Quiet Riot is an undeniable rock ‘n’ roll phenomenon. Famously known as the first heavy metal band to top the pop charts, the Los Angeles quartet became a global sensation thanks to their album, 1983’s ”Metal Health.” That album topped the Billboard album charts for several months and the follow up album, ”Condition Critical,” went double platinum. The band continued to record and tour throughout the decades following. As the driving force behind the band, Frankie Banali’s history with Quiet Riot spans more than 34 years. He is the only member of Quiet Riot to record on every Quiet Riot release since ”Metal Health.” After nearly 10 years since the loss of his friend and bandmate Kevin DuBrow, and with careful consideration, soul searching and the blessings and support of DuBrow’s family, Frankie moved forward with the band to bring the fans an exciting new chapter!
In 2017, Quiet Riot continues their historic journey with their new album, ”Road Rage.” Led by Banali, who is joined by veteran bassist Chuck Wright (who has been in and out of the band since 1982), guitarist Alex Grossi (who has been in the band since 2004) and new vocalist James Durbin, the band continues to be an unstoppable force in the rock ’n’ roll world. ”Road Rage” was originally scheduled for release in the spring of 2017, but with the injection of new found energy for the band! With the addition of American Idol alumni James Durbin in the vocalist slot, the band scrapped the original sessions and recorded a new version of the album with the new and improved line-up. Musically, ”Road Rage” offers what you would expect from Quiet Riot — arena ready hard rock with strong hooks and infectious riffs, along with a maturity in the songwriting only a band with such a history and pedigree can offer. “Road Rage” proves that Quiet Riot is stronger than ever and won’t be fading off into the sunset any time soon!
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Frankie Banali to discuss his life in music, his evolution as an artist and bringing Quiet Riot’s high-intestity new album, “Road Rage,” to life!
Thanks for talking with us today, Frankie.
My pleasure! Thank you for taking the time and interest in Quiet Riot.
Thanks for keeping this thing on the rails for so many years. You’re doing a kick ass job!
That’s what makes it worth doing! Comments like that is what I appreciate more than anything in the world!
Before we get to the latest chapter in the band’s rich history, let’s go back to your early years because, believe it or not, there are still people discovering your music and Quiet Riot for the first time. How did you get into music and what went into finding your creative voice as a young man?
For my generation, everything started with The Beatles. When I saw The Beatles on “Ed Sullivan,” I was sitting on the floor of my parent’s living room in Queens, New York. That’s what started it for me. From there, I segued to The Rolling Stones and Dave Clark, which led to Jimi Hendrix and Cream. When Led Zeppelin’s first album came out, that was a game changer for me and I haven’t looked back ever since!
You’re known as one of the most notable drummers in rock. When did you come into your own as a player?
Ya know, I’m a really dedicated person when it comes to music because not only am I a musician but I’m still a fan. I was always a fan, so I was always interested in music and it consumed my entire life. From the point I picked up a pair of drumsticks, I dropped the baseball bat and the hockey stick! It became my entire life and I can honestly stay, with no reservations, that one of the biggest parts of my life is music and playing. I was always in bands. The first time I earned any money, and it was all of $13, when I was 13 years old playing for a church social. I’ve been doing this a long time! When my parents moved from New York to Fort Lauderdale, to try to get me away from some of the trouble I was getting into in the city, I just kept working at it. I kept joining bands, putting bands together and rearranging bands until I got a reputation for being the guy to work with. Once I did that there, I became a big fish in a small pond, so I had two choices. I could either go back to New York or go to Los Angeles, which were the two big music centers at the time. The weather was a whole lot better than it was in New York, so I came out to California!
You brushed elbows and worked with amazing people in the industry. Who had the biggest impact on you creatively?
Of the people I have worked with, it would have to be Kevin DuBrow. He was the most dynamic personality I have ever met. He was all over the place! He had so much energy and charisma but he really, really loved music, singing and all the English bands from the ‘60s and ‘70s. We had that great connection. I think he made the most impact on me because without Kevin, Quiet Riot wouldn’t have been the Quiet Riot that we became at the time. He was a huge part of it and he was also a huge part of my personal life. So, of the people I have worked with, the person who had the biggest impact on me would have to be Kevin DuBrow.
Your road to success didn’t happen overnight. How did your leaner years as a musician shape the man we see today?
The thing that was different for me than a lot of players in California when I came out, and one of the reasons I was so prepared and poised to act, was that when you were a musician back on the East Coast, you were used to playing four, five or six 45-minute sets a night. Not only did doing that build up your endurance but it also built up the catalog you had to know how to play and the variety of styles. You weren’t just playing rock – you were playing rock, funk and fusion. It was the great underground university for musicians back east. When I came out to California, bands here were only used to playing 30 minutes, 40 minutes or maybe 60 minutes and they were coming off stage like they had just run a marathon! For me, I was just getting warmed up! When I came out to LA, I have always been a very work oriented person and I was in five bands almost all of the time because it took five bands just to be broke! [laughs] I would get a little money from one band from rehearsing, a little money from another from doing a show, maybe some drum sticks from one band and maybe some drum heads from another, just to get through it but that’s what you had to do! You had to have that kind of dedication. You couldn’t be thin skinned and you had to receive rejection really, really well because once you get rejected you have to brush it off and go to the next thing!
That dedication served you well! What are the keys to longevity in the music business?
I think you have to be realistic. I also think you have to be flexible and be able to change when change happens. Change happens all the time in life but especially in this business! You have to have a goal and you have to have plans and be able to shift gears at a moment’s notice. Sometimes the music business is like the weather, it can be gorgeous outside but you better have an umbrella with you because you never know when the storm is going to hit you! You just have to be prepared. At the same time, you have to put the time into it and dedicate yourself. You can’t put things on the back burner that need to be addressed immediately and that’s what I do. If there is a problem, I assess it, I address it, I deal with it and I move on!
What does rock ‘n’ roll mean to you?
In a word — freedom!
Quiet Riot has a new album, “Road Rage,” that has been in the making for a little while. I know you encountered speed bumps along the way. What got the ball rolling and made this the time for a new Quiet Riot record?
I received a communication from Frontiers Records in Italy and they wanted to know if I would be interested in doing a Quiet Riot record. They had pursued me in the past and, at the time, I really wasn’t motivated to make a record for a variety of reasons. When this one came around, I thought the time was right but it also coincided with the time we had Jizzy Pearl singing with us and he gave notice. Ya know, we had three really good years with Jizzy but he wanted to concentrate on his solo career and wanted to write music for that, so he wasn’t going to write any music for a new Quiet Riot record. That left me in the situation where I had to find a new singer and I had time to do it because he gave ample notice. He wanted to finish out the year. I needed somebody to fill the void live and to do the record. The first person I reached out to was James Durbin. I was aware of James not only because of the “American Idol” status that he had but also because my guitarist, Alex Grossi, already knew James. I had gotten in touch with James but, at the time, he had just signed on to do a project in Las Vegas and he had no idea how long that was going to run, so that made it impossible. The second choice I had was a singer by the name of Jacob Bunton, who was with Adler’s Appetite. He’s a really, really good singer and songwriter. As it turns out, he wanted to do the record but he decided to stay off the road for awhile, so that didn’t work out. People say everything happens for a reason and ultimately the reason came about and James was available when we needed him the most. He came into the fold and it’s been a really, really great experience to work with him. I just think it’s the right time to do a Quiet Riot record! We haven’t released an official Quiet Riot record since 2006, when we released “Rehab,” which was the last record we did with Kevin DuBrow. I think 11 years was a good enough rest from the record business!
I’ve been a fan of James for quite awhile now and talked with him several times throughout his career. He’s got a great energy. What did he bring into the mix when it was time to record? Anything you weren’t expecting?
You hit a key point, which is energy. First of all, let me just state that I have never tried to replace Kevin DuBrow because you cannot replace Kevin DuBrow. It’s an impossibility! Kevin was one of the most amazing people I have known in my entire life and he was one of the greatest singers in rock, as far as I’m concerned, and an unbelievable performer with such energy. So, the thing about James that’s interesting is that he has an energy similar to Kevin’s which is something I had been missing since Kevin was alive and in the band. For me, that was a key thing. He’s also a really funny guy, which Kevin was hysterical, so all of a sudden I’m feeling more comfortable and more at home with James. Obviously, he has an unbelievable vocal range, which is something that Kevin also had and is something you are going to need if you’re going to sing the older Quiet Riot material. All of those things came into play but one of the key things for me was the fact that I didn’t want to go down the karaoke route. I had tried that and it worked to varying degrees but it was never really quite the right fit. I needed somebody who could sing the songs in the keys and registers they were meant to be sung and I also needed someone who brought something to the table on their own that didn’t take away but added to the Quiet Riot sound. James has that! There was no auditioning process for James. I never considered, “Oh, we’ll have to bring him in and see if he can do it.” I knew he could do it! Originally, I sent him the live material so he could familiarize himself with it. We did two rehearsals and went out on tour! All the music for the “Road Rage” record had already been written by myself, Alex Grossi, Chuck Wright and my songwriting partner, Neil Citron. All that music was originally done in-house and I essentially sent him songs as canvases with landscapes and let him fill the rest of the picture! He’s done a phenomenal job! On the one hand, he surprised me with the things he came up with but, on the other had, I expected him to deliver the goods and deliver he did!
I’m sure you had a vision of what the album might be when you went into process. How did the end product differ from the album you achieved?
I think that James brought to the table what he brought to these songs. He had a very short period of time to work with — 30 days. I was on a strict timeline to re-deliver the record, meaning I had to have James write all new original lyrics and melodies, send me the demos, then we would go over them, he would go into record the vocals and send me those files and then I had to import everything and remix it. All of this happened in a 30-day period. We had the music for these songs and it needed to be elevated to the level that the songs deserved to be. I think that is what he brought to the table. His lyric content, a lot of it comes from humor and personal experience, which I think are two great wells to pull from creatively. His vocal melodies are very unique and very different. I think it married really well with the music that we had created and brought it up to a much greater level than I could have ever hoped for!
What can you tell us about your songwriting process with you and your team these days?
It’s different now because not everybody lives in the same place. Some of my fondest memories are rehearsing with different versions of Quiet Riot but particularly with the so-called classic lineup where we would go into a rehearsal studio and work on songs. That doesn’t happen that much anymore because, geographically, not everyone lives in the same place. When you can do a lot of the things through the Internet, you are forced to do that. What happened on this record is that I let everyone know to start writing! I had already started writing with my writing partner, Neil, and we had quite a number of things that I wanted to submit. Ultimately, most of the music was written by Neil and myself. Alex [Grossi] wrote the music to an incredible ballad called “The Road” and James just knocked it out of the park! Chuck had brought in this one riff that Neil and I got our teeth into and from that came “Still Wild.” It was a creative process but it was a process that happens because of technology and people having their lives in different places. It’s difficult to get together and hash it all out at a rehearsal studio everyday.
You have a great team in Quiet Riot. Where is the band headed in the future?
You know, I’m so lucky to have the people I am working with and it is a team. Chuck Wright has been part of the Quiet Riot family, on and off, since 1981-1982. Playing with him is wonderful and he is ridiculously talented! He can play anything! No matter what I throw at him, he will come up with some great bass playing on it. He’s also a big part of the live background vocal sounds and recordings in the past, although he didn’t do any background vocals on the “Road Rage” record. The background vocals on “Road Rage” I had James do. Chuck is an integral part of this thing called Quiet Riot. Alex, who has been in the band for over 10 years, used to be the new guy even at 10 years! [laughs] He’s a really, really talented guitar player but he’s also a really nice person and he wants everything to be right. He wants everything to sound right. I really throw a lot of things at him that were out of his comfort zone on this album and he came to the plate and was knocking things out. The guitar playing he has done on this record makes me really, really proud of him. There is amazing guitar work on this record. Then you bring someone like James into the fold! Listen, I could not be happier! I think everything is great and I would love to have James be a part of the Quiet Riot family as long as he would like and as long as he is happy doing this!
Looking back at what you created, how have you evolved?
I always tell people that I play songs first and I play drums second. My focus has always been to be supportive of the players I am playing with but, at the same time, not just be cookie cutter either because I have to make myself happy. There is a lot of rhythmic things that are going on with the “Road Rage” record, which are things that I really enjoy playing and are dear to the style of playing and influenced by so many of the drummers that I’m still a fan of. I’m just really happy! I just want to be part of the overall situation! I understand that to some degree I’m more of a focus now because I’m the so-called last original member of the band but, at the same time, I’m just a part of the fabric of the whole situation. I’m just a real big motivator and I want to keep it moving forward and keep it moving in a positive manner. Ya know, you hit a speed bump, well, you burn some rubber on it and you keep going!
There are peers of Quiet Riot putting out some of the most inspired music of their careers on new albums. Are these albums getting the attention they deserve?
It’s interesting because “Road Rage” is getting a lot of attention, although some of the things we had done in the past didn’t receive as much attention. The music industry has changed so much that in many ways it barely exists. The days of radio being supportive of either a new act or an established act where you could send them your new product or walk in with it to do an interview and the DJs were free to play it, well, that doesn’t happen anymore. Everything is corporate. A lot of things are pre-programmed and there isn’t a lot they can do. It has changed from that dynamic. I’m just really pleased that the attention that “Road Rage” is getting is phenomenal. The early reviews that have come in have been really great. What’s gratifying for me is that different people have reviewed the record and, while some of the people like some of the same songs, what they like really runs the gamut. Some people like some of the deeper or less obvious tracks on the record. You don’t want people to just like one or two songs that are the most user-friendly for a lack of a better term. Any time you can create a body of work on a single record where so many people like so many different songs, that’s the most gratifying experience you can have!
What keeps a band like Quiet Riot going?
Perseverance, dedication, a work ethic and being able to look at every situation from a lot of different angles and not make knee-jerk reactions to it. You have to take it all in. It’s good to listen to criticism but it’s also good to understand the source of the criticism. If the source of criticism is not valid then the criticism isn’t valid. You can’t be thin-skinned in this business because this business is built on a foundation of rejection. You really have to be able to put everything in place. You also have to believe in yourself, fight for what is yours, never look back and keep moving forward!
The music industry changed exponentially through the years. How do you view those changes?
For bands in general, it’s a tough one. Ya know, one of the things I really loved about music early on and still love today is …?I remember waiting for a record to come out. When I heard the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street” was coming out, I couldn’t wait for it! I would be calling the record store every single day and pestering them! [laughs] When it finally came in, I would run down with my little money, buy the record and sit there on the floor while I was listening to the record and looking at all the pictures, reading the liner notes and trying to see if there was a picture of the drumset. It was an experience. It was a complete and total experience because it was something you were listening to and looking at, in addition to imagining what it must have been like recording that particular record or writing that particular song. That really doesn’t happen anymore because records became CDs, which were much smaller, and then CDs became digital downloads. In short, it’s become very disposable. I mean, when you have at your fingertips, conservatively speaking, 30,000 pieces of music you can listen to and you are looking at the album artwork on a computer screen, it’s not the same thing. It’s become disposable and a lot of people just take for granted that experience of buying a record and becoming part of that record. That, by in large, is something that doesn’t exist for most people anymore. That’s sad. It’s become music as digital downloads and people stealing your tracks. It’s become the phone I’m using today.
What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey as an artist?
Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do what you know is right and what you know is what you have to do, even if it’s difficult. Usually, the most difficult things to do are the most rewarding when you accomplish the task. When it’s easy, it’s also easy to forget!
Very well said, Frankie! I want to thank you for your time today and for an exciting new album from Quiet Riot. We will be spreading the word and flying the flag for you!
Wave that freak flag high, my friend!
Quiet Riot’s ‘Road Rage’ is now available from Frontiers Records. Download it instantly via iTunes, Google Play and Amazon. For the latest info and tour dates for the band visit, www.quietriot.band. Connect with the band on social media through Facebook.