Formed and fronted by the charismatic Marq Torien, the Bulletboys exploded onto the music scene in 1988 with their self-titled album ‘Bulletboys.’ The raw and relentless rock album resulted in two major (and very memorable) hits for the band; “Smooth Up In Ya” and a remake of the O’Jays “For The Love Of Money.” The future looked very bright for the band and they quickly followed up by releasing their sophomore album, ‘Freakshow,’ which featured “Hang On St. Christopher (Tom Waits cover),” “THC Groove” and more. Despite their critical and commercial success, the Bulletboys never rose to the heights of some of the peers. It was a pivotal time in music history as the once flourishing Hollywood metal scene would soon been cast aside. As the phenomena of grunge music quickly took hold, terms like “glam metal” and “hair band” became dirty words and cast a shadow over the Bulletboys and many other bands who didn’t quite fit the mold; robbing them of the credit they deserved as artists and a formidable force in rock ‘n’ roll.
In 2015, Marq Torien and Bulletboys have returned and stand ready to tear the house down with their new massive new release. ELEFANTE, on Cleopatra/Deadline Records. The band consists of founding member Marq Torien (Vocals/Lead Guitar), Nick Rozz (Guitar), Chad MacDonald (Bass) and Shawn Duncan (Drums). It is clear at first listen at everyone involved with the project, from the band members to those working diligently behind the scenes, have poured their heart and soul into the process of bringing this powerful new album to life. Hitting stores on June 9th, 2015, ‘Elefante’ shows that the Bulletboys are an unstoppable force ready to once again take the world by storm with their unique brand hard rock; the group’s first album of original material since 2009. Armed with a rockin’ new record, known for it’s kickass live show, will soon will embark on a national tour — The Armed Alliance Tour! They will be joined by LA Guns with Tracii Guns for the first leg of the highly anticipated summer outing.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Bulletboys frontman Marq Torien to discuss his amazing life in music, his longevity as an artist, the creation of ‘Elefante,’ risking it all for rock ‘n’ roll and what the future may hold for him and his legendary band.
Going back to your early years, what are your first memories of music and what ultimately led you to pursue it as a career?
That is quite a question because I started in music at the age of 7. I was behind a mic by the age of 8 in a recording studio where I was recording original songs. I come from a very musical background. My mother and father are both musicians of a very high caliber. My father plays trombone and played first trombone in Stan Kenton’s Orchestra, along with a lot of others back in the day. My mother was a singer and worked as a background singer and worked with so many different groups back in the day. Basically, that is where it all started. I grew up in Montebello, California. My earliest musical endeavor was when I was around 7 or 8, like I said. There were two gentlemen who approached my family to take us into the recording studio and possibly become something like The Partridge Family. [laughs] It was really great! A gentlemen by the name of Skip Soder had written some songs and a promoter by the name of Wally Wozniak came to us. They were so full of life and really saw talent in my family. They put us out on the road for a little bit here in Los Angeles and we performed at different colleges. From there, I started working with Skip as a songwriter. He loved my voice but things eventually fell off because they didn’t have the means to go in and produce the band. I was really blessed to get started so young with something that was a God given gift to me. I knew at a young age that I had this voice and the ability to play instruments. It was something I honed and worked on very hard. My parents were very diligent about encouraging me to continue working at music. My first love was guitar. I have been playing since I was 8 years old and writing since I was 9 or 10. I don’t think I chose this career. I feel it was kind of chosen for me. I have always known I would do music for my entire life. I really wanted to chase that experience and challenge myself. My father gave that up when he was very young and decided to raise up his dreams, so I kind of wanted to pursue it and possibly gravitate towards something that my father didn’t get to do.
Seeing as you made quite a career for yourself in the music industry, what is the secret to your success? To what do you attribute your longevity as an artist?
Perseverance, hard work and tough skin. You have to try to be like teflon in many ways because the music business is not the easiest business in the world. It is full of ups but it is also full of a lot of downs! [laughs] To do what I am doing, you have to have a lot of chutzpah and tough skin. Many times throughout my career, I have been praised but there are other times where I have been ridiculed and humiliated. You really have to go into it knowing that you are going to see a lot of people on your way up but you will see a lot more people on your way down. If you choose to have a long musical career, which I have been fortunate to have, you have to treat people the way you like to be treated. I have gone through some dark times in my career but my faith has pulled me out of it. I try to keep on keepin’ on. I have said this before but a lot of of people from my particular genre are lumped in a group with the stereotype of rock stars or hair metal bands. I have never really liked those terminologies. I have always wanted to be known as a great musician and to be respected as a great songwriter, singer and performer. The whole rock star thing was never in my equation for my career. When I hear those things, it makes me shake my head. To me, being a rock star to me is the act of giving back. I revere people who are supposed rock stars or great musicians or artists who have accumulated wealth but are focused on giving back rather than having all eyes on them. I would like to see a lot more bands from my genre attempt that. We never became multi-millionaires with this band and I am not a man who has oodles and oodles of money in my life but I continue to do music for music’s sake. It is a very tough road. It is not the easiest thing in the world but, when we have the upswing, the highs are amazing and we try to deal with the lows as they come. We also move forward and try to turn any negatives into positives. The band is extremely large on social media and that is really the key to a band’s success these days. Being as close to your fans, family and friends is very important. I encompass all three of those elements into one group for my band! It is really important to us! My whole band is constantly on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, reaching out to our fans and letting them know we are coming out with a massive new record from the Bulletboys! The new album, Elefante, is getting a lot of critical acclaim right now because we took that time, just over two years, to put together something that was musically sound and was taking a risk.
I recently heard you on Dean Delray’s amazing podcast, “Let There Be Talk,” and you mentioned taking risks. Can you tell us a little about taking those risks and what it means to you personally?
Yeah. Bulletboys, as a band, have never written the same album twice. Is that correct?
Yes, that is correct. Definitely a fair statement.
I am blessed that I did write the song “Smooth Up In Ya” and that Lonnie [Vincent] and I penned that tune. It was very successful but I don’t want to be known as The Smooth Up Guy for the rest of my life! [laughs] No disrespect to the song, none at all, but I see bands get pigeonholed like that and we have never been that. Our new joints are always new joints. We never try to borrow from the past. We live in the now and write in the now. As far as “Elefante” is concerned, I wanted to write something at a high level, specifically for our fans, family and friends. I say that because if you are coming out with weak stuff musically, it just ain’t gonna happen for you these days. There are too many great bands out there who are putting out great material. I think a lot of bands have a fear of trying to do something at a risk, as I did, and fear trying to do something musically that someone might not have been expecting. To me it is very challenging and I have to be challenged to write. I don’t want to write or re-live the late-’80s or early ‘90s where the Bulletboys did the majority of our touring. I was taught an important lesson way back in the day. I was taught by my family and other great artists when I was signed with Motown and Warner Brothers, as well. That lesson was to never rest on your laurels. Always learn how to reinvent yourself. If you are able to do that, you have a career. Those who can’t will find themselves faced with a very difficult road.
As a songwriter, where do you look for inspiration these days?
I look for inspiration within the people I see in the music business or in life that are trying to do something by giving back, as I mentioned earlier. It is very inspirational to me when I see a lot of these musicians who are trying to do things on another level. I wrote “Elefante” to step out of my comfort zone. I have been through a lot in my personal life. There has been a lot of pain, hurt and suffering. I wrote this record, not only as therapy for myself, but to let people know there is light at the end of the tunnel. Yes, things have happened to me. I have been bullied and things have happened to me but we can move past that, have strength and move forward. We can do that by taking the good from the people around us who are trying to help us and have faith. There is a God out there and He is working for us everyday in our lives and we can ask him for guidance or strength. That is where I am at. We have done so many sex joints back in the day. We were that band and that was that time. However, there is a lot more to life than making love and spending money! [laughs] There are a lot more things to talk about! With “Elefante,” there are a lot of peaks and valleys. It’s not a linear record. The lyrical content is for people like myself, who feel like they are from the Island of The Misfit Toys. [laughs] It is for all of our fans that want to be uplifted and who may be going through things in their lives that are not so great right now. I am hear to tell you that the same things have happened to me in my life but, if you continue to move forward and stay positive, things will change. It is important to stay positive because once that negativity comes in you can be doomed. Surround yourself with positive people, not yes people, but people who love you for who you are.
Building on what you just said, I was curious to know how you felt you most evolved as an artist through the years?
Oh my gosh, that is a great question, Jason. I think I’ve learned how to listen more. When I was younger, I was a bit naive, as we all are. I was like the Muhammad Ali of rock, just talking a bunch of mess about my band. It was, “We’re doing this … ” or “We’re gonna do that … ” It was true in my heart because of the confidence I had in my band and our music. We signed with Warner Brothers and here is Van Halen passing us the torch as we were working with an amazing group of people. Here we were, young and full of piss and vinegar! “We are going out there and we are going to trounce you guys!” [laughs] I am still very competitive musically and I think that is what challenges and drives me. I revere so many of the great artists right now and I want our little band, Bulletboys out of L.A., to finally have some comeuppance finally even though we have been labeled a hair band in the past. Labels are labels but listen to the music! When you listen to the music, you will be blown away. Every review I have read so far has been so positive and we have been so blessed in that everyone has given us a 10 out of 10. They have said this record rivals our first record. I am so happy that people are getting it and saying, “This band really took time to do something special for us and special for rock ‘n’ roll.” Rock ‘n’ roll isn’t dead. It is alive and well! I read an article the other day and I hail Corey Taylor from Slipknot as he was saying, “Rock ‘n’ roll can’t be dead when I am performing in front of 35,000 people every other night!” [laughs] He was going on about Fallout Boy and their record “Saves Rock and Roll.’ That record is not rock ‘n’ roll. It was so nice to see someone not having fear and stepping out to say what he really feels. I just think people are so worried about taking flack for being honest. I am here to tell people, especially the young kids full of dreams, to never let people squash those dreams. Rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well! Get a guitar. Get some friends together! Make mistakes! Play loud music and have fun, man! You have to have fun! That is what we do in Bulletboys!
You and the band seem to be in a terrific place at this point in time. From an insider’s perspective, where do you see yourselves headed in the future?
The future looks very bright! It looks really, really good! We are going to continue to move forward. I am sure we will be touring on this record for at least a year, which would mean this summer and possibly next year. We have a lot of radio friendly songs on this album. We are going to be touring non-stop and bring our game to the people. We did very well last year on our summer tour with Quiet Riot. We played some amazing venues and have been asked back! We are going to be doing the Gramercy Theater this year. We are playing the Verizon Amphitheater, being welcomed back to Irvine Meadows, for the Cathouse Live Show on the main stage! We have added a lot of people our band; I have background singers called The Pistolettes and a horn section called The Bullhorns. We are a huge family now! On some of these big shows, I am going to invite them to play! Keep looking out for us, man! We have an amazing tour on the way! Live Nation has been so kind to us and is starting to back our shows in these amazing proper venues. When we hit the road for this upcoming tour, we will be bringing a lot of love!
I am completely humbled by the comeuppance of this band and how people have been so supportive about wanting to see us have our day! We never got our day and people have always wanted to take us to that level. After all these years, it seems we are this band that is still putting out killer records. I don’t see any of the bands from my genre coming out with anything, aside from these new bands that I really revere. I have to tell you something. My favorite band is Foo Fighters and David Grohl. When I was really down their music really inspired me to write something out of the box, to not be mundane and to challenge myself musically. David has been the ambassador for rock music for all of these years and has been carrying that flag for everybody. Recently, we were invited to record at 606, the Foo Fighters studio, to record a brand new song for Rock Against MS. I have to tell you, it was one of the most humbling moments I have ever experienced. It was such an honor to record there and to be around the magical energy that is in that studio. I can’t even fully express the feeling I had as a musician when I was able to record there and to be part of this amazing project for Rock Against MS. The project is going to be a double album, a vinyl record that will feature a lot of really great punk rock bands from Los Angeles. I always say I never really go on other people’s records and sing but Phil X is a really great friend of mind. He is doing a new record with The Drills. He asked me to come up and sing some stuff. I said yes and went up there only to find out I am at Tommy Lee’s house. I hadn’t seen Tommy in years! It was great! We were all up there reminiscing and making a point to get together more often and hang out. Musically, it has been really great to hang out with all of these musicians. They are also really excited about what we are doing and how we are doing it, that we took that risk and aren’t trying to relive the past. I have learned from so many people that you can’t relive your past! You have to live in the now and put stuff out that is relevant to who you are now!
Absolutely! Like you mentioned on “Let There Be Talk,” we only have so much time left on this planet, so you have to go after it hard. I found that to be really inspiring and took it to heart!
Yeah! That is the truth! That is the God’s honest truth! We only have so much time left! There are a lot of things I was very angry about that I didn’t do and I wasn’t doing when I was younger. Now, I can’t make all that up but the one thing I can make is music and be diligent about what we are trying to do as a band and break away from our past in a way. I also hope to play with other friends of ours. I mean, I would love to play with Vinnie Paul and Hellyeah! Vinnie would love to have us play with them but we are definitely riding up against the grain. I say that because there are a lot of radio stations who might not play us and say, “Oh, they are just some ‘80s hair band.” Guess what? That is turning around now too because they are hearing the music and saying, “This song is so good. Send it to me!” [laughs] A few months back, we had a program director on KROQ’s sister station in San Diego start playing one of our songs because he is a huge fan. He didn’t care what anybody said! He put it on in the morning, drive-time, and said, “You have to hear this new song by the Bulletboys because this record is coming and it is going to reinvent rock!” He got a lot of guff but he said, “I don’t care, Marq. I will take that because we need music that is going to move people. All this music that is out right now is not doing it. This is an organic record, not some Pro Tools, pieced together stuff. This sounds like real rock!” Listen, Jason. You put in our new single “Roll Over” and get in your car this summer and crank that thing when you are rolling down the highway! You will feel like Superman! It’s on!
It is very cool to hear how passionate you are about “Elefante” and the future of the Bulletboys. Obviously, we are just getting to the tip of the iceberg talking to you today when it comes to your history in rock. Is there any interest on your part of doing an autobiography at some point?
If I come out with a book, there are going to be a lot of people running for cover! [laughs] I promised a lot of people I would take some of this stuff to the grave! [laughs] I’m just kidding! Absolutely! I am actually starting to work on a book. There is so much to cover! Yes, I am really trying to focus on that and make it happen. If I write a book, I want the reader to be uplifted by it and say, “Wow. This guy went through so much but he continues to move forward. I like this guy! He doesn’t know the word quit!” [laughs]
What is the best lesson we can take away from the life and times of Marq Torien, so far?
Have the heart to persevere. Be close to your family and friends. Keep in mind our time here is short. I look at my life and I enjoy every day. I live for the day and I really want to send my heartfelt love to all of our fans! I hope they know that, from me, they will never get a quitter. I have had people quit on me but I have never quit on Bulletboys, my fans, family or friends. Never give up!
Thanks so much for your time today, Marq! We are so excited to spread the word on this record and can’t wait to catch you on tour!
Thank you! We are close friends now, so please come up, say hello and let’s chat again! Thank you for your support! I greatly appreciate it!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.