August 24, 2012
One of the runaway cable hits in recent years has been VH1’s That Metal Show, a production cobbled together with the barest of bones, featuring three regular guys from Jersey (host Eddie Trunk and comedians Don Jamieson and Jim Florentine), sitting around and talking about hard rock and heavy metal. Were it not for the the guys’ unmitigated passion for metal, their profane sincerity and the massive, eye-watering doses of ball-busting (they are from Jersey, after all), the show might have never left the ground. The trio’s lack of pretense and utter likeability however, have inspired the show’s evolution from a late-night placeholder to a bona fide cultural epicenter for hard rock and heavy metal fans across the globe.
That Metal Show’s increase in popularity is due in no small part to a roster of guests that reads like a “Who’s Who” of heavy music’s biggest names. Members of Black Sabbath, Metallica, Judas Priest and Guns ‘N Roses regularly turn up to not simply chat with the hosts, but to play trivia games with fans and to occasionally serve as guest musicians. New episodes of the show’s eleventh and current season are now playing on VH1, and 2012 will see That Metal Show tape its 100th episode, which is remarkable for any television program, let alone one centered around a trio of shit-talking metalheads colorfully debating subjects like the five greatest title tracks of all time.
None of this would be possible without Eddie’s enthusiasm and his spine-taxing work ethic. The man is both a fan and a crusader, and between TMS and his two popular radio shows on SiriusXM and Q104.3, Eddie enjoys uncommonly rich access to the intersecting worlds of hard rock and heavy metal. In 2011 he penned an enormously successful book and he is routinely asked to emcee major concerts and music festivals. This weekend, in fact, he will be in Las Vegas serving as a presenter at the 2012 Vegas Rocks Awards.*
2012 has unleashed an astonishing, colorful and often tragic array of stories, from highly-anticipated reunions to messy public break-ups, to the unpredictable tipping of the scales of justice. With so much history unfolding and some rather interesting events taking shape in the coming months, we thought it was a good time to pause and assess the State of the Union of Rock and Metal, and we knew there was no better commentator than Eddie Trunk.
It’s been such a momentous year for metal and hard rock. What do you see as the biggest stories so far?
I think the return of Van Halen is certainly a big story—first there’s what’s happened since their reunion with David Lee Roth, and since the new album came out to a fairly mixed reaction; and then the fairly mixed reactions, on a number of levels, of people who have seen their tour.
Then you have what’s going on with Queensrÿche at the moment, which is certainly a really interesting story, because rarely do fans get to see the inner turmoil, and the inner workings of the legal aspects, and it can be so raw and so out there for people to truly see what’s going on. Most recently, those are two that I’ve been asked about an awful lot.
One of the biggest headlines, and you’ve been consistently vocal about this, was the Guns ‘N Roses Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction this year. Do you think that’s finally over or is this a new chapter?
I hope people have kind of moved on from hoping and waiting for that reunion because I don’t see it happening, and I know that in talking to Slash and some of the guys, that the fact that the Hall of Fame happened, and that Axl didn’t go, and that it went down like it went down, in a lot of their minds, they feel that “OK, that finally puts a button on this.” If it wasn’t going to happen for that, it’s clearly not happening and it’s time to move on.
I assume that some people will not move on and they will continue to try to hope and wish for that reunion because it’s such an enormous thing, and there’s a whole new generation of people who never saw the very short lifespan of the original band. But I think that it’s kind of foolish to sit around and hope for that. I think the ship has sailed and I’ve gotta be honest, it’s not something that I’m clamoring for. Because of the personalities involved and because of how volatile the situation was, even if they were to do something, it could implode at any moment if it happens. Who knows if the show actually gets off the ground or how many shows they play? I am not pushing for something like that because I truly love what these guys, most of them at least, are doing outside of the band. I think that if you’re sitting there fixating on a Guns reunion, you may be missing out on the fact that Slash has got an incredible band and is making some incredible new music. Embrace that, because I don’t see the reunion happening. And you’ll get a few Guns songs when you go see him as well.
People ask me all the time, “What about Guns ‘N Roses?” and “What about that version of the band?” I think that’s a tremendous band; there are great players in that band, but it’s a completely different thing. Of course it’s not like the original band—how could it be? If you like it, great, enjoy it and embrace that. But I think that Adler’s new music is unbelievable. No one thought Steven was going to produce something as good as what he just put out. I understand people wanting to see the original band again, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wouldn’t be there also wanting to see it, but I’m not transfixed on it. I just think that it’s extremely unlikely that it will happen after everything that’s gone on.
Another big fracture among one of rock’s institutions occurred with Black Sabbath, and some stuff obviously—what happened to Tony—is outside everyone’s control, but what happened with Bill is a little bit different. If you took the pulse of that band right now, what would you think?
It’s tough to say. It’s really tough to figure out what’s going on there with the Bill Ward situation. I think first and foremost, above and beyond everything, you hope that Tony’s OK (Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi revealed this year that he is undergoing treatments for lymphoma, which led to the cancellation of the band’s world tour). I haven’t spoken to Tony in awhile but people who saw the show in Chicago said that he appeared healthy, and the same with the show in England. I don’t know what the inner dynamics are with this business stuff with Bill Ward, but I know Bill to be a very sincere guy who speaks from the heart, and I thought it was pretty admirable that, much like the Queensrÿche situation, he put it out there in black and white terms. Most artists shy away from acknowledging when it’s a business thing or when something has to do with money; they shroud it as something else and I give Bill a lot of credit for saying what he was dealing with, which was a contractual situation.
I think it really sucks that he’s not part of this. Whatever this is, no matter whose side you want to believe, it’s the fans that lose. To me, how I would have done Black Sabbath, and call me crazy, but I would had all four guys getting an equal quarter cut, and that would have solved everything. I’m kind of shocked that it wasn’t like that. These guys are all up there in age. Let’s be honest, how much do any of them really have left in the tank? How many more years can any of them be doing this effectively? So you’ve got the original four guys! They’re the four guys that started it all! They’re the guys who put in all the hard work and when they had nothing, they created heavy metal. So why not go out the way it started—all for one and one for all? Unfortunately, you’ve got a band where everybody has different representation and who don’t see it that way. But I would have done it that way just for the nostalgia of it. You’ve got your four brothers who started all this, let’s let everybody everybody get one last bite of the apple equally. Let’s go do a year or two and then wrap it up. That’s how I would have looked at it, but clearly there are others who don’t feel this way.
I think the other massive headline from the world of heavy metal is what happened to Randy Blythe. My question to you is a bit more pointed: as we still get our arms around what happened, why do you think that situation did not attract as much attention as other music-related headlines this year?
That’s a great question and I really don’t know. I can only think that the mainstream media don’t know who Randy Blythe is, and I think that it’s unfortunate that your level of mainstream popularity would dictate whether something gets coverage in the media. It should simply be that it’s an American musician who has been detained and wrongfully imprisoned. It’s baffling to me. Sometimes you wonder, in the mainstream media and the mainstream news, if they’re afraid to do something like that because they don’t know anything about it; they don’t know anything about the music and they don’t have the reporter or anybody who could have any real knowledge about this genre or the band. I can’t imagine it. I mean, anybody could read a bio or go on Wikipedia and learn something about Randy if they wanted to sound a little more educated about the guy’s history. It was extremely frustrating because maybe that kind of attention could have expedited getting him out of jail and bringing him home.
It’s a strange context for sure, and you might understandably think, “OK, I get it—he’s a middle-aged heavy metal guy. Maybe the news outlets can’t use him to sell shampoo.” But when you look at what happened with Pussy Riot—a band that no one had heard of until they were jailed for their protest in Russia—who have rightfully received so much global support, it’s a bit mystifying that Randy’s struggle was all but ignored, in his own country, no less.
I agree and I was thinking of that very comparison. I had never heard of Pussy Riot and obviously that’s a huge story right now. That’s extremely strange—why that and not Randy? I don’t know and it’s hard to try to figure out, but I know that the metal community and as many people as possible tried to create awareness for that situation and tried everything they could, whether it be Twitter or Facebook or social media or whatever, but it was largely ignored for whatever reason. Quite frankly, now that he’s out, it’s still pretty much ignored. You’d think there would be some follow-up to this, but I’ve seen nothing in terms of the big media. The follow up is just as important so people can find out where this goes from here and why this happened. It’s a cautionary tale.
Moving into more positive territory, what in your opinion have been the best releases of the year to date?
I love the new Overkill album. I think Overkill is a tremendously underrated heavy metal band, and I think their new album, The Electric Age, is one of the best albums that they have ever put out. It’s recorded well, it’s mixed well and the songs are great. It’s old school thrash in every sense of the term and I really, really love that album as far as metal albums are concerned.
On the hard rock side, I think the new Slash album is fantastic. It’s great that he’s doing an album with an actual band. This is not a group of hired guns, this is now his band, and they’re all contributing. Myles (singer Myles Kennedy) is great with him and they’ve made a great record together.
What records are you looking forward to hearing that haven’t come out yet?
The new Aerosmith for sure. I saw them live and they were phenomenal. It’s crazy to think that you’ve got a band that’s forty years on and still with the original guys and in my opinion, still so good. I’m also looking forward to the new Black Country Communion album, and that’s coming soon from what I understand. So those two come to mind pretty quickly.
Mark Tremonti, I think, took a lot of people by surprise by releasing an album that is a truly heavy thrash feast. Have you been surprised by anything that’s happened this year, either positive or negative?
I’m kind of surprised that more has not happened with the Van Halen album. I would have thought that that album would have done more. Summertime just feels like Van Halen time. You should be hearing four or five different songs from that album coming out of the radio, but it seems like it’s very off-the-radar already. I think that’s surprising when you consider it’s a new Van Halen album with David Lee Roth singing for the first time in God knows how long. Then again, Van Halen can probably take some of the blame themselves for that, because they did virtually zero press to promote it and they didn’t do radio interviews and they did very little press in any way. I still think though that that album has some songs on it that have this classic Van Halen feel, and I expected more of a buzz from a Van Halen record with Roth, and it just didn’t feel like it really happened. Again, I think you can put some of the blame for that on the band themselves for not really doing anything to promote it.
You and I talked at the outset how the more extreme strains of metal aren’t your main focus, so extreme metal aside, where are the most exciting things happening now in hard rock and heavy metal?
A lot of times with music, however you break it out, whether it be the hard rock stuff, the metal stuff, the more extreme metal stuff, the black metal, prog metal, whatever, it seems like if you look back over time, one of those genres is always kind of peaking. And I think now you have a situation where everything has kind of leveled off and in that sense it’s a good time because everything has a pretty equal fan base right now and I think that’s healthy.
Will we see a time when these records really follow through and see something that really breaks and gets on radio? I don’t know. People ask all the time, “Do you think we’ll see anything like MTV in the 80s?” I don’t know. I don’t feel like that’s the case, but I think it’s unfortunate that so few people seem to care about new music. You’ve got major bands putting out new albums and very few people seem to be really excited or care about it. I don’t know if there are too many diversions or what. There’s a level of nostalgia for the 80s and MTV, hard rock stuff, and you’ve got Poison and Def Leppard out there touring together. Then you’ve got the more extreme stuff, the power metal stuff, the death metal stuff…some of that has become very popular. You’ve got prog-leaning stuff; Dream Theater are still out there doing their thing; (Mike) Portnoy’s got this thing out there called Flying Colors and they’re out doing a couple shows, so you’ve got all these little kind of sub-sections of metal, and they all seem to be relatively healthy.
Now if you look back in the 90s, the hard rock stuff couldn’t get arrested because it was all about grunge. So it’s very much a leveling factor, which I think is good and it’s going to be interesting to see what really catches from here and if there is a big movement again.
So would you say that the state of the union for hard rock and heavy metal is healthy? Are we in a recession or is your prognosis more optimistic?
I think it’s optimistic in the sense that in the rock and metal world I think we’ve moved away from what’s hip and what’s trendy. I think it’s all out there on the table right now and people seem to have more of an open mind to listening to and exploring new music. I just don’t know what is going to really succeed. Of course you’re always going to have your mega-bands. If AC/DC tour, everybody’s going to go see them. When Metallica plays, everyone’s going to go see them. But below that, I don’t know what jumps forward. You have a band like Volbeat, which has a pretty good buzz going about them on right now, which is a pretty unconventional-sounding band, so I don’t know. Do they get a foothold? Do they become the next big thing? People ask me all the time, “What do you think the next big thing is going to be?” I don’t know. God, if I knew, I’d make millions, but I don’t know and I just think that we’re at a place now where it feels like it could come from anywhere. We’re in a pretty unique time where nothing would surprise me emerging from all these sub-genres of music.
You’ve got quite a lineup of guests for the current season of That Metal Show.
We love whenever we have an opportunity to do new shows. There are six new ones coming up that haven’t aired yet; the one that airs this Saturday is actually maybe the most topical show that we’ve done in a sense, because Geoff Tate is in it and Geoff has really not talked much about his side of everything that’s gone down with Queensrÿche, and still hasn’t. With television, obviously there’s a lot of lead time between when you shoot and when you air, but we shot this show just three weeks ago, and it’s getting to air pretty quickly. Geoff hasn’t really done much in discussing his side of it, so for eight minutes at least, people will get a chance to hear directly from him and get his take on what went down.
Another big thing in this run of shows is we finally got (Iron Maiden bassist) Steve Harris on, and people have been asking about that forever, and that worked out because Maiden were playing in L.A. when we were there taping and we finally were able to get him on and we did a full hour with him and that’s coming up in a few weeks as well. We’re coming up on our 100th episode of the show, which is pretty remarkable, and people seem to be loving it and of course I love doing it, so we’ll keep doing it until they don’t want to anymore. But so far, so good.
I think the show’s evolved really well and I think people realize that we’re going to continue to evolve. Even though the show is called That Metal Show, we are going to get broader in the sense that we’re going to have more rock acts on. We had Paul Rodgers on and people really loved it. In this current season, we have Ann and Nancy from Heart on, and we also have King Diamond on. So we’re always going to have metal guys on, but we also have to have a little bit of a wider net as the show grows and evolves.
Do you have plans to do another book?
Actually I’m about to start the process very, very soon. I have a call with the publisher tomorrow so we’re at the point now where we have a tentative agreement and it looks like it’s going to move forward. The first book did tremendously well and I’m really grateful to all the people who bought it and who still buy it. As you say, I’m still going out and doing stuff for it from time to time because books have a really long life, especially if you’re willing to get out and work them a little bit.
But I will start working on the new book, probably tomorrow. The publisher wants to put it out towards the end of next year, and there’s a huge lead time doing books, so I’ve got to get them text by the end of this year, so I’ve got to start working. People ask me what it will be like, and it will be more or less a part II along with the current book. So if people have the current book, in the back you’ll notice there’s a quick paragraph on a lot of bands, instead of a full three or four pages. Those were actually written and got cut, so a lot of those bands will get full chapter treatments and a lot of other ones too. It’ll be more of a sequel and a continuation of the first book.
So you’re going to be in Vegas this weekend and presumably, you’re going to walk past a sports book at some point. Are you going to place a Super Bowl bet and if so, can you share it with us?
(laughing) I don’t do the advance betting thing. I would certainly put a bet in at the sports book if we were in the regular season of football, because I love betting football but I only do it in Vegas, to keep me out of trouble. I plan on going back to Vegas in November for vacation. This weekend is not a vacation, it’s more of a working trip, so I’ll go back in a couple months and have my G0-Crazy-in-Vegas time and do all that sort of stuff. But I usually don’t do future bets when I’m there. I worry about losing the ticket and all that, but I’ll take a look at the line on my Giants and see, because a lot of people are forgetting how good they are and not giving them the credit they deserve for having won the Super Bowl, so their odds may be in a good spot right now.
I love Vegas and I love football and I love going there and betting on the games, but I’ll only do it in Vegas, because a lot of my friends back here have bookies and stuff, but I will not engage in that; not because of the legalities of it, but because I know I would get in trouble if I got into it at that level. I might never get out! (laughing). So I only do it once or twice a year when I’m in Vegas, and that keeps it in check.
Thanks a million for your time, Eddie.
Thanks Joe, great speaking with you.
*Eddie will be selling and signing copies of his book at the Hard Rock Casino merch store on Sunday, August 26, from 3:30-5 p.m.