INTERVIEW: 8084 (Aug 2003)
Richard Baldwyn chats to 8084 Richard Baldwyn manages to snaggle 8084's Randy Smith for a few GLORY-DAZE ramblings, as the band prepares its latest forthcoming album 'The Last Great Train'..
All Aboard 'Train 8084' Feature Interview with 8084's Randy Smith. Written by: Richard Baldwyn.
Richard Baldwyn manages to snaggle 8084's Randy Smith for a few GLORY-DAZE ramblings, as the band prepares its latest forthcoming album 'The Last Great Train'. Lets introduce the current 8084 band lineup: Randy Smith - vocals, guitars, keyboards Andre Maguera - guitars, sequencing, vocals Gary Spaulding - percussion Roy Brown - bass, vocals
First of all many thanks for taking time out from recording your new album to join us for this interview/update Randy.
You are most welcome. We really enjoy the opportunity to connect with as many people as we can. Thank you for having us!
Can I start out by asking you about your aptitude for music at an early age. Has classical training prepared you for your role as singer and frontman in a hard rock band?
I did things a bit differently when I began singing. Although I sang in school and so forth, I didn't become serious about classical training until after our first album, '8084'. I worked with a wonderful British woman by the name of Olex Beck, who spent many hours teaching me classical techniques. After 6 years of constant training with her, I found those techniques and methods invaluable. I would encourage anyone interested in vocalizing professionally to seek this kind of training. I warm up thoroughly and go through a 20-minute routine before I sing, whether live or in the studio.
I understand your brother Brad was also a singer in a local band and something of a mentor to you?
I remember watching him rehearse in our basement when I was 11-12 years old. I always thought it was cool to see the comraderie between guys. At that point, I was fascinated by the passion when he was singing. We are still very close and he occasionally assists the band in various ways.
No doubt you've been asked this question on numerous occasions (at the risk of a bad pun I'd say at least 8084 times!) but where does the band's moniker originate from?
The band was named by the late Charlie Hawthorne, our keyboard player. It's a secret we keep within the band, to keep people wondering. We don't tell anyone the actual truth. Kind of a tribute to Chuck's spirit. I'm sure you understand.
The band was formed in 1982, when the likes of Foreigner and Journey were shifting records in their millions. The rock music scene must have been pretty exciting then. Who do you personally consider were the real movers and shakers when you were first starting out?
Journey, The Cars, Loverboy and Deep Purple to name a few.
I gather the band toured pretty extensively during 1982 to 1985, are than any memorable experiences that spring to mind at this time?
Again, we keep many of these secrets in our closet. There are many stories that we have and many experiences that we shared. One that comes to mind right off is being stripped searched at the Canadian border in the middle of the night. Not a lot of fun when it is 30 degrees below zero! The funny thing is while they were detaining us; Andre had a guitar and a small practice amp with him. The longer they kept us, the more annoyed we became. Andre eventually launched into the US National Anthem in the middle of the detention area. We all laughed but the Canadian officials didn't find it very funny. Apparently they had no sense of humour.
It must be quite a coup gaining Hirsh Gardner (of New England fame) as the producer of your first album?
Yes it was. I was a New England fan when I was in school so it was cool to actually to meet and work with Hirsh. He has an amazing feel for vocal arrangements. We are still close and chat often.
What was it like working with him? He must have been quite influential as in my humble opinion your first album has the same enticing blend of, melody and power that New England displayed on their debut?
Hirsh is as nice as he is talented. He taught us to breakdown a song into the basic parts and then build from there. We learned to try many different ideas before settling on one. He really opened our eyes to the craft of song writing and studio work.
The band's relationship with Hirsh continues to this day as Andre performed on his latest solo album. Do you anticipate any further collaborations with him in the near future?
We could only hope so. We have been talking about having him join us in the studio to work on some ideas.
I'm intrigued that you were taken under the proverbial wing of sixties icon Richie Havens he's not a name you would normally associate with hard rock music. How did this relationship bear fruition?
We met Richie in his penthouse in NYC. I think what we gained from Ritchie was the idea of self-promotion and how to create a marketing brand for the band. He is a very talented man. We also learned not to eat at Burger King in Times Square at 3:00 a.m. (laughing) But that is another story!
What was the most important piece of advice he gave you?
Same as above.
To my mind the having Aldo Nova as your producer on paper would seem to be a winning combination, particularly with his proven track record of success. Why on earth were the recordings shelved? Yet another example of short sighted-ness from record company executives I suppose?
Yes, it was a combination of record executives and poor management that created a problem for the band and the contract with CBS. Aldo is an extremely talented musician and artist and we learned tremendously from him. For legal reasons, I cannot disclose the nature of why the recordings we shelved. It's really too bad because we were 70 percent finished with the album and it was sounding great. Even Jon Bon Jovi contributed a song for us to record, as he and Aldo were close.
Obviously the tragic, untimely death of the founder member and inspirational keyboard player Charlie Hawthorne must have been a shattering blow, and it's a sign of the band's character that you recovered and carried on. What/who gave you the motivation to carry on during this period?
8084 is more than just a band. It's become a life force unto itself. It actually has become bigger than the individuals involved. It also is our life and has become a key piece to who we are as individuals. Charlie was responsible for creating the framework that has helped us carry-on the tradition to this day. Not a day goes by that I don't think of Chuck. In fact, when we pass by the location that he died, we still have a special salute that we give to him. I've probably passed that spot 400 hundred times in the last thirteen years and I have never missed a salute.
It was some 8 years between your third album 'Satisfaction guaranteed' and the best of CD 'So far' released in 1999, that's quite a gap. Presumably there's a lot of material that hasn't yet seen the light of day?
Yes there are many ideas, some better than others. But, we have determined that our sound and approach to the new CD will be a more current, yet, true-to-ourselves, type of sound. In the 80's, we wrote songs mostly about broken hearts, girls and sex. Now, we like to think of ourselves as more mature songwriters. We now just write about sex:) Just kidding! Seriously, we have learned to write about life experiences in such a way that a listener can experience the ups and downs of our everyday lives. We try to write about topics and situations that anyone can relate to.
Coming back to the New England connection, tell us a bit more about your association with Gary Boress of GB Music, I gather this goes back a number of years?
Yes, probably about 16 years. We met Gary through Hirsh. Gary and I speak almost weekly on the phone, he will be involved in some fashion with the upcoming CD project. He has a great sense of humour and business sense.
Now coming back to the present day tell us a bit more about the new album you're working on, 'The Last Great Train'. Can we expect any departure from the 8084 sound? You've intimated that you've been working out new song ideas, and arrangements, and Andre has also stepped up to the mike for the first time?
I think you'll find the overall direction quite different for 8084. Yet, it is still powerful and melodic. As we've tested a few of songs on many fans, they all seem to love the direction and recognize that it's still us. I personally think that we have become better songwriters. Andre is an amazing musician and producer. He has a feel that can turn a song around. Our drummer Gary Spaulding and bass player, Roy Brown, have provided invaluable input in the creative process. We write in such a way that the basic ideas come from Andre and I and then we bring them, in a mostly completed form with lyrics, chord changes, and melodies, to the rest of the band to work out the arrangements and individual parts. I'd like to think of the CD as a departure because instead of writing what we think people want to hear we are writing from our hearts and what we feel inside. Kind of like throwing caution to the wind..
Are there any new rock bands around at the moment that have impressed you?, and what's your take on the live music scene in the US at the moment?
I think the Goo Goo Dolls, Train, Matchbox 20 and Bon Jovi are the best in this genre. The US music scene has become diluted and I think the standards are much lower than 20-25 years ago; it's become more of how much money you can make someone else as opposed to how well you sing or play. It's all about making money and not how good you are at your profession and craft. Seems to me much of the love for the medium has changed. But that is the way most performers or athletes are today.
Presumably you'll be touring to promote the album? Is there chance that you might hop across the pond to treat your European fans to a few live shows?
We would love to come to Europe to play. We have thought many times about doing so. If we could find the right booking agency and production and support connections, we could probably pull it off. But at this point, the touring will be basically stay here in the States. Why are you inviting us? (smiling)
What is the likelihood of 8084 releasing a live album?
We have thought about it. That would be a great idea. Maybe we should come to Europe and record it as we tour over there!
You have a reputation of being an exciting high energy live act, who in your opinion are the top 5 best live rock bands performing today?
Tough question. As we are constantly working, we don't get the chance to get out to see other bands often anymore. Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, Nickleback, Matchbox 20 are very big draws.
What was the most memorable live concert you've been to?
Aerosmith when I was 15. Some buddies of mine and I were dropped off by one of their fathers to the concert. I don't think he knew how free people were smoking pot and doing drugs back then. It really was an experience. I bought 'Get Your Wings' a day later and it never left my turntable for 3 months!
You've recently added 'Whose cryin' now?' to your live reportoire. Can we expect more Journey covers? I'd would love to hear Andre let rip on a version of 'Line of fire'!
I do love performing Journey. Steve is an awesome vocalist. Andre just blows away the solo at the end and we extend it for him, giving him open space to either continue or cut the solo short. He just sends chills down my spine when he plays that solo. As far as others, we occasionally throw in Separate Ways just to blow people away. Gary and Roy are so solid holding down the band on that song that it just rocks.
[8084: Randy Smith - front, Andre Maguera - left Gary Spaulding - back, Roy Brown - right]
Whose your favourite singer, and why? (I'd hazard a guess it's Steve Perry')
Tough question Richard. You know, you would think that. (smiling) He is the singer I have 'set the bar' to work to try to extend my upper range. He is probably my favourite in that respect. But I also like Sam Cooke and early Elvis. And Rob Thomas from Matchbox 20 has unbelievable phrasing. I guess I don't have a favourite right now.
What do you do these days to stay in shape for your energetic live performances? I understand you were a high school basketball player, must come in handy for all those Dave Lee Roth style stage leaps eh?
Most of the band works out in some fashion. Andre and Gary both are avid bike riders. I personally enjoy walking 2-3 miles in the morning, and I also hike mountain trails around my home. Roy lifts weights to look so trim and lean.
Conversely, what do you to relax?
That seems to be the tough one. It's difficult to actually 'turn it off' sometimes. I spend a tremendous amount of time with my life mate Carol. She really has taught me to enjoy each day and stop and appreciate moments. Other than that, I work to relax! (smiling)
You're home in Smuggler's Notch, Vermont sounds absolutely idyllic, an ideal retreat from the pressures of everyday life?
It's like being at the foot of the Alps. The Von Trapp family, from the movie The Sound of Music, escaped from Germany in the 40's to re-locate just over the mountain from me. Some of my neighbours are moose, deer, and bear. Everyday I drive down the mountain and I am simply awestruck by the beauty of the mountains.
Finally Randy, I know like me, you're a proud parent. What one piece of advice would you give your daughter should she decide to undertake a career in the music business when she grows up?
That's funny you should bring that up. She called my last week and decided that she and her friends are going to start a band. Although she is 12, she has been taking clarinet lessons for 4 years and is part of the select band at her school. I recently gave her one of my older guitars and she is beginning lessons. She has great dexterity in her fingers. As far as advice, I would encourage her to train and learn as much as possible and be dedicated to her rehearsal time with the instrument. I would also tell her to be true to herself, and not let others influence what she should be or play. She and Andre's daughter recorded Christmas songs last year in our studio. That CD is gold to me. Andre's daughter Aspen is also very musical, as is Gary's son Justin. Perhaps they should all get together and carry on the 8084 tradition!