Interview By: : Robert Cavuoto
The Defiants have just released their sophomore CD, Zokusho, via Frontiers Music, and it rips with raw emotion, powerful guitar riffs, and incredible melodies. The band consists of Danger Danger members; Paul Laine [vocals], Bruno Ravel [bass], and Rob Marcello [guitar]. Together they celebrate the kind of melodic hard rock that has gone missing since the ‘80s; songs like “It Goes Fast,” “Stay,” and “Fallin’ for You” showcase their abilities not only as musicians but composers. As a bonus, Steve West of Danger Danger is the guest drummer on the CD providing his infectious groove to each song.
With The Defiants’ debut CD on heavy rotation on my iPhone since 2015 and Danger Danger being one of my favorite bands, I was excited to interview Bruno. In my interview we go into detail about the writing process for Zokusho, the chemistry between the members, and take an insightful look back on Danger Danger’s career.
Robert Cavuoto: I’m intrigued by the title of the CD, Zokusho, what does it mean, and how did you come up with it?
Bruno Ravel: Zokusho, loosely translated in Japanese, means sequel or the next chapter. Paul and I had some difficulty coming up with a title that we both liked. I didn’t want to name the album after a song title; as that’s kinda cheesing out. I started thinking about how a lot of band’s second album is “2” or “II” and felt that had been done before. For some reason, the word “sequel” popped into my head. I liked the idea behind it but was struggling with how to envision it on an album cover. I love Japan and Japanese culture as I have been there many times. I thought there might be a cool way to say it in Japanese, so I reached out to a couple of friends from Japan to help translate it. What I didn’t realize, there are 20 ways to say it in Japanese [laughing]. I looked at all English pronunciations, and liked the way, “zokusho” sounded. My friends in Japan said it wasn’t the most common way to say “sequel” as it’s more of a slang or street term, which made me like it even more. I had him send me the kanji [Japanese writing], and I liked that as well. I presented it to Paul, and he was cool with it, so we moved forward.
Robert Cavuoto: Your song’s lyrics truly capture the spirit of great times; like snapshots from our generation. Tell me how you manage to capture those magical moments in a song.
Bruno Ravel: Thank you! Growing up as a musician and composer, I’m always listening to and critiquing the competition as well as other genera’s of music. That’s why I don’t write with that many people because it’s very hard to find people who are liked minded and have the same critical views towards their own work. A lot of people let things slide. It may work for them, but it doesn’t work for me. I found Steve West of Danger Danger to be the same way as he was not only critical of music but of himself as well. In the beginning, when Steve and I were writing for Danger Danger, we had a lot of arguments, but at the same time, we have mutual respect for each other. I found that same connection with Paul. When we are writing, we don’t necessarily critique the music to the point that we used to because back in the day, we wanted to be successful and get on the radio. It was a different mindset then. If we wrote a song and didn’t think it would get on the radio, we would toss it! Now we both know when something is there in terms of quality. While the lyrics or music might not be perfect if it is still up to our standards than we know. I think that gets us to where it needs to be.
Robert Cavuoto: Are the stories in the songs drawing from personal history?
Bruno Ravel: Some of them are while others are created out of the ether. I’m not a lyricist; I typically come up with a theme, a title, or a few lines of the chorus to get the hook. For instance, on the song “All Nighter,” I was walking around my house singing, “Pull an all-nighter and sleep like vampires.” I tried to develop that idea like a story. I presented it to Paul, and he took it to the next level, lyrically and melodically. Other times I don’t have anything in mind lyrically or melodically and send him a finished production track to see what he comes up with. If I like it, then we have something. If you examine our music closely, you can tell which idea or theme came from Paul or me. Paul likes to write about relationships and the girl that got away. Whereas I try to play off words; sometimes it’s based on life experiences. For instance, “It Goes Fast,” started as a chorus that I was singing to myself at home. I noticed that life goes by in the blink of an eye. I’m not a profound guy, I’m typically on the surface, keeping it light as I don’t like to get too deep, but sometimes things will just come out of me. I would say 80% of our songs are based on life experiences or something that happened to create an environment for a song. When we write these songs, we don’t want them to be too personal so that everyone can relate to them. If our audience is not going to relate to it, what’s the point?
Robert Cavuoto: Was anything leftover from the first CD as “Stay” could fit perfectly on it?
Bruno Ravel: It’s funny that you mention that! When we were pulling together songs for the new album, we remembered that “Underneath the Stars” was one of the more popular songs from the first album. Paul and I were discussing that we needed another track with the same feel. I created that track out of thin air by humming the chorus melody. Paul likes it when I have a melody in place as the lyrics just fly out of him then. Writing lyrics for me is like pulling teeth; I hate it, and I’m not prolific [laughing]. I tend to let people who can write lyrics do it. If you want to put “Stay” in a box, it is the sequel to “Underneath the Stars” [laughing].
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about the musical chemistry you, Paul, and Rob have on the Defiant CDs?
Bruno Ravel: Paul and I have known each other for many years working with Danger Danger. When he was in Danger Danger, there was always a bit of tension between Paul and Steve because they both are lyrists and strong-minded. I’m like the mother of both bands [laughing] trying to keep everyone happy and running smooth. Paul and I always had a good working relationship and never argued about anything. It turns out we never wrote a complete song together either. Steve and I would have a song and Paul would sing, or Paul had a song that he wrote, and we would record it. We agreed that we weren’t going to force any ideas on each other. During the writing of the first record, I know Paul’s preferences and what he gravitates towards, but he surprised me with some things that I didn’t think he would like. We jive well together most of the time, and the songs come together quickly once we have a map of the track. From there, we send it to Rob for his input. Rob can write, and it’s not that we don’t allow him to write; it’s out of trying to keep things moving. He likes what Paul and I come up with, and he prefers to hang in the background. He comes more from a metal world and adds that edge. It’s a little more aggressive than your typically AOR pop stuff.
Robert Cavuoto: Steve West played drums on this CD. Why isn’t he in the band as a member?
Bruno Ravel: Steve was a guest who played drums on the record. He is not technically a member of the band. I don’t know if that will change in the future, but The Defiants are Paul, Rob, and myself. If we are doing shows and Steve wants to join us, we would love to have him. Looking back, if I had to do it again, and no offense to Steve, I wouldn’t have involved him on this album. Only because it’s created a mess of sorts, where people are focused on thinking The Defaints are Danger Danger with a different name and without Ted. I thought it would be fun to have him involved as he knows our music and likes us. We are best friends and have always been so. He did a great job on the record.
Robert Cavuoto: Were you surprised by the positive reception to the first CD as it proves melodic-hard-rock is still in favor?
Bruno Ravel: I don’t think I was surprised as there are still fans of Danger Danger and our genera of music. There might not be many of them, but there are still some out there. They are pretty loyal and tend to seek it out. When I made this album, I know that any fan of Danger Danger would be pleased. I was surprised that there was a younger group of fans who weren’t familiar with Danger Danger but into The Defiants. The first record did well, the label was happy with us, and we got the opportunity to do another one.
Robert Cavuoto: All being members or Danger Danger at some point, how did you not fall into the trap of sounding like a modern Danger Danger? Were there any guide rails in place?
Bruno Ravel: I’m glad that you noticed that. Most people I have been talking with thought it sounds exactly like Danger Danger! There were some songs that had more of a Danger Danger sound, but I think it is edgier than Danger Danger ever was. I’m not belittling what Danger Danger did as I’m super proud of it. The formula within Danger Danger was a lot more ridged and geared towards radio. With The Defiants, there are no rules, and we just let it rip. If there was a song with an odd measure or odd beat that you would hear in a Danger Danger song, we were fine with it. We weren’t concisely trying to keep it away from The Defiants, as we wrote with no rules. It was art in its purest form. We just let it go, and this is what came out. I’m glad it doesn’t sound like Danger Danger as it has more of an edge to it.
Robert Cavuoto: You are such a great songwriter. If possible, can you narrow down some of your favorite songs you’ve written?
Bruno Ravel: Oh, Wow! With The Defiants, I would say “Love and Bullets,” “Runaway,” and “It Goes Fast.” With Danger Danger, it would be the ballad, “Fugitive,” of Revolve “Afraid of Love,” off the Cockroach, and “Punching Bag” of Dawn, which has nothing to do with Danger Danger. I still like “Naughty Naughty” and glad it came out of me! I love “Don’t Blame it on Love” and “Find Your Way Back Home” off Screw It.
Robert Cavuoto: Will you tour in support of this CD?
Bruno Ravel: I’m looking to do something next Spring. I’m not saying anything will come together, but we are hopeful. There is more a possibility of something happening in Europe. We would love to do something like the Rock Cruise down the road or maybe M3. I’m not sure they would bother to have us even in the middle of the afternoon because people don’t know us that well. I would like to find an opening slot with some bigger 80s band and do a small East Coast run if we could get it. It’s hard to get people off their asses and pick up the phone to invite us to it.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you think you would Danger Danger would have garnered more success if you came on the scene in ‘84 with bands like Ratt and Dokken?
Bruno Ravel: I think there are a lot of reasons why we didn’t have the success that we were aiming for. I don’t know if we came out in 1984 or 1985 if we would scratch the surface. Timing had a lot to do with it as we only had a small window from ‘89 to ‘91 before grunge killed everything. There was a lot less time to develop us. Another thing was that Epic had no idea what they were doing and totally screwed us in every way when trying to promote our albums. They were trying to make us into a “hair band’ when we weren’t. We were like a better-looking version of Survivor [laughing]. That is what Steve and I were looking for when we put together Danger Danger. We both loved Survivor and couldn’t understand why they weren’t bigger as they had such great songs? We boiled it down to they weren’t good looking dudes. You had to get on MTV and girls have to like you. We decided to put together some good looking guys and have that same kind of feeling and sentiment in our songwriting. We thought we couldn’t miss, but when Epic looked at us, they saw Whitesnake, Winger, Warrant, and White Lion. They wanted to put us in a van for some grassroots touring. We were like we like; Fuck that! We need to be on the radio! We don’t need to be on tour, and we don’t want to be on Rock Radio. We need to be on Hit Radio. We felt songs like “Don’t Walk Away,” “Feels Like Love,” and “One Step from Paradise” were contemporary radio songs, which is what we were aiming for. We ended up succumbing to the pressure of being a “hair band” and wore the uniform, as we like to call it, like Whitesnake. Epic also shouldn’t have released “Naughty Naughty” first. The first sing should have been “Bang Bang,” and the second song needed to be “Don’t Walk Away” or “One Step from Paradise.” When they released “Naughty Naughty,” and it didn’t take off, instead of going to a ballad, they released “Naughty Naughty” again! I was like, what are you guys doing? It turns out they had no idea what they were doing. It’s unfortunate because even in that small window of time, we could have been more successful. I can call sour grapes on everything, but I’m grateful that we even got a shot! It’s all good on my part.