Stephen Pearcy spent the better part of his life in the limelight. As the voice and founding member of RATT, he rocked audiences around the globe for four decades while continuing to push his creative limits. There is no slowing Pearcy down. The latest chapter of career begins with the release of his fourth solo album, “Smash,” via Frontiers Records on January 27, 2017. “Smash” features some of the most unexpected, powerful and cerebral music of his career. However, that isn’t all he planned for the year to come as he is planting the seeds, alongside Warren DeMartini, Juan Croucier and Carlos Cavazo, to bring the ultimate RATT record to the masses. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Stephen Pearcy to discuss his evolution as an artist, the challenges of bringing “Smash” to life, his recent legal battles to keep RATT’s legacy intact and the lessons he learned along the way.
Who had the biggest impact on you creatively over the course of your career?
Wow! It’s really hard to pinpoint anyone in particular because I have done so much on my own to put myself in the position to be able to play with certain people. My guitar player, Erik Ferentinos, who co-wrote “Smash,” is a big influence when it comes to the way we write. Of course, there are guys like Warren [DeMartini], Robbin [Crosby] and even Juan [Croucier], when it comes to RATT. Others influences range from Diane Warren, Desmond Child, Marti Frederiksen, Jim Vallance and the list goes on and includes Fred Coury, Johnny Angel for ARCADE music and Al Pitrelli for Vertex. When I write with others, I open the door and get something out of it whether or not it is put on plastic, so to speak. It’s always a unique experience.
You wrote a plethora of memorable songs through the years. What went into the process of finding your voice as an artist and frontman?
That’s interesting because I didn’t want to be a lead singer. In the early ‘70s, when I was introduced to the guitar, I just started writing my own songs right away. Some of those songs ended up on the first RATT EP and even “Out of The Cellar” — songs like “You Got It,” “Sweet Cheater,” “In Your Direction” and “Never Use Love.” Those were songs I wrote in 1978 or 1979. I really stumbled into the singing thing. It really came down to someone saying, “Can you sing?” And me saying, “I guess.” The next thing you know I’m singing in front of bands! It was seeing bands like Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith which had me saying, “Oh, OK. This is what they do? Alright, I’ll give it a shot.” I started singing and then I started playing guitar and singing. It wasn’t until late 1982, when Jake E. Lee was in the band, that I started singing with Mickey Ratt. I just went with a David Lee Roth, Steven Tyler, Robert Plant type of approach. How my voice is being how my voice is. It’s a mystery to me! I don’t take vocal lessons or do anything but sing… or yell at people! [laughs]
It certainly seems to be paying off for you as you have been very successful through the years. What are the keys to longevity in this business?
Becoming accomplished, making it and doing something when it mattered took a lot. Now it’s all a different world. It’s singles, Internet and streaming. However, to hang around for years, it all comes down to good songs. When I write songs, I don’t write a song thinking it’s going to be the next “Stairway to Heaven.” I just write. When we wrote “Round and Round,” we never thought, “OK, this is going to be our opus and biggest song ever.” It just happened and that’s been my approach ever since. I just write and, if the song is good, people will get it! When you start trying to formulate hits, it’s something that works for some but not for others. It’s something you learn along the way.
You have a new solo record titled “Smash.” What made now the time to release it into the wild?
It’s been a year-and-a-half to two year process actually. It has taken some time! The last four or five months, it has really been on the table, basically because I was doing a lot of shows. It started out with “Sucker Punch.” I had the idea to release four EPs with four songs each. Producer Beau Hill came in and mixed and mastered one song, “I Can’t Take It.” I thought, “OK! This is a good way to start!” He couldn’t get further involved with the projects because he was busy. We started compiling songs and Frontiers Records came into the picture. I thought, “OK, I will entertain this. I’ll license it through Top Fuel Records and give it to them.” That’s when we really changed tracks. We had to pick the best 12 or 13 songs and make the best record we could possibly make and we did!
Once you decided this was going to be a cohesive album, did you have goals or aspirations you wanted to achieve creatively?
Yeah. I wanted it to have a certain ebb and flow. A dark and a light side, if you will. I wanted to tackle some new subject matter. I wanted to talk about interstellar stuff, children of Earth and other different things, as opposed to a song like “Lollipop.” There had to be one of two of those in there but the other songs are pretty in-depth. For example, I wrote a song about my daughter called “Rain.” There is a lot going on but it’s not a concept record, it’s just a rock record. Cohesively, we wanted it to have a beginning, middle and end, hence ending the album with “Summer’s End.” It meant so much and it meant that we had completed the travel. I want the songs to be relatable to anybody, not just my situation. “Ten Miles Wide” isn’t about a couple or relationship. There’s an interstellar kind of thing going on there. As a matter of fact, this is the second and probably the last that I will put lyric sheets in. I hate putting lyric sheets in the albums because I like people to listen more than read. I feel they get something more out of it and make it their own that way. I think this album might have needed the lyric sheets, so people can understand some of the weird stuff going on here. It’s about the music. Reading the lyrics isn’t going to change the vibe of the music; it might just enlighten it a bit. In recording this record, we very consciously chose to not compress it, throw a whole bunch of vocals all over the place and to allow some space or air in between the songs. We might hit you a few times with the choruses on the intros of the songs. We did certain things to make it a different package. “Smash” is definitely a package.
What was the biggest challenge with bringing this record to life?
It came down to finding the time. We were doing shows often and finding the right time to get in there was a challenge. There’re times where I would scrap lyrics altogether. I would be driving in my car, singing melodies and writing things down on papers! I had so many papers together it was like a puzzle! [laughs] It took a while and it was quite a chore. The biggest obstacle was making sure all of the pieces were in place from the music to the lyrics to the presentation. We wanted the record to be able to be turned up as loud as you possibly could without distorting, being that we didn’t want to compress it. We know how people listen to music these days with their little headphones on their computers but it sounds better in a car. You have to be able to turn it up! That’s what this record is made for — To be turned up and up and up! As you turn it up, everything starts to become clearer and clearer and not just louder and louder. Those were the only obstacles. We made sure we had dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s many times over. If something wasn’t right, someone would step up and make it known. I scraped whole songs in the process and said, “No. We are moving to this song.” It had to be right!
You mentioned writing with Erik Ferentinos, who you worked with for many years. What do you bring out in each other creatively?
Erik and I started writing together years ago and then I brought him into my solo band about 14 years ago. He has progressed so much in his writing. I like the way his writing is because it is so adaptive. It can be RATT-like, metal, thrash or anything else. Then he comes up with these crazy riffs like the one on “Summer’s End.” He is very talented. Then you get me into the mix and we come up with a totally different entity. There is a big, big difference than me and Warren [DeMartini] writing, per se. RATT is pretty much a schematic in writing. By that I mean, you kind of know what you are going to get because we have been doing it, it works and people don’t want us to get too outside of the box. With my stuff I can get way out of box! With Erik and I, we just write very well together; it’s the craziest thing. With “Ten Miles Wide,” it kind of sounds like a RATT thing going on and he even mentioned to me that it felt like he had channeled Robbin [Crosby] through the song. I said, “Yeah! I think you did! He was probably there helping you along the way!” We have a whole different way of writing and we aren’t afraid to write anything. A song’s a song and you never know what’s going to be a hit. You know, you can spend a year writing with the best writers in the village but it doesn’t mean you’ll end up with a hit. It only works for some of the people some of the time. We tend to be the ones who write our hits so it tends to be the standard.
You mentioned having to pick the songs for the solo album. Is it safe to assume you have a bit of additional material waiting in the wings?
As a matter of fact, we wrote a lot of songs! We probably had well over 20 songs and that was before I even began to put my two cents in. I had plenty of great songs I wanted to start working on but they just didn’t fit what we wanted to do. This thing started taking on a life of its own. After the first song we tracked, “I Can’t Take It,” we just liked the song so much that we kept it on the side. When we started up again, we wanted to see this thing not have any boundaries and let it go wherever it would lead us. We didn’t want to feel locked down to keeping it in a particular style. We can do anything we wanted. I never had any boundaries and I’ll do whatever I want when it’s me writing. So we did! We ended up producing, engineering and finishing the record ourselves. The first song we went into record with Frontiers sessions was “Shut Down Baby.” It was the first song we went in there and tacked and it was the first and second vocal tracks we kept. We had nothing to do with that song after that! There was nothing else to be done, so we just kept moving! We’re trying to find something to do to it but it didn’t need anything else. Right then and there we knew we were onto something kind of interesting. Everything worked so perfectly with the way we tracked it.
As you said, you aren’t an artist who likes to be kept inside a box. Where are you headed musically in the future?
I have done music for movies and television. I’ve written, with Al Pitrelli, an industrial record. I can adapt to any kind of music. It’s not crazy to me to do something new. I tried a lot of stuff on “Smash” that I didn’t think I would try. Who knows? Maybe I will do some orchestrated stuff in the years to come. I just don’t know. We are planning on doing a RATT record later this year and Warren and I have dabbled with some songs already. That was right after the “Smash” sessions and they sound pretty cool. It’s just depends; it is time, place and where you’re at. I’m in a good place, so if it can be stirred up and bottled, it’ll be a good thing!
Everybody knows there has been a lot of back and forth over the last few months between current and former members of RATT. The band is your livelihood and legacy. How do you view the situation? Is it business or personal at this point?
It all comes back to the business standpoint because inevitably that is where it goes. It’s unfortunate that our audience has to be mislead and lied to. “Hey we are playing here but we aren’t telling you who’s in the band.” People say, “I didn’t pay to see this! Where is Stephen, Warren and Juan?” That’s a terrible thing. However, the dust is settling and the real guys, Warren, Juan, myself and even Carlos Cavazo, are back in the mix, which is the way it should be. Look, the legal system runs its course. It’s a game unto itself and if someone is out there making a mockery of the court’s ruling or making threats … well, that’s not my problem. That’s their problem. Justice is peace and karma is a bitch!
Any lessons you learned from going through this ordeal?
Yeah. Everybody get the fuck out of my way! [laughs]
What can we expect from the songs Warren and yourself worked on for the next RATT album? Do you see it headed in a particular direction?
It could be our last record but who knows. I mean, it took 10 years to do “Infestation” and it has been six years since the release of that album. We want this next album to be the ultimate RATT record.
You’ve come a long way and been through a lot. Looking back, how have you most evolved?
That’s an interesting question. Look, as an artist, I don’t let anything stand in my way. My development is shown through what I create. Music is timeless. Someone might not think it is such a big hit now because Rihanna is at the top of the charts. Charts are irrelevant. They don’t mean anything; it’s all political. You know if a song will become huge after the fact. I never really take any of that stuff into consideration. After being around this long, I am still writing. I can still write and I enjoy it! If you took the guitar away from me, I would probably get a little upset! [laughs]
What is the best lesson we can take from your journey as an artist?
Never settle for less. When somebody says, “No,” it means, “Yes!” You do what you do until you can’t do it anymore. That is how you will know if you are supposed to be on that path. Never … EVER … give up. That’s how you make it in anything by never giving up. That is how I made it in music. I said I was going to do it, no matter what, and I did it! It works if you follow that path.
You released a book a few years back but I imagine you have many tales to tell.
I do and I’m working on it. I hope to start putting it together at the end of this year. Like you said, there is still a lot left to tell!
Awesome! We look forward to spreading the word on “Smash” and everything else you have brewing! Take care, Stephen!
Thank you, man. I really appreciate it!
Stephen Peary’s “Smash” will be released on January 27, 2017 via Frontiers Records. For all the latest tour dates, visit www.stephen-pearcy.com.
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.