Every so often the stars align, schedules open up and the universe kicks open a few doors to reveal a plethora of new opportunities. Such is the case with the newly forged rock ‘n’ roll supergroup, The End Machine. This exciting new endeavor features a who’s who of hard rock titans still at the top of their game. Harnessing the unbridled power of classic era Dokken members George Lynch (guitars), Jeff Pilson (bass), and Mick Brown (drums) as well as current Warrant vocalist Robert Mason, it’s a true passion project for everyone involved. The strength of the band lies within their unique chemistry and decades in the game as absolute masters of creating ear-catching, memorable, hard rock music.
When it comes to The End Machine, there are no rules, no boundaries, and no limitations. It’s not about ego or a payday. It’s about a group of seasoned pros who jumped at a chance to create beautiful music together once more. The band’s eponymous debut album, releasing March 22nd via Frontiers Records, sets the stage for what could be one of the most productive and creatively satisfying chapters of their collective careers. There is no question that this blistering new material stays true to their melodic roots and good old-fashioned guitar rock, yet it isn’t afraid to venture into uncharted territory. It’s this ambitious approach that made us fall in love with these artists back in the day, and serves as living-proof that rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well in 2019.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with the project’s legendary bassist, Jeff Pilson, to get an inside look at his journey as an artist, artistic evolution, and breathing life into The End Machine!
You’ve made one hell of a career for yourself in music. How did the journey get started?
I was always into music because my mom was a singer in big bands in the 1930s. She sang to me as a little kid. Some of my fondest memories of my mother are about her singing. The Beatles on “Ed Sullivan” definitely hooked me. I was like, “Wow! That’s a good job.” [laughs] I think I just had a love of music after that and once I started playing, which was in sixth grade when I was 12 years old, it sped up and took off from there!
What went into finding your creative voice as a young artist?
As a player, I kind of dabbled around. The first guy that I really loved was Jack Bruce, although I wasn’t capable of playing a lot of what he did but it got me going! When I heard Chris Squire from YES, I was probably about 15 years old when I first heard that, it changed my life. Hearing Chris Squire, the first thing I heard was “Roundabout,” was game changer. A dear friend of mine played it for me and the minute I heard that I just jumped out of my seat and everything changed immediately! I knew that’s what I wanted to sound like, so I started listening to everything Chris did, and I knew every note of every YES album, up to a certain point. Then I started getting into the other prog guys like ELP, Genesis, Gentle Giant and all that stuff. That helped my playing so immensely because it was involved playing. I mean, you really had to learn how to play to do that. Those were the first things that really helped propel me and established my early voice on the instrument.
At what point did you know music was your calling?
By the time I was 15 years old, I knew that I was going to be a musician. I knew it and there was no question about it in my mind. That was my passion and I wasn’t going to give up until I could do it. I have been fortunate in a lot of ways, but I was also very, very determined very early on.
You’re one of the hardest working guys in the music business. Where does that work ethic come from?
Well, I’m a Mid-Western kid, so I think that work ethic is bred into all of us in the Midwest. I do have a good work ethic, I honestly do, but it’s generally around things I’m passionate about. When you’re passionate about something, it’s not strictly work. For me, being on the road, the work is the travel. The shows, the interviews and all the other stuff isn’t work, it’s something I love. The only real work is the travel. It’s been the same thing all along; the music has always been a joy and a passion. Of course, you’re going to have frustrating moments. For example, in the studio, sometimes you work much harder on something than you wish you had but that’s OK. Basically, it’s absolutely no problem to work when you love it!
When did you come into your own as a player?
By the time I was a late teenager, I felt pretty confident about what I was doing. It’s different than where I ended up professionally, but I really did follow that whole prog thing through very, very thoroughly! I was very into it and very familiar with that whole world. I was also in bands that were pretty solid progressive bands. I listen back now and some of the music sounds a little goofy but there were some amazing moments to what we were doing. I was lucky to play with some amazing musicians. There was a lot of great formation happening in my late teens that established me in many ways. Like I said, it changed over time but, I’ve always been a closet rocker! [laughs] Zeppelin and Deep Purple were huge bands for me as well. I always had the rocker thing back there and I was into that before I was even into the prog thing. I have gone down a long, long pathway but, to answer your question, I would say that my late teens I was pretty established as a player.
What are the biggest challenges you faced over the course of your career?
The biggest challenge nowadays is the fact that records don’t sell. These days, you record because you love it. That’s a bit of a challenge because it means that there aren’t the budgets that there once were and that can be a challenge. Fortunately, I have an amazing studio connected to my house and I have the ability and means to make great records. Frankly, an even bigger challenge is time. There is only so much time and because records don’t sell, I’m on the road a lot. Because I’m on the road a lot, I don’t have the time to do the things I want to do. I just try to do the best job that I can at making that time and carving that time out.
When it comes to the business side of the music industry, I’m sure you have seen it all. Were there lessons you learned early on that had a big impact?
Umm, no! [laughs] I will say that my lessons in the business came later. By the time I joined Dokken, that’s when I really started learning about the business. Before that, I was pretty green. Joining Dokken was a big, big part of learning about the music business. I was learning a lot throughout that whole period. Before that, I had a fairly naive view of the music industry.
We talked about what had a big impact on you as a young man. Where do you look for creative inspiration these days?
When you’re younger, with every release or record that comes out, you are waiting with bated breath. It’s a very exciting thing. I wish that were the case today because I loved that feeling. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite feel the same anymore, but I still look for great new bands. Rivals Sons, for example, are great. When I find something I really like it’s fun. I try to listen to as much new music as I can, even a lot of the pop music that’s out there. Unfortunately, there is obviously a very formulaic thing that has happened with commercial recording now that really, really bothers me. I feel that it could be the downfall of the music industry, if they aren’t very, very careful. To answer your question, I find inspiration in anything that’s good. I will look around until I find something that is good, but I wish there was more of it!
We connected today to discuss your latest project — The End Machine. Tell us about how the ball got rolling?
Sure! It all got started because Frontiers Records hired George [Lynch] to be involved with a Jack Russell solo record; Jack Russell being the original singer of Great White. So, George called me. George and I will take any opportunity that we can to work together! It takes no effort at all to get us to work together! [laughs] He also happens to live not that far from me, which is cool. Anyway, George called and said, “Would you like to help me out on this thing?” I said, “Of course! I would love to!” We started working but, quickly into the process, the whole Jack Russell aspect fell away. I don’t even know why because I wasn’t involved in the business on that but whatever happened, happened. Then, Frontiers said, “Hey! Why don’t you see if Mick Brown wants to do something with you guys.” We said, “Great.” Then, Robert Mason’s name came up and we said, “Great!” Robert had been in the Lynch Mob with George years ago, so we both have known him for a long time. So, George had worked with him and I had just done a Warrant record a couple of years before and worked pretty closely with Robert. I knew how great he was and knew it was going to be great! The minute his name came up we knew we had the personnel solidly together. George and I wrote about four songs together in the initial batch. We sent them to Robert and then he came out. From there, him and I pounded out the lyrics and melodies. We knew right away that we had something really solid!
As you said, you had ties with these guys for many years. What do they bring out in you creatively?
That’s a good question. There are some things about George that are so amazing. One of those things is his honesty. When he likes something, he will tell you. When he hates something, he will tell you. He’s just so authentically who he is at all times. I think working with him forces you to be in that zone of being very honest. It’s got to move us to be good. With Robert, the thing is, he has such a limitless voice. He can literally do anything. To have that is being an artist with the greatest easel and set of paints in the world, ya know? [laughs] He brought in some great ideas, both lyrically and melodically. His great ideas would make me think of things. It comes down to working off each other in a collaboration that happens in as organic a way as you could imagine. It was really fun and really productive.
As the project started to take shape, did you have a vision for what this might become?
The vision was as simple as: “Let’s make a great rock record. Let’s not be afraid. If we sound a little bit like Dokken in spots, fine. That’s part of our past and who we were. If we sound a little bit like Lynch Mob at certain points, no problem. That’s part of the past as well but let’s not be afraid to explore new areas.” I think we kind of achieved that. The sound is close enough to our past that, I think, people who have been fans of ours won’t be turned off by it but it’s also fresh enough and new enough that it’s real and inspired. That was really the only goal. We just wanted it to be great, something we could be proud of, something we loved and have it be a rock record we knew our fans would love.
Tell us about what goes into capturing your ideas when it comes to the early phases of songwriting these days.
I’m a guy who is always writing. I have a little recording app on my phone, so I’m ready when an idea hits me. I have a zillion ideas on my phone and even on my Kindle. I’ve been known to wake up in the middle of the night, grab my kindle and be whispering into it. Meanwhile, my wife is going, “Oh God, he’s at it again!” [laughs] Fortunately, when I’m on the road, I have a pretty cool mobile studio with me now. Technology these days allows you to have something pretty damn cool that is capable of traveling with ya, so I do that as well. I’m kind of set!
How has your songwriting process evolved through the years?
Well, I hope I’m getting better! [laughs] It’s kind of tricky because sometimes you have things, a project to write for, and other times you just write because you feel like writing. In those moments, when I have an idea for a song, sometimes I don’t know where to put it. Believe it or not, that is kind of a challenge because if you can’t envision where it’s going to go, it’s a little bit rudderless. I let myself do that because as a writer and an artist, I think it’s important to follow those things when they happen. You just never know where they might lead. I’ve had situations where something I thought was totally unrelated where something will come up in a situation where I’m working with other people and I will be able to use it there. I try to never turn off the spigot, if I can. I think I’ve gotten better over the years at really knowing how to focus in and finish. I also think I’ve gotten a lot better lyrically over the years. Again, it’s just a craft I’m always trying to improve.
What were the biggest challenges you faced with The End Machine? I imagine scheduling was your number one obstacle.
You’re right, scheduling is definitely the trickiest part. After that, to be perfectly honest, it kind of all fell into place. The time that we had, we knew it was limited, but we made the best of it. There was very little unused or unproductive time. Everybody is really focused and that’s what makes it a joy. Being in a situation where someone is not focused, and drifting is very tiring if you are focused. Everyone was extremely focused on this project. It was everything we wanted it to be. So, aside from the challenge of scheduling, there weren’t to many other challenges.
This project produced some great tracks. Which of the songs resonate with you the most?
Thank you. Yeah, there is the song “Burn The Truth,” which is one I think all the band members feel really strongly about as a song. I just love the song and I think it came out amazing lyrically, melodically, structurally and production-wise. It has a lot of elements that I think are just really fun and exciting. The recording came out amazing. There is also a song called “Sleeping Voices” that I’m very proud of. It’s pretty involved but it’s another one where it just happened. It just kind of fell together organically. When stuff like that happens, you really appreciate it. Like I said, it’s a fairly involved song and there is really some stuff to it. I’m really proud of it. I also love “Leap of Faith,” which is the opener to the record and it’s going to be the next video. I love that song as well because it’s just really, really cool. The whole record fits together very nicely and that is another thing I’m very proud of.
As you said, this is a project you are very passionate about, as are the other guys. Where do you see The End Machine headed in the future?
We have three shows coming up in April, which is very exciting. We have a show in Los Angeles on April 4, a show in Vegas on April 5 and a show in Tucson on April 7. Shows are tricky because you have to rehearse and since we’ve never played live we have to do all that. That’s a big commitment. However, we are doing that because we want to prove to people that this is more than some fly-by-night recording project. This is serious! I do have a long-term vision for this. I would love to do another record and I’d love to play more live shows, if we can. I’d love to approach this like a real band because, even though I have a very wonderful day job that I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon, I love to play music! So, any chance I can get to play more music I will take! So, there you go!
There are a lot of bands, who are your peers, making some of the best music of their careers these days. Do you think these releases are getting the attention they deserve?
Of course I’m going to say no to that! [laughs] How could I possibly think they get enough?! But, I’m also very understanding of the situation right now. I know what the music scene is like and what the landscape is, so I understand. Listen, I’m grateful. I think a label like Frontiers does a really great job and they do such a great job because they’re passionate about this music. Certainly, the things I do for Frontiers like The End Machine or the album I produced for Warrant or Last In Line, we’re all lucky to have someone like them to help push these things as far as they can be pushed in this day and age. There are dedicated journalists that really want to do the best by this music, so that is all great. I just think it’s a shame. I mean, I know there is an audience for this but unfortunately, it’s a little bit older audience, meaning that it’s not teenyboppers. I wish there was a way that this music could be on more platforms, like terrestrial radio for example. I tend to feel that there is a possibility that there is an audience that could be exposed to this that can’t get it because there is no mainstream media that covers it. So, yes, I wish there was more of that. Will there be? I doubt it. Maybe in the future and I will never give up hope. It’s people like yourself who help make that happen.
What’s the best way to support a band like The End Machine and keep the art moving forward?
Buy the physical CD, of course, or download it if you have to. Buying the product is a big part of it. The day that people stop buying CDs, which is perhaps not that far in the future, is the day that the music business is going to really suffer. If you want to really support these bands, you have to buy the CDs. You also have to go to the shows. Number one is to spread the word! That’s really a big, big part of it. Word of mouth, social media word of mouth, has become very important because that’s the means of communication that is most effective at this point. So, spread the word! Get out there on the different sites and talk about the music you love. That’s the best you can do at this point, but it starts with buying the CD.
What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey as an artist?
Do what you love! Stay passionate and love what you do. If you are passionate about what you do and work hard at it, the universe will take care of you. Do what you love, do it 150% and you’ll be fine!
Thanks so much for your time today, Jeff. You’re an inspiration. Keep the good stuff coming and we will be out here spreading the word!
My pleasure! Thank you! We have more stuff coming, so you’ll hear from me! We’ll definitely talk again! Thanks so much, Jason!
Catch The End Machine live on the band West Coast this April!