MOTOR SISTER – Fooling Around
Motor Sister (l-r): Pearl Aday, John Tempesta, Jim Wilson, Scott Ian and Joey Vera
On December 31st, 2013, Scott Ian – guitarist for New York-based thrash metal group Anthrax – celebrated his 50th birthday. To mark the occasion, the axeman wished to perform as part of a reunited Mother Superior line-up. Los Angeles-based, the rockers had disbanded during 2011. Although a Mother Superior reunion featuring Scott handling guitar ultimately never transpired, a fitting solution was reached.
“One thing he wanted to do for his 50th birthday was he wanted to jam Mother Superior songs,” remembers bassist Joey Vera. “He wanted to do it at his house, and he wanted to have Jim – Jim Wilson (Mother Superior vocalist), who’s a friend of all of ours. He wanted him to be involved, and basically just threw the idea out there. Jim was very honoured and excited to do it, so after that was done, Scott went around and basically picked the band. He asked me to be involved, and he asked John Tempesta (drums, ex-Exodus / ex-Testament); he asked us if we wanted to do this, and we said ‘Sure.’ I’ve been a fan of Mother Superior for years, so it was kind of a treat for me too. That’s really how it came together. Scott chose the songs. We had one rehearsal, and then we played at the party. It was just a blast.”
That New Year’s Eve 2013 performance – rounded out by Ian’s wife Pearl Aday – eventually led to the formation of Motor Sister. “We just did this party and didn’t think anything of it really, other than just the fact that it was so much fun to do. It was just a completely good time doing it,” the rhythmist admits. “We didn’t think that there was anything beyond it or anything, but we sorted of joked around at the end of the night, like ‘Wouldn’t it be great if the world could hear this?’ Mother Superior’s a little bit of a band that’s kind of under the radar, and we all thought that they were such a great band that we wished that other people knew about them. At the end of the night, we wished that there was a way to share this with the world, especially just what we did. We were just kind of a jam band that got together and played these songs. like ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if the world could hear what we were doing’?
“That was really the end of it, but the following week, Neil Zlozower the photographer was on a phone call about something unrelated with Mike Faley over at Metal Blade. He just sort of mentioned ‘Hey… Last weekend I was at Scott Ian’s birthday party, and let me tell you about this. It was amazing.’ He told him all about it, so Mike Faley immediately went into my wife’s (Teresa Vera’s) office – who also works at Metal Blade – and said ‘Hey… Why didn’t you tell me about this? Why were you keeping this a secret?’ She said ‘What are you talking about? It wasn’t a secret. It was just a party. Nothing’s going on. These guys just got together, and it was completely incredible and magical and everything. It was great.’ He said ‘This sounds like an amazing thing. What a great story, and what a great band.’ Basically right then and there, he said ‘Let’s see if they want to put a record out.’
“We got the call, and were pretty much just blind-sided that a label called without even hearing the band and just said ‘Make a record.’ We had to think about it, and said ‘Well, this is great, but if we do this record, then it’s gonna be done in the same spirit as this party was, and basically that means live.’ We just basically tried to recreate the party in the recording studio; we all played live, and we all played in the same room. We didn’t do any overdubs, or fixing, or building tracks – everybody played at the same time. We even invited friends down; there were probably about ten to 14 friends that came to the recording studio. We basically just tried to recreate that whole vibe that we had at the party, and these 12 songs are the 12 exact same songs that we played at the party. This is what we documented as a result.”
Motor Sister’s New Year’s Eve 2013 performance not only spawned the outfit’s formation, but led to the recording of March 2013 full-length Ride, a studio opus consisting of Mother Superior cover interpretations. “The party was what it was,” Joey recalls. “We were drinking beer, having a good time – totally not taking it serious at all… Taking it serious, but we weren’t onstage. It wasn’t like a big pressure; it was just super-relaxed, a good time. The studio was a little bit different at first, because you sort of realise ‘Well, wait a minute. We’re recording. I don’t wanna make a mistake, because it’s live.’ You feel a little bit hesitant at first, but after we got into it, it was the same thing. We just kept it loose, and just tried to recreate it, and just have fun with it. The energy is a little bit different when you’re actually doing it – when you’re playing it – but when I listen back to it, it sounds live to me. It sounds like it is live; it just sounds like the same vibe and energy that we had at the party.”
In forming Motor Sister, the four-stringer, Scott, Pearl, and John were afforded the opportunity to work with a man previously responsible for standing behind the microphone as part of one of their favourite rock assortments. “Part of this is a big fan thing, because we’re big fans of Mother Superior and Jim, but we’ve also known Jim for quite a few years.,” he notes. “We’ve probably known him for almost ten years now, so we’re just good friends. He’s a guy, a guy that I like hanging around with. He’s just a great person, and a super-talented guy. I work with him in other areas; I work with him on his solo stuff as kind of an engineer and I sort of help him mix a few things for his solo stuff, so we’re just good friends.
“The part that strikes you is when you’re actually playing; I’m playing these songs, and I’m like ‘Wow’ – ‘Get That Girl’, for instance. I’m playing the song ‘Get That Girl’, and I actually mixed that song on their record. I mixed the song on that record and then I’m playing the song, and I’m thinking to myself ‘Holy shit. I’m actually playing this song, and I’m in Jim Wilson’s band. This is crazy.’ It’s awesome though, a good time.”
Scott had introduced Joey to Mother Superior’s material. “He discovered them I think around ’99 or 2000, when they were Henry Rollins’ backing band,” he shares. “They did a couple of records with Henry Rollins, and that’s when Scott first discovered them. I think he became friends with them around 2000, 2001, or something. When I was actually playing in Anthrax in 2004, Scott turned me onto Mother Superior. He just said ‘Hey, you’ve gotta check this band out. They’re right up your alley.’ I’m a kid who grew up in the 70s, so everything that’s a part of my fabric started in the 70s. All of the hard rock that I first started listening to when I was a young kid was from the 70s, and Mother Superior has a huge influence in the 70s.
“Me, I just gravitated towards it right away, and so he introduced me to them about 2004. They were a Los Angeles band, so I would go and see them play. I saw them play several different clubs in LA. I’d go see them live, and I bought a few of their records. I just became totally stoked on their music, and totally into it. Right around the same time, I met them right away – within literally a couple of months, we were just getting along like old friends. We just had a lot in common, and became friends right away.”
The decision as to which Mother Superior compositions surfaced in retooled fashion on Ride fell to Scott. “This is Scott’s wish list, because it was his birthday,” the musician explains. “He started a list, and I’m sure it was more like 20 songs when he first started it because there are so many songs. There’s a lot of songs that I would’ve chosen, if it was for my birthday. There’s a song called ‘Gorilla Monsoon’ I would’ve loved to have done, for example – that’s a great song. He first had a large list, and then kind of whittled it down. Then he talked to Jim, and said ‘Hey… These are the songs that I’m thinking about for the party.’ Jim probably helped him kind of narrow it down to 12. That’s really how it came about, choosing the songs.”
Albeit the same tracks, Motor Sister’s interpretations naturally bear differences. “In general, I think our versions feel a little bit more off the cuff,” Joey describes. “Even though the Mother Superior versions were also done very quickly, I think the songs were written in a way where they wanted to treat them more like they were recording them for a record. Even though I think the same might be held true that some of those songs were recorded live as well, they were playing as a trio, and we have an extra guitar with Scott in there. That’s adding a whole different kind of element, so I don’t know. They’re different. They’re different, but they’re the same. I don’t know how else to say that. They have a different life, but they’re the same great songs. We didn’t go in there, and try to change them. That wasn’t our intention, to sort of make them different, or better, or worse, or anything. We just wanted to redo them as is, and that’s just what it is.”
Little forethought was devoted to cutting the opus. “We just wanted to respect the songs,” the composer reckons. “We only did a couple of things, like we maybe changed an ending or we changed an intro slightly, and maybe we added an extra chorus on one song. That’s really about it.”
As referenced, each respective Motor Sister member is an admirer of Mother Superior’s works, although each have their individual favourites. “I’m kind of partial to when I first got introduced to them,” Joey divulges. “I’m kind of partial to Three Headed Dog (April 2007), and maybe Grande (January 2008). Those two records I think are great. When I started working with Jim Wilson as well, I really got to know them and could really see what they were doing. I think I really, really gravitated towards that period.”
Schedules permitting, Motor Sister hope to become more of a live entity. “We want to, if we can fit it in somehow,” the bassist tells. “We are doing some shows. We played in New York a couple of weeks ago (on February 12th at Saint Vitus in Brooklyn); that was the very first show of the band, which was amazing. We’re playing next week here in Los Angeles (March 11th, The Whisky), and then the day after in San Francisco (March 12th, DNA Lounge). Then we kind of have to put it on hold, because we’re doing some other things with our other bands. Scott’s doing some dates with Volbeat, and I’m doing some shows with Armored Saint – playing with Saxon here in the US. We have to wait until we get an opportunity that opens up, but we do want to. We would love to come to Europe too and do some shows there as well, if we can make it happen.”
The prospect of a second Motor Sister full-length is high. “We just recently started talking about doing writing together,” Joey informs. “We just get along so well as friends and people that we want to see what we can do in this band – what kind of music we can write and what kind of songs we can write. It’s possible that it could lead to another record, for sure.”
The rhythmist’s central musical concern is Armored Saint of course, whose seventh platter Win Hands Down arrives in June. “We’re super-excited about it; the music is killer,” he enthuses. “We’re just very, very stoked on the record. It came out really good. It’s mixed by Jay Ruston, who also mixed the Motor Sister record. And yeah, we’re just super-excited about it.”
Armored Saint fans are naturally curious as to its musical stylings. “It’s hard, because I’m so close to it,” Joey ponders. “To me though, John and I feel like we really pushed ourselves to write some great songs. We just really wanted to take it two notches higher than where we’ve been in the past, so it’s got a little bit of everything. It’s got some stuff that’s just really, really heavy, and really just energetic. It’s got shades of old, classic Armored Saint grooves – there’ll be some familiar grooves to different people – and then some of the songs are on the long side, for us anyway. We just really wanted to write music, and not be concerned with ‘Oh, the song has to be three minutes long, and it has to go verse, chorus, verse, chorus, and we have to have a lead guitar solo,’ and blah blah blah.
“We just wanted to write the music, and let the music just take off – a no-holds barred kind of a thing. As a result, some of the songs are a little on the long side and gives the whole record sort of this giant, epic feel. This is my impression, but to me it just feels huge, and epic, and just big. I don’t know how else to explain it (laughs).”
Such comments suggest Win Hands Down boasts aspects of each and every Armored Saint record to date, as well as aspects unheard on previous jaunts. “Again, it’s a funny thing about our band,” the four-stringer observes. “Maybe not so funny, but a peculiar thing about our band perhaps is that every record we make is very different from the one preceding it, so our records are a little bit all over the place in a way. We haven’t gone completely whacko with our songwriting style, necessarily; we don’t put out an electronic record one year, and then a thrash metal record the next year, and then a post-rock record the next year, and then a country rock record the next year (laughs).
“It’s not that crazy, but we do tend to challenge ourselves to just take some chances here and there, and even in the production of the record – the way the record sounds in the end. Each record’s been a little bit different from the one preceding it, and this one’s no exception. This one is just its own life, another snapshot of where we are in 2015. There’s a line, something that runs from March Of The Saint (October 1984) all the way through to where we are today, but we want to feel like we’re progressing and learning, and becoming better songwriters – evolving. This is just another place, another evolution.”
Production duties for Win Hands Down fell to Joey, once again. “I produced it, and I did a lot of the engineering on it as well, but we also had other people recording drums and guitars,” he credits. “I did all of the vocals here, though.”
Armored Saint release albums infrequently nowadays, causing some to hope Armored Saint would issue fresh material more often. “It’s funny, because La Raza (March 2010) – the last record – is five years old,” the performer acknowledges. “To be honest with you, those five years went by super-fast for me. It takes us a long time the way we write music; it takes us a good year and a half just to write the music and record demos, and actually fine-tune everything. We don’t work very much quicker than that, so I don’t really think that it would be possible for us to write, record, release, and do dates in three years. I don’t think that’s possible (laughs). Five years is pushing it for us. I mean, the record before that was ten years (Revelation, March 2000), so I think we’re making progress in that department.”
Armored Saint and Motor Sister aside, Joey’s time is additionally consumed by other musical preoccupations. “I’m still involved with Fates Warning of course, and Fates Warning is writing a new record right now,” he discloses. “We’re just hanging out, doing that, getting the ideas together, and trying to get that writing process going. Fates Warning will be doing some dates in the fall and other than that, I’m mixing a record for a band called Seven Witches. I’ll start that in the next week or so, and I will probably start writing for Motor Sister. I’m probably gonna start writing for Motor Sister within the next month or so too, so there’s that coming up as well.”
Prior to wrapping up this feature, it would be remiss not to touch upon late Armored Saint guitarist Dave Prichard. February 28th, 2015 marked 25 years since the axeman’s passing. “I thought about this the other day and I’ve often thought about this, because he was a big musical contributor to Armored Saint,” Joey attributes. “He was one of the main songwriters obviously back in the day. He wasn’t a real… He wasn’t – none of us were, in fact – very keen on music theory when we were growing up and learning to play, even in the early years of Armored Saint. I didn’t study music theory until I turned 30 and Dave never did either, but Dave had a great sense of knowing instinctively what was going on with theory, and so he would get very elaborate with the way that he wrote music. He would write parts… And his leads as well.
“I remember towards the end, he was always pushing us to write very melodic and sort of busy parts for him to solo over, because he felt like it would be more interesting for him to solo over a chord progression that was moving rather than chug, chug in A, chug, chug in E – one or two chords. He was already pushing us musically towards the end of our period with him and so I always often wondered where he would be if he hadn’t passed away, like where he would’ve gone as a musician. I can only imagine that he would’ve just totally blossomed into this amazing songwriter and player. I always wondered that, where he would’ve gone.
“I’m sure that it would’ve been something great, but I just always wondered what it would’ve been, because he would’ve made a mark somewhere. He would’ve kept going, because he was a talent. He had a lot of natural talent in terms of being very creative, and thinking outside of the box, and figuring things out. I think eventually, he probably would’ve taken theory, and that would’ve opened up a thousand other doors for him – just like it did for me. I often wonder where he would’ve taken himself just as a musician. I think it would’ve been interesting, to think about that.”
Even though Dave has passed, he is nevertheless still an influence upon Armored Saint’s musical fabric. “What I just explained to you, about what he was trying to make us do with some of the songwriting,” the composer begins. “A good example is a song called ‘Legacy’ on Raising Fear (September 1987), which is like an orchestral song. The way the guitar parts are written, it was pretty elaborate. At least for us at that time, it was elaborate, and so that’s a hint as to where… That’s an example of how he was pushing us, that song. That very idea about challenging yourself and making things move outside of your comfort zone, that always stuck with me. Aside from Dave, I was the other primary writer in Armored Saint, and so I’ve taken that with me – that sort of idea from him.”
Dave’s worth as a guitarist and composer is immortalised on disc, although many fans both old and new will sadly never know the man behind the music as a result of his untimely passing. “He was pretty hilarious,” Joey remembers. “He was a very funny guy, very personable. He’d walk into a room, and you’d gravitate towards him – he was just that kind of a person. He was a smart ass. He was a jokester, playing pranks all the time, had a great sense of humour. He was super-friendly, totally approachable – he would talk to anybody. The wild guy; he could get totally wild, as well. Never in a bad way, but just a crazy way. So yeah, the people that met him would attest to those things, for sure.”
Ride was released on March 9th, 2015 in Europe, and subsequently on the 10th in North America, all via Metal Blade Records.
Interview published in March 2015.
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