Chris Babbitt of Taking Dawn
Drawing influences from the Rock Gods of the 80s and early 90s ,Taking Dawn has created their own collection of infectious, in your face, rebellious rockers with their debut album “Time To Burn” on Roadrunner Records. From the fist-pumping title track to their assaulting cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” Taking Dawn mixes shredding guitars (played by frontman Chris Babbitt and childhood compadre Mikey Cross) with heavy melodic choruses beckoning back to the days of old. Rounding out the band is Andrew Cushing on bass and Alan Doucette on drums.
Their live show is a page out of history, you’d be hard-pressed to go see them live and not leave with a smile on your face and your fist in the air. Onstage is where the band thrives, unleashing their unabashed energy and youthful enthusiasm on unsuspecting audiences everywhere with the strength of a million caged beasts just waiting to break down that wall, bit by bit.
Some people say a star is born, other say a star is cultivated, whatever the case, lead singer and guitarist Chris Babbitt is well on his way to being a big one. He’s got a larger than life personality and the passion to match it which is a perfectly lethal combo for anyone who gets on stage every night with sole mission to ROCK. The gregarious frontman recently took some time out of their busy touring schedule to talk to me about their debut album and all things Taking Dawn.
Interviewed by: Mary Ouellette
So I know that you guys grew up in Vegas, which isn’t really considered the music capitol of the world. Did you guys have to find inventive ways to play out and to get the word out or was it easier than I’m thinking?
I think it was probably the same as it is in any scene, having traveled across the country and seeing how it is. Even up north in Canada and throughout North America every scene is a microcosm unto itself but as a whole is identifiable easily as the same entity. Everywhere you go you’ll find musicians struggling to do what they do. We would hustle after every show in town that was similar to what we were doing and hand out as many demos as we could. We played the gigs that were worth playing. We didn’t play a ton of shows, not that I don’t recommend it, you probably get better faster that way. We did the opposite, we played so few shows that we had to get better on the road right away. Whatever works!
So in the early days you just played guitar and weren’t a singer, can you tell how you sort of fell into that role in the band?
I liked going crazy playing guitar and every time we auditioned someone as a singer they’d be good but they just wouldn’t be what I heard in my head. It was difficult to teach people how to deliver it a certain way, especially during an audition. Mike finally suggested that maybe I should sing but I really didn’t want to so now here we are a years later and I’m sort of discovering how to sing. In a studio it’s one thing because if you miss a line, you can do it again, but live is a different animal. If you’re not nailing the lines the right way you have to figure it out in the moment to convince the audience and that’s part of the fun. When I think back to some of my favorite live performances, a lot of them were really terrible but I loved them so much that you could have never told me otherwise. We work really hard to capture the energy that’s on the record and the live aspect of it. I’m happy with the work that we’ve done vocally because we set the bar high so pulling it off live is something we’re really focused on. People tell us what a great live band we are and we never expected that. I try really hard but I’m not a singer…
Well you’re a singer now..
That’s what I’m saying though. It’s kind of like the Dave Mustaine syndrome. I think he started out with the thinking that he was a guitarist but not a singer but on a couple of records he was really singing his ass off. My heroes vocally are the best of the best – Ian Gillan, Bruce Dickenson, Sebastian Bach – so to live up to Steve Perry, come on! But at least the one advantage that I have is that I have a large range. It’s not because I’m good, it’s just how my voice works, so at least I have that on my side. I could be like Vince Neil and have no range whatsoever but still rock! People like Alice Cooper and Vince Neil who are some of the biggest rockers ever and really don’t have much of a voice to speak of are what made us think we could do this if we believe it and we mean it.
So I’ve seen you guys a few times live now and aside from seeming like you’re really having fun the whole performance really brings back a vibe of how live music was in the late eighties and nineties – with a really larger than life, fun feeling. Are you a fan of that era of music and do you draw influences from it?
New bands just don’t put on the shows that the older ones did. When I saw Ozzy, it was a show. When I saw Maiden, it was a show. When I saw Pantera, it was a show. It’s just the energy, and for us, the best part of the day is when we get to play so we are definitely having fun. We live for being on that stage and talking to the fans afterwards, the rest of the day is kind of grueling. I find that those performers from those eras put on the best shows, went the craziest and they impressed me, and that’s what I want to do for the people that come to see us. You watch old Axl Rose or Skid Row stuff and no one can compete with those guys, they’re the best. Maiden works the stage, there are energetic acts out there today but none that are really comparable to those acts.
I read an interview you did where you said your music was defined more by your attitude rather than any sort of genre so I wanted to ask you to expand on that a bit and tell us what you meant?
I always say that genres are just a way for people to pigeonhole bands and they’re just labels that instantaneously mean what you’re about to hear. If I were to listen to the latest Muse record and someone told me “oh yeah, they’re hipster, you need to listen to them” I wouldn’t even give them the time of day but when I listen to Muse I think they’re amazing and incorporate elements of music in ways I haven’t heard before, but I could have missed out on that by some label. You get a quick perception in your head based on a label and so for us the biggest way to transcend any labels or branding or bullshit is to come across in our music with the same attitude that we bring to the stage live, so attitude sells it, not image or some preconceived notion. Us being us is what we want to sell.
So I always like to give bands shit when they name their album after a song on it. I have to ask why?
Why do you give them shit, because it doesn’t have its own name?
I just feel like for your first album it’s an opportunity to tell people a little something about yourself and the music on the album.
The record isn’t named after the song though, it’s named that because it sounds like a classic record – The Number of the Beast, Appetite for Destruction – Time to Burn, sounds like you’re throwing it up in there. When we were talking about naming the album that just sounded right, it sounded classic and it fit, and of all the songs on the records I think that it’s one of the most personal and one of the most sincere songs that can wrap up what we are, which is big. I think there’s a lot of lines in there that sum up what the band and our songwriting is about. The whole “homicidal, kill your idol” can be interpreted from different angles and different perspectives and arrive at different destinations or the same juncture even if you’re looking at it from different ends of the spectrum, and I like that. It’s almost like our rally cry. No matter what you’re bringing that’s new, you’re still bringing something that’s been brought to the table before, you’re just reminding people that this is what use to be the main course, this use to be the special and we forgot how good it was.
So to continue on the discussion about the first single “Time to Burn” – I heard that you guys almost dropped the best part of the chorus – the “Halle-Fuckin’-Lujah” part?
No no no. We didn’t almost leave it out, but people where telling us to leave it out. Industry people thought it was a cheesy line and I just felt that people were taking themselves too seriously. We’re not Bono for fucks sake, we’re here to have fun, but at the same time I have my own messages to get across. If you shove it down people’s throats then they’re not going to listen. I was more interested in people rocking out and having fun and coming up with a cool tag.
Like you said, if that song is your battle cry the chorus really makes the song.
Absolutely, a number of people thought it was a problem but we just told them that they didn’t have to like it, they just had to help us get it out there and support it. They’re all good people who meant well but I think a lot of industry people have lost touch with who listens to music and what music is suppose to be about. You have to mean what you’re saying and I fucking meant it. When I look back at my favorite songs and their lyrcis – “Fuck You, I won’t do what you tell me!”, “I Wanna Fuck You Like An Animal” – songs that were big hits that weren’t afraid to be what they were, they were real. I didn’t want to censor anything that I had to do.
Well I think it goes a lot further with music fans when they can tell that the artist is being honest with them.
It wasn’t manufactured or forced. We weren’t trying to sound tough, it was just fun.
There’s an interesting cover on the album, not one people might expect that edged out a possible cover of W.A.S.P.’s Fuck Like a Beast…what lead you down the path of Fleetwood Mac?
We’re still going to do Fuck Like a Beast, it just wasn’t the right timing. We wanted to do the W.A.S.P song because it had to be shelved in the 80s and I think it’s the best song on that album which I think is W.A.S.P’s best album. I think that W.A.S.P stands for a lot of in the 80s what music was misconstrued to be because it’s such a hard awesome catchy record that someone might disregard as glam because they don’t know any better but it’s nothing like that. At the same time it had balls that was enough to scare people of power so to speak so I thought it would be cool for our first release to feature that. We brought it up to our producer and he wasn’t too big on it which was weird because he loves all that kind of music. I wanted him to be into it and so we looked for different options and we considered Mirror, Mirror by Def Leppard (back when they were more Maiden sounding) which is kind of our sound – early Def leppard/ Skid Row/Motley Crue meets Guns n Roses/Metallica/Megadeth so it felt like that was the common ground. The record itself had so many elements of the big harmonies and the catchy, succinct songs that were still edgy and kind of metal but rock so we thought it would fit and complement the record but we thought, what’s the point of covering something that you sound like, unless you’re going to own it. So Mike suggested The Chain by Fleetwood Mac and we thought it would be fun because it was different and brought new elements to the table while still bringing the balls to it. We get to do to that song what Metallica did for Seger which was really cool. There’s no point covering a song unless you make it your own or make it better than the original.
Do you want to walk us through a few of the other tracks on the album…tell us the story behind them and how the songs came together? Let’s start with Godless.
I wrote Godless in the shower at my parent’s house before I moved out. Godless, Endlessly and Shout With A Fist (which didn’t make it on to this album but maybe our next), were the first songs that I had written that were more in the vein of what our sound is now as opposed to what it was. It started off like “The Wedding Singer” because I wrote half of it about my girlfriend that I was with at the time and then I wrote the rest of it while we were breaking up. She dumped me on Christmas Eve and I didn’t see it coming at all. The lyrics are very sincere and I think they resonate with a lot of people. The way I felt and that I tried to capture in that song is the way I think a lot of people end up feeling at some point in a relationship. It was the first song that Mike got excited about too and we wanted to lay everything out on the table when we wrote.
Okay, how about “Fight’em With Your Rock” – that’s kind of like an anthemic rocker, did you have that in mind when you set out to write it?
There was no setting out to write that song. People always say this shit, but it’s really true, that song wrote itself. It really just happened, it was one of the easiest songs during our writing sessions. I wanted a big song that was in your face and showed off guitar chops in a fun way. I wanted a rocker and was playing the riff when Mike walked through the door one day and I started singing the chorus. While you can go different directions with the song we like the antiestablishment perspective, but at the same time it’s a very specific nod towards a band that had something going on at the time. A band I revere and have huge respect for and think they’re doing very important stuff for their genre.
So, any chance you’re going to name them?
No. People seem to get touchy with names. This is nothing but a compliment though. They were trying to do something and they didn’t quite capture it. I was working security at The Hard Rock in a nightclub when I wrote the lyrics and it just came easy. I’m in the Hard Rock hotel with techno music blaring around me and in my head I’m thinking of these lines. It was cheesy for sure but a lot of the songs we consider great songs are cheesy as fuck. No one wants to call them cheesy because they’re classics but classic is often synonymous with cheese. Some of the best songs of all time are some of the stupidest songs I’ve ever heard, but they’re so cool. If you mean it, people will believe it. If you don’t mean it, they’ll see right through you and they won’t give a fuck. It’s probably one of the reasons that a guy like Eminem is so successful, he’s got the talent and the chops to back up what he’s doing, but he can be playful and tongue and cheek but you still take him seriously because he really means it. He evens it out with part in your face and part fun, it has balance.
So in closing, why don’t you introduce us to the band and tell us a little bit about each of your band mates.
We’ll start with Mike – you might not expect it from the shirtless guy who goes nuts onstage but he’s a big Depeche Mode fan. He’s all about that style of music. He likes indie new wave and Motown and R&B and Soul.
Andrew is hilarious. I’m sure everyone thinks that about their friends but you hang out with this dude and you don’t know what to expect. The way his mind processes melody and comedy is so fluid, he’s a riot. It’s fun to have him around. Even if he sucked I’d keep him around because he’s always on 10 for fun. He’s the one that came up with the Kanye idea for our video.
With Douce…Douce is very private so I don’t know what he’d feel comfortable with having divulged. He’s a big electronic percussion fan. He’s into strange shit that I can’t even listen to. As a drummer I think he processes the beats and syncopation of the sounds, again, non-traditional at best. He just vibes on it, he’s into MSI and Daft Punk and he’s actually turned me on to some of Daft Punk’s stuff that I never would have listened to.
And me…I don’t know.
What nationality are you?
I’m a mongrel. I’m Irish, English, Welsh, Spanish, Portuguese, a little Native American and who knows what the fuck else is in there…I could be Laotian I don’t know…Ethiopian. We’re all one, we’re of ‘one blood’ as the great Brian Fair wanted to bring to the world.
Taking Dawn is currently on tour in Europe with Airborne. For more on the band check out: