Three decades ago, music was done a little differently. It came packaged with glamorous hairdos, tight leather pants, and dangerous onstage theatrics. Before the rise of grunge, this stuff was considered really cool. Remember the powerful guitar hooks, sweeping melodies, primal singing, and cloying ballads? Of course! It was a time when near-death experiences seemed so normal. But, the glitter soon turned to dust, and many of the bands began to fade away. Of course, that hasn’t stopped some groups from trying to bring it all back again.
Okay, so they never actually toughed it out on the Sunset Strip, but Blessed By a Broken Heart are doing their part to keep the ’80s alive. In late January, the quintet will be releasing their third studio album, ‘Feel the Power.’ The band’s drummer, Slater, says the new record has “today’s sound blended with the ’80s sound,” and he’s right. ‘Feel the Power’ is very sleek production-wise, and it includes some shred guitar that could go on for days, but it also leaves room for massive layered vocals and succulent keys. It’s like a modern-day cross between Whitesnake and Def Leppard, but, you know, without the English accents. And sure, some of the lyrical themes have already been done a few times, but I don’t think anyone gets tired of being told to “Shut Up and Rock.”
Keep scrolling to find out what Slater had to say about Blessed By a Broken Heart’s upcoming album, deal with Tooth & Nail Records, music video for “Forever,” and touring plans.
I was reading some stuff online about Blessed By a Broken Heart and I came across this quote: “These guys are like the Family Force 5 of metal.” Do you agree with that?
[chuckles] I guess so. Back in the ’80s, there were arena shows, pyrotechnics, real performers, a lot of props, lasers, and fog — it was a production. Over the last 20 years or so, musicians have become lazy. They now just want to plug in, play their songs, and then leave. Blessed always tries to bring that huge arena show — even if it’s at a small club. We’re always going to bring our lights, lasers, hair — everything. [laughs] I guess people sometimes compare us to Family Force 5 because they just don’t show up and play. From what I hear, they have a bunch of props and crazy stuff. Obviously, they’re a little more of a party band, whereas we’re more heavy metal or rock. It’s just important to actually put on a show and have it be interactive, where people don’t just go and stand there and watch musicians not play good and then leave unchanged. Family Force 5 might actually be the Blessed By a Broken Heart of dance pop. We’ve been out no longer than them, so it might actually be the other way around. [laughs]
Good point. As most people know, you guys love music from the ’80s. But does your interest in the decade go beyond music? Are you fans of TV shows and movies from the ’80s, too?
I think it’s a little bit of both, man. Everyone in the band is in their early or mid-twenties, so we were born in the ’80s, and I guess it just kind of stuck with us, even as kids. Our parents got us into that music and it just stuck. It’s cool because everyone in the band has this genuine love for the era, image, time period, style, and everything else that comes with it. My favorite movie is Back to the Future. Tyler’s favorite movie is Some Kind of Wonderful. If we’re sitting around, we’ll usually pop in an ’80s movie. We’re not poseurs or anything. We’re not trying to have funny haircuts and look badass or whatever. We’re trying to look and sound with what we like and grew up on. We feel like the ’80s is very alive. Stuff usually cycles back around. In this bland age of generic and non-unique music, we’re trying to stand out. We’re not trying to copy anybody; we’re not trying to be Mötley Crüe. We just like having that ’80s flair and vibe. And, I guess a lot of us have mullets… [laughs]
So it’s not an act.
Yeah. When everyone thinks of the ’80s, they think of cheese. It’s less fluff for us. We want to bring back real rock ‘n’ roll. When rock ‘n’ roll was at the top — when it was mainstream — was in the ’80s. We want to bring back the big sound, the big show, the big chorus, and real rock ‘n’ roll.
Tooth & Nail will be putting out ‘Feel the Power’ in North America in late January. What drew you to sign with them? Why not go solo at this point in your career?
I don’t know. The band’s first record [‘All Is Fair in Love and War’], back in 2004, was [put out by] Blood & Ink. That was when the band was at a local level. Myspace was big then, and the band got really popular on there. We did a lot of touring then, and Century Media became interested. When we signed to Century Media, it seemed like it was going to be a great deal, but we ended up having some differences with them, and they didn’t fulfill all the promises that they promised. Century Media wasn’t that great of an experience for us. We put out ‘Pedal to the Metal’ with them, but it leaked about a year before it hit the street. It just wasn’t a pleasant experience. We knew that was going to be the only record on that label.
All of us in the band are very proactive; we’re very DIY. When we left Century Media and were thinking about this new record, we were considering doing it on our own. Tony [Gambino, vocalist] and Tyler [Hoare, bassist] are graphic artists and we’ve all got contacts and we had a manager that was very pro-DIY. Myself, I’m a recording engineer. I was game for doing the whole record on our own and recording it and producing it. I don’t know. We had some offers from a bunch of different labels and they weren’t good, but finally Tooth & Nail came around and we could tell that they really believed in us. Being that they have such a good track record, it just worked out. Plus, it was a really flexible deal. The Tooth & Nail deal is only in the States and Canada. We have a huge fanbase worldwide, so Tooth & Nail gave us that flexibility to license out the record.
How flexible is it, though? Is it a 360 deal still?
I can’t disclose any of that information. [laughs][chuckles] Okay, okay.
A record deal’s a record deal. It’s going to be more in favor of the label, but we’ve had a good experience with them so far. They let us pick the producer, they worked with us with the budget, and we pumped out two music videos already. It’s a pretty good deal. And if it’s going this good now, I can foresee many records to come. Tooth & Nail’s good, man. We’re stoked.
Cool. In a sentence or two, what makes this new album an album for fans to own?
I’m gonna say… Oh, man I don’t even know how to say it.[laughs] This is the question.
Yeah, it is. I’m just gonna say: it’s a slap-in-your-face good time. [laughs]
That’s pretty good!
It doesn’t matter if you’re into heavy music or normal rock ‘n’ roll, everyone is going to be able to throw up their fists and bang their heads to it. It’s technical, it’s melodic, it’s catchy, and it’s infectious. If you’re a music nerd, you’re going to freak out at the musicianship on it. If you’re just a kid who likes to shout and sing along, the songs are going to stick in your head. We have a little bit of everything on this record, so you’re going to have to pick it up and find out. Every song has a different flavor and taste of rock. It’s very versatile, unique, and different. I love how bands say, “We have our own unique sound.” For every band that says that, I can name five bands that sound exactly like them. There’s no band out there that has the sound that we have. We bring something new to the table. And even though it’s got that ’80s vibe, it’s not completely ’80s; it’s got today’s sound blended with the ’80s sound. People say we sound like Journey with breakdowns. I don’t know if that’s a good comparison. There’s not that many breakdowns on this record. For anyone expecting a metalcore record, they’re going to be let down. This is not as “core” as the last record. It’s not that it’s not heavy; it’s a little more serious and not as typical and bland. There’s a point where you run out of breakdowns to write. We’re trying to escape that scene. This is a little more straight rock ‘n’ roll.
Were a lot of your fills on the new album written beforehand, or were they improvised in the studio? They sound fairly tight.
I don’t know, man. To be honest, the drums were the easiest thing to do on this record. I wrote a lot of the songs. Me and Sean write a lot of the songs, and we kind of just build them from scratch. I also did all the keys on this record; I used to be the keyboard player for the band. My main focus on this record was the song — the actual creation of the song — and the arrangement and everything. Then, when it was time to do the drums, I just went with it. It wasn’t as methodical. Being an engineer, I’m OCD with everything being perfect, but with the drums I just went with it. Obviously, I wanted certain hits here and there and for the drums to talk with the shred on some songs, but other than that it’s just powerbeats. There’s no method to the madness.
When you went into the studio with producer James Paul Wisner, did you personally help him record everything?
Well, we toured on ‘Pedal to the Metal’ for the past three and a half years, so I keep a rig with me, and as we traveled the world we’re always pumping out hits and doing demos. When it came time to actually do the record, myself and James took on the project together. Obviously, we did the drums with James and a lot of the guitars. A lot of the shred and guitars I did in a hotel somewhere with Sean. We did a lot of reamping on this record. We would do eight to ten hours with James at his studio and then go home and spend another eight hours tracking more shred and stuff. It was a constant collaborative effort. Where James shined the most was with producing the vocals, because we did a lot of vocals on this record. We did a lot of harmonies, and there’s a big Def Leppard sound, which is what we wanted. We tracked every vocal part like five times. There are some choruses where you wouldn’t think it but there are over one hundred vocal tracks going on. James definitely had a lot of patience. The majority of the tracking with James was vocal work. A lot of the instrumentation was done here and there and all over the place. James also mixed the record. That was really cool, too. When everything was said and done, everyone went home, but I kind of assisted James and helped him with all the mixes and stuff. We were very much a part of it. It wasn’t like those bands that just walk in and have a second to do their stuff and then leave. We were very much a part of the project, and it shows on the record. We poured a lot of time into it. I don’t think I got more than two hours of sleep for six straight months.
Engineering-wise, what kind of gear and plugins were you using a lot?
I don’t know, man. I’m a really simple guy. I’m using Pro Tools and some regular gear, like normal Waves plugins. Nothing special. Just the usual stuff. James has a home setup, but he has so much awesome gear. I can’t even remember all the gear that was there. What was really cool was we got to mix the record on this 1980 or 1979 SSL board. It’s the same console that Top Gun and Scarface were mixed on. A lot of the record was done in-the-box but also with a lot of hardware, so a little bit of everything.
I have a small mobile recording rig all in a six-space rack and it goes with me all over the world. Whenever we’re together, we’re like, “Are we opening up the studio right now?” It’s cool that bands get to do that, if they can. It sucks to not be able to lay out your ideas. And a lot of these songs that are on the record were maybe recorded at 3 A.M. in the morning. It’s great to have the gear like that at your fingertips.
Definitely. In the future, I imagine more and more bands will be investing in mobile rigs. It’s a great resource to have on the road.
In our last bus, I dedicated a whole area to our studio rig. One time we broke down and we had to go get something to fix it and when we came back someone had broken into our bus and stole all my gear.
And a couple of tours ago someone got a hold of my Macbook Pro in the back. It’s cool, because as musicians we always find new gear, but so much of our stuff has been stolen. I guess that happens when you’re in a band.
Seems like it. I noticed that the band’s new music video for “Forever” will be out soon. Did you have fun shooting that?
Yeah, it’s coming out before the record does. It was fun. We did it with Robby Starbuck. Have you ever heard of him?
Yeah. I don’t know much about music videos, but I’ve definitely heard his name come up a lot.
Yeah. I’ve always been a fan of his work, so we hit him up. I don’t know if you know this, but the band is located everywhere around the world.
No, I didn’t know that.
The band originated from Montreal, but we’ve cycled in and out of so many members. Tony lives in Albuquerque, Tyler still lives in Montreal, Sean bounces back and forth between New York and LA, I live in Orlando, and our new guitarist Sam lives in London.
[chuckles] We’re all scattered. We knew it was time to film a music video, so we all flew out to LA, did the video for “Forever” first, then we shot the video for another song — I don’t think I’m allowed to say which song it is — but we shot a second video that was a straight-up party video. We rented out a beach house in Malibu and just went at it.
Oh, so it was a pool party?
Yeah, a pool party. It’s funny because it was a beach house on the coast of Malibu, but we were having so much fun in the house that most of the shots are inside and at the pool. We didn’t really get any shots out on the beach. But, yeah, Robby Starbuck’s a great director. He’s got a good vision, and he’s a young guy. It was really cool working with him. He’s a killer editor, too. He’s a jack of all trades. Him and his team are really good.
I assume that some new tour dates will be announced after the album is released.
Yeah, we were holding off because we’re just trying to pump the album. We were going to have the record come out last October or November, but we couldn’t work it out with all of our other labels worldwide to release it at the same time. We didn’t want to have it be out here but not in any other countries. But yeah, we’ll be going out on tour soon, and we’re going to be out all year. With Tooth & Nail as our label and being based in the US, I know we’re going to be doing a lot more touring in the US. For the last few years, we’ve been touring a lot overseas and not in the US, but now we’ll do a lot more here.
And Japan really likes you guys, I hear. They love shred.
[laughs] Yeah, definitely. They love sushi and they’re all ninjas.
You don’t see them coming into the show because they’re all ninjas, but when the lights come on, there they are in front of the stage.
They treat us good and the shows are huge. It’s funny, in Japan they’re quiet in between songs. They have this reverence for the band. They don’t know a lick of English but they’ll scream and shout every word and they’ll jump up and down and then when you’re done with the song they’ll clap and then become completely silent. It’s weird when you’re playing in front of 20,000 people and in between songs they’re completely quiet until you start the next song.
That would weird me out.
[laughs] But, you know, we love all of our fans. We’re not going to say we only love Japan because we’re huge there.
Pick up Blessed By a Broken Heart’s new album, Feel the Power.
For the band’s upcoming tour dates, check out their Facebook page.