Let’s face it; amid the hairspray and mascara-encrusted strains of the Hair/Glam Metal sub-genre, the stagnation that would lead to the proliferation of the Grunge phenomenon was already alive and well when Lyon, France-born masters XYZ unleashed their self-titled debut circa 1989. Unfortunately, it’s woefully-underrated successor Hungry (1991) would fail to further their ’cause’ as Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden soon overwhelmed the charts and airwaves. Somehow emerging virtually unscathed, lead vocalist Terry Ilous would soon embark upon a solo career (all while maintaining a near-constant presence with XYZ) before being tabbed to front a newly-revitalized Great White. Now, with the release of the equally self-titled debut from the Land Of Gypsies upon u-s, the oft-versatile Ilous has again returned to remind us all of his undeniable lyrical and compositional prowess.
Todd: How was Land Of Gypsies formed? Was it ‘initiated’ via (Frontiers Records founder) Serafino Perugino?
Terry: “Frontiers (Records) asked me to do a new album and I said ‘Yes, as long as we can do it in a certain way’, because I wanted to make it sound a bit like the 1970’s. I didn’t want to make it sound like a typical 1980’s Rock record and Frontiers said ‘Sure, give it a shot’. So they put me in touch with this great Producer named Fabrizio (Grossi) (Eric Gales, Glenn Hughes, Supersonic Blues Machine) and Fabrizio and I had all of this great chemistry. And now here we are today. …It all came together super fast. From the moment Fabrizio and I got together, he was like ‘Okay, I got the bass and I’ve got the guitar player. I’ve also got the keyboard player, Eric Ragno and I got this drummer’. Two days later, everything was ready to go. I brought some of the new songs to Fabrizio and (guitarist) Serge (Simic) brought some as well. (Guitarist) Jeff Northrup (Liberty ‘N Justice) wrote the lyrics. Really, I’ve got to be honest with you. It was a really easy process. There was absolutely no pressure.”
Todd: Overall, how did the recording of Land Of Gypsies compare to your previous efforts? Was it much easier?
Terry “Oh, my God. You have no idea. I was in heaven. …I have to be honest with you. Doing this record really wasn’t even work. I would go to the studio around eleven and drink another cappuccino or espresso. Fabrizio is Italian and I’m originally from France, so we’d sit and talk about food and soccer for twenty or thirty minutes. And then we would say ‘All right, maybe we could do a song.’ and Fabrizio would say ‘What do you got?’. And I’d be like ‘Oh, I’ve got this one’ and he’d say ‘Okay, no. This one is no good’ and I’d be like ‘Okay, how about this one? And he’d be like ‘Oh, this one’s great’. That was it. We’d say ‘Let’s work on it’ and a couple of hours later, I say ‘Okay. I’ve got to go get my kids from school’, and that was it. There was really no pressure at all …I’m looking forward to showing people this record. It’s all a matter of how well people react to the album. I got to be honest with you. So far, I’ve been happily surprised that people love the album. They really seem to love the album, so I’m grateful for that. …If that’s still the case, then we’ll most likely be doing some tour dates.”
Todd: For the songwriting on Land Of Gypsies, were you able to use any materials that you had already written?
Terry “That’s a good question, Todd. For example, the song “Rescue Me” and the song “Somewhere Down The Line” (from Land Of Gypsies) were both originally written for Great White. I was thinking when I was still their lead singer that I’d want to present those two songs to the band for a new album, but that didn’t happen, of course. But I didn’t dissociate myself from it. I was still thinking ‘Maybe I can send this song to XYZ’. In fact, the song “Believe” (from Land Of Gypsies) was supposed to be for XYZ. And (XYZ bassist/founder) Pat (Fontaine) loved it. He was like ‘This is a really good song. Let’s do that’ I said ‘Okay’. And then I presented the song “Rescue Me” and Pat loved it as well. That would have been great for XYZ as well. It’s all a matter of how you Produce the song. I would say one band has a different way of Producing a song, which means a different musician is going to have a different interpretation, so you can take the same song and present it to two or three different bands and it’s going to sound different. In the end, it’s all just a matter of the musician’s interpretation.”
Todd: When you’d initially re-located to the US, did you find it hard to adjust to a drastically ‘different lifestyle’?
Terry: “Oh God! Are you kidding? …First of all, America is a total culture shock compared to France, Italy and Spain. But Los Angeles itself at the time was so wild. When I first came to Los Angeles, I remember I arrived in October during Halloween. I was living in Santa Monica in West Hollywood at the time, which at the time was a really well-known gay neighborhood. I was twenty-one or twenty-two when I arrived in Los Angeles, and I went to Santa Monica Boulevard to see the parade. It was a big parade, and I’m looking at all these people like ‘Wow. It’s pretty wild here’. I keep seeing all these beautiful women and I’m like ‘Oh, my God, these girls are gorgeous. They’re all so tall and so beautiful in America. So I went to a bar called The Rage and I’m talking to this girl, and she had a really deep voice. I’m like ‘Wow, that’s a really deep voice’ and she was like six foot-one or six feet-two. I’m like ‘My God. I’m so short, It’s never going to happen’. And someone came to me and said, ‘Do you know these are boys dressed as women?’ and I’m like ‘No. I did not’, so that was a shock because, in Europe, we don’t have that. I mean, we have gays, of course, and I have gay friends and I have no problem with any of it, but we never had an actual parade. We never had any of that stuff, so it was a serious culture shock. And then going to the Sunset Strip in the ’80’… Oh my God, all those Rock And Roll girls, the clubs like The Rainbow and The Roxy. I couldn’t even believe it. I said ‘Wow, welcome to America. I really love this country’.”
Todd: Once you officially arrived in the US, how long did it take for you to re-connect with Pat and form XYZ?
Terry: “It took a little while because Pat went to Los Angeles first and I went to New York for a year. For a year, we didn’t really do anything. We were both looking for a job, trying to make a living. I tried to join different bands, but nobody wanted to hire me. Basically, people would say ‘Oh. At least if you can’t sing, maybe you can cook. You’re French, right?’ and I’m like ‘Yeah’. …But anyway, nobody wanted to hire me, to be honest with you, so I said ‘Alright. Nobody wants to hire me, so I’m going to put my own band together’ and Pat said ‘Why don’t we put XYZ back together?’ Pat had started XYZ without me in France. …And I said ‘All right’. So we looked for guitar player. We had Bobby Pieper on guitars, Joe Pafumi on drums and Jamie Lewis on keys. And then Joey and Bobby left for different reasons, so we hired (guitarist) Marc (Diglio) and (drummer) Paul Monroe (ex-Dirty Looks). And three months later, we had signed with Enigma Records, so we were very, very grateful.”
Todd: How did you become involved with Enigma? Considering their roster, it seems very obvious as this point.
Terry: “We played for every label at least two or three times and everybody passed. Everybody said ‘No. No. No. No. No. No. No’. That’s not going to work. The only label we didn’t approach was Enigma Records because Enigma was independent, and at the time, being with an independent record company was not too cool. So we’re like ‘We don’t want to do something with a small indie label’, but believe it or not, they approached us, and when we went to meet with them, we didn’t believe it would be positive. We were like ‘They’re probably going to give us a $5000 deal or some bullshit’, but it wasn’t like that at all. They gave us the whole shebang. They were like ‘Okay. What do you need, half a million dollars? Whatever. You got it’. I was blown away. I was like ‘Oh my God’. It’s funny how life works. …The only people we did not approach gave us what we really needed.”
Todd: At what point did you realize things were coming to an end? Was there a specific incident or situation that made you think ‘Hmm, something isn’t quite right’ or was it all part of the overall change in the musical climate?
Terry: “Enigma Records sold us to Capitol Records and that was a problem for us. …Yes, we moved onto a big label, but we were so comfortable with Enigma. Everyone at Enigma Records was so wonderful. We loved our PR there. We were so comfortable over there. And we were a big fish in a small pond, so we were big time over there. When we joined Capitol Records, we were almost immediately lost. We were lost because they had so many other great bands. All these bigger bands that sold millions of albums, which was way more than us. At the same time, Capitol Records had a undergone a change of regime and said ‘No, we don’t want to do that kind of music anymore. No ’80’s Rock. We want to do Nirvana type of music’. …Even when we were still working on the second album (Hungry, 1991), we already knew that things wouldn’t be too good for us. We had that vibe. Our manager said ‘It’s going to be a tough one’, so we released the album and it sold about two hundred and fifty thousand copies within a few weeks. It had actually done very well. We were like ‘Oh, my God! A quarter of a million’, but the label said ‘Yeah, it’s pretty good, but we’re still going to drop you guys’ and we got dropped just like that. When we asked why, they said ‘Because we don’t believe in that kind of music anymore’, so that was it. We were on tour when we got word. …We received a phone call and they said ‘You’re fired’, and that was all.”
Todd: That must have been absolutely devastating. When the situation ultimately arose, how did the group ‘handle’ everything? Were you forced to immediately stop touring? How were you able to maintain the tour support?
Terry: “At first, we were not devastated because we had money. We also still had a big fan base and we were still touring. We continued touring on our own without the tour support because we had enough money from selling albums and T-Shirts along with having the promoters pay us, so we were comfortable with that for a year and a half. We were making our own T-Shirts and everything, so we were making really good money with the merch. After a year and a half, things started to change a little bit. Promoters were not interested in our kind of music. All of a sudden, nobody wanted to see XYZ or Skid Row or Warrant or any of those bands. People were like ‘No, we want to see Nirvana and that type of music’, so we were told to go home. You know what I mean? We were told to go home. That was it. …It happens, you know what I mean? It’s life. It’s just the way it is. Life is like that and you have to adjust to what it is. One day, you were at an MTV party mingling with the biggest rock stars in the world and the next day, we couldn’t even get arrested. I remember going to this club. I’m not going to name the club, but I would go to the club and say ‘Hey, what’s up?’ and they’d be like ‘It’s ten dollars to get in’. …I was like ‘Dude, I’ve been around the strip for years and I’ve never had to pay’ and he’s like ‘It’s ten dollars’. I was like ‘Come on, man. I’m in the band XYZ. We’ve sold a lot of albums’ and he says ‘It’s ten dollars’. That’s when I started to realize that things had changed for us. I was like ‘Okay, here’s ten bucks. There you go.’”
Todd: Am I correct in understanding a new XYZ recording is now in the works? At this point, is it all complete?
Terry: “Pat and I have written many new songs together and I’m not going to lie to you, we disagreed on the approach to Mix the songs and Produce the songs, but it seems like now we have agreed on the direction and we are going to release something in the next few months. It’s not a lot different, but it is different and not in a bad way. You’re not going to hear the same thing we did in the past as far as talking about chicks and everything. We’re older now and it’s not going to happen that way. However, we’re still going to get the same sounds, you’re still going to get the same singer and the same guitars. That approach will be there, except now there will be a little bit more courage. We’re not spinning on the past whatsoever. We’re just saying that as you get older, you want different things. It’s like the first (Led) Zeppelin album. If you listen to “Communication Breakdown”, one of my favorite song by Zeppelin, and then you listen to “Kashmir”, it’s the same band. But you would have told me in 1970 that they would release “Kashmir”, I would’ve said ‘Are you kidding me?’ It’s a more mature group.”
Todd: In hindsight, how do you look back on your time with Great White? Regardless of how things came to ‘an end’ on a professional level, both Elation (2012) and Full Circle (2017) are worthy of the Great White moniker.
Terry: “Great White was such a great opportunity for me. I’m very grateful for the fact that they called me and asked me to join the band. It was all very positive and I don’t have any regrets at all. It was a great thing and I thank the band for the opportunity. I was with them for nine years and five hundred and sixty shows, most of which were sold out. I did very well with those three albums, but they wanted something else and I also wanted to do something else. They were looking for a different sound or different look, as they say. Whatever. They are happy and I’m happy and that’s all that matters. I have no hard feelings whatsoever. Things happen. It happens to a lot of great singers. Lots of great musicians lose their gig, but you just cannot dwell on the past. You have to move forward and just say ‘All right, what’s it for me now? What do I have to do to continue working?’. I’d realized that I had a good name, so I decided to go back to what I’ve been doing before, which was voice-over work. I went back to voice-over, doing jingles and then releasing songs. And I’m a happy guy. I have no regrets. I wish the band the very best. No hard feelings. I moved on. I mean, honestly, I moved on. I don’t know what they’re up to. I have no idea. I don’t wish anything bad to the band or any members of the band. For me, it was a really great experience. Thank you so much for the opportunity. I am flattered and honored. That’s all I can say.”
Todd: Musically, what are your influences? When I listen to the music, I can hear so many different under tones.
Terry: “I was fortunate that my dad was a Jazz guitarist and he imbued me with the love of music in a way. He told me ‘Listen with your heart. How do you feel when you listen to that song?’ I’d say ‘I feel something, dad. It’s beautiful, beautiful music and everything is good’. He said ‘Remember, you have Rock, you have Pop and you have Bossa Nova, if you want. You have all kinds of music, but the most important thing is the groove, the message and the feeling. You have to feel something and you have to make sure that people who listen to your songs feel something. It’s in the melody’. And I was like ‘Oh, okay’. So I listen to Rock, I listen to all those great singers from the ’60’s and ’70s like James Brown. I listen to lots of R&B. I’m a big, big R&B fan, singers like James Brown, Teddy Pendergrass and Sam Cook, but I will also listen to (Deep Purple vocalist) Ian Gillan, (Led Zeppelin frontman) Robert Plant and (Humble Pie vocalist) Steve Marriott and then I’ll listen to Tom Jones. I’ll listen to anything that has a groove and melody. For me, if you have a good melody and a groove, that is just it.”
Todd: Specifically, how have you kept your vocals ‘in-shape’ over the years? Do you warm-up and warm-down?
Terry: “Honestly, I don’t smoke and I don’t drink. I’ll have a glass of wine once in a while, but that’s about it. I don’t do drugs and I get exercise. I don’t know, dude. I got to be honest with you. And not to be pretentious or to be taking anything out of context, but it’s a gift from God. Again, I don’t mean that in a pretentious way at all. …Every day I thank God for the voice. I wouldn’t say it’s a gift from God, because it would be wrong to say that, but I would say I’m just grateful for having that. I don’t even know how it’s still there, to be honest with you. There’s a lot of great singers out there, man. People in their 60’s and 70’s that are still singing great. I’m just grateful, so. …And I’m actually the worst about it. I don’t warm up. I don’t warm up at all. I watch videos online and there’s so many great teachers online. I watch what they do, and I’m like ‘Well, that’s great. That’s fantastic’. I even took two or three lessons just to see what all the other people were doing. I wanted to see how to warm up correctly, because I really didn’t know how to do it because I never really trained. I’m grateful and that is all.”