Quiet Riot guitarist Alex Grossi discusses his new Maps To The Hollywood Scars project with former American Idol contestant James Durbin and their new EP Volume One
Side Stage Magazine: How did you first meet James Durbin?
I’ve known James since 2011, through a mutual acquaintance in Hollywood. I actually met him the night he was on American Idol with Judas Priest, and he had an aftershow at the Viper Room on Sunset Boulevard. I met him there, and saw him a couple more times in and out after the Idol thing faded out, he was on tour with Buckcherry. Recently this past fall, he was out here in Vegas, where I currently live, doing a show. It was a cover band thing. I saw him and I said, ‘You know, this kid’s way too talented to be singing “Sweet Child o’ Mine” in front of 100 people.’ Let’s make a record. So we exchanged info, I ended up playing a song with him at the after party and I had been already demoing songs in the studio for another project, and I said, “You know what? I think James’ voice would be great on these,” so I sent him three or four songs and he immediately sent them back. He’d done in his home studio and they were great.” After five or six calls, I said, ‘You know what, dude? Let’s just do it. We only live once, let’s make a record.’ So we built this Hollywood Scars thing from nothing, and it’s really kinda snowballed into a major thing, which has been great.
How did Maps The Hollywood Scars get its name?
The actual story is, James originally before American Idol, had a band in Santa Cruz called Hollywood Scars, they were kinda like a heavy metal, pseudo-rock star band where they’d play covers, they played originals, but they just did it for fun. When we started writing this music he said, ‘Let’s call it Hollywood Scars, I always liked that name.’ And I said, ‘Well, how about we call it Maps to the Hollywood Stars?’ And I took that from [when] I used to live near Hollywood Boulevard. Well, Maps to Hollywood Stars? Just change the T to C, and make it Maps to Hollywood Scars because we’ve both been chewed up and spit out by the Hollywood scene. I mean, I did 12 years hard time on the Sunset Strip, and he did four years hard time on American Idol, being on TV, on the tour. So it all sort of lined up in a weird way and it became a great name, and we found a great logo for it. The music reflects that, too. Lyrically, I think James really came through with some good themes. If you listen to the words, it deals in a lot of the things that you go through in the industry and personally at the same time. So it’s very true to life. It’s like life imitating art in more ways than one.
The darker side of Hollywood and the music industry?
Well, not necessarily the darker side of Hollywood, it’s more the industry. The industry has been one place, it’s currently one place, and it’s going to another place. In other words, it’s a lot harder to really ‘make it.’ When I say make it, [I mean] you can pay your bills doing nothing but music [easier] nowadays, than it was in say, 1985, or even 1995 for that matter. Things have really changed, and a lot of people move to Hollywood and think they’re gonna make it, and they’re gonna’ get off the bus, and the next thing you know, they’re the next Slash, or Bruce Willis, or whoever. It doesn’t work that way anymore. There’s a lot more competition and the internet has made the world a smaller place. We did this out of not reverence or respect, but it’s like, ‘It’s where we’re at, let’s show people.’ And Hollywood Scars, we were Hollywood in different ways. I ended up in Quiet Riot, playing via a common agent. James did the American Idol thing, and that’s both completely Hollywood based. Neither of us could’ve done what we did without going to Hollywood. When people win in Idol, they go, ‘Okay, you’re going to Hollywood,’ and with me, when my initial band, we were signed to Atlantic, we got bought out of a record deal, and everyone got real day jobs and cut their hair. I said, ‘F this, I’m going to Hollywood,’ and I did. So when we called the record Maps to Hollywood Scars, it’s really songs that showcase what we’ve collectively been through, even though we’ve taken very different roads to get there. But then we ended up in the same place.
How would you describe the EP in terms of its sound and also perhaps, how it relates to some of your past projects?
Well I think the sound of Hollywood Scars, it’s a good happy medium between my influences, which are obviously old-school KISS, Motley Crue, Guns and Roses. But also the Shinedown, and newer bands like that there’s 12 year age gap between James and I. He is into some modern stuff. I would say the two songs that sum up what we do in this band are “Til Death” and “Never Ending Ride.” “Til Death” deals with the loss of someone, which we’ve all been through. And the first video that ever really dealt with that was “November Rain” by Guns and Roses. That’s a beautiful song, beautiful video, but in the end it’s very dark, it’s about someone dying. And when I wrote that song, I had Guns and Roses in mind. And we were looking up to see Dizzy Reed the actual piano player who played and arranged “November Rain,” to play on the track. Which took it to that level. You ever have an idea in your head and it comes to you? I’m like, “We gotta get Dizzy on here.” He’s a good friend of mine, so he played on the track. And the song’s been doing great for us.
What was the writing process like?
You know, it was very organic. What I would do is, I would sit down at home, my little home studio, and demo a song here, song there, with a little drum machine, a couple of guitars, bass. And just do a quick arrangement, send it to James. And he’d send it back to me, almost completed vocally with the idea. And then I took about 12 songs into the producer, his name’s A.J. St. James, and he’s from Canada. He worked on the big four, the Metallica thing. So he’s got the real metal pedigree but he’s also done a lot of pop artists. So he can work both sides of the fence. And I take it in to him and he’d be like, “Okay, this is cool,” eventually flew James out, and we had a road map of where we were gonna go with it. But the songwriting process is really me giving James musically a blank slate, and having him just do his thing. It’s like him coming to a chalkboard with five pieces of chalk and saying, “Dude, go.” No lines to draw within, no parameters. Because that’s in my opinion, the way you get your best performance and yield your best emotional lyric content, when you give someone a blank slate. Go for it, what’s on your mind, talk.
I thought it very interesting that you guys just released an EP and then there’s another EP that comes out in the spring.
Actually am going down to the studio to finalize a bunch of it. But most of it’s already done. We just chose to put out five at a time. People don’t buy whole records anymore. It’s not like when I was a kid and you’d go to the store and buy a CD, you got all 12 songs, that was it. Now, you can pick and choose and cherry pick what songs you want to hear, what songs you don’t. So I said, “Let’s give them five and see what happens.”
We released our record on iDitty, which is gonna be the new medium, and it’s gonna replace CD and DVD. It already has in the country world, it’s just starting to leak into the rock world. I believe we are the first active rock band to do one. Basically what it is, it looks like a backstage pass. You get at a concert, but you scan it with your iPhone or your mobile device and download the app, and all of a sudden our music is right on your phone. And we can communicate with you through that. So if I post an iDitty that “Hey, we’re gonna be in St. Louis, Missouri, ” it’s gonna pop right up on your phone. It’s basically monetizing what Facebook and Twitter does for bands without having the fan have to go search on Facebook and Twitter for the band. We come to you instead of Facebook and Twitter waiting for you to come to them.
Oh cool pretty easy, quick, and convenient… We spoke about Dizzy Reed. You both have a musical project called “Hookers and Blow.” Do you think this will lead to more collaborations in the future?
Absolutely. Dizzy has been a dear friend of mine for almost 14 years now. I actually auditioned for Guns and Roses. I met them in 2003 or 2004, in 2006 they were auditioning guitar players, I actually got the honor to go down and audition for GNR.
Oh wow, what was that like?
I just played, “Night Train,” “Paradise City,” “Welcome to the Jungle,” and did my thing. I did the best I could. But they ended up with Bumblefoot, who is an insane guitar player. But no it was great. Dizzy was the sweetest guy I’ve ever met, and one of the most talented guys I’ve ever met. I sent him the tracks for “Til Death,” and we were never in the same room together, he just emailed them back to me, did them in the studio in Hollywood and sent them to me in Las Vegas and we mixed them in. And he totally took “Til Death” to a place … he played exactly what I heard in my head, which was great. As far as the note selection, and the strings, and the organ and the piano.
We want to have him play on the next EP as well. I think he’s already gonna. I sent him a couple of the tracks. Right now he’s playing in front of 90 million people in New Zealand with Guns and Roses so I don’t want to bother him right now, but I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from him.
Are there any touring plans for you and James?
Yes. We’ve gotten a lot of offers, we’re just trying to work it in between his schedule. Yes. So we will be doing things. There’s been talk of late night TV. Again, this is a labor of love, it just kinda happened. “Til Death” was written back in November, and now here we are in February it’s already on the radio halfway across the country, so I’m just sort of flabbergasted at the whole thing and very grateful that we were able to do this and do it on our own terms where we’re not answering to a label, to a manager, to a producer. We have a producer, but at the end of the day, we have creative control. No one’s telling us what to say, telling us what to do.
And that’s real rock and roll. Play from the heart and you don’t compromise.
Yeah, we have not compromised one thing. One thing that I did was I said, “I’m gonna make sure we do this ourselves, we own everything and we have final say in everything.” We’re gonna do it ourselves. And that’s a good feeling. It’s nice to have control over things. And personally, I’d rather just go in and create, and actually make rock and roll, than listen to somebody else who’s never really done it, tell me what to do.
So that aside, you’re a very busy person. Besides Hollywood Scars, Beautiful Creatures are having a reunion, and then remix and remaster?
Beautiful Creatures, we are remixing and remastering and adding tracks to our second album, Deuce. Which comes out March 31st on iTunes and Amazon and all that. It’s actually coming out on vinyl too. It’s gonna be really cool for the hardcore Creatures fans. It’s a labor of love with that as well. People love that band and they love what that band represented, so the way that came about was, we did Monsters Of Rock Cruise. it was the Los Angeles area. And LA Guns, Quiet Riot and Bang Tango were on there, so we had Kenny Kweens, myself, and Joe Leste from Bang Tango, and I saw them on deck one morning, we were trying to take our vampire selves into the sun. And I go, “Hey, we’re all here, we should play a song! I pulled out my little book and I go, “Quiet Riot’s on at 10:30, Bang Tango’s on at 11. If I run all the way to the other end of the ship, I can make it.”And LA Guns was already playing before Quiet Riot, so we actually made it and played a song. It went viral on YouTube.When you’re at sea, your phone doesn’t work. You can’t text or call, or email or Facebook anybody or any of that stuff. So the second we landed, all of a sudden all of our phones blew up.
I guess somebody on board who had wi-fi posted it on YouTube. I’m like, “Uh, what do we do?
“So we decided to remaster the record and we recorded three new songs, and they’re gonna come out this spring. That band means a lot to a lot of people so I think we owe it to them. The second record really was never released properly digitally, because keep in mind, a lot of record deals that were signed in the early 2000s and late 90s didn’t include a clause for proper digital distribution. Meaning the technology didn’t exist. So we’re doing that, and obviously Quiet Riot’s constantly busy.
Is Quiet Riot recording?
There’s a new record coming out, and there’s a lot of other news on the horizon that I would say, the best thing I can do, my best advice as far as keeping up with Quiet Riot, is going to Quiet Riot on Facebook, or the website. And the main thing is our movie, we have a documentary out called, “Well, Now You’re Here, There’s No Way Back.” And you can go to QuietRiotMovie.com for that. And it’s got every rock star, members of Guns and Roses, Twisted Sister, Deep Purple, it tells the whole story of the band right up to Kevin’s death and the resurrection when we auditioned all our new singers that have come and gone. It’s a trip. It’s weird because five years of my life was documented on film, and I see it on active rotation on Showtime still.
I’m gonna check it out. I have a soft spot for, I don’t want to say 80s bands, I was born in 84 so I kinda missed all that, but bands from that period.
I was born in 76, we’re only eight years apart. Yeah, I’m the baby of the band. But you know what, I think you’d really dig it. Because even if you’re not a hardcore Quiet Riot fan, it’s a good movie for anyone who’s a fan of the genre. If you like Motley Crue, Tesla, Poison, Skid Row, anything that’s got to do with heavy metal, rock and roll between 1975 and 1990, I would highly recommend checking it out, because it’s got some really good insight into the other side of things. Not what you would see on your typical Behind the Music. It actually made the Cannes Film Festival in Paris, and it was in Rolling Stone last year.
I will check it out for sure.. What have you learned from your long career with all of your musical projects?
The one thing I’ve learned is to just keep at it. At the end of the day, if you love what you do, you never go to work, that’s what I’ve learned. And I’ve been able to not go to work ever. Meaning whether it was teaching guitar lessons, selling guitars in retail, or touring with the band, or recording for another band, whatever. If you love music, you never work. I can’t imagine doing a job that I loathe. My point is I personally need to be around music. That’s why I also work for a booking agency, I do all the stuff, I do a lot of session work. I just love music, and I love the business end of it and the artistic end of it.
The one thing I’ve learned is, just stick with it. Don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t do it. Because even though the industry changes and yeah, you’re not gonna buy a mansion in Hollywood Hills off your record anymore, because people simply don’t pay for music like they used to, because you can do it off the internet, still go at it, because at the end of the day, you’re only here once. Why not make the most of it doing what you love, right?
And Finally, What is your message to your fans?
Thank you for letting me do this for 25 years. And thank you for keeping me going and all the positive messages, especially with the new incarnate. Since Kevin DuBrow passed away, we’ve had a lot of … there’s always people on the internet that are gonna hate, but I’ve also got a lot of positive feedback and support. And a lot of positive feedback for Hollywood Scars, and with James Durbin.
Anyone with a voice and a Facebook page can voice an opinion nowadays, and I want to say as one of my messages, thank you for all the comments, both good and bad. Cause they inspire me all in different ways.
Thank you so much and I wish you all the best for the upcoming EP.