Interview ~ Frankie Banali of Quiet Riot

Frankie Banali has a long list of credentials including playing with Billy Idol, Faster Pussycat, W.A.S.P., Heavy Bones and Steppenwolf, but people probably know him best for sitting behind the drumkit for Quiet Riot since 1982. The band’s story sounds like it was scripted for an episode of VH1’s Behind the Music, but every up and down experienced by them actually happened. Their Metal Health album was the first heavy metal album to reach #1 on Billboard’s charts and the first the first heavy metal debut album to hit #1. It also contained the first heavy metal song to reach the Top Five with “Cum on Feel the Noize.” Their fall from grace happened almost as quickly as their rise. Internal turmoil, numerous personnel changes and the death of lead singer Kevin Dubrow would have been enough for some to throw in the towel, but Banali is as tough and determined as they come.

After recording a brand new album entitled Road Rage for Frontiers Music Srl, it quickly became apparent that vocalist Seann Nichols wasn’t the right fit for the band and his release papers were issued. Banali welcomed American Idol Season Ten contestant James Durbin into the Quiet Riot family and it proved to be a perfect fit. The release of the new album was delayed as Banali decided to scrap the original sessions and record a new version of the album with the new and improved line-up. The band’s lineup is completed by veteran bassist Chuck Wright (who has been in and out of the band since 1982), guitarist Alex Grossi (who has been in the band since 2004). The new album was released on August 4, 2017 and the band has already been out on the road performing live. They even released the first new Quiet Riot video in thirty years! We had the honor of sitting down with Banali and talking about the new album, bringing Durbin on-board and much more!

How’s it going?

Frankie Banali/Quiet Riot: It’s going great; how about you?

Things are great and I’ve really been looking forward to talking to you today. I know you’ve done thousands of these over the years, so I will try to keep it as painfree as possible.

It’s all great and the fact that you want to talk to me today is great. With me, it’s never cookie cutter or padded answers so the content will be the truth; it’s just how it’s delivered.

I respect that about you and you are as real as it gets.

Thank you, I appreciate that.

 A lot has happened in the Quiet Riot camp since we got our first press release about the new Road Rage album which was originally slated for release in April. Is it true that you initially wanted James for this new album, but it was a timing thing?

Here’s the timeline; when I was approached by Frontiers in late 2015 about doing a record for them and I had finally decided that it was the right time to do one with them. When we signed a contract with Frontiers, we were already touring and Jizzy Pearl was singing in the band. Everything was going great with Jizzy, but I always knew that his heart was really on his solo career. Just as soon as I signed the deal, Jizzy was very up front and he gave notice that he was going to branch out and go solo, but he wanted to finish out the touring year. He wanted to concentrate writing material for his own thing and not Quiet Riot and I was fine with. My first choice was James, but I did not follow the American Idol franchise. A friend of mine told me that this metal guy was on the show and I was intrigued.  He was right and James was great; this guy was really good and I hoped good things would happen for him and that was it. When it came time for me to have somebody come into Quiet Riot, I needed somebody to tour and work on the record. I got in touch with James and he wanted to do it, but he had had literally just signed an agreement to do a residency in Las Vegas which was open ended and didn’t even give me an option. From there, I went to Jacob Bunton who had just finished his tenure with Steven Adler’s Appetite. Jacob is a great looking guy, great singer, great songwriter and he wanted to do it but he decided he wanted to take some time off of the road. He could do the record, but he wasn’t going to be able to tour so that ended up being unfortunately a dead-end for me. I went with option number three which, unfortunately after only five live shows, it became very apparent that the situation wasn’t going to work or improve and it was better to just dismiss Mr. Nichols than to continue with him. The new record had already been recorded and delivered to the label. It’s important to understand that all of the music for the record was written primarily by me and my writing partner Neil Citron who also engineered the record. Then, Alex Grossi wrote a great ballad called “The Road” and Chuck Wright brought this gem of a riff which became a song called “Still Wild” so we had written all of the music. When it came time to make the change I got in touch with the label and I let them know that we were changing the lineup. I petitioned to let them go into the studio and re-record all of the vocals with brand new lyrics and brand new melodies. James never heard the first version of the record; all I ever gave him was the music and there you have it. There is the timeline.

Wow, I thought the vocals were the only thing changed, but I had no idea about the lyrics.

Yes, it’s all brand new lyrics that James wrote and new vocal melodies that he wrote. He never heard the other version so that there could never be any claims of anything nefarious happening. It’s totally new, but the great thing that James brought to the table is that he elevated the music and took the songs to a level that they deserved to achieve in the first place.

The guy has such a great energy that he brings to everything!

What’s great about him is that there was never a doubt in my mind about auditioning him for the live aspect of the band; I knew that he had the vocal range both top and bottom but I also knew that he was a great performer. I never tried to replace Kevin; Kevin Dubrow is irreplaceable and it’s as simple as that. He was a very unique character and a very unique vocalist and one of the most energetic performers I have ever known. He really loved to be on stage and that has been something that has been lacking since I started the band back up in 2010 until we got James. Those were critical factors that we were lacking and we weren’t firing on all cylinders until James came on-board. I initially sent James the entire Quiet Rio live setlist, and then I sent him links to all of the original versions. Equally as important is that I sent him links to all of the live versions with Kevin singing so that he could understand the difference between the recorded versions and how we did them live. We did two rehearsals and the following week we were out on the road gigging and James was accepted by the fans from day one.

I remember getting excited when I saw that James was working on Maps to the Hollywood Scars with Alex (Grossi). I remember telling a friend that it would be awesome if that opened the door for him to maybe step into the lead vocalist role for Quiet Riot. It wasn’t too long after that release came out that the official announcement happened.

Here’s an interesting piece of the puzzle; I knew that James had the talent, charisma and energy that I wanted for Quiet Riot, but I hadn’t worked with him on any new material. While James and Alex were working on Hollywood Scars, I sent James the music to a new song for the new Quiet Riot record, but I didn’t tell him that’s what it was for. I told him that I wanted to send him a song and see what he could do with it. To give you an idea how on top of it James is, that evening I got back a rough demo where he had written the lyrics and melodies and put down a vocal and Alex put down a guitar solo. In literally less than a day I got this back and then I said, ‘now I have something to work with.’ That song ended up being “Can’t Get Enough” which is the first music video that Quiet Riot has done in almost three decades.

I love that song and video! I also love the black and white stripes in the video and the great memories that it brings back for me and hopefully other Quiet Riot fans.

It’s really funny because it’s the culmination of a lot of things. The black and white stripe look is something that’s synonymous with Quiet Riot. Before I met Kevin, he was already doing the black and white striped micstand and all of that, but I’ve got pictures of me while I was out on tour with Steppenwolf where I was wearing the black and white striped tops. So, it was something that in a weird way we were on the same wave length before we had even met each other. Then, when we met each other we couldn’t believe that we liked so much of the same things as far as music was concerned and bands. The black and white stripe thing is something I wanted to reintroduce into the video since we hadn’t done a video in almost thirty years. Also another part of it is that I love those black and white Fellini movies. As it worked out when Regina storyboarded the idea for the video, the black and white stripe thing worked out very well with the vivid colors that she used. It’s almost a 60s kind of vibe being a very moving, very colorful and bright video that she created.

Things have changed so much from back in the day when you released a new album. I think you guys had released two or three tracks for the fans to check out before the album had even been released.

It’s a whole different thing now and one of the reasons that I continue to do what I do with Quiet Riot is because I’m still a fan. I was always a fan and I find it really sad that there’s at least two generations that don’t understand. I would call me local record store to check to see if a record that I wanted had come in yet and I would call every day and check on it until it did. As soon as it came in, I would run out of the house with my pocket change that I had collected and buy it. I would bring it home, take the shrink wrap off, put the record on and listen to it as I read the liner notes. I would look at the pictures and see if there was one of them in the studio and it was a very personal event. It was a like a personal red carpet for every record that I ever bought. Now, it’s become so disposable that there are 30,000 songs that come out in a blink of an eye that you have access to and you don’t really take the time to listen to any of them thoroughly. It’s sad and the illegal downloads as well have really devalued the art.

Dude, I used to study the liner notes better than I studied for an exam in school!

Oh yeah, this was before the internet and if you loved the album cover and wanted to know more about who did it, you really had to dig. You couldn’t just Google this and find out who these people were. When all of those YES albums came out with all of that great artwork, I had to find out everything about the artist. It was a passion because you didn’t just listen to the music, you lived the music and it’s completely different now.

You mentioned the audience accepting James and I wanted to ask more about that. Fans are very passionate and defensive about their lead singers and are reluctant to change. I’ve had people tell me that James’ vocals are too different and they’re not right for those songs. It made me gravitate to two things from the Well Now You’re Here, There’s No Way Back documentary.  Rudy (Sarzo) told you in the documentary that you needed to keep the legacy going and the other thing is the quote from you dad about having two choices. Does the negativity get to you from some of these people who won’t give change a chance?

There are a couple of factors; one of the things that I always look at when someone criticizes Quiet Riot or me personally or the choices that I’ve made is I look at the source of the criticism. If the source of the criticism isn’t valid, then it’s a bankrupt opinion. I mean, everyone is entitled to an opinion but it’s just that. It doesn’t make it the truth, it doesn’t make it fact and it’s not usually well researched. It doesn’t really bother me because I can tell you from day one that, even before we recorded Metal Health, everyone put us down. Nobody thought we were any good or were going to make it. Even when we were successful, there were people who still didn’t like us. Those kinds of things don’t bother me and I look at the source. I look at the source and if the source isn’t credible, then I simply don’t care. People have tunnel vision and they get stuck on this thing that the only viable Quiet Riot to them is the Quiet Riot that recorded the Metal Health record. The reality of it is that the band went through so many changes; that lineup only did two records with Metal Health and Condition Critical. By the time we did the third record, Rudy was gone, by the time we did the fourth record, Chuck and Kevin were gone. The lineup has changed almost record by record with very few exceptions. If you don’t want to like it, I’m not going to force you to like it. It doesn’t matter and I’m not going to lose any sleep over what the critics have to say as long as I stay true to myself. As long as I do the best possible job that I can do for Quiet Riot and my team in Quiet Riot. As long as I continue to respect the fans and I’m talking about the real fans and not the ones who pretend to be. I can tell you with little or no reservation that a lot of the people who are now saying “no Kevin Dubrow, no Quiet Riot” are the same people that in Kevin’s lifetime wouldn’t give him the time of day or criticized and literally crucified him time and time again. Those people that say “if it isn’t the classic Quiet Riot lineup” which is impossible without Kevin, but even if Kevin was still with us that lineup got back together in ‘97 and released two records and nobody cared. Nobody was saying ‘hey the classic lineup is back;’ they were saying ‘those old has beens are trying to relive the past.’ When you take all of those things into consideration, how deep do you think it cuts? Not at all.

I’ve always thought that Quiet Riot is the Rodney Dangerfield of metal.

Oh yes!

I mean, how many bands can say that they leap frogged over Michael Jackson’s Thriller to hit #1?

One, Quiet Riot! We didn’t stop with the Police either!

That’s right because I forgot to mention their Synchronicity album

Every night I go to bed knowing that I did the best job that I possibly could. I wake up the next day and I’m always ready for the good fight. I’ve never backed down from a fight all of my life and I’m not going to start now.

I would expect from you because you are one of the most passionate, genuine and real people that I have ever crossed paths with on my journey. I have a fan question from Jason in California who wants to know your thoughts looking back on the Terrified album?

It’s a really, really great record and I think it showed a different side to Quiet Riot. There was heavier material on that record than what we had predominately done. For me it was a really, really important record because what happens in the history of Quiet Riot as you know; it’s a hallmark record for me for different reasons. Kevin and I, as you know, were like brothers in every sense of the word in that you fought, you argued and you didn’t always agree. After we had to part company with Kevin because of some of the issues that were happening internally with the band after the QR3 record, it wasn’t until the Terrified record that Kevin and I got back together again. That was the beginning of what ended up being the most solid friendship that we had through the rest of his life. It was also 1993 which was the year that the band asked me to manage the band and I’ve been managing it ever since. That record is also important not only for being probably the heaviest record that Quiet Riot has ever done, but also being the gateway for me being able to work with Kevin again professionally and on a personal level.

Jason also wanted to know if there’s any chance of a Heavy Bones reunion and/or new album?

Probably not; I know that Joel (Ellis) the singer had lobbied for it a lot. I know that Gary (Hoey) has been doing his own thing for a while and I’ve played on two of his solo records. I love Gary and he’s great and a phenomenal person, but he’s not interested. I wasn’t all that interested because bass player Rex Tennyson, who is a great bass player and a really sweet guy but he’s kind of disappeared off the face of the earth. I think Joel wanted us to do it with his son. It was a great record and a great record for its time; it’s unfortunate that it came out on 1992 when nobody cared about that kind of music. That band never toured and I think we did under a half dozen shows, if that. If it didn’t work back then, I don’t see it working now.

Is there anything else on your radar that you want to mention before we wrap this up?

I’m really excited about Road Rage being released, the new music video and Quiet Riot continues to tour. The bottom line for everything in my life and one of the main reasons that I have been able to have the life that I have, which is a life in music, is that I completely owe it to two things. Initially, it’s hard work, but more importantly the fan support. Without the fans there wouldn’t be bands, without the fans there wouldn’t be a Quiet Riot and without the fans there wouldn’t be a Frankie Banali as far as a professional musician. I have a lot of things to be thankful for and one of those is the fan support and we’re getting into four decades before long.

I can’t wait to see you guys out on the road for these dates and I wanted to share one personal thing before we wrap this up. I saw you guys back in August of 2007 in Greensboro, North Carolina and the band did a meet and greet afterwards. I was thrilled to finally meet you and Kevin, but I didn’t fully realize the impact of that until I heard the news three months later of Kevin’s passing.

You were lucky that you got to meet him and it will be ten years this November that we lost Kevin. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t feel his presence or think of him. For twenty seven years, Kevin and I always walked up on stage together whenever possible. After he passed, that is something that has become a solitary thing for me. I do feel him up on that drum riser every time I get up there to play. I feel him busting my balls when I don’t play a fill just right, so he’s not far from me.

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