Interviews

Exclusive Interview with Keith St John (Vocals) (Burning Rain, Montrose)

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 Interviewed by Mark Dean (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine

Hi Keith

Keith “That was good timing,”

Just wanted to begin by discussing Burning Rains return. Why did it take so long to release your third album?

Keith”To be honest with you, right around the time that we did the first two records in 99 and 2000 both Doug and I started meeting up with folks that we wound up spending a lot of time with.I ended up meeting Ronnie Montrose and I spent a lot of time with him. Are you familiar with the West coast band Montrose?”

Yes very much so , just in its original format.

Keith”Of course, of course which by the way wasn’t together for all that long. What they left behind with that first Montrose record became a real icon for all the bands that followed in the eighties.I didn’t really know who I had stumbled on when I met him.Then i realised later what an influence that the guy was on everybody..Jamming on the old hits it just felt so right for my voice. I stayed with him for a good 12-13 years. Around that time Doug was getting calls from Ronnie James Dio as Craig Goldy was on and off with the band.They wanted Doug to come aboard as a permanent touring guy at that point. Basically we got busy but thought that we would get back to the Burning Rain thing in about 2003 and we signed up with Frontiers for a third record. Then the Whitesnake thing happened for him. I stayed pretty busy myself too. There really wasn’t the time to get back to it. After that we tried for many years to put another record together. We would write tunes for several months in part of the year when we were both home in LA The good thing is that the result of that is when we came to put the record together-we had so much material to draw on. We then felt like a real band that had grown a while together and made us feel that this new record really had a chance for a lot of variety. It would have a well thought out selection of songs that we wouldn’t have had if we released the album in 2003-2004. It would have turned out a lot like the first 2 records when we had just got together in over a month and banged out the songs quickly.This time we got to sit around,scratch our chins and take a look at what we had from years past,and write some brand new stuff. It was really refreshing doing that and you know that’s why it took so long. For us as artists we have to take life as it comes day by day. To be honest it doesn’t feel like it has been that long. Once we got back together it was like”oh yes a couple of years have passed”(laughs).

I actually chatted with Doug last week about Burning Rain when he was in Belfast. He actually stated that some of the darker tunes on the latest album came from yourself?

Keith”Yes maybe so probably just writing about certain things going on in my life. There is a bit of a theme going there as you know Ronnie Montrose passed a little over a year ago.,and Ronnie James Dio not that long ago, and there has been other people. I suppose there is a few things that are dealing with issues from the subconscious mind .”Heaven gets me by”is pretty blatant. That is just a tribute song to my aunt. She passed away at the time of writing that song, and we were putting lyrics to it. Stuff like “Till you die”and “Ride the monkey” definitely present the fact that life is fleeting and passes you by. I suppose that is what Doug is referring to when he says that the darker edge is there. Its not necessarily dark its just part of life.”

The album also features a different lineup with just you and Doug continuing from the previous releases?

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Keith”Yes exactly, Alex left LA and quote-unquote left the music business around the time that we were finishing the second Burning Rain record. He may have actually come back to town to cut the tracks. He may have already left and gone to his home neighborhood of Baltimore where he is now still settled. I’m not sure what he does,but its not music business related. Ian Mayo has also moved on to a different kind of lifestyle and understandably so as it has been so many years. Doug and I have been more connected to what we do. I don’t think that either one of us can stop what we are doing, we just don’t have that kind of personality.We are really happy with the guys that are in the band now. Over the years Sean Mc Nabb has been in Montrose for a good 3-4 years. He has done several other things with me, and also with Doug in the distant past with Bad Moon Rising and Lion. We are really happy with the new rhythm section, nothing bad about the old one but its just a naturally evolving business between us and those guys with their past. Sean and Matt’s past just seemed to be right on with us, right now. Its an easy fit.”

What about the decision to remix and release Burning Rain’s other two albums? Who was responsible for that idea?

Keith”Yes that was the record company’s idea, but of course after thinking about it we were in agreement. There is a lot of territory that those albums didn’t get proper exposure back in the day”

I am just discovering them myself as I did miss them first time around.

Keith”Yes I am not surprised because like I say they maybe didn’t quite get their due promotion. What do you think of those old records?

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They are great its nice to have all three and chart the bands development I derive pleasure from all three releases.

Keith”Basically in a nutshell, to me personally overall I feel that those first two records I would have to say are a bit more metal in my opinion than this latest one.”Epic obsession”I would have to throw more in the hard rock category. It is a bit more organic, and has more of a seventies rock feel than the first two.”

Doug is obviously busy now with Whitesnake, but when can fans expect to see Burning Rain out playing live?

Keith”Right now the tentative plan is when Whitesnake finishes in the early fall to try to go over to Japan, size of tour and for how long we haven’t yet decided. Largely its a matter of what the record company want, and how well the record is doing. I believe we got an “87”score in Burn magazine which is actually a really good score for a record. That’s a good sign. I know that there are a lot of European venues that we could play, its a matter of logistics and promoter interest. Early signs look pretty good but its hard to say right now. We will probably start making those plans in the summer. Hopefully we can spend some time touring, which as you know bands make more through that than selling their records.”

What musical projects are you working on currently?

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Keith “In addition to the Burning Rain record, there is another record coming out with me on it as a guest singer. I sang all the tracks, but I’m pretty much a guest appearance in this band. Its called X-tribe. I am then also interested in a solo record if I can get that done with a lot of the friends and folks that I have worked with around the LA area. I have worked with a lot of different bands from Lynch Mob to Quiet Riot, Howard Leese from Heart, Neil Schon from Journey”

You have quite some pick of musicians then?

Keith”Yes exactly, and a lot of others, I spoke with Frontiers Records and they are interested in doing something like that. For me I really want to go out with Burning Rain. I don’t think that a solo record would be a conflict in any way. That’s what I am looking to do right now for the immediate future musically.”

Moving back now to when you first started out in the music business. What was it like for a young guy when you got your first recording contract and you worked with the likes of Bobby Rondinelli of Rainbow and renowned artists in Big Trouble?

Keith”Yes I was pretty young. The funny thing was as a young guy I went to engineering college at the same time I was in bands. I was also working and had my life full. I was kind of floating with the wind. When that happened I didn’t make a big deal about it in my mind. It was an interesting moment because that band at the time was like the hit machines of the eighties. The band had a reputation for being more like a project. We had several song writers working with the band and a couple of different producers working with us. When I got an offer to join the team had already established focused ideas on how the songs would be mapped out. I liked being there and working hard, but at the same time it wasn’t what I was used to doing. I had been calling my own shots with the music writing my own songs and recording my own music. I enjoyed the experience but figured if anyone would catch my own stuff then something would happen for me. There wasn’t a lot going on at the time with local bands in the New York area. When I received an offer to leave that band, come to LA,and get independently financed to do my own thing I didn’t have to think too hard. I shipped out overnight almost from the East Coast.”

We mentioned Big Trouble, but was it not difficult with subsequent bands Sun king and Medicine Wheel to not actually record any songs?

Keith “I came out and started a band called St John with one guy that I brought from New York. We looked for a couple of guys in LA. There was a band called Sweet Fa that had a little notoriety in the business.”

That was with Brent?

Keith”Yes with Brent Barker,,and a bass player from Boston Eric and we started St John. We did have some personal arguments in the band, and turned down several recording offers from a few smaller labels. We thought that we had the potential to go higher up in the chain. Due to internal struggles and personality conflicts we ended up splitting up. At that time I got a call from Rudy Sarzo who was one of my heroes from his time with Ozzy and Quiet Riot. He was playing in Whitesnake then, and he suggested joining with him in a band when he had finished touring. I immediately said “yes”but was again stepping into something that had a lot of preconceived expectations from the record label. Although Rudy was a great guy who I got to know, in the long run that band didn’t have a really focused writing core. There were a lot of songs already written before I joined the band. During our time together the head of Giant records merchandising passed away. He had been instrumental in getting the band signed. While working on the record the head of A+R also changed. The replacement really wasn’t into our style of band anymore. He like a lot of people had his eye on newer music. Unfortunately what we were doing was a little more dated at that time. Both Big Trouble and Sun King came around right at the time when the rock scene was about to change. Grunge was kicking in hard. Nirvana hit in around 1990,and within a year and a half that pop-metal scene became a ghost town and a thing of the past. I remember Motley Crue former stadium headliners playing at the Avalon a small club in their hometown of LA with less than 400 people showing up. For me it was fun to play with guys that were rock icons. I was kind of a hippy not looking at the business of where these bands might be going. I had a great time and basically enjoyed myself. At the same time I also learnt a lot about the business regarding producing which I still use. Both of those things were really great learning experiences and enriched my life like crazy. Now that that music has come back around and Burning Rain is a band kind of representative of a bygone genre with a link to what is current also. I am enjoying using those same skills and hopefully being part of a movement to bring back that kind of music that we still love.”

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Earlier you mentioned the chance to go and play some dates in Japan, will that be with Sean and Matt who played on the album?

Will they be permanent Burning Rain band members?

Keith”Well Sean played on the whole record as you know there were a few different drummers on it. Initially we felt that Jimmy D”Anda was a good choice for us to be in the band. We hadn’t really had any experience with him, but sometimes things don’t actually work out for the best. I think the musical chemistry was great and I really enjoyed working with Jimmy a lot. He is a great drummer with great ideas. Some parts of the chemistry in the studio were not working out. We had done a show with Matt out in Baltimore, and played a Burning Rain song and a mix of covers. The mutual feeling and chemistry was so good. At some point we then decided that we needed to have Matt Starr in the band.”

Just a couple of general questions to finish on..Looking back you have played with many legends and icons, but what have been the highest and lowest points of your career?

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Keith”Wow that’s a tough question. The highest points have definitely been letters and emails from fans that have been really touched by certain songs. Or people telling me in person of course. Those have been the highest points, reaching people that live in a different country that say something heartfelt about a song.It may even be different from the way that I intended the song but have touched them in a way to change their lives. Second to that is hearing your songs on the radio when it first comes out. That is always fun and a rush for me. Low points?  Like I have said I am kind of a happy hippy guy. Whenever i wasn’t putting out records or being on tour whatever I was doing was probably making me happy. Low points for me have really been in the last 2-3 years dealing with this kind of wall of death as part of life. Like most artists and people we get that stuff out through our channel. Mine is luckily through my song writing and other artistic things that I do. Also I have to say with Led Zeppelin being one of my big heroes, playing with Ronnie Montrose in the early days is as close as its going to come to playing with somebody like a Jimmy Page. In a band that would take things to a different level with their songs every night with live improvisation. Ronnie was cut from that same cloth, he was one of their contemporaries.”

Finally is there anybody perhaps from a different musical genre that would be a personal goal to work with musically?

Keith”There’s definitely some people for sure, it may sound a little cliched and it would never happen I would say Elton John or Paul McCartney. A chance to do anything musical with either of those guys who aren’t even anywhere near my genre would be the most unexpected blessing that could ever happen. As far as the hard rock scene I suppose if the phone rang and it was Eddie Van Halen with a serious offer on the table. Having not worked with him before, and him being part of the elite. That would be a call I would take for sure”

You started out originally as a drummer, is that something that you still would enjoy doing?

Keith”I do have a kit(laughs) that I really enjoy playing ,maybe sometimes in a rehearsal room I would get behind a kit. When you learn something and really study it professionally as a kid it really sticks with you”

Thanks very much for taking time to chat to myglobalmind today and I look forward to catching some Burning Rain live shows in the UK..

 

http://www.keithstjohn.com/

http://www.burningrain.net/

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https://twitter.com/Burning_Rain

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