By Carl Begai
Vocalist Russell Allen, best known as the frontman for prog metal gods Symphony X, offers his thoughts on his other band Adrenaline Mob when discussing their new album, Men Of Honor:
“This is a straightforward in-your-face no apologies rock band from New York – New Jersey, and we’re not fucking around. We’re here to throw down, say what we have to say, get to the point, and if it’s in your face that’s the way it is around here. Sorry.”
Don’t take the apology tacked onto the end of his statement seriously. Allen is fiercely proud of what he and his bandmates have accomplished, especially given the fact they’ve had to deal with a sometimes painfully moronic prog metal fanbase that bitched and moaned Adrenaline Mob wasn’t progressive enough for having Allen and (now former) drummer Mike Portnoy (ex-Dream Theater) in the fold. A strange situation fuelled by people who claim to be music fans but don’t actually listen to the artists creating it. Adrenaline Mob made it clear from Day 1 they were an old school modern day rock band and not a prog metal side-project.
“It’s great when people like yourself get this, they get what Adrenaline Mob is about,” says Allen. “Nobody really knew what to do with us because of this whole prog background that me and Portnoy came from. People were scratching their heads, nobody knew how to book the act… they just didn’t fucking get it. Perception is everything in this world and the problem is people cling to their ideas of what they think they know about you. I don’t want to knock anybody, but the more educated people – in terms of educating themselves about your history – will go the extra mile and read a little more about you and read what you say. A lot of people didn’t bother to read the fine print, and Portnoy was talking about this in his interviews. The perception was that Adrenaline Mob was his band, but he came in after everything was written and my vocals were already recorded. It’s just the way the world works. People just cling to what they think they know and they’ll stand by that until the day they die even if they’re shown that they’re wrong (laughs).”
“The truth is I didn’t grow up listening to Emerson, Lake & Palmer or Rush like so many people want to believe. Did I like Rush? Yes. Was it in the rotation? Yes. But it was Led Zeppelin and Van Halen and Sabbath and Maiden that I was cranking in high school. Rush would come on and it would be great, but was I prog guy? No. That came later, when I wanted to grow musically. Everything on the record comes from something, whether intentional or unintentional. That’s the whole idea of trying to make music that’s accessible and immediate, that it kind of reminds you of something you’ve heard before. And that’s because everything already been done. Get over yourself.”
“Another thing about the whole prog tag that really sucks is the people that say ‘Adrenaline Mob is so unoriginal.’ Hey asshole, rock n’ roll has been here since the ’50s. I’m sure if you dig deep enough you’re going to find a guitar lick or a melody that reminds you of some other piece of music somewhere in time. I can point out 10 Symphony X songs that are tips of the hat to guys like Bach and Beethoven. Remember those guys? (laughs). They did it all. It’s like, if you’re so original figure out a way that I can teleport so that I don’t have to fly everywhere (laughs).”
At the very least Men Of Honor is a clear statement that Adrenaline Mob is a serious band in for the long haul. It’s their fourth release in four years – their second full length album – in stark contrast to Symphony X, who typically have several years’ wait between records.
“I can’t control what Symphony X does and I’ve never been able to,” Allen says as a fact of life. “And when I tried it always ended in misery, so it’s never going to be something I have any real control over. I’m in the band with the guys, it moves at a snail’s pace, and the Symphony X fans know this. That’s why Symphony X fans don’t really bust my chops about Adrenaline Mob; because they know the score. Adrenaline Mob is a polar opposite of Symphony X. When the lights go down it’s going to be an assault and it never lets up. Sure, there are some emotional moments – the light and dark of the music – whereas Symphony X is more about the artistic side of things, the symphonic and bombastic vibe. That doesn’t exist in Adrenaline Mob because, like you said, this is an old school rock band.”
The loss of Portnoy, who left to focus on The Winery Dogs with Billy Sheehan (bass) and Richie Kotzen (guitars), came as a shock to some fans, but his absence hasn’t had any negative effects on the Adrenaline Mob sound or drive.
“It didn’t make a difference artistically at all,” Allen says of Portnoy’s departure. “I’m not going to say it was liberating when he left because it was a bummer, but I couldn’t wait around for him to do The Winery Dogs. I’m not going to name any names but I’m already in that situation (laughs), so I wasn’t going to wait around with Adrenaline Mob and have the band end up in a similar scenario. So, he took off and he’s having some success with The Winery Dogs. There’s no bad blood between us though; we still talk.”
“For some reason when my kids came along I just couldn’t wait anymore,” he adds. “They motivate me, they keep me on my toes. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in, I’m singing great. I was rehearsing with Symphony X for 70000 Tons Of Metal and two hours were like nothing. I was hitting notes and Mike Romeo’s looking at me going ‘Dude! You haven’t hit that note since you were 19!’ (laughs). It’s because I’m not sitting on my ass.”
“The only thing that made Portnoy leaving hard for us was the pressure of having to replace him. So, we did what nobody was expecting and didn’t make a big deal out of it at all (laughs). Honestly, it wasn’t that big of a deal to us. When me and Mike (Orlando/guitars) are writing a record we’re not worrying about who the drummer is. If Portnoy had contributed as a writer it would have been a different story, of course, but that wasn’t his role in this band. We started to feel the pressure of it once the record was written and needed to record it. Luckily, AJ Pero (Twisted Sister) was literally around the block. He came down to do a guest thing because we were running out of time trying to find somebody.”
“Not a lot of people know that AJ Pero can swing the way he does and give this type of music that bounce and swagger that it needs. A lot of younger players don’t have that, not even close. A friend of mine asked me why we went down to the old folks home to get a new drummer (laughs), but the younger guys couldn’t cut it. Some of them had great handwork, others had great footwork, but AJ Pero stepped in and there was a groove, a vibe, a feel that we were looking for. I’d rather go into battle with a guy that’s tried and tested and making me feel like I can knock the place out. As a vocalist I lean on the drummer big time for that feel. I didn’t want a rockstar drummer, I wanted a drummer with a rockstar attitude on stage and that’s what we got.”
Ultimately, Adrenaline Mob is all about Allen’s king-sized Dio-esque vocals and Orlando’s crushing brand of shred. Men Of Honor stands out as their best work to date judging by the positive feedback that’s been pouring in, and Allen considers himself fortunate that he and Orlando found each other.
“I saw Mike playing in an Ozzy cover band (laughs). There’s this guy playing in the corner of a bar – not even a stage, just the corner of the room – and he looked like he should have been on a stadium stage. It was funny because my first impression was ‘This guy is too big for this room.’ It was jam packed, the guy was an amazing shredder, and it really all started from there about seven years ago. It was good timing. I felt like we could start working together after a while. He eventually brought material to me saying that he’d always wanted to do a modern rock band, and thought my voice would be perfect for it. I recorded two songs that he’d written, then we wrote a third song together because we were asked to do it for consideration for a record deal. I guess the best way to put it is that Adrenaline Mob came together organically.”
“I think the only misstep we made was starting off as a five-piece (with Stuck Mojo/Fozzy guitarist Rich Ward). I just wasn’t into that. I didn’t like not hearing the bass clearly, and I didn’t want it to be on the metal side of things. I wanted Adrenaline Mob to be more on the rock side of things. Mike does the two guitar tracks in the studio to give the songs that extra power, but I love the Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, The Who four-piece format. I like to hear the individual instruments and the four-piece in rock n’ roll has always been the way to go.”