Amen played Newport TJ's one night several years ago and it was the birthday of guitarist Rich Jones. In the Riverside Tavern, situated opposite the legendary club, future Über Röckers Johnny H, Darrel Sutton and myself sat with Rich prior to the gig and chatted about The Black Halos and Kiss and, nerds as we are, got him to sign a load of stuff. I probably remember a little more about that birthday than Rich as, so rumour has it, his memory of that evening is...err...patchy!
My strongest memory of that night is of how nice a guy Rich Jones was, and everytime I have met him since he has remained that same cool fella, the same cool fella who seems to have connections with almost every band in my record collection! He has worked with so many bands that I know readers of this site love that an interview with him was essential - well, here it is......enjoy!
You were born in Coventry - did you ever have one of those legendary Coventry City brown football strips or did this fashion disaster have an influence on you moving to Canada?
Hahaha, I remember the brown kits. I didn't have one but I did have a scarf, one of the old-school knitted ones that was sky blue on one side and brown on the other. I gave it to my cousin a few years ago actually and I think he was pretty pleased with it!
In those early years, what bands and musicians made you want to pick up a guitar in the first place?
Wow, lots of different bands and people. I guess the earliest one would have to be seeing Queen when I was a kid. My parents listened to a lot of rock music when I was growing up and they took me to see Queen when I was around 8 years old. I was pretty much sold when Brian May kicked into that 'Bohemian Rhapsody' guitar solo. Since then there's been a few people that kinda made me go "whoah" in terms of guitar playing - Andy McCoy on those early Hanoi Rocks records really turned me onto that loose, Stonesey vibe and Bernard Butler's guitar playing on the first Suede record is just insane - I guess just people that had a different approach to the straight up rock guitar style.
Everybody has a dodgy bandname from their formative rock 'n' roll years - what was the worst that you were connected with?
Haha, I definitely had a few. When I first moved to Vancouver I joined a band called Flash Bastard. It was right at the height of grunge and, with Vancouver being so close to Seattle, everyone was rocking the combat shorts and goatees and playing droning sludge. Flash Bastard were the only band in town playing New York Dolls/Dead Boys/Ramones style rock 'n' roll and as a result we were regularly bottled and even attacked at gigs. It was great.
Tell us a little about the circumstances surrounding the formation of the legendary - and I think we can genuinely use that term now - Black Halos....
Wow, well thanks. I eventually left Flash Bastard due to some serious drug problems in the band. I decided I wanted to start my own thing along those same lines, but a little harder and louder. So this was 1994 I guess. I put out an ad in The Georgia Straight (the local free paper) for a singer that was into The Dead Boys, Ramones, Lords Of The New Church, that kind of thing. I think I literally got one response and that was from Billy Hopeless. He and I wrote a lot of that first Halos record quite early on but we struggled finding the right band members for years. I was friends with Rob Zgaljic who was playing in a hardcore band called Sparkmarker at the time and we used to go to a lot of hardcore shows together. I eventually twisted Rob's arm to fill in on drums for a while and then the whole line-up came into place with Me, Billy, Rob, Jay Millette and Matt Camirand. So after about four years of us struggling we were signed to Sub Pop within six months of that line-up coming together. Suffice to say that a lot of people were pretty surprised when it happened as we were kinda written off as a joke band in Vancouver because we weren't doing something that was fashionable at the time. We definitely had to go to the US and prove ourselves to make any headway at home. Canada was last to catch on.
There really were some great Black Halos albums and there must have been some real highlights from your time in the band - is it possible to sum it all up in a few sentences?!
There were a ton of great times in that band. We really worked hard - we were on the road year-round, touring in our beat-up van. So as a result any bits of success were great for us because we really felt like we'd earned it. Showing up for our first tour of Spain to find a string of sold-out shows was amazing. Touring arenas with The Offspring was pretty nuts. Our first time playing CBGB - a sold out show with The Hellacopters, Murder City Devils and Zen Guerilla - was pretty incredible too. We showed up and there was a line-up stretching around the block to get in. Bebe Buell got onstage and introduced us that night and Jeff Magnum from the Dead Boys came and hung out. I couldn't believe it. Also really cool was getting home from tour to a voicemail from Andy Cairns saying that Therapy? had covered one of our songs and did we want to do a split single and return the favour? Duh! Yeah!
It must have been a real wrench to eventually leave the band.....
Well, yes and no. To be honest, I felt like it had run its course. I was burnt out and I had worked non-stop on that band for years. I was deathly afraid of it turning into a nostalgia act and I really believed in moving forward and doing new things. After all, that's what the original spirit of punk was supposedly all about, right? I was pretty shocked by what a big deal was made of it though. I had MuchMusic (Canadian MTV) calling me at home, people were pissed off! hahaha
In an interview with Über Röck, Billy Hopeless did talk about you and him perhaps working together again in the future......
Yeah, we've talked about it for sure. There was bad blood with us for some time but it's all good now. We went through a lot of shit together and it's only natural that there's gonna be ups and downs. I tried to get everyone together for a one-off reunion show for the 10th anniversary of the first album last year but I just couldn't get it to work for various reasons. I think one day Billy and I will probably end up doing something but I really have no idea of when or what we'll do. I'm working with Jay and Rob from the Halos at the minute though on compiling a record of Black Halos rarities and unreleased tracks. We've got a ton of stuff and once we get the clearances worked out I think Devil's Jukebox will be putting that out.
Can you explain the circumstances around you joining Amen?
We were friendly with those guys back when I was in the Halos. We were actually supposed to be supporting Amen on a UK tour but they pulled the tour at the last minute so it never happened. Paul Fig left Amen right around the time I was starting to feel like I was done with the Halos. So I had a phone call with Casey and within a couple of weeks I flew down to LA to audition. I think I played about 8 songs with them and they were like "You're in". I was pretty surprised to be honest, I really didn't think I'd get it. It was such a different style of playing for me but I really enjoyed the challenge of stretching myself like that. Within about 6 weeks we were touring Australia and New Zealand and I'd learned around 30 songs. Right before we went onstage in Auckland, which was my first show in front of around 40,000 people, they said to me "Oh yeah! We've got this intro that we do that goes C, D, F#, A... oh, just follow along!" Hahaha, the bastards!
Before I dig for dirt regarding Amen, there must have been some good times touring with that band......
Oh yeah, definitely. The Big Day Out tour was amazing, I had a blast hanging out with everyone. Me and Sonny spent a lot of time together, as did me and Chaos. The atmosphere was just really good and it just seemed like anything was possible at that time. Another thing is that if it wasn't for Amen I would have never met Scott Sorry, who is still my best friend to this day.
What was the truth regarding recording with Amen? Did Casey Chaos really play as much as he possibly could?
Yeah, it was definitely a lot like that. The recording process and the writing process all kind of blended into one. Casey's style of writing was to go into the studio with Larkin (or after he left it'd be people like Roy Mayorga or Zach Hill) and just lay down a lot of drum beats. Then guitars were pretty much improvised on the spot and re-worked over and over again until there was something cohesive. I did a lot of that stuff with him when the band was literally just the two of us but, yeah, the majority of the stuff was him simply because that's how he wrote. When we did the 'Death Before Musick' record (which from start to finish took years) we finished it with me, him and Daron Malakian sitting in an editing suite working and re-working edits of songs for a good month. A lot of those songs were actually originally demoed for Virgin and then re-worked for the record. In the end I felt like the results were a little too disjointed and laboured unfortunately and that we probably would have been better off going into the studio as a band and capturing the live energy that we had.
Just how bad had the situation with Chaos become when you and the rest of the band threatened to quit and then had a contract regarding his behaviour drawn up?
Real bad. The atmosphere on the bus and in the camp was terrible. He and I got into a fistfight at the Virgin Megastore at the signing on the day our album was released. I quit the band that day and by the end of the day the rest of the guys had left as well. He was just kind of a mess and a really nasty person to be around at the time. He'd also launched a cymbal stand into a crowd full of kids at the show two nights earlier and our crew had threatened to walk from the tour as well. The only reason that we finished that tour is because the band felt some loyalty to all the people that had worked so hard to make it happen for us. I played my last show in Berlin and called up Acey Slade in New York and asked him if he could come on board for the US and Japanese dates which he did. I'm still grateful to him for doing that at such short notice. So they did that US run and then went to Japan and the entire band quit after the 2nd Japanese show. It's a drag that it ended the way that it did because I think that on a good day we were one of the most insane live bands out there.
Your online message regarding the Amen situation that appeared some time later pulled few punches - how was the feedback from this?
Y'know, I hated that it came to that but here's how that all panned out. Basically, Casey and I had a pretty good chat in Berlin when I told him I was gonna leave. He was understanding and, to be honest, I felt like things were cool with us. He asked me not to say anything about leaving and I agreed to it as, regardless of all the shit, he and I went back and had been pretty close at one point. As I said, I even went as far as getting them another guitar player before I walked so I tried my best to make things smooth for him and the other guys. So next thing I know they're touring America and he's talking shit about me left and right, saying I had to leave to go to rehab etc. It was bullshit and after everything I'd done for him and that band I just felt that I had to set the record straight. Again, I was kinda surprised that it got picked up by places like Blabbermouth, Kerrang, etc. Buddyhead had a field day with it, haha. After it came out a lot of people came forward saying how glad they were that I'd said something. But yeah, that shit is never fun and I wish it had never gotten to that point if I'm being honest.
Former Amen drummer Shannon Larkin posted an online rant in response to your message that seemed a bit economical with history considering he had quit the band to join stadium rock bores Godsmack.......
Yeah, it was kind of weird to hear that from a guy who wasn't even there at the time that all this shit went down. I know Casey did his best to keep Larkin close after the split and I can understand why. Larkin had a completely different experience playing with Casey than pretty much anyone else did. But I have nothing but respect for Larkin. I had an awesome time with him and he is hands-down one of the best drummers I've ever seen, let alone had the pleasure of playing with. And when he joined Godsmack I fully supported him. He had a wife and child to support and Amen wasn't exactly paying the bills so it was the right move for him. I honestly haven't got a bad word to say about the guy. I still think Godsmack are fucking terrible though. haha!
You're doing the upcoming tour with Sorry and the Sinatras so you're obviously still in contact with Scott, but what about your other former Amen bandmates?
Yeah, I'm really tight with Scott, I speak to Luke (Johnson - now with Lostprophets) all the time and me and Matt (Montgomery aka Piggy D - now with Rob Zombie) stay in touch as well. It's great to see everyone doing so well now, god knows they've all worked for it. We went through a lot of shit together and I think it made us a lot closer as a result. I'll always have time for all of those guys.
The next 800 questions will revolve around other bands/musicians that you have played with! Where do I start?! Neil Leyton - tell us about the infamous Stagger Twins.....
Neil and I met back in the Black Halos days. I was a fan of his old band, The Conscience Pilate, and I ended up putting together a band for him for a couple of shows out in Vancouver. From then on he and I collaborated a lot whenever we had the time. Neil's got a great voice and he's fiercely independent, possibly sometimes to his own detriment (ha!), and he really deserves to be heard by more people. He sings on a track on Nicke Andersson's new Imperial State Electric record which you can hear on their Myspace.
You also worked with New York Loose frontwoman Brijitte West - how was it and what are your thoughts on her debut solo album?
I was a fan of NY Loose back in the day. I was really into that mid-90's NYC punk/glam scene with them, D Generation, Pillbox etc. She and I got in touch a few years ago and originally I was just helping her out with the artwork for the 'Born To Loose' record. Talk turned to her possibly playing and writing again and we ended up getting the ball rolling on that front. As a working relationship it didn't really work out as we just have different styles of working and we butted heads. But she's got a killer band now and we're still good friends. In fact, I played with her last year at a show in Madrid when her guitarist Keef couldn't make it. I think her solo record is great, easily up there with the NY Loose stuff and arguably better. It was a blast to play on the couple of songs that I did and working with Jesse Malin was a great experience as well.
You played with Tyla as The Dogs D'amour at, arguably, a time in the band's career that will probably not be remembered as their best - not your fault, of course!!! Tyla's then wife Yella certainly alienated some of the hardcore fans......
Haha, poor Yella. She and I got along really well but, yeah, she really didn't need to be up on that stage. I think things got better after she left but I've never really felt like I was a member of the Dogs, I just played guitar for Tyla. I have a ton of respect for Tyla but for me the Dogs will always be Tyla, Steve, Bam and Jo or Darrel. He's probably gonna kill me for saying that! With that in mind though, I've gotta say that I feel privileged to have had the chance to play with him under any name. I grew up on those Dogs records and I love 'em!
You joined The Yo-Yo's and, during a UK tour with AntiProduct, the entire band quit leaving Danny McCormack to complete the dates using the members of the opening band. How bad had Danny become on that tour?
Well, Danny's drug use is certainly no secret but this is one of those cases where I feel a little awkward saying too much about it. Put it this way: The Yo-Yo's was basically a car with the wheels waiting to fall off the whole time we did it and me and Tom knew it from day one. It wasn't a matter of 'if', it was just a matter of 'when'. We knew things were getting bad when we played the acoustic show at the 12 Bar shortly before that tour. Danny couldn't even get it together to rehearse with us and as a result the show was a shambles. Things just went downhill from there and we were put in a position where we had no choice but to walk away and cut our losses. Tom still speaks to Danny occasionally and we got him onstage for a couple of songs with The Loyalties when we played in Sunderland a couple of years back. There's no hard feelings on either side.
That Yo-Yo's line-up was obviously the genesis of The Loyalties with yourself, Tom Spencer and drummer Craig Herdman staying together and forming the band that is universally loved at Über Röck! How did Lee Jones become a member and what were your ultimate aims for this new band?
Well thanks. It's a pretty funny story about The Loyalties. After the split of The Yo-Yo's we were offered some dates abroad (for the Yo-Yo's). Tom and I were really keen to do something together still, and even more keen to play abroad so we basically invented a new band (which we didn't have), said we had a ton of new songs (we didn't), and used this to blag a tour of Germany and Italy. Once the tour was booked we basically panicked, wrote a bunch and got the line-up of The Loyalties together. Our first ever show was at White Trash in Berlin and we had to fill out the set with Black Halos and Yo-Yo's songs. So that line-up wasn't exactly stable to begin with and eventually we recruited Lee who was a good friend of mine. He was in Deadline at the time and he really wanted to join so it just made sense. Lee is a really underrated guitarist, he can play anything. He's working on a country-tinged side-project at the moment called The Bastard Sons Of Liberty which is really gonna surprise people when they hear it.
Über Röck's Johnny H had a quote from his review of 'So Much For Soho' featured on the sticker that adorns the vinyl version of the album, providing him with the greatest moment of his life causing him to weep every time that he sees it - how sad is that?!
Hahaha, that's brilliant! I'm gonna have to go look at that now and see what it says.
Devil's Jukebox have just released a redux version of 'So Much For Soho' that features four extra tracks - what can you tell us about that extra content and what would you say to recommend the release to any ne'er-do-well who has never heard the album?
I'm actually not 100% sure what the bonus tracks are since the label haven't sent me a copy of the re-issue yet (hint, hint) but I think that they're some demos that we did in Brighton in 2008 and possibly our cover of the Radio Dead Ones song 'Black Jimmy' with me on vocals. As for the album, I think we really felt like the pressure was on to prove ourselves after the split of The Yo-Yo's (and after what I felt was a disappointing Yo-Yo's EP) and I really felt like we did it. The reviews were almost all great and we took it much farther than I expected so I'm pretty proud of the record. It's probably my favourite thing that I've done since the Black Halos days, for whatever that's worth.
The Loyalties provided the support for the 2008 UK tour by New York Dolls - how was this?
Their tech Dunc is a good friend of ours and he gave me their manager's email address. I basically pestered him until he agreed to give us the tour! That was a great tour for us and the Dolls were really great guys. To be honest, we did really well on the touring front considering we have never had an agent. We did the Dolls tour, we did the Duff McKagan (Loaded) tour and we did the Black Lungs tour (Alexisonfire & Cancer Bats side-project) all in one year. Not bad for a bunch of disorganised reprobates!
What was the reason behind Craig Herdman's departure from the band, with former Towers Of London drummer Snell taking his place?
Nothing major, no huge drama. I have to admit that I found it kind of frustrating playing with him sometimes as I felt like he didn't want to put in the work that the rest of us put in. But I think that was really just a symptom of the fact that his heart wasn't in it. So it was kind of the best thing for everyone when we parted ways. I've got a lot of time for Snell. Great drummer, great guy.
You are also a part of Bassknives with former 3 Colours Red frontman Pete Vuckovic - what can you tell us about this project?
Not a lot! I was actually out with Pete the other night and we had a great night of just hanging out and drinking. We didn't discuss the band or the album at all. I think Pete is a really talented guy and one of the most interesting and creative people in the industry. Unfortunately I've tracked a ton of guitars for a record that has taken over 3 years to see the light of day and life goes on so I've just left it in his hands at this point. Hopefully one day he'll get it to a point where he's happy enough to share it with everyone because there's some great songs there.
Tell us a little about your artwork, the most recent being the cover art for 'Chutzpah jnr' by The Wildhearts........
Yeah, I do a ton of art and design work for bands. That's basically how I make my living these days. I did both the 'Chutzpah' and 'Chutzpah jnr' artwork for The Wildhearts which was a ton of fun to do. Most recently I've been working on new artwork for Michael Monroe, trying to get his stuff looking a little more representative of what he does. I also did the artwork for The Grit album 'Straight Out The Alley' and I've been doing a lot of work for Radio Dead Ones as well. It's really cool for me to be able to design for people who I admire - I did a lot of work for Killing Joke some years back as well and that was a great experience. Art and design is something that I find really inspiring and I feel like there's still so much that I can learn and take in, I can't imagine ever not wanting to do more.
It was recently announced that you are joining Sorry and the Sinatras for their impending UK tour - how did this come about and is there any chance that this will become a permanent arrangement?
Oh yeah, it's 100% permanent. Scott and I have been friends for so long and we've always talked about working together again. When Roger left the band Scott got in touch right away and asked me to get involved. Since I'm a terrible bass player he offered to switch to bass and get me playing guitar. I'm really excited about it as all the guys are really good friends and I was a fan of the band before I joined. We're writing right now for a mini-album that we hope to have out by the summertime and the band is gonna be doing round 2 of touring in June/July with some mainland European dates and festivals.
What are the plans for The Loyalties?
Honestly? No plans right now. The album is a couple of years old and we worked pretty hard to get it out there to people. If I'm being honest we're slightly disappointed that it didn't do as well as we think it deserved to. So we're gonna put the band to bed for a while and come back to it when the time is right and the urge is there. I'm gonna focus on the Sinatras, Tom has Fastlane Roogalator and his stained glass work and Lee has got the Bastard Sons record that he's working on. I'm sure we'll come back to it one day, I want to continue doing something with Tom in some capacity.
Finally, when all this rock 'n' roll shebang is just dust in the wind what one song would you nominate to represent the Rich Jones legacy???
Ha, I just hope I have a legacy of some kind! If people are still enjoying some of the records that I've made in any way I'll be pretty damn happy.
Told you he was a great guy, didn't I?! Massive thanks to Rich for agreeing to do this interview. Here's what you guys and gals have to do next; buy the 'So Much For Soho' redux from Devil's Jukebox (and the vinyl version for the quote!) and check out Sorry And The Sinatras on tour - we'll be there, join us!
Photo kudos to Trudi Knight - www.bandsonstage.co.uk and www.soulcatcher.biz