As an unabashedly devout fan of all things Extreme and Extreme-related (most notably Tribe Of Judah and the oft-overlooked gem Schizophonic), I'll be the first to openly admit my disturbingly intense fascination with the painfully short-lived quartet's exceedingly unique amalgam of Funk, Hard Rock, Heavy Metal and, to a certain extent, Pop. Propelled by the release of the chart-topping, “More Than Words/”Hole Hearted”-fueled tour de force Pornograffitti (1990) and the conceptual quasi-masterpiece III Sides To Every Story (1990), my already well-documented feelings were in full bloom with the group's awkwardly-titled comeback Saudades de Rock (2008). Needless to say, when we were initially approached regarding coverage of the group's sweat-soaked in-concert commemorations Pornograffitti: Live 25 (2016), I was once again only more than happy to overindulge.
Todd: What makes now the right time to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Pornograffitti? It's a little late.
Gary: “It's funny. It was 2012 and we didn't have a plan at that time to celebrate the 25th anniversary. We were planning on going to Japan. We wanted to do something special. We like to always do something special for Japan. I don't know who came up with it, but they said 'Let's do Pornograffitti in its entirety, for four shows'. That was the plan. That's was it. We were just going to do four special shows in Japan. It went over and was a great success. We come home and our manager was getting offers from virtually everywhere. We ended up doing it in America, China, Europe and Russia and then we really started thinking 'Okay, we're closing in on the 25th anniversary, so let's put a full tour together.' That's how it came about, but, really, we tripped into the idea.”
Todd: At this point, is Japan still one of the group's 'significant' audiences? I remember seeing photos of crowds.
Gary: “I think so. It's been special since '89. We've gone over there pretty much every tour, even when there's not a record; ...It's just been a solid place for us during the good years and even the weak years, so I think it was. ...I think they have the band go over every two years, and during some of those times, we didn't have a record out, so we still wanted to go over there and that's what evolved into us doing the Pornograffitti tour. We actually just came back from Japan. We did a special encore of the third side of III Sides To Every Story, so that's another thing that we did over there that may offer that certain other markets. History seems to be repeating itself again”
Todd: To what do you attribute the success of Pornograffitti? Was it due to “More Than Words” doing that well?
Gary: “I think the success of that record started with the delay of our first record. Our first record (i.e. Extreme) came out in 1989. It should have came out in '88, so it was delayed by a year due to record company politics and the usual re-Mixes. During that delay, we were still playing in the clubs and that's when we started writing material for Pornograffitti. By the time our first record came out in '89 and we went on tour for it, we were already so excited about the newer material. By the time we got in to record Pornograffitti, we had that music in our back pocket. Some of the themes that developed during the writing started to come together, so I think it was such a concise record. We found our identity on that tour and during the making of that record. I think Pornograffitti is where the band found its identity. ...I think we knew; we knew we'd that we'd found ourselves.”
Todd: How big of an impact did the group's collective influences have on the group's Pornograffitti era tonality?
Gary: “I think that was in the DNA of the band and that's why I don't even think we could take credit for it. We were the result of our influences. That's the music we grew up on. I've said it a million times 'We're the bastard son of Aerosmith, Queen and Van Halen', and that really showed on the first record. But the second record, like I said, we found our identity and that was all of the above. We were inspired by those bands. Queen comes to mind, obviously, with their eclecticism, so on Pornograffitti, when we put a song like “When I First Kissed You” on there or added all the acoustic, Funk or Metal elements, that was just the band. It was like 'Hey, man, this sounds like Aerosmith' or 'This has a Queen edge to it'. It was unconscious for us. In a way, it's still the same whether I'm working with Extreme, Hurtsmile or anyone else. All we're doing is writing songs, ya know?”
Todd: When can your fans expect a follow-up to Saudades de Rock? Do you have a lot of newer material ready?
Gary: “That's been hanging heavy on our heads. It's been eight years. We have recorded and we've got plenty of demos. We have enough material for a record, so there's no excuse. It's getting the four heads in one room. The scheduling has been difficult, plus it seems like over the years if there's an offer to tour, we're going to because we enjoy it so much. ...Everyone's agreed it's all about the new music, and personally, I don't want to play another show unless we have new material. We're going to focus the rest of the year on making new music and coming out with something new. I think it's important for the the band because while I think it's great to go out and tour and do the catalog, and that's what you usually do when you've been around this long... In 2012 when we were playing China and Russia for the first time, of course we played the catalog. That's the dilemma for any band that's been around, the so-called 'heritage acts'. When Aerosmith goes out when they put out a new record, they're only going to play one or two new songs, but it's still very important for everyone to put out new music.”
Todd: How do you determine which songs will be included included in a particular set list? I would imagine each individual band member has their favorite or least favorite songs that they want included or even excluded.
Gary: “That's the pre-show battle. Every guy in the band has their favorite tune. I'll put together a skeleton of a set list, I'll pull something out, and then Nuno will say 'Why are you pulling that out? That's my favorite song of the set' so I'll go 'Okay, I'll pull that back in and take something else out', but then Pat will bitch about it, so we go through that routine. When it's our own show it's easier. You can play over two hours and everybody in the band is happy. When you're playing a festival or you're opening for a band and have a forty-five minuet or an hour long slot, then you're trimming down the set and then you're like 'Well, we've got to play “Kid Ego” and “Play With Me” off the first record' and then you've got Pornograffitti which was obviously our most successful and the most well-known record, so that takes up a bulk of the set. It's that battle and every band goes through it. They call me the Commissioner. I'm the one who makes all the hard decisions. ...At this point it's a routine. When I'm pulling out a song, I'm like 'Oh, shit. Nuno's going to be pissed at me'. Sometimes, we'll edit a song. We've done medleys in the history of the band where we go back to the first record and do three or four songs in a span of four minutes, which is something we took from Queen from their early live records. That's what we would do when we were touring more extensively and we wanted to do newer material, but then that just pisses off the fans, ya know? They're like 'You only played one verse from “Little Girls” and that is my favorite song'.”
Todd: Once Pornograffitti became a multi-Platinum--and entirely inescapable success--was there a great deal of pressure from the record company (i.e. the now-defunct A&M Records) to replicate? It must have been intense.
Gary: “Overall, and I think it's a good thing, there really is no outside influence. It's the bubble, ya know? Me and Nuno write. The cream usually rises to the top with a bunch of songs, but going back to the transition between Pornograffitti and III Sides To Every Story was similar to the transition between Extreme (1989) and Pornograffitti. We were nine months into Pornograffitti and were starting to write the third record. We were doing a bunch of club tours. We released (the first singe) “Decadence Dance” to Headbanger's Ball and then we released (the second single) “Get the Funk Out”. We were nine months into the record and then we released (the single) “More Than Words”. It was a radio station in Philadelphia that started the domino effect. They played it and it got some numbers, and then it dominoed across the country. We did a video for MTV and the song exploded; it became bigger than the band. Then we started getting offers from Bon Jovi, David Lee Roth and ZZ Top. We started jumping on those tours and that summer when it exploded, we were the third band on the bill. Now we're on the road and we're writing III Sides To Every Story, and to your point, I would say it came from the record company. Of course, when they have a success with the record, they want to repeat it. We weren't, in a sense arrogant, but we didn't listen to anybody. We were like 'Okay, we got success with Pornograffitti.' It gave us the freedom to do what we wanted, but with a bigger budget. That's where we got a little more ambitious. We talked of using a seventy-five-piece orchestra for the third side. Then the stars aligned. I'm not dropping names, but during this whole period of time, we met (Queen guitarist) Brian May in Europe, during the Pornograffitti tour. …At that point, we were out there, doing all of that. We even scheduled time in Abbey Road (studios) because we were there. It seemed like such a whirlwind. I don't think the record company gave us too much pressure, really I'm sure they were waiting for “More Than Words”, Part II, but they were watching the whirlwind too. At that point, it was so wild. The band was just trying to hold onto this huge wave.”
Todd: It's a shame that the success of “More Than Words” ultimately overshadowed the success of the other singles that were released. I seem to remember being extraordinarily fond of “Hole Hearted” when it did 'break'.
Gary: “It's funny. People forget that when “More Than Words” exploded, we followed it with “Hole Hearted”, which was another acoustic track from the record. That went to number four on the charts. Within a span of six to eight months, we had two Top 5 records. At that point, we we're doing (the British television show) Top Of The Pops. Me and Nuno went on a promotional tour. During that tour, at eight in the morning, I'd be out there singing “More Than Words”. I could hardly talk. It was crazy, almost to the point it drove the band insane. We were just trying to hang on. Even to this day, and this is no discredit to Pornograffitti because I think it's a solid record, but I don't think we'd be celebrating the 25th anniversary of it if wasn't for the success of “More Than Words”. I think it would have been one of our best records, but I don't know how well it would have sold. It basically introduced the mainstream to Extreme. The Rock fans knew us, but the mainstream didn't. We had a genuine crossover hit. ...As far as “More Than Words”, I think it was unique in the era of Hair Metal power ballads, because “More Than Words” was not a power ballad. It was the furthest thing from it. It didn't have the big drums or the big harmonies, the usual, ya know? And that's no knock on power ballads. As far as in the world of the power ballads, “More Than Words” is just guitar and two vocals. It's stripped down. Also, I thought the video was unique because it was entirely black and white. In a world of MTV and color, it was stark. I think a lot of those little points, those little markers, just aligned for us. I don't think it was contrived. I think the stars aligned with the video and how the song struck a chord at the time. The song's success was beyond our control.”
Todd: In hindsight,was the group disappointed with the chart performance and sales of III Sides To Every Story?
Gary: “It sold okay. I certainly didn't match Pornograffitti (it sold approx 700,000 copies upon it's release). I don't think we were disappointed because we were having success in Europe and we were playing bigger places. If you look back now, I think III Sides To Every Story is the better record. The band was flexing our muscles. I think everyone has their favorite and the fans have their favorite records. When I meet fans and they mention the first record, they ask 'Why can't you write another one like that? It was your best effort', so it's all subjective. Looking back, the band was proud of III Sides To Every Story. We thought we went beyond Pornograffitti, so we thought it was successful. Monetarily it wasn't, but as far as artistically, we thought it was a superior record.”
Todd: While it's obviously a more diverse recording, as the artist, how do you feel it compares to Pornograffitti?
Gary: “The Production has aged better and the performances were better. It's subjective to say were the songs better, but I'd like to think they were. I thought the band widened their net. We had a bigger spectrum of music there. I think the closest thing to “More Than Words” is “Tragic Comic”, which was our nod to the Beatles. The band was definitely ambitious. It's funny looking back on it, trying to explain some of the stuff to the record company. I'm sure they rolled their eyes a few times about the concept and the III Sides... They were like 'What do you mean? There aren't three sides on vinyl' and we'd be like 'No, it's a concept. It's going to separate'. I can imagine they thought we were crazy. And they did, to their credit. Looking back, was it indulgent? Absolutely, but to me that's just Rock 'n' Roll. If you can't be indulgent in Rock 'n' Roll, then what can you be indulgent in?”
Todd: Taking into consideration how busy you've been with Extreme, can your fans expect new music from Hurtsmile or Tribe Of Judah? I've always thought (the Tribe Of Judah debut) Exit Elvis went under-recognized...
Gary: “Actually, I've stayed in contact with the guys over the years. I was just sent some rough music. We've written a few things over the years. Again, it's all about the timing. When I look back on Tribe Of Judah as a project, I was very proud of it. It's funny because I was coming out of Van Halen and the last thing I wanted to do was do a three piece Rock band. I think it's really the furthest thing from Extreme and the Van Halen record (i.e. Van Halen III, 1998). It was something I really needed to do, having just come out of Van Halen. I think the record holds up. Again, it was ambitious. I feel as if it had some Classic Rock elements mixed in with some Industrial and Electronic stuff that I was just experimenting with. I wanted to use my voice the same way guitar players use their guitars with different effects. I was jealous. I was like 'You guys get to use all that cool stuff'. I went into that project just exorcising some demons, as far as writing some of that stuff. Those type of bands, get put on the shelf. I don't think they break up. Even when Extreme was supposedly broken up, I was in touch with Nuno. We were talking and fans of each other's projects, so it was always a matter of not if, but when. Extreme is always going to do new music and always tour. We're too old to break up. We will tour and make new music.”
Pornograffitti Live 25: Metal Meltdown (Blu-Ray/DVD)
Take Us Alive: Boston 2009 (CD/DVD) (2010)
Saudades de Rock (2008)
The Collection (2002)
The Best Of Extreme: An Accidental Collocation Of Atoms? (1998)
Waiting For The Punchline (1995)
Running Gag (EP) (1995)
III Sides To Every Story (1992)
Extragraffiti (EP) (1990)
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