Jack Russell has lived one of the most storied lives in rock ’n roll. As the voice of Great White, the band broke out of the Los Angeles scene in 1984 with its self-titled debut followed by seismic platinum-selling outings such as 1987’s “Once Bitten…” and 1989’s “…Twice Shy.” Moving over 8 million copies worldwide, they stood out as tried-and-true rock stalwarts into the 21st century until 2011, when Russell went on to form Jack Russell’s Great White. It’s no secret that over the course of his career, Jack Russell has experienced dizzying highs and tremendous lows. Through it all, his love of music has never faded. Rather than look backwards and relive the multi-platinum hard rock entity’s storied origins, Jack Russell set his sights on the future. In December 2011, Jack Russell’s Great White bared its teeth for the first time and music fans and critics quickly took notice.
Firing on all cylinders, this talented group of musicians hit the studio in 2016 to cut their official full-length debut. Featuring Jack Russell alongside former Great White bassist-turned-guitarist Tony Montana (as a guitar player and keyboardist), Dan McNay (Montrose) on bass, Robby Lochner (Fight) on guitar and Dicki Fliszar (Bruce Dickinson) on drums, the results are nothing less than stellar. “He Saw It Comin,” available via Frontiers Music Srl, instant classic and taps into the bluesy bombast and heavy energy of Russell’s celebrated material, but it’s a distinctly modern metallic monster. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Jack Russell to discuss his early years as an artist, his creative evolution and breathing life into “He Saw It Comin.’
You carved out an incredible career in the music industry. Going back to the beginning, when did music captivate you for the first time?
When I was 5 years old, I wanted to be an archeologist. That was my dream but for my sixth birthday, my parents bought me the Beatles “Help” album. It became one of the most pivotal moments in my life! I put this record on and, I swear to you, it was like the skies opened up! My life started taking a turn from there. We had moved and there was a guitar player living behind my house. I went up to him and told him I could sing. We got together then, I was 11 years old and he was a freshman in high school. We started a band! Eventually, the first band led to another and another. I met Mark [Kendall] in November of 1978 when I was 17 years old and we started what became Great White in 1982. It was that Beatles album that did it for me. I knew my destiny then! It was almost like “Jukebox Hero,” if you know what I mean! [laughs] I just knew it was going to happen! The way my life turned out was like an amazing journey to where I knew I was going to be. It was very strange. I used to listen to “Toys In The Attic” at night. I would sneak out of my bedroom and into the back room where the stereo was. I would put on my headphones, put on the record and listen to it. I would pretend I was friends with Steven Tyler and picturing that in my mind. Then one day, there I was, talking on the phone with Steven Tyler! It was like, “Wow! This guy is my friend! It’s amazing!” Everything I dreamed of came to fruition and it was really, really cool! I have led a very, very charmed life in many respects.
As a young artist, what went into the process of finding your voice?
There were bands like Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and all the great bands from the 1970s. There were so many great bands! With all of the great music, it was almost as if you are what you eat! I was definitely chewing on that stuff and sucking the marrow out of it! Joe Perry had read an interview I had done, where I had cited him as one of my influences. He sent a message to me that said, “You need to look back farther.” It was then when I started listening to old blues like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Willie Dixon and people like that! By doing that, I got a whole new perspective on music and where rock really came from. That became a second wave of influence for me. Finding my voice? That just came over time. It started by my singing covers and eventually moving on to writing my own songs. It was really freaky to write your own songs and sing them for the first time. You think, “What does my real voice sound like when I’m not trying to sound like someone else?” I was very good at emulating people and I could pretty much sound like anybody, especially Robert Plant! That is how it happened. When I started doing my own stuff it was really to discover my voice and it still keeps growing to this day. I find out things about my voice that I didn’t know. I have been doing this for a long time and it seems that every year I discover something new. It’s amazing how versatile my voice is and I am still astounded and grateful. It’s a gift and it’s on loan. It’s not me and there is nothing special about me per se. I’m just an ex-surfer/fisherman who was blessed with this voice.
You have seen it all over the course of your career. To what do you attribute your longevity in the music industry?
I think longevity comes from the ability to reinvent yourself. It’s not easy. You have to keep to the core of who you are but you can’t stay stuck in a rut where you keep recording the same record with different lyrics. You have to change! I think that comes naturally. It’s not like I think about an album and say, “OK, this one is going to be like this … ” or “I’m going to change my style to this.” The reason this new record, “He Saw It Comin,” sounds different from other stuff that I’ve done is because I have a different co-writer. The chemistry between him and I is magic! I really believe in my heart of hearts that this is the best work I have ever done!
I agree! The material is great and your voice is fire! How did the ball get rolling on this album and how long did it take from start to finish?
I went through a bunch of musicians over the last five years because it didn’t feel right. I knew that it wasn’t right and I didn’t want to record an album with a band I felt wasn’t right. When we finally got our bass player settled, a guy named Dan McNay, I knew this was the band I had been waiting for! At that point, I said, “OK, get us a record deal and we will start recording!” That’s what we did! Robby Lochner and I started writing songs when we first got together. We didn’t get too serious about it until I said, “Let’s get ready to do a record.” It took us, actual recording time, about five months. It took that long because we were on the road a lot and we couldn’t dedicate a month to sit there and do a record. It took what it took and we took our time! We weren’t in any hurry. I just wanted to make sure it was right and I didn’t want to be under the clock. As a matter of fact, we were 30 days late delivering the album because I wanted it to be right. It had to be right and it came out the way I wanted it to come out! I think it’s magical! I hate to sound un-humble but that is my truth! I think it’s a beautiful record with a great collection of songs. Like I said, I think it’s the best thing I have ever done!
Do you face challenges in bringing this album to life?
I think finding the time was a challenge. The vocals were really thick on this record. The harmonies were really, really thick and I that’s what took the most time on the schedule. Robby was working 16 hour days at different points. His studio is at his house, so he had access to it all of the time. That was great and he was always putting parts down and doing background vocals. That made it easier. A song like, “Godspeed,” was an undertaking of monumental proportions. I wasn’t involved with that, other than the writing and the melody for the song. He said he wanted to go A cappella with it and I said, “Wow! You are kidding me? On a rock album? What are you thinking? Barber shop quartet with straw hats and striped shirts?” [laughs] He said, “No, like a ‘50s kind of thing. Like doo-wop!” I said, “Alright, man! Have at it! See what you come up with it!” He came back and I just started laughing and laughing when he played it. He had a look on his face like I shot his dog! He said, “What’s wrong?” I said, “Nothing! I’m laughing because of how good this is! The way it weaves in and out of the different parts is amazing!” I was truly amazed by the song! Other than that, there weren’t too many difficult things to go through. It was all really easy!
Looking back on your work, how have you evolved as an artist?
Hopefully my songwriting has gotten better and I became more transparent with my lyrics. I tried to be a little bit more honest with each record. I like to write about my life and my experiences and I generally don’t write about anything I haven’t been through. People can easily relate to my songs because many things that I have gone through they have experienced as well. We’ll experience many of the same things in life no matter who we are or what we do. The only song on this album that would be contrary to that is “Spy Vs. Spy,” which is a series from MAD Magazine about a pair of black and white spies who are always trying to kill each other in these Rube Goldberg-esque ways. It was always really funny to me. I also saw a movie called “Spy” with Melissa McCarthy and it was hysterical. It was really well done and I thought to myself, “I’m going to write a spy song just because.” I ended up coming up with the music and lyrics. I showed it to Robby and said, “I’m not sure what to think about this one.” He got done with it and said, “This is great!” I said, “Well, I told ya to trust me!” [laughs]
Where are you headed in the future when it comes to music?
Ya know, every album pretty much takes on a life of its own. When you start out, you come up with some ideas and it is basically a snapshot of where I am emotionally at the time. The same goes for Robby as well. Robby and I are always working on stuff. Sometimes I might come up with a musical idea and, since I don’t play, I have to hum it to him. He will take what I have hummed to him and figure out a chord for it. We are never afraid to pull our pants down, as an expression, and we are very honest with each other. If we don’t like something, we’ll just say so. We aren’t here to placate each other. We’re here to write good songs! Where I go musically in the future is really going to depend on where I am at the time we record. It’s going to take on whatever characteristics of the life I’m living at the time. What I’ve found to be true is that every record writes itself. Every song or musical idea starts with a melody and the lyrics will come out of that. Generally, the sound of the song will inspire me for the lyrics. For example, “My Addiction, is a song I knew what it was about the first time I heard it. My ex-bass player has the original idea which was a really dark bass line. I literally wrote lyrics and melody in 20 minutes. It was like one long streaming thought. It was very intense! It was almost as if the songs were already written and I just had to put it on paper!
You guys self-produced this album. What was that experience like and is it something you plan on doing more of in the future?
Yeah, it was produced by Robby and myself. I think we know the music better anybody and I know how I want it to sound. Robby is quite capable in the studio. We handed the mix off to someone else only because we didn’t want to get too close to it. If you get too close to it, sometimes you can see the forest for the trees so to speak. As songwriters and composers, I think we know what we’re doing, at least I hope! [laughs] I don’t know if working with the producer would be something that would help us or hamper us. If someone came along I was really into and I thought he could add something to it, I would certainly give them a shot. With that said, I’m not actively searching out the producer. My feeling is that if it ain’t broke, then don’t try to fix it! In my eyes and ears, I think this record sounds really incredible and the songwriting is great. There’re things on here that I’ve never done before with the bands I have been in. There are background harmonies, vocal breaks and so on. The title track is almost like a Queen song almost! It has so many elements in it and it’s really an epic tune as far as where it takes you! This record is definitely a roller-coaster, not a merry-go-round!
The changes you have seen in the music industry over the past decades have been immense. What is the best part of being a working artist in today’s climate?
Doing the shows is always great! Technology to me has really been a hindrance, unfortunately. There are no more record stores. I never thought I would see the day where I couldn’t go down to the store and look through the racks to find the latest album from my favorite bands. I remember it used to be like an event! We used to camp out in front of the record store when we knew a new Led Zeppelin record was coming out. We would make sure we were the first ones in the door and would run to the back of the store where the display was! We would grab the record, come back home and gently take it out of the shrink wrap! It was like handling a really fragile piece of artwork! You were treated with the utmost care! You would pull out the record, look at the liner notes, look at the cover and read every single thing on the album itself! You would put it on the turntable with such a reverence. It was almost like taking communion at church! [laughs] It was a big ceremony! I remember I used to have this little shelf on my wall where I would put the album cover when the album was playing. There was a little sign above it that said Now Playing. I did that so I could look at the cover while I was listening to the record. It was a total ceremony! All that has just been taken away and people don’t have that experience anymore. It’s sad. Fortunately, this record is being done in vinyl as well as digitally. There are people like myself who love to have something physical when it comes to music. I have CDs and I like the fact that there is something tangible as opposed to just lurking on an iPod with 1 million other songs on it. I would rather have the actual CD even if it takes up more space. I have space and if not, I’ll make space! I want to have the record and I want to pay the artist. I want to help them keep going because if people don’t buy the records, the artists aren’t going to be able to make a living anymore!
Speaking of album artwork, you have a cool cover image for this record. What is the story behind it?
Thank you! The idea I had goes along with the title track and the story I told you about when I was 6 years old, just changed a bit. Robby had recorded this skit in front of the song. There are two kids in the room and they’re waiting for their big brother to leave so that they can sneak into his room and play his guitar and drums. When they open the door, they find themselves standing on stage in front of thousands of people. They freak out and close the door! The one kid says, “Come on! Do you want to go back in?” The other kid says, “No!” So, the first kid says, “Come on, you wimp!” They go back in and, once again, they’re on stage in front of thousands of people and they shut the door behind them. It’s then when the song starts! The lyrics go, “You say to me time is over. You look at me and shake your head. You say I’ve had my day and can’t believe that I’m not dead … ” The lyrics are about my life when I came back after all of the things I went through. It’s about manifest destiny and never giving up! On the front cover you have these two kids representing Robby and myself, along with a pirate skeleton or a sage as I call him. He is showing them this crystal ball with their future in it. Inside that crystal ball you can see Robby and myself, at the age we are now, on stage in front of thousands of people. That’s a story behind the cover!
That is very cool, Jack! Building on what you said, we can learn from your story. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey?
Stay sober, man! [laughs] If you have a problem with drugs and alcohol, definitely seek help. I’ve damaged myself so much from what I used to call partying. What it really was was just feeding my addiction. That’s what the song “My Addiction” is about on this record. It’s not about how fun it is to go out and party, because certainly it is, but when it becomes an addiction and you find yourself sitting alone in your house by yourself drinking or using, that’s just not normal. It may seem normal to you at the time but it’s really not. It’s not the way social drinkers act. So if you have a problem, please get help before you end up in the hospital like I did. I came out of a five-day coma with the doctor telling me that my liver almost shut down and that if I drank again I was going to die. He didn’t say I might die, he said I was going to die! That was my biggest epiphany and what got me sober for the last time! I’ve been clean and sober for about a year-and-a-half-now! Now, we have this new record and we are really looking to getting out there on tour and kicking some major ass!
Congratulations Jack! When are we going to get your story in book form?
I’ve been working on that actually. It’s been an amazing adventure! I feel like I should call the book “You’re Not Going to Believe Any Of This But It’ll Be A Great Read!” [laughs] My life has been enchanted and things have happened to me that are totally unbelievable. I can’t believe some things that happened and I’m me! The book will eventually come out; I’m not sure when but hopefully sometime this year!
We wish you continued success and can’t wait to spread the word on this album!
Thank you, Jason! It’s been a pleasure talking to you, man!
For all the latest news and tour dates for Jack Russell’s ‘Great White,’ visit the official website at www.jackrussellsgreatwhite.com. ‘He Saw It Coming’ is available now via Frontiers Music Srl. Get it on iTunes!
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.