Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Jimmy Kunes talks National Wrecking Company, Cactus, and more!

"It’s an intense record. It’s an intense world we’re living in." ~ Jimmy Kunes

Jimmy Kunes is a man on the move. He's just finished up with one of his "Freed Live" tributes to Free (and some Bad Company) at B.B. King's in New York City as he heads out the door for Europe with Cactus for some shows before he'll return to oversee the release of his killer new project, National Wrecking Company. Before he jumped on a plane for Italy we had a chance to get a preview for the album, and to catch up on all the dizzying details!

National Wrecking Company is one of those rare records that sounds like you know it the minute you hear it. The songs, melodies, and riffs are classic hard rock, but there's also a definite sense that they've captured the times we're living in, and there's a great sense of urgency to the material. It's a record that deserves to be heard. That's where we started the conversation:

This is real classic hard rock with a modern sound, did you write with an agenda to sound that way or is it more organic? Tell me about the band and how this record came together.
Jimmy Kunes: "Funny you should ask a question that was right on the tip of my mind, so to speak.  
"Randy (Pratt) had started to assemble very strong hooks, riffs and grooves along with one of his drummers, Neil Cicione and TC Toliver (Plasmatics). He had me in mind to check out a few of these ideas that were then arranged into songs by our engineer/ producer JZ Burrell. 
"I was knocked out by how original and utterly exciting they sounded and immediately came up with lyrics, subject matter and imagery for the songs. It all happened quite rapidly. 
"So, I took in my lyric drafts and started laying vocals down.
"They had also been quite prolific in keeping the ideas churning and would hit me with a new one after I'd finished a vocal. I would come up with a root idea on the spot and elaborate on that, go out to the vocal booth and build it up from there. I was right on my game but the songs were so hooky, catchy and crafted so well that it all just seemed to glow and flow very easily. More often than not we would finish off 2 songs in a day's work. Very satisfying. 
"So yes it was a very organic, fresh way of approaching writing lyrics and laying vocals down for me." 

Has the band had a chance to play play out yet? Are there plans to gig with National Wrecking Company?

Jimmy Kunes: "NWC is very much a studio project as this point, but who knows?  
"It is extremely compelling material that I would imagine would go down very well and will see the live light of day at some point. I would be very much into doing a few songs from the record with Jimmy Kunes Band. We do a couple of songs from Flood The Engine as well… 
"We are all very busy with all of our respective independent projects, as well as Cactus, so we will have to see how it all spins out after we officially release our album. (Due in October '17)"

What kind of distribution are you doing? Label shopping, releasing it yourselves, etc.?
Jimmy Kunes: "We will definitely be putting it out either way. We might release on Randy's label (Hyperspace) or we also have a few labels we would be into National Wrecking Company finding a home on. There is already interest being shown."

You’ve been on fire creatively as of late with this coming after a really great Cactus album last year - how do you keep the creativity coming and what inspires you.

Jimmy Kunes: "Thanks Tony!  
"Everything inspires me! And I always have a notebook, pad of paper, phone note section, voice memo on iPhone is VERY useful and I'll constantly be jotting words, titles, phrases and singing melodies down. 
"The really exciting thing is I've been waking up with semi-fully formed songs which will I chronicle on one of the above mediums for future projects. 
"I am also well into work on my 3rd solo record, Jimmy Kunes Congregation, so never a dull moment over here! Ha!"
It’s an album of big themes, what’s on your mind when you’re writing lyrics these days?

Jimmy Kunes: "Well first and foremostly everything is overshadowed by the state we're in as a nation these days.  
"Also the way we have systematically raped and stripped our land/country of its natural resources. For years now. How the polar icecap is melting. How the air is being tainted and polluted. How the levels of harmful levels of lead are being identified in water supplies. How we haven't made any real strides to implement wind power and alternate sources of energies. How there are people in power that are in bed with the all-powerful industries and corporations that are insuring that we never will do so. Until it is too late. And it's too late.  
"I think it's obvious what songs on the album reflect greed, malice, political agendas and blind willfulness to drag us all asunder. 
"It’s an intense record. It’s an intense world we’re living in."

Your voice is in great shape, how do you keep it so sharp and powerful, any secrets?
Jimmy Kunes: "Ah, thank you Tone. 
"Really just using it as much as I can. There obviously come times when one needs to take it easy and rest it a bit. I try to arrange sessions, gigs, etc. in a way that I don’t overstrain my vocal cords too much. Pacing myself during tours as much as you can helps. I tend to really give it all I got out there, but there ya go. 
"Part of being proficient in something such as singing full time is knowing how to sing around something live that you've recorded that would maybe make you too winded, or not quite being able to hit certain notes live. That's the beauty about live performance for me. It never ever gets boring and nothing’s ever the same way every time out. Keeps one very fresh.  
"There is a certain template for a vocal in a song that you basically adhere to, but there’s also room for improvisation that surprises even myself every night."
You are a very busy guy who regularly does projects that pay tribute to some great singers and bands, tell me about your influences and how you approach covering such voices and bands like Free, Paul Rodgers, Ronnie James Dio, David Coverdale, Ian Gillan and others.

Jimmy Kunes: "I really believe you are a product of what you listen to at an early age. I was really lucky to have an elder brother (Bill) who had a killer collection. 
"A lot of the artists you mention above were and are influences, but that in turn makes you want to dig back to see who influenced THEM. It's a never ending journey. 
"In the past I put together a Deep Purple MKIII celebration and we are still doing our FREED LIVE!!! band as well. We play tomorrow night as a matter of fact. We have a blast playing our favorite styles of music so it's a kick for us."

What are you hearing these days that impresses you?

Jimmy Kunes: "Typically when I write, I try not to listen to too much current or newer stuff. Not enough time! And one doesn't want to be nicking lines from something you’ve heard that might get lodged in the old memory banks."
When you were writing and recording the NWC album, what conversations were you having with your band and co-writers?

Jimmy Kunes: "By the time I got to work in these things, songs were fairly completely formed but arrangements were tweaked by myself and Josh to make them more "singable" and to flow as far as being able to tell the storyline and being able to come up with a clever turn of phrase or chorus. "The guitars were farmed out to Randy’s friends and ex-band mates Phil in Florida and Jesse in Portland. They added their parts and overdubbed on their end. Phil also made some trips up to Electric Randyland in Plandome, Long Island where we recorded the Cactus albums as well as my two solo records. Keyboards and piano were recorded by our man Scott “The Doctor” Treibitz who also played amazing Hammond, piano, mellotron and keys on my records.  
 "It all came together quite easily. So it would be Randy, Josh and I together in the control room while I was tracking and we would bounce ideas around.
 "A very fun album to do. They should all be this much fun!"

Speaking of fun, you’re been doing some shows with former Starz guitar slinger, the great Richie Ranno - is this all leading somewhere?

Jimmy Kunes: "Glad you asked this.  
"I actually play tonight with Richie in New Jersey. We also have recorded a tune for an upcoming September release for a tribute album to The Godz, a 70’s Columbus, Ohio-based band. Again with the z ha! 
"That went so well we are putting in place ideas to do a proper record together. Richie is a great songwriter, musician, engineer, producer and we also work very quickly and very efficiently together. 
"Plus, he was in an ultra-cool band like Starz. I mean "Cherry Baby"! Come on!"
You’re getting ready to hit the road again with Cactus, and the band has been through some changes over the last year, tell me about what’s changed and how it all feels.

Jimmy Kunes: "Everything has changed but it has lead to some very exciting positivity as well.
"Jim (McCarty) decided he just cannot do the road anymore. It is a hard graft. Even for me. It's a physically demanding strain at times with all the travel involved. Bless him he plays constantly in Detroit in the blues scene there. Pete as well wanted to just concentrate on Vanilla Fudge as opposed to touring with two bands so he's doing that. I'll see him later at the gig with Richie so that'll be cool. 
"Paul Warren, another Detroit native and guitarist extraordinaire (Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Nite City) has stepped in and brought a real blast of '55 Stratocaster energy to the band. He lives in Nashville and we've already jammed together down there a couple of times. We share the same penchant for obtuse humor, the occasional glass wine or ale and of course the same musical tastes. Terrific guy and terrific player.
"We did a German tour in May (Black Dawn Over Europe ‘17) that ended up in Verviers, Belgium that was particularly outstanding. We saw a lot more of Germany this time around with s couple of days off to explore old cathedrals. And Castle Frankenstein! (Thanks Oli!) And Bier Gardens. Fantastic. 
"We also took Carmine's friend and ex-band mate Tony Franklin (Roy Harper, The Firm, Blue Murder) with us to Venezuela for two sold out shows this spring. Amazing gigs, amazing times. 
"James Caputo from Staten Island is with us on bass."

You’re heading off to Europe with Cactus, then what does the rest of the year hold for Jimmy Kunes fans?

Jimmy Kunes: "We've started work in the next NWC album already! I go in on Monday to start laying down some vocal tracks so I'm very excited about that.  
"I'm also working with Freddy Villano (Quiet Riot, Dee Snider's Widowmaker) and Tom Jude (Doro Pesch) of American Mafia on some new tunes which is very exciting. We write killer songs together. I co-wrote 2 on the 1st A.M. album (Rock and Roll Hit Machine),  (Everytime  and Man On The Flying  Trapeze).
"Always something new, fresh and exciting. Keeps the doldrums away!"


Anonymous said...

Great article! The only thing missing is a list of all the bands you've played with in the past. I never knew you sand with Savoy Brown and wonder who else?

Anonymous said...

I saw Jimmy with Cactus at Club 66 in Maryland. What a great line up and a killer venue. Black Dawn stays in my truck all the time now. Look forward to catching one Jimmy's other projects in the future. He can really bark out the tunes.

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