The Dead Daisies: Spotlight on John Corabi

John CorabiConnoisseurs will be happy to see vocalist John Corabi once again fronting a band on par with his talent. Many of us discovered his warm, powerful, slightly rasping voice on Mötley Crüe’s excellent self-titled album, released in 1994. Some of us followed him with his band Union, featuring former Kiss member Bruce Kulick. But it was clearly when he replaced Jon Stevens this year in The Dead Daisies (a supergroup that features such musicians as mercenary bassist Marco Mendoza or current Guns N’ Roses members Richard Fortus and Dizzy Reed) that he was truly back in the spotlight.

It all started with a trip to Cuba for Corabi and The Dead Daisies. The band immersed themselves fully into the local culture and were deeply marked by it – so much so that they gave their new album a Spanish title, Revolución, and created a photo book and a documentary to go with it. Musically, Cuba’s influence isn’t all that noticeable (except through a few percussions), but the record is a collection of cheerful, authentic rock songs, with an undercurrent of soul music at times.

We talked to the singer about all this when the band stopped by Paris to open for Kiss. And even when he’s simply talking in that deep, slightly hoarse voice of his, you can’t help thinking that the man has one rare set of vocal cords…

The Dead Daisies 2015

« I don’t like pushing art or music or whatever in a direction. It should just land where it lands. »

Radio Metal: The Dead Daisies is in fact a musical collective created by a rotating line-up. Can you tell me more about the spirit behind this collective?

John Corabi (vocals): It was actually put together by David Lowy, our guitar player, and the original singer, Jon Stevens. They got together, wrote a bunch of songs and then started hiring people to go out and tour with these songs they wrote and recorded. I think ultimately David has always wanted a band, not so much a rotating cast but obviously, with Jon having coming from INXS, David being in the bands that he was in, they went out, they toured and they’ve kinda grown in public instead of being like a regular band that gets together, finds other members, spends a lot of time together writing songs and all those sort of stuff… They put it together, wrote them, recorded and went on the road. Some people worked out, some didn’t. A lot of the names that are on the list are because David wants to have fun, he wants to enjoy himself, he wants it to be a non stressful situation. So with the group that he’s got now, he’s kind of giving us the freedom to, knowing that we’re all in other bands, if we can’t maybe do some shows or whatever, it’s ok, we’ll get somebody to come in and play a few shows, and then when you’re done you come back, which is very stress-free for everybody. But now even on this tour we have Tommy Clufetos, so Tommy’s name is gonna be on the list as well. Brian Tichy is the regular drummer for this but he just couldn’t do this tour because he had prior commitments. David understands it and he’s very easygoing about it. So it seems that there’s a lot of people that have been in and out of that but a lot of the people that you’re seeing on the list are people who just filled in for somebody else at the time. This line up is probably the core band, you know what I mean? Hopefully it’ll be different in the future!

What does it take to be part of The Dead Daisies collective? Are there some specific criteria?

You know, honestly, if I look around me, I’m like: “Everybody in this band is so fucking talented!” I walked into this thing and I’m watching Richard play, I’ve known Dizzy, but Brian Tichy and even Tommy Clufetos, these guys are just world class drummers. Marco’s sick on bass… But apparently, it’s talent, you know? And we’re gonna hopefully try and lose that “collective” tag and just call it a band. But it’s been pretty amazing. I was a bit intimidated when I first got involved in it but it’s pretty cool, pretty fuckin’ awesome.

How do you actually work and make music, such as the songs that we can hear on this new album?

It was very easy. We went to Australia so there would be no distractions from friends and family in L.A. or Nashville where I live. We went there and we basically just got together in a room like this with acoustic guitars, acoustic bass, piano, and we set out 32 or 33 days to write and record an album, and we did! We just sat there, everybody came in and threw ideas on the table, and the ones that everybody kinda gravitated towards, we worked on, we finished, and then we went in and recorded them. And honestly we have four more songs that we have left over. We couldn’t put all seventeen on the record. We definitely did a lot of work in 30 days: we wrote, recorded, mixed, mastered and did the artwork in a month for this record! It was pretty cool.

Since the line-up of the band is constantly rotating, how do you manage to maintain a continuity and consistency between your releases?

Well, that question would probably be better answered by David. I’ve only been in the band for four months, so it’s hard for me to answer… But right now, my impression is that this is the band. If there’s an emergency and somebody can’t do a show or two, we’ll figure it out. Like I said earlier, David gives us the freedom to be able to do that. But I think now the lineup that was on the record, that’s it.

You’re the latest addition in The Dead Daisies. What happened with previous singer Jon Stevens and how did you get involved in the band?

As far as Jon goes, I can’t speak for anybody in the band because I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened, so I can’t really comment on that. As far as me, Marco called me and they had all talked about possibly having me come in and go to Cuba with them. I went to Cuba, it was a great time had by all, so then they asked me to do the album and continue moving forward for them. As far as Jon goes I can’t comment, but I do wanna say that I’ve heard some of his material that he did with them in the past and I personally I think the guy is an amazing singer, amazing songwriter, amazing talent. Whatever happened prior to me being in the band, I have no idea.

About Cuba: in late February 2015, you were in Havana for 10 days as guests of the Cuban Ministry of Culture, Cuban Institute of Music and the Cuban Rock Agency. You did some electric and acoustic shows, jammed with Cuban musicians, visited schools to give lessons and conducted workshops. Can you tell me how you got involved in that project in the first place and how was the experience, especially given the relationship that Cuba and the United States have had in the past?

Well to be honest like I said they called me in January, end of January, and they said they had a trip to Cuba in January: would I be interested in going? Prior to that I went to L.A. to meet David the manager and David Lowy the guitar player and Richard [Fortus], everybody else I knew. So I went to see those guys, had dinner with them, just to make sure we all get along, and they asked: “Do you wanna go to Cuba with us?” and I was like: “Yeah sure!” As a History buff – I love history – I remember seeing all the stuff going down between the United States and Cuba. So when it was offered to me, I was like: “Yes, I wanna go!” I didn’t know what to expect when I got there, but I have to be honest: it was unbelievable. The fans there have been kind of cut off from the world as far as outside music coming in, so they were incredibly… The government was cool to us, David spent a year putting that whole trip together with the government of Cuba, and they were all very nice to us, very simple, like you arrive, whatever… That’s the one thing I find… Because I’ve been to pretty much all over the world, and a lot of these countries like maybe America or France or England or whatever isn’t really getting along with… The ones that are suffering are the fans, they are very much like you and I, so I was very pleased to go there and we’re actually talking about going back again, and I would love to, absolutely!

The Dead Daisies - Revolucion

« Maybe i could sit down with [Justin Bieber] right now and write the most amazing song ever, so! »

Haven’t you tried to collaborate with Cuban musicians in the studio?

We actually did! We went down there and we actually brought Bernard Fowler and Darryl Jones with us. We wanted it to be like an event, so we brought two guys from the Stones, we went down, we all played and we did some Dead Daisies stuff, we did a lot of covers like things that they would be able to grasp: we did “Hush” by Deep Purple, we did “All Right Now” by Free, we did “Helter Skelter”, we did “Sympathy For The Devil”, we did all these songs, and we worked it out where some Cuban musicians would come up like when we did “All Right Now”. There was a Cuban singer, he came up and sang the first verse and the chorus, I sang the second verse and the chorus and we ended it together. We had for a few songs this unbelievable Cuban percussionist. She played on a few of the songs and then Brian did a drums solo, and she actually played with him and they traded back and forth. We had a harmonica player, a saxophone player on “Sympathy For The Devil” and for “Helter Skelter”. We had all these musicians coming and jam with us for the live shows, and we were like: “Fuck, it sounded pretty cool!” We went up recording two songs, and we actually asked the girl, the Cuban percussionist to come and play on some of the tracks with us, so it was actually an amazing experience. Just on a side note: you know the record is called “Revolución”. There’s actually gonna be a coffee table book with photos of the whole experience, and then David’s been putting together a 20 or so minute documentary. They literally videotaped everything, so it’s gonna be pretty cool! And all three will be called “Revolución”. It’s gonna be awesome.

How did that unique experience influence the music on this album?

I can’t say that it… I think the theme of the “Revolución”, with the Latin spelling… Again Marco would say it was a word we would see everywhere down in Cuba. As far as the writing goes, we didn’t really go in with any notion of pushing the music in a certain direction; we just want the music to go where it wants. Whoever would come up with an idea and everybody jumped on it, we did it, we wrote the lyrics, I let the music inspire me lyrically and then we just let the music go where it wanted to go. I don’t like pushing art or music or whatever in a direction. It should just land where it lands. So there wasn’t really, I don’t wanna say there was too much inspiration there but as far as the overall cover, the theme, the title of the record, it started with Cuba.

What is the revolution you’re referring to in the title of the album?

Everybody’s got a different meaning. Marco explains it one way, I kind of explain it in another way where it’s like we’re trying to get everything back to that free, innocent, pure thought process from when we were kids, trying to do music in a garage, just getting off on jamming with good friends and not really being jaded or knowing too much about the business, just that pure innocent thing. The revolución thing… There’s so much… I don’t wanna say shit, but there’s like so many things that people expect from the music industry and then we were like: “Fuck that! Let’s go back to the basics!” Because we wanna believe in the way we’ve loved music for many years, we’re just trying to take music back to how it used to be! That’s what my version of revolution is.

There some very uplifting songs on the album with some very positive message such as “Make The Best Of It”, “Get Up, Get Ready” or “With You And I”. Do you think this is what rock n’ roll is all about: bringing a good positive message to the listener?

I think “Get Up, Get Ready” is just about explaining our lives. If you really look at the lyrics it’s really just kind of explaining our lives in music to the listener. It’s these moves every night on a highway, “It’s been long since I’ve been home but it’s all here for the party, we’re feeling alive, we just can’t live without it, how about you?” This is our lives, but every night that’s just what we live for, we live to get on stage and jam… There’s a few different things, I think, I like and try to be as honest as possible with my lyric writing whether it’s about my life or just things in general. “You And I” is just about things we see everyday on the news, we’re being bombarded with bad shit and I’m just saying: “Hey, we can point our finger at politicians, we can point our finger at this guy and that guy, but at the end of the day it’s gonna take a single effort to start making a change.” I’m just saying: “We all know in our heart change has to come from you and I.” I just try to be as honest as possible.

The album features two cover songs: “Evil” by Howlin’ Wolf and “Midnight Moses” by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. What do they represent to you?

They were already doing “Evil” in their set before and it’s an old Howlin’ Wolf song. As soon as I heard their version I was like “Man, this is great! It kinda has this Zeppelin vibe to it, it’s very heavy, it’s cool, this thing rocks!” And then “Midnight Moses” for me has always been one of these songs that when I hear it, just that riff, I just start taking my dashboard in my car apart, it’s just… There’s a few songs in my life that have done that. I always loved “Misty Mountain Hop” by Led Zeppelin, “Dancing Days” and “The Wanton Song”, just those riffs… “Hunky Tonk Woman” is another one. I’m like: “Oh my God…” I just wanna break stuff when I hear it! So when we all got together in L.A. to do this Dead Daisies thing, I just kinda threw it out there, I suggested: “I’ve always wanted to do this song.” They heard it, and then we did it in Cuba live, and it went over amazing. That’s when everybody was like “Alright, maybe we should put it on the record.” I’ve loved that song since I was like 18 or 19 years old, I just thought it was great.

You have a duet with Jimmy Barnes on the song “Empty Heart”. Can you tell me more about this?

Brian Tichy started to record with us in Cuba and then couldn’t go to Australia. So David Lowy, who knew Jimmy and Jackie [Barnes], asked Jackie to finish the record. And Jackie came in, Jimmy was right in the same studio across the hall, he was recording. So he kept coming in to check on his son and make sure everything was cool, he heard us tracking some stuff, and he basically asked us: “I have this song I’d like you guys to check it out to see what you think.” He came in and played it for us, and we were all like: “Man, this is a pretty cool tune!” David knows Jimmy very well, so he’d just said: “I’ll tell you what: we’ll do this song but you will do it as a duet with our singer? I think that would be great.” And Jimmy was like: “Yeah, absolutely!” So that was definitely a pleasure to be able to sit in a room with him and sing. That guy’s voice is just insane, you know what I mean? He’s a bad ass!

About the leftover track you told me about, do you intend to release them in the future?

Yeah, they’re there, they’re recorded and if we get somebody who maybe needs a song for a movie or I don’t know, we may pull them back out and put them on the next record. But we’ve got four extra songs. We’ll see. I’m sure they’ll be used to some degree with something.

The Dead Daisies 2015

« A lot of people assume that I hate Vince Neil. I don’t! I’ve been in his company many times, we’ve sat down, we’ve had drinks together and we’re totally fine with each other. »

With all the members involved in other bands, how do you guys manage to get together to work on music and tour as The Dead Daisies?

Well, I can always speak for me personally. I have a band in America, a solo band, and I’ve been doing the Mötley 94 material, the album in its entirety. Once I joined this, David, the manager for Daisies and my manager just keep talking so that I don’t have to cancel anything ever. They talk several times a week, David’s like: “Okay, we’re gonna go and do this with Whitesnake” and my manager is like: “Alright so we’ve got this amount of time so I’m gonna book shows for John in America.” And they’re actually working on this for me to possibly bring my band over and do the Mötley thing here in Europe next year. But it’s just about making sure that: “Alright, I’ve got a two months window here, let’s book some Mötley 84 shows, and then Dead Daisies here, then Mötley 84 here, then Dead Daisies here…” As long as they keep talking, I shouldn’t have a problem.

Many people got to know you from your time in Mötley Crüe and many still consider the self-titled album as one of the best Mötley album. What are your thoughts when you reflect back at your time with them?

Honestly, a lot of people have preconceived notions about how they think I feel… A lot of people assume that I hate Vince Neil. I don’t! I’ve been in his company many times, we’ve sat down, we’ve had drinks together and we’re totally fine with each other. As far as my time with Mötley Crüe, I don’t regret any of it, I think all of the records I’ve done with them (I did three), I think all the music I wrote with those guys was amazing, I had a great time with them, and I’m still here 22 years later, I’m still playing music all over the world, and a big part of the reason why I’m still here is because of that record. I’m kinda blessed! But I’m very proud of the records as well.

Apparently there are no plans for you to come up on stage for their final tour, do you regret that they kind of disregard this part of their history?

No! Look: at the end of the day, Mötley sold a lot of records before my record came out, and in the grand scheme of things, a majority of their fans believe that Mötley Crüe is and will always be only Tommy [Lee], Nikki [Sixx], Vince [Neil] and Mick [Mars]. I’m okay with that! I know personally that I was there for almost six years and I had a great time, we did great music together and however they wanna look at it is fine with me. I always get emails like: “Are you gonna join them on the last show?” I’m like: “That’s up to them! It’s not up to me.” Whatever they decide to do is fine, you know what I mean? That’s cool! Lots of fans ask me: “If they get inducted in the rock’n’roll hall of fame, will you be there?”“If they ask me!” If they don’t, that’s fine! It’s cool! I do understand that they were already Mötley Crüe when I joined them.

What is your relationship with the Mötley guys now?

The only one I haven’t really talked to in a while is Nikki. Tommy and I text each other on occasion, Mick lives in Nashville where I live so I see him all the time, and I’ve seen Vince in different scenarios: we have the same booking agent, I’ve done shows with Ratt in the past, Vince was there and I hung out with him, I’m fine! The only I haven’t really talked to is Nikki.

Apparently you’ve had talks with Mick Mars about doing something together…

Well Mick asked me about it, but he also said he’s very busy. I think he’s on tour, we’re in June so he still has another six months of touring, I’m now promoting my new record with the Dead Daisies… So I told him: “Mick, if you need help with anything gimme a call and I’ll help, whatever.”

I’ve read that Deep Purple offered you to come and audition for them when Ian Gillan had left the band for a second time. Can you tell me more about this story and how it ended?

Well, it was funny. I was on tour with The Scream in 1991 and we played a place called The Station in Orlando. I just walked off stage and my tour manager came in and said: “You need to come into the club, there’s somebody there that wants to meet you!”, and after a few minutes I went in and it was Roger [Glover], Jon [Lord] and Ritchie [Blackmore]. And Roger talked to me about coming down… They didn’t offer me the gig but they asked me if I wanted to come down and just jam, and I guess for audition. And I was like: “Uh…” They said they would call me, but apparently they kinda worked everything out with Ian, so I never actually went down and jammed with them, but that was kind of mind blowing: damn, I’m a huge Deep Purple fan, so to meet them and then have them, after watching my performance, even consider having me come down, I was like… “Awesome!”

You’ve been collaborating with so many other musicians in your career. Would there be one artist you would actually never collaborate with?

First of all, I never say never… I can’t really think of anybody! Sure… Justin Bieber, whatever but [laughs]… You know what I mean? But you never know! I could sit down with the kid right now and write the most amazing song ever, so! I never say never to anybody.

How are you feeling about going on tour with Kiss, who are friends of yours, I think?

Eric Singer and I have been doing ESP since 1998, Gene Simmons has probably been one of my biggest supporters since even before I’ve got signed with The Scream. Honestly they’ve been incredibly supportive of our band. Most headlining acts would tell the opening act: “You can only have half the PA” or whatever. Those guys have been incredibly supportive, we have full PA, whatever we need, we use it, you know. Sometimes they tell you you can’t use the whole stage, we’ve got the whole stage, the whole thing. So it’s been really, really cool. And it’s just fun, it’s like family. This year, we’re very blessed because we’re doing this thing with kiss, we’re gonna go to Australia with them as well, and then later in the year we’re coming back in November with Whitesnake – we are friends and family with that band as well. It’s been pretty fucking cool, everybody we’ve been involved with has been incredibly supportive, so it’s awesome.

Interview conducted 15th, june 2015 by Valentin Istria.
Retranscription: Chloé Perrin.
Questions and introduction: Nicolas Gricourt et Philippe Sliwa.

The Dead Daisies official website: thedeaddaisies.com.

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