Interviewed by Mark Balogh
Date: March 2009
Mark Balogh: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us here at Rockeyez Steve. It certainly is a pleasure to have you back in the game, so to speak, with the release of the new TALL STORIES album "Skyscraper". Congratulations on finally getting it out to the masses.
Steve Augeri: Thank you, it’s has been a labor of love of mine that I’m happy to say has worked out very nicely.
Mark Balogh: The songs on the new record were written back in the early 90’s. Is that right? Are they newly recorded or were they just "polished up" and completed for the new release?
Steve Augeri: The songs were written between ‘92 and ‘96. "Skyscraper" was the follow-up album to our debut that never came to be. These are songs and performances that we felt very passionate about and I personally took on as a personal "English Channel" to swim… My very own Mt. Everest.
Mark Balogh: How has the early feedback on the new record been so far?
Steve Augeri: It’s been mixed as anticipated, but overall right where I had expected it to be. This new set of songs are, I feel, a natural progression from our first record. And I also feel it shows the band in a truer sense, more layers and textures below the surface than the first CD. It gives our audience a glimpse of the bands musicianship and diverse songwriting abilities. Oh…and most importantly, it rocks!
One thing we’ve heard consistently is that it’s a "grower", meaning the more it’s played, the less likely it is to be ejected from your CD player in your car or shuffled off your iPod. I’m pleased with that comment because most, if not all of my favorite albums to date have been "growers".
Mark Balogh: I’d like to get into "Skyscraper" a bit and talk about some of the songs. The record opens with "Tomorrow" and it’s a great tune that style-wise is reminiscent of the debut TALL STORIES album. Was this written around the time of the first record or was it specifically written for the 2nd album?
Steve Augeri: This was a creation of Jack Morer’s specifically written for "Skyscraper".
Its sort of the old school meets the new. A blend of LED ZEPPELIN’s "The Song Remains the Same" and U2’s "New Years Day" you could say. Two bands that we most certainly admired and aspired to be like…in one way, shape or form of another. It’s a great eye opener in the morning… coffee and TALL STORIES.
Mark Balogh: Songs like "Clementine" and "Original Sin" seem to have a more modern influence. Can you tell us a little about these tracks?
Steve Augeri: The years that followed our debut were years of growth and experimentation. These were "the best of times and they were the worst of times". Due to the changing climate of rock and roll during the early 90’s, we were forced… no, we were pushed to our limits to find brave new worlds and new paths when it came to creating our music. Although the musical press considered us as "darlings" of the Melodic Rock scene, we merely thought of ourselves as a rock and roll band… a band with no boundaries and no labels. And so, we wrote with that mindset. Anything goes. The sky’s the limit… hence the birth of "Skyscraper".
Mark Balogh: "All Of The World" is a great heartfelt melodic track. Can you tell me a little about that song?
Steve Augeri: This particular song has had at least two other incarnations. This being the least "heavy" version but most appropriate for the lyrical content. We always knew we had a good song we just needed to find it a good home so to speak. Maybe an alternate version will surface one day. That would be fun. It’s got, like most of the CD, some of my favorite Jack Morer guitar moments. Classic guitar, period. He’s a natural. My hero.
Mark Balogh: The track "River Rise" has an almost funky hard-edged sound to it. Where did the idea for that song come from?
Steve Augeri: Well, musically it comes from a much harder place TALL STORIES has ever ventured. Perhaps a time when the likes of DEEP PURPLE, BLACK SABBATH and LED ZEPPELIN ruled and walked the planet. These bands had a profound effect on me growing up and helped form my affection for heavy music. I think, for me anyway, there’s a hint of SOUNDGARDEN thrown in there for good measure. I was pretty hot on that band and Chris Cornell’s voice during that era.
Mark Balogh: The track "You Shall Be Free" is pretty cool with its southern gospel feel. Tell us a little bit about the song.
Steve Augeri: Well, this track, which is probably one of my favorites on the CD, has a special place in my heart as well as in the bands repertoire. Immediately, from the onset you’re dropped into another time period. Maybe THE (ROLLING) STONES were on the radio, girls were wearing flowers in their hair and JIMI (HENDRIX) was playing down at Café’ Wha? in the "Village". My very first Rock show was at the Academy of Music on 14th St. in Manhattan. I think it’s an NYU dorm these days. Anyway, walking into that venue that night with my older brother, Joe (the tickets were a present for my 15th birthday) was a life altering experience. We’ve all had them. This was mine. It was electric. It was intoxicating. It was Marshall amps on 10, guitars, bass and drums and a pint sized man with a gigantic, mammoth voice at the mic. It was true magic. The band was HUMBLE PIE and the singer, the voice was that of Steve Marriott and I was front row center. F%$#@!ing Magic!
I think we tried to recreate that vibe that drew us, no sucked us, into Rock and Roll initially… the rawness, the sincerity, the reckless abandon, the honesty, the music…yes above all, the music.
We’ve also got a few dear friends singing along with us on this track… our very own TALL STORIES gospel choir. One voice in particular of note is that of Marge Raymond’s who actually recorded with The PIE later on as well as being that unforgettable voice on ELO’s smash hit "Evil Woman". Marge has sung with them all… AEROSMITH, this one, that one and now TALL STORIES! We’re honored. Thank you Margie.
Mark Balogh: Does the new album have a planned release for the US market?
Steve Augeri: We are currently shooting for a late March release here in the States and on iTunes.
Mark Balogh: The band just did the Firefest show in the UK back in October of last year. It was the first TALL STORIES show in many years. How was it to get back on stage with the band and how was the reception from the audience?
Steve Augeri: It was great to be back on stage with my old comrades. In some respects it was as if we never parted and in others it showed us that there is still a lot of life and music flowing through this band I’m pleased to say. The reception was warm and we were glad to have reunited in a place where so many of our Rock and Roll heroes came from. It was a whirlwind… long flight, no sleep, great Indian dinners, great company, and great music. We had a blast.
Mark Balogh: Will the band be doing any U.S. dates in the near future?
Steve Augeri: This is in the works as we speak. That’s all I can say right now.
Mark Balogh: Your time with the band JOURNEY has been well publicized so we wont get into that but what do you take away from that period in your life?
Steve Augeri: Sure, a wealth of beautiful memories. Friendships and relationships that I’ve developed and cherish more than all the riches one can imagine. Souvenirs from all over the world.
Also the experience and honor of working with four of the finest musicians in the business. I had the privilege of writing with a couple of the finest songwriters of our time. Not to mention 8 plus years of performing to JOURNEY fans and all the perks and gratification that comes with it. Of course I would have never been given this opportunity had it not been for the man who came before me. I owe Steve Perry for doing all the heavy lifting. It was a daunting task to walk in after someone of Mr. Perry’s stature. He taught me to raise the bar for myself, and aim for new heights. But, like Steve before me, I too had reached a sign post and it was time to move on. For me though, it was a medical issue that was unpublished beyond just a vocal issue that brought about the end of my journey, pardon the pun. Doctors order if you will. What are you gonna do? C’est la vie.
Mark Balogh: How is your voice doing now? Was there ever any concern at any point that it would affect your singing permanently?
Steve Augeri: Yes, I was faced with the difficult decision to either take a break or fear damaging my voice permanently. Although it hurt beyond any pain you can inflict upon yourself, emotionally that is, in the long term it was the only way to go. I have my medical condition in check and have recovered vocally and then some.
Mark Balogh: Do you have plans for any further TALL STORIES recordings or even a solo album at some point?
Steve Augeri: Well a little of both. I enjoy working with TALL STORIES and I think we have the potential of being an even better band moving forward.
As for myself, I’m currently recording tracks for myself. My own release… Literally.
Mark Balogh: Do you have any other projects in the works that you can share with us at the moment?
Steve Augeri: I am involved in a really interestingly ambitious project with a handful of super incredibly talented international musicians. One more outrageously gifted than the next. I guess you could call it a prog band. A little intimidating at first, but the preliminary demos turned out so well, if we get this off the ground it’s going to be a monster. I’ve got my fingers crossed.
I’d love to drop the names but I’d hate to jinx it. Stay tuned for an update.
Mark Balogh: Because "Skyscraper" features such great diversity in the music with some tracks having the AOR sounds of the debut, some having a more modern 90’s feel and some having a classic rock sound with a heavy LED ZEPPELIN influence. Can you tell us what some of your personal favorites are on the record?
Steve Augeri: It’s like the old adage; when it comes to your "children", your babies, how do you pick a favorite. They all hold a special meaning and place in my heart. They’re all my favorites for one reason or another. It’s corny but true.
Mark Balogh: Taking the last question a bit further. As I talked about in describing some of the new songs earlier, it’s obvious the music on the new disc features many styles. What are some of favorite styles of music personally both nowadays and in the past?
Steve Augeri: Growing up in NYC, I’ve had the exposure to so many different musical styles. It was really a luxury in many respects… every type and style of music at your fingertips, at your disposal. My freshman year in high school I went to Music and Art in Harlem at the time in the seventies. I played alto sax until one of the many muggings (most kids went to school with lunch money, I went with a dollar bill at the ready so that I wouldn’t be stabbed. New York City in the 70’s, go figure) I experienced left me "hornless". The school wouldn’t furnish me with another horn so I was immediately ushered into the world of bassoon and all that came with it… Orchestra, Pit orchestra, Symphonic band, Woodwind quartets, etc., etc., etc., on and on. And so…. I have a love for classical music… Tchaikovsky to Gershwin. In fact, "Rhapsody In Blue" is one of my favorite pieces of music of all time. Gershwin Rocks! I think he may have been a Brooklyn boy, too!
I can hang with most types music as long as it’s quality. Great lyrics are hard to come by. When I hear one I appreciate it. That’s one of the reasons I love U2’s music so much. I’ve been enamored with Alicia Keys’ music and voice ever since I’ve first heard it. I think she’s quality and class. Seal has really impressed me through the years. I think he’s got a beautiful voice. COLDPLAY also, just to name a few. Oh yeah, I absolutely worship Annie Lennox.
I guess I’m as old school as it gets, but, I’ve got an open enough mind to try listening to most anything really.
Mark Balogh: "Skyscraper" features several drummers throughout; can you tell us about some of the musicians that played on the record?
Steve Augeri: Tom DeFaria did all the original basic tracks for the record, brilliant performances. Because they were that good and had that special "In the moment, in the very same room feel" (which by the way is how the majority of "Skyscraper" was recorded, live with very few over dubs) we tried countless drum samples and triggers to salvage Tom’s basic tracks but no matter what we did, no matter what modern wizardry and technology Jack attempted (at my request) it never had a natural feel. They were nearly all unsalvageable due to the fact that they were recorded on an early version of the electronic drum kits. They may have been passable for DURAN DURAN at the time, but, it wasn’t cutting it for us. Not this style of music anyway. So when Tom wasn’t available to re-record the tracks (Tom incidentally left the band a year before we split up) we decided to press on and recruit some of "New York’s Finest". Rodney Howard (Avril Lavigne, Gavin DeGraw), Bobby Rondinelli (RAINBOW, THE LIZARDS) and last but not least, Nir Z (GENISIS, Chris Cornell, John Mayer). These "ringers" along with Tommy, and we had some serious drummers driving the record! They all blew me away. I can say that because I watched one of the best, Deen Castronovo (JOURNEY) night after night. These guys all brought something different, some slice of their personality to the table. It was great watching them work. What an experience.
Mark Balogh: Now to have a little fun and talk about your early days…
Going back to your childhood, how did you become involved in music and singing and what were some of your early influences from a vocal standpoint?
Steve Augeri: Well, like most musicians my age, I was introduced to the BEATLES early on and they had a profound and lasting effect on me. But, even before that, my uncle Andrew bought me my first guitar from Sears and Roebuck (That’s what they called themselves at the time!) It was from a guitar he won in a card game crossing the Atlantic during World War II, that he taught my cousin Ad and I, Hank Williams Sr. songs ("Your Cheating Heart", "Jambalaya") and whet our appetite for music. And he was the very man that picked us up by the scruff of the neck one Sunday evening and plopped us in front of the TV to watch the BEATLES on the Ed Sullivan Show. My Uncle was a big influence and advocate for music in my life. I owe him big time for that. I like to think he’s smiling down on me these days, guitar in hand, ten-gallon hat, spurs and all. He was one of a kind!
Mark Balogh: What are some of the other bands you played in prior to TALL STORIES forming?
Steve Augeri: Well TALL STORIES evolved from a band called MAETSRO, which consisted of three wonderful Brazilian musicians. One of which, Junior Holmrich, who did the music for the John Borman film "Emerald Forest". Cool flick, still very relevant. We met while I was doing session work at the old Record Plant Studios on 44th and 8th. Conveniently down the corner from Smith’s Bar and Grill (enough said). It was an amazing place, the Record Plant. You’d see anybody and everybody walk through those doors back then. AC/DC, AEROSMITH, Stevie Nicks, John Lennon. Forgetaboutit!
Before that, I sang with a band by the name of KICKS, (Not the KIX from Baltimore) which was originally fronted by Marge Raymond who has graced us with her incredible voice on "You Shall Be Free".
Mark Balogh: After TALL STORIES you joined TYKETTO and recorded the "Shine" album. How did that all come about and do you have any standout moments from that time?
Steve Augeri: That’s a long complicated story, but I will tell you it was a blast working with those guys. It had come when TALL STORIES was just winding down. I got a call from the band to help assist writing their next record. So I drove down the Jersey shore (sounds good already) and got acquainted with the band. A hilarious bunch, each and every one of them. Jammed at a few Asbury Park rehearsal studios. Wrote lyrics on the beach. We practically wrote and recorded the record in almost two weeks flat and had a blast doing it. After the writing sessions in Jersey, we loaded up someone’s van and drove to rural Minnesota to record at Pachyderm Studios. A fantastic recording studio nestled in the woods outside of Minneapolis, I think. It was complete with resident ghost, history of murders and vibes everywhere. Story was that NIRVANA recorded their early stuff there. That trip alone was worth the price of admission… one dude driving and the other three band members in one passenger seat. We became fast friends, especially Brooke St. James and I. We traveled to Europe and played here and there and that’s an experience that stays with you. Good times. I’ve seen Jamie Scott, bassist, passing through Dallas with JOURNEY on a few tours. I still keep in close touch with Brooke and look forward to working together with him again in the future. He and I really clicked. I like his style.
Mark Balogh: You grew up in Brooklyn, NY and recently at Rockeyez we did an interview with another great singer in Mrs. Robin Beck who also grew up in Brooklyn. Is there something in the water there that turns out great vocalists???
Steve Augeri: I don’t know. Could be the water. That’s what they say about the pizza. That it’s the best in the world because of the New York City water. Heck, maybe it’s the PIZZA! Did Robin dig pizza too? I’ve never had the pleasure of crossing paths with Robin but from her interview, she seems like a great gal. Brooklyn through and through.
Mark Balogh: Robin shared some great stories of her younger days in Brooklyn. How were your experiences growing up there?
Steve Augeri: I grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Known for its mobsters as much as it’s cannoli’s (and pizza). Many of my early acquaintances are either incarcerated or "sleeping with the fishes". Rock and Roll saved me from a life of well… let’s just say, it gave me a purpose and a direction where many of my peers were not as lucky.
One of my very first bands, in fact I was fifteen, was called THOR. We were a trio with me playing guitar and singing. We played RUSH, ZEPPELIN, QUEEN and KISS covers while getting our songwriting chops together. We’d cross paths with local legends like C.C. DeVille and Steve Stevens playing church dances and neighborhood Battle of the Bands. And finally, before that was one of my earliest bands to memory and that was with bassist, James Lomenzo (MEGADETH, BLACK LABEL SOCIETY, David Lee Roth). We’d play block parties, which may or may not be a New York phenomenon. In the middle of our set we’d be heckled by the "older" Italian folks sitting at their tables in the street to play some Sinatra, and by God we would… the Tarantella, "Hava Nagila" (you spell it!), the "Hokey Pokey", Jesus… the "Hokey Pokey". Whatever. We were getting our feet wet and getting a couple of sheckles (bucks) in the process. Ah, those hot sweaty Brooklyn nights. You could feel the heat coming off the asphalt. Block parties, whatever happened to them? Let’s bring them back! Everyone step away from the video games. Step away from the computer.
Mark Balogh: I guess that’s about it Steve. Is there anything you’d like to add before we go?
Steve Augeri: Yeah, I’d like take this opportunity to thank my fans for their patience and for hanging in there with me through some hard times and know that I appreciate all the "get well" cards and e-mails these last few years. They mean the world to me and I want you to know that it was your encouragement that kept me going. I’m back, we’re back, TALL STORIES, and we’ve got a great new CD I hope you all get a chance to hear one way or another. I think it’s some of the best work I’ve ever done and I’m extremely proud of it. When we get out this summer please be sure to drop by and say hello. Until then…