Take a 'Ride' with Motor Sister

Jim Wilson talks new super group
By Peter Lindblad

Motor Sister is Jim Wilson, Scott Ian,
Pearl Aday, Joey Vera and
John Tempesta
Motor Sister is up and running, putting its own spin on the songs of versatile '90s groove-mongering rockers Mother Superior, a particular favorite of Anthrax's Scott Ian.

Jim Wilson is as amazed as anybody at how this project has taken shape in such a short time.

"To me, it’s a blessing," said Wilson, the frontman and main songwriter for Mother Superior, an L.A trio that smartly mixed '70s classic rock raunch and swagger with blues, early punk and metal. "A year ago, I didn’t know that I’d be doing this. I already started recording my second solo album, which I’m still working on, but I was just planning on doing more Daniel (Lanois) stuff and taking everything as it comes, but now I have this kick-ass band … crazy."

It was Ian's 50th birthday wish that started the ball rolling, as the Anthrax guitarist wanted nothing more than to get together with Wilson and some like-minded musicians, including his wife, Pearl Aday, and put on a small concert at his house playing a set list of Mother Superior songs. They were joined by bassist Joey Vera (Fates Warning, Armored Saint) and drummer John Tempesta (The Cult, White Zombie, Testament).

Aday has worked with Wilson for years on her own solo work, and she placed the call to Wilson to make her husband's dream a reality. The buzz from that performance spread, with Metal Blade Records A&R man Mike Faley seeing the project's limitless potential and arranging for a new record from the burgeoning super group. Working with producer Jay Ruston, the patchwork outfit cut an album in a matter of days, taking the schematics of old Mother Superior songs and redrawing them with a renewed sense of vigor and energy.

Motor Sister in the studio
Hitting the streets this week, Ride comes on like a powerful, addicting drug, with fiery anthems like "A Hole" and "Fork in the Road" mingling with the Southern-rock sunshine of "This Song Reminds Me of You" and the dark mystery of "Devil Wind" in a powerful concoction.

Since leaving Mother Superior, the band having once backed former Black Flag singer Henry Rollins, Wilson has worked with Lanois – the U2 producer – and Emmylou Harris, as well as Pearl, and he took time out recently to discuss the making of Ride and Motor Sister's creation in this exclusive interview. Wilson will give his views on a few of the songs on Ride in an upcoming post. And we'll have more from Ian and Pearl in a later interview.

The new album is great. Where are you at with promotion of it?
Jim Wilson: Thanks so much. Well, we’re very excited about it. I mean, that’s the reason I’m waking up late today is because there’s been lots of celebrations. There’s just a lot of excitement in the air, and it’s been really cool. We shot two videos last week, and we just got the first rough print of it yesterday of the first video, and it looks so cool. We’re changing a couple of things. It’ll be out in like a week or so, though, right when the album is ready.

Any hints on what the videos involve? Are they performance videos?
JW: Yeah, they’re performance videos … dark. They filmed us recording every song when we were actually recording the album, so the idea that they had some videos coming from that and that’s where that “Fork in the Road” video came from, and we liked it, but it was just kind of … we were so concentrated on recording in the video that we’re just kind of standing around, you know what I mean? We wanted a video that shows more of what we’re actually like when we actually play, so we’re thinking about those old Van Halen promo videos and KISS when they would do those three promo videos and they’d be on a stage and it looks like they’re in concert, but it’s just a well-lit performance stage, like a rehearsal stage, is where we did it at, but it looks really cool. It’s dark, and it’s kind of a scary effect. It’ll be cool. We’re a scary band, so … (laughs)

Motor Sister - Ride 2015
Tell me about jamming with Scott for the first time. In what ways did it remind you of the Mother Superior days and in what ways was it different?
JW: Yeah, well … I’ve met with Scott through the years on different projects, so we’ve played guitars together a lot. Even when his wife, Pearl, who’s in the band also, when she did some touring on her own through the years, I played guitars and Scott played guitars, and once in a while we would play actually play a Mother Superior song with Pearl singing. So we used to play “This Song Reminds Me of You” with her and we’d play “Four,” that was on her album as well. So it didn’t seem completely out of the ordinary, because we’re all friends and we hang out and play KISS songs in the living room anyway, but the very first time we played together, the day before Scott’s party, just in rehearsal, it definitely reminded me of the beginning days of Mother Superior, where everybody just kind of unleashed this animal in the music. And it hadn’t been that way for a long time with Mother Superior.

I mean, we hadn’t played together since 2008, but even in the last few years of the band … we grew up, so the music kind of grew up, too. I’m not saying the music wasn’t good. It was just a little less chaotic and John Tempesta, the drummer, was the only person in the new band that I had never played with before. So, I knew that he was into it, and I knew that he loved the music, and I knew that he wanted to play it, but I didn’t know what it was going to sound like. He definitely brought the wild spirit back to the music, and it felt so good. It had been a long time since I’d looked at the other band members and kind of smiled when we finished, you know what I mean? And obviously one of the main differences is Mother Superior and this band is a five-piece with two guitars. I always wanted to be in a two-guitar band. We just never found the second guitar player in Mother Superior. One of the reasons that we remained a trio was because we had tried a few other guitar players in the beginning, and it just didn’t worked out and we always ended up with three guys just jamming together, so it just kind of stuck that way, but it’s so nice to have all those extra meaty guitar parts taken care of by Scott. It’s kind of like … I just got the reissues of the first three Thin Lizzy albums on vinyl, and they were a trio. The first three albums they were a trio, and then, when they got the two-guitar lineup with Scott Gorham after that and Brian Robertson, it’s kind of like that. The trio is a great thing, but it’s a little more open and everybody can kind of experiment a little more, and with a full piece, with two guitars, bass and drums, it just seems to … even though we might be louder, because there’s an extra guitar, it still seems more together because everybody’s trying to balance. When you’re in a trio, you can kind of overplay and everybody can play over the top of each other, but when you’ve got four, it’s a better balance I think.

Talking about Pearl and Scott, when did you first meet them and when did you become aware of their Mother Superior fandom?
JW: The first time I remember meeting Scott was I was staying at the Palladium for an old radio station, KNAC, in L.A. that’s not there anymore, but they had an anniversary or a birthday party kind of thing for the radio station, and Anthrax played and Skid Row and Rollins Band, which I was playing in at the time. And there might have been another band or so, and there were tons of people there, like Paul Stanley was there, Wayne Kramer was there. It was a real party situation, and I know we had just put out the Get Some, Go Again Rollins Band album, the first one that we did with Henry, and I know Scott was talking to me and raving about the album, and how much he loved it. And then I would see him coming to shows over the next few years – local shows, I remember seeing him and Pearl come to Denver when we were on tour once, and we would say, “Hey, the guy from Anthrax was at the show again last night,” that kind of thing. And then eventually, somehow, we were invited to a birthday party that Scott had for Pearl years and years ago, when we still had our original drummer, Jason Mackenroth, who’s not in the band. And we met Pearl that night.

We were introduced to Pearl for the first time and talked about writing some songs together. And that was the very first night I really talked to Scott and talked about … I always talk about KISS, because that was something we all had in common and that we could all talk about. Anthrax has always been kind of KISS related and covered KISS songs, and I knew they toured with KISS before, so it’s kind of like, “Tell us about Paul Stanley?” You know, that kind of thing. And from then on we just started hanging out and going to bars and going to dinners, and me and Pearl have written – I don’t know – probably 25 songs together for her projects over the years. And she has a new album that’s almost ready now, too, that pulls the whole thing together. So, we’re definitely no strangers. We go to rock concerts together, like we all went to see Elton John and the Rolling Stones. And we’re just friends, so the band thing just seemed like … that’s another way that it reminds me of the early days of Mother Superior, because it’s just friends hanging out that wanted to play music together, before all the frustrations and stuff that comes along with being in a band for over 10 years. So it feels good to call your bandmates your friends. (See a featurette on Motor Sister below)

Looking back on Mother Superior, before all this started with Motor Sister, what did you see as the band’s legacy and were you satisfied with the work you did and how the band’s career progressed? Or is there a sense that there’s unfinished business there, and that this fulfills that?
JW: Yeah, unfinished business sounds good, and this is definitely something already more people are responding to the music than it seemed like … we always had hardcore fans that kept it going, and I’ve always been proud of the music. We put a lot of work into the music. I would spend … I wrote all the lyrics, and all the guitar … basically, I was the main songwriter for the band, who put everything together, and as a singer, I always wanted to have complete control of the lyric part of it, because if it was coming out of my mouth, I wanted to at least be able to relate to it. So I’m proud of the songs in that way. When we had to go back and recreate these songs, it was nice to know that they held up and that I could remember all the words, and that at least they all rhymed and I could remember them (laughed). And I don’t know … as for what happened with the band, I think that we gave it everything that we had and it just kind of ran its course. After eight to 10 albums, whichever way you look at it – there’s actually 10 albums of original material, one was kind of a demo CD and the final one was somewhat of a compilation, but it had new material on it as well – but I think, at that point, we all wanted to do something different, and to me, it didn’t seem like doing something different should mean changing the band, or the sound of the band or the image of the band just because of 10 years of starting to repeat, which I’m glad it didn’t get to that point.

But I think as much as we wanted to produce the music more and try some different things, it was kind of like you don’t … people like the idea and sound of Mother Superior, so we don’t want to change that or all of a sudden add keyboards or put a string section on it. It’d be like if Motorhead said we’re going to have a string section from now on. So it just seemed like the time was right to get some fresh air away from it, and like I said, I mean, truth be told there was a lot of frustration from the band members who couldn’t understand why we never got a break or, “What should we do to try to …?” I mean, when there were quote-unquote band meetings, we could all talk about what was wrong, but I think that it was more about the industry and the way things were going, and I thought the band had went through a lot and got to do a lot and had some great opportunities, and it’s just that was the time. You can’t kind of fake it anymore. I mean, bands fake it all the time, but it just felt the time was right to take a little breather. I really had no idea I would play these songs again. I mean, I never say never, but I didn’t know it would be this soon and with a different group of people.

You guys played the party for Scott. How did it go and did you think at the time that this project had a life beyond that day?
JW: Definitely, we … again, I didn’t know John Tempesta that well, and Joey Vera … Joey had done some stuff for Mother Superior in the past as well. He had mixed and mastered some of our records before, so Joey was always kind of involved and around. I mean, I knew everybody were great players, but like I said, when we first played together, it was kind of like, “Wow!” This sounds really great. And then after the party, we definitely said, “Let’s do something. Let’s keep playing together, because it sounds so good.” But, it was because of a friend’s call to Metal Blade Records that got them aware of what happened, and then when they stepped in and said, “Will you make a record the same way that you did the party, with the same songs from the party?” From the day of the party, we knew we were going to be playing together more, but I didn’t know it was going to be that quick and that a record would be ready that quick.  

When did the idea of making a record with Motor Sister take shape? What was it about the project that excited you the most?
JW: Well, Jay Ruston, who produced the record, is another person from the past who used to come to see Mother Superior all the time, and I remember after a show at the Roxy, he said, “There’s only one way to record this band, and that’s to record it live off the floor, with everybody playing together,” and we kind of said, “Let’s make that happen one day.” And funnily enough, Jay had been working with Anthrax, and he was around, and he’s also been doing a solo project that we’re working on, and it just almost seemed like it was meant to be. Like, here’s that time I’m going to get to work with Jay Ruston, so it’s going to be the best sounding record I’ve ever done. And Scott chose all the songs himself for his birthday party, so they were his choices, but I thought he had a great mixed bag of songs. It wasn’t just all the super heavy stuff, and then we kept the arrangements loose so we could … I told the guys play whatever you want. Don’t try to feel like you have to play what the other guys played, and everybody stuck to the blueprint of the original songs, but added their own flavor to it. John Tempesta played some double-bass drum stuff that none of the other drummers ever did, and Scott changed up some of the arrangements, like “Head Hanging Low” has a part on it that he really liked that only happened once, so we made that happen twice.

We changed some intros … things like that. So I knew it was shaping up to be the best recordings that we had, but it wasn’t until after we had actually recorded it – and when you’re recording, especially in the situation that we did where we’re all playing live together and looking at each other in a circle, you don’t know how it really sounds until you go back in the other room and listen to it. And even that … until Jay started sending rough mixes of the stuff did it really hit me like, “Wow, this sounds really great.” And I don’t know if I ever really felt any pressure from the old recordings or anything, but I definitely felt when I started getting those rough mixes that this is like way more powerful than the original band. And again, nothing against the original players, it’s just this is kind of like a different level and this band is all adults that have been playing music for a long time. Mother Superior’s energy was definitely a bit of punk rock youth, and nobody was listening to us or giving us a chance, so we could be the loudest, most raucous band, you know what I mean? So that was kind of the idea, and we kind of got better as players just from gigging all the time. And now I just feel that we’re all at a level where we’ve all been on the road for the last decade or so, doing different projects and playing music. 

You talked about not knowing what it would sound like, and you only knew it was working until after you heard it, but you made the record in only two days. Did you feel as it was happening that you were only going to need two days to make this or …”
JW: Yeah, I did, and I have to thank Jay Ruston for that, because he kept everything straight because we knew we had two days, so to have that person kind of … a taskmaster telling us we had to get this done and then keeping track of, “Oh, we need to do a solo on this one,” or the beginning of “Devil Wind” had acoustic guitar and stuff – he was always on top of it. And we had a film crew there filming us recording, who were grabbing each member into the other room to do interviews and our friends were there … you know, it very chaotic and we had a lot of work to do. So then, me and Pearl sang live with the band at the recording, but Jay said we could go to his studio and do extra singing if there was anything that wasn’t 100 percent for it. So we went to Jay’s home studio a week later, just me and Pearl, and I was going to try and sing like half the songs in one day and just see if I could top things or whatever. And it was such a good vocal day we ended up re-singing all 12 songs in one day, so the album was actually recorded in three days, two days for all the music and then one extra day for the vocals. But again, it was pretty magical. That’s the place we’re at nowadays, that my body let my voice scream out 12 songs and I didn’t lose it. I just feel like we’re that much more mature as players and singers.

It seems like this band came together really quickly, that it was just kind of a natural fit with you guys. It seems like a natural chemistry developed.
JW: It is. It is. It’s so funny. I’ve told this story, too, but it’s such a funny story. We played our first show in New York two weeks ago, and I’ve been in so many situations playing in bands and it’s very strange to be in the company of your band and there’s no weird feeling. It just feels like we’re ready to go, it’s just us five. I’ve said it to the guys before too, like when we’re all five together, it feels like somebody’s missing, because it’s just too easy. What I was going to say was, we played the show in New York and we played an encore song, and we were completely done, and I turned around to put my guitar down and shut my amp off, and I heard talking and I looked and John Tempesta had gotten up from the drums and he went to the front of the stage and he introduced the band. He said, “Thank you everyone for coming. Scott, Pearl, Joey, Jim and … “And he came up to me backstage and said, “I hope you didn’t mind that. I don’t know what came over me.” I said, “No, it felt great!” It was heartfelt, you know what I mean? It wasn’t him trying to do anything. It was just like he felt the need to say, “Thank you,” because it was such a warm reception. I can’t wait till we play the Whisky A Go Go in two weeks. Two weeks from today, we’re playing our next show, and I’m going on tour with Daniel Lanois tomorrow for a week with him. His album came out last year, and we toured the States already, and now we’re going to do some shows … we’ve got a few more shows in the States, but then once we gear up … So I’m going out for a week with him, and then I come back and we play the Whisky as Motor Sister and we have a few other Motor Sister things before the end of March, and I’m going out again with Daniel for April and the beginning of May, and Scott is going out with Anthrax at that time, and then we all get back together in June and do some shows for the summer. So we all have crazy schedules and we’re all in different bands, but we’re all eager to play together as much as we can and keep it fun and easy. 

I don’t know if people will be talking about it as much as the band as a whole, but the vocals you do with Pearl really add something to the record. You two have worked together for a long time. Why does it work so well between the two of you?
JW: I don’t know. I don’t know. It’s been that way for a while. We realized years ago that we could sing really well together, and her older material from her first album was more heavy rock, so I didn’t have as much place to be on it with her, but on the new stuff we’ve been recording, it’s definitely more harmony music. It’s definitely a little more … it’s more mellow, but it’s still rock. It’s more like country and Rolling Stones or Eagles or Gram Parsons kind of stuff, and it’s just some weird thing. There’s just certain people that your voice works with. I’m kind of that way with Daniel Lanois, too. We’ve been singing together now for a long time and people think we’re brothers. Like people will say to me, “Are you Daniel’s brother?” because we learned how to blend our voices, and it’s the same with Pearl.

She just has the exact range that goes right above mine, and it really helps with Motor Sister, too, because we had some background vocals in Mother Superior, but it was more like dudes trying to sing high and do that, but she’s the real deal. She’s a great, powerful singer, and I’m glad that not only does she get to do the harmony kind of stuff on her record, but I’m glad that people will get to hear her kicking some ass, too, with this stuff. And you know, for me it’s a … like in New York, we did our show in Brooklyn and then the next morning we had to do some acoustic songs for a web site there, so we got to bed at 2 in the morning after the gig and then we had to get up and be at the place at 10:30 in the morning, so my voice was still waking up. Thankfully, Pearl can help me get through some of those mornings, too. So it all goes together, and she’s great. And she doesn’t want to sing more. I tried to get her to sing more, and she said, “I just wanted to be in the background in Motor Sister. You’re the singer in the band.” And we’ll do some new songs for our second album next time and get her to have some sections that she can sing on some songs. I’m looking forward to that.

No comments:

Post a Comment