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INTERVIEW: STEVE BLAZE from LILLIAN AXE – August 2022

| 23 August 2022 | 1 Reply

According to a recent press release: “Lillian Axe is proud and excited to release its new album, From Womb to Tomb, worldwide on Global Rock Records, on August 19. The current lineup of Lillian Axe, all of whom played on the new album, includes lead guitarist/songwriter Steve Blaze (who wrote all the songs on the new album) and bassist Michael “Maxx” Darby (both of whom remain from the band’s original line-up.)  The current line-up is completed by Brent Graham – lead vocals, Sam Poitevent – guitar / vocals, and Wayne Stokely – drums. From Womb to Tomb is the band’s first new album in ten years and continues the band’s commitment to the melodic hard rock they’ve been performing and recording since their inception in 1988.” We get Steve on the phone to discuss new music, touring, and much more…

Toddstar: Steve, thank you so much for taking time out. I appreciate it.

Steve: Oh, my pleasure, man.

Toddstar: Let’s talk about the exciting news in the world of Lillian Axe, you guys have a new album dropping – From Womb To Tomb. It’s coming out on Global Rock Records. What can you tell us about the album that longtime listeners of Lillian Axe might not grab the first or second time they listen through?

Steve: Well, first of all, it really isn’t… It’s still Lillian Axe, you’re still going to have the quality, the melodies, the harmonies, the big guitars, the solos, everything Lillian Axe. This album is just another chapter in the journey, in our growth, in our way we express things. It’s a very epic, powerful record. Whereas maybe in the early records, we had a few tastes of that type of song with “Ghost of Winter,” “World Stop Turning,” “Waiting in the Dark,” “Living in the Gray,” songs like that, just the entire album is very epic. It’s a lot of light and dark and big harmonies and giant drums and guitars, and lots of strange musical interludes and things that tie this thing into one long, beautiful just piece. This is more like, I say, it’s conceptual, in the fact that everything links together. The way to really get the most out of this, to listen from the beginning to the end, because it was written in and recorded in the order of the events of the story, which is from womb to tomb from the birth and inception of the soul all the way up through the ascension, after one passes from this life into the next. And so it covers all of the ideas and lessons and comprehensions and moments of life that are pivotal in our growth, based around the things that I’ve learned from my childhood up until this point in my life. And these things are all evident and prevalent in everyone’s life, even though we have different paths and journeys. These lessons and realizations are there for everybody. So we capitalized on the fact that we feel that everyone on a planet, although we come from different places and have different I thoughts and ideas and whatever, these lessons and occurrences in people’s lives, I think, are relatively similar, no matter who you are, where you come from.

Toddstar: It’s an interesting concept and listening through it, I get what you’re talking about. It’s a very cohesive piece in the way you’ve laid out the track listing. I don’t want to call it an easy listen, because Lillian Axe albums are always a little more. You have to dig in a little bit to grab the lyrics at times, and make sure you’re digesting it the way that you wanted to, because you might have gotten into the guitar or whatever. But it’s aesthetically an easy listen when you do it front to back.

Steve: I think so it starts to make sense and musically it flows, and that’s what we wanted to do from the beginning. And it actually exceeded our expectations. The quality is great. The mix is great. The mastering job was amazing. We’re just over the top happy about this record, but for those people that just maybe know just a little bit about Lillian Axe from the first record or two, this is our 10th studio record and 15th release. So there’s a lot of journeys in there. I don’t mean the band Journey. I’m talking about a musical journey. It’s an epic album. I’m happy with this record than anyone we’ve ever done before.

Toddstar: That says a lot. My music was very focused in the 80’s as to what bands I did and didn’t listen to, and I stumbled upon an album of yours in the early 90’s, Psychoschizophrenia. I can tell you wholeheartedly in the year 2022, that album still gets at least one solid spin every month. That’s an album that ever since I first heard it, I go back to it. That’s what made me dive into this album. I abandoned everything and dove into this, because from the opening strands of “Breathe” and then rolling into “I Am Beyond,” to me, it had that same feel, that same texture. With only you and Michael Darby from the original line-up, how is it you were able to kind of maintain that vibe or consistency and sound and groove from some of those earlier releases? Obviously, I went back to older albums after I dug into Psychoschizophrenia, the self-titled, Love + War. But how do you keep that kind of consistency in the overall texture and groove of the music with line-up changes?

Steve: Well, because of the fact that I’ve written 98% of the material, so that’s one thing, but I also am a firm believer in a great song is a great song. Let’s put it this way, I’ve written songs in the past that I’ve been like, “God, Elton John would do a great job of that.” I can hear it objectively, like other people doing our material, and it would be still a great song. It might taste a little different. It might come across a little different, but a song is a song. And that’s why a really well-done remake can really add new life to a song. But I’ve always involved myself, even though we’ve had some member changes, with people that I could foresee being the right people to portray these things. We’ve had many great musicians in this band. We’ve had a few different drummers, but every drummer could have done a great job. They were all very good drummers. They all would’ve done a great job on this record. It might have been a little bit different here and there, but the song is still the song. So when I’m writing things, all of the members and their talents and their abilities, it’s like a blender in my head. When I write, I don’t write one little thing at a time, I hear everything, including the individual’s performances. I can hear all that in my head when I’m writing, without even have to really be definitively cognizant about it. It’s hard to explain because a lot of people have asked me over the years, “Well, how do you write? What’s your format?” And I don’t have one. It’s just in my head. Most of my songwriting is done without an instrument in front of me. I’ll hum the ideas into my phone. I’ll write them down. When I get to a guitar, I’ll record it really quickly. But most of the ideas are just, it’s like the things that are put into my blender are ideas and sounds and smells and things I see and things I dream up or whatever. And they all go into this blender, and then when I sit down and start creating the song, it’s already kind of taken formation in my head. Then I just sit down with the instruments and start to record them. It all just seems to flow at that time. It’s not like, some people write a guitar riff first, then they go around the music first, then they come back, and they arrange, and then they do melodies for the vocals, and then they do lyrics. The only thing that I do that’s kind of in a timeline is lyrics. When I’m writing the song, the ideas are already there. The concept of the song and the theme of the song is already there. And a lot of the phrases are already in my head and whatnot. Sometimes the title will come first. It’s really a very non-formational type thing. It’s just, that’s the way it works. Years ago it was a little different, maybe I’d just write some music and then come back to it. But now, over the last 20, 30 years, it’s all just blending around in my head and then I just spit it out when it’s ready, if that makes any sense.

Toddstar: That said, you’ve been at this with Lillian Axe almost 40 years, other than a short break. How different is the process for you now than it was then? You’ve got to assemble everybody’s schedules for a tour. You guys don’t record like you used to; we all know the money’s not there for advances like it used to be. How has the whole process just kind of morphed for you over the last 40 years?

Steve: Well, first of all, one of the things that’s been different is that a lot more is put on the band’s backs. Bands are a lot more proactive than they used to be, they have to be. You don’t have really a lot of great management out there. A lot of great managers, and a lot of labels, you’re either the big, giant majors that don’t touch rock bands anymore, or independents that are on shoestring budgets. I’ve always been very hands on with everything. That aspect hasn’t changed whatsoever. It’s a little bit more difficult on the touring end because I don’t want to go out and do 40 days, running across the country with a couple of vans and equipment trucks. The financial aspect is very different. It’s always been tight, but in the past, there was more of a money flow with labels and clubs. There was more cooperation between local press and venues and TV and video, everybody worked together. It doesn’t happen like that. I think the financial aspect of everything has been the biggest deterrent for bands on many different levels. Our first couple of records, we were spending a few hundred thousand dollars on recording, and we just assumed and trusted the money was going in the right places. We didn’t know. Now I know where every penny goes, and we do great sounding records for a lot cheaper, because we have to. People are more frugal with their money, but as far as, when we get in that practice room and start playing, the passion and love for it is still the same as it always has been. This group of guys is amazing. It’s probably more fun and more unified than it’s ever been. You just kind of look things through a different set of glasses now than you did before. Different things are important right now. This band and this organization has worked really hard on this record and we’re just thrilled about it coming out next week, and then we’re going to do as much support as we can for it.

Toddstar: I’m really hoping we can get you somewhere near Detroit. I’ve never been able to witness a Lillian Axe show live, so I’d love to finally get that under my cap.

Steve: I would love for you to do that. We have some management things going on right now and some changes and some additions to the organization that may be happening soon. I think we’re in a good spot right now. When we get back from this UK tour, we’ll be able to kind of assess what we’re going to do next. We’ve got some some random shows, but once it gets out there and starts making some waves, then we will be able to kind of assess what are we doing next as far as touring.

Toddstar: You talked about the things that are important and accolades not necessarily necessary, but they’re always important, even if it’s for the individual or the collective. You have been inducted to Louisiana Music Hall of Fame twice. Once with Lillian Axe and once under your own name, as a guitarist and a composer. What did it mean to you to have an accolade like that? What does that do for you individually, as a performer, as someone who is constantly creating?

Steve: It is probably the single most validating accolade that we’ve ever gotten. It makes you feel like when you start thinking back in retrospect to when I was six years old and picked the guitar for the first time, and I never quit, and I kept working and I worked hard for all these years. To be recognized like that, especially when we first started coming out and even to this day the local New Orleans press, et cetera, has never given the rock scene down here the recognition and respect that it deserves. They really haven’t. We fought for that all the time. Bands like Lillian Axe, Zebra, and Crowbar, bands that weren’t playing blues or Zydeco or swamp pop, we were playing hard rock, but never got the recognition. When this came about, this wasn’t just about the city of New Orleans. This was about the entire state. I’m sharing this with every fan, every venue, and everybody in Louisiana that has ever supported this band. It was almost like the underdogs having some recognition and then Zebra got inducted after we did. It felt good for them,  because they deserved it as well. So those accolades are very, very important. When they told me they were going to induct me personally, obviously, that was huge for me too. I just take those as blessings, just to be recognized for something that you really put your whole life and heart and soul into as an honor. I hear bands saying, “Oh, I’m getting inducted into the Hall of Fame. We don’t care about that. We don’t care about that.” Well, that’s fine. If you don’t, then that’s fine. And then you just come from a different place than I do. I appreciate it. I appreciate when somebody comes up and says, “Hey, man, like the new song.” I appreciate it. That’s nice. Those things, good gestures, no matter what they’re for are, I think, what we’re supposed to be doing. That’s what we’re here for on this planet to treat each other well, and be nice people and tell them, “Hey, good job,” when you did a good job. I don’t care if you fixed an engine on a car, “You did a good job. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.” That’s what we’re supposed to do here. So I don’t take those things for granted whatsoever.

Toddstar: Looking back, Steve, if there was something you could change about an album, a song, something about your career trajectory, even if it didn’t change, but you just wanted a second proverbial bite at the apple, is there something that just stands out in your mind about your career path from 1983 to 2022 as something you’d like another swing at?

Steve: That’s a good question. I’ve been asked something similar before, like what would you change if you went back?` If I went back and I still had the same mentality that I do now, I would probably make the same decisions. But if I went back knowing what I know now, I would’ve changed a few things and basically on decisions on who I was involved with management wise. And also one of the things that I can be tangible about is when “True Believer” on Poetic Justice came out and was doing very, very well, we should have had a video, because MTV would’ve played it. “True Believer” became a Top 40 song and we didn’t put a video out for it, while it was going up the charts, we should have done a video. Instead, they decided to jump right into the next single, which was not the next single we should have used. It was one of the two only covers we’ve ever done. It was “No Matter What” by Badfinger. We did a video for that. It got a little bit of play, but it was a cover song. People loved it, but we didn’t need to do a cover song. There were plenty of other songs on that record that would’ve been a next single, and the video was I don’t know it was kind of a farcical video with some humor in it, and that’s not what we were about. But we were trusting the label and if it had flipped around and made the album go triple platinum, we’d be going, “Great idea.” So you never know. If I could go back now, we’d rearrange the singles. “True Believer” was a great hit right off the bat, but we didn’t have a video for it, in a time when video was essential, and we went to the wrong singles next. So that aspect of it, I would probably have a major part in changing. I might not have taken that break in ’95, ’96. That wasn’t so much me needing a break where it was everybody else needing a break. We had worked hard for like eight straight years without taking a breather. I was ready to start doing the next record. I started writing and evolving and changing, and as you can tell, Psychoschizophrenia was just a growth from the other records. They all just, were on a path. They weren’t better or worse than each other. They were just different, and they were changing, but it was still us. Some of the band members wanted to be more radio friendly, so to speak. I was like, “I don’t think like those guys. I think, let’s just write great songs and put out a great record. The rest will fall into place.” Because the format for singles is always changing and I kept bringing that up, “Guys, it doesn’t have to be 3:30 with first bridge, chorus, first bridge, chorus, solo, chorus.” Look at “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Stairway to Heaven.” I was looking along those lines. A great song is a great song if it gets pushed. And that’s another thing, if you push anything enough, if there’s any quality to it, and not even having to, really, honestly, have quality to it will, more than likely, if they stay with it’s going to have some success. Case in point is the pet rock. They sold rocks as pets, and it was a huge success, and it was a rock. So I felt like let’s just do quality, quit worrying about all the trappings, and that kind of led to people wanting to do different things and kind of split up for a little bit. After a couple of years of everybody stretching their necks out, we got back together and slowly got back into it.

Toddstar: You mentioned something that was kind of interesting, and I’ve never really thought about Lillian Axe in this way, but you guys kind of came out strong and hard, and instantly got lumped into what we’ll call the hair metal scene. What tripped me was when you talked about the videos being kind of farcical, because let’s be honest, a lot of those videos, while I love the music, the videos, that was the whole point, it was supposed to be the farce, it was supposed to be the sex, drugs, rock and roll lifestyle. You guys were kind of lumped into that, especially at a time when that genre was being phased out, not completely, but there was something new on the horizon coming out of Seattle. Do you think being lumped into the hair metal scene instead of just rock at that time, when the music scene was changing so hard, kind of impeded your guys’ growth or ability to climb the charts or get music on the radio?

Steve: Yeah. The funny part is Poetic Justice came out in ’92, when we were starting to promote it was right when Nirvana’s big record came out. It was really weird, but our most successful records were right at the advent of grunge. You have to step back for a second and think about it. Glam metal, the idea, Ratt, Crüe, all those guys, they get called glam metal, but those were guys, they were writing hard rock songs, but it was all about the trapping. I blame a few things. First of all, fans should be able to look through that. You don’t look at a band and say, “Oh, that guy’s wearing spandex, so I can’t listen to his music.” A lot of people did cut through that and liked the music for the music. But a lot of fans were being egged to make a decision. Look how we are as a society. We look at the outside and make a judgment. People do that with product. They do that with people. You look on the outside, you decide without delving into it. At the same time, the press was the biggest perpetrator of that division. They were out there, “Glam metal is out. This is what’s in.” I listen to all of it. I like Ratt, Crüe, and Queensrÿche and I like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden. What’s the difference? It’s just different flavors of hard rock music. All the guys doing the whole grunge thing, their outfits were just as definitive for that movement as wearing leather and hairspray was just the equivalent of wearing flannel shirts and cut off shorts. Both sides had their own gimmick, so to speak. It’s just about looking the part and there’s nothing wrong with that. The whole idea was the press shouldn’t have made such a division, but that’s what the press does, so that they can sell and get attention. “Oh, we’re the first ones to announce this.” “Oh, we made a big deal out of glam metal is dead and now it’s grunge,” or whatever you want to call it. Think about that, if there hadn’t been a big deal and people just continued to support rock music, it could have all been successful together, but it didn’t happen like that. And what’s happened since then? Has there been any musical movement, notable musical music style or whatever since grunge rock died out after five or six years? You have rock and metal. That’s all there is. There’s no Christmas metal, new flavors of metal, or epic metal, it’s just rock. There’s lots of different flavors. Stop dividing it up, let people hear everything, man. Look, I can listen to Avatar and Tremonti and I can listen to Poison and Aerosmith. What does it matter? It’s all good stuff. You like it all. It’s all good. If you like it, great. If you don’t, move on, there’s plenty more out there for you. But the whole division thing like you’re talking about, getting lumped into things. People be like, “Oh, well, yeah, that’s the guy from Ratt producing the album. They must be like Ratt.” “No, we’re not like Ratt. Why don’t you listen to it first and then make a determination? We have ten albums out. I think you can find something in there that gives us our own unique thing. Just take the time. If you’re really a music fan, you’ll want to do this. It did have its stigma and it did have, and even to this day, sometimes, people that aren’t that familiar with us, “Oh, that’s the band from the 80s’.” That’s when our first record came up, but we have been putting out records for 30 something years.” But that’s humanity, man. That’s society. What can you do?

Toddstar: I’m that guy that I’ve never understood the sub genres and the need to have them. I’ve never understood the need for a record label to subdivide their music other than maybe wanting to try and push into one vein or another.

Steve: Let me give you in relation to another scenario. You ever notice every time you see a new product, a new movie or something, it’s not, “This is really good.” It’s, “This is the greatest ever created by man.” You know? “This movie is the scariest, bloodiest movie of all time.” And then you see it and it’s like, “It’s really not, but it was good.” There’s always got to be this major accent on sensationalism to get people, because we’re so burnt out. So many people have done that same thing over and over again, that we’re kind of numb to stuff. How many times have you heard, “This is the best pizza of place in the world.” And you go eat there and you’re like, “It’s really good, but it’s not the best.” Why don’t you just say, “Hey, man, this is really good”? We have to sensationalize to get people’s interest. That’s kind of a shame. It comes down to the individual. Take your time. If you like something and you really are looking for something good, take your time, listen to it, watch it. When I see people after they see a movie, and they come back and they go, “That movie was horrible.” And I see it, and think, “There’s nothing wrong with it.” I start thinking about, you paid $10 to see this, do you know how much money was put into this? Do you know how many people’s sweat, work, and passion went into creating something for you for $10 to see it and go, ‘Oh, this sucks.” That’s all down to it. I think as a fan of anything, you owe yourself to be open minded, get into it, and if you don’t like it, that’s fine, move on. Don’t be rude about it. Don’t be, “Oh, that movie was horrible. That actor sucks, or this sucks.” It’s easy to use those terms. It’s easy for anybody to say something sucks. But when you find something amazing that you really like, think about how good that is for you. When you find that album that you love, or that you see that movie that moved you, or you meet that person, that was just a cool person that changes your life. I’m mentioning that because that’s what we deal with on the music level on many other levels of being a human being.

Toddstar: Fast forward to 2022 and the new album. I’m interested to see what the feedback is on other levels. You’ve got 16 tracks, 12 full songs, four interludes. If you had to pick a track or two out of the new album, Steve, that would hold up against anything in your catalog and will be a part of your legacy, which couple tracks would you choose from the new album?

Steve: I honestly would pick all of them, but if there are a couple of them that I think, if I said, “Okay, you got two to get an idea about what we are about” or to give you an idea in two songs, it would probably… Let me have three. I would probably say, “I Am Beyond,” “Dance of the Maggots,” and the very last two tracks are “From The Mountaintops” and “Ascension.” They kind of really go hand in hand, because one is about the passing of human life right into the ascension into heaven. They go hand in hand, emotionally. So I have to put those together. And “Feelings Of Absinthe.” So there you go. Four, I couldn’t trim it down lower.

Toddstar: Well, you hit the two that I go back to. “Feelings Of Absinthe” is actually playing in the background right now. I love that track. There’s something about it; I think it’s the vocal textures laid against the guitars that I like. “Dance of the Maggots,” I was so afraid to listen to another opus, because you get some of those songs that are seven, eight, nine minutes long, you think, “God, when will this end?” This one doesn’t feel like that.

Steve: I agree. And that’s one of the things, and when I write, I don’t think about the time. I think about listening and staying in it, and that’s why I try not to have these elongated guitar solos or things, unless it works. I want people’s interest to stay moving. If you notice in all of our songs, they start, then they build, then they morph and change. The first verse may be reminiscent of the second verse, but there’s some changes, whether the melody changes a bit, there’s introduction of a new layer or something else comes in there. It’s always designed to just keep the flow and keep interest. At the end of it, you’ve gone from here and you’re exhilarated and not like, “Okay, I can’t wait for this song to be over. It’s too long. There’s a four-minute guitar solo at the end.” There’s a lot of time spent on that. You’re right about that, because sometimes those long songs will get you. On this one there’s so much going on there and it’s such a buildup and then it throws you these curves here and there. Let me tell you a quick story about “Feelings of Absinthe.” It’s the only song in the record that I had any kind of help in writing. My son who’s 13 now, maybe six years ago or so he was playing on his iPad. He had his little keyboard kind of thing. He actually wrote that intro riff on his keyboard, and he was playing and I went, “Hey, man, what is that?” He’s like, “I’m playing dad.” And I’m going, “Wait, hold on. Let me get my guitar.” I drag out my guitar. And I say, “Hey, watch dad play what you just did on the guitar.” And I did it and he was like, “Oh, okay, whatever, that’s cool, next.” I recorded it and I’m like, “Wow, I’m using that one day.” When I started writing that song and I was listening to my riff ideas, I was looking for one that felt right for this song and that little thing that he wrote came on. I said, “I’m using that” and that’s the main riff for the song. I am really proud. He still doesn’t understand that he got album credit for writing the song yet.

Toddstar: Hey, he might understand it when he gets a royalty check.

Steve: Exactly. He has said, “Dad, I get any money for that.” I said, “If it sells, yeah. It goes towards your rent, but yeah.”

Toddstar: Thanks for sharing that tidbit on that song Steve. I’ve got one more for you before we cut you loose if you don’t mind. I know everybody’s songs are like their children, it’s hard to pick one. It’s hard to say, “This doesn’t belong,” whatever. At the end of the day, when this is all over and they’re carving out your tombstone, if you could pick one song title from your catalog that meant the most to you on one level or another – emotional, spiritual, professionally, or personally what one song title would you have etched on your tombstone?

Steve: The title “I Am Beyond.” The song is about the realization.  “Breathe,” which is when the child is born and because creation of an entity, a soul is created that will live forever, in my opinion. “I Am Beyond” is that realization; the start of the rest of the eternal journey. “I Am Beyond,” it’s the power and beauty of God’s gift and our souls and our spirits and everything we have to look forward for the rest of eternity. I think that would probably be the most uplifting and powerful statement I could make about myself and about life.

Toddstar: Well, the album drops August 19 and I can’t wait to see how fans new and old react to From Womb To Tomb. We wish you well with the release, the UK tour coming up, and hopefully with the management changes put into place, we can get a tour across the US.

Steve: Well, thanks, man. Todd, look, I appreciate it, man. Thanks for all the support and I hope to see you soon.

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Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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  1. Richard Burch says:

    I Am Beyond, Golden Dragon, From the Mountaintops are my favorites off From Womb to Tomb. Really Awesome rock n roll from New Orleans,La. .. If u get a chance go see them live.

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