By Jeb Wright
Classic Rock Revisited caught up with guitarist Pat Travers to check in and see how a rock god from the 1970‘s is surviving in the year 2016!
We discuss social media, radio, MTV and not jumping on bandwagons. Oh, we also take a side road and discuss a couple of classic tunes, getting a record deal in the first place and YouTube.
One thing is for sure, as long as there is an audience willing to pay for a ticket, PT will stop, smile and rock your balls off!
Jeb: You’ve spent a lot of time and effort building up the fan base in social media and doing stuff for the fans. Is it paying off?
Pat: If you can’t work social media these days and put out YouTube videos or cover some kind of social media, it doesn’t matter how good your stuff is or sounds, it’s going to have a very hard time. First of all, there is no place for it to be played. FM radio doesn’t really exist anymore and so where else is there?
Unless you have the social media chops where you have the Facebook and Twitter fans and you can put out a YouTube video that excites people, then hopefully they will go down and click on ITunes and buy the song. There is really no other way. CDs don’t sell. Nobody even has CD players anymore.
Jeb: You’ve told me you’ve had a change of mind… is this change more from the way the music business is now and sheer survival? Are you jumping on the bandwagon now?
Pat: I’m not jumping on the bandwagon, I’m just going the only route there is. It just makes sense. People these days, and not just people my age or your age, now need to see a visual thing first and that entices them hopefully to purchase the audio. It is has been like that since the advent of MTV. Really, you can go back and see we had low entropy and now we have high entropy; it’s not going to change. People don’t have the patience to just listen to something and use their total imagination; they need visual stimulation first.
Jeb: Maybe it’s my age, but that stuff just pisses me off.
Pat: You can get pissed off about it but what difference is it going to make? My son is 19 and he is really good at movies and videos… he is capable. He also writes his own songs and sings and plays guitar, so we are going to go full bore with that method with him, and some of this new stuff I’ve got coming up we are going to do the same thing. It is actually easier than recording a whole 12-song album.
It takes a lot of time and money to make an album and then not having a medium for it to be heard. It is better to do one or two tracks and create some nice visual stuff for it. We can use our social media to promote it, people will see it, people will hopefully share it and hopefully they’ll go to iTunes and download it.
It is pretty simple and anyone can do that, so it is a lot better than it was when I first started, because you had to have that major record deal and getting that was like winning the lottery; it didn’t happen to everybody. It wasn’t that some artists weren’t deserving, they just -for whatever reason- didn’t meet the right people or do the right showcases or something, so now it’s a much more level playing field.
Anybody can create a track and a video to go with it, float it out there on YouTube, start promoting it with all their friends and hopefully if people are responding to it, then they’ll buy the iTunes audio and they’ll get into the band. If that one song doesn’t work out, then they don’t have that much invested in it, and you can move onto the next. Maybe it will take 3 or 4 before you finally get something that sticks.
You don’t have to spend all the money that it costs to record an entire CD which isn’t going to sell anyway. Taylor Swift doesn’t sell any CDs. All of her stuff is all digital downloads and their MP3s that sound like shit. It doesn’t seem to matter to anyone. It isn’t that important.
When I’m recording an album, I anguish over the audio quality and try to make it as best as I can, recording at really high sample rate, and reduce it down to a 16-bit CD rate, and it is sold over the internet at an MP3 rate, which is less than 100th of what we started out with quality wise. Obviously people don’t care.
Jeb: In all the times that I’ve interviewed you before, I’ve never asked you: How did you get the record deal? How did you end up on Polydor?
Pat: I moved to London when I was 21 in 1975 and I hung out for a month or two and made this four-song demo and none of the songs were original songs. I started calling up all the major record companies and tried to make appointments with the A&R guys. Most of their secretaries said you just need to submit the tape and we’ll listen to it and I said, “No, no, I need to come in and meet with them personally.”
I met with about 6 different major record companies with mixed results, until I met this one fellow with a label called Photogram; he loved my stuff. He signed me. I didn’t have a manager or anything. I was contacted by someone who became my manager and he immediately said, “This record deal sucks and we need to do something else.”
Through another connection, we got the demo to a guy who was the managing director at Polydor in London, a crazy Dutch guy. He loved my demos that I was recording, so I got signed by the President of the company, and that meant that we were at the top of the list as far as promotion and everything else was concerned, and then he moved to New York and he got promoted to Phonogram Worldwide, so we changed our deal and signed there.
We started touring in 1978 and all the stops were pulled out for us. I kind of took all of that for granted, not thinking, boy I should thank my lucky stars. All of that changed when he got fired and all the other people left. That’s the way it goes with record businesses, when new people come in they want to sign their own acts and they’re not interested in acts they didn’t have anything to do with. That is standard. It always happened.
Like I said, I think it is much better now; you don’t have to rely on these few, “hard to get to” people and you can build up your audience and you don’t have to be regional, with the internet you are exposed all around the world. You can pick up fans anywhere.
Jeb: One thing about your history that has always intrigued me: you were quite capable of being just the only guitarist in the band… so why did you bring Pat Thrall in?
Pat: Because mostly everything I wrote was for two guitars, even when we were a three-piece. When we got in the studio, I felt there were two guitar parts here, so I was always looking for a guitar player to come and play with me, and Pat Thrall just kind of landed in our lap. It was awesome because he played so much differently than me and when we played together it sounded great. He was so much fun and we had a great time together. We were the same age. and we had a lot in common personally… it was cool.
Jeb: I have to ask you a question you’ve been asked before: which came first, the riff for “Snortin’ Whiskey, Drinkin’ Cocaine” or the phrase snortin’ whiskey, drinkin’ cocaine?
Pat: I’ve had the riff for a long time, probably for 2 or 3 years, just never knew what to do with it. It was actually kind of a country riff and I modified it and made it more Bluesy and then of course Pat Thrall came up with the title, totally accidently. Since I had that riff, I just put the two together and wrote it. It’s basically a Blues tune: it’s got those 1/4/5 chords and when it hits the 5, the bass notes climb dramatically and the chords are still the same.
Jeb: Legend holds that Thrall was late for the recording.
Pat: That was absolutely true… he was hours late, and when he finally did show up looking a little worse for wear, I asked him what he had been doing and he said, “Snortin’ whiskey and drinkin’ cocaine”. That sounds like a song and I wrote the song right there in about 6 minutes. Low hanging fruit, that’s what that was.
Jeb: Tell me about you appearing on a song by the band Extreme.
Pat: Well I sang on a song. I did a guitar pass as well, but Nuno Bettencourt wasn’t interested in that, he had the tune pretty much finished the way he wanted it. He wanted me to sing a little pre-chorus and he wanted me to sing it exactly like the demo he sent me, so that’s what I did. It doesn’t sound real obvious that it’s me, but some people can hear it. It’s on the pre-chorus before “Get the Funk Out”.
Jeb: Did you know them? Were they Pat Travers fans? How did it happen?
Pat: Nuno was a big fan and he solicited me in LA after a gig one night. It was too late and my ears were fried and there was just no way that I was going to go into his studio at 3 am… and he pursued me for a month or so and finally I said, “Send me the song” and it was “Get the Funk Out” and the demo was great and I said I love it, this is fun.
We went out to L.A. and Michael Wagner was producing and it was all pretty quick and he knew what he wanted from me and I appreciated that; I always appreciate when the guy in charge knows what he wants and I was happy to do it.
Jeb: Your style… you use a lot of pentatonic scales which are the Blues scales… when you look at a song like “Life in London”, that’s not necessarily a Blues song, I don’t hear that influence.
Pat: Absolutely not. I love the Blues and I love playing in a Bluesy style, but the songs I generally write have a little more sophisticated structure and a little more counterpoints, and things like that. They’re more structured. I need to hear things like the bass playing this, and the drums playing that…
Jeb: You also were famous for being able to take a song, taking a 1/4/5 Blues song, and making it not sound like a 1/4/5 Blues song.
Pat: I started doing that when I first started playing. I was a huge fan of Vanilla Fudge when I was about 14. They would take songs that were popular and totally rearrange them. They did a bunch of stuff. I enjoyed that, but ultimately I felt like “that’s cool,” but that I need to write my own tunes, ‘cause doing that was easy. I could come up with 10 arrangements a day, if I had to… it’s not that difficult. I’ve got a lot of chops.
Jeb: You said you need to take a rest from recording now… is that because you need some time to rebuild some creative stuff?
Pat: No, I’ve got lots of stuff to record, and as a matter of fact I was just in the studio. Carmine [Appice] and I did an album in 2004 and Cleopatra is going to re-release it and they wanted a couple of bonus tracks, so I went in the studio the other day to start working on these tracks. I have to email them to Carmine and he’ll put the drums on and some backup vocals and percussion, and he thinks he’s even going to put some keyboards on one or two, so I’m excited about that.
Jeb: The industry in America can be pretty brutal these days.
Pat: Well, I mean, things have changed, it’s a whole different thing now. People don’t just go by their ears, and they have to see something to trigger them to want to buy the music. I foresaw that as soon as MTV came out. I thought, “Well this sucks. What if you’re no good at making videos?”
Some bands and artists were better at it than others and they benefitted from it. People like myself who just kind of resented having to do these stupid videos were like, what’s this all about, cause I’m not an actor, I’m a musician and stage performer. I found the whole thing kind of off-putting, but now my thinking has changed and I have to adapt. The next stuff we are coming up with we’ll have YouTube videos to go with each track before we put it out there.
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