Steve Blaze of Lillian Axe
Lillian Axe released their 13th CD/DVD, the acoustic, live, One Night In The Temple on May 27, 2014 via CME Records/Sony Music (RED). We recently had a chance to catch up with guitarist and founding member Steve Blaze about the new record and what is happening with Lillian Axe moving forward into 2014.
Interviewed by: Roger Scales
One Night In The Temple was filmed in a Masonic Temple in the Bayou last year. How did this show originally come about?
Well it’s kind of weird because at first what I really was looking at was trying to do something that was very small, maybe just a few people sort of like a campfire thing. Just me, our singer Brian and one other guitar player. Twenty fans attending tops. We would talk, the fans could ask questions about the songs and we would play them acoustically and make it just a very unique experience. I was looking at from the beginning as possibly just a DVD project. It kind of took on a life of its own.
It started out by adding the rest of the band and then it just went from there. As the show got bigger the details surrounding this event got bigger. It took a lot of work to get this done. We ultimately became one with the crowd by the end of the night. It was a night that ran with tons of emotions from laughing to crying while still having a ton of fun. The setting of the event had a lot to do with how fans were responding throughout the night and it became a very emotional journey. It allowed me to talk a lot about the songs and perform them in a very different format. It wound up being one of the most incredible moments in my musical career. It was really like a religious experience. The DVD really captures the moment and the emotion of the night. I was really concerned that was going to be a difficult task but the folks filming and working on this project just did an amazing job.
So it’s fair to say that this show was a celebration of 25 years of Lillian Axe as much for you and the band as it was for the fans?
Yes, you’re right about that. We were playing songs from every record. We were celebrating the chemistry of the band with the fans all night long. We had a violin player there. The crowd was singing along to “Nobody Knows” to the point where we recorded two different versions, one had just the crowd singing the lead vocals. We had a ton of unique interactions with the fans all night long. The song that I wrote called “Bow Your Head”, the family whose little boy I wrote the song about, they were there. When we played that song it was VERY emotional. We have clips of them reacting to the song. It was a very spiritual uplifting night and we all walked out of there like we really accomplished something.
Did you have a tough task in picking a set list?
Not really. You go through the list and you know there are certain songs you have to play and if we didn’t play them our fans would follow us home and behead us. There were a few surprises we added in that we had not played in a very long time. We didn’t really have to over think it, we didn’t have to sit and create new and elaborate arrangements. Just play the songs close to what we did on the records just with acoustic guitars. There are some solos I couldn’t do but I still riffed out and stayed as close to the original as possible.
It will be released as 3 disc set (2CDs/1DVD and 2CDs/1Blu-Ray), housed in an elaborate digipack. Filmed in high definition, the Blu-Ray will contain the acoustic performance, fan question and answer session, videos for the songs “Caged In” and “Death Comes Tomorrow”, featuring 3 songs live in concert from their July 4, 2013 performance at the Paragon Casino and behind the scenes footage while the DVD will contain 1 song from the Paragon Casino and the video for “Death Comes Tomorrow”. I didn’t have a Blu-Ray player until this came out but I do now.
Playing acoustic in not a real stretch for Lillian Axe as a band because I recall promotion for Poetic Justice in 1992 in the Boston area when you would do a CD signing in Strawberries Records and Tapes and then play a few tunes for the fans.
You’re right, we have always had that element within the band from the beginning. It stems from the fact that from about the age of six I would play classical acoustic guitar. On that note if you listen to Deep Red Shadows (2010) we have five acoustic songs on that record. That recording has some of the best acoustic sounds I have ever heard on any record period. I was amazed how well that guitar recorded for that album. Getting back to around that Poetic Justice period Ron (Taylor) and I went out and did weeks of promotional stops throughout the states and Europe with just his voice and my acoustic guitar. Everywhere from music stores, to radio stations to label branches. Anywhere and anyone who would have us. When I see other bands do that it really is a reflection of how sincere they are and also are they really as good as they sound on the album? It really is an intregal part of the Lillian Axe history with the acoustic work.
Are there touring plans specific to perform in support of this record and will these shows attempt to recreate that set list and acoustic vibe?
No, we were talking about playing a few different cities to play just acoustically but I’ll be honest with you it’s a lot of work almost more difficult than us playing our regular show. It’s hard for me to sit in chair for that long anyway during these shows. We will be going out and doing some regular shows for sure. If it was fiscally possible we would be playing a lot more on the east coast and just touring a lot more in general. We have a brand new booking agent and they plan on booking us starting in September. That gives them ample time to get started and also gives us time to attend to a few items as a band as well. People also don’t go out as much when they can stay home and watch shows on YouTube. To me it’s just not the same as walking into a stadium or theater or even a club and feeling the band live. Some of the greatest memories of my childhood were watching Rush, Yes and Queen live and in person. I think a lot of kids miss out on that today.
As the sole original member left in a band whose first album was released in 1988 what keeps you going and what keeps you wanting the spirit of Lillian Axe to continue?
One of the things for me is every time I put on one of our records and listen to it that’s when I know. You go through so much as an artist all the ups and all the downs. You go through periods where you are all over the place and you are on every radio station and everybody is talking about you. Then you go through periods when you say to yourself where the hell is everybody? We have been through is a lot like a roller coaster through our whole history. When I do listen to those records there isn’t a single song that I’m not proud of and in my eyes isn’t fantastic. I don’t mean that in an arrogant way because I feel that are a lot of bands that should feel the exact same way. My goal on this planet, outside of my family, is to touch people and make their lives better. I was given a gift to play guitar and write. I can’t change a tire or fix an engine or even cook a meal but I can play guitar. It’s not any more important than anybody else’s job but it’s my gift. I have a responsibility to not waste this gift that God gave me.
When you look back to the start of Lillian Axe and all the effort that went into getting signed to a major label and all the strain that a label can create for you as you record I’m sure that was very tough and had its difficult moments. Now it’s 2014 you have more freedom as an artist to have greater creativity and less label interference yet today we have illegal downloads, file sharing and YouTube. Which era do you prefer and why?
As far as the creativity is concerned I guess I was lucky I never had any extended periods where I had someone looking over my shoulder trying to tell me what to do. Tons of bands back in the day followed a certain format and created radio friendly music and were very successful, so it does work. I always felt in the early days to follow certain rules, like keeping a song under seven minutes for instance because I knew otherwise it wouldn’t get any airplay. Then as my career moved on I started to realize that if I can’t make my statement in three minutes then it might be seven or eight minutes long. What’s funny is that we had our most success just as the grunge moment took over in the early 90’s. We had the best label support when we were on Grand Slam IRS from 91-95. The label went defunct, grunge went into high gear and things started a downward spiral for Lillian Axe and that took a while to get out from.
In the early days, the learning part was the most fun for me because you are traveling with the guys in a van and we were just buddies. We knew something would happen for us and that it was just a matter of time. None of us had huge families, mortgages, kids and major responsibilities. It was all about where we were going to eat and sleep. It was a different kind of fun. I was so driven by my focus and my desire to make this band succeed I don’t think I appreciated it as much as I should have. Now I have a blast onstage and appreciate it much better now we just don’t have financial support any longer from any major label like we did. One of the biggest reasons why the shift today away from label support is how easy it is to get music anytime or anywhere. We talked about this already. People have gotten lazy and people don’t realize that bands don’t tour as often because they are not paying for the music like they once did. What’s 10 bucks for an album when it’s really not much more than a combo meal at your favorite fast food restaurant. When you think about the time and effort that went into making it and you buy something you will have the rest of your life it’s a small price to pay.
Even though Lillian Axe has had periods of inactivity you remained quite busy with Near Life Experience and also part of a reunited Angel lineup as well. Can you talk a little about how both of those bands got started and the status of each?
Near Life Experience is probably on hold in defiantly. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to doing that again. It was a great thing at the time but all of the songs I write now are for Lillian. It would be very tough for me to try and go write just for Near Life and separate the two bands. They were written in the moment of that time. I’m just not there any longer. As far as Angel goes, Frank DiMino is basically just bummed out about the music industry in general and how difficult it is for a band like Angel who had some success to even get noticed now. If he ever calls and I’m available I’m there. I do have another project I’m happy to announce I will be playing with Joey Molland and Badfinger. We will be touring. Also I have a side project with Zebra drummer Guy Gelso called “Sledgehammer”. It’s a power classic rock band playing covers with everything from King Crimson to Led Zeppelin to Black Sabbath. Guy is a great drummer and great person. In June I also start filming a Ghost Hunting show that I’m the host of here that will air regionally. “Circle of Light” my other original project as some shows coming up in August as well.
Your last studio album XI: The Days Before Tomorrow got several positive reviews and I thought although extremely heavy sounding was still quite melodic. Do you agree and you have already started to write for the next record?
That’s a perfect assessment of that record. It was a very heavy record but melodic. For me, melody and power are the greatest two elements of any great song. Not how loud the song can get but the power of the melody. I’m writing the next one right now and if it comes out how I envision it will be the best thing we have ever done. Hopefully we can start to record by year’s end. I’m really excited about it and cannot wait to get started.
Last year you released a very limited edition box set called Convergence which contained all 11 albums plus a bonus disc containing unreleased material. Is this still available and who’s idea was this to put together?
It was my idea to it. It stems from my desire to put the complete works that Lillian Axe had done into one box. I felt that fans would appreciate that patricianly given how difficult it is to even get some of our older records. We did it in limited edition and it sold out right away. We hope to put out another set in the next few months. It costs about $50.00 to make one so we are not looking to make big bucks by doing this. It is very expensive to produce. I think to truly understand our band you need to take in every album. Some live and die with the first four albums and others only the last few. It’s like a story and you need to read all the chapters to understand the book.
Is it a unique accomplishment knowing that you are the only hard rock act ever to be inducted into the Louisiana music Hall of Fame?
The only other rock band is Zebra. For me it’s just knowing that it’s something that can never be taken away from me. We were the first ones and Zebra came next. Lillian Axe never really got the push in the local press I thought we deserved. It’s not a huge rock area to begin with its more a blues based state. I’ve got a bit of a chip on my shoulder about that but now it doesn’t matter because I have this honor.
What does the future hold for Steve Blaze and for Lillian Axe?
More music until I cannot pick up a guitar anymore. I’ll keep playing until I’m dead and even then I’m sure I’ll be playing somewhere else hopefully with wings.