By: Dennis Cook
The band kicks off their Road Test Shows on November 1st at The Warfield in San Francisco. Find full tour dates here!
No one saw Chickenfoot coming, not even the four guys that comprise the band. Ex-Van Halen buds Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony ended up jamming with guitar deity Joe Satriani and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, and the chemistry was instantaneous and obvious. Each super successful music industry vets with nothing to prove, this new thing that happened when they came together brought them back to their garage rock youths, a direct line back to seventies hard rock that first lit their fuses. Dubbed Chickenfoot, they put out their debut album in 2009, an entertaining slab of good time music that grew stronger as they toured behind the record.
|Chickenfoot by Jon Hill|
Jump ahead to 2011 and the band is still going, a rarity for such star aggregates. From the start Chickenfoot felt like a real band and not a side project. The blend of voices naturally recalls Van Halen but the songwriting and the general group approach to the music are a good distance from VH. Smith gets to show off his Bonham style big rock chops, and Satriani is free to explore the joys of simplicity and brute riffing without worrying about the six-string transcription nerds. Their sophomore album, Chickenfoot III (released September 27), tightens up the whole package, particularly in the songwriting department, which stirred up some of the best lyrics Hagar has ever written – notably the blazing gone-to-Heaven “Up Next,” the spot-on humor of “Dubai Blues,” and the direct slap of “Three And A Half Letters,” where Sammy reads letters from fans looking for work in this ass-awful economy around a shouted refrain of “I need a job!” as the band chomps down hard behind him. The good times remain for the most part but there’s new layers and greater depth of feeling that make one anxious to hear the next chapter and the one after that.
We scored a few minutes with bassist-singer Michael Anthony to discuss his new band, the upcoming tour with drummer Kenny Aronoff (filling in for Smith, who’s tied up with his day job in the Chili Peppers), and more.
JamBase: This is a fun band. I saw you guys tear it up at the Fillmore on the first tour and I thought, “This is the kind of stompin’ rock ‘n’ roll folks aren’t making much anymore.”
Michael Anthony: We have great motivation behind it. We don’t need the money. We don’t need the fame. We do it purely to make music and have fun, and when you can do that it makes it that much more gratifying. And we’re all friends; it’s not a band that was put together. I knew Chad for a few years before Chickenfoot. In fact, he and Sam and I would jam down at Sam’s club in Cabo San Lucas, and I’d jammed with Joe before. So, it’s just a chance to have fun with three of your friends.
JamBase: But it’s not a throwaway. You guys seem to really care about the songwriting. A lot of times with projects like this it’s all a laugh and the music has a temporary quality. With the new record, it’s clear you’re bringing your best stuff to the table.
With the first record, we had no intention of going in and making an album. Sammy called us all up in 2008. He was playing a gig and had all of us come out to do something different for the encore. We picked a few songs and didn’t even rehearse, but the chemistry of the four of us playing together and the gratification of the fans right there and then, well, we were all blown away and knew we had to go into the studio, if for nothing else just to have some fun. Next thing you know it snowballs and we need a producer, so we brought in Andy Johns. All of the sudden, we’re doing a record and a tour and we’re having so much fun that we decide to just keep it going until somebody has a prior commitment…like our drummer now [laughs]. Not that he’s out of the band, by any means. He’ll be back at some point.
The video announcement with Chad handing Kenny the sticks was funny and made it clear there were no hard feelings.
It shows the fans that it’s all on the up and up. We didn’t want this to be any kind of revolving door band. When you think of so-called supergroups, they’ll do an album, a tour, and even if they’re great players, it doesn’t mean the chemistry or the songs will be there. With us, it just clicked. I’ve been blessed to have that happen a few times in my life; first when I joined Van Halen, then again when Sammy joined the band, and now with Chickenfoot. I really feel blessed that we’ve been able to do this.
There appears to be zero drama in Chickenfoot, which you’ve dealt with enough in your career.
[Laughs] That is one of THE main things. When we got together we said, “There’s not going to be any bullshit in this band. We’re gonna do it because we’re having fun, and if we’re not having fun, we’re not gonna do it.” Obviously, now you’ve got the management and you have to bring everything into it because we’re actually doing albums and touring, but we’re still keeping that focus. That’s how we always want it to stay. At this point in my life, I’m through with all the drama. I want to hang around with positive people and have fun playing music again, which I found with this band.
You looked like you were having an absolute blast at that Fillmore show, and I hadn’t always seen that at some of the Van Halen shows I’d caught. One thing that seemed to really spark you was singing more prominently in this band. The combo of you and Sammy is right up front in Chickenfoot, even more so than in Van Halen.
|Chickenfoot @ “Big Foot” Video Shoot|
It was a really cool signature sound back in Van Halen, and when we put Chickenfoot together Sammy and I wanted to raise that up and not have me just doing background parts. He wanted greater focus on me. With the new album, we did a lot more of that. We tried me doing all the background parts myself and experimented with different ways of doing things. It’s cool that we were able to bring it up a notch and push it way out front.
Is it enjoyable to get stretched like that at this stage in your career?
Yes! It’s what I need at this point. It’s really easy to get lazy and relax on what you’re comfortable doing. It’s one of the things that’s great about this band. When we went into the studio, I had Joe Satriani on one side, Chad Smith on the other side, and Sammy yodeling in front of me. And I thought, “Oh my God, look at this!” I’ve been pretty blessed to play with some good musicians in my career, but these guys…The first time we got into the studio it was very inspiring and rejuvenating. I felt like I was in the first band I was ever in again. I realized why I got into doing this in the first place. A lot of times with sports or music it becomes a business. Van Halen became a pretty well-oiled machine, and at that point it becomes a little more corporate and business-like than the music part.
People start talking about product instead of songs. That’s always disturbing.
|Chickenfoot w/ Aronoff |
Exactly! When [Chickenfoot] went out on our first tour in 2009, we didn’t want to do any Van Halen. We did one [cover] and that was [Montrose’s] “Bad Motor Scooter” because that was the first song Sammy ever wrote and it was one of the only ways we figured we could get him to strap a guitar on at the shows [laughs]. He didn’t want to play guitar with Joe! We kept it all Chickenfoot because we wanted people to know that it’s its own thing. We didn’t want to rely on anything we’d done before. We’re having fun playing THIS music.
There’s a whole world of covers you could get into with this band if you decide to expand.
And we will, don’t you worry! We’d rather do covers. That’s the kind of stuff we all grew up listening to and playing. Joe said in an interview that we sound a little like a seventies band.
I’ve used the phrase ‘stomp rock’ a few times in describing Chickenfoot. One’s leg can’t NOT move when this band plays – it must stomp along. This music demands a physical reaction.
Exactly! That’s what we all grew up doing to Zeppelin, Cream and all those other bands. We’re just continuing on in the tradition [laughs].
Not to point fingers but Chickenfoot is comprised of four super talented musicians but there’s a real absence of ego, which hasn’t been the case in your past.
That’s one of the things that makes it fun, too. There wasn’t one time in the studio where Joe said, “Hey, could you play it this way.” Everyone was given complete freedom to put their two-cents in. Obviously, if there was something that would really affect the song, then we’d discuss it, of course, but everything just gelled really well as we worked up the songs by letting everyone do their own thing.
It’s a treat to hear Joe in a setting like this. He’s such a Guitar Player cover boy and shredder’s shredder, and this kind of straight rock ‘n’ roll isn’t something he’s done before except in occasional guest turns.
I know Joe appreciates not having to be the focal point every minute that he’s onstage or on record. He can share the load with three other guys here. And he enjoys coming up with some great rhythmic stuff for Sammy to sing to.
Speaking of rhythm, I’m guessing you’ve rehearsed a bit with Kenny for the tour. What differences have you noticed playing with him versus Chad?
We had our first full rehearsal yesterday in San Francisco and it went great. I can see where Kenny might be a little apprehensive; Chad is a pretty unorthodox drummer, especially what he’s doing in Chickenfoot. We just made sure that Kenny got the basic framework, but told him, “You’re not playing Chad’s parts. You’re Kenny Aronoff and a fucking great drummer in your own right. So, just do your thing.” We started with the first song on the new album and we’re gonna play them all to see what sticks on the wall for the live show. Once we’re all in a room, you know we’re gonna thrash it out.
That’s a proper attitude for a rock band, and it speaks to a future for Chickenfoot, too.
Right now, there’s no end in sight.
Chickenfoot Tour Dates :: Chickenfoot News
JamBase | Pedal Down
Go See Live Music!