INTERVIEW WITH TOD HOWARTH (EX-FREHLEY’S COMET AND CURRENT FOUR BY FATE FRONTMAN)
Date: May 28, 2016
Interviewer: Ruben Mosqueda
HARD ROCK AND METAL FANS KNOW TOD HOWARTH. HE’S THE MULTI-INSTRUMENTALIST, SINGER AND SONGWRITER WHO HAS WORKED WITH SOME OF THE GREATS IN THE BUSINESS. TOD HAS TOURED WITH CHEAP TRICK AND RECORDED WITH TED NUGENT BUT HE IS BEST KNOWN FOR HIS WORK WITH ACE FREHLEY IN FREHLEY’S COMET. THE LATTER’S 1987 DEBUT SELF-TITLED RECORD IS STILL A FAVORITE OF OURS HERE AT THE SLEAZE ROXX COMPOUND.
TOD TEAMED UP WITH ‘COMET’ ALUMNI JOHN REGAN IN FOUR BY FATE IN 2013 AND OVER THE YEARS, THEY HAVE HAD A FEW LINE-UP CHANGES. CURRENTLY, FOUR BY FATE FEATURES TOD HOWARTH (GUITAR, KEYBOARDS AND VOCALS), JOHN REGAN (BASS), PAT GASPERINI (GUITAR) AND ROB AFFUSO (DRUMS), THE LATTER OF WHICH STEPPED IN WHEN A.J. PERO PASSED AWAY UNEXPECTEDLY. FOUR BY FATE SIGNED A DEAL WITH THE END RECORDS ND ARE SET TO RELEASE THEIR DEBUT ALBUM ‘RELENTLESS’ ON JUNE 3RD.
TOD HOWARTH HAS SOME UNFINISHED BUSINESS WITH FREHLEY’S COMET FOR SURE. WE GET INTO THAT AMONGST OTHER THINGS. ENJOY THE INTERVIEW AND AS ALWAYS, YOUR FEEDBACK IS GREATLY APPRECIATED.
Sleaze Roxx: You’ve kept in touch with John Regan over the years and you’ve put together Four By Fate.
Tod Howarth: Yeah. John and I kept in touch after my departure from Frehley’s Comet. He went back to playing with Peter Frampton and he’d invite me to the shows to hang out with him when they played in San Diego. My wife and I would go to see him. We’d talk and always talked about playing together again. Of course, it would have to be on a grander scale that just ‘one offs.’ We had been toying around with doing a 25th year anniversary show and at the same time, we were asked to be part of a KISS cover compilation for charity (hospice). The original line-up was John, myself, drummer Stet Howland and guitarist Shawn Kelly. John and I were happy to play together, but we’d only do it if it was fun. It might seem like Four By Fate has come together quickly but we’re coming up on four years as a band.
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Relentless’ is a hard rock record with a modern edge to it. I think the album is set up nicely with “These Times Are Hard for Lovers” and “Moonshine.” The latter having a southern rock vibe to it; which was surprising.
Tod Howarth: Oh, I agree. I love “Moonshine.” That was written by our guitarist Pat Gasperini who had that when he came to the band. I heard it and I was like “We have got to use that!” “These Times Are Hard for Lovers” was written by Desmond Child and John Waite and it was on John Waite’s album ‘Rover’s Return.’ I think John [Regan] played bass on that song. When John [Regan] brought that song to the table, I wasn’t sure if it was going to work or not. I loved the song, I loved John Waite but I just didn’t know that it fit with the rest of the style of the record. John [Regan] kept insisting and I think it turned out great. Like you said, you listen to “These Times Are Hard for Lovers” and then you get smacked in the face by “Moonshine.” It’s like “Okay. What’s next?” [laughs]
Enjoy the videos and music you love, upload original content, and share it all with friends, family, and the world on YouTube.
Sleaze Roxx: Towards the midway point of the record, you added a new version of “It’s Over Now” which you originally recorded with Frehley’s Comet on the ‘Second Sighting’ record. Who brought up the idea to do that? Was it you or John?
Tod Howarth: [laughs] The latter was the right answer. It was John Regan! He wanted to redo it. I was like “John. Let’s not!” He said “Well, I don’t think it got the proper attention that it should have.” I wanted to change a few things on the new version. We also have the late A.J. Pero playing on that. I wanted to ‘beef it up’ a little bit more. I love bass guitar and drums. We had A.J. play on that who as you know was a monster. John has some serious bottom end and tone. I’ve always emulated that when I’ve done pre-production on records.
Sleaze Roxx: You also recorded a “Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo.” Who threw that into the mix?
Tod Howarth: [laughs] It wasn’t John Regan this time! [laughs] It was me! [laughs] I’ve always wanted to record that song and I had this different arrangement for it, which is what you hear on the record. The pushes, pulls and pulses that I had in mind didn’t quite work so I had to straighten them out because they didn’t work with a live band. I used to go see Rick Derringer and Danny Johnson when they’d open up for Aerosmith years ago and I just thought it was something that would be fun to do.
Sleaze Roxx: I really want to ask about the song “Amber Waves.” It’s hard not to write a song like that which isn’t ‘hokey’ or ‘corny.’ And post 9/11, the flood gate opened for ‘cheesy’ and ‘disingenuous’ patriotic songs. “Amber Waves’ sounds and is genuine. What was the inspiration for that song?
Tod Howarth: It’s very much a ‘patriotic song. I wrote the song a few years back. It was a love song if you can believe that. It had this haunting and sad melody. I kept thinking “Love song. Love song. This has to be a love song.” At the same time, there was this movement of tearing down this country in order to make people in other countries feel better about themselves… It makes me sick! There’s a lot of patriots from the past whose souls are spinning in their graves. What are we doing? People gave up their livelihoods, their lives, their souls, their body parts for this country. So I just belted out “This is for the stars. And this is for the stripes. And may the amber waves of grain flow here forever, beneath the bluest skies.” I had so many verses. I must have had that song done in about 10-15 minutes. That song is very heartfelt melodically.
I agree with you that there was a rush to capitalize on the post ‘9/11 disaster’ as some of these idiot politicians would say. I have to be fair — I’m sure there were some honest attempts by artists. I didn’t hear any. I know that the song “I’m Proud To Be An American” gained popularity but that was written years prior. I think that I saw a resurgence for the right reasons. That is a good song. I live in San Diego which has a huge military presence and is a military community. We have the North Island, Camp Pendleton, and the harbor with all the battleships. I’ve always had this love and respect for people who have served or have fought for this country. That’s important to me and that is why I chose to rework the lyrics from a ‘love song’ to a ‘flag love song.’ I want to emphasize that this isn’t a ‘political song’ but a ‘pro-American song.’
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Relentless’ will be a worldwide release on The End Records. Was the inclusion of a song like “Amber Waves” a hard pitch for the international release? There are segments of the world that would think “Here we go again with these Americans singing about how great their country is again.”
Tod Howarth: I totally hear what you’re saying. Yeah, we do have the European version of ‘Relentless’ which only has 10 songs and “Amber Waves” isn’t on that. I don’t think anyone else wants to hear or see an American flag unless they live or love our country.
Sleaze Roxx: I have to ask; prior to his passing, was A.J. Pero in fact a full fledged member of Four By Fate?
Tod Howarth: Yes he was. What had transpired was that Stet [Howland] had gotten into an accident and we were turned onto A.J. We went into the studio and we ‘speed taught’ him the songs. He had heard them but hadn’t learned them because we didn’t have a lot of time. We were in the studio with him for two days and cut those tracks. It was wonderful. We were in the car with him and he said “Hey this hasn’t been announced so it’s not official. Twisted Sister will be winding down.” He then said something like and I’m paraphrasing here “I wouldn’t mind being a part of this.” John and I looked at each other and said “Yes!” I mean to have a drummer like A.J. Pero in your band is incredible. So at the time of his passing, he was set to record the rest of the album.
Sleaze Roxx: I’ve been revisiting the ‘Frehley’s Comet’ records that you recorded. The debut album is fantastic. You sang on “Breakout,” “Something Moved” and “Calling to You.” What are your recollections of recording those songs?
Tod Howarth: My retention for certain things is pretty bad at times. I think after being a part of something for several years, my memory is a big blur. When I came into the band, the recording of the debut album was already in the process. I think when I came in, “Breakout” was already recorded and I was asked if I could add something to it? I said “Hell yeah!” The energy there was undeniable. I think you can hear on that album that Ace ‘really’ wanted to do that record. This was his baby and it showed throughout the record.
“Something Moved” was one of the first songs that I submitted to them when I was asked to audition for the band. It was John Regan who had introduced the project to me and I flew out in between Cheap Trick tours. Eddie Kramer and John listened to the song and thought we could do something with it. If I recall John, Anton Fig and I tracked it. It was the three of us I believe. Then Ace came in and did the lead. I don’t recall him playing anything on there rhythmically.
“Calling to You” was a song by my previous band 707. It was called “Megaforce.” I didn’t really want to do that song but Ace was intrigued by the fact that the song was titled “Megaforce” which was the name of the label that Frehley’s Comet was signed to. That was catalyst for doing that. I guess everything happens for a reason. We changed around the chorus, different lyrics, it’s the same melody. We had a good time recording that. I think it worked out well.
Sleaze Roxx: You then released ‘Second Sighting’ with Frehley’s Comet. Eddie Kramer wasn’t on board for that. That album was a little more ‘soft’ and ‘radio friendly.’
Tod Howarth: Yeah, it was decided that we didn’t need to utilize Eddie Kramer’s services on that record. It was decided that we could do it ourselves with Scott Mabuchi who was Eddie’s engineer. The problem was that the LP was being rushed because we were at that time on tour with Iron Maiden and the label wanted to get product out. Well, the short of it was that Ace didn’t have a lot of songs or a lot of it together. He wasn’t prepared for the quick turn around. I was. I had a lot of songs so that’s how that came to pass.
In time, I came to find out that people loved the first album, they ‘liked’ the second album or maybe they ‘tolerated it.’ I think some thought too much Tod Howarth, some called is a ‘Tod Howarth solo record.’ Never in my wildest dreams did I think “Okay great! Now I get to take over the band!” Who would do that? I’m not naive and stupid! It’s ACE’s band! I simply had songs to provide because we were in a pinch. I was looking forward to the third record and co-writing with Ace to get him to a ballsier, heavier direction. As you know, that never happened because everything went to shit.
I think people thought it was ‘light’ only because they only heard “It’s Over Now.” As many people that liked it, there was as many that didn’t like it because it was ‘soft’ or a ballad. I don’t know why people call it ‘light’ — maybe it’s because it didn’t have the same angst that the first record had? We had Anton Fig on the first album and he played with such balls and energy — you heard that on the tracks. I’m not saying that Jamie Oldaker isn’t a great player. It’s just a different kind of energy.
Frehley’s Comet – It’s Over Now (1988)
“Insane” was a fun song to record and perform and we made a cool video for that. “Dancing With Danger” was a song that Ace brought to the table with a co-writer. I wanted a song with Ace and I am singing on “Loser In A Fight.” It almost translated but not like I had envisioned it. Ace brought in some more songs that I think had some nuts to them. I think fans were expecting something a little heavier with a little more balls on ‘Second Sighting.’ I know the fans are very particular and rightly so.
Ace Frehley Insane video from the second release “second sighting.”
Sleaze Roxx: I remember reading the reviews for ‘Second Sighting’ and them being mixed. I guess someone had to be the ‘fall guy’ and I guess you were it in the eyes of critics and fans?
Tod Howarth: [Laughs] Of course! At first it hurt my feelings to a degree. I’ve learned to deal with it over the years. Listen, Ace is not a singer. He’s a better singer now than he was at that time. When we were recording the albums, he wanted to sing. He knew he needed to sing because the fans wanted to hear him sing. You have to give the fans what they want because that would translate into album sales. I think the fact that I sang on half of the record and he sang on the other half of the record, the fans weren’t too happy about it. So that’s how things transpired and I got blamed for it.
Sleaze Roxx: Realistically, if you didn’t sing those songs on ‘Second Sighting’ — than who would?
Tod Howarth: [Laughs] I know. They wouldn’t have been on the record. Ace is a ‘character’ singer. It’s like his laugh. It’s identifiable. He has a certain style. He was never a singer where I’ve been singing since I was seven years old. I think people would have been happier listening to his style, his voice that to listen to my smooth vocals. Then again, there are people that really loved my vocals on that record yet they won’t vocalize that. That’s okay. You can’t please everyone.
Sleaze Roxx: So when did things begin to go south with Frehley’s Comet?
Tod Howarth: We ran out of money on the Iron Maiden tour. We were broke. We had to go home to reassess what we were going to do next. Around the middle of 1998, it was brought to my attention that I wouldn’t be on the album and that Ace would be writing and singing all the songs.
There’s several things wrong with that statement which I won’t get into here. In the music industry, you make money from publishing, merchandising and touring if you’re in a big enough band. Well, if I don’t have any of those three, I don’t have an income. How am I supposed to survive? I have heard this millions of times — “Oh, Ace fired Tod.” Listen, Ace didn’t fire Tod — Tod quit! There was no future for me there so I had to bow out. So after many attempts, I secured a solo deal though Simmons Records, oddly enough. It was right as the grunge thing was coming along so I got my ass kicked there. I was dropped and here comes Nirvana! [laughs]
Sleaze Roxx: You’d be open to a Frehley’s Comet reunion show I imagine?
Tod Howarth: Oh for sure, if nothing else for the fans alone. We’ve talked about it but we’ve gotten a tepid response from Ace. I feel that from a business standpoint, it would behoove Ace to do it. Right now, Ace has some things going where he won’t be paying much attention to a ‘Comet’ reunion at the moment. I don’t think. In fact, Ace lives right here in San Diego! I met up with him at a book signing years ago and he has my contact information but I haven’t heard from him. As I said, John and I would love to do it but it’s in Ace’s lap. He wants to do what he wants to do. Right now, my focus is Four By Fate.