If you were a teenager at any point in the 80s and living in the muggy Crescent City New Orleans, you remember Lillian Axe. In my memory, Lillian Axe was the biggest and best hard rock band in New Orleans. Whether they were playing my school gym or playing an arena opening for Ratt, you could always count on Lillian Axe delivering a high energy, high quality fun performance.
Nearly 30 years and numerous lineup changes, lead guitarist/songwriter Steve Blaze is still leading Lillian Axe on his endless call to continue bringing the bands hardcore fan base new music. Lillian Axe’s latest release The Days Before Tomorrow is a testament that Blaze and The Axe are far from out of ideas. I recently had a chance to talk to guitarist Steve Blaze and it was like talking to an old friend even though the two of us have never really met. We reminisced on the days of old, talked about the band’s latest album, and his current band Circle of Light featuring the original incarnation of Lillian Axe. Sit back and enjoy y’all.
Steve, thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. As a long time Axe fan, it’s great to finally interview you for my site. How are you?
Thanks Don. Man, I’m doing really well thank you. Can you hear me ok? I’m actually in my car right now and I’ve got you on Bluetooth.
I can hear ya just fine brother. Look at you all high tech and shit.
[laughs] I’m telling ya. I really appreciate you having me do this brother.
Steve, I just wanted to start out by saying I’ve been a long time Lillian Axe fan. I grew up in Metairie so I saw you guys quite a few times at St. Christopher’s school gym so I’m totally dating myself here.
[laughs] Nice. I remember those days very well.
The last time I saw Lillian Axe was at the Masquerade here in Atlanta on the Psychoschizophrenia tour.
Oh wow. That was a great venue. Is that place still open?
It sure is man. It’s one of the longest standing rock clubs in the Southeast I think.
That is awesome. That was a really cool place to play.
Congrats on being inducted in the New Orleans Music Hall of Fame by the way. That must have felt really good to finally be recognized as a staple of the New Orleans music scene.
Thanks brother. Rock music is pretty much a bastard child in New Orleans so when were inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame last year, it was almost like some retribution for us. The problem was that the city itself and the entertainment media didn’t support hard rock and still don’t to this day. There were and still are a lot of great rock bands around here especially in that time period but they just didn’t get the support. We were finally getting recognized because we never really had that on a larger scale like I felt it should’ve been.
Well first off, at that time as you recall there were so many venues to play. We had literally a rock club in every city like Thibodaux, Houma, Lafyette, Shreveport, and Monroe. You could do a different venue every night for five days a week and you wouldn’t play the same place for two months. It was really thriving. We really did have our own little scene that just kind of spread out. It was virtually impossible for a band to just pack up and go live out in LA. We knew that we didn’t have to do that in order to get recognized and get a record deal so we just cultivated our market as much as we could.
As a young guy growing up in New Orleans, Lillian Axe was a big inspiration to me as a musician to not feel that going to California was the answer to pursuing that dream. I remember those years being really exciting for a young kid in New Orleans where LA was a universe away.
Thanks brother. You know, it was exciting for us because at that time hard rock was just starting to get some radio play and bands like Motley Crue and Ratt were starting to open things up. We would go play Houma, LA on a Tuesday night and have like 500 people there. Now you can play a club on a Saturday night and draw 200 people. It’s a real shame how society has become so numbed out to the rock music scenes on our planet. It was exciting back then though because it was new. People weren’t spoiled back then. They didn’t have the ability to sit on the internet all day long and look at concerts on the internet. It was a great time and it’s a shame that things have changed and kids don’t know what they’re missing out on.
I’m telling you Steve. I was lucky to not only remember seeing the scene when it was like that but I was a part of it in a few different bands. What do you think it was that killed local scenes all over the country it seems.
Well, it’s bigger than just killing the local scenes. The national scene was killed to. Look at bands as big as Rush and Def Leppard and even those guys aren’t selling out arenas any more. I mean, they’re doing great for the times but even some of these huge multiplatinum acts aren’t filling arenas any more. It’s a rarity. The entertainment scene itself is just terribly expensive these days. I mean, I don’t want to go pay $150.00 a ticket to go see Van Halen or Kiss or anyone. It’s ridiculously over priced, the economy is tough, and people just don’t have the money. You also don’t have the level of media support anymore. Radio and TV just don’t support it. Back in the day, I was doing radio interviews all the time as an unsigned artist. Do you even hear interviews with bands on the radio at all anymore unless it’s internet radio? The whole entertainment industry needs a complete enema and it needs to be flushed out. There just needs to be a change.
We need to quit having free downloads and the industry isn’t doing anything to keep it from happening. We spend money making records and it is so difficult to get recouped. It’s like we’re giving this stuff away and people don’t realize how much it costs for us to make it. It’s hard to keep the clubs open because people aren’t going out to see live music like they used to. All they have to do is pop it up on YouTube or something. It’s terrible. It hasn’t deterred us but we just have to be smart about what we do. We’re all smart enough to be involved in other entrepreneurial things in our lives so that we don’t have to rely on music as our only source of income. It’s very difficult out there for everybody. It’s rough but we do it because we love it. That’s why Lillian Axe has been around for so long.
Back in 1987 I saw Lillian Axe open for RATT and at 14 years old I remember being so impressed by that. How did you Lillian Axe end up as an arena opening act without even having a demo out?
We were a very big draw all throughout the South and we were doing really well. There were some promoters who were doing 5 shows down here and I guess the ticket sales were not what they wanted so they added us to the shows to increase sales and that’s how we got hooked up with our first manager who got us our first record deal.
Well, what happened was MCA records wanted to sign the band. We were playing in Dallas and they sent out five of their people to see the band play. We met with them and then later I got a call from the guy who was going to manage us and he said, “Hey, MCA only wants to sign you. They don’t want to sign the rest of the band.” We had been having some issues within the band. Some of the guys were going through some stuff and since I wrote the songs and owned the name, they wanted to just form a whole new band around me. I went to bat for the guys but at the end of the day, they were like, “We’re not going sign you unless you make the move.” We were going through some difficulties at the time and I felt like the band could even be broken up in three or four months and I didn’t want to miss out on that opportunity. I kept Danny (King), our drummer, and then reformed the band with Ron Taylor, Jon Ster, and Rob Stratton. It was a tough time but 20 something years later I’ve reunited with Johnny Vines, Mike Maxx, and Danny King to form Circle of Light. We just released our album Rebirth a few months ago and we’re out doing shows and playing songs from that era of Lillian Axe that never made it to any of the albums.
I have the Circle of Light album and I have to say that I loved hearing all of those old classic Lillian Axe songs done by the original lineup. How did this come to be and what was it like reuniting with your old friends?
First off, Danny stayed with us through the Love and War album. After two albums it just wasn’t working out so he took off in 1990. Through the years I would see Michael or run into Johnny here and there but we never really stayed in touch. There was some anger and resentment but I understood it. Lillian Axe did a show in Houston once and Johnny’s band Logan actually opened up for us. He got up on stage and sane “Misery Loves Company” with us and we had a good time. Me and my wife ended up going back up there to spend the weekend with Johnny and his wife and we reunited friendship wise.
We were talking and I just said, “Why don’t we just reform the original band, call it Circle of Light after our song of the same title, and just go in and do a record of some of those old Lillian Axe songs that never made it to record. Johnny thought it was a great idea and we contacted the other guys. They were cautious at first and not quite sure but we got together and it felt like we hadn’t skipped a beat. We jammed on songs that we hadn’t played together in 20 something years and it just went amazing. Over the course of the next year we did some shows, rehearsed, and then went in and recorded them. We’re all good friends again and it’s been great. It’s been full circle.
It was so great to hear those songs done and they really have stood the test of time. I had a bunch of those songs on a cassette tape that circulated around New Orleans in the ‘80s until it got eaten by my tape deck.
[laughs] Yeah, there are a lot of demos floating around even to this day. I met this guy in Cleveland who had a whole plethora of demos and there were songs on there that I didn’t even remember doing [laughs].
Why didn’t you guys record “Axe Attack”?
[laughs] Oh man. Ya know, to be honest, that was kind of our phrase and our motto and everything but I just felt that some of those songs were a little too cheesy, a little bit dated so we’ll just let that one be a demo [laughs].
I still remember that I had this Lillian Axe shirt when I was in Catholic grammar school and I used to wear it under my uniform and a buddy of mine would always come to me and go, “AXE ATTACK BRAH!”
[laughs] That’s funny man [laughs].
In the mid/late 90’s, Lillian Axe took a hiatus and came back with Fields of Yesterday which was stellar. Long time singer Ron Taylor departed not long after that. What led to Ron’s departure and the complete change in the Lillian Axe lineup?
Well, in 1996 when we took a break, I feel like there were a bunch of different factors. With Psychoschizophrenia my writing was really starting to blossom and I was finding who I am as a songwriter. I was writing some darker stuff, longer songs with more intricacies and things like that and getting away from that style that the other guys liked which was a little more commercially formatted. I was really getting into writing songs more like “Ghost of Winter”, “Waiting in the Dark”, and things like that. The more serious side of what I wanted to write about and I think the other guys kind of wanted to be the next Stone Temple Pilots. I think that was part of the reason that everyone wanted to go off and do other projects and give Lillian Axe a rest for a while. I was probably the biggest proponent of that and that’s when I started Near Life Experience. After a few years, we started talking about doing a reunion show and we did a show in Dallas and we had a great show and decided to just work the band back together. We then did the live album and felt like we were crawling back to where we wanted to be. We had a couple of changes. Sam Poitevent came in and replaced Jon (Ster; guitarist) who was having some serious personal issues and Ken Koudelka replaced Tommy Stewart (drummer) who went on to do Godsmack. We went out and started doing shows and after the live album we wanted to start working on a new studio album and Ron just didn’t want to do it. I don’t think Ron wants to go through the hectic nature of this business anymore. He wants to stay home, make music, and play locally and that’s good for him. It was a shame because he and I really had a great chemistry and we did a lot of great things together. People don’t understand that there’s a lot more to it that just going out there and doing it. He just didn’t have it in his heart anymore.
I know that “Love & War” gets a lot of praise but as a long time Lillian Axe fan, I always felt that Psychoschizophrenia was a jewel of an album and I feel that is some of your best writing.
I agree with you that Psychoschizophrenia was a turning point for me as a songwriter. Before our newest album, I thought that Psychoschizophrenia was our best piece. I mean, I love Waters Rising and Sad Day on Planet Earth but I just feel that there was a certain magic to Psychoschizophrenia. After Poetic Justice and they told us to get in there and do another record. The record company bought me a recording studio for my house and something just clicked with me. The writing for that album was like the flood gates opened. My creativity and my ideas and the melodies came so easily and it was a new phase that I had never experienced before. From that point on it’s been my compass into how I work right now. That came back to me when I was doing Days Before Tomorrow.
Steve, I’ll be honest. I was very apprehensive about listening to the latest album and I didn’t do so until I scheduled this interview with you. Talk about being blown away. This is probably my favorite album since Psychoschizophrenia. What a great record and it’s almost progressive at times. Do you hear this a lot from long time Axe fans?
I hear this from tons of people. A lot of times, I get angry at first when people are like, “Aw man, you got another singer. I’m not going to like this.” Then I’m like, “Wait a minute. I’m still writing the songs and it’s still the same band. Give me a break [laughs]. Then I start to try and see it through their eyes. The fans are going to be apprehensive because they don’t want you to come in and have another singer. When we chose Brian to be our singer, we knew we were going to get critiques and criticisms no matter what. The guy could have the voice of an angel and people still won’t like it. Fans relate your music to a time in their life and they have such a connection with it that they don’t want change. 95% came out saying that they didn’t know what to expect but that they were blown away.
Change, especially when changing vocalists, is a tough thing for fans to swallow.
Everybody is going to be apprehensive when you make a change like that. I hear some people saying that they don’t like the change and to bring back so and so. Well, that ain’t going to happen. When Derek and Ron left the band that was their choice. They didn’t get fired or get asked to leave. They quit and walked away. I would think that your support would be with the band and with me, the guy who is still there and is going to make music for you instead of closing up show and calling it a day. That would be unfair to the fans for me to put to rest just because the singer leaves. That is my dedication to our fan base and I will continue to make the best music I can.
Steve, I’m so glad to hear this and I am with you man. I’m glad you’ll keep bringing us new Lillian Axe music for as long as you can. Let’s lighten things up a bit here brah! Question: If Hollywood made a movie about your life, which actor would play you?
Oh man [laughs]. I think it would be Brad Pitt [laughs]. Not for reason that he would make me look good or anything like that. I like the guy as an actor and when I’ve seen how he acts in movies like “Legends of the Fall” and “Interview with a Vampire”, he is able to really capture this kind of inner sadness and where he’s kind of introverted. That really epitomizes a lot of how I am. I wear my heart on my sleeve and he’s an actor who can portray those kinds of internal dilemmas that I go through.
Finish this phrase Steve: If I wasn’t a musician I would be…
An actor [laughs]. You know how it is. All musicians want to be actors and all actors want to be musicians [laughs]. I kind of fall into that category and I’d love to be an actor. I’ve always wanted to be in movies. Eric the bassist and I even did a low budget vampire movie that you can see on YouTube called Slayer Zed and the City of the Dead. We spent a year in pre production and had a $400,000 budget. We had a cast and everything and were ready to start filming and then Hurricane Katrina came and destroyed everything.
Steve, thank you so much man. I’m bummed that I don’t get to see any Circle of Light shows.
Man, we’re going to be doing more shows. Do you ever come down here at all?
I was just there with my mother visiting my uncles in the Parish. Had a kick ass shrimp po-boy, some beignets, and some king cake. Filled my belly with the food of my homeland brah!
[laughs] That’s awesome man. Next time you’re here let me know.
And last but not least, there any more plans to tour? I haven’t seen a Lillian Axe show if fucking years.
[laughs] Well, we just found out that we’re going out in April with Dio’s Disciples and Geoff Tate. That is supposed to be all major markets so hopefully we’ll be in your area and coming to Atlanta.
That sounds like that will be a kick ass tour and I hope it comes my way. Steve, thanks so much for doing this interview today man. This was great and it was like talking to an old friend. I feel like I’ve known you for 25 years.
Well you have [laughs]. It’s been great brother. I really appreciate you and please keep in touch anytime and let me know when you’re coming down here. Hopefully we’ll be in Atlanta on the tour and we’ll definitely hook up brother.
Thanks so much to Steve for this really fun interview. For more on Lillian Axe, go to http://www.lillianaxe.com