By Carl Begai
There are interviews where it feels like you’re getting together with an old friend. The conversation comes easy, there’s plenty of common ground to stand on, and a sense you only spoke yesterday even though it may have been years (in this case, 14 of ’em) since your last go round. This was one of those interviews. Therefore, I’m going to shoot the requirements of professional journalism full of holes by making this personal; the on-the-level formal portion of my discussion with Extreme / Hurtsmile frontman Gary Cherone can be found on the BW&BK site here.
Settling in to discuss the self-titled Hurtsmile debut, Cherone is well aware of the comparisons being made to Extreme. Given his signature vocals the lines being drawn come as no surprise, but one has to wonder if Cherone ever had to re-think his in-studio delivery because the songs sounded too much like Extreme material.
“I think it was the other guys, when we were recording the album, if I did something melodically or put a harmony in somewhere, it was either Mark (Cherone / guitars) or Joe (Pessia / bass) that would reference and Extreme track. I’d look at them, scratch my head and go ‘Yeah, you’re right…’ (laughs). That was going to happen, obviously. I’d agree that there are some similarities. The vocals, the harmonies, or just the guitar orientated aggressive rock n’ roll that you’ve heard from Extreme. I guess that’s a nod to the guys I play with in both bands. Nuno (Bettencourt / guitars) and I can get crazy, but we can also get crazy by ourselves, too.”
From a personal perspective, Hurtsmile shares a vibe similar to that on Extreme’s third album, III Sides To Every Story; dark, gritty, and the up-to-that-point trademark tongue-in-cheek lyrics are completely absent.
“It does remind me a lot of III Sides To Every Story,” Cherone admits. “Some of the lyrical content, some of the layers of harmonies and the movement of the music. I think of ‘Slave’ and ‘Beyond The Garden’ and the musical journey those songs take, and yeah, it’s got a similar feel to some of the stuff we did on III Sides.”
Including a very distinct middle finger being held up in the air for all to see…
“Absolutely. I don’t know if it’s intentional or just part of my make up. I mean, there’s always going to be a little bit of piss and vinegar in rock n’ roll. I’m glad you pointed it out.”
Hurtsmile also embraces III Sides To Every Story’s ‘70s atmosphere, right down to half the album tied together as a conceptual piece. It’s begging to be released as a double gatefold vinyl edition in celebration of that era and Cherone’s roots.
“The back half of the record is knit together theme-wise,” he says. “‘Stillborn’ really introduces the theme of a spiritual introspective journey. Without getting too heavy handed, it’s about soul searching, and that again may be another nod to III Sides, where the songs on the third side of that record were all connected musically and lyrically.”
“At the end of the day we’ll always be children of the era we grew up in, whether it was 2112 or the second side of Abbey Road,” he adds with regards to the ‘70s feel of the record. “I think of Queen II, the black side. You’ve definitely uncovered some of the roots of this music.”
Those roots are steeped in diversity, which Extreme has delivered by the truckload since their second album, Pornograffitti. With that in mind, I admit to Cherone that although I loved said album when it first came out in 1989, I absolutely despised the Sintra-esque ‘When I First Kissed You’, a mid-album blues lounge track sandwiched between two slices of groove heavy shred. I’ve come to love the song, thus making Porograffitti a perfect album in my eyes, but it took years to truly appreciate it.
“I think I’m as guilty as you,” Cherone admits. “When you’re younger you like your rock n’ roll straight up. For me it was like ‘Gimme Aerosmith and AC/DC; I don’t want Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin plays too much acoustic stuff.’ When you get older you grow up and you realize those bands that you hated did it all.”
It’s interesting to note that Cherone has a similar legacy now.
“Thank you for saying I’m old (laughs). I appreciate that. It’s funny, because when I was putting all the little quirky stuff at the beginning of ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ I was wondering if it was going to confuse or turn off the younger listeners, and I figure it’s going to turn off the kid who’s not ready to expand his rock world just yet. But, I was the kid who heard ‘Love Of My Life’ by Queen for the first time and I was just floored: ‘What is this?!’ I’m proud of being able to… I don’t know if ‘challenging’ the younger listeners is the right way to say it, but I don’t think they’re any different from me growing up. They’ll come around, and I’m not going to give them anything I wouldn’t enjoy.”
That includes his refusal to cough up a second ‘More Than Words’. Not that Cherone hates the gazillion-selling ballad, but he and his bandmates are dead set against feeding off past glories.
“After Pornograffitti the record company wanted another ‘More Than Words’ and we wouldn’t give it to them. We fought with them for our entire career over that – we weren’t going to conform, we weren’t going to do a Pornograffitti Part 2 – but it seems that the new bands these days get one sound and continue with it because they’ve had success with it. Now, for me that’s fine, because I think of AC/DC (laughs). They’re the best at it because they’ve been writing the same record for 30 years, but you wouldn’t want AC/DC any other way.”
“We still like ‘More Than Words’, and that’s one that people think we hate (laughs). Even on this last tour, it was a trip. It was thirteen years later and we had young kids that weren’t around during the extreme era singing ‘Play With Me’ and ‘More Than Words’. That was inspiring for the band.”
In closing, Cherone offers his thoughts on what many believe is one of the greatest moments in Extreme history; April 20th, 1992 and their Queen medley (Part 1, Part 2) performed in tribute to Freddy Mercury in front of a reported 72,000 people. As a Queen fan I daresay it’s the greatest tribute to Mercury ever brought to the stage.
“Yeah, it was all downhill from there,” laughs Cherone. “But seriously, people still ask us about that show and I tell them that being a part of the whole thing was surreal. I’m very proud to have been a part of it. You have shows where you get off stage and you think ‘That was pretty cool…’ or ‘Man, I really fucked that song up…’ but after that performance we just looked at each other, thinking ‘Were we as good as I think we were?’ (laughs). It was absolutely amazing, I’ll never forget it.”