Interview ~ Ron Young of Little Caesar

Little Caesar was founded smack n the middle of the rise of  the hair bands back in 1987 by lead vocalist Ron Young. People really didn’t know what to make of these five long haired, tattooed bikers who rocked just as hard as many on the scene, but they also had this soulful sound that you didn’t find in other similar bands at the time. They also had quite a few big names in their corner as the legendary Jimmy Iovine was their manager, they had the legendary A&R man John Kalodner and they were produced by Bob Rock. On paper, it seemed like a formula for success that couldn’t be beat. Little Caesar’s eponymous 1990 Geffen debut contained a killer version of Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” that dominated the airwaves and MTV. Then, it seemed as if their fame was only going to be limited to Andy Warhol’s famed “fifteen minutes” reference. I guess you could partially credit it to the emergence of grunge and labels shifting almost all of their attention in that direction. The band seemed to just disappear as quickly as they rose up, but reformed in 2001 for a series of live shows. 2009 saw the release of Redemption which was their first new studio album since 1998’s This Time It’s Different.

More live dates continued to happen as well as a few more albums. The band seemed to be going through guitarists quicker than Spinal Tap went through drummers, although we are not sure if any suffered from spontaneous combustion. Fast forward to 2018 and the guys have a rock solid lineup as well as a damn solid new album entitled 8 which was released on March 16 via Golden Robot Records. Just in case you missed it, you can check out our review of it HERE. It everything that you have grown to know and love about this band over the years, yet it doesn’t sound dated. The guys had been back on U.S. soil for about a week when we caught up with lead vocalist Ron Young and talked about the new album, the history of the band and much more!

You guys just got back not too long ago from some dates overseas?

Ron Young/Little Caesar: It was a big blur and we hit this big snow storm which was the worst in thirty five years. They shut down the highways, the trains and the roads while we’re trying to do these shows and get from town to town. It was absolutely crazy!

Touring is crazy enough without all of that stuff thrown into the mix!

Exactly!

How was the run of dates overseas?

It was good other than we had some really crappy turnouts. All of these people bought tickets and they couldn’t make it to the show because of the weather. The UK really isn’t set-up for any kind of major snow storms, so unless you were in a big city, you weren’t going to go too much distance from your house. They don’t really have a lot of equipment to clear the roads, so most of the time they just wait for it to melt. It only messed us up or about four or five days and then we were back on.

Let’s talk a little bit about your new album 8 which is your first new studio album in six years. How does a band know it’s time to go back into the studio?

For a number of years, we’ve had this rotating guitar player thing going on because the guys that we were working with had other projects, bands and other obligations. I told the other guys in the band that I didn’t want to make another record until we were five contributing guys. I wanted all five members to go in and write their parts and be contributing to it. For me, a band is a magical thing and it’s kind of like a motorcycle club. When we got Mark (Tremalgia) into the band, he fit in perfectly and instantly. To write a record, you have to set yourself down in a room for three nights a week for like two months. We knew we were ready when we got Mark, so we pulled out all of the song ideas and it came together really, really quickly. We booked the studio time and we went in; it was so quick and easy. I think we did the entire thing in twenty two days and those weren’t even full days.

Do you guys go into the studio with full demos are partial song ideas or maybe a little of both?

We work them up in the rehearsal room first, so we know the tempos and arrangements because studio time is way more expensive than just our rehearsal space rental. We really want to go in there knowing what to do so that we just have to fine tune it when we lay it down. We go in with things really mapped out because we don‘t have the luxury of going in there with what they used to call “rolling tape” which is now eating up memory.

With that being said, was there any track that proved to be tougher than expected, for whatever reason, to get to its finished version?

Not really; we have this single called “Time Enough For That” which is kind of like this power ballad kind of thing. The drummer plays to this click track so that we can make sure that we are consistently keeping a good flow. What we realized was that the choruses sounded better just a few beats faster than the verse. So, we had to get that worked out and we had to do it about ten to fifteen times. Everything else was really pretty easy and natural.

You guys are no strangers to covers and you tackled a Merle Haggard classic this time with “Mama Tried.” My dad was old school country so we heard a lot of Haggard in our home growing up.

Merle is worshipped as he should be! I say a little something every night when we go out and play that one because we’re playing it to hard rock fans. We ‘re all the same way man; we all come from families that were fans of Merle and Johnny Cash and all of these guys. They were all such great songwriters and storytellers. No offense to the bands that we came up with, but Merle was a real American outlaw. He was actually doing time in San Quentin when Johnny Cash played there. We knew we had to do our own rocked out version of that song because not only are we makers of music, but we’re also fans of music. We have never thought that we were innovators; we do this out of love. We take all of our little influences of rock, country, southern rock, rhythm and blues and we try and throw it all in the pot to see what it will take to make each song the best that it can be. We’ve always loved to do covers and put our own little stamp on it to as a statement of reverence to the music that came before us.

It’s a cool take on the song and I bet there’s probably a generation in your crowd that may not even know who he is.

They don’t, so that’s why I give this little backstory every night before we play it. When you’re younger, people tend to be a little more particular with what they listen to. If you are into hair metal, then that’s your thing. If you’re into punk, then punk’s your thing. What we are noticing as we get older and our fans are getting older is that one night they may be in the mood for Motorhead and the next night Bad Company. They appreciate all of it now and they can now look back in hindsight and see why all of that music was great.

Click on image to purchase your copy of ‘8’

This new album sounds like Little Caesar, but it doesn’t sound dated to me.

Thank you, that was an important factor for us. We wanted to sound dated back in 1990, meaning that we wanted to make a very 70s, kind of throwback record. We had a lot of fights with the label and with Bob Rock about it. All of a sudden, the Soundgarden stuff started coming out sounding like Black Sabbath and it just proved our point. I used to close my eyes when listening to a Stones or AC/DC album when I was growing up and it felt like I was in a club with them. It felt very intimate; there were a lot of imperfections and personality on those records coming through that gave each one of those bands their personality. A lot of that went away in the 80s; the producers were taking that out of those records. We’ve always tried to keep that in our records so that we’re identifiable. You may not like it, but if you do then you’re going to have even more of a connection to it because there’s a personality there in the record.

Was “Time Enough For That” a no-brainer for the first single?

No, that kind of weirded me out when Golden Robot Records wanted us to lead off with this ballad. My old school record sensibilities wanted us to come out with a rock track because we’re a rock band! They didn’t tell us how to make our music, so I am not going to tell them how to do their business. It’s had a really strong response and people are really digging it. I think the band has always been known and able to set itself apart by being able to do that kind of soulful, ballad kind of track, deliver it and have it be really sincere.

What’s the feedback been like on the new record? Has any of the feedback been surprising like a certain song that fans are gravitating to that you didn’t expect?

We’re really kind of shocked that there’s been this universal like of the record and there seems to be this consistent commentary that it feels really comfortable, familiar and fun. We’re so grateful for that feedback because when you make the music, it becomes molecules and you get caught up in the arrangements, tempos and sounds. Suddenly, it stops becoming music. You have to learn how to back off making music to keep a balance and judgement on it. There’s really no standout kind of track jumping out at everybody, so that kind of makes it difficult while we’re trying to pick out the next single. Southern rock type fans like “Another Fine Mess” and the heavier guys like “Good Times” so it’s all over the place.  People tend to go on and on about this record and it’s in-depth, so I don’t think that it’s token. There really seems to be a very genuine like for this album.

What’s it like being out there and active after almost thirty years?

This stopped being a commercial thing for us years ago; I mean we were working with the biggest producers and agents and it all went to hell really fast. Most of it was just ego battles behind the scenes that we had no control over and it took its toll on the band. We end up disappearing for a number of years, but we were always friends. We always stayed in touch and we’ve been like family for years. We realized that we missed playing with each other, so we made a promise when we started playing again that we would only do it if it was fun and for the music itself. We wouldn’t try and do it for the commerce or to be the rock stars that we knew we would never be. We’re really doing it now for all of the right reasons. We’ve always tried to be this type of blue collar, working man’s kind of band that didn’t take itself too seriously. We really make a conscious effort to let people know how much we appreciate them. We go out after a show and sign stuff and take pictures and thank people for coming.  We’re thankful that people are showing up, especially knowing that people will be holding their phones up and recording it. Those other people could have just stayed home in their underwear and watched it on Facebook.

Speaking of phones, how does it feel to look out and see that sea of phones staring back at you?

I’m up there doing my thing that’s a dragon that’s too big for me to slay. I make a couple of little under my breath comments about it, but we really don’t see a lot that. It’s a changing of the times and you have to get your head around it. I make this speech every night and it’s sincere. There’s making music and then there’s listening to music. The live show is where the audience and the bands energy comes together and makes each of those songs unique each night. It inspires us and puts us in a certain headspace for the next song in the set and we have such a deep reverence for that. The people in the audience are as responsible for that as we are, so we kind of worship that magic moment and thank the people for being there to do it.

Speaking of shows, as we touched on at the start, you guys have been doing quite a few shows overseas. Is it a different market over there right now for you guys?

It is; in the UK and in Europe, they don’t do the download thing. They’re into their vinyl and CDs, their live shows and learning everything they can about their bands. Music is still more socially and culturally relevant in their lives than it is here in the US. I think it’s just a cultural thing, plus when you combine that with you can go from Cologne, Germany to Frankfurt to Hamburg to Berlin and it’s a completely different crowd plus you can get there in less than a day. For the logistics of touring on a budget, try and do that in Texas. It takes three days just to get across Texas! We’re still selling this door to door and it’s not much different than when we first put the band together. It’s a lot harder when you’re older, but for us it’s a labor of love. We find the energy and then we sleep for three days straight when we get home.

As we begin to wrap this up, is there anything on your radar that you’d like to plug?

Do us a favor and like us on Facebook; we’re not one of those bands who buy fake fans on there. It really does help us a lot when people go to our page and see that a bunch of folks like us. Give us a spin, even if it’s on Spotify and we’re not making any money off of it. Listen to what we do; we’re trying to put out a very organic invitation to people. We’re still selling this door to door because there are still Bad Company and ZZ Top fans out there. If they didn’t catch us in our fifteen minute window back in 1990, they may think we’re just a pizza chain and wondering why we’re making music. We’re trying to gain real fans one at a time and be very thankful for it.

 

If you could go back and give the younger version of yourself advice, would you and if so, what would that advice be?

I definitely would because of the wisdom of age with your body breaking down and you’re getting all of this grey hair. With that, you also get the wisdom with it that you wish you had when you were younger and could have put it into practice.  For me, it would be to stand up for what you believe. I think we would have had a little more success if I would have stuck to my guns more. It’s kind of hard to do that when you’re fighting guys like Bob Rock and Jimmy Iovine and David Geffen. Hindsight in everyone’s life is 20/20 and I have zero regrets. If I had become as big as the people wanted me to who were throwing all of that money around behind us, then I would probably be dead by now or a major asshole.

Thanks again for your time today Ron and I will wrap this up with one last question. We have lost quite a few iconic music figures over the last couple of years. If you could bring one back to sit down with, have a drink and talk about anything, who do you think you would choose?

I would love to chew on Malcolm Young’s ear. AC/DC, in my humble opinion, is probably the greatest rock and roll band ever. What they did was so simple, so down to earth and so magical. A big, big anchor point of that was Malcolm. Angus even said that Malcom was a better lead player than he was. He was happy to sit back there and be powerful. He wrote so many amazing riffs and stayed true to what the core of the band was through all of their success, through all of their records and through losing Bon Scott. I would love to get his take on what the essence of rock and roll is because there has to be some magical view that’s in there that kept him so pure in spirit and performance.

CONNECT WITH LITTLE CAESAR ONLINE

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https://www.littlecaesar.net/

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https://www.youtube.com/user/littlecaesarband

 

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