Lillian Axe's Steve Blaze
By Jay Oakley
I'm sitting here with Steve Blaze from Lillian Axe and you just got done playing here at Fish Head Cantina, how did your set go?
I thought it was great. The very beginning was weird. When you have opening bands things always change from sound check. You can sound check and stamp everything and everything can be saved and then you get up there and it's all changed. No matter what it's just something weird but it was really good once we got a couple songs in and they fine tuned the mix and we got our bearings it was great from there in. My fingers are hurting and when they hurt I know it was a good night.
So the last time we talked was around the time One Night In The Temple came out. Now that the record has been out for a little while how has the reception been?
Yeah, it's weird. I think a lot of people shy away from acoustic records and live records so we were like, "We need to do this because we need to do it." because I know that the final product is going to be monumental for us.
It has been so over the top, the response from the people that have actually watched the DVD and listened to it, they've been overwhelmed. I thought it was a very spiritual experience and when you listen to it I think you need to see the DVD first kind of and then you can listen to the CD after because I think you need to do it in that order and it kind of sets it up. But it really sounds good. I've got to hand it to the guys that engineered it. I had a big hand in the mixing but Rob Hovey who engineered and mixed it did a fantastic job and the documentary DVD is so cool because it gives an in-site into the whole event that night.
It was a six-hour event. It was a question and answer and two one-hour sets and a meet and greet and we had it catered in between the sets. You've got a hundred people in a semi-circle around you and we brought a guest violin player up and we had an original singer from before we got signed come up and do a couple of songs, we had Tripp Roth's family who was the little boy I wrote "Bow Your Head" about, he passed away right before The Days Before Tomorrow came out but I wrote the song about the little boy, he died right before he was three years old. His family was all there and we dedicated the song to him. It was really cool and I got to speak between the songs so it was like a storytellers-type thing. I got to speak from the heart and now I listen back and I had so much adrenaline and I'm stumbling over my words and I'm like keep it, it's real, that's how I felt and that's what happened that night.
One of the things I can tell people from watching it is you could tell that you guys didn't just slap something together because you wanted to put out a live show.
We spent a lot of time on it. We had trussing and lights and props. The whole band played which is rare because most people just put the guitars up and so we spent a lot of time on that. I started off me saying how about just me, Sam and Brian just sitting around a camp fire with about ten people and then it kept blowing up and I kept saying well let's do this and do this and do this and the whole this just evolved into this monstrosity.
Since the time that Temple has come out you've had a small change to the Lillian Axe line-up with bassist Eric Morris leaving and Chris Brown taking over. Was that a pretty easy transition? Did you know Chris or did you have try-outs?
I met Chris before and I had heard about how good he was. Eric is apart of the family forever and we loved Eric. He was going through some stuff and wanted a career change. He wanted to concentrate on being more settled down in his career. Ya know it's tough but I've been through these changes before and I know how to handle them and to be honest with you, on the personal side of things, this was probably the most difficult because Eric and I were really close and we still are.
So we auditioned three guys and they were all from Mississippi and they were all really great bass players but there was something about Chris. Brian had know Chris for many years and sometimes you just get the vibe and the other guys were fantastic and good guys too but it's that thing you can't describe, why him and why this guy. I had the gut feeling and he's fantastic, he's great, he's funny, he's a blast to be around and he's a pro.
He came to that audition more prepared then we were. He was studying us live, he had videos of our live shows and he would project them on the wall of his house and be on stage. Life sized videos of us and he'd get up and be going through all the songs, the whole set live like he was on stage. So I call him up and he's like, "I ran through the whole set twice already and I'm getting ready to do it again." and I'm just like, "Jesus, Lord." I appreciate that and you rarely catch that. It's working out well.
Talk a little about your influences. What made Steve, Steve?
My Mom and Dad, family, God.
I tell people this, I was born with, in my DNA something I call Con-general Sadness which is kind of a sensitivity to things. You know the difference between sadness and melancholy, where sadness can go to great depths and be depression, sadness but I've always had this melancholy feel to life. I feel sorry for people, I feel sorry for everybody as a matter of fact. I always let things get to me that shouldn't and even when somethings good I feel sad about it because I don't want it to end.
Since I was a little kid and being the oldest of nine kids my parents were very sensitive people too and I feel like they taught me the most important thing in life and that was being the greatest person you can be and through God's guidance. I don't care what anybody says, nowadays when you talk about God to people, most people deep down inside realize you're right. But a lot of people put on a facade and everybody tries to be tough and say that they don't need this and that and when you break it down to people and start talking to them they pretty much will all realize that there is something. It's a screwed up world out there and it's really hard, life is not an easy thing for most people. So you have to have your faith and I have that.
I came from a big family. I had a little sister that died when I was about four years old, she was about nine months and all those things made me always sensitive and I always grew up knowing I had to leave my mark somewhere. It doesn't have to be a mark like I created the automobile or anything like that but I've been blessed with the fact that by writing songs and meeting people I've touched millions of peoples lives. Some in small ways like, that was a great memory when I heard that song or I met you at a show and that was a great show, you touch them. And then you have so many people that my music saved there lives or helped them get through something. I met a girl tonight who has stage four cancer and our songs helped get her through what she's going through. That's heavy shit. I feel almost responsible to do good things.
My gift is ... Look I can't cook, I can't dance, I can't fix a transmission, I can play guitar and I can write songs, that was my gift. So I'm going to take those things and I'm going to do the best that I can and make a mark because once you make that mark it exists forever.
I have a five year old son too and that inspires me, my wife inspires me and the blessings of being alive inspire me. We both know it's a rough world and it's getting rougher out there so you've got to have that steadiness and for me that's my family and God.
Everybody knows the right path, we all know what the right path is but a lot of people are scared to give into what's good and right because a lot of people don't want anyone telling them what to do. That's why a lot of people say they have a relationship with God but I don't go to church. Well you don't go to church for you, you go to church as a sign of thanks to God for everything you do for me so I'm going to give you an hour of my time each week.
All those things are inspirational to me more so then the music, the musicians, the guitar players and shit like that. I'm more inspired by people and lives and ambition and goodness and that kind of stuff. So I feel I've got to write about it and so may times I feel I just have to ram my ideas down somebodies throat just to get them to wake the hell up.
When it comes to your feelings about people and what's going on with them I would like to ask you, if you don't mind, to talk a little about the passing of Jon Ster. At the risk of not wanting to pry, I was hoping you'd talk about your relationship as both a person and a band member for the people that just don't know.
Sure. A lot of people don't know this much but originally when I got signed to MCA I was the only guitar player, Lillian was a one guitar player band. I knew about Ron (Taylor) and Rob Stratton the bass player and I said, "Hey, I got a record deal with MCA, do you guys want to be in a band?"
They were really tight with Jon. They were in Stiff and the three of them were the nucleus, they were really tight together. I'd never done that, I was a solo guitar player and that's what they wanted. So they asked if I'd mind if Jon just came down for the pre-production. That's what happened, they pretty much joined the band and went right in for pre-production on the record. That was the first album.
So they all came down and lived in my house in Mississippi when I was living in Jackson. So Jon came along and we did some practice shows and he played keyboards on a couple songs like "Hard Luck" and "Nobody Knows" and we'll put you behind the stage. So we played a couple of shows like that and I started thinking about letting him play rhythm guitar because I sat down and did some soul searching and thought that two guitars would really be good. He was a good player, he's solid, he's fun, he's funny, he's a great guy so we tried it and it clicked.
Jon was funny, he was always smiling and I don't think in all the years I knew him that I ever saw him get angry, mad or get in a fight with somebody ever, not even once. He loved being on the road and he loved playing. He would probably get on the road twenty years ago and still be out on the road now and just have a twenty year long tour without ever having to go home. He just lived for it. He liked to party, he liked to drink, he had some demons, he liked to toy with those demons but he always delivered. He was the guy that I said partied to much but it never seemed to affect him, he was solid, he was always there but unfortunately the poisons are still in your body and after many years they caught up to him.
That's why I stress to everybody, I don't care if you're ten years old, twenty years old or eighty years old, don't put the crap in your body because you might be twenty and think you're invincible but you're not. A twenty year old kid could party to much and it could kill him and life is to precious to take a risk on that but I saw Jon a few years ago and it was the most upbeat and best that I'd seen him in a while and then I heard that he started playing with the Devil a little to much and partying. Unfortunately, it is what it is but he'll always live on in our music and that's the important thing.
I appreciate you talking about that, Steve. Especially with it being so fresh.
No, it needs to be talked about and people need to know what a great guy he was.
I wanted to close out with, what does Lillian bring to you? Pleasures and even hardships. You mentioned it before this is your legacy and exactly what you've put together so what does it bring?
Well let's start with the good stuff first. The good stuff is it has allowed me to help people, change their ideas sometimes, and get them through hard times. It sticks in my head how so many times people have said how a certain song helped get them through losing somebody who passed away.
One guy told me once in Cleveland that his fiancee had just been killed in a car crash and "See You Someday" and a Bob Dylan song kept him from committing suicide and when you here that stuff, I'm tearing up just thinking about this guy losing his fiancee because if something happened to my wife you might as well shoot me, this guy just went through that and all the time I've written songs about people that have passed and you meet people they've helped.
A few years ago, I was talking to a guy on the phone and he said his friend can't make it because he's in the hospital with cancer and he's doing his chemo and it's stage four and we don't know if he's going to make it. I talked to him on the phone and I told him to hang in there and when I come back to town you're coming out as my guest and two days later he died and I was just talking to this dude. That kind of stuff slaps you in the face and you realize what the hell's really important to you. It's not about how much money you've got or this and that, money makes things easier not to be stressed out about stuff and take care of certain things but there's a lot of rich, miserable people out there.
That's the torturous part of it, the emotional side of meeting people and doing your songs and writing your songs. When I write songs it takes me literally sometimes weeks to finish and I can't sleep, I wake up in the middle of the night and I'm singing them. Writing is torturous and writers will tell you that because you'll go to bed with a thing in your head and you'll wake up in the middle of the night with a thing in your head and you've got to figure it out and where I go next. Then it's demoed and down and you're like, "Wow, I feel fine now." Then you start writing the next song, that's torturous.
There's a lot of ups and downs. We've had many years where we were doing great and the crowds are fantastic and your album sales are fantastic and you go down, times change and we took a break for a while so it's like starting all over again. And it's emotional, I don't give a shit if you're Kiss or Led Zeppelin, it's emotional difficult. Even the biggest commercial successes in the world go through times where it's not going well for them. The sales are down or it's this and it's emotional because in every band, I don't give a shit who you are and if you say differently you're a liar, everybody that does any kind of emotional creative thing, like being in a band, is worried about losing a fan or why don't they like me, why don't they like our record or this and that. It's just a part of life. Those kind of things, and I've been like that too, we'll get a hundred great reviews and I worry about the one that didn't like it.
That's part of life, I've learned to deal with that kind of stuff. The ups and downs of traveling and touring and being away from my family and stuff like that but in the big scheme of things I've maintained and balanced things to be able to do it and God guides me and He guides my heart and He takes care of me and does great stuff.
It's great even meeting guys like you, you were in front of me all night long and I was like, "Watch this dude." People like you, you get it and I can see who gets it and who's there because it's a rock show and who's like, "I understand what you're talking about." and that's so cool. That's why we're still doing it after so many years.
And finally, where did the name come from?
I saw the movie Creepshow, the Stephen King movie. I had a group called Oz but we had a manger who stole the name so we had to change the name because it was a manger we were firing and he was trying to screw us over so he stole the name and copyrighted it. I'd seen the movie and there was a scene with a bridesmaid's skeleton floating in the window so I wanted to come up with a crazy lady name. And I remember a street I was turning left on and I saw Lillian and thought that was creepy and I was like, "Lillian Axe" and that's it. I was going right to the singer's house at the time and suggested the name and everybody loved it and that was it.
Steve, thank you so much and you guys totally killed it.
Jay, thank you for having me.
An under-the-radar powerhouse for over twenty years, Lillian Axe still delivers quality records and the amazing live shows that true rock fans crave. With thirteen albums there's no shortage of proof in their grit and constant drive. Original member and guitarist Steve Blaze took some time to talk about Lillian Axe's new box set, their latest live release and their induction into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
Steve, thanks for taking some time out to talk with me and I wanted to start with the release of the Lillian Axe box set, Convergence. Tell us about it.
Absolutely, well we released it about three months ago and it was a labor of love. I wanted to put out some thing that if I died tomorrow they could bury me with. It's everything that this band has accomplished over the last twenty-five years and it feels good to have it all in a box I can take with me everywhere. But it was also a little bit of a selfish project, we just printed up 250 units of it and they sold out immediately. They are kind of a high ticket item so it worked out real well for us and we plan on releasing some more in the near future.
When I was looking at the set I thought to myself, "Wow, there is nothing left for it not to have." Then you released this new project, One Night In The Temple. With everything you do with Lillian Axe on more of a hard rock scale tell us a bit about how this acoustic record came about.
When I came up with this idea I was thinking maybe me and Brian (Jones) our singer and our other guitar player (Sam Poitevent) sitting around a campfire basically playing acoustic guitars with maybe fifteen friends and making it look like it was a really intimate thing. People just sitting around, playing the song, talking to them about the songs and answering their questions about them and make it really intimate. The idea itself just got bigger and bigger so we said why don't we do it this way and if we do let's have more people and lets get the whole band playing acoustically. Then lets cater it and lets do a question and answer session and the next thing you knew the thing just blew up. We spent months getting everything ready, every little detail, a hi-def seven camera shoot, recording CD and DVD and so there was a lot that was involved in it and it went from an ant to an anthill. At the end of the day we were really happy that it grew the way it did.
When it comes to an acoustic record did you look at it as a creative outlet or did it start out more as you described, where you and the guys were sitting around and realized there was something more to this?
Well, we've always had an acoustic side to the band and every record we've done has songs with acoustic guitars. I started playing classical and flamenco guitar when I was six so that element has always been in my DNA but when you can sit and play songs on an acoustic guitar, just relying on the melodies and the lyrics, the song can take an entirely new feel and It can have new meaning to it. It's cool, I always enjoy hearing people doing stripped down versions of songs that had big production, that might have been big and heavy guitars and drums and hear them played trimmed down. But at the same token, I didn't want them so trimmed down that they were unrecognizable. We wanted them to sound good and having two acoustic guitars playing different parts in stereo was nice and round and full and it allowed us to have to concentrate on the finesse in which we played. The three-part harmonies, those all had to have a lot of special attention because when you're doing live and you're doing it scaled down like that you can't hide behind volume. When you go to see a band play there are so many bad notes all over the place that you don't hear because of the sheer volume and energy in the room. Don't get me wrong it was loud in the room and we were running it through PA and the acoustic guitars through amps and acoustic drums and bass run through an amp but it was still done at a volume where you could feel the power of it but you have to really pay attention to the format. We did and it allowed us to take these songs, even the heavier songs, they had a unique feel. They didn't lose their heaviness, they just lost the distortion and the sheer volume. It was great because I'm hearing people talk about what songs came across the best and it's all over the board. I have people saying they really liked the way "See You Someday" came across and somebody would say they were surprised at how "Crucified" came across and it's all different so everybody got different things but they're all under the same idea that it still worked making the songs come to life in a different shade. So we really did hit the mark on this, we were lucky, it could have gone either way. It could have been a complete failure were it just didn't work out and these songs should not be played like this but there was no spot where that occurred. I'm the first to admit, I'm the biggest critic and if there was anything I felt that was not up to snuff I would have nixed it. We actually played "Moonlight In Your Blood" that night and recorded it, I didn't like the way it felt. I didn't like it, didn't think it felt the way I wanted it to so we didn't put it on the record. That was the only song we did that night that we didn't put on this.
What are you hoping for overall out of the record? Fan acceptance for example or just your personal goal for the record?
This is a band that has had so many ups and downs that we should have our own roller-coaster ride at the beach. You get to a certain point where you realize the realities of what the music business is all about. A personal goal is obviously I would love every single person on this planet to be in love with what we do. Not going to happen for anybody on this planet or in our lifetime but my goal is to not only really take the existing fans, make them even happier and even take us a notch higher in their appreciation. But, to be able to reach people and make them say, "Wow, this band has been around a long time maybe I should check into this." and take people that may have heard the name of the band and say, "Yeah, I heard they were good I just never got around to listening to them." or "Yeah, I've got one or two of their records." this can re-open people's interests. I am hearing from fans that only like heavy, heavy stuff and hate acoustic guitars say how much they like this record. The record is only half of this, the DVD is so fun. It's the entire show, interspersed between songs with interviews, backstage footage, rehearsals, scenes of us setting up with the crew, it's fun though. You see the human side of us, you see the fans, you see interaction, and you hear stories. I talk about every song in between them, they hear stories about the song, we have guest singers, a guest violin player, we have the family of the little boy who I wrote "Bow Your Head" for, the crowd sings "Nobody Knows" by themselves, all those things are all captured in the movie as well as on the CD. So it's fun and it's interesting and it's cool and those people that are fans already I think are going to have an entirely new appreciation and I think a lot of people that may know a little bit about us or don't will have their interest peaked and when they see this are going to go out and do what they should have done years ago and actually listen to the stuff. Lillian Axe has been a strange creature, we've always been this cult underground band. If I had a nickel for every time I was called the most under-rated, under-appreciated band in history I would be a multimillionaire. I am so sick of hearing that but I love hearing it. We never had the huge giant money-machine behind us doing the things that are necessary to take a band to certain stages. We never had that, everything has been something that we've had to do on out own. That's what I'm hoping this record does, takes the appreciation and the understanding of what this band is about to another level.
You have some tour dates coming up, are they going to be acoustic shows?
Yes and no. We're doing one show in Illinois and it's an acoustic show just me, Brian (Jones), and Sam (Poitevent) and we're playing with Eric Martin from Mr. Big and Randy Jackson from Zebra and they'll be acoustic and Ted Poley from Danger Danger but I don't know if he'll be acoustic and we're doing a festival in September. We're setting up dates to go out but we're just going to do our regular show. The whole acoustic thing, to be honest, is kind of a specialty thing. I don't think we're going to tour the acoustic show, we may do a repeat of what we just did on One Night In The Temple maybe in a few select cities where we do a question and answer and play acoustically but I don't see that happening right away, I think that may be something further down the line.
When it came to naming the record, where did the title come from?
We through a few different things out there but I actually came up with that. I wanted people to know by the title that this was an event. I like the One Night thing instead of live this or live that because it's been over done. You have to be really careful because you can't say unplugged and if you say acoustic it can be tricky. I wanted something that was a little bit vague but still made sense. Then I started thinking where we were playing and we were in this Masonic temple and "One Night In The Temple." Everybody took to it and it was born and that was it.
You spoke earlier about the movie and DVD. Is that packaged with the album?
Yes, you get two CDs and the DVD or Blu-ray in the package The DVD has bonus footage but the Blu-ray has even more bonus footage including the whole question and answer thing, three live videos and two videos from our last record. The DVD has one video and one live video because you can't fit as much on a DVD. The movie itself is two and a half hours long and has exurbs from the question and answer and interviews, backstage footage, set-up footage, rehearsal footage and all that stuff. It's all packaged up and it's about six hours total between the CDs and DVD of entertainment value. The artwork's cool and the booklet's cool and we're just thrilled about how it came out.
On a non-record topic, I wanted to talk to you about your induction into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. I'd love to get your take on what that meant for you.
That was a huge honor for us. With Louisiana, the people are great down here and when we got started there were so many venues to play down here but it's really changed a lot. We've never really been the darlings of the Louisiana press so-to-speak especially New Orleans. New Orleans never supported any of the rock stuff, they've never given us any kind of the press support that we deserve, not just us but bands like Zebra as well. We've put out thirteen records and barely get mentioned, it's pretty sad. So when the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame recognized us as the first hard rock band to get inducted that was kind of vindication for us. We felt we earned this, you can't take it way from us and it's a huge honor. We're very proud to be a part of that and we're in there with Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Fats Domino and lots of great artists. That was a really important thing for us because we've been around a long time and we've had some great times and some really hard and difficult times. As time comes and goes those are the things, like that award, that can not be taken away and it just drives us. It makes us want to continue to make music for the rest of our lives which we always will. We're just getting started is the way I look at it.
Steve, thank you again for taking the time to talk with me. It was a real pleasure talking to you.
Same here and I really appreciate you having me.