Quiet Riot's Frankie Banali

By Jay Oakley

So, the new album, Road Rage, is coming out in two weeks. First off, it's exciting, how do you feel about it?

I'm really, really excited for this record. It comes out August 4th on Frontiers and it's been quite the journey to come to the decision to go ahead and sign the record deal with Frontiers last year and go through the whole writing and recording process to get it to this point. But, I could not be happier with the record. I could not be happier with Frontiers and I could not be happier with this great Quiet Riot team I have of Chuck Wright on bass and Alex Grossi on guitar and the newcomer to the band, James Durbin. So, it's just been great.

That's great. I've always been a big fan of this scene and these bands in general and Frontiers seems to really back your style, your genre and the bands that also do what you do. So, it definitely seems like Frontiers is taking good care of Quiet Riot, as they should, to let you guys succeed.

Absolutely! Listen, I've had no complaints dealing with the label and it's been a really, really good process to work with them. Like I said, no complaints whatsoever. At this point in time, I'm very happy with the way things are going with Quiet Riot and the Road Rage release.

Before we break into talking about Road Rage, there is a part that I would like to cover. When it came to signing with Frontiers, setting up the writing and recording of this record, at that time you did have another singer and the record had been recorded. It's very well documented how aggressive you are about the legacy of Quiet Riot and you do expect a certain level from your singers, not only to be respectful of Kevin (DuBrow) and everything that he did and everything that he earned. So, when it came to the release of your singer and then picking up James, I'd love for you to touch on that decision and why you felt it needed to be made.

Well, let's put the chronology in place because it's a bigger picture when you put all the pieces together. When I signed the deal with Frontiers last year, I was in between singers and the first person that I reached out to was James Durbin. At the time, he was really interested in doing it but he had just signed a residency deal contract in Las Vegas and it was an open-ended contract so there was no way of telling how short or how long he was going to be committed to that particular project and he couldn't get out of it. So, I needed to get a record done so, unfortunately at that point in time, James was unavailable. I went to my second choice and my second choice had just come off the road and gotten married and decided that he wanted to take a break from being out on the road and wanted to do the record but wouldn't be able to tour and I needed someone to do the record and to tour which, ultimately, led me to the third and final individual. All the music, for Road Rage, had already been written before anybody had come on board by myself, my writing partner, Neil Citron, Alex Grossi and Chuck Wright. So, all of the songs were in place as far as the music was concerned. So, we went ahead and recorded the record and we started the touring cycle in January of this year and after only five shows it became very, very apparent, for numerous reasons, that it was not going to work with the vocalist that we had. So, I got together with Chuck and Alex and we had a meeting and the decision was made that it was best to part company sooner then later.

What that did though, is now, the record had been recorded and manufacturing had started so I got in touch with Frontiers and let them know, as it was my duty to let them know, that I had let one singer go and had brought another singer on board, being James Durbin. After some negotiations and some contractual addendums,  because it is a business at the end of the day, they agreed to allow me a short period of time to go ahead and re-record all the vocals with new vocal lyrics and new vocal melodies. So, I got in touch with James, I had already sent him all the music, he had never heard the other version so all he ever got was the music that Neil, Chuck, Alex and I had written. I sent that out to him and gave him, essentially, a canvas with just a landscape for him to write brand new lyrics and melodies which he did of such quality and in such a short period of time, I knew he was talented but it clearly amazed me that he did so. Once I got the vocal tracks from him, I went back into the studio with Neil, who is also the engineer, and remixed and remastered the entire record, sent it to the label and it became a much improved version of what was there before.

That's wonderful, man. You had mentioned that James was your first choice before everything that went on over the last year. How did he come on to your radar? Was it from the side-project he was doing with Alex or had you been following him for a moment?

No, when I reached out to him it was before Alex was working with James on the side-project Hollywood Scars. I was aware that Alex already had a relationship with James but I was aware of him through many other people, through American Idol. I didn't watch the show regularly but once I heard there was a rock guy or a metal guy, I forget how they termed it, on American Idol I was intrigued so, I watched it and I saw him perform and I thought he was incredibly talented and I thought that he could do well in music but then it was out of sight, out of mind because we continued touring during that period of time. It wasn't until I wanted to use him on the Road Rage record right after I inked the deal, I got in touch with Alex and Alex put me in touch with him which bring us to the point in time where he was not available.

I get you. I have one other touch on the singers front. When you, Chuck, Alex and Neil were writing the music and putting everything together for the new record, you did have Jizzy Pearl singing with you for quite a while. Was there any plans, at the time maybe, to have him record the new record or where you not totally sure?

Well, initially what happened is, we had almost three great years with Jizzy, I think he did a great job for the band but I also knew that, even from day one, when he first came on board that his heart really was in his own project, that being Love/Hate. So, while he did a great job with Quiet Riot during that period of time, I knew that at some point, I didn't know when, but I knew that at some point he would want to finish his commitments and branch off, which is exactly what he did. But, that happened to coincide with the period of time when I signed the record deal which brought me to the dilemma of, we were still going to finish out the touring year with Jizzy but it was clear that he was leaving the band at the end of the year so it was pointless to have him on the new record.

Absolutely, I definitely understand that. I'd love to touch on the band itself and the guys you have playing with you, especially when it comes to this new record. You have Chuck Wright, a constant professional, been with you for a very long time, in and out of the band, I loved in the movie when you touched on him as Chuck Right Now, [Frankie Laughs] I thought that was great and, of course, Alex who's going on almost fifteen years now with the band. How do you feel about their performances?

Here's the thing. When I decided to start up Quiet Riot again, three years after Kevin DuBrow passed away, which was a very difficult decision for me to make but one that I completely support and I am happy that I chose that path, I invited both Chuck and Alex to see if they wanted to be a part of it again because they were the bassist and guitarist on the last version of Quiet Riot when Kevin was alive and Kevin loved that version of the band because it was a solid working unit with no drama, no issues, everybody got along great and everybody always did a great job. So, they were the first two that I reached out to. I can't say enough about both Chuck and Alex. Chuck is an amazing musician, he's an amazing bass player and I've said this before and I will say it again, there's really nothing that Chuck can't play but he is also an integral part of the background vocal sound and especially live with Quiet Riot. So, for me that was a no-brainer.

Alex is, really, a great guitarist but what I really have enjoyed, this is the first full record that Alex is playing with Quiet Riot and I took him out of his comfort zone on many of the songs on this record and the amount of growth he has done as a musician and a guitarist is astonishing on this record because I took him out of that comfort zone and threw him in the deep end of the musical pool on material that is very diverse. If you listen to the record, it's not cookie-cutter, it's not trying to be this Quiet Riot record or that Quiet Riot record, it's totally new and unique unto-itself but there's a lot of different styles of music and he stepped up to the plate and just knocked it out of the park, in my opinion. Some of the best, if not the best, guitar playing I've heard from Alex is on this record.

The icing on the cake was getting James in the band because he has some of the qualities that I really looked for and really missed after Kevin passed away. Which is, he's got a lot of energy which Kevin did, he's an amazing live performer which Kevin was, he's got ridiculous range, he can hit the highest notes and the lowest notes and pretty much everything in between which is a requirement to sing the old Quiet Riot songs but, at the same time, he's not another karaoke, Quiet Riot singer. He brings his own style to the table so, while he's part of the Quiet Riot sound, he has not lost his personality and his style and his thumb-print on the band. At this moment in time, I could not be happier with Team Quiet Riot.

That's beautiful, Frankie. I'm very excited, I was familiar with James Durbin for the same reasons. I knew of this metal guy on American Idol but I really didn't watch the show for personal reasons. It wasn't a show I felt I could support, I just didn't agree with the way they did it, ya know what I mean?

Yeah, I have a different perspective on it. I don't disagree with you but I looked at that show like I look at music. I support every kind of music that is out there regardless of whether it's something that I prefer to listen to or not because I think that as long as new music is being created, it's good for everyone regardless of the genre. When it comes to television, as we all know, MTV is no longer Music Television, it is more Media Television so, any show that features musicians, features singers that possibly give an individual an opportunity to further their career or at least get out there and see what they can and can not do, I fully support. Not necessarily, the franchise but the idea of having music on television.

Yes, I can agree with that perspective, for sure. I was fortunate that I got to see James, for the first time, years ago in Baltimore and he was opening on tour for Steel Panther and he blew my mind. I can agree with every description you gave of him, it was amazing, he did a cover of "Rainbow In The Dark" by Dio as well as his own solo material and it was quite exceptional so, I'm very excited that you get to have that kind of persona and that kind of performance quality back in your shows. That was another thing that I remember watching the documentary with some of the other singers and this is no way me attacking them or trying to downplay them whatsoever but there was a scene where you were saying, "You have to own it." You have to sell it, you can't be leaning on things, you have to own that stage because Kevin did.

Yeah. Ya know, a lead singer has a responsibility, they have a very difficult job because their instrument is their voice which they have to take care of but they have to go out there and entertain the audience and if they don't engage the audience, the audience doesn't engage the band and that is not a good place to be if you are a live performing band. Kevin was the master of that. I've never seen anyone other then David Lee Roth (Van Halen,) in his prime, really take an audience and he's got them in the palm of his hand and James is doing that as well. Plus, he's a really, really nice person. Everybody's getting alone, everybody's having a great time and for the first time since I toured with Quiet Riot when Kevin was alive, I'm actually having a lot more fun now then I've had in the previous times since 2010.

That's excellent, man. When you take a look at the new record, as a whole, what are your personal goals for the record? It doesn't, necessarily, have to be money or anything like that but I'd love to know what the Frankie Banali goals for the record are?

My goals for Road Rage really are that the fans will enjoy the music that we created. That they will appreciate it for what it is, that they will understand that while there's some songs that have a link to the older Quiet Riot music of the past, songs like "Freak Flag" and "Wasted." There's also incredibly strong, different songs like "Can't Get Enough," "Getaway," "Roll This Joint" is phenomenal, one of my favorite performances on the record. "Still Wild" which has a lot in common with Condition Critical and Led Zeppelin, there's just so many. There's a beautiful ballad called "The Road" so there's a lot of material in there, it's not cookie-cutter, we're not trying to re-create Metal Health or Condition Critical or QR III or any of the other Quiet Riot records. This record stands on its own merit and I'm very, very proud of it. All I can do is hope that the fans will enjoy it and the fans will agree.

Absolutely, we are all hoping for the best for the record. I have a different question for you and I'm curious for your opinion. It would be very well deserved, being that, hopefully, Quiet Riot would someday be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, taking yourself and Kevin out of the equation, who do you feel would be merit-able and that you would want and feel would need to be inducted with the rest of the band?

That's a double-edged sword. I have my own personal opinion but if it were to happen and I think it's a very big if because with Quiet Riot in the industry, Quiet Riot was the band they loved to hate. They were very happy to cash in when the band was selling millions of records but at the same time we were always treated like the step-child to the more traditional bands. So, if it were to happen, if it happens in my lifetime, I would be overjoyed and incredibly appreciative but I would have to differ because Quiet Riot has had so many members as was documented in the Quiet Riot movie: Well Now You're Here, There's No Way Back, there is no way that they can all be included and by exclusions there is always going to be some hard feelings with someone. I have my opinion of what it should be but everybody has an opinion of what they think it should be. It's a lose-lose situation. It'd be great to have that problem but I'll wait to see if I have that problem.

No problem, Frankie. I definitely understand your stance there and at the same time I will include a small apology there because that was not designed to be a dirt-style question or meant to insult anybody and I sincerely hope that it did not come across that way.

No. Listen, don't worry about that at all. I'm always happy to answer any questions. If there is one thing that you can say about me, it's that I put it all out there, I stick to my guns and I am resilient. So, the question doesn't offend me and I wasn't trying to be politically correct by any stretch of the imagination but I also understand that the fans are fans of certain people and not fans of other people and that happens in any band and, like I said, you can't win. You can't bring everyone, nor should everyone be included. But, if we were to have that wonderful dilemma I would deal with it accordingly and I would definitely, at that point in time, voice my opinion and my reasons for those opinions. There's no point in putting it out there now because I don't see that happening on the horizon. 

Absolutely. I have a cool little story for you. When you played M3 recently Lynch Mob was also on that bill and I ran into Sean McNabb backstage and we were making small talk about the QR record. I had it with me and he sent me out to my car because he wanted to see it and said he didn't have a copy.

[Laughs] Ya know, Sean is an incredible bass player. I have been so blessed in Quiet Riot to work with all these great musicians but especially when it comes to bass players. My dearest and oldest friend, Rudy Sarzo, who I've known and been playing with since 1972 and we're still best friends. We still get together and have coffee and he's like my brother, he really is, in every sense of the word. Chuck Wright, another amazing, creative bass player. Kenny Hillery, who passed away and was on the Terrified record, which today is the 24th anniversary of the release of that record and Sean McNadd, amazing bass player, the guy has such pocket and such feel. Tony Franklin who is one of my dearest friends and an amazing bass player. Freddy Villano, that we had for a short period of time as a touring bass player, it's just been a blessing to work with all these bass players.

Speaking of Rudy, did you see the Hired Gun documentary that just came out?

I have not had an opportunity to see that. Basically, my time is consumed, literally, 100% by Quiet Riot. I've managed the band since '93 so that takes up all my days and the balance of the days is taken up by traveling to play live shows with Quiet Riot. So, I've not had an opportunity to see it yet but if you have a line for Rudy Sarzo fans, I'm at the top of that line so I'm going to make a point of watching it.

Absolutely and if you did already know, he is featured in a very prominent role in that film.

As well he should be! Listen, I don't know of any musician that has had such an illustrious career and has, literally, worked with the cream of the crop of the genre. His track record is so solid and so unbelievable and so well deserved. Anybody that has the opportunity to play with Rudy Sarzo is blessed in so many ways.

I always like to talk a little bit of history and I'd love for you to talk about the records you did with W.A.S.P.. I found that to be very interesting, at a time when you let yourself break off from the Quiet Riot pie for a little while to do some other projects. I'd love to hear about your work with Blackie (Lawless) on those records.

I've known Blackie for over forty years so, we have a lot of history even before we started playing together and I love the guy. We have that whole New York connection thing and I really love him. We've had our differences in the past but that has never affected our friendship and our love for each other.

I was really fortunate to be able to do the first of seven records with W.A.S.P. which was The Headless Children. What happened is, Blackie had asked me if I wanted to join the band and do that record and, at the time, I was recording the fourth Quiet Riot record (QR,) I was under a lot of pressure to deliver what was the fourth album per the record deal. So, I said to Blackie that if he didn't find a drummer to do the record that I would do the record but I would not be able to tour. So, I was, literally, recording the Quiet Riot 4 record and The Headless Children at the same time. I was in one studio in the morning and one studio at night and the weekends and what ended up happening was I decided to put Quiet Riot on hiatus after we did our last show in Tokyo in 1989 and Blackie found out about that while I was in Japan and he called me up and he says, " Are you available to do the tour?" and I said, "Absolutely!" and so began a year-long Headless Children tour. Subsequently, I did The Crimson Idol and I've also done Still Not Black Enough, Dying For The World, The Neon God Parts 1 and 2, some other things in there (Unholy Terror) and it's been a wonderful relationship and it's been a wonderful musical experience because the W.A.S.P. material that I've recorded is so completely different then what I did with Quiet Riot and that's what every musician wants to do, they want to be diverse.

Even with everything going on with Quiet Riot do you ever think about revisiting some of that old music? Of course, not necessarily joining those bands because there's no time for that and those bands have lineups but if the opportunity came to meet up with Blackie and play a tune or so if you were in the area or celebrating an anniversary would you be up for something like that?

Absolutely! I would have absolutely no reservations if schedules would allow. I would have no reservations about doing that and I have a history of doing things like that because in 2010 or 2011 when Quiet Riot played in Las Vegas, the support act on that date was Dokken so Sean McNabb was there and Paul Shortino lives in Las Vegas so I invited them to come up on stage and we did one of the songs from the fourth Quiet Riot record. So, I would be more then open to go up on stage and play a song with W.A.S.P.. If Billy Idol calls me and asks me to play "Mony Mony," which I recorded with him in 1982, I would jump on that stage in a heartbeat.

To bring everything to a close, being that you are one of the key members of this scene, not just everything you've done with Quiet Riot but all the acts that you've worked with, toured with, as well as the countless friends you have in this business, I feel that your opinion on this is very valid and important. When you look at the music scene now, with all the young bands giving it everything they have as the try to climb the ladder, do you think there are opportunities for bands to thrive the way that you guys did when you were younger, when that scene was so big and so hot or do you think that the music industry has grown stale in that way?

I think that there are still some opportunities but it's a very, very narrow playing field now. The reason for that is that most of the major labels are not signing new acts and when they do sign a new act, rather then commit to them for a two or four record deal and develop the band and the music, they might sign them for a single or an E.P. but that doesn't happen, really all that often. The majors are more interested in still collecting revenue from the catalog. The independents, they're not as strong as the once were but even then, they were still a step down from the major labels as far as getting budgets and promotion. Radio doesn't exist like it used to. We used to be able to have a new record and go to a radio station in every city we played and we'd go in and the DJ was free to play whatever he wanted to on the new record or new CD. Now because most radio stations are owned by a handful of conglomerates, everything is programed in a central-programming format which means that the DJs can take the record home and play it at home but they certainly can not go Rambo and play it on their own. So, it's really a lot more difficult because there is so much music out there, with all the studios of varying quality, it's become very disposable. If people aren't waiting in line to buy a record at a record store like they used to, if they can just immediately get it on the internet and listen to four bars and decide they hate it without really listening to the whole song, they move on to the next one and the next one and the next one and the next one because there's so much out there. So, it's difficult now for new artists to develop themselves, develop the band and get marquee value and that's one of the reasons that long-standing bands like Quiet Riot can continue to tour because we've made our presence known for decades and we have marquee value but marquee value is developed over years, sometimes decades and if your lifespan for a new artist is six months to a year that doesn't really help their cause.

Frankie, thank you so much for taking this time. What's important to me and all that really matters in this is how you feel, that you felt respected, you like the questions you were asked and that you felt I gave your time the worth it deserved.

Hey Jay, you've been great. You've asked a lot of questions that are not the usual questions that I get and I understand that everybody wants to know the same thing but you did it out of the box, you are definitely A Rock N Roll Junkie and I can appreciate that. I truly appreciate your time and support of Quiet Riot and it means the world to me because it's people like you and the fans that keep music going.

Thank you so much. I really appreciate that. Please, stay out on the road, come back through Baltimore so I can see the band, say hey and get to hear these songs live. Thanks again, Frankie. Enjoy your day.

Sounds like a plan. If you know I'm coming to your town let me know and I'll hook you up. Thank you so much for your time, Jay. You have a great day.