By Carl Begai
Over the last few months vocalist / guitarist Lita Ford has devoted her time to promoting her new album, Living Like A Runaway, which has doubled as an exercise in damage control. She isn’t shy about calling her failed 2009 psycho-industrial nu-metal comeback album Wicked Wonderland a disaster, and she makes no secret of her feelings towards ex-husband and former Nitro singer Jim Gillette, whom she credits for making her life a living hell. After filing for divorce in early 2011, Ford dealt with the ugly aftermath of her broken marriage and channelled that energy into making a new album, Living Like A Runaway. It’s a true comeback, loaded to the gills with emotion and attitude, ultimately giving the fans what they wanted last time out.
“The new album cover should have one big middle finger on it,” she laughs. “I came back with a record that wasn’t a Lita Ford record, and I’m happy to say Living Like A Runaway is the real deal. It’s got a lot of emotion in it. It’s not ‘I think I’ll write a record now,’ it’s pure heart and soul. The music came to me at one of the darkest times in my life, and the only release for me to dump my emotions out was my music.”
It might be accurate to say that Living Like A Runaway turned out the way it did as a result of Wicked Wonderland and the emotional baggage that went with it. The recorded version of the aforementioned middle finger, so to say…
“Well… actually, I don’t know… maybe you’re right,” Ford concedes. “My ex had complete control over everything. He wanted to make Wicked Wonderland, he wanted to write the songs, and I couldn’t function with him around. So, in a way I guess you could in fact say I had to go through the divorce to make this record.”
“I just needed the divorce. He was blocking me from being creative and he was blocking me from being Lita. I couldn’t function. Sometimes it happens when you’re with somebody and they sort of take over your life. It was like ‘Okay, the first thing I’ve gotta do is get you outta my way…’ (laughs). Once that happened I was able to be me again. I sat down, started writing, and I felt all this creativity flowing. It was non-stop. We couldn’t put a cap on it and it was great. As a matter of fact, the day my divorce was final was the very day the record was delivered to the record company. That was a good day (laughs).”
The operative “we” is Ford and guitarist / producer Gary Hoey, who boasts a solo career spanning 20 years and 18 albums. Ford calls him “a godsend,” as he collaborated with her on Living Like A Runaway from top to bottom. It was a partnership that, according to Ford, started with a leap of faith.
“Gary was a friend, and he called and offered me his studio up in New Hampshire. He said if I wanted to take a break and come up and record, just to let him know. I thought about it and decided to take him up on the offer. I had a really good feeling about Gary because I had talked to him about my concept for the record and what I was going through. Not a lot of people wanted to get involved and I got a lot of cold shoulders from the record producers I talked to, but Gary understood and he dove in head first. He was so into this project, he really brought it to life right from the very first song we wrote together.”
From a fan’s point of view it’s hard to imagine Ford being stifled so completely on a creative level for Wicked Wonderland, only to return with an album that fans and press agree ranks as some of her strongest work to date.
“I had to bury Wicked Wonderland, I had to pretend like it didn’t exist,” Ford explains. “I was constantly being shot down when it was being made so I said ‘You know what? You do the fucking record.’ That wasn’t my record. It has my name on it and my voice on it but that’s about it. You can’t compare the new record to the last one because they’re completely different.”
In a nutshell, Living Like A Runaway has the signature Lita Ford sound that the diehard fans were expecting after a hiatus of more than a decade. Her voice is instantly recognizable – big and up front – and the music straddles the line between ‘70s rock, her early‘80s sound, and modern-edged metal. Considering she was unrecognizable even to herself on Wicked Wonderland, absorbing the first round of mixes of the new songs must have felt good.
“It really did. Gary mixed the record, and he asked if the vocals were too loud. I told him that I didn’t think he could have the vocals too loud (laughs): ‘They need to be right up front because everyone needs to hear every little hiss and moan and groan and breath. They need to hear every lyric and every little tick.’ So, that’s what he did.”
“We did everything together,” Ford adds, stressing the point that Living Like A Runaway was a very personal hands-on venture. “I did most of the solos on the record, Gary played some guitars and did some backing vocals. Gary’s drummer Matt Scurfield came in, and Gary took care of everything else. The only person that came in from the outside was Pete (Peloquin), the engineer, and he pretty much took care of the drums. We were up in the middle of nowhere, and if you wanted a musician you have to fly them in, so we ended up doing everything ourselves.”
Fans that have been around since the Out For Blood album (‘83), or go back as far as The Runaways (’75 – ’79), remember Ford as much for her guitar as her voice. When the Lita album broke big in ‘88 with ‘Kiss Me Deadly’ and ‘Close My Eyes Forever’, however, the focus tightened on Ford’s voice and her looks, shoving the guitars into the background. She continued to play on the albums that followed, but it seems that a conscious effort was made for Living Like A Runaway to put Lita Ford the guitarist back in the spotlight.
“I really have, and we really brought out the guitars on this record. There are beautiful guitar harmonies, there are actual licks that are worked into the songs. They weren’t just rattled off. We wrote these beautiful flowing guitar parts, like on ‘Asylum’ and ‘Living Like A Runaway’, and that was something we really wanted to make predominant. Guitars like that have kind of gotten lost in today’s music industry and we wanted to bring it back.”
The fact that BC Rich is manufacturing a signature Lita Ford Black Widow Warlock guitar is a clear show of support for her return to form.
As for the album title, it’s a no-brainer figuring it as a tip of the hat to Ford’s past. Word has it that the record label (SPV) opted for Living Like A Runaway as the title before the song had even been written, with Branded – the lead-off song – being the other and ultimately less appropriate option.
“It is a little bit of a salute to the past, yes,” says Ford. “There’s a line in the song ‘I remember when I was 17 / Riding in the back of a black limousine,’ and during The Runaways’ times we never really knew where we were going or where we were going to stay. We were in the dark a lot of the time. At the same time I had my mom and dad and my family cheering me on, always encouraging me. My mom would never ask me where I was or what I was doing or who I was with; she was always 100% supportive. And my father was the best. He’d always show up with his heavy metal horns and a six pack of Coors. It was wonderful having that support and freedom.”
The album also boasts a nod to Mötley Crüe bassist and Ford’s old flame from a thousand years ago, Nikki Sixx. It wraps up with ‘A Song To Slit Your Wrists By’, originally featured on the Sixx side project 58’s lone album, Diet For A New America, issued in 2000. According to Ford there were no plans to cover the song. In fact, she wasn’t even aware the track existed.
“That’s the weirdest thing. That song actually popped up on my computer and I looked at it thinking ‘What is this? I don’t have any Nikki Sixx songs stored in my desktop.’ I listened to it and I didn’t know it. It wasn’t a Mötley Crüe song so I called Nikki and asked him what it was. He told me he wrote it for his ex-wife 15 years ago and I asked him ‘Can I have it? (laughs). He was cool with it, so I took the song to Gary and we did our version of it. I asked Nikki what he would do to the song if he had to re-do it and he mentioned giving it a Nine Inch Nails vibe, and I thought that would be bad-ass. We had to be careful with that one – don’t try this at home (laughs) – but it fit the record so perfectly that it was a given; we had to do it.”
And in spite of everything she’s been through over the last few years, Ford says she doesn’t regret her time away from the music business.
“Taking a hiatus from the music industry gave me a lot of built up animosity and aggression, and I was able to dump it out into this record. If I hadn’t disappeared for 15 years I wouldn’t have had that hunger for wanting to play again.”