Great White will be playing here in Duluth, GA TOMORROW NIGHT at Wild Bills and I couldn’t be more psyched to see a show. Great White has been one of my favorite bands since I first laid hears on them in 1987. The band went from being obsucre metal Judas Priest style metal to being one of the forefathers of a genre of hard rock along side bands like Tesla and Cinderella. The band had massive success and then once again became an obscure band who continued to put out quality material over the years. Great White has seen many ups and they have seen downs that would’ve killed most bands forever. From The Station night club fire to losing long time singer Jack Russel and painful and emotional litigation, Great White managed to keep a float (or keep swimming maybe?) and continue to tour, make great music and blow fans away with their energetic, fun, and at times emotional live performances.
One year after the release of their album Elation (the first with new vocalist Terry Illous) I had the pleasure of catching up once again with long time keyboardist/guitarist/producer/songwriter Michael Lardie. It was so great to catch up with Michael as we talked about the current state of Great White, touring on planes vs. busses, and why he felt the awesome Psycho City album feel under deaf ears!
Hey there Michael. It’s so great to talk to you again!
Indeed my friend, indeed. How have you been?
I’ve been doing great and you seem to be a busy guy these days!
Oh yeah. We’re in the middle of summer tour season banging them out weekend after weekend and it looks like we’re going to basically be in your back yard soon.
I am so psyched that you guys are finally making it out and down to the good ol’ south. It’s been too long man. My inner spastic teenager got all giddy and was doing happy dances when I heard about this show.
[laughs] That’s awesome Don. Thanks so much.
Last time we talked, Great White had just released Elation which is your first new album with new vocalist Terry Ilous. Now that you’ve got a year and then some under your belt with this line up, were you the least bit surprised at the level of positive feedback the album got?
It’s something you always hope for when you make such a dramatic change in the sound of your band. You hope that the people that have been with you year after year will accept where you’re going. We had big hopes for that and based on the fact that we’re continuing to play high profile gigs it seems that that would be the case.
I think that anytime you change a dramatic element in a situation it’s going to be some excitement whether it’s positive or negative. We were very fortunate that it was very positive. It’s definitely a shot in the arm and you could even make the analogy that I’ve been with the old lady for thirty years and now I’ve got the 20 year old mistress.
You have the 20 year old mistress but you just call her by the same name.
[laughs] Oh that’s too funny.
It was interesting to read the feedback on this album. Some folks said that it was great and others said that you just rushed an album out with this new singer. I personally can side with you guys in that whenever I have new material, I want everyone to hear it ASAP.
Yeah and that was our intent going into this. I guess to some extent it can be looked at as some sort of a business venture but at the same time we just felt motivated to put it out to see how people would respond to it.
Now that you’ve built this relationship with Terry that seems to be lasting and flourishing, are there plans to write and record another album?
At some point. We’ve been lucky enough to be songwriters for the duration of our career so it’s kind of a motion of what you on any given day. Some days we have time to work on songs and other days we may just come up with a riff or two at sound check but the idea is that you’re always moving forward and you’re always writing something new. That’s what drives us. We’ve been lucky to always have the mindset that we don’t want to become the review band that does a residency in Vegas.
I feel that new music keeps the more classic bands modernly relevant. It keeps bands like Great White from becoming a mere nostalgia act.
Exactly and there might even be a point where that might make sense to us but certainly not now.
The drama between the split with long time singer Jack Russell is no secret. I was curious to ask you if there was every any pressure to try and patch things up with Jack from a business standpoint?
No, not really. It was never a matter of that. Anytime you’re in litigation and I will point out that he is the one that brought on the litigation, not the other way around. Unfortunately, when you have to go through that it costs everybody a whole lot of money so you have to wonder what the motivation behind that is.
Bands in general are dysfunctional families…
[laughs] You think? [laughs]
There’s nothing about it that was anything less than extremely difficult but with Mark and I being the primary songwriters in the band, we’re just knew we needed to move forward that that’s what we’re going to continue to focus on. That is what will keep us from sitting around and being morose about it and pushing forward and doing something creative instead of sitting around and going, “Man, this really sucks.” It did suck, you know?
I can’t even imagine what kind of an impact all of this can have on any kind of personal relationship/friendship.
I can only speak for myself but it does change the dynamic of your relationship with another individual for life. It’s really unfortunate.
It really is but Great White is moving forward and once again setting up more shows. Do you guys ever stop playing?
[laughs] Well, we’re going to try and be a little quiet in November and December of this year so we can take some time to compile some of the song ideas that we have and get some material in the box. I know that we’ve already got the Monsters of Rock cruise on the books for next year so I’m really looking forward to that. It was a great experience the last time.
These cruises seem to be the big thing these days. You’ve done them before. As an artist, what is that experience like for you being that up close and personal with your fans?
What I will say about the band is thank God we’re not Greta Garbo [laughs]. To put a finer point on that, we’ve been lucky enough to have fun dealing with people at Meet & Greets. When you’re on the boat and you’re outside of your cabin, you’re amongst all of your fans. You can make the choice to hide out in your room or you can choose to be amongst them. The experience is cool for us because we get a chance to hang out, eat with them, and hear them tell us stories about their experiences with us over the years and even have them tell us what their favorite songs are. It’s a learning experience to be around them and when you take the facade off of feeling like you’re superior to the fans it’s a really cool experience. I wouldn’t recommend it to any artist who doesn’t want to experience it on this level.
For a fan like me who hasn’t seen Great White in nearly 20 years, what can I expect to see from you guys?
I think the important part that I try to explain to people who ask this questions is that there are certain songs that are never going to be out of the set. One of the reasons for that is the people bought the records, came to the shows, and watched the videos really made us be able to have a career for 30 years so for a band to not play their popular songs like “Once Bitten Twice Shy”, “Rock Me”, “House of Broken Love”, “Save All Your Love” wouldn’t’ be fair to the fans. As far as new material, we try and do one or two just to give people a taste of the new stuff rather than inundate them.
Looking back on your catalog, are there any songs that haven’t made it to the live front in a long time or at all for that matter that you’d love to see brought out?
I think there are a lot of songs like that but one of them is the song we used to open our set with in ’89 called “Move It.” We haven’t done that one in forever. We’ve been getting a lot of requests for the cover the Small Faces song “Afterglow” that was on the Hooked album. Another one is “Doctor Me” from Psycho City which was always fun to play. It’s always hard to feel the set that makes the fans and all of us happy. It’s a challenge but I’d rather have that kind of challenge than the alternative.
Boy, you haven’t been into Great White for very long have you? You’re showing your age now sir. [laughs] We’ve actually been doing “Down On Your Knees” just so ya know!
Oh wow. That’s awesome! Just don’t dedicate that one to me because that would be kind of awkward.
[laughs] That would be a little strange but I’ll think it in terms of very non-sexual ways [laughs].
Touring now vs touring back in the day. What are some of the differences be it good or bad that you’ve picked up on?
Probably one of the biggest differences these days is that we do fly in dates everywhere. We don’t really need a tour bus. Flying out to do shows and then getting ground transportation or even a rental van if we have to drive a little further is still better than having to get a tour bus. Even on days off, you have to pay for the driver, the gas, and the bus so the cost ends up being a lot better. The plus side to having a bus is that you do get much more sleep [laughs]. With a bus, after winding down from a gig you have the opportunity to climb into your bunk and sleep for 8 hours.
You’re also probably a lot less road worn.
Definitely. You definitely spend more time at home recuperating from the lack of sleep of a whirlwind weekend but at least you have some time at home to regroup and get ready for the next barrage of dates you have coming up. It’s just how we do it now.
Great White has done more tours than you can shake a shark at. What tour stands out to you as the most fun and memorable tour and why?
[laughs] Well one of the coolest tours was the Whitesnake tour. That tour was 10 1/2 months and they were one of the biggest bands in the land at the time. That year it was either Whitesnake or Def Leppard. They were the two top dogs of ’87/’88. We were playing in sold out arenas 5 nights a week. We were able break songs like “Rock Me” and “Save Your Love” on that tour and even “Mistreater” got a lot of play. Having relevant songs on the radio and having that kind of tour was a very heavy experience. We got our first gold and platinum albums from that tour so yeah, it was pretty heavy. The Tesla tour was a great time too. Five months out with those guys flip flopping as headliners each night. There was a great energy and vibe around that tour. We’ve been really lucky to have been paired up with really great bands and have a lot of wonderful experiences over the years.
Looking back on Great White’s catalog, what album do you feel best defines what Great White was all about.
Hm. That’s a hard one. If you could do a cross DNA match of best material from Twice Shy and Once Bitten. As far as where I think we really got to a great place as songwriters, I’d probably say Psycho City.
Psycho City is such a great album yet nobody seems to really know about it.
Well, ya know, there’s a lot of reasons for that. You can always point fingers but it was ironic that Twice Shy was closing in on 3 millions copies but then Capitol changed presidents and all of the sudden the focus was dropped on us, on Poison, and on any band of that genre. I mean, look at Poison. That year that had put out their best album Native Tongue and look what happened to that one. It wasn’t that it wasn’t a quality record, they just didn’t have the focus or support of the label at that time. I always thought that was strange because between Poison and Great White we had nearly 6 million records sold between our Twice Shy album and their Flesh & Blood album. When a record company changes presidents like, intentions, priorities, and focus all changes.
What do you feel is the biggest misconception about Great White that you’d love to put to rest?
That we were ever connected to that “pop/metal” thing. To me, our sound was never really in that genre. I always thought there should’ve been a seperate subcategory for bands like us, Tesla, and Cinderella that wasn’t that “hair metal” thing because our vibe was much more blues driven. Our guitarist Mark Kendell cut his teeth on Billy Gibbons, Eric Clapton, Alvin Lee, stuff like that. That was more about what we were about than being lumped into that “hair metal” genre.
Tom Keifer told me he kind of grits his teeth whenever he hears the term “hair metal.” Do you kind of find that term kind of insulting?
You know, I think it’s something you just learn to live with. As far as being insulted, people not coming to our shows or buying our records would be way more insulting [laughs]. People who really love our band and buy the record really know what we’re all about so that’ all that’s important.
If you could go back in time 25 years, what would you tell your self about 2013?
I would tell myself that I feel blessed continuing to do the thing that I love to do!
Michael, thanks so much for taking the time to do this and I’m so excited to see you guys Saturday night here in Georgia.
Thank you so much Don. We’ll look forward to hanging out with you my friend.