Adrenaline Mob: honor in family

When Russell Allen talks about Men Of Honor, Adrenaline Mob’s latest album, with his three-year-old son Jack banging away on his drums in the background, things get a little complicated. But it also proves a fact: Adrenaline Mob is a family, a united spirit, a binding mafia with its own honor code. It therefore comes as no surprise that this album should, from its very introduction, be inspired by the image of the mafia. Despite Mike Portnoy’s rather sudden departure, Adrenaline Mob has never once considered giving up – on the contrary. Those musicians are totally committed to the band, love what they do (as the vocalist is keen to remind us), and felt the need to reassert their cohesion after the drummer left.

Russell Allen explained to us what the Mob really entails, in its substance as well as in its shape. The writing process, which is his responsibility as well as Mike Orlando’s, takes place in the shed-studio built in the backyard and is going at high speed – after all, big engines are just another passion in the Allen clan! The following interview is rich, sometimes funny and often friendly, and we even remembered to talk about his original band, Symphony X. So dive in!

« With the departure of Portnoy, we felt like we needed to make that statement to let people know that Orlando and I and the rest of the guys are serious and are committed to this. »

Radio Metal: Regarding the title of your first album Omerta, Mike Portnoy explainedus two years ago that « it stood for like a code of silence or a code of honor that you enter when you enter a brotherhood or a club ». This metaphor is still here with your new album titled « Men Of Honor ». Do you see Adrenaline Mob as a gang of brothers with a strong code of honor that you join for life?

Russell Allen (vocals): Yeah we do actually, we really believe in this. We try to tell people that this is not some fly by night project. Orlando and I are dead serious about making our commitment to this and even more so with the departure of Portnoy, we felt like we needed to make that statement to let people know that Orlando and I and the rest of the guys are serious and are committed to this. Every band has growing pains but we’re committed to this thing and we believe in it. We have a really good time writing songs together and we just want everyone to know that this is a real brotherhood sort of vibe. You know things happen in life at certain times and you can’t predict it. It just happened again to this type of band at this point of my career and I’m really honored to be a part of it. We’re doing really great music together and we’ll keep on doing it.

Actually, metalheads are very dedicated to their favorite bands and to the metal scene. And if a band stops playing metal or tries out new things, it’s considered a traitor to the scene. Are metalheads those men of honor you talk about?

Pretty much yeah! Yeah, we’re metalheads and we definitely have this sort of rock thing going on with this band, but it’s a metal band at its core. We definitely feel that sort of comradery, I mean we’re not a bunch of pretty boys up there and it’s not about that kind of thing. We’re not a pop band that’s for sure but we believe in the commitment to the music and to each other just as the metal community is very committed to each other so there’s definitely that sort of vibe. We want people to be a part of this; we want soldiers for the mob so to speak, joining us to celebrate this rock ‘n roll mafia, this gang, this band of guys that mean it. We mean it, we’re serious about it.

Apparently Mike Orlando’s father is the one who gave you the idea for the album title. Can you tell us more about that?

Hum… yeah, we were looking for something [pauses] I came up with Omerta on the first record, as the name of the title. That was my idea and I wanted something along those lines but I didn’t want to be cheesy and just use some of the mafia stuff. But I wanted something – I like to pull from the mafia theme – that means something, like this code of silence, this honor amongst thieves, that sort of vibe; something that represents that sort of tightened brotherhood of guys who are kind of against the grain. Like you said, metalheads, we’re outside of the norm, you know what I mean? We’re against the norm, we’re anti corporate, and we’re all those things. True metalheads are like a cult in a way. So I wanted something from that mafia theme because in a way they’re outside of the law: they operate outside of normal society and metal is kind of like that too. So I wanted to kind of drawn together those themes, so “uomo d’onore” is what Mike’s dad told us the old timers referred to themselves as these men of honor that would honor each other’s families in this life of crime. So we figured “well we honor each other’s and our families in this life of rock ‘n roll and heavy metal so I think it’d be great”. But instead of using the Italian version, I like the English version better, “Men Of Honor”, so people understand it. And I think it really works and it speaks to our commitment to each other, and the lyrics kind of speak to those who left [laughs] in a way. I’m not gonna point anybody out but obviously with Mike’s departure it was a bit of a thing. We didn’t think that he would abandon us so soon, but we just wanted to reaffirm our commitment to our fans and show that we didn’t start something that we weren’t going to finish. We mean to take it all the way.

« I wanted something from that mafia theme because in a way they’re outside of the law: they operate outside of normal society and metal is kind of like that too. »

Actually Mike’s departure was very surprising because he kept saying that even if he was involved in a lot of projects, Adrenaline Mob was his new home. Are you saying that you couldn’t sense at all that his involvement in the band would be temporary?

Well, I knew he was gonna go do other things and I knew about The Winery Dogs before it became The Winery Dogs – [chewing noise] I’m sorry I have to eat my lunch bro, I thought we’d be doing this at 1:30 and I’m starving [laughs] so… anyway if I chew in your ear I apologize.

[Laughs] OK, no problem.

It’s a very a very Italian mafia thing to do, you know? Have dinner or lunch and talk…

[Laughs] Yeah!

So anyway, I knew he was gonna go do that and I didn’t have a problem with it, but I just couldn’t wait around. I’m not in a position in my life where I can just sit back on my laurels and wait around anymore! I have a family to take care of, I want to stay in shape, I want to keep singing cause at my age and at this time in my career I can’t slow down otherwise I just won’t be able to do it anymore. You know what I mean?

Yeah. Are you a fan of classic mafia movies?

Oh yeah! Yeah of course! I love “Goodfellas”, love “The Godfather” and of course “Scarface”, these are my three favorites, I like “Donnie Brasco” too. All those films deal with love and betrayal and a lot of things that happen in a band sometimes so it’s kind of funny. We could probably write a mini mocky movie about Adrenaline Mob already, for all the shit that we’ve been through. We had a guy break his leg on stage! [Laughs] Paul Di Leo broke his fucking foot right on stage, last show we ever did with him.

[Laugh] Ok, on another topic, can you tell us more about the recruitment of A.J. Pero, your new drummer?

A.J.’s an old friend of ours, he’s really known Orlando for a long time:they lived in Staten Island; two Staten Island boys who grew up there and lived there, so they’ve known each other for a long time. A.J. mentioned to me at theBonzo Bash we did there in New Jersey last year that a rumor was kind of floating around that Mike was gonna split. He said: “Hey, if that happens and that’s a reality,” he tells me “Don, Don Russell, please consider me for the position, maybe you can take me for a cup of coffee”. He had a lot of fun talking to me with the whole mob movie references – because they call me the “Don” in the band since I’m the lead singer, so that’s my nickname. So I said: “Yeah man, I’d love to have you on board if it came to that.” We were looking around, we weren’t quite sure what kind of drummer we were gonna need because we didn’t have the songs yet. So Orlando and I pretty much wrote the record first and then we worried about the drums thing later. We decided that A.J. was gonna play on a bonus track, no matter what, we were gonna have him as a guest and he was really cool helping us out with that, but when I heard the bonus track I was like “Shit man!” I told Orlando: “Dude, this is it, this is what we need! We need a guy that can do the old school arena rock thing but that can also do the double bass and be aggressive and… I don’t know: he’s got this! What do you think, will he do it?” And he said: “Yeah, he’ll do it. He’s all about it.” So it was kind of a no-brainer. Once I heard him playing this stuff I was like: “Well this is exactly what I’m looking for here”. And Mike agreed and he thought he’d be a great choice so that’s kind of how the whole thing went down but… [Laughs] He’s got a nickname now too, we’re calling him The Enforcer because he just looks like the Undertaker or something, it’s just great. He’s a perfect fit, personality wise, playing wise, he gives the band groove and things that we really didn’t have before. You can hear it, you can hear the difference, and I think the songs have more cohesion. We’ve written a different type of record, we’ve written more song based stuff that had that sort of groove to it and that needed that kind of player, so that’s how the whole thing went down. I mean it wasn’t really planned, it just kind of happened.

« We go out to my studio in my backyard,[…] And we come out of that little shack with a song a day. Done, bam, everything: lyrics, melodies… […] I’ve never had a writing partner like [Mike Orlando] so it’s really cool. »

You and Mike Orlando write songs very quickly. Do you think that you will continue to write so fast and can we expect you to release a third album within a year and a half?

Oh yeah. Yeah, he and I write all the songs you hear. He brings music into my house. We go out to my studio in my backyard, affectionately called the “Shanty shack”, “Shanties” being songs that all pirates sing while they work on a ship – I’m into pirates, it’s just my thing. And we come out of that little shack with a song a day. Done, bam; everything: lyrics, melodies… On Omerta, all those tracks you hear – my singing tracks – those are all from theoriginal sessions: as we wrote, I sang them and that was it, we kept them. [Kid screaming in the background] Oh, that’s my son. What’s up buddy? I’m on the phone [Kid speaks again] that’s right, you put your fingers on the laces of the football, there you go. Alright, can you throw it to me? Go ahead, go! Oh yeah, that’s it! Look at you! Alright catch. Ready? Good man, give me five! Alright, I’ll be out on the phone a little bit and then we’ll play, ok? [Kid answers “OK”] [Laughs]

[Laughs] What’s his name?

His name’s Jack.

Does he play music too?

I got him a drum set and he plays drums. [To the kid] We’re talking about you!

[Laughs] Have Mike Portnoy or A.J. given him any lessons?

[Laughs] Actually he wasn’t playing yet but A.J. came over and started looking this through. He wasn’t playing yet when Mike was in the band. He’s only three!

Ah OK! Great [laughs]

But he’s amazing, I take him to Guitar Center here – it’s a music store – and I let him torture the drum guys but they’re really nice about it. [Laughs] I take him here once a week. [Kid speaking] What’s up buddy? Hey, go play your drums, go play your drums! [The kid says something] Yeah, go! – Here he goes. It’s about to get very loud so… [Laughs]

[Laughs] Ok.Let’s go back to the interview…

Mike and I work really fast. We just have a very organic way of working; I’ve never had a writing partner like him so it’s really cool.

It really seems like you and Mike are the only composers in the band. What is John’s implication?

Well John comes in and he does what we ask, he really works hard. He plays with his fingers and he gives us what we need, because he’s using that in place of the pick a lot, that’s his strength. But he really knuckled down,no pun intended, and the Hitman delivers. He came in, he said he was gonna kill it and he did. He offers different melodies and… [Loud drumming sounds coming from the back] Oh there he goes! [Laughs]

Oh great!

He’s drumming away. So John contributes during the recording process and brings a couple of different ideas in the line but mostly he plays the music that’s already written.

OK, well I hear your son playing drums… I think that is a sound I will sell on EBay in a few years when he’s a big drummer.

Yeah, he is probably gonna be a big star you know! It kind of looks to me… he can already play drums, I couldn’t play drums when I was a kid so… [Laughs]

« Adrenaline Mob is the kind of stuff you want to put on in a car. It’s something that’ll get you moving, you know? »

[Laughs] So basically John doesn’t write anything for the band?

No. It’s just me and Orlando doing the writing, and we did the writing on the first record too.

Why is that? Why isn’t John contributing to the writing process?

Well, sometimes too many chefs in the kitchen can spoil the soup if you know what I’m saying. Mike Orlando and I are single song writers so we just click and we just work real fast. Sometimes when you have a third wheel in there it just slows the session down.If John brought something to the table that we’re really excited about we would use it but a lot of his stuff just wasn’t on the page with us so we let it go. But there’s always potential. None of us is established with what the band should sound like, I think we open the doors and if somebody in the band puts something on the table that’s really exciting, then we’ll take a listen to it and work on it but that just wasn’t the case this time. Orlando and I had a very precise idea of what we wanted. We work really fast and we wouldn’t want to turn this around.

The album begins with « Mob Is Back », which sounds like an explosion or an eruption, we can easily imagine the mob invading a city after blowing up the gates, is it the feeling you wanted to create?

That’s exactly the feeling we wanted to create. We wanted people to be like “Holy crap, who the hell are these guys?” and use that old school sort of rock show starting thing to get that excitement built up. Yeah, you nailed it right ahead, that’s exactly what we were going for.

About the song “Feel The Adrenaline”, you guys declared that you could have called this song “Adrenaline Mob ». Actually, have you considered calling it that way, since it has all the elements that define Adrenaline Mob’s music? It has the groove, the riffs, the melodies...

Yeah, I thought we were gonna call it that! Somehow that got changed but I definitely felt at the time, and I still do, that you could call the song “Adrenaline Mob”. We just want to feel the adrenaline. I wanted to call it Adrenaline Mob, I thought it fit. The first song was supposed to be called M.I.B too, because I liked the acronym instead of Mob Is Back. But… whatever you know, you compromise. Mike didn’t like that for whatever reason. It’s not what he wanted or thought it was best. But yeah, I agree with you completely about that song.

Mike Orlando said the song is about a car. Do you enjoy riding, is driving inspiring for you?

Yeah I do, I enjoy driving those classic hot-rods. My dad grew up in that era and he had a ’55 Chevy. He used to drive west every weekend. He, my uncle and my cousins are still very much into that culture, in America, the hot-rod culture. Orlando used to drive away to the south. I only did it for fun, I didn’t really compete or anything, I’m more of a motorcycle guy, I like choppers and stuff like that. It’s in my family, it’s in Mike’s family, he grew up with it, and I grew up around it. My cousin owns an aftermarket parts business for motocross and jet-skis… And his dad, my uncle Bob, still has quarter midgets and dragsters and all sorts of stuff. They’re still heavily involved in it and I kind of seriously live this through them. When I come to California to visit we take a ride and all that kind of stuff and it is fun. It’s a lot of fun. I go to car shows around here in New Jersey when I can; it’s something that I’m into. Yeah, I definitely enjoy it. And I think in terms of music – you know driving with music – Adrenaline Mob is the kind of stuff you want to put on in a car. It’s something that’ll get you moving, you know?

« People like that kind of ‘look before you buy’ sort of model these days, because the industry is so struggling right now, it just sucks. »

If Adrenaline Mob was a [line cuts]

Can you hear me?

Yeah, it’s funny because it’s really hard to take you seriously while your son drums in the back because I can hear you and you’re obviously trying to be serious about this interview but we can actually hear your son punch on his drum set, that’s really funny. [Laughs]

He’s just banging the shit out of them back there, I know right! You can hear it inside the house too! Hey man, this is a musical family you know, so it is what it is.

[Laughs] that’s great, that’s really funny. Well if Adrenaline Mob was a car, what kind of car would it be?

I think we would all agree it would be a Chevelle. You know, a Chevy Chevelle, just a badass model, I think maybe a ’72 or ’71 Chevy Chevelle. In the artwork we kind of put… There’s one picture with us in some of the photos, if you’ve got press photos you’ll see it, we’re staying in front of it. That’s the car with the classic DSS, the classic supercharge with white stripes. Of course I think the Mob one would have like a blower over the top and it would just be a really sick Chevelle, that’s kind of what we all agree would be the Mob car. I like the chop stuff, I like more the model tease, the coups, you know with the big engines. But I think we all agreed it would be something like that, the four guys could ride in. [Laughs]

Apparently, the song « House Of Lies » is about a strip club, you have to tell us more about that!

[Laughs] We’ve all been there you know. Basically, it’s kind of sarcastic tongue in cheek kind of thing. The verses are kind of really vivid, you know? And they kind of tell you what you’re thinking very vividly, and what you’d love to do. But the truth of it is: you can’t touch the girls in the strip club, they’re just there to tease you, and you think you’re gonna hook up but it’s just a house of lies, it’s all bullshit. They’re just here for entertainment. So we just basically thought: “What if the Mob was at a strip club? What would they be thinking?” So it’s just got that kind of tongue in cheek, sort of sarcastic vibe about it.

Many of the new album songs were released for free on the internet before the release. Why this choice?

That’s something the label wanted to do. I said that in a few interviews: I don’t sell records; I make records so I guess that’s something they felt would help getting the word out or the buzz out. And for the most part the reaction has been really great. People like that kind of “look before you buy” sort of model these days, because the industry is so struggling right now, it just sucks. So I guess that was their thinking. I supported it, thought we’ll see what happens. We’re still willing to see in a couple of weeks when the release comes out if it was the right move or not. But I had no problem with the world hearing it and I hope that those who heard it are going to buy it because they love it and they want to support us. And that’s really what we need, so hopefully we’ll see what happens.

Do you know if Mike Orlando will continue to release albums under the name of Sonic Stomp?

I don’t know you’d have to ask him if he has plans for that, but I would imagine so.

And last question, can you give us an update on Symphony X’s next album?

[Hesitates] right now I have no real concrete news to tell you other than Mike Romeo is writing. But I have yet to hear anything so I’m hoping I’ll hear something maybe by the spring and we’ll take it from there. But right now he’s assured me that he’s working on new material and that he’ll have something for the band to hear within the coming month.

Interview conducted by phone on February, 6th 2014 by Metal’O Phil
Transcription : Natacha
Introduction : Alastor

Adrenaline Mob official website: adrenalinemob.com

Album Men of Honor, out since February, 24th 2014 via Century Media Records

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