Founded in 1983 by guitarists Billy Rowe and Fernie Rod, Jetboy continues to crank out their brand of rock ‘n’ roll in the 21st century with the same passion! And rock ‘n roll is what you get on their undeniably powerful new album “Born To Fly,” a record put together by the band’s core of guitarists Billy Rowe, Fernie Rod and vocalist Mickey Finn, alongside former faster Pussycat bassist Eric Stacy and drummer Al Serrato – the first fully-fledged set of new material from Jetboy since 1990.
Best described as a blend of edgy rock ‘n’ roll with a traditional blues-based influence, their new album “Born To Fly” is the perfect vehicle to exploit the commanding style of the bands classic rock ‘n’ roll sound. “The musical inspiration for the ‘Born To Fly’ album came from a life-long list of influences from bands we all grew up on from the 1970s. Jetboy has always approached its writing with a simple stripped down, no nonsense rock n roll structure, starting with a great riff and a catchy hook. This album flowed so organically, everything felt like it was meant to be. We’ve also all really grown as musicians, which really helped capture what we feel is some of our best work to date,” said Rowe.
Of the album, vocalist Mickey Finn said, “The lyrics flowed amazingly fast, with most songs being written in one sitting. My feelings were to stay true to Jetboy’s roots and style, but to also incorporate where we are at today, pleasing old and new fans alike. My wife was the inspiration for ‘Every Time I Go’ and my firstborn son inspired ‘The Way You Move Me.’ Our life struggles as a band and lifelong friends inspired tracks like ‘Beating The Odds’ and ‘Born to Fly.’ ‘Inspiration from Desperation’ covers our political climate in America these days, ‘Brokenhearted Daydream’ reminds us that love is sometimes fickle and hearts get broken, but don’t let it destroy your heart, we have to learn to move on and allow love to come into our lives again. So, all in all, lots of inspiring messages on the record, as well as some good old rock n roll fun and ‘Party Time’ lyrics make it a well-rounded listen!”
“Born To Fly” is a rock-solid album by any measure, hinting back to the band’s ‘80s sound and 70s influences, while adding 30 years more experience to the grooves. Instantly captivating, the new album is proof positive that Jetboy is ready to fly again!
Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with guitarist Billy Rowe to discuss his life in music, the challenges he’s faced along the way, his evolution as a player and the making of Jetboy’s long-awaited studio album, ‘Born to Fly.’
How did music come into your life and take hold?
Music came into my life at an early age. It was the ‘70s and the band that really opened the gateway for me was KISS with “KISS Alive.” Previous to that it was AM radio, Elton John and stuff like that, but KISS is really what opened the door for me in 1975. It wasn’t too long after that I picked up a guitar for a short while. However, it wasn’t an electric guitar so my interest kind of dwindled pretty quick. I was probably around 12 or 13 when I got my Memphis Jr. Copy and learned my riffs on that as best I could!
What went into finding your voice as a guitar player?
I really didn’t find it until Jetboy started playing. For me, that was my first really serious band. Before that, I was just playing covers, Aerosmith, KISS, Cheap Trick, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest riffs. It wasn’t until Jetboy and before we started doing records that I found my role in the band, which was rhythm and slide guitar. Really, a lot of it was Malcolm Young. He was someone who honed his craft like nobody else and I did my best to do the same with his influences. He was definitely a big influence for the part I play in Jetboy.
How did the ball get rolling with Jetboy?
It started with Fernie Rod and me. We met in 1983 and were into the same bands that I just mentioned, along with a lot of the newer stuff that was coming along like Motley Crue, Lords of the New Church, Kix and stuff like that. Then Fernie and I discovered Hanoi Rocks and that really turned everything to another level for us. We wanted to form a band, so we hung out constantly in the clubs. Slowly, we built the band that became known as Jetboy. That was probably within a year. Then I knew Ron Tostenson, who was our original drummer, and Fern knew Todd [Crew], who has unfortunately passed away. Todd knew Mickie from the early club scenes in the Bay Area. That’s how it all got started for us.
What stands out about those early shows you played as a band?
After the first couple shows we were doing, there was definitely a little scene that started for us instantly. We were already into the music scene in San Francisco with all the clubs like The Stone, The Mabuhay, the On Broadway. We knew a bunch of friends and people in the scene. Fern used to roadie for this band called Head On, which was an amazing local band at the time, but they had broken up by the time we started playing. Early on, for those early shows, we were super glam, more punk and just didn’t give a shit about anything! We would pack these well-known clubs, which are legendary now! The Mabuhay is like the San Francisco CBGB’s. Within a year, we all realized, “Wow! A lot of people were coming to see us!” At the same time, I don’t think we thought too much about it because it was just what we were into. We had the drive to be a band like so many other people and bands of our time, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary. I don’t think it was until we moved and started playing in Los Angeles with bands like Guns N’ Roses, Faster Pussycat and LA Guns, that we really came into our own. That’s when labels and management started sniffing around. That’s when your mind-frame shifts a little bit and you realize, “Oh, this is serious! We will get a record deal and record a record!” That was all that we wanted to do. Beyond that, we didn’t really think of anything like tours, having an album on the charts and other stuff like that.
What lessons did you learn early on that impacted the trajectory of your career?
There were a lot of lessons learned! I guess you can start with the cliché of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. There were a lot of drugs back then and a lot of drinking. A good handful of the bands that would salute that as the way to be are now living this completely sober life now. If anything, that could be the hot topic thing that people say these days or the typical thing, but it’s kind of the truth. You really can’t continue on in music or in life when you’re being held down by stuff like that. I think that is a big thing that helped the band continue on and be where we are at today.
With that said, what are the keys to longevity when it comes to a life in music?
At the end of the day, it’s being a fan of what you do and the bands you grew up on. We are all still hardcore fans of those now classic bands. We love them just as much as we did as kids. We love playing and writing music and we wish we could do it as more of a full-time thing but there is also the reality of where we’re at in life. I think that is what kept us going — we’re still a bunch of fans playing rock ‘n’ roll!
Jetboy is about to release a brand-new album called “Born To Fly.” What brought you back together for a new record?
Well, we were really brought back together for this record. The band got back together around 2006 but we really weren’t that active. There were a few shows a year and we started doing some festivals. We did an EP in 2010. There were no expectations. We were just doing it because we loved doing it and believed that something was around the corner or down the line. We got an offer from Frontiers to do a record, which was completely out of the blue. We all spoke and said, “Yeah, let’s do it!” It started with that. There was really no hesitation but then it sunk in like, “Oh my god! We have to write songs!” So, we were scrambling for a minute! [laughs] Once that happened, things started shifting and we started writing songs. Going into the process, our whole thing was, “We’re just going to write a rock ‘n’ roll, Jetboy record. That’s what we do. That’s what we’re know for and we don’t need to reinvent or prove anything. All we have to do is do what we do best.” That’s what we did! We’ve all grown as musicians and writers, so a lot of that came into play but for the most part we kept it simple. It all came together very easily, and the outcome is this new album, “Born To Fly.”
Tell us about the writing process for the album. From what I read, you’ve done quite a bit of writing on your own.
Yeah, I got really into the recording with Logic Pro. I was just sitting at home, writing riffs and creating songs, whether they just end up on a hard drive or are used for something like the new Jetboy record. I think we all got into this stuff on our own levels. The only way the writing really changed for us as a band is that we all no longer live in the same town. Two of us, myself and Fernie, were in San Francisco. The drummer we have been playing with was in Las Vegas and Mickie lives in Hawaii. The only way we could do this record was by recording ideas, getting it to Mick, having him send them back, getting together and demoing them to get them in order. So, in a way, the writing process has kind of stayed the same, but it’s shifted in a big way. In the past, we did demo stuff, but we went in the studio and somebody engineered it, we spent money and all that stuff. Now, I can do all that stuff, so I can take the riffs, build the drum beat and the whole bit. Then I can send it to Mick so he can write the lyrics and we can get the song ironed out. He can realistically send us vocals from Hawaii, and I can drop them in. That’s kind of how we did it! That was a different process, but it was fun and very easy. We basically demoed this whole record pretty close to how you hear it, minus a couple little things here and there. I can say nearly everything, down to the shaker and down to the backing vocals, is how you hear it. We had a female vocalist sing on two songs and she came in and did it on the demos. Overall, there was no struggle throughout the entire process. I also look at it as, “Well, it’s been 28 years since we wrote a record, so I guess we have 28 years of stuff in it. It better be somewhat easy and smooth!” [laughs]
That’s impressive! You make sound easy!
Yeah! [laughs] At the same time, it was easy! That was the funny thing about it. It was a lot of hard work but when it’s fun it’s not so much work!
Had Jetboy come close to recording an album at any other point during that 28 years since the last album?
Nah, not really. Not like this. We never got an offer to do anything like this. We did it on our own with the EP but that was only three songs and three old songs that were live. We hadn’t had anything like the pressure of “OK, you’re signing this deal with Frontiers and you’re expected to deliver a record by this date.” That was good to have. I think it was a big help in pulling everything together because we had a deadline and the pressure of the label.” With that said, there was no pressure creatively. They just said, “Deliver us a great Jetboy record.” So, it was easy, and we did it!
Is there a part of the album making process you have fallen in love with over the years?
There is a little bit of everything. I love coming up with riffs, as Fern does as well. Turning them into songs, putting all the parts together and building them out is super fun for me! I love seeing where things are going to go in that creative tunnel of not knowing what’s at the end of it is really exciting. When you do come out the end of the tunnel and have a finished song, it’s like, “Wow! This is great!” But there are times where it’s like, “This sucks! Let’s go to the next one!” [laughs] For this record, all of the songs that we wrote and demoed made the record. I think we demoed 13 or 14. There were one or two that didn’t make it because we ran out of time. We felt that the 12 that we did have were strong enough and felt good as a record!
You worked with the core members of Jetboy, Mickie and Fernie, for decades. What do they bring out in your creatively?
I can’t pinpoint it. It’s just an energy when we all play together or sit down and write. We kind of know what each person is going to do in a lot of ways, so it’s this autopilot thing after all these years. By that I mean, we lived together for years, toured for years on a bus and the whole bit. We know every move of each other! It’s a total energy thing! When Fern sits down, sometimes he will be playing riffs and I will hear something. I will spin around and say, “What was that?” He’ll go, “What?!” And I’ll say, “What you did just before that!” He’ll do the same thing with me! It’s like things are floating around in the room while you are playing and, sometimes, he will catch it rather than me and vice versa. It’s a chemistry thing. Mick’s always been the one to sit down and we deliver him a riff, an idea or a completely structured song and he would write to it. Then, boom, within hours he’d have something done.
As you mentioned, you write music in your spare time. Any chance that will see the light of day? Maybe a solo album?
I don’t know, maybe someday. I don’t know if I have the confidence in myself to do it. I don’t know if that is the right wording. It would be fun. I do have a bunch of songs I’ve done on my own for my own release to get it out of me and knowing that I can do it. I don’t know maybe someday but right now the focus, music-wise, is Jetboy and this record. We all feel really good about it.
As you should! It’s a solid album and you guys haven’t missed a step. Are there songs you are anxious to play live?
Honestly, all of them! We’ve all said that simultaneously, “Man, I just want to play the whole new record!” We’ve played a handful of shows already and there are three or four songs that we’ve played like “Born To Fly,” “Leading Me On” and a few others that are on the record. At soundcheck during the shows over the holidays with Junkyard, we were riffing some of the other ones. It was like, “Wow! This is great. I can’t wait to do these live!” It’s a little bit of everything! The ballad on the album, “The Way That You Move Me,” is a little more acoustic. That might be a challenge and it might sit on the back burner for a little bit but the rest of them are straightforward rock songs that we can bring to the live setting very easily.
It’s still early in 2019 but I imagine Jetboy will hit the road later this year in support of the album.
Yeah, that’s the plan. We definitely want to support this record in any way that we can because it’s what we want to do. Obviously, there is realistic stuff with where we are in our lives right now personally but we’ve all agreed we are going to do everything we can to support this record and give it the shot it’s due!
For those who may not know, what do you have cooking when it comes to videos?
We did a video for “Born To Fly,” which is out there now. That was the first song we released from the album. We did this cool animated video for “Beating The Odds” and released it in October or November. We have a third video that will launch the night before the album release, on January 25, “Brokenhearted Daydream.”
Frontiers Records, the label releasing this new album, has put out amazing releases over the past few years.
Yeah, Frontiers, I think it’s great what they’re doing. I think a lot of bands that are on the label wind up doing some of their best work because they probably have complete creative freedom to do what they want. Overall, I think it’s great to see this music and genre have a leg to stand on. It’s pretty strong and the impact of so many of those bands have had is big!
What is the best way for fans of the band to support you and put some money in your pocket?
Picking up the new record is definitely a big step and merch is king for all bands at all levels! Merch is what keeps most artists alive. We’re printing up some new merch now and really trying to up the merch store as everything rolls out with the new record. We’re hoping to wrangle in the fanbase we have and gain some more along the way. We always want to have something new to offer to fans old and new.
That’s really cool to hear. There is inevitably going to be people who discover the band through “Born To Fly.” What are some tracks from the band’s past they should immediately seek out?
“Feel The Shake” was the debut title-track off the first record and is still, to this day, the one everybody knows the most. Then there is “Heavy Chevy” off the second record, “Damned Nation.” Those are two really good representations of what the band was about and is about. The second record was something we were really proud of when we did it and, to this day, we still feel it stands up to the test of time. There are a lot of songs on that from “Bullfrog Pond” to “Trouble Comes” to “Stomp It (Down To The Bricks)” that are worth checking out. There are songs on the EP that we did that we feel really good about like “Going Down Above The Clouds” and “Dog’s Gotta Roam.” Those songs right there, if you hear them and it strikes a nerve with you, I think you’d probably want to dive in deeper to see what else you could find.
What is the best lesson we can take from your journey as an artist?
I don’t think a lesson from me is probably the best thing! [laughs] In a lot of ways the lessons I’ve learned from myself is really what has gotten me to the places I’ve gone and taught me the dos and don’ts! Sometimes those lessons need to be learned! As long as you love doing it and you’re still getting something out of it, keep going. That’s the main thing. Don’t try to force it. If you’re forcing it, you’re in it for the wrong reasons or not in the right place for it. It’s really just wanting to do it. You still have to get the feeling that you had when you first started; the feeling of why you first started being in a band. There are always going to be ups and downs, arguments and disagreements but that happens in home life too!
Thanks for your time today, Billy! “Born To Fly” is an album to be proud of so I look forward to helping spread the word!
Very cool! Thanks, Jason! I really appreciate it! Glad you dig it!