[published]: 2004
[in]: ConcreteWeb
[article]: Interview with Larry Gillstrom

Concreteweb: Between 1983 and 1987, Kick Axe released 3 relatively successful and now rather sought-after albums on CBS/ Sony...and disbanded amically in 1988?

Larry Gillstrom: The problems that caused us to disband started right after we released "Welcome to the Club". We were young and a bit naive about the music business. We had placed our trust in certain individuals to take care of the business side of things for us. Unfortunately, we chose the wrong people, and our business affairs were not taken care of properly. We first became aware of this when, after the fourth concert on our "Welcome to the Club" tour, sherrifs arrived to take possession of all of our assets including our guitars. The tour could not continue. Ray Harvey was so disheartened by the situation we found ourselves in that he left the group. The four remaining members continued to try and make a go of it, but the legal and financial problems that had festered unknown to us, were insurmountable and the walls came crashing down around us. We made a valiant effort at releasing a third album, but we had very little resources with which to work and the album never really got a fair shot. We could not play anywhere or do anything as Kick Axe without someone showing up to take our money or cause us other forms of grief. So we decided to lay low and go our separate ways until, hopefully some day, the problems would fade away. The members of Kick Axe have always been good friends and have remained friends to this day.

Concreteweb: Apparently the rather successful 2000 and 2001 re-issues of the band's first two albums on Songhaus/ Rewind became the basis for a reformation of the band?

Larry Gillstrom: I think during every year that passed, someone from the band would suggest that we get back together and do something. There were always agents calling us to do a reunion tour. When the first two album were re-issued and saw some success, we started to think more seriously about it. My brother Brian and I both owned successful businesses and we felt we now had the resources to put Kick Axe back together again. We all met for dinner in 2002 and decided to go for it.

Concreteweb: Instead of the unavailable George Criston, you asked your original vocalist to come back?

Larry Gillstrom: I personally am not aware of the details of what George does for those artists, but I believe he is constantly on tour with one or the other and does personal stage management, sound checks and maybe some vocal coaching... I'm not entirely sure. I know that he enjoys his work a lot. When we realized George was not going to be available, we considered aborting the reunion, but we got a call from Gary, our original singer from when the group was founded, and we decided to go ahead and do it with him. Gary had left the band a couple of years before George joined the band. Gary had personal reasons for leaving at that time and the split was amicable. Both Gary and George are great vocalists and it's a pleasure to work with either one of them.

Concreteweb: When were you guys ready to go into the rehearsal room as today's 5-piece?

Larry Gillstrom: We were ready right away. We had all kept up our chops in one way or another. As soon as we got together at Gary's rehearsal studio, we could feel the energy and the magic coming back. We worked over several of our best songs from the first three albums and it felt great. Each member in the group had several songs they had recently written and we started working on those as a group. Gary and I did some acoustic demos of the songs and then we built everything up from there. We also worked with a couple of outside writers, Floyd Ray and Laurel Aura.

Concreteweb: When were you guys ready to enter the studio?

Larry Gillstrom: It was an evolving process consisting of live jams, recording sessions in several different studios, rehearsing, re-writing and re-arranging and then finally getting to the mixdown with about 20 songs. Those were trimmed down to the 14 that are on the album.

Concreteweb: How did you come in contact with MTM Music?

Larry Gillstrom: After Gary and I did the acoustic demos, we placed one of them, "Who Knows Ya", up on MP3.COM. A short time later we were contacted by MTM Music about working together to release both new and old Kick Axe music. Our deal with MTM is a licensing agreement for the territories of Europe. And there will be more Kick Axe albums coming out in Europe through MTM Music, Elfin Stone Music, Song Haus Music and publicist Chip Ruggieri (Chipster Entertainment) are responsible for the release and marketing of Kick Axe records in North America.

Concreteweb: When, where and for how long did you record?

Larry Gillstrom: Since the album was recorded over a two year period we recorded at a few different studios. The majority of the bed tracks were recorded at Elfin Stone Studios, because our Canadian label owns that studio. Some stuff was done at Timberholme Studios, Paramount Studio, and at Gotham City Studio. We really didn't have any schedule because everyone was still doing lots of other projects as well at the time. But we always looked forward with great anticipation whenever we would schedule another rehearsal or recording session. We all get along really well and have a great time working on music together.

Concreteweb: We have no info whatsoever about recording engineer and/or producer on this album. Please enlighten us?

Larry Gillstrom: As you may be aware, we have been around for a long time. After Kick Axe was done in the 80's, both Ray and I did a lot of production and engineering work for other bands. Ray even won a WCCM Award for best producer/engineer of year for his work on a Rick Tippe album. So when it came time to do this record we decided to do most of the production and engineering ourselves. It was the only practical thing to do given our spur-of-the-moment recording schedule. I tried to use the same production techniques we used when we self-produced the "Rock The World" album. But at the same time, we are different people now with different perspectives, so working with each individual member during the writing, arranging and recording phases required developing an insight into their motivation for doing this album and what their personal writing and performance goals were.

Concreteweb: With now 4 albums under your belts, the occurance of Spinal Tap moments occuring while you were in the studio must be in the realm of possibility?

Larry Gillstrom: Well we didn't have to wait until now to have "Spinal Tap" moments happen to us. They happened back in the eighties as well. Some of them that come to mind are:

- There was the time that a record store in Los Angeles invited the band down to meet the staff. Unbeknownst to us, some one in the staff tried to set-up a quick in-store appearance for fans. We all know you can't set something like that up in a day. But, unknown to us, this person put a huge sign on the wall of the record store that said "Come and meet Kick Axe today at 3:00 PM". So when we got there, we went to meet the staff and they looked sort of embarrassed. I looked around to see what was up, and I noticed George had wandered over by the wall where this big sign was. He didn't see it yet and he was just standing right under it smiling with no else around him. I wish we could have caught that moment on camera for a good laugh. It looked ridiculously bad. It was just like the in-store right out of the Spinal Tap movie. So we quickly grabbed George and got the hell out of there.

- Another time, when the sherrifs had taken all of our gear including our truck with all our staging, we were goaded into going on to the next concert with our manager's promise that we would have the gear back for the show. Well we didn't get the gear back in time and we had to go on using the local opening acts gear and none of our special staging or lights. This was a big ticket headline show for us in front of thousands of people and we felt like Spinal Tap (when the little stonehenge came down on the stage).

- I guess I could mention a few more stories like ... when the police ran us out of Dayton, Ohio because we were late checking out of the hotel (managed by the cousin of the sherrif). ... Then there was the time when we pulled off the highway and went to a secluded area to set off some fireworks we had bought. They turned out to be these huge explosive rockets that went shooting way up in the sky and exploded. We decided to get out of there just as police cars came driving up through the smoke ... turned out fireworks were illegal in that county. When we told the Nashville highway patrol that we were from Saskatchewan and they laughed and let us go. ... We had a sound man who performed the longest lasting fall anyone has ever seen. He was standing on the stage just before sound check when he slipped and started to lose his balance. He started grabbing at things around him to stop him from falling. He caught the back drop, but that started to come down so he spun and banged into several guitar case, almost regained his balance then knocked over an amp and spun in the other direction. He grabbed at several band members who were moving towards him to help, but he couldn't quite connect with anyone and after pulling down several more pieces of gear and road cases, he eventaully fell flat on his face. He didn't really get hurt so we all had a good laugh. ... Another good laugh was when the Judas Priest guys snuck on stage during our set and then when Brian stood up after his drum solo to take a bow, they stole his drum stool. When he went to sit back down, he sat down hard into thin air. Luckily the JP crew guys were behind his riser to catch his fall. I think this stunt was payback for some practical joke Brian had played on them.

Concreteweb: 14 songs for almost an hour's worth of listening pleasure...just how much of this came 'off the shelf'?

Larry Gillstrom: I think Gary wrote the first version of "Time" back when he was with Kick Axe in the 70's. I think Ray's two songs "Consolation" and "Woe" were written earlier as well, sometime in the 90's. The rest of the material was written fresh for this album, although some of the riffs may have been floating around in our heads for some time. But all of the songs were re-worked during the production of the album.

Concreteweb: Does the band have any favourite songs on the album yet?

Larry Gillstrom: Since it's been more than two years since we started recording a lot of the songs have grown more special for me and some have become overall band favorites. We all really like "Rockin' Daze", "Consolation" and "Turn To Stone". I personally like "Right Now", "Turn To Stone" and "Slip Inside My Dream". For live performance "Rockin Daze", "Consolation", "Time" and "City Lights" will be a lot of fun to do.

Gary Langen: Oh ya I got favorites... "Turn to Stone", "Consolation", "Slip Inside", "Rockin' Daze", "Who Says", "Black Heart" and "Time".

Victor Langen: (In no particular order of importance) "Time", "Rock 'n' Roll Dogs", "Slip Inside", "Black Heart", "Only Ones Here", "Turn to Stone", "Rockin' Daze" (top 7 at 7).

Ray Harvey: My favorite cuts from the IV CD would be "Turn to Stone", "Slip Inside", "Rockin' Daze", "Woe", "The Only Ones Here".

Concreteweb: Have you had any specific trouble in either the writing, rehearsing, or recording process of any of the songs on this album?

Larry Gillstrom: Yes. One thing that happens when you record an album over a long period of time is that you start to second guess the writing and arrangements. A song can get overworked. We had to be careful with some of the first songs we recorded because different members kept coming up with new ideas for changing those songs. It started to become a never-ending process so we started putting a "complete" status on songs that were done. This status meant that we were not going to make any further changes to that song. There were also a few songs that got left off the album because we just couldn't get the lyrics finished. I think for us the lyrics are always the last thing to get finished. The songs usually come to the band with complete lyrics, but then the song gets reworked and then some of the lyrics no longer fit and we try to rewrite them as a group. This is a much harder process than when an individual writes the lyrics. You end up with too much compromise and watered down lyrics and the song gets left off the album.

Concreteweb: Pick 6 out of the 14 songs on the album, and tell us what the lyrics are about?

Larry Gillstrom: [You are asking me to write a book...]

1. Right Now: This song is about standing up for yourself, even when your enemies seem overwhelmingly powerful and you have no idea if you can possibly survive the battle. It's all about looking danger in the face and staring it down.

2. Rockin Daze: This one's all about Kick Axe in the eighties, partying like there's no tomorrow, which unfortunately turned out to be the case.

3. Turn To Stone: This is a song about surviving a tragedy and learning to live with the heartbreak that comes with it.

4. Who Knows Ya: Laurel and I wrote this song about fate and kharma. It assumes that no matter who you are, when you do something bad, there's always somebody or some thing watching you, and someone or some thing that who knows about what you've done.... In the end, everybody gets what they deserve.

5. Rock n Roll Dog: This is a tongue and cheek song about the two dogs who resided at Elfin Stone Studios. They liked to play fight a lot whenever were around. Maybe we were a bad influence. So we wrote this theme song for them. We even set them up with a mic in a room and snuck outside and around to the back door. When I banged on it suddenly, they started barking like crazy and we recorded that and used it on the song. It's in the beginning and the end.

6. The Only Ones Here: Vic wrote this song. He's a bit of a cynic about "why we're all here" and "the meaning of life". So this song is an excerpt from his philosophy about human existence and purpose.

Concreteweb: Between the now and then, Internet has become an important medium in music do you feel about it yourselves?

Larry Gillstrom: Speaking for myself, I live and breath the Internet. My software engineering company exists almost completely online. When I am not making music, magic or partying, I am doing something online. The other members of the band ...not so much. I definitely feel it is a great tool for bands to communicate directly with fans and other entities in the music industry. As a band we have mixed feelings regarding the downloading of songs. To me, the downloading of mp3s by music fans, is just today's version of what the radio used to be back in the 60's and 70's. It's a way for people to become familiar with new music without investing in the cost of a new CD. I truly believe that in the hard rock genre, fans that like a band's music will buy their CD and other merchandise to support that group. However, I do believe that there are people who abuse the ability to download music for their own personal gain and it's usually at the expense of the musical artists they are downloading.

Concreteweb: When can we expect the band on tour, and what can we expect as a set-list? Will any of the new album's songs be there as well?

Larry Gillstrom: We plan on touring anywhere that we can find a promoter to do a show. We have a great show already rehearsed and performed in front of thousands of die hard Kick Axe fans in our original hometown of Regina. The current live set consists of at least four songs off the "Vices" album, two songs from the "Welcome to the Club" album, two songs from the "Rock the World" album, two songs we did for movie soundtracks, lots of special performance pieces that feature individuals in the band, and at least four to six songs from the new album, depending on the length of the set.

Concreteweb: Any messages or comments to finish this up?

Larry Gillstrom: Shuffleheads unite.