As children of the 80s and 90s, many of us first encountered Andre Comeau roughly 30 years ago on MTV. He was one of the original “seven strangers picked to live in a house … work together … and have their lives taped … to find out what happens … when people stop being polite … and start getting real!” Those three short months of filming in and around New York City in 1992 would lead to the launch of MTV’s groundbreaking reality show “The Real World.” The first season not only changed the landscape of television as we know it, but had an immeasurable impact on youth culture around the globe, as well as its iconic cast. Despite being labelled “the ultimate embodiment of Gen X Slackerdom” by The New York Times, Andre enjoyed a decade of success with indie Rock band Reigndance (heavily featured in the original MTV series) before making the jump to the Los Angeles to continue blazing his own trails in the music industry.
Over the past three decades, he has fearlessly explored the worlds of both rock and folk music as he continues to evolve as a songwriter. Doing it all on his own terms, he remains one of the most captivating artists in the game. His current eponymous rock incarnation, released their debut EP in 2020. A full-length album is currently slated for release in May of 2021 and will be the first release on Comeau’s French Osados imprint, in conjunction with THC: MUSIC.
The titular debut single, released in early April, brings things full circle as his worlds of music and reality collide once again. Filmed during the early days of the global pandemic and now streaming on the newly launched Paramount+ streaming platform, ‘Real World Homecoming: New York’ documents the original cast’s return to the iconic NYC loft where the series was born. The results of this legendary social experiment made it one of 2021’s most talked about new shows. The series has garnered massive press and critical praise from the biggest media outlets including Time, Rolling Stone, People, The New York Times, Yahoo, Variety, Entertainment Weekly, and many more. Comeau once again appears the cool voice of reason navigating a storm of racially charged tensions among the roommates with one episode ending with author and activist Kevin Powell referencing Andre’s upcoming single stating the world’s need for a “Clean Break”. Says Comeau, “It was interesting to step back into that place and to do it again. Just like the first time, I went in as an artist. It was great to reconnect with everyone and be part of these important conversations. Obviously, the show features a lot of my new music, including “Clean Break”, which was also a tremendous boost.”
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Andre Comeau to discuss his time on ‘MTV’s ’The Real World,’ the impact it had on him as an artist, and his highly-anticipated return to rock with the making of his “Clean Break” album.
You’ve spent years blazing your own trail in the music business. How did music first come into your life?
I grew up in a musical family. My mom’s seven brothers and sisters were in a family band. They were on Capitol Records. They were on all of the variety shows of the day from “The Ed Sullivan Show” to David Frost’s show to Mike Douglas’ show. To a large extent, I spent my earliest years growing up on the road with my cousins while the family toured, opening for larger, more established acts. I spent those early years on the road and in a lot of hotels. I have a lot of memories of hotel industrial carpeting. [laughs] You know the iconic scene from “The Shining” where he is riding his Big Wheel through the hotel corridors? That was basically my youth! [laughs]
What went into finding your creative voice in those formative years?
Well, I’ll tell ya. I’ve always been a huge fan of music and it’s always been a huge part of my life. As I mentioned, my mom’s family, they were a vocal group. They had these lush, six, seven and eight-part harmonies in their songs. I grew up with that in my DNA. All of those early memories are based around actual musical performances, so I naturally gravitated toward music. The first album I ever bought was Elvis Presley at age 5. I immediately gravitated toward Elvis. It was definitely rock ‘n’ roll that did it for me! Years later, I started getting into heavier music and groups from there. Music was always something I did. I was performing before high school and had a band all through high school. Most of my first band, Reigndance, I’ve known since grade school. We were playing in that band since before high school. Dean Fertita and I have been friends since the fourth grade.
Reigndance was based out of the Detroit music scene. What drew you and the band to the East Coast?
Reigndance was playing the Detroit music scene for at least three years before we moved to the New York area in 1990. We just felt that we had gone as far as we could go in that scene at that time and that’s really what inspired the move. The goal was to hit New York and the industry — the music business. We played New York but we lived in New Jersey. New Jersey had a lot of bands, specifically from there, that were very successful. It also had a scene that was a little bit more of the late-stage metal, which some would call Hair Metal. That was the scene at the time. We certainly played a lot of bars and clubs in that style, but our sound was much more Mid-Western. It’s funny how our look helped us assimilate to a lot of these trends that were happening in music at that time, but our sound wasn’t anything like what one might expect. For instance, shortly thereafter that late metal scene came grunge. Again, we fit in with that style through the image but not the sound. I would liken our sound closer to Mid-Western bands like Soul Asylum or The Replacements, rather than Soundgarden, Mud Honey or any of the other Seattle bands. It was very much an image that, especially MTV, was really trying to sell.
What an incredible place to be at the time for a music fan. I’m sure you saw amazing live shows along the way!
Absolutely! I got to see Nirvana before they were big. This was before “Nevermind.” I got to see Soundgarden before they were a big thing with maybe 20 people in the audience. Even before that, my first concert was KISS, well before they ever took off the makeup and The Plasmatics opened up! That was the first show I ever saw when I was 13 years old. It was The Creatures of The Night tour and it was amazing!
That’s a lot to take in at 13! [laughs]
Oh yeah! [laughs] My 13-year-old eyes were just bugging out of my head! [laughs] As time went one, I was fortunate to see one of my favorite songwriters of all time, Elliot Smith, playing at least eight different times in varying degrees of quality. Unfortunately, he started to go down a very dark path. But yeah, I’ve definitely been fortunate to see a lot of great shows over the years!
Who, behind the scenes, had a big impact on you as an artist?
There were a lot of people who, at the time, I wasn’t appreciative of their influence and/or information. Looking back, they certainly had a lot of good advice. Reigndance’s first producer was Greg Frey, who went on to manage and produce the New Jersey band Ween and was a great influence on us as artists. He helped guide us in terms of songwriting. I often think of a lot of the things he said to me in the studio that continue to reverberate in my head through the years. They’ve all proven to be extremely helpful in terms of being an ethos to live by as a songwriter and artist.
What were some of the lessons you learned early on that continue to resonate?
I’d say the first thing is to trust your instincts and follow what is true to you. As a songwriter, let’s get back to basics. Be a songwriter! That’s really the only thing that’s going to keep you interested in this business. Musicians are super important to bands and role playing is certainly a huge part of being in a band but it’s not anything that would sustain me. The only thing that sustains me is being an actual songwriter and doing it for myself. There are a lot of words of wisdom that I’ve picked up over the years that have helped with that. I’ve learned to write everything down, always! I’ve also learned to never throw anything away in terms of creative output. A great quote that Greg once said to me is, “What’s the truth got to do with a good song?” A mistake that a lot of young songwriters often make is trying to write what actually happened. No one gives a shit what actually happened! [laughs] It’s all about being creative and telling a story and that often has very little to do with the truth. Greg also once said to me, “No one wants to hear that you feel sad. They want to hear Bob Dylan say, ‘I’m stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues again.’” It’s saying the same thing, but one is wildly creative and the other is dull and boring, and that typifies what I’m talking about and was great advice.
As you said, being a songwriter is your passion. When did you come into your own as a songwriter?
Very late! Very late! [laughs] I had always made many attempts at being a songwriter, but I don’t feel like I really started to write good and quality until my mid-twenties. That was very late in terms of my band at the time, all of them a little older than me, who were way ahead of me. That also kept me from needing to rely on my own songs and wherewithal. I’ve always been a collaborator in songs but to be able to start and complete an entire song on my own is something that took me a long time to do. I’ve always been able to collaborate, and melody always came very easy to me. With all of the Reigndance stuff, I was more of a collaborator than a complete and autonomous songwriter on my own. That didn’t come until later. So, I was a bit of a late bloomer, but I’ve been steadily writing and producing songs ever since. Once I got to the point where I could start and complete a song on my own without assistance or additional input, I continued on the path.
What does the songwriting process look like for you these days?
I wouldn’t say there is a specific way I write songs. Sometimes it starts with a guitar lick, sometimes it starts with chords, a melody, lyric or even a song title. It varies quite a bit. I’m always looking for a spark to light the fire. It’s literally an idea or a creative spark that then flourishes into a bigger thing.
What was the first song you wrote and the last song you finished?
The first song that I ever wrote myself was something called “Got Me All Wrong,” which I probably wrote in relation to the show that I was on and I felt somewhat misrepresented. I never released it. It’s actually really good but I’ve kept that one just for myself. Really, what it does more than anything, is capture a moment in time for me that is really well crystallized. It’s a really interesting capture of a frame of my life. It came about at a time of great change for me and shortly thereafter I was writing non-stop. It’s funny because I’ve thought about sort of reworking it, but it always comes down to the fact that I really like having that one just for myself. I’m not really one to do that. As I mentioned earlier, I never really throw anything away. I try to take what’s good and find a use for it somehow. However, that’s one song that I’ve never tried to cannibalize or rework. It just is what it is and it’s just for me.
I’m working on a bunch of songs right now. I have a new record coming out, most likely in May. The first single just came out and it’s called “Clean Break.” That is the title of the album as well. One of the songs is the most lyrically positive song that I’ve ever written, and I did that consciously. I wanted to write something, without being saccharin, that is positive and life-affirming. That song is called “Glimmer of Hope.” The other one was a song that coincidentally had so much to do with the Covid lockdown but was written prior to Covid entirely. It just so happened that it lyrically fit a lot of isolationist and dark imagery that we all lived through. That one is called “Don’t Follow The Lights.” Both of those are on the new record.
For those who don’t know, after the Reigndance era, you explored folk music. What ultimately brought you back to the rock side of things?
Coincidentally, around 2015 or 2016, I wrote a couple of rock songs and there was nothing I could do to change them into the style of the folk band I was playing with at the time. I tried to bring them into rehearsal. I had a great bass player at the time who looked at me and said, “One of these things does not belong … ” And it was that song! [laughs] There was nothing I could do to change them. So, I put a rock band together using some of the players I used in the past here in LA. It got such an immediate good reaction that we just kept at it. One song led to another and then, all of a sudden, we had eight songs and a show fell into my lap. Each thing kept escalating the other and, before I knew it, that became the dominant project. I ended up putting the folk band on hiatus, which became indefinite hiatus as the rock thing took over. There are a lot of factors in that. I love folk music. I love what I do in folk music. However, what I do in folk music, 90% of folk artists also do. What I do in rock music, I’m breathing a little more rarified air because I have the ability to sing in a high register. I bring it in a way that not everyone in the rock world can. I was able to use that instrument in a way that I hadn’t in many years, both literally and figuratively. I also had wonderful electric guitars that I hadn’t touched in years. This allowed me to bust out the Les Pauls and my great amps! I just thought, “This is so much fun! I’ve missed this dearly!” So, it just very naturally became the dominant career path once again.
Tell us more about the new album, “Clean Break.” Considering the times we live in, I imagine you encountered challenges along the way.
Yeah. The lockdown and the fear of people getting sick were big obstacles. One of the biggest challenges resulting from that was not being able to play the songs out live at all and having to rely on your own instincts. A lot of the time, I like to play new songs, hone them and road test them a little bit. I like to test them in front of a live audience to see what gets the reaction. I didn’t get to do any of that this time around! [laughs] The new stuff is completely untested and that’s cool too! I’m certainly seasoned enough to be able to do that without the assistance of the audience’s applause to help direct it. The lockdown also made it difficult to get everyone together often. I caught Covid in 2020, early on, and my bass player caught it much later in the year. So, dealing with this terrible illness has been a challenge. We’ve either had to work around it or heal from it. All of the difficulty we have experienced has made it challenging on many levels, to say the least.
I was excited to see you have a few dates coming up. It seems like we are finally moving in the right direction, which is a relief.
Hopefully, yes! Yes, I’m looking forward to playing my first shows in over a year! I’m coming to Texas at the end of April and the beginning of May.
You’ve done it all from writing to recording to producing. Which aspect of the process are you most drawn to at this point in time?
I feel like lyrics are the most important part of songwriting and the least championed and appreciated, unfortunately. I’m always interested in an artist when I hear a lyric that turns a phrase that is really clever without being overly clever. There is a very fine line. I think of Spinal Tap, “It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.” [laughs] It’s true! There is a thing as being a little too clever with lyrics when it becomes annoying. I think that lyrics are always the key to what I consider a great song.
How did you get involved with “The Real World” back in the day?
My older sister worked at EMI Records in New York. The casting director was going around to places where young people worked and congregated looking for potential cast members for this show. One of her friends recommended me to the casting director. My band and I had moved to the New York area the year prior, so we had been there for a full year. They invited me down to meet with the casting folks and producers, which I did. Then they invited me back for a second interview and then a third. I think it was on the third interview that they told me I got it. It was pretty crazy! They sold it to me as a documentary style TV show that would feature my life and my band. This was MTV in 1991! Of course, I’ll do it! [laughs] So, I did it. Reality TV was born and changed the landscape of our popular culture.
None of us expected it to have the impact that it did. None of us expected it to have the staying power that it did. I’m still a little shocked at the perseverance and staying power of it. It’s remarkable. I was also shocked about how it touched people’s lives the way that it did. It’s a really strange and unique position to be in; to have so many people feel that they know you personally. It’s lovely and a little off-putting at times. It’s strange! Over the years, I’ve had a lot of people at shows be a little overly familiar with me and assume that they know me. I’ve had different reactions to it. Just like everything else, it depends on your mood. At certain times you are more accepting of it than others. I’ve had times where I was a total dick about it and regretted it. We are all human!
I can tell ya this, as I am going to Texas next week to play a show. When Reigndance toured in San Antonio or Houston, I’m not exactly sure which, I got approached after the show. It was this guy with jet black hair and goatee. He was kind of this rock ‘n’ roll cowboy dude, a short guy. He was so familiar to me. He was like, “Dude, he’s Andre … ,” this and that, “So cool.” I was like, “Dude, I don’t know you.” He kinda bristled at how I was so not friendly at that moment. We got to talking a little bit and he was saying how much he loved the KISS cover that we did. I think we covered “100,000 Years.” I was like, “Thanks, man. Cool. I’m glad you liked it.” Well, it turns out the guy was Vinnie Paul from Pantera! [laughs] I was just totally unaware. He was just trying to be nice and make a connection. It was just one of those days! When you are on the road, you’re not always on your best behavior and that’s probably a moment where I could have been a little nicer to a stranger just looking to make a connection.
“The Real World” was popular right out of the gate. When did it dawn on you it was more than a hit show and had become a pop culture phenomenon?
I’ll tell ya, we had no idea it was going to be big while filming it. However, shortly after we filmed it, when MTV started rolling out the press and we saw the press it was getting, it dawned on us that this was a much bigger deal than any other show on the network at the time. At the time, they had plenty of shows that came and went in the blink of an eye. Those shows aired a few times and were never seen again and that’s what we all thought this was going to be. No one ever, ever, EVER, thought that we would be sitting here talking about a very short three-month period in 1992 but here we are talking about a very short three months in 1992! [laughs] When did I become aware that it was going to be much more than we expected? I guess that is when they started airing the marathons. They would just run the marathons over and over and over on the weekend and it was perpetually on television. At that point I knew, like it or not, this thing was going to be around for a while.
I had a bit of an identity crisis because of it. It drove me a little crazy! [laughs] I hesitate to use this word because it cheapens the actual experience that people have actually had, but I had a very low-grade PTSD from it and a very low-grade identity crisis. It had its positives and negatives. One of the negatives was a very difficult separation between me and what was expected of me. There was a moment … I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums” but there is a scene where the dude cuts his hair in the mirror during a fit of craziness. That was me! I did that in 1994 or whatever. I did not attempt suicide, but it was not far off! There was a moment where I thought, “I don’t want to be this person anymore and I’m going to do anything I can do to change it.” It was a difficult transition.
Did you have reservations about revisiting those years when you were invited to participate in “The Real World Homecoming: New York?”
None at all! It’s funny. Coincidently, I had made a conscious effort to embrace my past in about 2018, when I signed with Dave Ellefson’s EMP Label Group. The president of the company, a guy named Thom Hazaert, is someone I met back in the early 2000s when he was at another label. At the time, I wasn’t doing rock and transitioning out of rock. Thom’s definitely a metalhead! [laughs] At that moment, I was on my way out of rock in general! [laughs] In 2018, when he got the EP and we started talking about them putting it out and how we wanted to market it, he said, “I think you should talk about ‘The Real World’ a little bit.” I was like, “It’s 25 years old. Who gives a shit?” He said, “I think you’d be surprised. It still resonates with a lot of people.” I was like, “OK, I guess we could use it a little bit. It’s certainly not going to be the headline. It’s old news.” When the production company called and asked if I’d be interested in the reunion, they told me what the idea was to bring back the seven of us and only the seven of us.
They’ve done reunions in the past where they’ve brought other casts together, but I didn’t want any part of those kinds of reunions. To be honest, I’ve never really watched any of the other seasons other than my own; nor did I care to, to be perfectly blunt. They told me what they were thinking, and I thought it sounded great. We’ve kept in touch over the years. I’m friendly with all of the members of my cast. I live in Los Angeles, which is a destination area that most people come to at one time or another and all of them have. I’ve either had them over to my house or we’ve met up for coffee, dinner or whatever it might have been. I also work in music publishing, so I also go out to New York. When I’m there I call Heather or Kevin and we try to meet up as well. So, I’ve kept in touch with all of the members of my cast through the years and I was certainly excited to see everybody again, all together. So, there wasn’t much hesitation to reunite when I learned what they were intending with the production.
I enjoyed seeing you all back together in the loft. The looks on your faces in the first few minutes were that of pure joy. Hopefully, it’s not the last time!
Ya know what? I would hope that we could do some more things together that end on a slightly better note with a less bittersweet tone. There were difficulties in this era of Covid that none of us really expected and I think it amped up certain emotions. I would love to see another go of it in a more relaxed atmosphere.
“The Real World” never shied away from hot button topics and it’s no secret that plays into this recent reunion. As an artist, what is your take on our current climate of political correctness and cancel-culture?
It’s funny, I was reading some of the Twitter comments about the most recent show. One commenter had remarked that they were so upset that I made an attempt to keep a certain cast member from leaving during the filming. I guess the commenter thought I should have just let them go. I was like, “That’s interesting because that really speaks to cancel-culture.” I’m not, and I think Kevin [Powell] said this same thing extremely wisely, I’m not for throwing anyone away. I don’t want to throw people out of my life. I don’t want to erase people. People make mistakes. If someone is willing to accept responsibility and maybe learn from that mistake, that to me is not only a step in the right direction but the first step in correcting what is wrong. When I read that comment and they were like, “How can you, Andre, ask this cast member to stay?” I didn’t comment back but I wanted to. What I wanted to say was that I’m not here to throw people out of my life. That’s not how we solve anything. Certainly, that does not go across the board and there are certain things that are unforgivable, but this is not one of them! Being imperfect and saying things that I wouldn’t necessarily have said, doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from each other or work it out. I really think that is what is missing in our current climate; people are unwilling to try to work it out. It’s very unhealthy and very unhelpful.
One of the brightest spots from “The Real World Homecoming: New York” was seeing your connection with your family and, specifically, your daughter. How has fatherhood impacted you?
It’s been great! I think fatherhood has helped me grow in ways that I could never have expected or even understood. It’s adding dimensions to my life that I never knew existed. It’s a remarkable change and it’s a gift. Had I known how it would enrich my life in ways that I never would have expected, I wouldn’t have waited quite so long because I’m an old man! [laughs]
You mentioned your work in the music publishing side of the industry. How did you get involved with that aspect of the business?
I got into music publishing when Reigndance signed our first publishing deal in 1995 with a major publisher in New York, Warner Chappell. My lawyer at the time gave me another great piece of advice. They bought us and absolutely insisted that we read certain chapters of “All You Need To Know About The Music Business” by Donald S. Passman. Well, they didn’t buy it for us, they billed us for it! Basically, that book is the music business’s version of The Bible. We had to read this before we could continue with the deal. That was great advice from our lawyer at the time who was charging us $400 an hour and probably billed us thousands of dollars for those four fucking books! [laughs] But it was great! I learned a lot about the business of music, specifically intellectual property, and music publishing.
When I moved to Los Angeles, shortly after Reigndance broke up in 1997, I started working for music supervisors and then got a job at another music publisher. So, I’ve been doing music publishing ever since! I’ve been working in music publishing and music licensing for over 20 years at this point. I don’t really push my music. Specifically, I have other people working on my music. It’s something I have always done because I don’t like to let things seep into other areas. I keep it clean that way, working other people’s music and not my own. Therefore, I’m not really looking for opportunities for my music specifically. I think it’s been a great way to stay involved and to remain very active in music and not doing so self-servingly, if that’s a word, which I don’t think it is! [laughs]
You have a unique perspective of the music industry as someone working behind the scenes and as a musician. What’s the best way for fans to support the artists they love in this day and age?
Go to shows. Buy their music, don’t just stream it. Buy the CDs, albums, stickers, and T-shirts. Also, let them know that their music has impacted your life. That means more to me than anything. When someone cites a specific song you have written and tells you why it means so much to them, that means a lot and that kind of thing really does stay with you as an artist. Promote them any way that you can. Share it on social media. That’s another thing that truly makes a world of difference.
I’m excited to see what you bring to the table with the new album, “Clean Break.” Where do you see yourself headed in the near future?
The country has been so slow to reopen, specifically the major cities. Those are the spots that we would normally be hitting the hardest and they have been very reluctant to reopen. So, the places that used to be the number one markets are still not open. Los Angeles isn’t open. New York isn’t open. The places that are open right now aren’t open to full capacity, so I’m booking a lot of spots in the middle of the country and a lot of acoustic shows or less than a full band situation. What I would like to see, hopefully after everyone gets vaccinated, is major markets opening up to full capacity and hopefully returning to some sense of normalcy that we once enjoyed!
As I said, “Clean Break” will be out in May. The single is out now and available on iTunes, all of the digital music outlets and streaming platforms. The name of the band is Andre Comeau. You can also check out the “Wrong Within” EP, which I released in 2020. We are shooting a music video tomorrow for “Clean Break,” so wish me luck! That will be out in short order!
What is the best lesson we can take from your journey as an artist?
Do what feels true to you and follow your heart. I think that’s it.
Having followed your story through the years, that couldn’t ring more true. We’ve seen you live those words and it’s truly inspiring. Thanks so much for your time today and I wish you continued success!
Thanks a lot, Jason. I appreciate it.