Regent St. Claire Interview

April 7, 2006

Regent St. Claire was the vocalist/guitarist in the obscure 80s hard rock band Castle Blak. After years of slugging it out in the musical trenches he broadened out and created the comic book CandyAppleBlack. However Regent has decided to celebrate his musical career with an ambitious limited edition three-CD boxset entitled Glamour & Damnation. In this interview Regent talks to Sleaze Roxx about the upcoming hits collection and his musical career in general.

SR: The Castle Blak boxset is finally going to get released, tell us about it.

RS: It’s kind of a musical scrapbook that covers a lot of ground. 45 songs and a radio interview, all between 1979 and 2005. Castle Blak material (songs from ‘Babes In Toyland,’ ‘Another Dark Carnival,’ and ‘No Bed Of Roses’) and also songs by every incarnation of that band (Castle Blak/Blak/Monster Island, etc.), as well as my own solo stuff done during those years. Plus 3, 20-page booklets, one for each of the 3 discs/volumes, with lots of rare photos, artwork, lyrics, and linear notes about the creation and/or recording of the songs.

SR: This box seems to have been a long time in the making, why has it been held up so long?

Regent St. ClaireRS: I have a bad habit of taking on far more than I should be able to accomplish in any given amount of time. It was like that back in the old days too. If we had one day in the studio, I’d say: ‘Let’s try to record three songs!’ even if we only had time to do one. My maxim is: ‘Give me a rock and a stick and I’ll make a Buick out of it.’ Any SANE person would’ve simply made just one hits disc with like 12 – 15 songs on it, thrown a couple unreleased tracks in there, and been satisfied with that. But I never would’ve been satisfied with that. This collection represents 25 years of my life, and I wanted it to be ‘about’ something more than a band. I wanted it to be about a time, and a place, and Rock and Roll, and how all that (and myself) evolved over time. I wanted it to have a context.
   This collection took so long to come out, because I wanted it to have all that, and as well be something that our fans would really treasure. In some ways, it’s kind of ragged, and dog-eared, like a scrapbook, but in other ways it’s sharp as a knife. I think you not only hear that on the discs, but see and read it in the three, extensive booklets. My layout guy (Gilbert Garcia) and me slaved over the design and assembly of this thing like mad scientists assembling our Glam creature on the slab.
   It also took so long because a lot of different people offered to help put it together, but it turned out to be a much bigger investment of their time, effort, and money, than any of us ever imagined. So they would do some work on it for a while, and then have to walk away from it to get on with their lives. Ultimately it was also a very complicated project, and when you get right down to it, the only person who was able to keep all the information straight in their head, was me. And so it took over 5 years to make this thing.

SR: Have any of the songs been remastered or is everything being released the way they originally sounded?

RS: Various people/engineers have tried their hand at ‘remastering’ some or all of the songs, but the goal was never to ‘change’ them in any way, just to try and bring them back to the way they sounded when we recorded them. Some actually sound a little better than they used to, and a couple of the masters I used had degraded a bit over time (Tom McWilliams of T.O.M. Records had to actually ‘bake’ his ‘Babes In Toyland’ masters to get them to play one last time for their transfer to DAT for this collection), but all in all, everything sounds more or less the way it did then. You have to remember that with rare exception, all that stuff was just really ambitious demos anyway. Ah the ghosts of Punk Rock.

SR: What about the booklets, what all will they contain?

RS: There are 3 booklets, one for each volume/disc, and they have both colour and black and white stuff in them. They contain rare and/or previously unpublished photos (like a couple from our first ever video shoot in 1983), artwork by a variety of folks including me, NY artist extraordinaire Marc Sasso, Olaf Folta, and more, extensive linear notes and credits about the songs and recordings, lyrics to all the original stuff, photos of memorabilia (like our various backstage passes from throughout the years), and the buttons we gave away when we reformed as Blak in 1990 that say “Serious As A Fu*&ing Heart Attack!”, and my favorite part: a multi-page photographic chronology of the various incarnations of me and/or the band from 1979 – 1993. Basically something for everyone.

SR: Does this release essentially ‘clean out the vault’ of all your old recordings?

RS: Not by a long shot. I’ve written over 200 songs, and recorded over 100, so at 45 songs, this collection is only a fraction of them. The songs I put on this set were what I considered our fans would be most interested in. Songs that over the years, people wrote us most about, told us they liked best at our shows, or in some cases, just songs that I felt really needed to finally see the light of day but had never been released for a variety of reasons. There are a few gems that I wasn’t able to include here, like our demo version of Kix’s “Fire Engine #9,” (for legal reasons) and another radio interview, this one from the mid 80’s on Nor Cal College station KVHS, which was just to lewd, but was also very funny. Ultimately, the 45 songs and a radio interview in this set should be enough to satisfy just about any of our fans.

SR: I know some people will wonder this, so I’ll ask it myself. Why does a band like Castle Blak warrant a box set release?

RS: Although we never became millionaire rock stars, for a little band from Pleasant Hill we accomplished quite a lot with our 3 releases, and various band members and people associated with the band have gone on to do some pretty notable things. That’s the short answer.
   The more complex answer is that we and our music were part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s sort of like Six Degrees from Kevin Bacon. In a nutshell, we have connections to huge artists like Green Day, Starship, Dolly Parton, Queen, and even Bruce Willis. We often played legendary SF clubs like The Old Waldorf, all the Keystones, Mabuhay Gardens, The On Broadway, and The Stone. Those were landmarks from a thriving scene that helped change the music world back then. We played a show that outdrew Metallica and Ozzy in Billboard. We’ve gotten letters and emails over the years from thousands of people who were touched by our music, and who even started bands because they were inspired by us. And yet a lot of our music still never got out to the public who it was written for, so I figured that it was about time. This box set is also for all the musicians who played with the band over the years, many of who were and still are good friends. It’s a way to memorialize those friendships and connections between ourselves and with our fans.”

SR: Are you still in contact with most of your old band mates, and did some of them help with this release?

Castle BlakRS: The guys who were either at the core of it, and/or with us for the longest amount of time – yes, I’m still in touch with them. Matthias Montgomery (drums), Brian Crow (lead guitar), Kev Mueller (bass), Keith Beattie (bass), Chuck More’ (lead guitar), we keep in touch either by email or phone, and because Brian and Kev both still live within an hour of me, we get together every now and then. Scott Sanders, our second drummer died around 1990 in a murder suicide (which is referenced in one of the CD booklets in great detail), so we don’t keep in touch. Dave Anthony who was our drummer at the end of our run, moved out of state I think, and I heard that he did standup comedy for a while (actually so did Brian), but I’ve been unable to find Dave even on the web. I know that after we broke up for good, he continued to play in other people’s signed bands (at least for a while), and I saw him one night years ago on TV in somebody’s band on Leno. A couple of months ago I recently reconnected with David Chayce aka David Victor, who played lead guitar on our debut LP “Babes In Toyland,” and also Paul Houston who was our lead guitarist when we were performing as Monster Island, since they both now live in the area. I hear bizarre rumors every now and then about Monster Island’s first lead guitarist, Matt Lee, and it always surprises me that he’s not in prison, or worse. He was a real character. Mad, bad, and dangerous to know. LOL.
   As for helping me with the collection, Matthias built his own studio, and that’s where we recorded the new track, “Whose Little Girl,” which he also engineered and mixed to great results. He was also able to miraculously fix a very nasty audio glitch on the master for “The One That Got Away,” which really made me happy because I consider that one of the best songs I’ve ever written and it would’ve broken my heart not to be able to include it with this collection now. Brian has worked for big commercial CD manufacturers in the past, so he was a great source of advice for where and how to do that part of it. Beyond Matthias and Brian, most of my ex-bandmates weren’t really very involved with it. It was just too much work and time for me to even ask them to get involved, especially when you consider that the bulk of it was done between the hours of 10:00 pm and 4:00 am.

SR: Who all played on “Whose Little Girl”, and is that the lone newly recorded track?

RS: Keith Beattie on bass (also played on “Babes…”), Matthias Montgomery on drums (also played on “Babes…”), Brian Crow on lead guitar (played with the band for a short spell right after we finished recording “Babes…” and on our final release “No Bed Of Roses”), and me on guitars and lead vocals. Keith, Matthias, and Brian all sang backup as well.
   And yes, “Whose Little Girl?” is the only new song on the collection. It was really a blast hanging out with them again, and recording with these 3 people that I’ve known for over half my life. Keith and I were best friends in Jr. High, and we went to those early Crue shows waaaaay back before “Too Fast For Love” was picked up by Elektra, and they were still just a goofy club band from LA. I think his folks still have a photo of me in their living room, making the face and the fist, a few minutes before me and Keith went to one of those Crue shows.

SR: Was Castle Blak your first band?

RS: No, but I consider it to be “my” first “real” band. I started playing clubs when I was 15 in producer Kevin Army’s band The TOTS (which was a “real” band, but not “mine”). I picked up a bit of non-drum music theory along the way, and eventually my drum teacher showed me a little of it too. Until then I was in other people’s bands. Castle Blak was “mine.” The first band I was ever in was called Avatar in 1978 and between then and CB in 1983, I was in: Havok (drums), Fedoinkas (guitar/vox), The Bonamics (guitar/vox), Rat Patrol (guitar/vox), and Escort Service (drums).

SR: What other bands were making their mark in your area the time Castle Blak began happening?

RS: In Nor Cal at that time, on the Glam-ier side, there was Head On, Roadrunner, Babylon A.D. (back then they were called The Persuaders I think), Strange Toys, Jet Boy, Kid Blue, Vain, Y&T, Le Mans, Chumbi, Cinema, and Kamikaze, and on the harder side, Metallica of course.

SR: It’s obvious that was a special time for hard rock. Do you think we will experience a scene like that again?

RS: It was, but each era has its own special magic. In 1973, who would’ve ever dreamed that Glam would come around again, especially so strongly, in just 10 years later? But obviously, much of music is cyclical. I was also lucky enough to be in the Punk scene as a musician in its final days (1977-80), and those were some wild times, made all the more surreal by the fact that I experienced them through the lense of being a teenager. You just never know – maybe in the next 10 years, Glam will come ’round yet again, and while it’ll share a lot with its predecessor (80’s Glam), and it’s predecessor (70’s Glam), it will also be made new again by those kids who discover it, embrace it, and make it theirs. That’s the true beauty of rock and roll – the way that each generation remakes it, and makes it their own.

SR: For people that have never heard Castle Blak, how would you describe its sound to them?

RS: It really depends on the song. We were definitely part of The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal in the 80’s, but also lean in a Glam direction as well, so our music has a lot of seemingly diverse flavours like Kiss, AC/DC, The Sweet, a little Scorpions/Saxon/Judas Priest every now and then, old Motley Crue, hints of old Alice Cooper, and a bit of Black N Blue. I think a journalist described us best years ago as ‘Dark California Glam.

SR: How many albums did the band end up recording and is there any chance of them being reissued?

BlakRS: Castle Blak released 2 LPs in the 80’s: “Babes In Toyland” in 1985 on T.O.M. Records and “Another Dark Carnival” in 1987 on my own Stiff Kitten Records label. Blak also did a cassette-only release of “No Bed Of Roses” in 1992 on Obscurity Records. I think the closest we’ll ever get to a re-issue any of this material, is the new box set that comes out this month in limited edition, and only from my GIPC site. While the set has a lot of the stuff from all three previous releases, that’s only about half of what I collected in it.

SR: Was Another Dark Carnival released with two different covers, if so, how come?

RS: Yes. Back in those days, hardcore collectors would want to get all versions of a record that were available, especially if it had a different cover, or a bonus track that the other version(s) didn’t have. So the non-US companies that licensed our records for release in their territories were given the right to come up with and use an alternate cover if they wanted to, and with “A.D.C.” the Japanese import actually had either a different version of one of the songs, or a bonus track, I can’t recall which. Different inner sleeves or inserts were also common.

SR: Out of those three albums which one do you think captured the band the best and what do you like and dislike about each?

RS: It’s hard to choose, because each one is like one of my kids. I think each LP captured us really well for the time that they were recorded. ‘Babes…’ was really raw, experimental, and energetic, and in its way, kinda Punky. In many ways it was for us what ‘Too Fast For Love’ was for Crue. ‘Babes…’ was also very pure and naive. ‘…Carnival’ was a lot slicker, more controlled, and allowed me to stretch out in more musical directions style-wise. ‘…Roses’ is I think the best one tho, because it had the slickness of ‘A.D.C.’, while retaining the energy of our debut. ‘…Roses’ in my opinion, easily had the best songs. Everything was finally just right on that release, the only problem was that at that time, our genre had become the kiss of death to all the labels and to the mainstream. We did a very limited, self-release on that one back in the day, so with the new box set, people will finally be able to hear it.
   What I dislike about each of them? With ‘Babes’ I was really depressed that we ran out of time before being able to finish the last 2 songs (the LP was released with only 8), but I’ve always tried to do much more than is humanly possible in the studio. With ‘A.D.C.’ we were working with a new engineer (a nice old(er) guy) who simply wasn’t familiar with any of the current production styles of the genre at that time, so we’d end up spending hours and hours trying to do something simple like backwards reverb, but doing it in the most clunky, caveman kind of way possible (like putting the reel of 2″ tape onto the recorder upside down). That was a huge waste of time, and very hard to swallow for a guy like me who always walks into the studio knowing exactly what he wants to hear, with a very clear plan of how to go about doing it. With ‘…Roses’ I have very few complaints. I just wish we would’ve had more time to record and mix the songs.

SR: What ultimately led to the break-up of Castle Blak?

RS: Three reasons equally. First, we were in final negotiations with a small indie label to make our 3rd LP (‘No Bed Of Roses’), and we had worked out a really great deal with a KILLER producer and studio, and with an awesome artist to do our cover for peanuts, and altho we negotiated in good faith with this label and brought those deals we had made to the table, the label never had any intention of dealing fairly with us. Ultimately they were scammers, and when that was revealed, I first bit their heads off their necks, and then decided I didn’t need that kind of negativity in my life anymore.
   Secondly, I had been doing music professionally since I was 15, and to really do it like that, at that level, you wind up feeding your whole life to it. At 28 in 1992, I took a long, hard look at the sacrifices I’d made to do that, and it was disturbing to say the least. Musicians and artists of all kinds tend to put blinders on when it comes to the price they pay to do their art. This is expected and necessary in order to do it at all. Every penny, every resource, and every minute, was spent on the band and my music, and after 13 years of that, and refusing to really look at that aspect of it up until that point, I decided that maybe it’d be a good time to actually start working on a life. Of course being in a band can be fun sometimes, and it was (sometimes), but there’s more to life than sacrifice. Being a broke artist at 20 is doable. Bohemian. Being a broke artist at 30 is just fukking idiocy. I know way too many “rock stars” who are now in their 40’s, and altho you know their names, they’ve never made a dime, and either live nowhere when they get off tour, or with their folks. I’ll always be a rebel, and a Rock and Roller, I’m just not willing to trade everything else in the world for the Rock and Roll life anymore.
   Thirdly, and this was actually the most important, Glam and Hard Rock were being thrown overboard by the public, the Press, and the industry at that point. Grunge was coming into vogue, and that was pretty much that. I do think it was ironic that Grunge came and went in the blink of an eye. I sure wish Glam would’ve been vanquished by a much more substantial foe than that.

SR: What did ‘working on a life’ entail for you?

RS: Little things. Like being able to get a few hours of sleep in each night, watch a video, or read a book. Having the time and money to go on an actual ‘date’ once in a while, or hang out with your friends. Having a job that can actually pay your basic bills, and allow you to eat at least once a day. Like I said, the little things.

SR: What is the story behind the band simply called Blak?

Regent St. ClaireRS: When we decided to re-form Castle Blak in 1990, we felt we had evolved in every way. We were better players, better writers, better singers, and looked and sounded better than we ever had before. We felt that we’d gained some wisdom about the business by then as well, so we wanted to streamline the name, while still keeping one foot planted firmly in our past. Blak seemed like the logical choice.

SR: You are also involved with a comic book called CandyAppleBlack, what is the story behind it?

RS: I wrote a Gothic comic book story called ‘CandyAppleBlack’ back around 1993, about a rebel angel who is cast-down for believing that suicide shouldn’t be a damnable offense. For this blasphemous opinion, he is exiled to walk the Earth for 1,000 years, only being seen and heard by those about to take their own lives, and small children. Writer/director Anthony C. Ferrante and I wrote a theatrical screenplay based on that story, and a few years ago I adapted that film script into a comic book script. The seven book series, compared to ‘The Crow’, “Preacher’, and ‘Sandman,’ started coming out in stores about two years ago. Right now, we’re trying to raise the funds to make the film ourselves, with Anthony directing.

SR: Did you also do all the artwork for CandyAppleBlack?

RS: I’m not a comic book artist, tho you will see some of my artwork (and a little bit of the Candy comic book artwork) in and on the Box Set booklets. I wrote and published the Candy books. My cover artist on the series was Marc Sasso (who has since done artwork for Dio, Rob Halford, & Judas Priest), and I also hired Eric Theriault and Marc Deering as inkers, and Djezer and John Toledo as pencilers.

SR: How does writing a comic book differ from writing song lyrics and do you find one more fulfilling then the other?

RS: Writing stories is another world from writing songs. A lot more rules so I end up using totally different parts of my brain for each. Songs tend to be free-form in their construction, hence less rules, and I typically write songs and poetry from an emotional place rather than the intellectual place my stories come from. And comic book writing is actually more involved than regular novel writing, because you’re actually the ‘director’ of the images on the pages, so you have to also think visually. I like writing both a lot, but music is much easier.

SR: When everything is said and done, how do you want to be remembered?

RS: If you mean the band, just that we came from a little town in the middle of nowhere, and were part of the NWOBHM, but did it with our own style. That we did our music our way.

Thanks to Regent St. Claire