Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Mighty Tragic Romance

I could wax nostalgic about 1980's metal music all day long. There was just something about the music that screamed "I'm having a good time!" even if you weren't (in truth the 1980's mostly sucked) Nonetheless, a trip to a local tavern for happy hour specials and the hard rock sounds of Gypsy Rose, Durtie Blonde  or Babe Ruthless always cheered me up.

When you're young and straddling the poverty line, it's easy to let go and get wrecked. Those were strange days, cops hardly gave a fuck, automotive insurance and seat belts were optional and drinking was something you did while driving. If you've never driven 90 mph on I-25, while holding a hash pipe in one hand and a mixed drink in the other.... well brother!, I'm here to say that I don't do that anymore.

Has it been that long since Tragic Romance broke-up?  It appears so, but hold on to your Aquanet (in the non-aerosol pump bottle, of course!) because this bromance isn't over yet. On June 1st. at the world famous Whisky A Go Go, Tragic Romance will reunite for a cd release party/ video shoot. Billy Miles Brooke and all the original members of Tragic Romance (with the exception of Britt) are back together to celebrate the release of the band's latest album "Hollywood Daze" The Tragic Romance catalog is mighty slim, so this is welcomed news for hardcore fans.

For those of you not familiar with the band (they weren't local) there is an incentive to care. Billy Miles Brooke, the lead singer cut his teeth playing Albuquerque's bars and dives. He left for Los Angeles and then like the prodigal son, returned home.... to Santa Fe. Time waits for no one and Billy didn't dwell on the past, since his return to New Mexico, he's been involved with local rockers The Dirty Novels and Pan!c, thus keeping himself relevant and up to date.

Billy Miles Brooke is hands down the hardest working man in rock & roll.  His highly acclaimed solo album "All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go" revisited that great era of music that began with The Stones' "Beggars Banquet" and ended with "Exiles on Main St." Billy Brooke recently took time to answer a few questions and to give us the skinny on Tragic Romance, one of those great bands that got lost in the music biz shuffle. Billy hits on a number of topics: The Strip, The Whisky, Gene Simmons, Prince, The Dirty Novels, Pan!c and kickball. 

An Epic Interview w/ Billy Miles Brooke

DCC:  For fans of Tragic Romance, there's an air of anticipation surrounding this album release.

Billy:  This whole thing has been so incredibly out of the blue and surreal that I'm still trying to wrap my head around it.  There's this really cool "kid" basically- only 23, I believe, that contacted me about Tragic Romance via MySpace, probably, a couple years ago, that was all into the glory days of the L.A. glam scene.  He knew all the bands, venues, history etc., so I assumed he was much older.  It wasn't 'til later on he told me how old he was, and that was a shocker; but what was even more shocking was the fact that he wasn't alone- there are a lot of other younger rock n' roll fans that have gotten all into the late 80's early 90's L.A. "Sunset Strip" sound.  This "sound" basically runs the gamut of the tougher, sleazier bands like G n' R and L.A. Guns to the more flamboyant bands such as Poison, Warrant, etc. etc., and everything in between. 

Well, a year or two went by, and Patrick got a job as A & R for a little label out of Nashville called FnA Records.  They're putting out a lot of the old recordings by these old Sunset Strip bands, and he asked it I had some old T.R. recordings that they might be able to release as a collection, plus maybe 2 new recordings, if possible.  Of course I jumped at the chance, and so on June 1st, the new CD of old recordings, (plus 2 new ones) will be released.  We're having a record release party at where else?  The Whisky A Go-Go in L.A., which is probably still on of my favorite places (and most appropriate) to play in the whole world.  Also on the bill that night is Jetboy, one of the most awesome bands of that era that we used to play with quite a bit back in the day.  We're shooting two videos for the two new songs at 8 PM, and the it's also the record release party as well as a huge reunion for all our old friends and fans.  Will be a blast! 

DCC:  What can you tell us about the "Hollywood Daze" album 

Billy:  The "Hollywood Daze" CD is a collection of all the tunes we managed to record as demos, over the years in L.A., so it runs the gamut of the wild fun early days to the dark and serious later days.  The two new songs are newly recorded versions of two of our club faves that we used to play back in the early days but for some reason never put down on tape.  I absolutely love them, and hope they take off as "singles" now, 25 years later. 

But getting back to the story:  Tragic Romance was definitely "in-between".  We were the strangest mix:  When we first started out we looked like Cinderella,  with the giant hair, and pretty looks, and leather pants and frilly shirts and all, but our influences and what we were trying to sound like was very much informed by "Purple Rain" era Prince and even U2.  Mixed in with the classic rock type songs of the day and it was NOT your usual sound.  I'd lost all my scrapbooks years ago in a move back from Europe, so Britt, our original guitarist was nice enough to send me out his collection to scan this past week, and it is so amazing reading all the old reviews in BAM, Music Connection, L.A. Rock Review, etc. etc. - from reading these reviews, most all of which were super positive- you'd think we would have had a huge deal pretty much straight out of the box, but for some reason the labels just didn't see what all the critics saw in us.

Very strange- I almost wish we'd had bad reviews now, as one always reads in the classic band bios how "everyone hated us, we got the worst reviews, but we've sold 70 million records now, so who has the last laugh?".  Oh well, life is strange.  Anyway, in 1987, after playing the scene there with all the main Sunset Strip bands - we were the opening act for Warrant for their first record release party at the Roxy- such as Jetboy, Bang Tango, Love/Hate, Black Cherry (the orig. singer of L.A. Guns) Vain, The Zeros, etc. a band came along that really opened our eyes to what we could do.  They were called Shame (look up on YouTube "You Can't Stop the Rain" by Shame) and they really shook us up.  My favorite bands always were The Stones, The Who, The Clash, Queen and KISS, (and probably Prince at the time, Purple Rain was the reason I moved out to L.A. to really try to "make it". 

DCC:  I think most people forget just how influential Prince was and the impact that Purple Rain had on music when it came out, everyone had the album.  I'm not familiar with Shame, please clue us in.

Billy:  Shame showed that you could put the conviction of The Who, the Clash & Queen into that big-haired scene.  Huge powerful tunes that weren't just about trying to get laid and rocking all night.  This is what we were hoping to do as well, so it really inspired us to go down even more down that path.  (On our very FIRST demo, all three songs of which are on "Hollywood Daze", the CD featuring all of our unreleased L.A. studio recordings, plus 2 new ones, that is coming out on FnA Records on June 1st, you can hear a Stonesy rocker, a very Purply Rainy ballad, and a "Won't get fooled Again" type anthem.  We weren't just singing cheesy shlock, that's for sure.)  I would love to have a show on VH1 Classic, or be part of a segment on "That Metal Show" called "The Greatest Bands that Never Made It Big."  Tragic Romance would definitely be on there, but Shame would be #1.  They were so amazing.  Gene Simmons eventually signed them in the late 80's to his "Simmons Records" (part of Geffen, I believe) but then wanted half their publishing (the greedy bastard) which eventually caused a huge rift in the band and they split up. (Thanks a lot Gene, you complete dick!) 

DCC:  Corporate greed will be the death of rock music. My first impression of Tragic Romance was that your lyrics and music had more depth and sustenance then most bands on the Strip.

Billy:  They (Shame) really opened us up, and we went for longer, more powerful songs, with tons of passion, and pretty intelligent lyrics, which we always prides ourselves on.  We played all the legendary L.A. clubs many many times, which was so amazing to me, as I was a real student of rock and had read all the classic stories of Zep and the Doors and Hendrix playing the Whisky, Elton John breaking through at the Troubadour, Van Halen blowing the roof off Gazzarri's, the punk stuff at Madame Wongs, the metal bands at The Country Club, etc. etc. and then when we were there some amazing "underground" clubs started like "Scream" and "The Cathouse", which are now legendary.  Watching the old live recordings that were recently sent to me I was shocked to find how loud and crazy our fans were.  Serious screaming before and after and during just about every song.  I thought that must just have been in my hindsight's memories, but sure enough they were real.

DCC:  Tragic Romance was probably closer to The Cult (musically speaking) than most bands on the Strip (just to draw a comparison for those not familiar with the band) 

Billy:  Grunge hit in a huge way in the late 80's.  At first all of us rockers dug most of the stuff, esp. Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone and Alice in Chains, which were very derivative of Zeppelin and Sabbath. But the record companies decided that fun rock n' roll and super depressing grunge from Seattle could not exist in the same world.  I'm sure the fans of both would have been fine with it, but if you were a rock n' roll band from L.A. after grunge came out you didn't stand a chance in hell.  At the first change in the wind, as it were, our drummer, Mark and myself got together one night, and without discussing all the stuff mentioned above (really) we had a little writing session one night that just seemed a natural evolution.  We came up with "Vampire Blues" (see YouTube) and "Love and Revolution", and the next thing you know we were on a different path- one that seemed like it could exist in the grunge world (but without being grunge.)  This could not have happened without Jane's Addiction who we were lucky enough to play with and saw that they were doing something incredibly unique and rocking that transcended any genre. That really gave us hope and inspired us.

DCC:  My thoughts exactly, grunge pushed the big hair bands out of the spotlight, but it also forced everyone: musicians, record labels and radio stations to retool their way of thinking. 

Billy:  In those days we would sometimes see everyone from  members of Jane's, to Faster Pussycat,  to James Hetfield of Metallica watching and most of the time rocking out, at our shows.  From then on our path was set:  Looking back on it now it seems we set out to be the "new" Doors, who were faves of ours as well, and as you'll see in the artwork on the "Hollywood Daze" CD, I was posing like Jim Morrison on most of those early flyers.  We started writing all kinds of wild, free songs, some very rocking, some quirky, some slow and powerful and hopefully all very poetic.  We really dug this little niche we'd created for ourselves.  Don't let the "new" Doors tag make you think we were wimpy, as you'll hear on "Hollywood Daze", we were heavy as @#$%$%! on some of those tunes.  Like you mentioned, The Cult, and definitely Sabbath.  We were trying to be chiaroscuro, if you will, light and heavenly and dark, brooding, and heavy as hell at the same time, hopefully giving life to the spaces the could exist in between.

DCC:  Tragic Romance was the band that other musicians went to see... everything seemed to be in place for the "big breakout" yet somehow....

Billy:  Again, we were critic's faves, but the labels kept passing on us.  Our look got weirder and darker and darker, (very "gothy", although at the time we never imagined such a thing.  Of course we loved the Cult at the time, they were AWESOME.)  and we eventually completely gave up on trying to impress the labels, and just wrote exactly what came from the heart.  When we did the label showcases for the presidents of the companies- or management companies, like Doug Thayer of Motley Crue, etc. - and I've recently been able to watch the recordings of these recently- we were absolutely untouchable.  We practiced so much, and had so much confidence, and balls like you wouldn't believe, I simply cannot believe that one of the "big" labels didn't take the chance on us.  Eventually a smaller international label called "Century Media" signed us in '93 and put out a live CD we'd previously recorded with the aid of Peter Frampton's new (at the time) mobile unit.  It was called "Cancel the Future" and captured that (what we're calling now) Gothy/ weird era of the band.  It sold about 5,000 units out of the box, but wasn't followed up on by the label, and eventually disappeared.  You can still find it in used CD and cassette stores.  It's kind of cool, but I always wished we could have captured all these tunes with a real producer in a great studio.

DCC:  I see Tragic Romance as a precursor to Evanescence and some of the gothic metal bands that followed.

Billy:  We never played up this style, or image, or whatever, but around 2006 I started getting a lot of messages, requests, etc. on our MySpace page from a super lovely Gothy bunch that somehow had found the band, and were really getting into us.  This eventually led to a tour of Finland (5 cities) and was supposed to to 22 more dates in Germany and the U.K., but unfortunately had to be cut short after our tour bus ate up all the money breaking down every couple days in Finland.  Those Finnish dates were amazing though, and it was so cool to see all these young people get into these songs that were over 20 years old.  We definitely played up the whole Gothy image on that one, because, as you're probably aware, there are many Finnish bands like Evanescence (although they are American) and a lot 0f folks that still love that Cult/ Mission sound up there.  ALONG with the glam stuff.  Finland was perfect:  Hanoi Rocks meets The Cult.  That was kind of Tragic Romance in a funny kind of way.

DCC: The Dirty Novels had a very cool Stones like quality to their music, Pan!c was edgier, almost punk.  Two very different bands, you had very different roles in each. 

Billy:  Yep, they were my two favorite bands when I moved back to N.M. in the early 2000's.  The Dirty Novels were first, and went through a couple incarnations, but eventually stabilized as the Paul, Brian, Dandee, Joey version for many years there.  They were played on MTV shows, and were a fave on Little Steven's Garage show, and really kick-started the ABQ scene that had kind of dried up after The Shins left. There was the D.N.s, The Mindy Set, and the Foxx, a very glammy/ poppy era that really came alive for a while.  Unfortunately a lot of line-up changes then ensued, and at one point the D.N.s were without a bass player.  They played at my solo CD release parties, but without a bass player, so afterwards I offered my services, 'cause I knew how to play bass and always loved their band.  Luckily they said yes, and so for about 9 months in 2009 we completely ROCKED the Duke city and Santa Fe, (and SXSW) often playing with touring national bands and absolutely mopping the floors with them.  It was so funny- after EVERY gig there was always a handful of kids (from ABQ) and ask us:  "Where are you guys from !?"  They couldn't believe we were "just an ABQ" band.  The main guy, Paul Novelas, has now moved to Portland, so there's no longer a Dirty Novels, but you can see all the rest of the "classic line-up", (Brian, Dandee, and Joey) are all in another fabulous band, Lousy Robot nowadays. 

DCC:  Is Pan!C currently on hiatus?

Billy:  Pan!C was a little bit later- probably 2007 or so, but they had that same dangerous, sexy, and definitely more "punky" mentality.  Both bands had songs that you could actually remember and sing a couple hours after seeing them for the first time, which is so crucial to a great rock n' roll band.  They had a awesome line up, but their guitar player Rachel moved to Colorado, so they wre going to split up.  I wrote them and told them that that would be a crime, and that I could be their lead guitar player- and of course the chance to share the stage with Eva, the sexy vixen front-person/ singer/ bass-player, and Joey, from the Dirty Novels, was a venture I could not resist undertaking, so I put it out there, and lucky for me, they said "yes"!

We only play about twice a year, unfortunately- I don't think we're officially split up or on hiatus, I just think the scene is pretty slow right now in both ABQ and S.F. that there's just not many gigs to be had.  Also, Joey's in a couple different bands and Eva is REALLY into her kickball.  (Yes, it's a thing.)  So something tells me that when the right gig comes up, we'll get together again and throw down a full-on Pan!C attack!   I love playing lead guitar and bass as well, so playing with both bands mentioned has really been a fun time.   After the Whisky A Go Go show on June 1st I'll probably have lots of time on my hands, but who knows, maybe the Tragic Romance CD will do cause some kind of interest, and we may do some festivals, or open up for some other bigger bands from the ol' wild Sunset Strip days.  You just never know what could happen....THAT I've learned. 

DCC:  Billy contacted me the following day to fill in one major gap

Billy:  Hi again Ernest, when I woke up this morning it hit me that I never told the ending of the T.R. story. In case you want to put it in there what happened was after "Cancel the Future" was released we went on a tour from L.A. all the way to Florida through the South. Sure enough we were too weird for most of the crowds- although the crowds all dug the stage show & energy, hardly anybody really wanted to hear a "new, heavy Doors". When we got back to L.A. some of the guys wanted to go heavier, like Pantera, but the thought of changing to try and win more fans just made me sad. It definitely wasn't fun any longer, so I split from the band. They went on with a new singer to record a CD as The Almighty Ultrasound, which was actually more like Radiohead and Garbage. (Thought I better tie that up for you. thanks again, Billy)

Like I said.... EPIC!, thank you Billy

For an in depth review of Billy Miles Brooks "All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go" follow the link: