KRR : Tell us a little of your
background - i.e. where you grew up, your family, etc?
Regent St. Claire 2006
RTS : I was born in Oakland (about 20 miles east of
San Francisco) California in 1964, and was adopted as a baby by a
well-meaning middle class couple. Dad was an accountant and mom was an
opera singer, but she gave that up to get married and start a family.
Actually, that's not really why she gave it up, but the true story of why
she did is another article altogether.
RTS : I was always very interested in music, even as a very young child. I
can thank my mom for that. I started taking drum lessons at age 8, and
started my first cover band (Avatar) at age 13. I started playing
self-taught guitar around age 16 or 17, and started singing lead in a band
around age 17. My parents were fairly supportive of it, until it started
including my playing gigs in San Francisco on weeknights until all hours.
They didn't like that, and due to my musical endeavors, and a few other
"issues," I left home on my 17th birthday.
RTS : My first "real" drumming gig was playing in producer Kevin
Army's band, The TOTS, around 1978-79. Army was a great songwriter, and
taught me everything I know about it.
KRR : What artist would form your earliest memory of "music"?
RTS : The band that rehearsed two doors down from me when I was about 5
years old. They played Creedence Clearwater Revival (that band actually
went to my high school!) covers, and I'd sit on the vertical fridge they
had in their garage, eating ice cream while they rehearsed. They weren't
very good, but they sure were loud.
KRR : Who are your musical influences? Any all-time favorite band? Album?
RTS : My influences are kind of off-the-beaten-path at least by today's
standards. A lot of 70's ultra-pop. AM radio. Elton John, The Raspberries,
Three Dog Night, The Monkees, The Sweet, and as of 1976, Kiss of course.
AC/DC, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Angel, and oddly enough, a number of
female rock/pop singers like Joan Jett, Cindy Bullens, Louise Goffin, Suzi
Quatro, and Holly (Vincent) & The Italians. The Ramones, The Paul
Collins Beat, The Kings, and The Producers.
RTS : As for all time fave bands: Kiss, The Ramones, and a legendary S.F.
local band, Head On. We did one of their songs on our first album.
RTS : My favorite albums are Kiss' "Destroyer" and Elton John's
"Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." Those are two near-perfect records.
In my opinion, "Destroyer" was the pinnacle of Kiss' songwriting
and production prowess, and "Goodbye..." is jam-packed with
really great EJ songs of every kind.
KRR : How did you get into music, as playing, rather than simply listening
RTS : Kiss inspired that in me. In 1976 I was 12 years old, and Kiss were
larger than life. They still are. Its not that I wanted to be "like
them," but rather that I wanted to learn how to make that kind of
KRR : When did you make the transition from simply playing an instrument,
to joining a band, and what was your first band?
RTS : My first group was a cover band called "Avatar" when I was
13. We took the name from a character in the Ralph Bakshi film
"Wizards." I was the drummer, and the band's guitarist and
singer was Steve Oliver, my pal from Jr. High school, who has gone on to
do some really incredible musical stuff, and he still earns his living
making music. I think our first gig was at a church (ooh, that WAS a long
time ago!) talent show, and we played "Sweet Home Alabama" and
"Taking Care Of Business." Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion"
and The Stones' "Honky Tonk Woman" were also in our very limited
Babes in Toyland (1985)
KRR : Both Castle Blak album contains a cover version of a KISS classic.
As a songwriter yourself, what made you decide to record these songs
instead of recording own material ?
RTS : I've written over 200 songs in my life, and recorded over 100 of them,
so I have no shortage of original material to draw from, but I'm a
die-hard Kiss fan, and never fail to acknowledge my debt to them for
inspiring me to do music at all. As well, Kiss songs are FUN to play! And
of course whipping out a Kiss song in your live set always gets the crowd
KRR : How do you look back on the 'old days' / Glam Rock scene / the
RTS : Those were strange and magical times. Glam was a unique genre. It
allowed kids to experiment and stretch their wings, so to speak. I
remember standing in line to see "The Rocky Horror Picture Show"
when I was 14, and wearing eyeliner for the first time then. There was
this tall woman standing in line in front of me with her back to me, and I
was wearing a black silk Kiss jacket, and this "woman" turns to
me and says: "That's a really great jacket!" My jaw hit the floor, because it was really a guy in drag. First I was terrified, having
led a very sheltered, middle-class suburban life up until then, but when
the shock wore off, I was amazed to find that this "guy" was
actually a very cool person, and was also a Kiss fan, just like me.
RTS : Glam also allowed us to dress-up and play make-believe. It also
allowed us to "re-invent" ourselves. You could be a bank teller
or librarian by day, and you could still dress up, take on your alter ego,
and go to a Glam club at night, and be anyone you could imagine. Almost
like being a super-hero with a secret identity.
RTS : The 80's were fun, but also kind of a blur for me, because I was
working so hard at making it in music. I know its kind of a contradiction
for an artist to be this way, but I've always been a very driven and
focused person. I think in every band, there is one member who drives its endeavors. In my bands, that person was always me. I was the guy dubbing
hundreds of copies of our demos all night long on my boom box while my band mates
were out having fun, or doing their schoolwork. I don't regret
it, and if someone had to do it, I'm glad it was me.
Another Dark Carnival ('87)
KRR : During Castle Blak / Blak, was there any response from
overseas (outside USA) ??
RTS : Actually, our best responses were from overseas. For example, our
debut LP "Babes In Toyland," debuted at #1 in the UK Indie Metal
chart, and in France we were played on the same mainstream radio stations
as Foreigner and Madonna.. It makes sense though, because while our
records were released on tiny US labels here in the States, we sublicensed
them to bigger indies abroad, who had far greater resources to promote
KRR : What are you thoughts (or how do you look back) on the moment that
grunge (Nirvana) changed the music-scene ... ?
RTS : Music is a secret code for the young. Its a way for them to
communicate their hopes and fears and dreams to each other and to a world
that they know doesn't understand them. This code changes every few years
so that when the kids get to be grown ups, they can't understand the next
version of the code that comes along. This insures a "gap"
between generations, so that each generation can have their own voice.
Their own code.
RTS : Grunge was a knee-jerk reaction to the glamorous opulence that was
the 80's, in the same way that Punk was a knee-jerk reaction to the
bloated corporate music machine of the 70's. Grunge stripped away all the
sexual ambiguity, the bravado, and the spectacle, and replaced it with
dirty lumberjack shirts, no makeup, and cryptic lyrics. They thought they
were giving music back to the people, but all they did was burn their
house down, with all their stuff still inside.
RTS : Grunge lasted about a nanosecond, but it was just long enough to ruin
Glam, and leave a nice big vacuous hole that has never been re-filled, and
may never be again. Yes, it was necessary for music to change, and it
always has changed, but I can tell you this: After Grunge, the music
scenes in SF and LA never came back with anything to replace them. The
live music scene just happened to die right after Grunge, the Internet,
and MTV. Coincidence?
KRR : During that time (1993), a lot of bands changed their looks and
attitude, as well as changing their music to a more darker and/ or rougher
sound, (for example Motley Crue, KISS with "Carnivals of Souls",
RATT's Stephen Pearcy), explaining this to themselves as "we're
growing musically ..... " .
Others moved to Nashville trying to make
it in country-rock. A few stayed 'true' to themselves (Great White) ....
Do you recognize yourself in one of these situations...; and if yes .. what made
you decide to move (on or to) that direction ??
RTS : Well, you have to remember that I'm a songwriter by trade. I've
always written in many different styles/genres. I've always prided myself
on making records with 10 different songs, that don't all sound the same,
the same way that my mentors have done. So the 25 years or so that I was
in the business, my music has gone through a lot of different artistic
places. Some of it has been on the dark side, some on the romantic side,
even some on the humorous side. And yes, I consider that an artistic
"evolution." I mean, look at Metallica. A song like "Enter
Sandman," is about a million miles away from a song like "Metal
Militia." or "Seek and Destroy." The guys all look very
different now than when they started, and their music sounds very
different too. I don't fault them for that, in fact I applaud them for it.
An old friend of mine, Robbie Rist, once told me that if the public were
given their choice, bands would make the same record over and over again
without changing anything, without evolving or developing at all. But they
need us to change and evolve. They don't want us to, but they need us to.
Its up to us to take those chances, risk our careers, and risk losing our
fans if they refuse to go with us on that journey.
KRR : You also did some work as a producer? Your bio mentions Femme
Fatale, Is that the one with female singer Lorraine?
RTS : The Femme Fatale that I produced was not the one with Lorraine. Ours
was years before theirs, and we toyed with the idea of suing them for
using that name when we already had, but ultimately just let it go. Our
single "Put "Em Away," was released many years before the
other Femme Fatale ever even played a show.
RTS : As for my making it big as a producer, I produced the handful of
bands more as a favor to them than as a career move.
They each made
singles or EPs or albums, but none of them had the necessary drive to take
their careers to the next level.
I really do love producing, but I'd
rather spend my time doing projects related to my own music.
Glamour & Damnation
KRR : A few years ago Fastlane Records listed on their website that they
were going to release a Castle Blak boxset, entitled "Glamour &
Damnation". How come that this set is never released, so that you had
to decide you've to release it on your own ?
RTS : Yes, Shawn Lane was working on putting together this collection, but
it was a very, very ambitious project. 45 songs and a radio interview,
plus 3, 20-page booklets, with tons of lyrics and linear notes, stories,
artwork, photos, you name it. After over 3 years of Shawn working on
remastering and/or editing the music, it still wasn't done, and I just
couldn't wait any longer, so that's when I decided to finish it myself,
and release it on my own label, The Good Intentions Paving Co..
RTS : Some of the tracks were ultimately remastered by Shawn, but a lot more
were done or re-done by other engineers etc. after him.
RTS : I have nothing but the utmost admiration and respect for Shawn, and
its clear to me that this project turned out to be a much bigger
financial, time, and effort expenditure than he was able to support. And
ultimately, it was such a complicated thing to do, that I'm really the
only one who could've gotten it done. And it wasn't easy!
KRR : what could we expect on the upcoming boxset, unreleased tracks,
demo's , live stuff ???
RTS : Some of the highlights are: A demo version of "Don't Tell Me 'Bout
Your Boyfriend" that we recorded at a cheap little studio for our
trip to Europe as a tool to drum up foreign licensing deals before we
actually recorded the LP "Another Dark Carnival." The sound
quality of it is a bit dicey, but the performance and energy are amazing.
Also, several tracks from our 3rd release, "No Bed Of Roses,"
are on it, and that release was VERY limited (I think we only made like
500 of them), so its a good example of where the band was going at the
time we broke up. And of course the 3 Kiss covers songs, one from each of
our albums, are fun as well. There is so much rare and cool stuff on these
3 discs that I can't really say enough about it here without taking up the
whole page. There were also a few tracks that I would've really loved to
put on it that I couldn't, like our version of Kix's "Fire Egine
#9," that we couldn't include for legal reasons.
KRR : Are you still in contact with the old members of Castle Blak ?
RTS: Not all of them, but most of them.
Matthias Montgomery/Drums: We just recorded a new CB song ("Whose
Little Girl?") a few months ago at his home studio specifically for
the box set. He's married with 2 kids, still lives back in Nor Cal, and
makes a living playing and teaching music. I consider him and Brian Crow
to be 2 of my best and oldest friends, and also 2 very cool people.
Scott Sanders/Drums. Died around 1990 in a murder suicide. Killed his
girlfriend and then himself. Big, big loser. Nuff said.
David Victor aka David Chayce/Lead Guitar: Went on to make some great
records on his own, and now lives in LA. After many years apart, we
recently got together for lunch, and I found out he's engaged to be
married. No kids. Yet. We've been talking about doing an acoustic duo live
Kev Mueller/Bass. Lives in So Cal with his wife and son, is a successful
TV producer now. We email and see each other every now and then.
Keith Beattie/Bass: Still lives in Nor Cal, I seem to recall that he's
married. No kids. He played bass on our recent recording for the box set.
Keith and I go waaaaay back. We were pals in 7th grade.
Brian Crow/Lead Guitar: Of all my ex-bandmates, I've probably stayed in
touch most with Brian. Married twice, divorced once, two kids. Lives in So
Cal. We're going to the movies together tomorrow night to see the Russian
film "Night Watch" which I've already seen and LOVE. Due to the
crap that life has thrown at him, I've watched Brian grow up before my
very eyes. A good friend and a fine musician.
Chuck More'/Lead Guitar: Divorced, 2 kids, still lives in Nor Cal. Have
seen him a couple of times over the past few years.
As you'll see on the extensive credits in the box set, probably 2-dozen or
more musicians have come through Blak and my various versions of it, so
I'll leave it at the few guys above for now.
KRR : Are there any plans for a reunion club tour ...
RTS : Matthias talks about this quite a lot, and while I'd love to do
something like that, it'd be tough to do logistically. We all live in
different areas and none of us except Matthias have continued to do music
in just about any capacity at all over the past 10 years. Plus, now we all
have lives, jobs, and families to consider as well. A reunion also brings
up issues like who would be in this version of the band? Which lead
guitarist? Which bass player? As well, just recording that one new song a
few months ago was a logistical nightmare. It took us 9 months to finally
agree on a date to do it, and then getting everyone there (back to S.F.)
to do it was nothing short of a miracle.
RTS : We all agree that if the circumstances were right, we'd love to do a
show or a few shows, especially in Europe where we had the bulk of our
success. If anyone wants to fly us over and put us up, we're all ears. As
evidenced by the song we recently recorded, and as noted by rock
photographer Bill Hale about that track, "Its like you guys had never
stopped. Like you picked up right where you left off."
KRR : Do you have a message, or do you have a story
you like to share with KRR visitors ?
RTS : I wanted to share a little story about what it means to me to be a
Kiss fan. I think all of us have one, and this is mine:
The only fist fight I've ever been in, was over being a Kiss fan. A
big guy walked up to me at school when I was 15, and said: "Kiss
fag!" and punched me hard in the head. Not my face, but the top of my
head, because I was sitting down at the time and he was standing. He did
it because I told him to fuck off in response to his Kiss fag comment to
me. It was very embrrasing to get socked by that guy, who was a notorious
About 7 years later, me and the rest of Castle Blak were living
together in a house in Martinez, and after a big show that we'd played, we
had a party. The house was packed with people and it was a really loud
good time, and a guy walked up to me and told me what a great show we'd
just done. He reached out to shake my hand, and I realized it was that guy
who had punched me in the head for being a Kiss fan.
I told Chuck, my guitarist, to turn off the music, and he did. I then
asked everyone to be quiet, and I said to that guy in front of everyone:
"You don't remember me do you? (to the crowd) This guy punched me in
the head in 9th grade because I was Kiss fan, and now he's standing in MY
house, kissing MY ass. (to him) Well I'll tell you what, you can just get
the fuck out of my house right now, or I can have all these people give
you a dose of your own medicine, because Kiss fukking RULES and you
fukking suck. Now get out!" The guy was mortified and he left. I
never saw him again.
RTS : Being a Kiss fan taught me to take a stand. It taught me that being
part of something you believe in can come with a price. But it also gave
me strength. Maybe I never would've even been in a band to begin with if
it wasn't for them.
So that's my Kiss story ..........