When the Penelope Spheeris documentary The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years (1988) made it's now infamous debut, it deftly highlighted the many excesses of Glam Metal sub-genre. As it emitted it's final dying gasps at the onset of the Grunge phenomenon, few artists and groups survived the onslaught of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and their like-minded brethren. A prime example of such an act is Blue Island, Illinois-born stalwarts Enuff Z'Nuff. Initially fueled by the hit singles “Fly High Michelle”, “New Thing” and the woefully-underrated ballad “For Now”, their sophomore effort Strength (1991) and Animals With Human Intelligence (1993) found them at the apex of near-universal praise. Now, nearly thirty (!) years later, former frontman/group co-founder Donnie Vie is poised for a 'comeback' as he prepares for the newest chapter in his storied solo career.
Todd: Let's start with the obvious. What ultimately led to your departure from Enuff Z'Nuff? From an outside perspective, I've always assumed that the members of the group had amazing relationships both on and offstage.
Donnie: “Well, first of all I am Enuff Z'Nuff, so it's not a whole hell of a lot of a loss. I never even met half the guys that are in that band now. ...You would think that and there were times where we were, but a couple of the guys are gone now. They were my favorite guys, by the way. (Enuff Z'Nuff co-founder) Chip (Z'Nuff) and I... ...I still love him dearly. We're still the best of friends, to a certain extent. It's just that when we try to work together, we don't see eye to eye. I just felt too restricted and too disrespected. I got all the blame but none of the credit while the other guys ran around doing whatever they wanted while labeling it as their own. I love Chip, I really do. I don't know what the heck he thinks he's doing, but what can you really say? ...I'll never play with that band again. I never say never, but until then, what would be the point? I've been there and done that. I can do what I did in that band even better without the handcuffs on. I can continue to grow and evolve. I'm clear, sharp and strong and I don't think he'd be able to handle it because I just wouldn't take his shit anymore. He was taking advantage of my vulnerabilities and beating the shit out of me with them, ya know? If you let the music do all of the talking, you can see what each of us contributed by what's happening now I'm not with him.”
Todd: Your relationship--professional or otherwise--with Chip has obviously deteriorated exponentially. What scenario(s) caused everything to 'fall apart'? You wrote so many songs together. It's a shame it couldn't continue.
Donnie: “Everybody assumes that because that's what he says, but the only thing he wrote on ninety-five percent of the shit that has his name on it is his name. I'm not out to slam this guy and he's not going to like hearing any of it. He doesn't like hearing this shit, but it's amazing that I don't say it to his face. And that's part of the problem, too. I don't know if he's just so batshit crazy with the pot smoking and everything that the lies have manifested and become real in his world or if he's just criminal like Jeffrey Dahmer or something. You gotta wonder. He's definitely nuts. He's definitely crazy. I still love him but, just because you were there doesn't mean you wrote the fucking song, you jagoff. I'm the first one to say which ones were the collaborations, ya know? I'll sit there and list them out. We had to do that to get it all ironed out, with all the fucking bullshit of ASCAP, royalties and everything. My sister went through it all and it was crazy. She was going down the list with me and I kept saying 'Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine.' At the end of it, I was being generous and gave Chip twenty percent of everything. I never put my name on any of his songs even though I had a big input on making them sound cool. He'll steals a commercial off TV 'Our Legs fit your legs, they hug you and hold you' and then put some different words to it and I'll be like 'That's great. Let me see what I can do to with this so I don't look like a complete fucking tool when the record all came out. ...Because there's nothing I can do about it if I don't.”
Todd: How involved were you in the writing and recording of Clowns Lounge (2016)? Are those all your songs?
Donnie: “I wrote and sang everything on the goddamn thing except for the Monkees rip-off “Dog On A Bone” and the one that (late Warrant frontman) Jani Lane lent to Chip. Those are all rejects from the early days, before the first record that we didn't feel will up to par. They're just eight track or maybe twenty-four track demos, but it's all me. I also designed the concept, hired the artist and went through all that shit for the art work. He was going to do it anyway, so I figured I'd better try and make it as cool as it can be. I had no choice because it was going to happen whether I liked it or not. That's what he does. There are some cute baby songs on there. Those are some of the first songs I'd written. He keeps pulling them out of the cobwebs. We will see what he has next.”
Todd: At this point, are you planning on re-launching your solo career? For the truly uninitiated, what was the proverbial last straw in regards to you leaving the group? Was there a defining moment--or moments--of clarity?
Donnie: “I've done three solo records. ...As you know, I've always been in the 'I need to break away from this' mentality. And I did that, but then out of necessity, I would have to go back to the group because you've gotta eat. ...But I was out for quite awhile during that time. I had gotten married and I started to feel like we'd done everything we can do at this point. It's pointless to be drudging around on a bus in Tulsa, Oklahoma on Tuesday night to twenty people. It was like 'There's no point in this. It's not making any money. I'm just getting high and depressed. This is pointless'. I was strung out on everything and it was time to get better, which I didn't actually do. I just switched to different drugs. Once the marriage ended, I met somebody else, which was good at first. In fact, it was great for me at first. I was cleaned up and ready to and then everything turned very tragic. I won't go into that story out of respect for her, but there was no good ending for me in sight with that one. ...I went on an acoustic tour of Europe with Baz Francis from the band Magic Eight Ball. He was very gracious, but what I didn't realize until later was that it felt like my soul had moved out of my body. There was no spirit in me. I didn't look the same and I didn't sound the same. I just didn't want to do it anymore. I had no joy. I had no real anything, really. I was under a constant black cloud of doom. I was like 'I don't know if this is anything I feel like doing anymore because look how much it got me. Look where I am'. I was like 'If they don't love me by now, they're never going to'. I wrote a song called “Unforsaken” and it untapped the last of what was left of me inside, ya know? It was still soulless, but from the cobwebs came a double record full of stuff that cleared out every idea I had left. Sonicaly, it sounds like shit because I did everything myself. I just sat there, in my little home studio with a pile of speed, working ninety-six hour a day, twenty days a week. I was trying every idea I could think of. ...It was an enjoyable experience because I actually got a chance to get lost and absorb myself into creating without anybody else. I was like 'Who cares what anybody says?'. I certainly didn't care. I didn't give a shit what anybody thought. After that, I just went off the radar and went into the depths of hell. Finally, God answered my prayers one day. ...There was some old warrant for my arrest from Michigan that they finally put into effect. I got kidnapped by hillbillies and taken away to Palookaville and held without ransom. I was put into a program that actually was the answer to all my prayers and saved my. You gotta be careful what you say to God, but it all worked out because I'm healthy now. I got rid of my Hepatitis C and got all my teeth fixed. I had a lot of downtime, which I needed and some therapy and to work through things. Now I'm able to get back to work. I'm feeling so strong, so sharp and so into it again. ...I was eighteen when that cyclone grabbed me. I was cast into center stage as a scared, insecure little kid, into this crazy, crazy world. I really wasn't equipped to handle it. My gut feeling wasn't strong. The direction it went, the look it had, the players that were in the band or anything. But who is going to say 'No, I'm going to pass on being number one on MTV and touring the world like I've always wanted because I'd rather sit here in this white trash town'. It's what I should have done. I could have had a career like Tom Petty. ...I would not have gone in the same direction, but it is what it is at this point.”
Todd: How have the sessions for your next solo recording gone thus far? How much new material do you have to work with at this point? Am I correct in assuming you have a bigger picture plan for what you're trying to do?
Donnie: “I'm in writing and recording mode right now. I'm demoing to find the best songs and then re-tracking the demos. I'm going to find a band, a monster band. It could be guys, it could be girls, they could be black, they could be white. They could be Afghanistan if the guy kicks fucking ass and has respect for Donnie Vie, ya know? He also has to have a look, some vocals and most of all, respect for Donnie Vie. Then I'll go into the studio and lay it down for real because I want the input of the great artists and great musicians that I'm going to acquire. Look how Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers. ...That's a great example of how a band works together. Great guys that add their own things and come up with a fantastic sound. I never got lucky enough to have my own Jimmy Page who would let me do my thing. My thing is vocals, hooks, lyrics and melodies. I've become better at writing lyrics. I used to suck at the lyrics, but I wrote every lyric on every record except for the Chip tunes. I never really got that guy, so I did the best I could. We'll see what happens with the new recordings. I'm sure there will be a few songs when we go to record the record with the new band I'm going to put together, that'll get written by myself and the band. That would be so awesome. They will be appropriately credited, we will be a real band and we will go out on tour and sound just like the motherfucking records. It will be a nice long show where we'll play everything from 1985 to today along with some great old stories. ...We'll have a real good time and enjoy it enough to be in the moment and do a good job. ...We won't want to fuck it up, ya know?”
Todd: At what point did you realize there were issues with the group's original line-up? Was it obvious early on?
Donnie: “My first meeting with (late guitarist) Derick Frigo. My very first encounter. You think Tyler and Perry were the toxic twins? We were the smart bomb, only stupid (laughs). Before we got out the first record deal, we already had management and they put us everywhere together which was just the most terrible idea anybody could think of. It was just insanity. We never slept. We'd stay up for a month and do all kinds of drugs. It was just trouble, trouble, trouble. I finally fired him after Animals With Human Intelligence because I'd had enough. I'd actually quit the band and went off to start writing, recording and demoing on my own. I used Ricky (Parent) because he was wonderful. He was so awesome. I never had a complaint about Ricky whatsoever. He did it the way you should. People heard what I was doing, but then I got hungry and ran out of money, so once again, there was another Enuff Z'Nuff record. Actually, two records Strength and Seven (1997) were seeded from that.”
Todd: Looking back at everything, what are your feelings regarding both your past with Enuff Z'Nuff and your previous solo efforts? Aside from the writing and demoing of new material, what are your plans for your future?
Donnie: “I had a lot of fun and did a lot of great things. If I could go back and do it now, I'd do it all right. My sights aren't set on the top of the mountain, so it's like everything is a bonus right now. I'm going to work hard and just do my thing. I take each day one at a time and do as best as I can. There are some great things happening. I've finally started writing again. I wondered if I was going to or if it would be any good without the drugs. It turns out I was very pleasantly surprised as I finally recorded the first one. I was like 'Oh my God, this is probably the best one I've ever written', so I'm rubbing my hands together. I can't wait. I've got a lot of opportunities and a lot of business proposals. My sister and I started a company called Grizzly Grayola with a lot of other great talent put into it. It's an artist's assistance, artist mentoring, assistance and matchmaking for other great artists that can't figure out what the fuck to do with what they've got. Not just songwriters and singers, but every aspect of the business. Managers, Producers, fucking video people and everything. I'm mentoring them with a lot of other great talented friends that are adding themselves to the business. They all have a lot of respect and knowledge and shit ...It's a beautiful thing. We've got a paranormal TV show coming out and a Guilt And Shame cartoon that we're making. Of course, with my crazy ass, my new stuff is what it is. ...Wrapped Around My Middle Finger (2012) was the last really well done studio record. I did it with some some really good cats and it was a lot of fun to make, in the Power Pop sense. Now, I'm doing a book and DVD, documentary called Too High On A New Thing And Other Big Ideas By Donnie Vie. There is a ton of great shit.”
Todd: You've made numerous references to your past drug abuse and self medication. Now that you're officially clean and sober, what do you feel was your primary motivation for such behavior? Was it anger and frustration?
Donnie: “The frustration and aggravation and despair over watching opportunities go by and seeing the results of the mistakes that you've made. ...It started out that way. It started out with me using it for strength to go from Palookaville to center stage over night, but then it took on a life of its own because everything seemed more fun that way. I've always delivered. I've always showed up, played the shows and kicked ass. I've always delivered on the records with my vocals and the Production despite myself. But the mistakes that were made were not necessarily made by me or the band in general, ya know? It was lack of direction and handling by all of the business people that were supposed to do right by us. We caught the tail end of something that was on the way out. When you're coming out with something new, you want to be the first guy doing the next thing, not the last guy doing the last thing, ya know? We took a big beating. Then Kurt Cobain came out and I was like 'That's me, totally. I am Kurt Cobain except I'm stuck with these jagoffs with fake hair and make up'. I had a tube of lipstick and a Sharpie. That was my make up. ...But in any case, that's why I medicated and and it took a long time to stop that. Everything happens for a reason. I've had some of the craziest things happen to me. When you ask some of these other rockers about their stories, that was a Tuesday afternoon for us. We were so outrageous and just lunatics. Jagoffs with a big sense of entitlement, alcohol and drugs. Everybody was very good at what they did, so it was a four ring circus, ya know? I thought I was the weak link. Well, they always told me I was the weak link, so that's what I thought was true. If you tell a duck that he's a dog enough times, he is going to bark.”
Todd: How do you view the group's time with Arista Records? On a personal level, I've always felt Animals With Human Intelligence was a career highlight. I was surprised once the group was unceremoniously 'dropped'.
Donnie: “(Arista Records founder) Clive Davis signed the band for my ballads, and what I later found out was that Clive didn't think the band made any sense. His plan all along was to ease me into a solo career. I wasn't ready to grasp that concept yet because of the companionship and my loyalties. And all the responsibility that would go along with that. There were a lot of other rumors went around saying 'This was the reason' or 'That was the reason' and they're not true. Some of those things happened, but they weren't the real reason for what happened. A lot of people like to say things that make them look like the good guy and me the bad guy all the time. I make myself such an easy target. I give everybody the bullets they use to kill me. ...It is a great record. There's a lot of great shit that didn't make it on that record. I just went to town, man. Plus, we were recording it right across the street from the Crazy Girls strip club, so you can imagine what was going on during that record. I was so far out, people didn't understand what I was saying. ...You can tell by my special thanks on the record.”
Todd: What were the exact circumstances regarding drummer Viki Foxx leaving the group? Am I correct in understanding he departed under 'mysterious' circumstances while recording Animals With Human Intelligence?
Donnie: “Viki Foxx got an offer to go join (ex-Mötley Crüe frontman) Vince Neil's solo band. He never even leveled up with us. He told us 'No, I'm not leaving the band. I'm staying with the band. Those are just rumors'. We were ,in the studio still finishing the record after he'd done all the drum tracks and we were watching the MTV Music awards and there he is. 'Nice of you to tell us the truth, snake man. I hope the cars runs over you, you fucker. And thanks for taking the flight cases with all my fucking microphones and other outboard gear along with anything else you could fucking pile into them'. Since then, I'm not the only gut that has made comments of that nature. But we got (drummer) Ricky (Parent) and we toured with the record. We did Europe, Japan and the States, we did everything and it was awesome. Then we came back and Clive had no Rock radio marketing power. All he had was CHR (Contemporary Hit Radio), which was Whitney Houston and shit like that. Our management was beating him up and I don't think Clive really likes to be beat up and told what to do. Then, we were booked to play on Letterman and Clive's like 'Do “Innocence”, but our management and the band were like 'Fuck “Innocence! We Rock. We're a Rock band and we're going to do the worst song on the record!' We did “Superstitious” and I think we hit it out of the park, but of all the songs on that record, that song? It almost ended up with the rejects on Clowns Lounge. I've never like that song. I thought it was just a hokey jam with lame lyrics. But God forbid we should do anything classic and great because once again, I was the only writer. ...It was like 'Let's keep smashing ourselves with the same hammer expecting a different result.'”
Todd: How would you describe the recorded contributions of (former vocalist/lead guitarist) Johnny Monaco? While he routinely performed with the group on a touring basis, what did he bring to the table when in a studio?
Donnie: “John Monaco has never played anything on any of the records except for a solo on “Ain't It Funny” (from Paraphernalia, 1998). We became a three piece in the studio and on all the rest of the records. I thought they just got better and better. I did all the guitars, except for a couple of guest appearances by guys just coming in to jam on my stuff, which I wasn't too crazy about. Other than that, you can tell all the solos make sense and are conducive of the song, ya know? ...That's how you can tell who did the guitars. I did the best I could with orchestration and shit like that because I really wanted to take it to the next level with some strings. ...When we went with Arista, we did some really great fucking versions of “Innocence” and “Right By Your Side”, but he held back on the demos that I recorded. There are some versions of those two songs that are mind blowing and I have no idea where they are. I can't even hear them I wish I could get a copy of them. You know who is probably going to hold them for ransom. If all else fails, I'll have have somebody kill him. 'There's somebody at the door. Who is it? Richard Nixon and Porky Pig. What do they want? They want you to kneel on your hands.'”
Todd: When looking at the chronology of the group, it seems odd that you were labeled as 'Glam' Metal or 'Hair' Metal. Although your earliest looks and attire fully supported it, did you feel the classifications were inaccurate?
Donnie: “Our records had a lot of harmonies. In the very early days, Chip and I would do that together and then I'd do a second and third harmony. ...Derick and Vik didn't sing. Vik could sing a little bit. ...We bought him a wireless headset mic and we'd practice it, but when we'd go do shows, the fucker wouldn't sing. It' was like 'Oh, I'll just harmonize with Chip's voice'. ...But there was keyboards and there was other guitars. There was other parts. That also limited our ability to play a lot of the better songs, at least as far as I was concerned. Plus, the band would not rehearse. We'd book rehearsals and everybody would sit there and do coke, smoke pot and then some chicks would show up and drink. The road crew would set up all the gear for nothing. We'd be like 'Let's play a song. They've got it all set up'. We'd go and play one song and then we'd be out. That's how good we were at doing what we did. For example, when we went into Westwood One in Europe to do the overdubs for the first live record (Live, 1998), the Engineer was like 'Where is all your gear?' and we were like 'What gear? The gear was on the stage, we did it live'. We're here to add a couple background harmonies and we're done'. But as far as the limited choices of songs, we were able to do them under those circumstances without having to do any work, which was good because nobody wanted to work. ...Just like I said, I was medicated. I went to the party and didn't came home for a long time. It is what it is. We've written songs on stage that kicked fucking ass. We could write a song about something right there on stage. That's how good everybody actually was. Frigo never played a note that had anything to do with the song unless I'd fire him first. Then he'd come back all humble and play what I told him to play. Other than that, he never played a bad note. He couldn't play a note out. He was just naturally gifted, thank God because that guy did the least amount of work. He worked less than a fucking greeter at Wal*Mart, ya know? 'Have a nice day'. 'Have a nice day'. That's how hard he'd be working.”
Todd: It would seem the partying never stopped. It's amazing you survived it all. You're lucky you are still alive.
Donnie: “It was always just one big ass party. But hey, it is what it is. I love all of those guys. Derick, may God rest his soul. I always thought it would be me instead of him, ya know? I even wrote a song about it called “All Alone”. It's a really good song. He never thought anything could kill him. But they used to say that about both of us. Everybody used to tell me 'Donnie, be careful', but I kept forgetting to die. It turns out the joke was always on me. I was supposed to die so I could become a legend. Now I'm just a legend in my own mind. I forgot to die, but Frigo did and Ricky did, too. Ricky had these garlic bulbs and all this other terrible, nasty health shit and look at him now. And here I am, kippered. Just petrified. I feel like a Mummy without the wrap.”
Clowns Lounge (2016)
Wrapped Around My Middle Finger (2012)
Extra Strength (2007)
Greatest Hits (2006)
This & That (2004)
Welcome To Blue Island (2003)
Peach Fuzz (1996)
Animals With Human Intelligence (1993)
Enuff Z'Nuff (1989)
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