Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Pat Travers - "This Band Is Tough As Nails" The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

I think that this is one of my strongest albums. If this had come out in 1980 it may have been a platinum album! ~ Pat Travers on Can Do, his latest album

Pat Travers is plenty proud of his band, and also of his new album on Frontiers Records - his group of veteran rockers is currently pleasing thousands every night across America on the Rock'N'Blues Fest, and Can Do is garnering some of the best reviews of the six string legend's career. Tough as nails is a pretty apt description for Travers himself - in addition to his obvious musical gifts, he's a second degree black-belt in Isshinryu Karate, and he's been on the road for over 35 years. I recently had a chance to catch up with Pat just before he hit the road for the summer on the Rock'N'Blues Fest.

Rock Guitar Daily's review of Can Do by The Pat Travers Band

I was curious to hear how he viewed his latest album, Can Do, in light of the fantastic reviews that have greeted the record:

Pat Travers: "I seem to be getting the best reviews of my career! 
"I've gotten good ones before, but this one has been very, very good and I feel a little validated - at least critically. Now it would be nice to sell a million copies for some icing on the cake. 
"All in all, I feel like I came up with a really strong album. I started this one last May (2012), but I had started writing prior to that. I had a real creative period for 3 or 4 months - I felt like I had some really strong songs, and the whole way I recorded it, I wasn't under the gun to get it done by a specific time. As a matter of fact, I was supposed to hand it in in September, and I didn't get it turned in until December. 
"Yeah, instead of working on 13-14 songs at once, I worked on 2-3 at a time, then we'd go on the road for a bit and I'd have a chance to get my objectivity back. When you go into the studio, and listen to the same thing over and over again, it tends to get a little obscure."

You can definitely tell that Travers and band took their time, and got it right. Can Do's twelve tracks are all winners - while varied in style and tone, they never fail to sound like classic Pat Travers:

Pat Travers: "Thank you, thank you very much! 
"I'm very pleased to hear that - y'know, a lot of things fell into place and I think that this is one of my strongest albums. If this had come out in 1980 it may have been a platinum album! 
"It sure would have done great on old-time FM radio, but unfortunately, that medium doesn't really exist anymore."

Keeping with how the past relates to the present, I asked how Travers sees the difference in the music business between then and today:

Pat Travers: "Well, from my perspective, I feel like I've been trying to catch up to where I was in the middle of 1980, when we had a very successful record and were on the cusp of getting up to that next level. 
"Unfortunately, there was a lot of weird things that happened with our management, and even myself. So, everything just sort of fell apart and we lost a lot of momentum, and we were never able to pick it up again - not from lack of trying, I guess I never stopped trying. 
"I just hope that now we have something here that isn't just going to appeal to my original or older fans, but is going to hit new people. It's a valid new rock record, whatever that is! 
"I guess it's classic rock only in that I've been doing this for a while. I think it's a relevant, new sounding record."

One thing about the new album that impressed me was that at almost sixty years old, Travers skill set is as sharp as ever - his voice is in tremendous shape and his writing and playing has never been more on point. I asked to what he attributed this:

Pat Travers: "You know, it's gotta be karate. 
"In 2004 just before my fiftieth birthday, I was kind of pudgy and I was drinking too much, blah, blah, blah - I just wasn't happy. 
"I tried working out at this gym near where I lived, and I met this guy named Mike Reeves - he was a major karate guy. I started working out with him, I started to like it, and I'm a second degree black belt now in a style called Isshinryu. 
"That keeps me strong - karate training is hard. It's helped my voice tremendously, and also my fingers, too. I'm pretty careful with my hands, and all in all I just feel stronger in every way."

Travers had been just over 12 years old when he was Jimi Hendrix perform in Ottawa - I wondered what he would have thought if someone had told him that day that he'd still be singing and playing for a living almost fifty years later:

Pat Travers: "I would have been very surprised! 
"At that time, the shelf life of most music and artists in the '60s/'70s was about three to six months, so to think ahead 30-40 years - to think more than five years ahead was hard. 
"I wish I had been more prescient, I'd probably be better off now! 
"I never had any doubt that I was not going to become a recording artist and play around the world - I always knew that that was what I wanted to do, and should do. I didn't have a problem with that, but to think here almost fifty years later I'd be putting out one of the best albums of my career and getting this response, yeah - that's a surprise. But, it's a good surprise."

Not just a long career, Travers' career of late seems to be getting busier and busier. I asked if this was intentional:

Pat Travers: "Well, I've gotta make a living, y'know? 
"A lot of it is just down to having to make a living, and like a lot of people in this country, the last 4 or 5 years have not been easy. I've had to struggle in a lot of respects, but I feel optimistic now that we're going to be able to take advantage of this great album, find a lot of new fans, and play a lot more shows - I don't mind that at all, that's what I'm best at!"

After many decades and many band member changes, I notice that it's still The Pat Travers Band, and not a solo act:

Pat Travers: "These guys are one of the best bands I've ever had, and I've had some great bands. 
"I wouldn't say that one is better than another, but these guys - Kirk McKim, my co-guitar player, we've been playing together for nine years now. He's just an amazing individual, an amazing musician, and a fantastic guitar player, so I love having him with me. 
"Rodney O'Quinn, my bass player, joined up at the beginning of 2008 - he's been with us almost five years. 
"Our drummer, Sandy Gennaro, he played with me back in '81 thru '83, recorded two albums with me, Radioactive, and Black Pearl, and we also did a bunch of major tours with Rainbow, and Aerosmith. Sandy then went on to play with Cyndi Lauper, Joan Jett, The Monkees, Bo Diddley - he had a great career. Then, a few years ago after Sean Shannon, who is my co-producer and engineer, he played drums for me, but he decided he wanted to stay in the studio - I called up Sandy and I told him that I needed him to play with me, and he said OK! 
"So, we have a very, very tight unit, plus, we're blooded and battle hardened - we've done some European tours, and had some very sick schedules. This band is tough as nails."

Sticking with band mates, I asked about the working relationship between himself and co-guitarist, Kirk McKim:

Pat Travers: "Kirk does some amazing stuff - he does most of the flourish-y guitar stuff that's over the vocals and the verses. Usually, with him, I find it better to have a backing track with most of the guitars that I'm going to play, and the vocals on it - then I'll get him in there and he'll spend an hour or so on each song. Then I go back and listen to see what I like, but when it comes to my songs, he always seems to know just what to play, and it's usually something that would not have occurred to me to play. 
"I love it in that regard - as far as who plays what, it's pretty organic, y'know? 
"Live, whoever seems to jump on it first. We play in unison a lot, too. Live, that sounds so tough! So big and fat! Then we'll take off and he'll do something different, some new inversion, and I'll do something else and that keeps it interesting. 
"We have a lot of verbal communication, and we're both very good listeners. We figure out what's happening within a fraction of a second, and we go and do the right thing."

Can Do is Travers' first record on the Frontiers Records label - a leader in melodic and classic rock genres, I wondered how, in this era of DIY, having a large label was working out for the band:

Pat Travers: "So far, it's really good, and one of the reasons I signed with them was because I felt what we needed was better promotion and distribution. So far, they haven't disappointed me at all, and I'm very happy with that. 
"I'm doing a lot of promo and that's what it takes. 
"Although - I've never met anyone from the record company, hahaha! Everything has been over e-mail. Yeah, Serafino (Perugino, Fronteirs founder) is very organized and they have the right people working in the right countries, and they are doing what they need to do. It really helps, and we just want to keep the momentum going for a few months."

After decades of being a renowned Gibson devotee, Travers began playing Paul Reed Smith instruments over the last decade - I asked Pat about how he came to meet Paul and find his way to Reed Smith's fine guitars:

Pat Travers: "It's interesting - at first, I didn't actually meet Paul. 
"Once, we were at the Dallas Guitar Show in like '96, or so - a long time ago. We were in the same hotel, and coming down the same elevator. I knew it was him, and I'm sure he knew who I was, but he just didn't say anything, but it just turns out that he's very shy. 
"They offered a few guitars for me to try in 2004, and I had been using Les Pauls and every time you look at a Les Paulthe wrong way, the neck cracks. I was just getting very tired of this happening, and I remember looking at a PRS neck and seeing that they didn't have the same neck angle and that they might not do that - and they don't.  
"They sent me a couple of guitars, and one I really, really liked, so I had them send me a another couple until I got one that I felt was kind of like a Les Paul. The one I'm using now is a Custom 22 and I also use an SE-1 for slide live - that's a very inexpensive guitar, but it sounds amazing! 
"Paul is a true artist, and an amazing guy. It's fun for me to realize that 50 years from now there will be coffee table books about Paul Reed Smith. 
"There's Leo Fender, Les Paul, and Paul Reed Smith - he's the same age as me, and for a young man to achieve that. The quality of his guitars is second to none."

As my office was literally being packed up and loaded out around me, I realized it was about time to wrap up our chat, so I asked Pat about the diversity of Can Do - again, it covers a tremendous amount of ground while maintaining the signature Travers sound:

Pat Travers: "It's really just what came out of me organically. I mean, after I had 8 or 9 songs, then I thought, well maybe I should have an uptempo tune - not that I would intentionally write an uptempo tune, but I did know I needed one. 
"I didn't really try - like the cover of the Eurythmics tune, Here Comes The Rain. I was just driving in the car one day, and I was singing along to it, and it was in my key. A friend had loaned me a really nice Taylor nylon stringed classical guitar - so I went in and did a pass of it with a drum machine, and I added a little bass, then I forgot about it. 
"A couple of weeks later, I was looking for something else on a CD, some other track I was working on, and that popped up - I said, 'Wow, that's great!' I had my wife Monica, who's a great vocalist come in and sing with me on it. And it ended up having the mojo somehow!"

Talking to Pat, I realized that here was a guy who has truly seen about everything, and truly led the life of a musician. I wondered what advice he may have to others seeking a similar path in life:

Pat Travers: "Well, you've got to practice the boring stuff, because it's important later when you get to the good stuff - you need those skills! 
"You need to take a certain amount of time to get your skills together - say, doing scales, chords, picking, but then you can just enjoy yourself after that. I always recommend like thirty minutes of just bashing the crap out of the guitar in any way you want. Finding out, and exploring the instrument. 
"The other thing is to listen to a lot of different styles of music, y'know? You need a vocabulary to express yourself properly, and the only way you can get that vocabulary is to listen to a lot of different types of music, and expose yourself to a lot of different players."

If you haven't heard Can Do, I would highly recommend it - it is amongst the finest rock records of 2013, and again, it is a career high for a fellow who has been consistently delivering the goods for many decades.

Pat Travers Band on Facebook - his daily Rx is one of FB's best musical features
Pat Travers Band website

Thanks to Pat Travers, Frontiers Records, and Dustin Hardman.

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