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Perhaps best well-known for his lengthy stint as the lead vocalist for popular hard rockers Danger Danger, the multi-talented Paul Laine has been an accomplished musician since he was just a teenager. His prolific talents have provided him the opportunity over the years to record and arrange backing vocals for huge rock bands like the Scorpions and Poison. Then, teaming up with his former D2 bandmates in Bruno Ravel (bass) and Rob Marcello (guitar), The Defiants were born and released their debut self-titled album back in April 2016.
Laine sat down with myself and my 18-year-old guitarist son, Zach, to discuss the release of the latest Defiants album, Drive, his personal insights on his artistic longevity and staying busy musically, and offered up his candid thoughts on the current state of the music business.
Elliott Gordon (All Music Magazine): Friday was the release of Drive, the third Defiants album. The social media reaction to the first three tracks you shared was overwhelmingly positive. How satisfying was that for you guys?
Paul Laine: For me, personally, it was really satisfying because this is the longest it has ever taken us to make a record. I have never spent two years on a record — 6 months, maybe — so there were a lot of times Bruno and I were just like “is this any good” as we were composing the record. I think this time we spent a lot of time crafting the songs, moreso than on the first two records. We were excited to make the first two albums and we kind of just let those happen organically. For Drive, the writing happened organically, but we really took the Mutt Lang/Def Leppard approach to just reworking, reworking, reworking, and going over and over the arrangements. Like any artist that has worked on a record this long will tell you, you do worry about losing perspective, so to have that early reaction was a sigh of relief, you know.
Elliott (All Music Magazine): Anyone that enjoys this musical genre is aware of The Defiants lineage back to Danger Danger and your long working relationship with Bruno. I read an interview with Bruno after the release of Zokusho where he said you guys present song ideas to each other, and if neither of you gravitate towards it, then it doesn’t become a song. Did that hold true again for Drive, especially when selecting the 11 songs that actually made the record?
Paul: That process absolutely did come in to play with Drive. Generally we write about 30-35 songs ideas per record, and if I don’t hear a hook in my head and I don’t get excited about something, then it is not going to be on the record. I think it is the same thing with Bruno. We are both fans of melody, obviously, and we are both fans of big hooks, and sometimes when you are writing a song, you do wonder “is this just a big hook to me? If I play this for anyone else, will they instantly be singing along to this or not?” Sometimes that comes into play, and that came a bit into play on the last album, Zokusho, too. But that is our process, and we are really brutal with each other. Bruno calls me “the bull” because I tend to be very blunt about stuff (laughing), so with this record he was like, “can you please not let the bull out so much like the last two records? can you take it easy on me?” (laughing). So I tried to be a good boy this album, but maybe that is why it took so long?
Zach Gordon (All Music Magazine): If I had snuck into your home studio for a few days while you worked on Drive, what gear would I have found?
Paul: First of all, I use this Advanced Audio C12 (microphone) copy. There is actually a company here in Canada where they make these faithful reproductions. I discovered this microphone when I was in Nashville, of all places, when I was working in a studio there. The engineer was like (Laine making a southern accent) “I think these are made somewhere up by you.” (laughing) I loved this mic, so I looked it up, and sure enough it was from the Province I live in. So, that’s number one. I use this, and I run it through an Anthony DeMaria Labs ADL 1500, which is a very, very expensive two-compressor in the style of UA LA-2A. I do that like on ballads, and on all the rock stuff, I run through the old classic 1176 as a compressor.
For other gear, I have a Kemper, which we used a lot on this record. We used real amps, too, but I sold the majority my tube amps after Bruno called me one day, and he was like “dude, sell your amps and buy a Kemper because you won’t get any money for your tube amps.” I had this big collection of hand-wired Marshall heads, Hiwatts, and Laneys, so yeah, I am a big fan of the Kemper. It is pretty cool to have all those amps at your fingertips. My go-to guitar is a custom made Tele by Siegmund. He is this Norwegian guy that moved here to Canada and he has built a few guitars for me, but that is probably tonally the one that I use the most.
In terms of recording software, I use Digital Performer, while Bruno uses Cubase. It is pretty easy to share files when it is in the same format between those two. It is really bizarre because I only see Bruno face-to-face when we play gigs. For the whole album writing process, we aren’t on Zoom and we aren’t on Skype. We don’t see each other. It is strictly a phone call every morning — “hey man, where you at with this? I will send you where I am at.” — and we just go back and forth that way.
Zach (All Music Magazine): I read that you cut your first demo at 18, which is how old I am now. After everything you have experienced since then, what advice would you now give your 18-year-old self that I should learn from?
Paul: I started recording in the studio when I was 15, and I was around 17-and-a-half or 18 when I was getting interest from record labels. I would tell younger me, “don’t worry, all it takes is one yes, so quit getting so beat up by people that say no.” That being said, remember that all of the negative things, or all the tough things that you hear, or any critical things you hear about your music are all just fuel to make you try harder. I know it is an old cliche, but the struggle is really, really important, because it makes you hang in there longer when you do get so many nos.
Look, all of us, whoever got record deals when we were young, pretty much knew when we wrote that first song that we went “I think this is a hit.” I think the very first time that happened to me was the real moment where I said, it doesn’t matter what anybody says. That really gave me the confidence to just go after it, because you couldn’t tell me something wasn’t a hit, as I would just laugh in your face at that point. You need to know when you are good, and you need to know when you are bad. Take the constructive criticism from the people that genuinely care about you and want to help you musically, and don’t listen to the haters. That would be my first, all-encompassing advice.
My second would be something that I did, which was always have a business approach to music. Always look at what everyone else is doing, and then don’t do it, because it isn’t working. Figure out something that makes you different from everybody else, and makes you rise above. If you are following what everybody else is doing, you are never going to stand above the crowd. Remember that the kid who sticks his head above the crowd always gets a rock thrown at it! And sometimes that rock has a record deal.
Zach (All Music Magazine): Is it true that the very first show you ever played as solo artist was with Joan Jett in Toronto? What was that like?
Paul: Yes, that is true. It was my first big concert, and that was amazing. I was 20 or 21 years old I think, and it was in front of 30,000 people on a hot summer day, and it was everything I had ever dreamed about as a kid growing up. I used to listen to Foreigner 4 and “Juke Box Hero,” and thought, one day that will be me. And one day that was me, and it was overwhelming. It was absolutely overwhelming. It was everything I thought it would be, but I will never forget my manager coming up to me after the show and saying, “listen kid, you just blew your whole wad in the first four songs and then you looked like you were exhausted. Don’t ever do that again!” (laughing) I was like, “you were right.” I had so much adrenaline that I was running around the stage, and then for like the last six songs, I was hanging on the microphone tired, and I was young! (laughing)
Elliott (All Music Magazine): Speaking of experiences, you stay very busy with a variety of different music projects outside of The Defiants. What are you up to next, and where do you find the continued creative inspiration?
Paul: First of all, where am I going next. I am working on a project called Jet Set Junkies with my buddy Lee Revill from the Blood Red Saints. Him and I have been pals since we met on the Headbangers Ball Tour in the UK like 30 years ago – ouch! (laughing) I am doing that, and that is a very hard rock type of project, which is a love of both of ours. Lee and I also both work in television, writing for everything from Pawn Stars, Counting Cars, Below Deck, to a million other shows. We are always writing this kinda metal/hard rock thing on the side, so we are going to put out that record.
I also worked on the last Tom Hanks movie, A Man Called Otto, which was fun, so I am just going to continue doing more film and television work. That is more like my regular, weekly gig, composing for shows, which is fun and keeps my brain sharp. I am not always writing rock. I may be writing 70-piece classical orchestra stuff one week, writing polka music the next week, and then writing industrial metal for Ink Master the following week, so it is very schizophrenic, but it keeps my mind sharp. Frontiers just offered me a solo deal for more Paul Laine records, so it looks like I am going to be doing that, too.
Elliott (All Music Magazine): How are things going with Cassidy Paris?
Paul: I am still working with her from afar. Cassidy now has a new record deal, and while I have written some of the songs on that record, she is also co-writing with some other people. I strongly, strongly pushed that because I really feel like she needs to experience as many writers to work with as possible. She is so young and she kind of needs to be well-rounded. You need to get as much of that information and as much of those writing styles in you as possible. I didn’t change my way of working until I got to meet Steven Tyler during the Pump (Aerosmith) album. He completely made me do a 180 in terms of how I compose, and that is why I can compose so much today. He helped free me as a writer, so I want that for her as well. I hope she gets to write with as many writers as possible. It is important.
Elliott (All Music Magazine): How do you feel about the state of the music industry today? Gone are the days of record-tour-record-tour.
Paul: Here are the things I feel good about, and here are the things I feel bad about. What I feel good about is that rock is coming back in such a big way overseas. Europe has all these great rock festivals now, and I would say it is half-and-half, with half young people and half the older audience. That makes me smile, because I go, “oh, this music is going to carry on.” For a long time, it felt like it was over. It didn’t even feel like it would come back in a new form. Now it seems like people are really enjoying rock music, still liking the older artists, and there is a ton of new hard rock artists out there as well. That makes me happy, and that means that we can keep pushing the ball forward.
The part that I don’t like about it is that I feel bad for younger bands. I play these festivals and I see what legacy acts like ourselves are getting paid to play, and you have a new act that is very popular getting almost nothing. They are just scrounging and borrowing money, and they have to pay to play half of these festivals. Even though that is technically a struggle, I think once you hit that point, it would be a lot nicer if concert promoters dealt out more money to the younger acts to help keep it going. It is one thing to have some record sales and a lot of popularity on social media and streaming services, but there is no money in streaming services. The only way bands can make money is off of merch and touring, and when I see that a lot of them are paying to play, that drives me crazy. That is the thing that I don’t like about it. I’d say, do better promoters, please do better.
Zach (All Music Magazine): Being a fellow guitar player, I am interested to know, past or present, who would be on your Mount Rushmore of guitar players? Besides Rob (Marcello), of course.
Paul: I am very lucky to play with Rob. Rob is amazing! I am going to go back to the very first thing that got me into guitar, which was obviously Eddie Van Halen. I just lost my mind when I heard those albums. When I was really young, all I wanted to do was shred, shred, shred, and learn how to shred, but then I as matured, I discovered Neal Schon, and all these other melodic players. I love George Lynch. George Lynch was huge for me as well. Eric Johnson is amazing. My very first full-on tour I did was with Joe Satriani, opening for him on his Flying in a Blue Dream tour. Oh my god, what an amazing human and amazing guitar player. I have way too many to list, but Eddie would be at the top, and then everybody else for different reasons.
Elliott (All Music Magazine): Does Rob get the credit he deserves, for how good he is?
Paul: No. Rob is known inside the industry, so he’s like a players-player. Most famous guitar players in the world know about Rob, but I don’t think the general public knows about Rob. And to me, that is a bit of a shame, because he is a genius.
Elliott (All Music Magazine): Final question. When should fans expect you out on the road with The Defiants, and can we please put in a request for an Atlanta date?
Paul: Yes, you can! And I’ve got to go to the Coca-Cola Museum while I am there! (laughing) We were late getting this album out this year, as obviously June 9th is a late release. If we were releasing earlier this year, we’d be on the road this summer playing the festivals, and that is generally how it works. So with our late release this year, we will most likely be on the road spring of next year. You will see us on the European festival circuit because they are the ones that pay the most money to have us there, so that is always a “yes” for Bruno. It has to have a certain dollar figure, and a little arm wrestling, for him to leave his house. (laughing) So yeah, and then hopefully America next year. That would be fantastic for me!
Drive Track List:
1.) Hey Life
2.) Go Big Or Go Home
3.) 19 Summertime
4.) What Are We Waiting For
6.) Against The Grain
7.) So Good
8.) Love Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
9.) Another Time, Another Place
10.) The Night To Remember
11.) Nothing’s Gonna Stop Me Now
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Elliott is a music photographer covering shows in Atlanta, Georgia, and the surrounding area. The highlight of his photography career was back in the early ’90s, when he sold Neil Diamond the rights to his negatives from a show and then purchased a set of tires for his 1979 280ZX during college with the money.