Glenn Hughes talks new band 'California Breed'
On the eve of the release of their self-titled debut album, a new band is about to take on the world. Assembled by Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Black Country Communion) and Jason Bonham (Black Country Communion, Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience) the band introduces guitarist Andrew Watt and brings back classic rock in a new way. Hughes was introduced to the 23 year-old guitarist Andrew Watt from New York City.
That introduction led to the creation of California Breed, a ‘new’ band with a classic rock feel, which sounds the way it does because it was recorded live, with very few overdubs. Powered by the experience of Hughes’ decades in the industry and Bonham’s musical pedigree, the band has all the elements and energy needed to make them – perhaps – the most exciting band to come on the scene this year. Please check out our review.
Lisa: I know you’ve been to New Hampshire before, because I saw you at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom……
GH: Oh, love it. Yes, I was. Two or three years ago, I played there with Black Country Communion at the Casino there.
Lisa: What a great show that was! So, why don't we start with what happened after Black Country Communion?
GH: Well, let's be clear. Black Country ended with no anger. It ended with a bit of sadness. It was very relevant, the last year with Black Country - all through the making of the last album, Joe really wasn't happy being in a band and also being a solo artist. He couldn't juggle both.
GH: When the band broke up, it was actually kind of like, well, at least we can move on. So, my wife and I went to Mexico after the band broke up and halfway through my trip down there I said, "I'm going to give Jason a call," and two months later I met Andrew Watt through my friend Julian Lennon. He introduced me to Andrew.
Lisa: Okay, so you met Andrew through Julian Lennon?
GH: I did. It was the Grammy Awards 2013. February 11th, a Saturday night, Jules was having a party. I was about to go home. It was getting late and he said, "before you go, I want you to meet this new guitar player." So in walks Andrew. This young dude with long hair and a hat. He kind of looked like -- kind of looked like I did when I was 23, you know?
Lisa: (laughing) yeah. Sounds like an old soul.
GH: And he spoke to me about psychedelia, didn't talk about the 70s and 80s. He spoke about (Jerry) Cantrell and Frusciante....I'm going, "he's talking about my friends here."
Lisa: Right. He sounds like an old soul. What happened next?
GH: He sent me some music and I was in Minneapolis a few days later. I got off the plane and I've got my Ipod out and I'm listening to these songs, and I'm going...this guy can write! And he's so great. He’s got a great startup, like Townsend....great right hand; Keith Richards. Right hand. Angus Young. Right hand. Tony Iommi. Right hand. And, it's all been, as you may know, from the Van Halen's to the rest, it's always been the left hand (guitarist). And sometimes we don't realize that is the greatness of guitar playing. The guitar players of the 80s and 90s were almost all left handed.
I hadn't had a good right-handed player - Joe Bonamassa's both - a wonderful guitar player. (Joe Bonamassa just performed a sold-out show at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom on May 16, one of the final shows of his spring solo tour).
Lisa: He’s ambidextrous....
GH: What I heard (in Andrew) was an opposite handed Gibson playing guitar player that didn't have any trickery. So I said to Jason, "I've got this lad here from New York - he's coming out to my house next week, can you come out here?" He said, "I'm actually going to be out there next week."
So Andrew came out and - Andrew and I alone wrote two songs, "Chemical Rain" and "Solo" (that's a bonus track for Japan). And the next day I asked Jason to come to the studio and we recorded the songs. And that's when we knew....there's a possibility that we have something. Rather than go to door number 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Behind all of those doors were very established named guitar players.
GH: And what was the problem with Black Country, Lisa?
GH: I'll tell you. The doors - behind 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 couldn't play. Because he (Joe) was working on his own.
Lisa: and overextending himself, yeah.
GH: So Jason and I made a brave decision. As AC/DC did when they got Brian Johnson. As we did in Deep Purple when we got Coverdale. I could go on and on about unknown people doing well. We thought it would be really interesting - a really good story for all of you guys, that we have a new guitar player that no one has heard of, and he has this really unique style.
Lisa: What was Andrew doing before that? Was he playing clubs?
GH: Andrew has been playing....when he was 5 or 6 or 7 or 8 or 9, all of his friends were, you know, they didn't know who Led Zeppelin was or The Who. They were into like, Blink 182 or whatever, something else.
Lisa: (Laughing) Ok, wow.
GH: So he learned to play a lot on his own. Then when he was a teenager, he started to play around in New York City, you know. He started to write his own music and he found his way into Julian Lennon's life, and Julian's been a friend of mine for years. Julian never comes to me to tell me what to do. But Julian said, "I want you to listen to this guitar player."
Lisa: So his influence is .......
GH: Jules is probably a big, big reason why this band is together.
Lisa: Right. So you like Andrew’s style. It sounds like he's straight out of the 60s or 70s.
GH: The 60s. He doesn't know this because we were - I dropped him of last night at a place that in the 80s was called "Le Donne" - it was like Studio 54, like, THE place. And I dropped him off at a place that used to be Le Donne. I was thinking, he doesn’t even know where he's at. It's the place where I used to get gakked up. He's like a completely new dude on the scene, and you know, he's so ambitious. He's from New York City. He was raised really well, is really well spoken, book-read, really knows how to play and sing, great writer – he brings a new edge to my stuff.
GH: He's really ambitious; he's got an ego thing going on. But I think we're all egotistical, whether we're musicians or artists or dancers, or anyone in that light.
Lisa: Right. I think that's what makes it so hard for bands to stay together. Egos can really destroy a band.
GH: And THAT is another reason I wanted THIS band. This is a band - because Black Country really wasn't a band. It was a lot of my writing, because Joe didn't really want to write. So what I wanted in this band, whoever the guitar player was gonna be. I wanted A. Jason to write. B. I wanted whoever was behind Door Number One - I wanted them to write. I wanted to finish their songs, I wanted them to finish MY songs, I wanted them to add a chord, take away a chord, and me to do the same. We did. We agreed on this and we were very volatile, and we were very - sort of like stimuli - into that process.
Lisa: Did I read that he was into grunge music as well? Do you know any bands....(that may have influenced him)?
GH: Yeah, and you can hear it. Don't get me wrong. I'm really good friends with Jerry (Cantrell) and John Frusciante (Red Hot Chili Peppers) so I understand that. I’ve played with John a lot. But I haven’t been in a band with a right-handed guitar player for forty years. I mean, right-handed guitar players are the “missing-link” of today’s music.
Lisa: He definitely has a distinctive sound. After Black Country Communion we had no idea what to expect, but this is such a natural evolution.
GH: It really is.
Lisa: So what made you choose to release the two singles that have been released, “Sweet Tea” and “Midnight Oil”?
GH: Actually, we made four videos. If you’ve heard the album…..
Lisa: I have.
GH: There’s so many songs here. Because, singles aren’t like they used to be. It’s just not that way anymore.
Lisa: Yeah, it sure is different now.
GH: We kind of picked singles that we all agreed on. I don’t think there’s any filler on this album. I think it’s a very broad swipe across the starboard bow. There’s a really strong sense of writing on this album. The lyrics are deep. They cut. I’m singing about celebration, life, death, disease, addiction. You know, hate, envy, sloth, greed, anger, love. I don’t write about dwarves and goblins and witches, so...
(singing) "Let it Burn, let it burn, let it burn in the midnight oil…"
Lisa: There’s a reference to Deep Purple if I’ve ever heard one.
GH: Dave Cobb said to me, “Are you ready to….” Because I had a lyric for that song but I had different lyrics for the chords, then Cobb said, “how do you feel about singing the word “Burn” in a song? I went, “It’s been a long time since I’ve done that.”
GH: So I just came up with “Let it burn, let it burn….” And it’s ok. The fans are digging it.
Lisa: Absolutely. I’ve listened to the album for a couple of weeks now. And I’ve really been listening.
GH: Oh great! I thought you only had it for six hours.
Lisa: And I was wondering if you plan to release “All Falls Down” as a single.
GH: Yeah! That was the fifth one. I already…..well, I know somebody, an actress friend of mine wants to….well, I can’t say who it is in case we don’t do it but a known actress will be in that video, if we get to make video number five.
GH: We have two more coming out. “The Way” is a video and “The Grey” is a lyrical video and all four songs would have been our choice. And I think it’s the label’s choice if we do a fifth single video or single, because it’s a very real story. Andrew asked me if I could write about a time in my life where it was the darkest time for me. And there was this moment in my life, where I was in bed, in hospital, and it was a moment where I didn’t think I was going to….. wake up. It was very cathartic for me to sing about a time that awful, yet it’s really special.
Lisa: I thought it might be about Black Country Communion.
GH: No....and you need to know this, Lisa. This is really important. There is no animosity, there is no resentment, there is no cross to bear with Black Country. I just spoke to Joe last week and he is so happy for me. Joe and I have always been friends. It's good, man.
Lisa: That's good to know.
GH: We are throwing down the gauntlet here, Lisa. And remember expectations are zero, because if you have all these expectations and something doesn't go your way, you're going to be in tears. We're doing this because we love the music, the art-form of making this genre of music. It's victorious in lyric and music content.
Lisa: It's obvious that you write for the music. It's seems like you're never really shooting for commercial success, you're writing for yourself.
GH: Lisa, I can't sing a lyric that I don't...oh, about a dwarf or a goblin. Now Ronnie Dio could do that. But I can't do that. I want to sing about the seven deadly sins. Look what I've gone through. We are driven by a hundred forms of fear. We are human beings. And I'm not trying to talk about it. When I'm singing, it's coming right from the gut.
Lisa: Well it's very relatable too. We feel your pain, your love, every emotion that you put into it.
GH: Thank you so much. I'm glad you got to hear how deep this album is.
Lisa: I did. And at first I was like, almost overwhelmed. I mean, "The Way," is like a hard-hitting....punch.
GH: When I sing, "Break, break, break it child. I love it baby, I love you wild." I meant that shit!
Lisa: (Laughing) That's fantastic. And then "Sweet Tea" is a great single. It's such a great ‘listener.’
GH: Well listen, we can talk about every track.
Lisa: Oh, I know. How many did you write in total?
GH: I think we wrote 23 tracks.
Lisa: What was the songwriting process for this album?
GH: I write in California and Andrew writes in New York. When I write blues, or "Sweet Tea" or bloody, "The Grey" or I mean I write about five or six titles here and same for him and he asked me, "Can I write some lyrics to "Sweet Tea? " I wrote most of it, and he finished it for me. The way I wanted it to be in this band, I wanted everybody to chip in. When he brought me the music to "All Falls Down," I wrote the lyrics. I mean, it's basically a collaborative effort. And Jason is, I'm telling you right now, I pushed Jason to write more in Black Country, and I really pushed him to write more on this album so it's collaborative.
Lisa: Good, so everybody really plays a part on each song. I guess with technology now you don't really need to sit together and write. You send each other music?
GH: Well, the songs are written separately, and finished in L.A. in a rehearsal studio. If you know anything about me, I do write a lot of music.
Lisa: Yes, I do know that.
GH: And, we made a bond as a band that....let's just start a song, I'll start a song and let's just finish it together. Sort of like Zeppelin did it. And John came in and finished it for them. That's basically all I know from that.
Lisa: Yeah, very 'old school'... that's great!
GH: So that's how we finished this album. And it's very unique.
Lisa: Off subject, but how do you keep that voice so strong?
GH: I've never smoked a cigarette; I've never had a drink of whiskey in 23 years. A lot of sleep, a lot of water, no dairy when I'm on the road.
Lisa: I just watched a video from a recent event that you did, "Celebrating Jon Lord" at Royal Albert Hall. What was that like to be a part of?
GH: It was great. It was great for me because I couldn't go to his funeral. He was the reason I joined Deep Purple because he was so charming. As you can see, he was special to me. Look I'm an emotional singer, you know that.
Lisa: Yes, you do wear your heart on your sleeve.
GH: I was surrounded by people I knew. I can be in a room of 5,000 people and feel completely alone. But the audience that night was like on pins and needles. My wife's hairs on her neck stood up. It was just incredible.
Lisa: How was it to trade vocals with Bruce Dickinson?
GH: Oh, Bruce is an old friend. He's great. I've shared the microphone with some of the greatest singers and Bruce is ...you know the thing about Bruce – he’s a fencer, he's a pilot, he's a politician, he's a singer, he's an ordinary bloke that's in a big 'ol band and that's what I love about my friends. I surround myself with people that are real. And Bruce is one of those people.
Lisa: You've played with some of the giants really in rock and roll history. Toni Iommi and Ritchie Blackmore. How does it feel now to have someone that could be your son....
GH: You know, I don't have any children. It's quite unique for me because I am very, very California. I feel like a father figure.
Lisa: Do you feel like you're mentoring them musically as well? Jason, too, although Jason has come into his own, for sure.
GH: Andrew asked me for help. He wants me to love him and I told him I loved him. I said don't you worry about it. Eat your breakfast in the morning, don't have too much coffee and stay off drugs.
Lisa: Do you worry about him going down that path?
GH: I know this boy. I've known him for about 15 months. The guy is ambitious, studious, born in the City of New York, and his ambition is as strong as mine.
Lisa: Sounds like a match made in heaven.
GH: I think ‘principles before personalities’ for me. The principals have already been set. If you don't set the principles before you start, you're going to be in trouble. And we have meetings going on behind closed doors about everything. The logos, the look, the equipment. This band is very unique. It's going to be very - retro - but very NOW.
Lisa: That's how it feels for sure. Am I hearing the Beatles and the Rolling Stones too?
GH: Yeah, I mean I'm a Beatles fan. I'm an Englishman who grew up listening to the Beatles. I defy anybody who was born in the 50s to - if you're a musician - you've got to be a Beatles fan. It's very simple. We all borrow from each other. We all borrow.
Lisa: I think I hear the Rolling Stones in "Spit You Out?"
GH: It's the guitar sounds. It's very British.
Lisa: And so very different from what you've done before, I think.
GH: Correct. Absolutely!
Lisa: I hear Led Zeppelin, of course. And I wondered what other influences might have played a part. I know Andrew brings youth but also his own influences to the band.
GH: We don't really talk about it. He knows that some of his favorite guitar players are friends of mine. But I'm hoping he brings that to the table. With Led Zeppelin, we didn't actually go for it, but when you've got one Les Paul and no keyboards, it's just going to sound that way.
Lisa: Was there ever any thought of bringing in another guitarist?
GH: When we play live, we may. But right now we are a trio. We're thinking as a trio. I wanted it to be a trio. I wanted it to smell and taste like a trio. I definitely did not want keyboards in this band. It's something I did not want.
Lisa: Do you like being a front man or do you prefer playing bass?
GH: Lisa, you're talking to maybe one of the only people - without being an egotistical guy - I can quite comfortably fit into both categories. I actually like to do both.
Lisa: You don't see too many bass players running all over the stage – it’s a dynamic that is very unique.
GH: Thank you. And, no no, I'm very in your face. I have no fear.
Lisa: I love it!
GH: Off-stage I'm quite clumsy but onstage, it's like a holy sacred ground to me. When I'm on the holy trinity of the stage I'm - with my boys; I call us the trinity - when I'm near the microphone you can put your money on it. Offstage I'm going to fall over. I may even break a glass, but on stage it's going to go okay because I don't have any fear. Like, if a soccer player is going to take a penalty and he thinks he's going to miss it, he's going to miss it.
Lisa: You definitely can't go in with the mindset that you're going to fail.
GH: You know when I see myself live - we film everything - and when I see it every night I'm going, "I'm glad I went to that note because I haven't gone to that note before." There are some notes that are impossible to get. I don't think about those notes. Some of the most important notes are the ones that I don't think about or play. There has to be some space. And there has to be some angst and depression in the music.
Lisa: Do you know anything about a tour at this point?
GH: We start in Germany on September 14 and we're going to work our way around. We are coming to the North American shores, baby! And we will be in your neck of the woods. We love it there.
Update: Two U.S. dates have been announced. Other dates will be announced shortly.
May 28: Whisky A-Go-Go – West Hollywood, CA
May 31: Gramercy Theatre – New York, NY
Please read our review of the album, California Breed:
The singles and album can be purchased on ITunes and also at Amazon.com.