By Jeb Wright
The big news is that 1980s stalwarts Ratt are getting back together to tour. Vocalist Stephen Pearcy also has news of his own. On January 27, 2017 he will release a new solo album titled Smash. I know what you’re thinking… solo albums by lead singers are usually boring as hell. Well, this time I am happy to report this is not the case! In fact, Pearcy took his time and really put a lot of his rock ‘n’ roll soul into this effort.
There are plenty of Ratt-like riffs, but there are also tips to Led Zep and other classic bands. This release is well done. Now sober, the wild rocker reflected deeper than usual in places and really paid attention to the music being created. Smash shows a man on a musical journey that is not satisfied to rest on his Ratt-infested laurels. Sober or not, Stephen is wearing his musical heart on his sleeve. This is the best music he has made in many years.
Read the interview that follows to learn more about the writing process and the Ratt reunion.
Jeb: There is a lot going on with you. This solo album and, of course, the Ratt reunion. Let’s start out talking about the solo album. A lot of guys do solo albums and a lot of times they are boring. This one pleasantly surprised me. This effort is well thought out and well-constructed.
Stephen: Smash took a long time to complete. It began a couple of years ago with me doing four EPs with four songs each. I started talking to Beau Hill about mixing and mastering some things. He did one song which made the record called “I Can’t Take It.” I ended up hooking up with Frontiers Records. I started writing songs and rewriting songs and it did take a while. We were very careful about what was being said and what was being played. We really nitpicked this thing and gave every song the attention it needed. We actually wrote songs that we put to the side because better ones kept coming up.
Jeb: That is when you have no filler.
Stephen: We actually concentrated on no filler. “I Can’t Take It” has been out, but it is such a great song. Beau could not be involved on the whole thing, but he did this. There is another extra song that is not out yet that he is involved in and one day we will get around to putting that out there. I’ve learned a lot from him over the years, so we just produced it ourselves.
Jeb: The opening song “I Know I’m Crazy” is one of the best. I am a huge Alice Cooper fan and this song has a big Cooper vibe.
Stephen: Well, that’s a compliment as I love The Coop. Maybe being sobered up made me consciously write better. I’ve written great songs on the floor, you know, but this was a little different. I wanted to go into the underworld and the above world and the inner world. There are so many things that I wanted to say. This is the second and only record I’ve ever put lyrics on and I am glad I did. It will probably be the last. But I am so glad that I did.
It all ties into the Smasher character, the horned guy with the halo. The lyrics come in the packaging. There is some stuff that is very heavy, musically as well. I’ve always been into Led Zeppelin and there are some places I went there and some elements of that. There is a lot of interesting things on this album, along with some of the fun tunes like “Lollipop.” I can’t say it is really heavy. We didn’t set out to do Mindcrime, but there is some real shit in there that I wanted to address. It came out exactly as I wanted. It is not just a record that I threw out there as I can do that all day long. This one really took some time to do.
Jeb: You have a lot of Zeppelin riffs.
Stephen: One hundred percent. We wanted that ebb and flow. We wanted the album to have the shade, and light and dark like Zeppelin III. It was a conscious choice. In the lyrics I talk about children of the earth and stuff—there is some heavy shit. It is not all ‘peanuts, popcorn and candy.’ It is not just ‘sex, drugs and Ratt & Roll’ either. That is a whole different ballgame. I wanted it to have some substance. I wanted it to ebb and flow. I wanted it to have its ups and downs and to take you on a little ride. We accomplished that from the beginning song to the end. It is almost like a story that we wanted the record to tell.
Jeb: “Shut Down Baby” rocks.
Stephen: That is the first song recorded. That is also one of the first vocal takes, by the way.
Jeb: You’ve gotten a lot of shit over time saying you can’t sing anymore.
Stephen: Yeah, sure. I love it when people say I suck. They say I don’t write and that I don’t play anything.
Jeb: The vocals on this album sound raw, no doubt, but I would say the vocal tracks sound good. I don’t hear Auto-Tune on this. You can’t get rid of that Auto-Tune sound. It does not sound doctored up.
Stephen: Oh no… less was more on this record. I actually went back to the schematics of Mickey Ratt, the EP… I wanted a lot of breathing room in the songs. I wanted to hit you with a chorus right away so you’re automatically smacked as soon as you hear it. I wanted a lot of space like you are listening to Zeppelin. There is not a lot of poop in there. There is breathing room.
We didn’t Auto-Tune. I didn’t triple my voice like normal. I did melodies on some stuff, but… no, we were direct drive but we were very conscience of what I wanted to say. My co-writer Erik Ferentinos, my guitar player, is just brilliant. He comes up with stuff and he has these ideas and he just puts a title on it and I would go, “That is the most perfect title.” He starts riffing on stuff and says, “Now… watch this.” Sure enough it would be great. It took a while, but we wanted to take that time. We didn’t want to rush it out. We were not just doing an ‘In Through the Out Door’ kind of record.
Jeb: When you do a solo album, do you try not to sound like Ratt? I hear many variations of sound, but every now and then I hear Ratt.
Stephen: Yeah… that is a compliment, too. I can’t say if that is a blessing or a curse. When I did that Vertex album with Al Pitrelli, the industrial thing we just did—we spent a lot of time on that as well. We were trying different things and people were going, “Sounds like Ratt.” I’m sorry, it did not sound like Ratt. If I do, for example, Vicious Delight, the first thing I did in 1995, to me it is a Punk record. It is a big ‘fuck you’ record and I wanted it to be that way. I played a lot of guitar on that record. Look… even when I did Arcade people were like “It sounds like Ratt.” The second song on Smash is a total Ratt song which is the single that we are going to shoot a video for called “Ten Miles Wide.” That is a total Ratt riff. You know what? My guitar player was channeling Robbin [Crosby]… who knows.
Jeb: You hear it in “I Can’t Take It.”
Stephen: One hundred percent… oh my god, yes. I just love writing. I will write something and put it away and then years later it will come back up and it will fit the bill. I just love that.
Jeb: Is it frustrating that you won’t be able to play live since you have the Ratt reunion?
Stephen: No, I’m actually going to do a Smash tour. I have a lot of dates and we are expecting more. We are booking Ratt shows, too. Warren [Demartini] and I have actually started demoing songs, believe it or not. There is no rest for the wicked here. I know what’s on the agenda and I know what I want to do, but Ratt is another beast. It is going to be a Smash and a Ratt & Roll year for me. The Smash dates are on my website.
Jeb: Very cool. I just assumed this would get sidelined for Ratt.
Stephen: No, it is very important that this record gets out there and that we play it. We will play at least four songs from it. Maybe we will sit down and do an acoustic thing of some of these songs. I did record an acoustic version of one of the songs for a B side for the Japanese release. We will do whatever it takes. I’m still here. I still want to get this stuff done. While I am enjoying it I am still going to do it.
Jeb: As the front man of Ratt it is easy for people to forget that you’re rock stars and you’re artists, too. I read your book… you’re a rock star.
Stephen: We lived that. I am the lead singer of Ratt and I created the beast. Unfortunately when you have success you have excess. You have terrible times and you have great ones and that is when you know you’ve actually made it. That is the schematic of the history of rock ‘n’ roll, you know. We didn’t know what was going to happen. We didn’t think Ratt would last two years. Robbin and I would be like, “Wow, our song is on the radio!” The next thing you know you’re off and running and headlining arenas for ten years. You end up getting beat to shit, you know.
Jeb: How are you doing? Is this a good place in your life?
Stephen: It is a great place. Personally speaking, I don’t preach sobriety. To each his own. Some of my best friends are still dummies. I’ve gotten my act together and I like it. It is a good place. It has been a long time. That is how you accomplish things, you know. I’ve done records on the floor and I’ve done records with somebody else on the floor and I’ve done records standing up.
Jeb: I wish Beau Hill would have done the entire album.
Stephen: I really wanted him to do the whole record but he couldn’t. At least he did one song that made the record. “I Can’t Take It” is the only song he did. We took off and did the rest. I know how he works, man. We are still good friends and we still talk. Like I said, we have another song in the can that he mixed and mastered just sitting there that I will pop up eventually.
Jeb: You said that you and Warren are demoing songs. We will have another album by Ratt?
Stephen: There will be another one eventually. I don’t know when, but we are still putting the pieces back together after the nonsense that went on all last year. The dust is settling. That is the way it is. You take care of business. I am not one to badmouth… to each his own, but it is time to move on.
Jeb: I was at a show in Oklahoma with Bobby Blotzer and he stormed off the stage and quit. It was an embarrassment. I witnessed it. I saw it happen. At this stage of the game and the age we all are, it is just bullshit.
Stephen: Yeah… we are very fortunate enough to have a great fan base worldwide. You can’t have one particular person that had nothing to do with writing or anything go out and decide, “Hey this is it.” He bad raps the guys who did it just in order to make a living. It is one thing to make a living, and anybody can play our music but, you know… you eventually have to pay up. To each his own… I really don’t discuss it because it is a matter of principal. It is a public matter but I don’t feel the need to address it. I just take another approach that we have better things to do and more constructive, positive things to do. The people have spoken so we are dealing with it. Ratt, today, is going to be a good thing. We have a lot of work to do, but it is good.
Jeb: Congratulations on the reunion and on Smash.
Stephen: We are very proud of Smash. Everyone in the band worked very hard. We put it all out there and we are very pleased. We already have music for a second solo record ready to go. We have an option deal, but one thing at a time… we will get to that eventually.
Jeb: Last one: What is the biggest misconception about you that the fans have?
Stephen: That I don’t do anything but yell at people. When I would do shows, when my daughter was young I would say, “I’ve got to go yell at people.” She would say, “You’ve been gone for eight months.” I would say, “This is what I do. I yell at people. Do you want to go?”
I actually took her onstage at Irvine once and played kickball with her during “Round and Round.” That was my reality. It was not about stressing… it was about enjoying the time we have. Robbin, rest in peace, was the right hand man. He was the guy, and that has been a rough road since he left us concerning keeping this beast in place.
Jeb: When I see you come around solo, or with Ratt we can do this again. It is pretty cool to finally meet you after all of these years.
Stephen: Sure, brother. If anybody wants to know tour dates go to www.stephen-pearcy.com and click Tour on the front page. There are a couple Ratt shows on the books. We are headlining M3. Our first show is February 11th and right after that I go into Smash mode and do those shows.
Jeb: Carlos Cavazo is doing Ratt, isn’t he?
Stephen: Carlos is onboard. We just don’t know who is going to be skinning yet.
Jeb: I imagine you won’t have trouble finding someone.
Stephen: No, we are just keeping it under wraps right now. There are still a lot of things that we’re kind of, you know, clearing the dust with. Once that is done then all hell breaks loose!