Photo Credit: Brian Malloy
Interview By Robert Cavuoto
Last year marked the 25th anniversary of Extreme’s classic multi-Platinum and Grammy® nominated CD – Pornograffitti. To celebrate the milestone, the band embarked on a tour playing the entire CD live. On October 28, 2016, Loud and Proud Records released Pornograffitti Live 25 / Metal Meltdown; a package that includes a Blu-ray, DVD, and audio CD of the complete concert from The Joint at Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas on May 30, 2015.
Gary Cherone (vocals), Nuno Bettencourt (guitar), Pat Badger (bass) and Kevin Figueiredo (drums) lit up The Joint as they ripped through Pornograffitti in its entirety from front to back along with a few classics off their debut CD. Extreme’s unique sound combines commercial rock with big riffs, a tremendous sense of melody, savage leads, and harmonies to die for. The DVD/ Blu-ray footage is of the highest quality, achieving a great balance between close-ups and long-shots that allow the viewer to sit back and enjoy this performance as if they were there. A must have for any fan of the band.
I had the pleasure of speaking with Gary Cherone to talk about their new release, how Pornograffitti changed the band’s career, and how performing it night-after-night has influenced the writing for their 2017 CD release.
Robert: I thought Pornograffitti Live 25 was a stellar DVD from the audio quality to the visual acuity to the performance.
Gary Cherone: Thank you, we put out a live DVD in 2010 and I think this one blows it away as far as production and sound; plus the band had a good night! [laughing]. So we were happy.
Robert: It also reached #2 on the Billboard Music Video Sales Chart, how does that feel?
Gary Cherone: It feels great; I didn’t really have any expectations that we were going to break a Top 5 chart, so it was a nice surprise.
Robert: The band has incredible energy on the DVD, and in a way, it seems like a rebirth for the band playing the entire Pornograffitti CD. Does it feel that way for you and the band?
Gary Cherone: It really did. A little history behind how it came about; in 2012 we did four select shows in Japan performing Pornograffitti. When we finished, promoters wanted us to do it in the US and Europe. The shows went over well, but when we did the US, the songs gave us a kick in the ass and reminded us of our history, so then we really started to enjoy it.
Robert: I thought the songs were spot on to the originals recordings. Where their things that the band had to change the way the songs have evolved live over the last 25 years compared to how they were recorded on the original CD?
Gary Cherone: Oh yeah, when you play a song a billion times throughout your history the tempo and phrasing change. The thing with Pornograffitti is that we only performed about four or five songs live from that record. There are some we haven’t done in 25 years and some songs we have never done live at all. We all went back to the CD in rehearsal to try and remember all the nuisances. Once we locked in and kicked our brain to remember, we felt like we were back in clubs in ‘89 or ‘90 playing these songs live.
Robert: Speaking of the clubs days, I remember seeing you playing the Cat Club in 1989 in New York; do you happen to recall that show?
Gary Cherone: Yeah I do actually. It was one of the first times we were in New York at the Cat Club. I think Ace Frehley was there that night and the place was packed. I remember that venue well.
Robert: A vivid memory of the show for me was watching Nuno take center stage to play a complicated guitar solo with hammer-ons and then start to make a yawning gesture. Seeing something like that up close was an indelible guitar hero moment for me.
Gary Cherone: He still does that from time-to-time during “Play with Me.” He will play an insane solo and yawn. People get a kick out of it, he still pulling that shit off – it’s cocky! [Laughing]
Robert: Reflecting back, how did the impact of Pornograffitti change the band’s career?
Gary Cherone: For starters, we wouldn’t be having this conversation 25 years later if it wasn’t for the success of Pornograffitti. We were nine months into Pornograffitti and put out a couple of videos on MTV and playing clubs with no real traction. Suddenly a radio station in Philadelphia started playing “More than Words.” It then started to get played across the country. The song became bigger than the band. The next thing we are on tour for the next year and half opening for Bon Jovi and ZZ Top. In a way, we were just trying to ride the wave. Of course, that’s the good; the bad was that we followed it up with “Hole Hearted.” There was a misconception with people regarding what this band Extreme was all about. Was it an acoustic band? Two acoustic tracks and here we are with a record called Pornograffitti so there was a little confusion. At the end of the day, that success gave us the liberty to do what we wanted to do on the third CD. No holds barred.
Robert: I’ve read there is a new Extreme CD in the works, since revisiting Pornograffitti and touring with it, how have those classic songs influencing the writing for the new CD?
Gary Cherone: I think it had an effect with Nuno on some of the new material. We aren’t rediscovering our roots or anything like that. It’s just that with the past couple of years touring that record, all of those elements are there in the new material. It’s driven by guitar riffs with the harmonies and the big choruses. So it has influenced the new material.
Robert: Do you have a title or release date that you can share.
Gary Cherone: No we haven’t had those fights yet. [laughing]. Usually, the title will come during the process of writing the songs. So nothing is there yet. I would like to give you dates, I just don’t know dates. There will be new music by the time we go out again as we just concentrating on new materials before we do go out on the road next year.
Robert: Tell me about the writing process between the band. How do you work together now compared to when you were first starting out?
Gary Cherone: At this point in our career, it’s just about getting reacquainted as we know each other very well. The other guys in the band contribute more which makes it easier as well. Nuno will start with a riff or a piano part; sometimes I’ll send him words or a melody. Usually, Nuno and I are familiar with each other and things tend to fall into place. Nowadays it’s better, back in the day Nuno was living at my house making demos in my cellar. Now we are all in a room together and things come together more organically. There really is no substitute for the four guys in a room hashing out a song or arrangement. When we came back together in 2008 with me and Nuno writing in LA, I can recall we wrote a few songs and Nuno was laughing “At least we can still write!” I asked him, “Were you worried about it?” He laughed “No.” We have always been in contact when we are focusing on new material.
Robert: Extreme has always been a dynamic writing band from rockers to acoustics to piano lounge tunes to shredders. In your opinion is it harder to write a happy, sad, or aggressive song?
Gary Cherone: The secret is, to be honest, were you are at. I think it is easier to write a sad song because you break up with your girlfriend or maybe have some difficult shit going down in your life that you can tap into. With something more positive you have to get outside of yourself and it’s more of a challenge to write about something like that. With Extreme we grew up with Queen and The Beatles. Not equating ourselves to that but that’s where we aspired to, especially Queen. I think with Extreme and referring to Pornograffitti there would be a song like “Get the Funk Out” but then “When I First Kissed You” it was all included. There was never “You can’t put that on the record because it’s not a rocker or a shredder.” Extreme is built different, we have a history when we go into make music it doesn’t matter what it is. Fans know what they are going to get, guitar as that’s obvious Nuno is a special guitar player. Hopefully, you also get two or three surprises that make you go “Extreme went down a different road.”
Robert: What is the status of Hurtsmile while you are working on the Extreme CD and planning a tour in 2017?
Gary Cherone: That’s my mistress band that I cheat on Extreme with [laughing]. We actually have three maybe four song songs for an EP which will come out at the top of the year. We are getting the band greased up again rehearsing to do some shows or a festival before Extreme gets going again. That keeps me busy and I love the band, we’ve put out two great records.
Robert: Regarding touring; are you more at home on the road or at home?
Gary Cherone: I love touring. We all do things outside and it’s good to be home to see your friends and family. But for me, it’s been about performing. Depending on the length of the tour it can be harder on your body. The band is very physical on stage. You have to gear up for these tours and the older you get the tougher it gets. You have the band like Aerosmith doing it and they are on a level that you can only hope to aspire to. For me, I would rather be on the road. We played China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia for the first time in 2012 and we hope to get back in 2017 and of course the States.
Robert: I often wondered after Van Halen, were you sought out by any other big name bands looking to replace their singer?
Gary Cherone: No, I was hoping I would get a call from Queen [laughing]. That was the gig I wanted. After the Van Halen run, I came back home and put together Tribe of Judah; something more experimental and different a three-piece rock band. Do I secretly wish Queen called, of course!
Robert: What is your fondest memory with Van Halen?
Gary Cherone: Without a doubt, the touring part of it. When I joined the band I went right into the studio. If I was looking back and had to do it all over again I wish I would have gone on tour with them first. That is where the band unified and we became close friends. We would have come back a little more familiar with ourselves to record music. It’s surreal now to even talk about it, to say that I was in Van Halen for the moment in time. It blows my mind to think I was on stage with those guys.
Robert: Looking back at your career and the decisions you made, what advice would you give yourself back then?
Gary Cherone: Good question, in the early days when the band was having these moderate successes, like the first record or first tour or first video; I would tell myself to enjoy it more. Nuno and I were always looking for the next song and record so we didn’t smell the roses. Pat and Paul had more fun [laughing]. Now it comes with age and you enjoy the moment more because you know it’s not going to always be there. It’s forever changing with the ups and downs of your career.