Kick Axe is a four-piece Canadian hard rock band. The group has Larry Gillstrom on lead guitar and vocals, Victor Langen - bass guitar and vocals, Brian Gillstrom - drums and vocals, and George Criston (the only American) - lead vocals and rhythm guitar.
Kick Axe first appeared on vinyl doing a cover version of Humble Pie's "30 Days in the Hole" for the soundtrack of the movie Up The Creek. They went on to record their debut album VICES in 1984 and were hand-picked by Rob Halford to open Judas Priest's Defenders Of The Faith tour. The band then toured with the Scorpions, Quiet Riot and Helix.
This interview was conducted with George Criston after Kick Axe just finished playing Bogart's in Cincinnati.
Columbus Entertainment: Was Welcome To The Club intended to be a concept album?
George Criston: It's an attitude really. It's about growing up and finding out that life's not a "bowlful of cherries". Everybody'd got their hard times.
"If the habit's hard to break,
We are trying to say "Don't whine about it." It happens to everybody and you've just got to live through it and do the best you can.
Columbus Entertainment: The music on Welcome to the Club is not really that much like the Vices album. Was this in part due to the "Metal Backlash" or was it because you used Randy Bishop as a producer?
George Criston: Using Randy has something to do with it. I'm sure. A different producer always makes a difference. Randy produced the recording end of the album and then everyone went to L.A. to mix it with Spencer Proffer. We're really just expanding musically. We included ballad "Never Let Go" to kind of broaden our horizons.
Columbus Entertainment: Why was Welcome to the Club postponed so long?
George Criston: Well for one thing, we had to tour the first one. We did the whole Judas Priest tour, the Scorpions and the whole Quiet Riot thing. That took a long time. Than we had to tour twice across Canada. We did want to go to Europe too, but we needed to get a new product out first. We plan a taking less time between this and our next album. It all depends on how the tours go and how long we stay out on the road.
Columbus Entertainment: Why did "Piece of the Rock" and "Hunger" end up on King Kobra's album instead of on Kick Axe album?
George Criston: We did those two songs on a demo after we recorded Vices album. Originally, they were supposed to go to Black Sabbath, but they didn't, so we shopped the demo around and King Kobra wanted the tunes. We can write an abundance of music, for Welcome to the Club we had over fifty songs to choose from. It's an easy thing for us as writers to write on the road, because we all write together. We had an abundance of tunes, so "Hey, why not try to make some money" (laughs).
Columbus Entertainment: What are the video plans for Welcome to the Club?
George Criston: We already did a video for "With a Little Help From My Friends". It's been released in Canada. We did the video on the spot as we recorded the song. The reason the video was released in Canada first was because one album was released earlier in Canada and we toured there before coming to the states. The video has all Canadians singing in it. We had Rik Emmett from Triumph, Lee Aaron, some of the members of Toronto, a couple of the guys from Anvil, and some members of Coney Hatch. All together we had 25 to 30 people in there singing with us. It was a real Canadian kind of thing. We had hours and hours of footage. We started recording at 6:00 at night and finished the music part of it around 12:00. Everybody came in around midnight and we partied and sang until around 6:00 in the morning. It took one day and we did the whole thing. The video cameras were running all night, so they just cut it up and made our video of it. Real cheap! (Laughs.)
Columbus Entertainment: What kind of vocal training did you have?
George Criston: I haven't really had a vocal training. I've been singing all my life and my parents are very musically inclined. My father was a musician for 15 years and my mother has sang all through her life. I've just grown up around the music. My brother used to be in a band and I ran the lights. I've had 4 half-hour lessons in Vancouver. This guy just taught me how to warm-up and how to breathe properly. Now I'm just trying to apply what I've learned. Actually, I would love to have enough money and enough time to have a vocal coach with me on the road. As soon as I'd come off stage the guy would say "you did this right and did this and that wrong."
Columbus Entertainment: When did you start to perform barefooted?
George Criston: Always. I've always been in bare feet on stage. I feel more confident and I can sense where I am on the stage more easily. I used to be frisbee nut when I was 16 or 17 years old. I used to play frisbee on gravel roads in bare feet. I used to have really tough feet, with leather-like bottoms.
Columbus Entertainment: How has the band changed now that you've got second album under your belt?
George Criston: We're comfortable about it, but Ray Harvey left the band. We're a four-piece now.
Columbus Entertainment: I saw Ray wasn't performing tonight. I'd wandered what happened.
George Criston: He just didn't want to do it anymore. It gets to a point in your life where you've been in the business for 6 or 7 years and you just don't enjoy it anymore. Vic and Larry have been doing it for 12 years and they still love it.
Columbus Entertainment: Are you going to work more songs into the set where you play rhythm guitar?
George Criston: A couple more, but not too many. Right now I'm not real at ease and I feel it distracts from my singing, and that's one thing I don't want to happen. It's going to help me in the long run musically. I had only played acoustic guitar and had never played through an amp. Three weeks ago was the first time ever playing an electric guitar. You can't just playing open chords like you can on an acoustic. If you try to play open chords you just get a lot of noise. It just does not work. I'm still in the learning process, but it'll work out fine.
Columbus Entertainment: Did Ray Harvey warn the band, or did he just quit?
George Criston: It had been coming for a while. He had some family problems in Vancouver so he went back. While he was gone, we did four-piece a couple nights. When he came back he saw things were going pretty well as a four-piece, so he decided he didn't want to be on the road anymore. He's really a studio head too. He enjoys the studio and I think that's what he's looking forward to doing, being a recording engineer. He wasn't happy and you've got to love this business or you're in trouble.
Columbus Entertainment: What are your plans for your next album?
George Criston: We're never going to stop writing our kind of music. We play harder songs and we play softer songs. On our third album, we hope to have more of an extreme from the slow, slow ballads to the hard rock stuff.