DIMINO – Rockin’ In The Cities
The inaugural solo effort from vocalist Frank DiMino, of Washington D.C., United States-based rock outfit Angel – July 2015 full-length Old Habits Dies Hard – was conceived during a dinner conversation with friend Ken Ciancimino. Ciancimino queried with Frank about the possibility of cutting a debut solo affair, the conversation continuing from there.
“I thought ‘Okay…,’” Frank remembers. “I’ve always been in a band situation; I’ve never really been in a solo thing. I’m used to working within a band context, but the more he brought it up to me and the more we talked and stuff. I thought ‘Well… Maybe it could be a nice challenge to shed any kind of preconceived notions of what the album should sound like.’ If I did do a solo album, I thought I could just write some good songs, and not worry about the direction. I could just write them and just go forward, so I said ‘Okay. Let’s try it.’
“He talked to Serafino (Perugino, founder) from Frontiers, and so Serafino asked me to send him a song. The song that I sent him is the only song on the album that wasn’t written for the album, and that’s ‘Even Now’. That was a song that Barry (Brandt, Angel drummer) and I had written earlier, so I sent him that – I had an earlier version of it. He said ‘Yeah, absolutely. Let’s do the album,’ so then I had an album to do (laughs). I talked with Oz Fox (Stryper guitarist); I have a local band out here with him – we play around town – called Vinyl Tattoo. I also talked with a good friend of mine named Jeff LaBansky, who I had written with before. Between the three of us, we started writing with each other, and came up with all new material.
“I then got Paul Crook involved. Paul’s the musical director for Meat Loaf. My feeling was the sound of the band I wanted to be consistent, so that’s why I used the guys in Meat Loaf for a consistent bed track. Even though we were having other people sit in and play stuff, I wanted the same guys – the same drummer, the same bass player, and the same keyboard player – to do all of the bed tracks, so that’s why we ended up using John Miceli (drums), and Danny Miranda (bass), and Justin Avery (organ). I know those guys. I’ve seen them many times with Meat Loaf, because I’m good friends with Paul. I play with him, jamming around and stuff, so I know them all. So, I was very comfortable with all of them.”
Ken Ciancimino functioned as executive producer on behalf of Old Habits Die Hard. “He kind of put everything together for me by talking with Serafino, and being my liaison between all of that stuff, and just getting everyone together,” the frontman explains. “When I said that I wanted to do the album, we talked about it. He was just the guy that got everything together for me, and we had him sing on one of the tracks as well (laughs). He sings on ‘Mad As Hell’. He sings the ‘Mad as…’; the background there, he’s singing (laughs).”
Albeit lending backing vocals to ‘Mad As Hell’, Ken isn’t a musician per se. “I don’t think he has a whole lot of a musical background, but he’s good friends with Glenn Hughes (vocalist, ex-Deep Purple / ex-Black Sabbath) and David Coverdale (vocalist, Whitesnake / ex-Deep Purple),” Frank notes. “I believe Glenn is the godfather of one of his kids and stuff, so he’s been around music for a long time.”
Despite boasting a pedigree dating back as far as at least 1975 courtesy of his Angel association, this is the first occasion that the possibility of a solo outing has been broached with the singer. “Other stuff, it’s always been working within a band concept,” he observes. “Even when I started with this solo project, everyone thought ‘What’s the band gonna be called? You’ve got a band?’ My reaction is ‘No, I don’t.’ I have players that I can use and at some point there will be a band, but to do the album? No. I’m doing what I wanted to do, and that was to make a good album with good songs. When they asked me about what direction, even in my conversations with Jeff and Oz about what direction we were gonna be writing in, my thought was that I didn’t want to limit us to that. I just wanted to write good songs, and choose which ones we wanna use. That’s how we went about doing it.”
In all, Old Habits Die Hard’s track listing boasts 11 compositions. “‘Even Now’ was the 11th song – that was the one that Barry and I wrote prior to the album – but all of the other songs are all new and especially written for the album,” Frank reveals. “There are a couple of songs that didn’t end up on the album. I don’t know what I’m gonna do with those yet, but they’re relatively finished songs. One of them is completely finished. Another one is finished, but it’s not recorded finished. It’s just in a demo state – two songs are in a demo state. When I do the next album, I think it’ll probably be new songs all over again. I think that’s the way to approach it, because it keeps you more in tune with what’s going on at the time.”
Co-authorship transpired in the traditional sense. “When I wrote the stuff with Jeff, we were both looking at each other, and facing each other, and writing – coming up with ideas, laying them down, and recording them, coming up with a rough vocal melody – and the same thing with Oz,” the musician informs. “We were both in the same room and facing each other when we wrote stuff, although with a couple of things, Oz had some ideas and just sent them to me. He said ‘I have an idea. Should I send it to you?’ I said ‘Yeah, absolutely. Send it to me,’ so he sent it to me. What we did was we went back to his place, and we demoed them out and arranged them verse / chorus / verse / chorus how we wanted them, and all that stuff. We made a demo of all of the stuff, and that’s how… We brought it to Paul, and then I got the other guys involved that were gonna record it, giving them our ideas or my idea about what I wanted for drum tracks and stuff like that. That’s how we went about it.”
Frank’s co-writers consisted of Barry Brandt, Jeff LaBansky, and Oz Fox. “So, Barry wrote one song, Jeff and I wrote six songs together, and Oz and I wrote four songs together,” he lists. “The ones that Oz and I wrote are ‘Rockin’ In The City’, ‘Never Again’, ‘Stones By The River’, and ‘The Quest’, and the stuff with Jeff is ‘Sweet Sensation’, ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’, ‘The Rain’s About To Fall’, ‘Mad As Hell’, ‘Tears Will Fall’ and ‘Tonight’s The Night’.”
Given his Stryper association, some listeners might assume Oz Fox’s contributions are more metal-oriented. “I don’t know,” the lyricist considers. “I didn’t look at it that way. I just thought about writing songs together. I didn’t want to go into it with the idea of ‘This has to be a heavy song’ or ‘That has to be…’ Whatever we worked on and however it came out is the direction that we stayed in.”
As well as co-writing tracks in the traditional sense, Frank and the co-writers in question discussed the task at hand. “It was always conversations, whether it was over the phone or whatever,” he shares. “Oz, Paul Crook and myself, we all live out here, so that was the easy part. Talking with everyone else was always over the phone or emails and stuff, but yeah, the communication on this album was always open. Everyone had an open ear for all of the communication going on.”
Musically speaking, Old Habits Die Hard remains true to the performer’s roots. “I think the best way to describe the album is good songs with a great sound,” he compliments. “I think the songs are power songs. It’s a back to 70s sound for me – that’s what it is. I look at it as 70s kind of sounding with an upgrade because of all the things that we can do now as opposed to what it used to be, but the concentration was on songs – writing good songs – and I think that we accomplished that with the stuff that we have.”
Music listeners inevitably have varying interpretations of what constitutes the 70s sound. “The 70s sound, I think it’s a little bit more straightforward,” Frank critiques. “It’s not quite as contrived. When I think of the 70s, I think of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, and all of those bands. The Jeff Beck Group – I love The Jeff Beck Group. A lot of them were songs; you remember Bad Company’s stuff, and all of those songs. When they start playing those songs, you go ‘Oh, wow. That’s a great song,’ and it’s very simple stuff. There’s not a whole lot of stuff going on. I think it’s good sounding instruments recorded really well, and really kind of simple stuff.”
The Led Zeppelins, Deep Purples and so forth of that period influenced the resultant material present on Old Habits Die Hard. “I think you can’t help but be influenced by everything that you hear and grew up with,” the vocalist concedes. “I guess two of my favourite bands would’ve been The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, so I kind of mix that together with good songwriting and heavy guitars. I think that kind of comes out on this album, not that there weren’t a lot of other bands that I was influenced by (laughs). I think off the top of my head though, those are the two.”
Albeit a fan of vintage classic rock, Frank is nevertheless a fan of certain acts that have emerged in recent years as well. “I like the first Audioslave album (Audioslave, November 2002),” he names. “To me, that’s still new I guess (laughs). It’s a great album; I like Chris Cornell’s voice, and the guitars on that are really heavy sounding. I think a lot of the bands nowadays are more influenced by the drums more than anything else, which is kind of different.
“I have a pretty wide variety of listening though, so I listen to everybody. Also, having two songs that are in their 20s, I hear a lot of the newer stuff as well. Oddly enough, my younger son still listens to The Beatles and Led Zeppelin (laughs). My older son listens to this really heavy guitar-oriented band… I can’t think of their name off the top of my head… Mastodon. There’s a couple of them, but the names are not easy to remember any more (laughs). So, I kind of listen to everything. I try to be open enough to listen to everything.”
Chris Cornell was arguably born at the wrong time, his voice perfectly suited towards classic rock material in the 70s vein. “Yeah, you’re absolutely right,” the frontman agrees. “Especially some of that Audioslave stuff, and that first album; there’s some great stuff on that album.”
Although a fan of Chris Cornell’s voice, Frank isn’t as big a fan of Soundgarden – the act which Cornell is best known for fronting. “I think with Soundgarden, it was a little bit more hit or miss,” he judges. “I love… What was that one?… ‘Follow me into the desert’ (‘Burden In My Hand’, from May 1996’s Down On The Upside)… My mind’s gone. I can’t think of the song (laughs). It’s hit or miss. I love some of the songs, but then some of the songs I’m not so enamoured with. I love his first solo album as well, though – Euphoria Mourning (September 1999). I love that album.”
Critiqued against the material he recorded as a member of Angel, the singer views Old Habits Die Hard differently. “Sound wise, it’s totally different,” he reckons. “Angel had a particular audience that we played to and we wrote together, so we wrote with that specific idea in mind. With my solo thing, luckily for me, I was able to shed that stuff. Of course, you’re gonna hear some of that Angel influence in there in the record, but there’s also all kinds of different influences going on. I think the main thing is because it was a solo album, I wasn’t locked into the Angel sound itself, which I’m not saying is a bad thing. Because it’s a solo album, it’s not ever gonna be an Angel album. Without the other four guys, it’s not gonna be an Angel album. I think this stuff is different than the Angel stuff; so as long as you’ve shed that and you’re ready to listen to it as a solo album, I think you will really enjoy it.”
Vocal melodies as well as lyrics go together hand in hand. “‘Tears Will Fall’, that was the one song where I was very concerned with the lyrics,” Frank mentions. “I wanted it to be right, so I rewrote that a few times. I just wanted it to work with the song, and with the melody. It had to say something, so that’s why I really kind of worked and reworked that one. The other ones, I think a lot of them kind of lent themselves to the melody that I came up with. When I was working with the melody, like for ‘Rockin’ In The City’… I had the melody, and as I was writing the melody, I was writing the lyrics down as well. I moved things around a little bit here and there, but I wanted it to be lyrically right as well – the whole album.”
Recording sessions for Old Habits Die Hard took place at the Rock ’N’ Roll Fantasy Camp in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is run by David Fishof. “The Fantasy Camp has those week long things, and so they have the counsellors of course,” the musician tells. “I’ve done a lot of that stuff. I’ve worked with Joe Vitale and Alan White (drums, Yes) and Jeff Beck (guitars, Jeff Beck Group / ex-The Yardbirds), and along with that, Vinny Appice (drums, ex-Black Sabbath), Rudy Sarzo (bass, ex-Ozzy Osbourne / Quiet Riot) – all of those guys. You have your own campers, though. There would be myself, or Rudy, or Vinny.
“What you have usually is, we would have our own room. We would each have five guys; a guitar player, a bass player, a drummer, and maybe another guitar player, or a keyboard player. When you learn the songs, you learn different songs – whoever’s gonna be there. That can be whether it’s like the last one they did, which was the Judas Priest thing. You would learn a Judas Priest song, but they also get to record one song. When they went to record it, Paul Crook was doing the recording for them. He was all set up in that room, so what we did was we ended up using that room – Paul and I – for the recording of the album, which made it really very nice for me, very easy for me.”
Paul Crook’s years of experience were advantageous. “Paul’s been the musical director for Meat Loaf now for a while, so I think he’s probably used to working with different people and adapting to their style,” Frank analyses. “When him and I started working together, it was pretty simple – it was pretty easy. He was always open to suggestion, and I could always bounce things off of him without worrying that he was just gonna say ‘No, no. Not that’ (laughs). He made it very easy for me. His method I assume at this point would be to make the artist as comfortable as possible, because he did the same thing with my son. When my son (Dylan) went down there to play ‘Even Now’, the finger-picking on that, he was very nervous. Once he sat down with Paul, Paul made him feel very comfortable. He was able to get right through the song, which was great. I think it’s important when you’re working with someone in the studio, to have that.”
The wordsmith had approached his son to guest on ‘Even Now’. “He’s 20-years-old, so I asked him ‘Would you like to play on the album?,’” he remembers. “He wasn’t sure about it, but he said ‘Yeah, I’d like to play.’ He had never done any recording, so I said ‘Okay. I think the song that I wrote with Barry would be the best song for you to do.’ Barry has stayed here and we’ve written together before in my house here, so Dylan was comfortable with the song. He knew the song. He had heard the song before, so I just told him to learn it.
“I told him that I wanted him to finger-pick it, because we were doing a little bit different kind of version of it. I said ‘Once you get down to the studio, you have to have that song down. I don’t want you to waste any time there, because once you’re in the studio, time is money. People start getting a little bit uptight when it’s not getting done, so you can’t learn it down there. You’ve gotta learn it here.’ He wasn’t nervous until we got into the studio. Once we got into the studio and then Paul sat him down, he became calm again (laughs).”
Dylan’s guitar proficiency is increasing over time. “He plays keyboards, he plays piano, and guitar,” Frank divulges. “I have a music room up here, because I have students. It’s where I write as well, so I have a little recording desk. If I’m not in there, he’s in there (laughs), so I have to chase him out at times. He’s got a nice little set-up in his room now, where he’s got a little electric piano and a couple of guitars, so he’s fine.”
Perhaps Dylan will be cutting his own records in years to come. “Yeah,” the performer laughs. “Then he’ll be asking me ‘Would you like to sing on my album, dad (laughs)?’”
Although the majority of Old Habits Die Hard was recorded at the Rock ’N’ Roll Fantasy Camp in Las Vegas, Nevada, guest musicians sent their respective parts in as it were. “John Miceli has a drum room in his house where he records, and he’s been doing that for a long time,” Frank discloses. “The nice thing about the whole thing was I had John, Danny Miranda, and Justin Avery. Those three guys with Paul have been with Meat Loaf for a while, so they’ve played with each other for a while. They’re really tight, so that’s why I wanted to use those guys for doing all of the bed tracks and it was really an easy communication, so yeah. John has a drum room in his house, and he sent the recordings over – and Danny as well.”
Selecting which guitarists lent parts to Old Habits Die Hard was generally a natural process. “It wasn’t a pre-conceived thought before we did it, strangely enough,” the vocalist confirms. “I know that sounds odd, but when we did ‘Tears Will Fall’, I had said to Paul ‘I think this song really needs a slide guitar.’ Ken was in the room at the time, and Ken said ‘Why don’t you get Rickey to play on it?’ Ken’s good friends with Rickey Medlocke (guitarist / vocalist), and I know Rickey from when we did some shows with Blackfoot way back in the Angel days. I said ‘That would be great.’ We called him, but at first he said ’I’m not sure if I can do it. I don’t know if I have the time, between the new Blackfoot stuff and the Lynyrd Skynyrd stuff. I don’t know if I have time, but send it to me.’ I sent it to him, and gave my take of what I was looking for and stuff, but it’s basically his solo. When he sent it back, it was perfect, so that’s how that happened, and the same thing with Eddie Ojeda (guitars, Twisted Sister).
“When we were recording that song, Eddie was here for the NAMM convention in LA. He said ‘I’m coming to Vegas for a couple of days. What’s going on? Anything going on?’ Paul said ‘Well, I’m recording Frank DiMino’s album right now. Why don’t you come down?’ He came down and listened to it. He said ‘Do you want me to play on anything?’ I said ‘I would love to have you play on it.’ We sent him home with it to play and listen to, and then he just came down the next day and threw the solo on. So yeah, it was great. All that stuff just happened really organically for me, so it was nice for it to happen that way.”
Old Habits Die Hard’s cover photograph depicts Frank standing alongside hung up boots. “Those are my Angel boots, and that mike stand has been with me since my first Angel tour,” he comments. “I had that made back in ’75, so that mike stand’s been with me everywhere. I’ve had some back-ups made, but those were stolen and somehow my original one has always been with me. I just thought that that would be a good idea for Old Habits Die Hard, for the title. It’s just a little thing in there for some Angel fans to think about.”
Old habits die hard, as the self-referential title suggests. “I didn’t know what people were gonna expect from me since it was a solo album, so I was just trying to let them know that I still have some of my old habits in there,” the frontman submits. “They’re still with me (laughs).”
A music video was filmed for the composition ‘Rockin’ In The City’. “It was a fun video to make,” Frank chuckles. “We did it on top of the Fantasy Camp where we recorded, and the background is the whole back-end of the Strip. It’s the west side of the Strip, so you can see all of the background at night, which is great. Then we just went down the Strip and did some recording down there, and then the other part was I had a lot that was right near the Fantasy Camp. It looked like we were on another planet. There were like concrete slabs everywhere, so it was a great place to record. So yeah, it was a lot of fun doing that.”
At the time of writing, further music videos shoots to promote Old Habits Die Hard aren’t scheduled. “Not as of yet,” the singer clarifies.
In certain quarters, Old Habits Die Hard is being touted as a comeback effort for the Angel member. “I don’t know if it’s a comeback album,” Frank debates. “I think it’s just a good solo album by me. Like I said, I’ve done a lot of stuff. I did some stuff while I was out here. I recorded a couple of Christmas albums with Todd Kerns from Slash’s band. He had a local band out here, like I do. His band was called Sin City Sinners, and I did a few things with them. I did a lot of stuff after Angel; I did a lot of stuff with Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey, and I did a lot of session stuff. I’ve been doing a lot of those kinds of recordings and stuff, so I’ve always been doing stuff.”
Perhaps Old Habits Die Hard shouldn’t be touted as a comeback album, then? “(Laughs) Well, you can call it a comeback album,” the musician permits. “That’s fine. I’m fine with that. Yeah, a comeback album by someone who’s already been here for a while I guess.”
A second solo affair is in the works. “Jeff and I have already started writing some stuff, so that’s certainly a plan,” Frank acknowledges. “We’ll see what happens. That’s one of the plans, to start working on… I want to take this out on the road first, but I’m always open to starting to write. I want to write and get a head start on the next album as well, so it’s good that Jeff and I are already starting to write.”
The lyricist is hoping to make festival appearances during 2016. “If I can get on some sooner then that would be great, but right now, I’m looking at next summer for the festivals out in Europe,” he reports. “I have someone that I just talked to put out feelers about what I can do within the next maybe three or four months.”
Which musicians will round out Frank’s live solo personnel is uncertain. “It all depends on availability, but I’ll either use the guys from Vinyl Tattoo which played on the video – which is Oz Fox, Scotty Coogan, and Jay P. Michaels – or the guys from Meat Loaf, which is Paul Crook, Justin Avery, John Micela, and Danny Miranda,” he ponders. “And Jeff LaBansky as well; if Jeff wants him to come out, I’d love for him to come out.”
Old Habits Die Hard was released on July 3rd, 2015 in Europe and subsequently on the 10th in North America, all via Frontiers Music Srl.
Interview published in July 2015
Related Posts via Categories
- AVENGED SEVENFOLD – As They Like It (January 2017) | Features / Interviews @ Metal Forces Magazine
- DEVILMENT – Waltzing Under The Thunder (November 2016) | Features / Interviews @ Metal Forces Magazine
- PHIL CAMPBELL AND THE BASTARD SONS – Taking Aim (November 2016) | Features / Interviews @ Metal Forces Magazine
- IN FLAMES – Underneath Their Skin (November 2016) | Features / Interviews @ Metal Forces Magazine
- HAMMERFALL – Hammering High (November 2016) | Features / Interviews @ Metal Forces Magazine
- GRAHAM BONNET BAND – The Next Chapter (November 2016) | Features / Interviews @ Metal Forces Magazine
- DEMON – Turning On The Magic (October 2016) | Features / Interviews @ Metal Forces Magazine
- TESTAMENT – Ruling The Den (October 2016) | Features / Interviews @ Metal Forces Magazine
- BRANT BJORK – Luvin’ Stoner Life (October 2016) | Features / Interviews @ Metal Forces Magazine
- OPERATION: MINDCRIME – Taking On The Music World (October 2016) | Features / Interviews @ Metal Forces Magazine