INTERVIEW WITH NICK WALSH OF SLIK TOXIK, MOXY AND FAMOUS UNDERGROUND
Date: October 23, 2015
IT IS ALWAYS A PLEASURE TO CATCH UP WITH TALENTED FRONTMAN AND LEAD VOCALIST NICK WALSH. THIS TIME AROUND, THERE WAS SO MUCH TO COVER AS THE WELL SPOKEN FAMOUS UNDERGROUND FRONTMAN HAS SPREAD HIS WINGS TO BECOME THE LEAD SINGER FOR THE LEGENDARY CANADIAN BAND MOXY, HE HAS MASTERED SINGING LED ZEPPELIN MATERIAL VIA CLASSIC ALBUMS LIVE AND HE IS ABOUT TO MAKE HIS THEATRE DEBUT IN FEBRUARY 2016. TO TOP IT ALL OFF, SLIK TOXIK’S VERY HARD TO FIND LAST ALBUM ‘IRRELEVANT’ HAS BEEN RE-RELEASED TO COMMEMORATE THE RECORD’S 20TH YEAR ANNIVERSARY.
Sleaze Roxx: How did the re-release of ‘Irrelevant’ come about?
Nick Walsh: Well actually, it had been something that I had personally been toying with for the last couple of years. I kept all the sort of business side of the Slik stuff for all these years and archival stuff, videos, pictures, contracts, everything. I have everything you know? And I have been toying with this for a while and actually solicited labels. My manager in Germany — Rock N Growl — solicited some labels in Europe. They did not seem to have much of an interest as Slik Toxik did not really make an impact over there. We did not go there. We did not tour there. We predominantly did things over here in North America. Through my reacquaintance with Neal Busby, you know, we had been talking about it and I had let him know that as well. And he felt that there was definitely a market or a demand for it because he had informed me that the actual original version was going for like $90 US on eBay.
Sleaze Roxx: I know! I tried to get one a couple of years ago and I was like “Oh! It is too expensive.”
Nick Walsh: Honestly, I would not pay that for any CD [laughs]! But that was a little bit of that as well. As well as my partner Laurie [Green] in Famous Underground who is also my business partner — this is something that she and I had talked to our manager in Europe for a couple of years about. So nonetheless, fast forward to today or to the last little while. Through Brian Vollmer of Helix, I had formed a relationship with Tom Mathers of Perris Records in which, as you know, I am sort of a multi-tasking guy — I am also part of the anniversary of the classic Canadian rock band Moxy. I had solicited the Moxy stuff that we had done to Tom and Tom had picked it up. Fast forward to August of this year, I had a trip down to San Antonio [Texas, USA] with Moxy performing and about a week or two prior, I had been speaking to Tom at Perris Records about this Slik Toxik record and would he be interested in re-issuing it specifically for the fact that yeah, it is somewhat of an anniversary. Unfortunately, the other two records that we had released — ‘Smooth & Deadly’ and ‘Doin’ The Nasty’ — those masters were owned by EMI Records who has since been absorbed by Universal [Music Group]. So that is another story altogether and we’ll save that one for another time. But ‘Irrelevant’ was something that was in our possession and we had the right to get it licensed and here you go.
Sleaze Roxx: So what do you think of the ‘Irrelevant’ album and how it fares to the other Slik Toxik material?
Nick Walsh: Well, it was a different time. When Slik Toxik was formed, we were together for a few years in different incarnations prior to being called Slik Toxik. I had a band called Portrait where I played guitar and sang in the band. One incarnation of it had Kevin Gale on the guitar as well and Dave Mercel who was my long-time writing partner and lyricist played bass in that band. Then another version of the band had Rob Bruce instead of Kevin on the guitar. And it was when I decided to go sort of frontman for the project and not be fettered to a mic stand and a guitar, that’s when my relationship with the two guys and so forth kind of brought that together. That’s where the incarnation of Slik Toxik was. The record that we had released with EMI, the records, were great records and it was a reflection of the time.
With ‘Irrelevant’ — it too was a reflection of the time. We had gone through this, and you would know this as being sort of more of an aficionado on the brand of music that you cover, that there was an ear there come this sort of mid ’90s where — early to mid ’90s — where different music [like] grunge and posters like the Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears and those started to, you know, bombard the airwaves. It sort of left a lot of the bands that were sort of I guess you could say in the forefront at the time, confused as to which direction that their music should be taking. Records labels were trying to transform bands that they had on their labels into stuff that they weren’t. That’s kind of where we were when we were still with EMI at the time. You know, they were looking to us to become… The term that they had used was more “organic.” I remember saying specifically “What does ‘organic’ mean? Like acoustic guitars and like bare feet?” Because at that time, we are a two guitar, bass player, drummer, lead vocalist band. We were not trying to do what Trent Reznor was doing or anything. We weren’t using synths. We weren’t using samples. We weren’t doing anything else so we didn’t really know by “What do you mean by ‘organic?'”
We started to produce some other music because we were angry and we were getting a little heavier. And of course at that time, we were getting influenced by certain things that were on the scene that we liked. I mean, in every era of rock music, I think, you know, there are some standout things. At that time, I think the bands that stood out to us were probably Alice In Chains, Soundgarden — because Soundgarden, you could still hear the influence of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath… Cornell was still screaming. There was stuff that influenced us at that time that was a lot different than I guess let’s say Guns N’ Roses and Aerosmith, you know what I mean?
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, yeah.
Nick Walsh: So it is just a different record, a different animal. I feel that it’s a great record, a strong record. Everybody knows us mostly from our ‘Doin’ The Nasty’ era Slik Toxik stuff, which I love and fully embrace as well. I mean, these are the songs and recordings and experiences that shaped me and I am sure, shaped all the other guys in the band as well.
Sleaze Roxx: What was the idea behind the title?
Nick Walsh: Well you know, unfortunately, at that point in the band, we were a democracy. My personal opinion was that I did not think that it was a good title. I thought that it was negative and that it would have negative connotations and it was too obvious for the press to grab a hold of and try to turn it around and paint us into a corner, which they did a lot of the times with some of the reviews. You know, the idea behind the title as far as I am aware anyway — it was for sarcasm at bands like us and others like us were being considered irrelevant. It probably should have had a question mark after it [laughs].
Nick Walsh: But it was just a statement.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you remember some of the other titles that were being bandied around?
Nick Walsh: One that I had come up with was called ‘Disturbing The Peace.’ After that, a couple of the guys wanted to chop that down to ‘Disturbed.’ But there wasn’t really a lot of that kicking around. I mean, personally, now in hindsight, we probably should have just called it ‘Slik Toxik’ because it was such a different record. it was like a renewal record in a different era. Hey! It’s a title [laughs]!
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] ‘Irrelevant’ featured the debut of bassist Adam Headland who replaced Pat Howarth. What was the impact of Pat’s absence for that record?
Nick Walsh: Hmmm. I don’t quite get the question. What do you mean by the impact?
Sleaze Roxx: Well, how was it recording without Pat in the line-up?
Nick Walsh: It was still great. Adam is a Guitar Institute Technology graduate. He was a professional through and through, and he had already been playing with Neal Busby as a rhythm section in multiple bands long before Slik Toxik. So the correlation between the two of them as a rhythm section was very very tight and very cohesive. I mean, obviously we did not have the same band dynamic as we had before because we were a band of brothers and you know, we spent many many years rehearsing, hanging out together, touring together, sharing in shenanigans and antics together… I had known Pat since I was probably 16 or 17. I was introduced to him. What happened in the end was a bit of a shame but you know, this is the whole thing — people always wonder why bands break up or people leave or whatever. That’s just because people change and people grow. Sometimes, there’s a darker path that people take or sometimes, there’s medical conditions and stuff, and you know, you just got to take it for what it is and move forward.
Sleaze Roxx: Can you enlighten people on exactly what happened with Pat?
Nick Walsh: Well yeah. I have done it in the past. Unfortunately, Pat had some medical conditions going on at the time and there was bit of self-inflicted abuse with mixing medications and other substances to intoxicate himself and he just wasn’t himself anymore. He got lost along the path.
Sleaze Roxx: What kind of memories does ‘Irrelevant’ bring back to you considering that Slik Toxik broke up shortly after its release.
Nick Walsh: Well, I really enjoyed the material. I really enjoyed the songs. It was a very difficult record in order for us to create because it was in between a time of you know, victory so to speak, and then like a state of flux and confusion. So it was a very difficult record for us to make. The outcome on a creative level I think was great. I think the production was great. I think the song ranges were good. [We] didn’t try to be in any specific mould or category. We just wrote songs that we felt – it was a very eclectic group of songs. We’ve got some really heavy ones on there. We also got some really light ones. “Blue Monday” has saxophone in it, you know? We’ve got some different instrumentation, different arrangements. We weren’t fixated on “Oh. It has to be a three and a half minute song” or anything like that. The limitations weren’t as strict with the record and I am very proud of the record. As far as my memories are concerned – again — it was a very very darker time in our lives. As a band, it felt like that wasn’t the way it was supposed to work out. You know what I mean [laughs]?
Sleaze Roxx: Sure [laughs]. Last question on ‘Irrelevant’ — I think that I know what your answer will be but I have to ask you. Will there be any sort of Slik Toxik reunion to commemorate the ‘Irrelevant’ re-release?
Nick Walsh: At this juncture, the answer would be NO. We are all so busy with other projects and prior commitments. As you know already about the various things I am involved with, Kevin Gale has his band Punishment and Neal [Busby] is involved with his project Twirl. We never know what the future will hold, as the possible interest in the band may build and with that usually opportunity follows. If anything is thrown our way, it’ll be at that time [that] we may have to seriously consider it.
Sleaze Roxx: Switching gears a little bit – you’ll be making your debut in the theatre world performing I think as Jason Rockstar…
Nick Walsh: Jason Aubrey, the Rockstar – yes!
Sleaze Roxx: Yes. Your theatre debut will be in February 2016. So how did that opportunity come about and what are your thoughts on crossing over to the theatre world?
Nick Walsh: Well, first of all, the opportunity came to me via the producer of Classic Albums Live — Craig Martin. Craig and I have been working together now for just over a year. I was asked to be a part of a series. What Classic Albums Live is rather than tribute acts or whatever that try to dress up like bands, and recreate it in bars and so forth, Classic Albums Live is in his words – “the modern symphony.” We take the classics of bands like Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Supertramp, Queen, Pink Floyd and so forth. He’s got a great rolodex of musicians and we tour it. We play mostly in theatres during theatre season. I am singing the Led Zeppelin stuff. I was asked to be a part of it doing Led Zeppelin material. And note for note, cut for cut, we go out and perform a featured album, which is in an instance, let’s say it’s ‘Led Zeppelin II.’ The listener will put the needle on side one and go. And than the second set is generally sort of a best of set.
So, I have been working with Craig for a little over a year and during the course of the year, he had confided in me about a project that he had been working on. And he thinks that I would fit the bill for one of the characters. So, I was privi’ed enough to listen to some of the material that he had written and then I was privi’ed enough to be asked in on the recording sessions to record what you could call a soundtrack to the play as Jason. And then when it came about, once it was solidified, I was asked to join the cast. How do I feel about it? I feel wonderful about it. It’s great material. It’s a well written musical. It revolves around the music industry, which is something that obviously has been a part of my life, my whole life. I’ve actually had some experience with acting and so forth in the past. I worked in film and television for a few years after Slik Toxik and wet my feet a little bit with that. So, you know, my foray onto the live performance aspect of a musical — I’m very comfortable with the stage and I am confident that this is going to be a really really good opportunity.
Sleaze Roxx: I find that you have actually been able to reinvent yourself quite well in the music business over the years from Slik Toxik to Revolver to Famous Underground and now you are part of Classic Albums Live, Moxy and the theatre thing. What are your thoughts in that regard and do you think that is the best way to survive in an ever changing music industry?
Nick Walsh: Well, you know, I decided a few years ago – I kind of took a cue off a good friend of mine, Darren James Smith, who sings in Red Dragon [Cartel and] plays drums for Harem Scarem. I saw him as probably one of the hardest working guys I knew as a musician. I mean, he was working four to five nights a week and spreading himself out there. I sort of went, “You know, I think I need to do the same thing.” I can’t just hoard my personal projects — Famous Underground and write and record – and in between that, just hope it sticks. A lot of times, I had been asked by people if I would partake in their projects and stuff, and I always felt that if I did that, I would lose myself. I put myself out there and realized that it can only help what I do by spreading myself out there, especially in today’s ever changing media world [emphasis added].
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Nick Walsh: With social media and social networking, you got to stay – no pun intended – relevant, and by doing so, you need to be out there constantly intriguing people. I think for me, I got to intrigue myself as well by trying different things and taking on new challenges. To be honest with you, the first major challenge that I had was joining Classic Albums Live because I had never put myself into a cover situation as I have done with the Led Zeppelin catalogue. Throw in the fact that I wasn’t even a big Led Zeppelin guy. That’s not my generation. I have two older brothers and Led Zeppelin was a band they listened to. I listened to bands like Iron Maiden, Saxon, Ozzy Osbourne, Dio and stuff like that. That was my thing when I was a teenager. For them, it was Zeppelin and, you know, and I had this fear when I was listening to this stuff under the microscope, I said, “How the hell am I going to do that?” It wasn’t so much that I couldn’t sing the stuff, it was getting to know the material. Music is the soundtrack of our lives and if you’re not familiar with it, it’s really hard to get familiar with. You know what I mean [laughs]?
Sleaze Roxx: Sure.
Nick Walsh: And that was what the Led Zeppelin challenge was for me. I am grateful for the opportunity to have done that. It’s made me a stronger musician and, you know, helped me to branch out and not be too fearful of the unknown.
Sleaze Roxx: How did you end up getting the Moxy gig?
Nick Walsh: The Moxy gig came about – again, it was through some people that I had met that were playing with Moxy. They were playing in a band at the time called Heaven’s Fire with Darren [James Smith]. Out of the blue one day, I got this call saying “We’ve got this show in Toronto at the Sound Academy. The show is in two weeks. Would you be interested in singing this?” Originally, the intention was just sort of — I heard the material and I thought “Hey! It reminds me of Zeppelin, Aerosmith, AC/DC… Yeah. I could probably sing that.” I had to learn ten songs within a two-week period, a few rehearsals and boom, go up on the stage and play. The intention was just to do the show. Well, the show ended up going so well that there was a little bit more interest involved with the band and then I was asked to partake in recording sort of a re-record of the best of their first three records. And I gladly accepted. And then once I started doing that – that’s my element you know – the studio and the music business so I got a little bit more immersed into it. And now, Moxy is one of my babies as well [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: Cool. How was it re-recording those songs? I mean, the album is called ’40 Years And Still Riding High’ and there is even a live album that’s come out called ‘Live In Toronto.’ There are quite a few albums out already with you on lead vocals.
Nick Walsh: Correct. Well, the original thing was — believe or not — that very first show that I did at the Sound Academy in Toronto, that was recorded via multi-tracks and Pro Tools as well as a five–video camera shoot. So that on the British version that was put out — The U.K. / European version that was put out by Escape Music — is a deluxe CD/DVD set. It’s got three discs. It’s got the studio record of ’40 Years and Still Riding High.’ It’s got the ‘Live In Toronto’ disc as well as the DVD. So that was one package. And then the US, when dealing with Perris [Records], they did not opt in for the DVD portion. They just wanted to have it as two separate disc releases. They did a live album as well as the studio.
Sleaze Roxx: So, switching gears – when I saw Famous Underground’s show back in July 2014, I was impressed that you went over and chatted with just about everyone you could after the show. And there was quite a few people at the show but it seemed that you were making the rounds after the show really trying to connect with people. Obviously, some performers don’t do that. So why do you do it?
Nick Walsh: Well, it is something that we did way back when with Slik Toxik too. I think that is one of the things that helped to gain such a momentous following back then for Slik Toxik. We made ourselves accessible to our fans so that they could feel a connection with us as opposed to that whole – you know, we like to keep some mystique. I never encourage nor do I like seeing people before the performance. That’s where I like to keep an air of mystery and intrigue and create that tension with the audience. That all of a sudden – boom — when that first note hits, there you are! I have always been a fan of that. However, afterwards, you know, meets and greets, whether it is sitting at a table and the line-up is going by you, or people pay a certain amount of money to visit with you on your bus or backstage, or you know, if the venue is a little bit more intimate, to go out there and actually shake some hands and kiss a few babes.
Nick Walsh: I didn’t say “babes” did I [laughs]?
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs]
Nick Walsh: But you know what I mean? I think it is very important, especially in this day and age. It is not the same era as it was back 20 years ago in the music business where it is so big and so fierce. I mean look at a lot of the bands that you cover. I mean, 20 years ago, you wouldn’t have any access to them [Interviewer’s note: how true!]. And now fortunately because — unfortunately and fortunately at the same time — it’s a catch 22. That type of music isn’t the biggest music anymore and therefore it’s a lot easier to meet some of these guys. And then also with the revenue streams changing because it’s not about record sales anymore, I mean a lot of the bigger bands offer VIP packages to those who wan’t to meet them and pay, right?
Sleaze Roxx: Yeah.
Nick Walsh: So accessibility to your fans and everything, I think that it is a very important thing and that’s why I do it. The connection is very important.
Sleaze Roxx: Cool. So what’s the status with Famous Underground?
Nick Walsh: Honestly, we’re still working on new material. There’s about 15 songs written. As I had stated before in some — I don’t remember where it was — but some recent press over the summer, I hope to have about 18 to 20 to choose from and we’re hoping to bring it out next year sometime.
Sleaze Roxx: I am going to ask you a loaded question so we’ll see how you stickhandle through it.
Nick Walsh: OK.
Sleaze Roxx: What is your favorite material to play out of all the bands that you are a part of or have been a part of?
Nick Walsh: Well, I would really have to say that my favorite material to play is the songs that I have written in the Famous Underground band, especially the new material that we are hoping to release to the public next year because they are more dear to me. I love the Moxy songs because Earl Johnson and Buzz Shearman, those guys, they wrote some killer tunes. Again, just like Zeppelin, I wasn’t really privi’ed to their music. Again, that was my brothers’ music. I remember seeing the Moxy record in their catalogue but I never took it out and I never spun it. It wasn’t until I was asked to perform it that I put it under a microscope and heard it and I’m like, “Oooohhh. I think I might have heard this song. This was them?” I love performing period. So I would say Famous Underground because I have written that material, arranged it, produced it but Moxy is growing to be very dear to my heart. Those songs, I feel like I own them now. Even Led Zeppelin — I could tell you now, “Who is your favorite band?” Probably Led Zeppelin. Why? Because I hear it more than any other band that I listen to now because it is new to me. I did not delve in Zep — I was the guy in high school who would be saying, “Zeppelin man — that’s your parents’ music. You should be listening to Maiden and Priest!” That was me in high school. But now, things have changed and I am listening to Zep and I think that they are a great band. I just love performing. I love it dude!
Sleaze Roxx: [Laughs] That’s awesome! Last question — is there anything that we haven’t covered that you want to apprise the readers of?
Nick Walsh: Let’s think — Famous Underground, Slik Toxik, Moxy, GIG, Classic Albums Live — nah, I think that’s pretty much about it right now [laughs]. If anything else falls on my plate, feel free to send me a message and we’ll talk about it [laughs].