For over three decades, Marq Torien has been rockin’ audiences around the globe as the frontman for Bulletboys. Charismatic, endlessly-energetic, and fearless when it comes to the music he loves, Torien has established himself as an institution in the rock scene. For the uninitiated, Bulletboys exploded onto the music scene in 1988 with their self-titled album. 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 classic, “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 be 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. As he weathered the turbulent storms of the ever-changing music industry, Torien’s determination never wavered and his passion for the art form he loves grew exponentially.
In 2018, the Bulletboys unleashed the next exciting chapter in their already rich history. A true labor of love, “From Out Of The Skies” was recorded at the Foo Fighters’ legendary Studio 606. A fitting followup to their critically acclaimed 2015 release, “Elefante,” the band continues to elevate their game and waste no time exploring uncharted musical territory. It’s clear at first listen that everyone involved with the project, from the band members to those working diligently behind the scenes, have poured their hearts and souls into the process of bringing this powerful new album to life. Released on March 23rd, 2018 via Frontiers Music Srl, the vivacious and wildly ambitious album is a testament to the fact that Bulletboys are an unstoppable force. Armed with an undeniably powerful back catalog and arsenal of new music, they’re once again ready to take the world by storm with their unique brand hard rock.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Marq Torien to discuss his passion for creation, the reinvention of the Bulletboys, the making of their powerful new album, “From Out of The Skies,” and what the future holds for him musically!
You’ve become an institution in rock ‘n’ roll. I wanted to start by going all the way back to the beginning. What went into finding your creative voice as a young man?
I come from a very musical background. My family, both my mother and father, are musicians. I think I was born into it! I think I found my voice from singing in different churches, church choirs and singing with my family on my own. I’ve been singing for a very, very long time! I didn’t really learn it, it was just kind of a blessing that I have a natural singing voice!
In the early years of the Bulletboys, I imagine things were moving very fast. What can you tell us about the early days and the moments that had the biggest impact on you?
That’s a really difficult question because when we first started we were constantly working, constantly rehearsing and constantly writing. Then we finally got to the point where the band was number one on MTV and we had a successful first record. It came down to the notion of “Okay, we have this and now we have to push further.” We weren’t happy with the initial success. While we did very well, we wanted to sell millions of records. It was quite a strange time for us because when we came out, music was kind of changing. We came out with this hard rock record when there was a lot of new music coming from Seattle and things were starting to change. I always say we’ve stuck to our guns musically. Back in the day, we never really put a ballad on our record when everyone else was doing that and a lot of people made it with their ballads. Bulletboys was more straightforward and had this punk rock attitude that “We’re not going to do a ballad! We’re just doing a straight out hard rock record!” For all intents and purposes, looking back, I think we would have been doing things differently if we would have but it is what it is. We worked extremely hard to do what we did and to put out great music. We had an amazing village behind us with our management, Ted Templeman, Roberta Peterson and being signed with Warner Brothers. Ted was very educating to us as far as teaching us different things. He would give us little assignments to go read certain books or go see a certain movie; they were things that would open up your mind a little bit more for creative purposes. We were very, very fortunate that we were one of the few bands that got to work with Ted Templeman. That’s still a big thing for me, absolutely!
By all accounts, you are one of the most electrifying frontmen in rock. You bring such a tremendous energy to the stage. That doesn’t happen overnight. When do you feel you really came into your own in that position?
Thank you so much. Ya know, I feel like I really came into my own as of late, to be honest with you. I was recently talking to a really close friend and I was saying I felt like I was always getting shade thrown on me for the fact that the band was very Van Halen-esque or like The Who. We just had this sound, we had Ted Templeman and I had this long blonde hair. After a while, to me, it just became this thing that I wanted people to take me for what I was. I wanted to have my own thing and my own look. I really believe that I’ve come full-circle with the re-invention of the band, I have my own style and people are appreciating that I am who I am. I really think I’ve come into that as of late. The past years and different things that I’ve gone through in my personal life have allowed me to change as a person. I think I have more of a vast feeling of love, passion and forgiveness for people that I didn’t have before. That really empowers you when you’ve come into your own.
It sounds kind of weird but with the band, the four of us, don’t really have any ego. There is none of this rock ‘n’ roll ego. We are more like, “Grab your lunch pail and hard hat!” We’re one of those working bands, so there is no attitude of “Oh, I’m this huge rock star…” We don’t have that at all. We’re not that way. I think it used to be that way for me back in the day a little bit. If I could go back, I wish I could do a couple of things differently but, as of late, I’m comfortable with myself. I feel like I’ve really come into my own with my writing and I have an amazing band that I get to play in with Chad [Chad MacDonald], Nick [Rozz] and our new drummer, Tiny [Biuso]. It’s a really good swirl with this band right now! They let me be me and vice versa. We’re just doing our own thing and being our own personalities. Things have really taken a turn and they are working! The fact that we’ve put out ‘From Out of The Skies’ and, before that, ‘Elefante,’ and people are really loving our record is a blessing to us! In this day and age, the world is moving so fast these days and there is so much music out there. For someone to take time out of life and listen to our music it’s a big thing for us! We’re really grateful that people are really taking to this record!
With that said, I think people really pick up on the authenticity in your writing and within the band itself, so kudos to you!
Thank you! Yeah, it’s pretty simple. In our genre of music, there are a lot of fans who don’t want to let you grow musically. I feel that sometimes, but with us it’s so strange because we’re not really caught up in that whole genre, we’ve been able to reinvent ourselves and we have a lot of new fans. There are a lot of new people who had never heard of us, who are now coming to listen to us and saying, “Wow! You guys are my new favorite band! I had no idea of your past. I’ve just been digging on this new record.”
As you mentioned, Bulletboys have a brand-new album, ‘From Out of The Skies.’ Tell us a little about your headspace going into the creative process. What did you envision and how did the final product differ from what you expected?
Wow! Ya know, I wanted to top our last record, ‘Elefante.’ I wanted to take it to another level. There are so many great bands out there right now that are musically solid and whose musical prowess is at a very high level. For us to try to match those bands or come at it with the same intense prowess, we really had to step up musically. We were very, very grateful and very fortunate that the tribe we have around us were able to help us manifest that. We just put it out there into the universe! We had Dave Grohl step up for us and be a champion for the band! He brought us in to Studio 606 to record this record. That’s a huge thing for a band like us! I don’t think there has ever been a band from our genre who’ve been allowed to come into that studio and cut a record. I really felt that it was a huge blessing from Dave Grohl, who is such a sweetheart and so loving, to have us come in. He heard the demo we did for our record and said, “You guys are taking risks. Come into our studio. You guys should be in here cutting this record.” It was like, “Woooow!!!” [laughs] It was a completely wild moment, not only because we were going to be doing the record at Studio 606, but because the person with the studio we were originally going to record at was trying to give me the best deal, but it wasn’t the best. David and 606 came in and gave us the Bro-bro-bro deal and we are very, very grateful for that! If they didn’t, I’m not sure how we were going to cut this record.
We didn’t have a huge budget on this record. We had a certain amount and that’s all we had to work with. Thankfully, we were able to come into Studio 606, which is hallowed grounds. The music that been cut in there was very uplifting to me and the band. We knew we had to take it to a very, very high level because there are so many great musicians out there putting out great music. We just wanted this little band from SoCal to say, “Listen, HEY! We’re here, too!” [laughs] “We’re right here, too! You might’ve forgotten about us be we are right here, too.” We are very brazen with the fact that we will put this record up against anybody else’s record. We don’t care! We haven’t had anybody from our genre try to step up and do something that is different. We take a lot of heat from a lot of people. I take a lot of heat from a lot of people, but we always just try to spread love. I tell people we are the fun-loving villains! We are the villains and people have made us that, but we are very loving villains! I think the fact that we don’t take any shit from anybody is the reason why we are what we are. I think that’s very rock ‘n’ roll and punk rock. We love our families, we love our friends and we love our fans unconditionally, so that’s where we’re coming from with our thing!
Well, I have to applaud you for that. It’s refreshing to see someone from your genre take risks at this point in their career.
Yeah, it’s not easy, my man. You take a lot of heat from people who don’t understand. You hear, “Why don’t you do this!” or “Why aren’t you doing that?” Like I said, right now, I feel like we are going to the top of our musical prowess. We’re really pushing the envelope from ‘Ten Cent Billionaire’ to ‘Elefante’ to ‘From Out of The Skies,’ we’ve really moved forward in our reinvention process. I don’t like looking back. I have a lot of respect for my past, but I’m a person who lives in the now and for the future. I was always told when I was really young, “If you keep on looking in the rearview mirror, that’s where you’re going to end up!” [laughs] I took that to heart and I don’t want to end up back there! There are too many great musicians who get browbeaten down by the public or critics and they say, “Ya know what? I’m done. I’m giving up. I can’t do this anymore.” It’s not the most lucrative business these days but I’m so excited about this new record, how people are gravitating to it and the accolades we are receiving. It’s been mind-blowing, man! Sometimes when you introduce something new, it’s like, “Okay, get ready for the lambasting!” [laughs] That’s one cool thing about us — Nick, Chad and myself have been together for almost 9 years. We make a lot of fun of ourselves and our situations. We never take things too seriously, so that’s one thing I love about Nick. We could be in the worst situation and he will say something that will have us all falling on the floor laughing because it is what it is!
What challenges did you face in bringing ‘From Out of The Skies’ to life and what challenges lie ahead for you with the release?
There were many challenges! One of the biggest was getting our record label to believe in it. I don’t think they really had the open-mindedness of believing in what we did on ‘Elefante’ to now. They’re a label that really admires the old sound of rock, metal and what have you. Here we are, this punk rock/rock ‘n’ roll/soul/R&B/metal band! [laughs] They’re going like, “Okay, who the hell are these guys?!!! I can’t believe you’re giving us this record!” All of a sudden, they listened to it and it hit them like, “Wow, this is another place that we’re not used to. We’re used to this band or that band.” So, it took some prodding from us and through management to have them realize that we’re not just this band who is a one-trick-pony. One of the biggest things for me, and I’m sorry to be so wordy, but as the leader of the band… To be honest with you, being the leader of the band is not all it’s cracked up to be! You take way more shit than you get love! [laughs] Being the boss is not all that cool! [laughs] There are always difficult decisions to be made. There are so many bands on the label’s rosters and there are a lot of different things happening but, here we are, this band who’s putting out this music that’s quite different than some of the bands on our label is putting out. I think that is very much to our advantage and sets us apart.
I thought I had ‘From Out of The Skies’ completely written, but there were some songs that I wasn’t quite happy with. What I did was go and wrote 3 new songs when I was on the road or traveling. We dropped those songs in. One of them which wasn’t finished, and I kept having issues with was ‘Switchblade Butterfly.’ It’s a very delicate song lyrically and poetically. I wanted it to be right! Lyrically, with this record, I really wanted to convey the feeling of “This is the underdog that never won.” That’s where this record is, and it comes from that mindset. There are so many bands in my genre that have taken off, are huge and are at this high level. We kinda get pushed aside all the time. We’ve done shows with Bon Jovi in the past, but I can’t even get a hold of that guy to say, “Hey, we’d love to come open up for you guys.” There are bands like Gun N’ Roses, who we’d love to open up for but to try to get ahold of some of the cats is very difficult because they are on this other level now. That’s really difficult. I’m hoping, with this new music, that people will actually listen to it and say, “Wait a minute, this record is really stupid good. We should call these guys.” I think that’s what is happening now! Some people are really taking this record and saying, “Wow! These guys are not playing around!” The business is quite different now as opposed to when we started. Don’t get me wrong, we are very grateful for all the opportunities that come our way, but we’d sure like to throw a shout out to those huge bands to check out what we’ve been up to. I know my boy Scott Travis, who’s a very good friend of mine, plays in Judas Priest. We wouldn’t mind opening up for Priest! If some of these bigger bands would give us a shot to open up, we would not let them down. We would blow the roof off the place! That’s one of the thing that my band does! It doesn’t matter who is playing before us or after us, we hold our own! We go out there and throw down! When people see us, they say, “Holy… Are you guys freakin’ kiddin’ me!” [laughs] We’re not the bands from the past. We are in the now and we throw it down. It’s a two-guitar band and I’m playing guitar also. I’ve been playing guitar all my life, so it has a who different feeling now. The band is very aggressive and very punk rock. We go out there and do our thing, so if anybody is listening out there, I wouldn’t mind opening up for some of these bands. Who knows, maybe we’ll give them a little bit of a kick in the teeth — punk rock style! That’s the way we roll!
Another thing I would like to say is that we’ve been trying to play a big festival on the East Coast called the M3 Festival. We’re not allowed to play the M3 Festival for some reason. We’re being kept out of M3, which to us is really sad because we know people want to see us at that festival. The powers that be or what have you don’t want us to play for some reason. Maybe we rubbed somebody the wrong way or something happened. It’s really sad because you get people who have a hold over you and you can’t even go play to the people you want to play for because someone rubbed someone the wrong way. Sometimes, you get to the point where you’re like, “Ya know what man? I don’t need to play that thing.” We’d love to but that’s where we’re at.
The four of us have kissed a lot of asses and helped along the way as well. Chad MacDonald, my bass player, is one of the most giving people that I know. He’s constantly helping people and is a person who goes out and tries to help other people before helping himself. We’re all like that. We’ve done a lot of different things for different artists, so it would be great that one of these huge artists would open up their hearts and let us come and have a couple of shows and see what happens. Give us a chance! I know there are some new bands out there who’ve said, “Hey man, we definitely want to give you a shot! Come and open up for us!” I don’t care if I get boo’d! Just give us the opportunity! Let us come out there and show what we have! I can tell you one thing; those boos will turn into cheers after they see our band! Like I said, we do not play games! Everyone trips out when they see us and say, “You guys are these fun-loving dudes. You come into sound check and are laughing about this and cracking up about that while tuning guitars. Then, all of a sudden, you guys are on the one… One, Two!!… Then it’s like a bomb explodes! I don’t know how you do it! You have this devil-may-care attitude and then you bring it!” That’s exactly it. When we hit the stage, the stage is ours at that time. I’ve learned that through the years through the labels and people who’ve been around me. They’ve always said, “When it’s your time, it’s your time! Get up there! It’s your stage and it doesn’t matter who’s on the bill — Make it happen!” I learned that at a very young age and we all kind of roll like that! There are times where we’ve driven 10 hours and have to get up and play even when we’re exhausted but we seize the moment. We just got done doing our 14-day UK run. That was amazing! So many people came out and I love being in the UK. The people are so kind, sweet and helpful to us. I really want to thank everybody in the UK for coming out and seeing us. Hopefully, we will be back in the summer.
So, yea, I haven’t really said that in any articles but I’m giving a shout out to any of those big bands out there! Get the Bulletboys to open up for you! Don’t be scared! [laughs] We’ll come out there and do our thing! Yeah, we’re a band from the late 80s but we can play with any band! Shout out to, IMAGINE DRAGONS, put us on some dates! We’ll do it and let ’em have it! Music is music! [laughs]
I really dig your passion for the music. It is your livelihood and it’s how you pay the bills but it all comes back to you love of the art form. I’ll put it simply — What does rock ‘n’ roll mean to you?
That’s a very poignant question. Rock ‘n’ roll to me is about love. It’s about camaraderie. It’s about helping people and having tribes, villages and musical families around you that are uplifting. Rock ‘n’ roll is also a double-edged sword! [laughs] You have to be very careful with the words that you say and the words that you convey to your fans and the public, as well as your friends and family. I would also say that rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well! There are some amazing artists putting out some amazing records right now, and here in The States there are a lot of great rock ‘n’ roll bands. My vision of rock ‘n’ roll through the years has become much more about love than it is a job. I really love rock ‘n’ roll music, R&B music and everything in between. I just love music, period. In the business, I feel like you never truly get to learn everything, so I’m always being a sponge and absorbing knowledge. Every day when I wake up, I’m learning something new or someone is teaching me something different about what’s happening in the now within social media or what have you. It’s always a learning process to me and a challenge! I love to be challenged musically! Being a writer, lyricist and a poet is something that is very challenging to me. To convey feelings, especially my feelings on what I’m going through, in a way that people can understand but have their own take away on what the music I’m writing is about is a great challenge.
In our chat today, you’ve mentioned the reinvention of the Bulletboys and how it has revitalized you as an artist. Is it safe to say you’re already plotting your next steps musically?
Yeah! We’re going to be touring on this record throughout the year and, most likely, throughout next year. We have a lot of different festivals coming up! I’m just continuing to take it one day at a time. I try to look at what I have in front of me but my future, what I see, includes doing some solo records. I have a project that I’m putting together that’s going to be extremely different than The Bulletboys. It’s going to be almost a throwback to the James Brown era. It’s going to be very up-tempo, R&B, dance stuff that will be at a different level! I am working with a couple cats about the idea and it’s going to be in a big band format with horns, backgrounds singers and what have you. I’m trying to put something together like Sly and The Family Stone! That’s what I really want but we’ll see how it goes! [laughs] I just want to do something at that level where you get all dressed up and you’re up there looking rad and the people coming to the shows are completely dressed up as well. You’re up there playing stuff that’s going to make the people get up and dance! It’s a whole different thing that just rock ‘n’ roll music or hard rock and metal! It’s something I definitely can’t wait to explore!
You mentioned how life and your outlook on it has changed a lot in the past several years. What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey?
I think forgiveness is a big word and a huge staple for me. Like I said, I know I’ve gone throughout my life not with chips on my shoulders, but boulders on my shoulders. Those aren’t there anymore. I think that when people do really rotten things to you, it’s something very difficult to do but you’ve got to have forgiveness for these people. If you don’t forgive, you’re carrying around this extra weight, the universe is not going to be able to take you to where you’re supposed to be. I have learned first-hand that if you have too much negativity riding on your back, it’s very difficult to get to where you need to be. In my personal life, I’ve been raked over the coals. I know that’s an old school, grandpa saying but it’s pretty much what I’ve been through! You can’t have hate toward people in your life. You need to fill it with love, passion and forgiveness. I know you’ve probably seen that in a lot of my articles, but I roll that way because I’ve learned it has to be that way! I’m not a religious man but I am a man of faith. I believe in God, Christ and The Holy Spirit. I am a sinner! [laughs] I do things that aren’t necessarily right all the time, but I try to ask for forgiveness and that’s a big part of my life.
My family is a huge part of my life and I used to try to keep them away from this side of things because of the fact that this business isn’t the best in the world. However, now I’ve brought in my family and they’ve been so helpful with everything! They back me up with everything we’re trying to do right now! As you get a little older, you realize you just don’t want to do it on your own all of the time. You realize that you have people who are there for you in a loving and compassionate way. I’ve opened up that door with people. I’ve never been the type of person who goes and asks someone to help me. I’ve always just done it on my own. The fact that we have this team around us right now has been really ingratiating to me. My girl, Dru Atkins, works behind us — for this band and for me. She never really gets the credit that she deserves. She works behind the scenes diligently and has put finances behind the band that we really don’t have and has managed to facilitate the band moving forward. She’s constantly doing stuff for us. So, definitely props to her!
Tiny Biuso, our drummer, made this band complete. I’ve had some people in this band who weren’t necessarily for the band, but more for themselves. I think Tiny is the first drummer I’ve ever been around who has such a huge heart. He’s an amazing humanitarian in addition to being an amazing percussionist! His heart is in the right place and he brings me a lot of joy and laughter. I listen to his advice more than anyone else’s advice. He always has great, positive and uplifting things to say to us. We, as a band, needed that! It really completed the band, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve dealt with a lot of musicians in the past who come into the mix and destroy the family. It’s like, “Wow! What was that all about! What did we do!” [laughs] Now, we have a band where everyone is communicating with each other. For all intents and purposes, we all really care about each other. I know we’re all quirky in our own way and that’s what makes our band work. We all have different likes but at the same time we have the same likes, so it works really well that way. I never forget for a second that I have such an amazing band and amazing cats around me who believe. They believe in the band and in my talent. They are all working very, very hard behind the scenes to make things happen for us!
Also, props to my agent, who keeps pushing for us. We’re going to be doing a huge tour this summer for Live Nation/Sirius Radio, which I can’t really talk about yet because I’ve been sworn to secrecy! [laughs] We’re going to be doing something this year that we’ve been waiting to do for quite a long time. As you know, we’re heading off to Australia in May. We just went to the UK for the first time in 10 years, so we’re getting blessed with a lot of really, really cool things right now! I think the future holds some really great things for the Bulletboys!
I have to thank you for being so open and candid with me today, Marq. I did want to take a second to say, because I don’t know if you hear it enough — Thank you for all you do. You should be really proud of the work you have done and continue to do. Your work brings a lot of people a lot of joy, so kudos to you!
Thank you for saying that to me, Jason. I’ll tell you what, I haven’t heard that from anybody in a long time, so I graciously accept that. I appreciate you saying that! I work really hard to bring you guys stuff that is audibly amazing and visually amazing for your eyes. We’re doing what we do, man and we’re really excited that everyone is gravitating to it! Thank you so much for saying that! It made my whole week! Stay blessed and I’ll talk to you again soon!
For more information and updates on Bulletboys and when they will be rocking’ your town, visit www.bulletboysofficial.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.