California Breed on a bright, sunny highway

Glenn Hughes, aka The Voice Of Rock, is unstoppable and ineradicable. According to him, it only took him a week to get over the fact that Black Country Communion would not go on following Afterglow, owing to Joe Bonamassa’s inability (or lack of desire) to tour with the band. It was his encounter with a young prodigy, guitarist Andrew Watt, that truly prompted him to create California Breed with his rhythm buddy Jason Bonham. Three generations getting together in the name of rock – the symbol is strong, and the result is one of the most remarkable albums of 2014.

Glenn Hughes might be the oldest guy in the band, but the passion and the voice are still there. Few guys from his generation can pride themselves on being in such form. « anybody has to keep up with me », he confesses. The future is bright for California Breed, and the highway that is stretching before the band isn’t blocked by a single obstacle.

Let’s talk about all that with Hughes in the following interview.

« Jason Bonham is a big, tough guy, but underneath, inside I see a small boy. »

Radio Metal: Your new band is called California Breed, although Jason Bonham and you are both born in the UK, and Andrew Watt comes from New York. So why did you choose this name?

Glenn Hughes (bass/vocals): I wrote a song with Andrew called “Solo”. Unfortunately it won’t be on the album, it’s gonna be a bonus for Itunes. Over the last summer, the three of us were trying to come up with a great name, and you need to know this: writing music is very quite simple for me because that’s what I do every day, but I’m not really a guy that gets involved with the artwork, etc. I just wanna write, and I wanna sing, and I wanna play. When I came up with the name Black Country Communion, it was easy. I thought: “I’m from the Black Country in England…” It was easy. Coming up with this name, we thought we had to have a name that symbolizes who we are, and we came up with a hundred names. Some were very good, some were not good, some were stupid… But in this song “Solo”, I sing the line: “The California breed exhilaration”… I was looking at the lyrics I had written for this album thinking maybe one lyric would be a good name, going: “Mh, that’s good, that’s good…” and then when I saw “California breed” I thought to myself: “If you have ‘California’ in the name of your band, it sets a tropical, mellow vibe, and ‘breed’ means brotherhood”, which is important for me, being in a band of brothers… It’s not just musically but the way I live my life, I’m very much social and I like to bring people into my life. So California Breed really spoke to me, and I saw a palm tree. The girl, the fine artist came up with the rest; the eye on the cover: that was her idea. I’d like to tell you it was mine, but it wasn’t.

You’re still playing with Jason Bonham in this band. Would you say that you have developed a special artistic relationship with him?

I’ve known him since he was two years-old because his father was one of my best friends. John and I were very close. John used to play with me before I joined Deep Purple and before you were born I had a band called Trapeze in the early 70s’. And he would drive me and I would say: “Here’s John Bonham!” Everybody was like “Wow!” and he would play. So I would go back to his house afterwards, Jason was sleeping and in the morning, little Jason would sit on my lap and I would tell him: “Eh little boy!” I’m a big believer in karma, I believe in good things, I believe in respecting my friend, so I’ve always had a place for Jason in my life. Jason Bonham is a big, tough guy, but underneath, inside I see a small boy. When Black Country broke up, Jason and I knew we would continue. We knew that our family bond [would last]. And the way we play together… If anybody remembers Black Country, they would know that Jason and I were a very tight rhythm section. We play in a very dynamic way. There has been a lot of great rhythm sections, you know: John Paul Jones and John Bonham, John Entwisle and Keith Moon, I’m talking about my peer group. Jason and I kind of have that same feel, we understand each other’s work. There are a lot of holes in our playing, a lot of space and grooves and a lot of melody. The two of us are like a team.

California Breed features a young, unkown guitar player called Andrew Watt. With all the incredible musicians you’ve played with over the years, I guess it must take a lot for a young musician to impress and convince you… How did he manage to do that?

One of my best friends is Julian Lennon, John Lennon’s son. Julian was having a party the day before the Grammy’s last year in 2013. It was at his place, and he said to me: “There’s somebody I want you to meet, a 22 years-old boy from New York. He’s a really good guitar player.” I said okay. Two minutes later, I see the kid – he looked like he was 18 – coming to me. He looked like I did in the 70s’: very long hair, with a hat on and beads, and he spoke to me in a very adult way. We spoke about writing and about who influenced him, like my friend John Frusciante from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jimmy Page and Jerry Cantrell… I was like: “Okay, they’re all my friends!” I asked Andrew to send me some music. Three days later, he was in New York, I was in Minneapolis, and he sent me some songs. I listened to them on my headphones and I had my wife hear them, and we both thought: “Well, this is really interesting.” The kid is unknown, but I don’t know how many unknown kids out there could have this old soul, it’s almost like Andrew was writing in 1968. He was born in 1991 I think, but it’s like he was writing like a cross between Jeff Buckley and Alice In Chains, grunge meets really great harmonies… His songs didn’t sound like California Breed, they were very much more pop, kinda. Not like [bad] pop, but more melodic, which I like, because popular music can cross over with rock. Aerosmith have done it remarkably well. So when I heard his songs, I said: “There’s something here”. It would have been quite easy for Jason and I to have Slash, or Joe Satriani, one of my friends… It would have been quite easy, but there was something fresh coming from Andrew, something New York, very edgy, very aggressive… I like that. So I had Andrew come to my home, we wrote some songs, and then we got Jason to come, and we kept it quiet. We didn’t talk about that to the press, but all through last year, we would be doing this secretively, in my house or in Jason’s, because with Internet now, you can’t tell anybody you’re doing this. Then, they would say: “That sounds like it would be this…”, “That sounds great!” or “It’s gonna suck!”, you know… I don’t read what people write. I would read your interview or I’ll hear it, but if they wanna comment… It’s their business, not mine. I know that Andrew has brought something special to this band.

« I feel young, when I look in the mirror I’m like: “Fuck, I’m not young”, but I feel young. »

Do you think his young age has brought a special energy to the band?

Yeah, anybody has to keep up with me. Although I’m a lot older than he’s, I’ve a very young lion heart. I’m very healthy, I work out, I’m really in a great place spiritually and physically, I feel strong. But Andrew… It’s perfect for me. When you think about a new band with two really well known guys and a new guy, people go: “That’s wrong”. Hear the album and then tell me that. You’ve gotta hear the album, and then tell me, you know. The reason Andrew is in the band is also that it’s gonna be easy to play, because he’s gonna be available, right?

I know that he also sings. Is that him doing the high backing vocals on “Midnight Oil”? It actually sounds like a woman singing…

No, it’s a girl, it’s a black girl [he sings in a high pitched voice]. “Let it burn…” [he sings in a low voice] “Let it burn…” He’s down below me, he sings backgrounds on most of the album, I think. He’s got a lovely voice… On “Spit You Out”, that’s his voice. I want everyone in Paris, France to know that Andrew is an amazing singer, but I am the voice of the band because I’m the singer, you know, it’s what I do… I feel like if I was a guitar player, I probably wouldn’t sing, but I’m a bass player and everybody knows that Glenn is the singer. It’s something I feel so comfortable doing. It’s so right, it’s supposed to be that way. But I really like his voice.

California Breed is made up of three musicians from three different generations…

Three generations, isn’t it great?

It’s amazing! But is there sometimes a generational gap between you when you’re working, or do you think this is actually one of the band’s strength?

There’s a generational gap, yeah. Not between me and Jason although I’ve known him all his life. The generational gap between me and Jason and Andrew is remarkable. Andrew really is into all technologies and the Internet… Here’s something nobody knows: a young man from Australia called Cody Simpson who is only 17 is like Justin Bieber in America. This kid’s got like 27 millions of followers on Twitter. He is gonna be like Justin Bieber, but he’s not a bad guy, he’s a young kid and he’s great… Andrew is his musical director. It may sound strange to rock fans to think that Andrew is writing or directing this young, sweet guy. Justin’s got problems, you know, but Cody’s not. So on Instragram, Andrew’s got a lot of young girls and boys, teenagers, and I’m not sure how it’s gonna affect us, but the generational gap is very much that. He’s coming from a whole different background. He’s now coming into the rock territory which is the greatest. For me, it’s the greatest fanbase in the world. Hip hop fans are very loyal, but this is my fifth decade doing this, and it’s nothing like rock fans.

The music on the album sounds like a mix of 70s’ rock and 90s’ grunge…

Mh, that’s right, you’re right!

It’s a very generous old school kind of rock but with a contemporary sound. Is this mix what you were looking for from the start?

Yeah, I’ll tell you why: I’m really good friends with Jerry Cantrell and John Frusciante. Andrew is such a young man that when he’s met Jerry with me… He’s still a boy, these are my friends and he’s such a big fan! He’s never made a rock album before and now, he’s becoming friends with my friends, but if you listen to his playing, I say it’s more Frusciante and Cantrell than let’s just say Eddie Van Halen or the shredders. It’s more Mick Ronson than Eddie Van Halen. I’ve played with Blackmore, with Tony Iommi, with Joe Bonnamassa, very iconic guitar players… And John Frusciante too. Andrew is so young but he’s like a sponge, he takes it all inside and Dave Cobb our producer from Nashville, we made the album in Nashville, brought out the very best in Andrew, I think.

California Breed is a trio. Was it a deliberate choice? Do you have a particular taste for power trios?

Yes, it was always gonna be a trio. When Jason and I left Black Country, we knew we were going to continue. When – and this is quite astounding – we started Black Country Communion, I wasn’t quite sure about keyboards, I wanted to have a trio. Derek Sherinian is really great friend of mine, and Kevin Shirley, our producer, wanted a keyboard player, because he wanted to have like a Deep Purple sound, so I said okay. But when Black Country broke up, I wanted to return to a trio. When I started as a teenager, I wanted to be in a trio.

« I’m a person that has to let things go. I move forward. »

Apparently, the album was recorded more or less live…

It was live.

Was it important to keep this raw energy, even with the vocals?

The producer said: “Why don’t you, Jason and Andrew go and record? Glenn, do you have the lyrics?”, “Yes”, “Do you have the melodies?”, “Yes”, “Then go sing, just have fun!” So I had the mike in my hands, I had my ears system in my ears and I sang live as the guys were recording live. I didn’t play bass, I sang live, and then when we finished, I overdubbed the bass. When I overdubbed the bass, I said: “I’m gonna sing” and he said: “You’ve sung the album!” All those guide vocals, all those demo vocals, they were captured live. So when people hear this album, they will probably hear very energized vocals, it’s very… That’s live! They say, people, media, fans, that I’m a live singer. When they see me singing live, they go: “Ah, that’s Glenn”, you know. So we captured that.

You called this band a sexual machine. Is this how rock should be: sexual?

When I said a sexual machine, I didn’t want to portray that as inappropriate, you know what it is? The band is groovy. It makes people wanna dance, you know: “Midnight Oil”, “Sweet Tea” are adolescent songs. I don’t try to be young. I feel young, when I look in the mirror I’m like: “Fuck, I’m not young”, but I feel young. Talking to you, I feel like you, I feel young, because I’m very healthy. I wanted to make an album that would be cross-generational; I wanted to make it for young people… For a lot of young people about your age, their parents had them listen to my music… A lot of my fans are your age. This album is not deliberately for young people, but I wanted to make an album for 20, 30, 40 and 50 years-olds, and even teenagers, why not?

Now, retrospectively, what are your conclusions about the demise of Black Country Communion?

Listen, I want to make this clear: I love what we did in Black Country Communion. It’s in my heart. I have nothing to say other than beautiful things. The break-up of the band was because Joe [Bonamassa] didn’t want to tour while we all did, so the band broke up. It was sad, but only for a while. I successfully didn’t talk about this on Twitter or on the Internet, I did not tell people, I just let it go. I’m a person that has to let things go. I move forward. So when the band broke up, within a week, I was talking about something new, and within a month, we met Andrew. So it was only a short while… See, a lot of people didn’t know this, because now that the album is coming up they’re like: “What? He had Black Country Communion and now he’s got a new band!” Last year was a difficult year because I had to keep quiet, I couldn’t tell anybody about this, because people would go: “What? What is he doing that for?” Because the Internet is thousands, millions of people talking. I wanted them to hear this, I didn’t want to tell them about Andrew, I wanted people to fucking hear him and then, talk about it. But I don’t want anybody to put him down because he’s a great young aggressive guitar player, and I’m like a father figure to him.

Wasn’t there any way to have a temporary replacement to fill in for Joe Bonamassa for touring, like Chad Smith did for Chickenfoot?

Yeah, but you know, I’ll tell you the truth: Black Country Communion was my name, I came up with the name, but Black Country Communion was managed by Joe’s manager, so Joe’s manager was the manager of Black Country. He wanted to own the name. When Joe left the band, Jason and I thought: “Mh, we should talk to Zakk Wylde, and maybe he could do some shows…” Our attorney called the manager and the manager said: “No, you can’t use the name. You can’t use it, not for 1 million dollars.” So Jason and I went [cheery voice]: “Okay!” It was not [angry voice]: “Okay!”, it was [cheery voice]: “Okay! Then we’ll do this.” Everybody wanted Black Country to continue, a lot of people, but we couldn’t. Am I angry? Not at all. Am I sad? I was sad, a little, but now I’m here.

Interview conducted on March, 24th 2014 by Chloé
Transcription : Chloé
Questions & introduction : Spaceman

California Breed official website : californiabreed.com

Album California Breed, out since May, 20th 2014 via Frontiers Records.

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