there will be record stores in two years.
Sleaze Roxx: I can see that. I buy all mine online now, as there are no record stores left around me.
Jim Gillette: Even Best Buy, Walmart and Target they are phasing them out. Even the big stores. They might have a couple of releases like they do with AC/DC or Kiss. But besides that he doesn’t think they are going to sell. It sucks. We did everything old school. If you have the whole CD, you see how much time and money we put into this thing. The artwork is definitely old school. We are trying to give kids today the experience that we had. I remember opening up Kiss Alive II, opening up the album, looking at it, and you’re just fantasizing the whole time you’re listening to it. Looking at the pictures, listening to the music, there is a whole audio visual experience and we’re trying to bring that back. We are but there just not a lot of CDs. We’ve got vinyl out. We even have a picture disc vinyl that we’re doing. We’re really trying to give the few people out there like you and me that still dig this stuff, we are trying to give them the whole experience because nobody is.
Sleaze Roxx: Even though you are selling fewer copies, are you making half decent money compared to what the major labels would give you?
Jim Gillette: We probably won’t make a dime off of this. Look at the packaging, that’s not cheap. Just the artwork, that’s expensive stuff. It took Piggy D almost six months just to do the art.
Sleaze Roxx: But how much did you make when you were on a major label?
Jim Gillette: Same thing, not a whole lot. We’re in this for the love not for the money. We don’t need this for the money. We’ve got our house in the Caribbean. We are just fine down there with the fish and coconut palms… (laughs).
Sleaze Roxx: That’s the reason people should be doing it.
Jim Gillette: Exactly. When you are just doing it out of love and you’re not worried about paying your bills from it, it changes everything.
Sleaze Roxx: It gives you a lot more freedom doesn’t it?
Jim Gillette: It’s the first time either one of us has had full-on freedom to do whatever the hell we want. I know hearing stories from my wife, everybody wanted to change her, and I know with me, ‘oh just sing lower’. If I did that I’d be like every other band so find somebody else.
Sleaze Roxx: Seeing I’ve got you on the line, is Nitro ever going to come back?
Jim Gillette: No. No I like my new guitar player a lot better than the old one. I get to grab this one’s ass on stage… (laughs).
Sleaze Roxx: You don’t have the hair anymore either.
Jim Gillette: No but I am growing back the hawk. I have a hawk now. I copied our youngest son Rocko, he’s eight and I shaved my head completely. Lita kept the hair. She’s got it in the drawer. If I ever want to do a wig I’ve got my own hair so if they said how did you go from bald to all that hair I can say, hey it’s my real hair and I wouldn’t be lying. I’m growing a hawk now because Rocko had this monster hawk and it looked cool as hell. Everyone thinks he copied me, I say no he had the hawk long before dad did. He was six years old when he, ‘said mom, dad I want to get a Mohawk’.
Sleaze Roxx: Are the kids going to get into music too?
Jim Gillette: Actually, James who is 12, is a hell of a guitar player. He’s definitely got mom’s feel. Lita’s got an amazing feel. Her vibrato is like crying. He’s got that same type of feel, and speaking of Nitro, Mike sent him all his DVDs of the past stuff. So I think he’s going to have the best of the speed and the best of the feel, so I’m pretty excited about that. He’s a great singer. Rocko is starting to sing and play drums. People will have the Gillette brothers band here pretty soon.
Sleaze Roxx: You could all play together.
Jim Gillette: Actually we did a song when James was seven or eight years old, we recorded a song called Destruction and it came out great. Lita and James wrote it and we recorded it at the house. It came up great. We are going to start recording an album with them on it pretty soon. We’re on the ten year plan. We figure within ten years they will be kicking mom and dad off the stage and they’ll take over. Let’s just run the show from behind.
Sleaze Roxx: Keep it in the family!
Jim Gillette: That’s funny you mention that because that is what we are all about. We did this all ourselves. We’re the record company, we’re the management company. We produced it with a friend, not just some asshole that somebody in a suit told us to use because he just sold ten gazillion albums. This is a friend of ours that we wanted to work with. We hired who we want, fired who we want. If we like you you’re a part of it, if we don’t like you good luck see you later. It’s cool that way. I think it’s the only way Lita would have come back.
Sleaze Roxx: How is the tour with Queensryche going?
Lita Ford: Incredible. I personally never would have though that Lita Ford and Queensryche would go together. But then there was my fear about pissing off Queensryche fans and that was freaking me out. I said to Jim I don’t want to do this, it’s not a good idea, this is bad, let’s not do this. Jim says you’re wrong. Geoff Tate’s management, his wife, she said Lita you’re welcome on the tour. They’ve been wonderful to us. They are extreme musicians and precise in everything they do and I’m not. I’m more, this is live, this is recorded, type of person. When we play live it’s more of a let’s party! But when we are in the studio it’s more like let’s tune everything perfect and get everything right. These guys are like that 24/7 and they’ve taught me a lot about live performance. Playing live has become more perfect for me now and I really admire them for that. I think I have shown them how to loosen up a little and be more of a show, so we taught each other things on this tour. The audience, there is a big change in the vibe when I come out, but it’s still Queensryche. Geoff Tate leaves the stage halfway through their show. They play for two hours, I don’t know how they do it. After the first hour Geoff Tate leaves the stage and I come out and I sing Crave with Jim and Queensryche plays it. Then we do Patriot SOB with Queensryche and me and Jim singing. Then Jim leaves the stage and Geoff Tate comes back on stage and me and Geoff sing Close My Eyes Forever, which goes over huge. It’s deafening, it’s awesome.
Sleaze Roxx: It’s not really and opening slot is it?
Lita Ford: It’s a special guest slot is what it is. It’s wonderful. It’s a really great thing. I have a lot of admiration for that band.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you think you will head out on a full tour all by yourself one of these days?
Lita Ford: Absolutely. I think 2010 we are going to be all over the place. Rack up the frequently flyer mileage.
Sleaze Roxx: How is touring different now with your family on the road with you compared to years back? It must be quite a change.
Lita Ford: While you were talking to Jim my eight year old is in the top bunk and he’s got Elmo on his hand and he’s peeking over the door with Elmo but the language that is coming out of Elmo’s mouth is not appropriate for children that are eight years old. Rocko is in the top bunk, and he’s eight years old, and he’s got Elmo and he is going “hey you assholes! Hey I’m up here” and he’s sneaking over the door. So I’m thinking to myself reality show, this is really fucking funny. My other son has pooped in a bag because you’re not supposed to poop on the bus. He pooped in this bag and I told him to tie the bag shut so you can’t smell anything, but he didn’t. He just left this bag of poop in the bathroom and the whole bus smells like shit and I’m thinking oh my God this is definitely a reality show.
Sleaze Roxx: That doesn’t sound like your usual tour stories does it?
Lita Ford: No… (laughs). Of course everyone is clean and sober and nobody drinks a damn thing except for a glass of wine before the show and that’s it.
Sleaze Roxx: Is it safe to say you are having more fun now than when you were on top of the charts?
Lita Ford: It’s different that’s for sure. It’s another world, it’s another life, it’s another Lita. My Wicked Wonderland.
Sleaze Roxx: In the 80s to me it always seemed to me that heavy metal was run by men and that women were often just sex symbols but now there are way more females playing metal. How do you think the roles have changed and do you think you opened the door for others?
Lita Ford: Absolutely. I get that all the time. People come up to me crying, ‘Lita you don’t know what you’ve done for me. You don’t understand.’ I get people in the airports, people at the shows, and people in the grocery stores saying ‘I wanted to be you so bad!’ Not just girls but guys too. They say to me, ‘Lita if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t be playing guitar.’ When you are on an island all these years you just forget and you have so many things to digest and think about. It’s a good thing.
Sleaze Roxx: Things like that must make you think it’s all been worthwhile.
Lita Ford: Absolutely.
Sleaze Roxx: Going back to the old days do you ever have any plans on releasing the Bride Wore Black album?
Lita Ford: It almost came out. Actually it’s sitting in my closest on the island. One day I’ll have to dig that out and finish it. It never really got finished completely. It was almost finished, we even started the artwork and I don’t know what happened with that. Something happened with the record label. The head of the label, president of the record company, he was a big rock fan. He was awesome. He really helped me and believed in me and for some reason he got pushed out of the position that he was in. The label had agreed on replacing him with this other guy and when the president left and was replaced with this other guy the vice-president quit and a lot of other people that worked at the label left and they hired a whole new staff. The new president was a country fan and he didn’t have a clue as what to do with me, he didn’t know. He actually wrote me a letter in his own handwriting saying, ‘Lita I am so sorry, you are one kick ass lady, but I’ll have to let you go from the record label’ and I was dropped. What is weird is the very following week I was nominated for a Grammy for best female rock vocal performance, and it just doesn’t make sense. Wow, its timing.
Sleaze Roxx: Will we have to wait another 15 years for a new CD from you?
Lita Ford: Nope, of course not. With my husband in charge, and him leading the way, there’s no stopping what we are going to do. I told him he should have been President of the United States because he’s just a go-getter. Everything he touches turns to gold, so I know that I’m in good hands with him. This isn’t a one off thing. I didn’t do all this for one fucking CD or 13 songs, hell no! I didn’t make my bus stink like shit for one fucking CD… (laughs).
Thanks to Lita Ford