Buckcherry: Keith Nelson Knows How A Rock Record Should Sound Like

artist: Buckcherry date: 06/23/2006 category: interviews
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Buckcherry: Keith Nelson Knows How A Rock Record Should Sound Like
Led by vocalist Josh Todd and guitarist Keith Nelson, the down and dirty rock and roll outfit known as Buckcherry recently returned to the scene via their third studio outing 15. After a four year break, that saw the band splinter with Nelson and Todd joining Slash and co. in the initial sessions that gave birth to Velvet Revolver, the band have returned firing on all cylinders, ready to take on all comers and proudly putting the sleaze and balls back into rock. And as first single Crazy Bitch testifies, the boys mean business. Joe Matera caught up with Keith Nelson midway through the band's current U.S tour for this exclusive interview for UG. Joe Matera: Were any of the songs that appear on 15 evolved from the time you spent writing and working with Slash on the project that later became Velvet Revolver? Keith Nelson: No, none of those songs are from the batch of songs that we actually wrote with the pre-Velvet Revolver project. When Josh and I first got back together, we kind of decided we would write new material and kind of let everything be. He had done Crazy Bitch actually at the end of what was then Buckcherry, just before we hooked up with Slash and those guys. We had a demo of that song and that was kicking around. Our manager heard it and really liked the song so before we went in to make this record we thought we would just record the song and see what happened. And the thing kind of took off all on its own. We really didn't even think that was going to be our first single. But the satellite radio stations in New York started playing the song and pretty soon we started to get requests from other radio stations and soon it went top 5. Satellite radio is playing the full uncensored version but regular radio stations are the playing a clean version of it without the word 'fuck' in it. That song was kind of almost an accident in a way. Like I said, we had that song sitting around and we were just going to write a bunch of new material but we tried that one and we ended up making a record from it.
"We had done Crazy Bitch actually at the end of what was then Buckcherry."
How does the writing process work within the structure of a band like Buckcherry? They tend to come from all kinds of different places. Sometimes it can come from a guitar riff where I'll have a little piece of musical idea, like maybe a part of a verse or a chorus or a bridge. And sometimes it can come from Josh on the acoustic guitar coming in and saying I've got this idea and I'll take it and work it out. Or the bassist might come up with a bass riff and come in with his idea and we take it from there. But ultimately the songs end up in a rehearsal with the five of us all together, playing them, arranging them and making them what they are and putting our stamp on them. Did you have a musical template in mind when recording the album as it sounds very much firmly rooted in the old school way of how records were made? Well we made the record in 15 days hence the title of the record being 15 so the whole recording process went really, really quickly. Whenever I'm in the studio I'm always shooting for what I consider my highest goal. Which in my mind is making a record sound somewhere between Back In Black and Highway To Hell, which is I think how every rock record should be. That is what I'm always aiming for. So many records today are layered up with so many guitar tracks and samples and nothing really sounds real. My own take is that I want a guitar player coming out of the left speaker I want a guitar player coming out of the right speaker and the solos up the middle. I also want a great drum sound and a great vocal track that is real simple without over thinking and not having to put a million fucking tracks on it. Making records like this is similar to how we kind of rehearse it. Consequentially no one makes records like these anymore. And I think the business is suffering as a result, I think we're really missing the sound of a genuine band playing together. Instead these days, we're hearing a guy who's running a computer.
"Ultimately the songs end up in a rehearsal with the five of us all together, making them what they are."
Having gone through various guitarists over the years within Buckcherry, has it affected the way you approach your guitar playing within the band? The only time it really affected it was when we went from a single guitar band to a two guitar band. And that was really early on. I did a lot of the guitar work on the first record and then we brought in a guy for the road after that. We then made the second record with another guitar player. But it didn't really affect me in any way because I have always loved the sound of a two guitar band much in the same way as AC/DC and Aerosmith. And I never really envisioned it as being one guy playing rhythm and one guy playing lead. I feel it's more like the way Ronnie Wood and Keith Richards play together where one guy will pick the solo and then hold the rhythm and the other guy will play bits in between and hold the rhythm guitar too. I've always had that sound in my head and it's always just a matter of getting the right guy to share that with. Playing with Stevie D now is awesome because he really gets it. He really understands that whole two guitar thing. When two guys play and have a lot of respect for each other, it makes it a lot easier. You've always been very much a Les Paul man? Yes but these days I've been playing a lot of Zemaitis guitars. Zemaitis have been around for about 30 years in England and were made by a guy called Tony Zemaitis. Rich Robinson and Ronnie Wood all play these guitars. When we were in Japan about a year ago I saw an ad in a magazine for them and it turns out that there were a small group of Japanese luthiers that had got the blessing from the Zemaitis family and so are now recreating the guitars in the exact tradition that Tony made them. All with his original drawings and even the original engraver is involved. So I basically contacted them and asked them how I could get one of the guitars and that basically started the relationship between me and them and I couldn't be happier.
"I have always loved the sound of a two guitar band much in the same way as AC/DC and Aerosmith."
You have quite an extensive collection of Gibson Les Pauls at home? Yes I have. I've got like an original '54 Gold Top, an original '57 Custom with three pickups, three Les Paul Juniors from the 1950s, a '59 tobacco, a '56 and a Cherry '58. There are so many of them so that's just a small part of the bulk of Les Pauls I have. And of course I've also got an onload of custom shops. Just cool guitars like a '58 Flame top Custom Shop Les Paul and '57 Custom Shop Les Paul. Oddly enough, dominant on this record wasn't a Les Paul but a 1966 Gretsch 6120. A lot of the rhythm tracks were cut on that guitar because I was really going for something that sounded a little bit different. Other guitars also on there also include a '56 Les Paul Junior, a '51 Fender Esquire and a '74 Hardtail Fender Stratocaster. The Les Paul seems to have defined itself as being the perfect rock guitar, is that the main reason why you were initially attracted to them in the first place? Yeah, nothing sounds like a Les Paul. Really and honestly nothing kind of brings it all together like a Les Paul does. If I had to pick one guitar from my vast collection, and though I am loving using a Zemaitis guitar at the moment, I'd definitely pick a 1950s Les Paul any day. There is something about those guitars. I think the new ones don't even come close to those original ones. I don't know what it is but there is definitely something about them.
"Really and honestly nothing kind of brings it all together like a Les Paul does."
What about when it comes to amps? I've got quite an arsenal of amplifiers that I've collected over the years. But on the new record the main amps I used were a 1966 Marshall JTM45, a 1968 Marshall 50 watt Plexi, a 1971 Marshall Super Lead and a '56 Vox AC-30. A familiar trait of your playing style is the use of open G tunings. With 15, did you again utilize many open G tunings? I wouldn't say they were dominant this time around, but there are definitely some songs on the record that are in that tuning. The tunings have always part of Buckcherry's songs and on this new one songs such as Onset and Sunshine are definitive examples of that tuning. When using open G tunings, do you find it difficult to try and think out of the standard box of ideas that is usually easier when you're playing in normal tuning? The truth is when I put the guitar in open G, I really think of it in a whole different way than I would in a standard tuning. I don't really try to make one relate to the other. It's almost like a completely different head.
"I myself have not partaken in the drugs and alcohol part of that lifestyle for awhile now."
In regards to the whole sex, drugs and rock and roll vibe that permeates much of Buckcherry, how much of it is myth and how much of it is the real deal? It depends on the days of the week really. (laughs) I myself have not partaken in the drugs and alcohol part of that lifestyle for awhile now. It was just a decision I had to make in order to be able to show up and do this thing for a living. You know, to do it with some kind of consistency. Of course Buckcherry has always been a rock and roll experience. And because every one does their own thing, as long as they show up for the show and keep that consistency, I'm cool with it. Having done the whole trip yourself, do you now feel that when you were taking the drugs it helped with the creativity side of things or did it cause the opposite effect? I figure it always helped at first because any time you start doing a substance you feel like you're superman. Like you can leap a building in a single bound but ultimately I think, and the guys from Aerosmith said it the best, 'you stop becoming musicians dabbling in drugs and you start becoming drug addicts dabbling in music'. And when that starts to happen, it's very much becomes the opposite effect. Joe Matera 2006
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