By Carl Begai
“In the old days radio wouldn’t be so shy about trying out a new band. They’d give a band a shot. Now, because there’s so much competition, stations are so afraid you’ll change the channel if they try and push something that’s different from everything else on the radio.”
It may sound like bitterness talking, but it’s simply point of fact in the life of Fraze Gang guitarist / vocalist Greg Fraser. He made a name for himself with Brighton Rock in the ‘80s, quietly sat out the grunge era through the ‘90s, returning to the grind in the early 2000’s for the love of making music rather than trying to cash in on past glories. That said, Fraser had no delusions about breaking the bank with Fraze Gang’s self-titled debut in 2006 (issued via Bongo Beat Music in 2008), especially not with the beating the music industry was taking at the time (and continues to endure). For better or worse, however, he has retained an old school way of thinking with regards to marketing and exposure.
“With the internet being what it is you can get some exposure, but you’ll never get the massive exposure that you had in the old days because the record companies don’t have the clout anymore. And there were the magazines like Circus and Hit Parader; bands could get in there and sell records from that exposure alone. Take a band like W.A.S.P.; you’d see them, see Blackie Lawless and his codpiece and go ‘Who the hell are these guys?’ and right away they had your interest, especially of you were a kid. You had to hear them. When I first saw pictures of KISS, I was really young and it was ‘Oh my God, look at this!’ It’s a lot tougher now to get that kind of intense exposure. Then again, bands that don’t have major label deals can still get exposure thanks to the internet, so it’s a 50-50 deal.”
Between the 2008 release of the band’s debut and their new record, simply called Fraze Gang 2, the trio opted to release a pair of digital-only singles (‘Juggernaut’ and ‘Don’t Call Us’) complete with b-sides. It was something of an experiment, embracing “new” technology to keep the fans happy while the band worked on material for a full length album rather than making them wait. At the very least the singles kept the Fraze Gang name out there, but Fraser isn’t convinced it’s the way to go.
“It did better than expected, but it felt incomplete to me,” he admits. “I’m still kind of old school, so I still feel like I need to have something in my hand. Take the new Van Halen album; can you imagine if they just put a single out, and then released a second single four months later and so on rather than putting out a full record? After a while it would lose its luster. That’s what I found with the way we released the singles. When I emailed the people that bought the debut album through me to let them know we had a new single coming out, I was really surprised by how many people responded with ‘Hey, that’s cool, but I’ll wait until the record comes out.’ A lot of people don’t like the whole downloading thing.”
“And when you hear the songs back-to-back, there’s a flow and a mood to the whole thing, which isn’t something you get from a random song. We still have that vinyl approach to our music, where we have 10 songs coming out and the first five are Side 1, the other five are Side 2.”
Fraze Gang 2 features the previously released songs and six new tracks, making for a full length album. It also features extra firepower in the form of new guitarist Derek McGowan. Initially hired on as a live session player, he became an important asset to the Fraze Gang sound – rounded out by Brighton Rock bassist Stevie Skreebs and drummer Phil Epp – so much so that McGowan was invited to join as a permanent member.
“What I find with having Derek in the band is that even though he’s playing what I’m playing a lot of the time, because he holds his guitar and his pick differently, he has a different approach,” says Fraser. “That difference results in a much bigger sound because it has this stereo effect, whereas if I record myself and double the parts it’s much more precise and ends up sounding like one guitar. With the song ‘Juggernaut’, which I love, the guitars are little too precise rhythm-wise. It sounds great to me, but on ‘Saint Or Sinner’ you can hear the two guitars. It’s the Judas Priest thing; all their songs sound fatter because of the subtle differences between the two guitars.”
“Not only that, but playing live was always tough when I was doing the rhythms, leads and singing all at the same time. I needed someone to fill in. When Derek would be up with us on stage we noticed how much thicker and fatter the songs were. It was great. Having that second guitar in the studio gives the songs a live feel.”
“Derek’s such a cool guy,” Fraser continues. “He brings a lot of energy into the band, he’s young and he’s eager. Me and Stevie Skreebs, we’ve been there and done it already so we’re a little bit jaded in some ways. Derek really brings a spark to Fraze Gang. Sometimes we’ll be writing a song and we’re kind of humming and hawing about it, and Derek’s in there saying ‘No man! That sounds great!’ We end up seeing things through his eyes, which is healthy. It’s a plus for us all the way around having him in the band.”
Adding even more fuel to the Fraze Gang engine, the new album was mixed by veteran Beau Hill. The name will be familiar to anyone who grew up in the ‘80s hair band scene, particularly amongst Ratt fans, and Fraser has more than enough studio experience in to know that the new music was in good hands with Hill.
“Remember the first time you heard ‘Round And Round’, the guitars on that song? A lot of that is Beau. You don’t have to butt heads with him because he knows what you want, and he delivers. When we first got Brighton Rock together and working with producers and engineers, we’d always be excited going in, but the recordings just didn’t have that big Scorpions / Judas Priest sound we wanted. The drums were dull and the guitars didn’t have that live punch, but the producer maybe didn’t see things the same way so we’d end up butting heads. Beau Hill, he’s on the same page with what artists want to hear. He knows how to get a great live sound where you can still hear everything. Nothing gets buried in the mix, and that’s not easy to do, but because Beau has been doing this for so long that when he sent us the mixes we were blown away. They were awesome.”
“I remember back in the day with Brighton Rock, we’d do the demos and then go out to our car to listen to the tapes. Then we’d put Judas Priest on and go ‘Aw man, it doesn’t sound as loud, it doesn’t have the same balls…’ (laughs).”
Unlike the Brighton Rock days, which saw Fraser and his bandmates on stage every weekend in and around Ontario if they weren’t on the road for weeks at a time, Fraze Gang has only done a handful of shows since their inception. Not by choice, as it turns out.
“It’s not that it’s never been a focus for us, because actually it has,” Fraser insists, “but we’re in a weird position where unless people have heard of Brighton Rock they have no idea who we are. And even if people do know who we are a lot of people are like ‘Who cares? It’s not Brighton Rock so it can’t be any good.’ We have no drawing power, which means there’s no money for us. We do get offers – even chances to go to Europe – but the live scene here at home is brutal, especially if you’re an original band. We can’t guarantee that we’re going to bring people into the bar because we play original music. A lot of times the money we get offered won’t even cover a system to make things sound the way they should.”
“We’re still hoping that something will happen where we’ll get noticed and we have the power to go in and ask to play a club, and they say yes. Once we’re able to get people in the door, then the ball will start rolling, but you can’t count on that anymore. There are opportunities to support some of the bigger bands coming through Toronto – we’ve tried that so many times – but there’s a line-up of bands that’ll pay to do the gig, forking over $300 for the chance. We’re past that. That’s so starting over for me. I’d rather let the music do the talking and hopefully something comes from that.”
All photos take from Fraze Gang’s official website and Facebook page.
To check out Fraze Gang 2 audio samples and to purchase the album go to this location.