Talking Motor Sister with Scott Ian, Pearl Aday

Husband-and-wife duo reveal how project evolved
By Pat Prince and Peter Lindblad

Motor Sister is Jim Wilson, Pearl Aday,
Scott Ian, Joey Vera and John Tempesta
Motor Sister's first-ever LP Ride was released a few weeks ago, but the buzz hasn't subsided.

The first week of its release, the record, containing fiery reworkings of songs by '90s retro-rock underdogs Mother Superior, Ride clocked in at #9 on the Billboard New Artist (Heatseekers) chart. It also debuted at #12 on the Billboard Hard Music Albums listing and #40 on the Billboard Rock Albums chart.

The story of Motor Sister began a long time ago, when Anthrax's Scott Ian started a love affair with Mother Superior's rip-roaring mix of '70s classic rock, blues, soul and blazing proto-punk.

For his 50th birthday party, Ian had a wish, and his wife, Pearl Aday, made it come true. Desiring nothing more than to be part of a band that would play his favorite Mother Superior songs, Ian got to live out his fantasy, thanks to his wife, as he got to play those songs alongside Jim Wilson.

It was Wilson who served as front man and the main songwriter for Mother Superior. The trio broke up in the early 2000s. More recently, Wilson has partnered with Aday in the making of her solo material. Given the chance to revisit his old Mother Superior catalog, however, Wilson jumped at it.

Playing in front of a small audience of friends and family, Wilson, Ian, Aday and the rhythm section of Armored Saint and Fates Warning bassist Joey Vera and drummer John Tempesta (White Zombie, The Cult, Testament) thundered through a set handpicked by Ian. Word of the raucous, powerful performance reached Metal Blade Records, and plans to make Ride, recorded in only two days, were set in motion.

This doesn't appear to be some one-off side project for any of them. Ian and Aday talked to Backstage Auctions recently about their involvement in Motor Sister and their adoration for Mother Superior, a band that may be finally getting its due.

Pearl, I wanted to talk about Jim Wilson for a bit. You first worked with him on your solo music and his solo music, right?
Pearl Aday: Not on his solo work, no. That was all Jim, but in terms of my stuff, Jim and I wrote all that together.

A tour may be in the works for
Motor Sister, when band members
can find the opportunity to do so.
How did you and Jim meet? How did that collaboration start?
PA: We met through Scott, because Scott knew him already by the time I met Scott. And so Scott introduced me to Mother Superior music and then introduced me to the guys. And I think I became a really big fan of the music first and then had met Jim and the other guys a couple times and then Scott surprised me by inviting the whole band to my birthday party one year. And this was a long time ago, and it was just awesome, and I got really excited, and throughout the night I mentioned to Jim I said, “What would you guys think about working with a female vocalist at some point?” I got the balls from somewhere to ask him that, and he said, “Sure.” And then it just kind of started falling into place. We started getting together and writing together.

And then you’ve covered Mother Superior songs on your solo material. “Whore,” on the Swing House Sessions, it’s a real nice country-blues rendition of the song.
PA: Uh, huh. Swing House Sessions was like an acoustic version of a rock album Little Immaculate White Fox, so “Whore” is on the rock album as well.

Oh, I haven’t heard that.
PA: Yeah, that’s a full rock album. It’s got heavy rock songs on it. And then the Swing House Sessions is the acoustic version of that album. But yeah, we did it, we did a cool little country version on the acoustic album. That was fun.

It just shows how Mother Superior songs can work with hard blues, hard rock and acoustically as well.
PA: Yeah, totally versatile. Jim’s music is completely versatile, because he’s drawing from all different genres.

And Scott, performing during your birthday celebration with Jim must have sparked that this was some special thought in your head. No?
Scott Ian: Yeah, it definitely did. Just even going into it, it was something special that I wanted to do. Not just even for me, but for all of us, just to get to be a part of that and kind of play that music again. Nobody had heard those songs in a live element for years, so it was just a case of having fun but with people who really love Mother Superior. Just to get together in the jam room at our house and just have fun doing it; that was really the impetus behind the whole thing. We weren’t going into it with any plans past that. Everything that came after that is just, you know, “Merry Christmas.” But the initial thing was, “Let’s just play these songs and have some fun.”

And Pearl, were you a part of that, too?
PA:  Yeah, I threw the party for him. I got the band together, and I sang that night, as well, because I’m in the band.

Well, your voice blends together with Jim’s nicely. You can hear it on “Fork in the Road” on the album. It’s a natural pairing.
PA: Thanks, yeah, we do sound really great together and we work really well together. It is very natural and organic for us.

And you guys recorded the Motor Sister album in two days, right?
PA: Yep.
Motor Sister's debut album 'Ride' 2015
SI: Yes.

Pretty much straightforward live, just like the birthday gig.
SI: Yeah, well, that was just one of our few things we said to the label was basically just, “If we’re going to do this, we have to do it the same way we did it.” That’s the way it should be, and I talked to Jay Ruston about it. I said, “Can we do this? Can we just set up live in the studio and bust it out the same way we did at our house?” And he said, “Yeah, absolutely. You guys all know the songs. You don’t need to do anything else.”  It was that easy.

And Jay is the engineer, the producer?
SI: Yeah.

Oh, okay. He’s worked with you before on with Anthrax and stuff, right?
SI: He’s worked with Anthrax, he’s worked with Pearl, he’s worked with Jim, he’s worked with Mother Superior. Yeah, he’s been involved with all our stuff.

And the spontaneous live feel, he captured something magical on the Motor Sister album. A lot more bands should do that, just go right through the songs, instead of all the overdubs and stuffs.
PA: You’re saying more bands should try and do that.

Yes, exactly.
PA: Some bands can’t do that. I don’t … You know what I’m trying to say, Scott.  Just for us, it came really easy, because it came from this night where we threw this party, and we were just doing it to have fun. And we were just doing it to have drinks and make this music come alive again and hear the music live again and celebrate Scott’s 50th birthday. And it kind of fell into place, the fact that it was so great and it was so exciting, and it was so good that this record company, Metal Blade, was like, “Dude, we’ve got to make an album of this. It’s too good for everybody to not to hear it.” So that’s why we were able to. It just happened so fast that it just kind of … it was natural. Not kind of … it was natural in how it happened, because it’s that good. And so were able to go into the studio and make an album in two days.

I was reading some stuff of Jim doing interviews and he said he overdubbed on Mother Superior’s albums to get a dual-guitar feel. And with Scott, here you have that dual-guitar feel on Motor Sister naturally. And I think he was very pleased with that, that it was a live feel.
SI: Yeah. I mean, yeah, it is, because we’re both playing. It is two guitars playing at the same time; so he’s not overdubbing. So, of course, it would be a live feel. 

But it was something special, the overdub This sounded a lot more more authentic and exciting and energetic.
SI: Yeah, absolutely. Two guitars just gives it that much more energy. Certainly having my playing on the songs is just going to change the energy of it as well. It’s a different band playing these songs, so it’s definitely going to feel different.

Did you find you had to use a different guitar technique or anything playing this rather than an Anthrax song?
SI: Nope, I just play how I play.

As somebody who doesn’t play guitar, I know it’s a silly question to ask. Some people have mentioned that this album is metalizing Mother Superior. I don’t see that at all. I see it as putting a new coat of paint on a race car. It’s just making it shine better and faster.
PA: That’s a cool way of putting it. I like that.
SI: Yeah, it’s not … we didn’t "metalize" it. I don’t hear that. Metalizing it would have meant me having, let’s say, my own tone that I would use to record an Anthrax record, which I certainly don’t. Yeah, I played with much more of a rock tone than I ever would on an Anthrax record. So I wouldn’t say it’s metalizing it at all.

Did you use different guitars?
SI: I used one of my Jackson signature models for about half the record, and then I used my Gretsch Duo Jet for about half the record.

Maybe that’s the question I should have asked. It’s not technique. It’s that you used different guitars or amps or anything to get that hard rock sound.
SI: No, it was just a matter of dialing the game back. My amp can get any tone I would ever need, just by changing the gain structure on the head. My Randall, all I have to do is pull the gain back and I can be as clean sounding as Malcolm Young or as distorted and heavy sounding as my normal Anthrax recordings.

This is nothing new for you, recording music outside of Anthrax. Out of all the outside material you’ve recorded, is this one of your favorite projects?
SI: Yeah, for sure. It’s not like I ever recorded anything with anybody that I don’t like (laughs). What would be the point of … “I’m going to record on something I hate.” That’s not something I’m out there trying to spend my time doing. Yeah, I’ve enjoyed, whether it’s S.O.D. or the Damn Things or the stuff I’ve done with Brian Posehn and now Motor Sister … I just love music, and when I get to be involved in projects outside of what I do with Anthrax, it’s most of the time with friends. I go back with every one of those things that I mentioned basically happened because of friendship, from S.O.D. on through. Anything I’ve done outside of Anthrax are hanging out with guys friends who also play music and are into music and we inevitably start writing songs together or play together, or jamming together. So, anything I’ve done outside of Anthrax is just because what I naturally do anyway. So it just adds more … it’s like having a whole bunch of different foods to eat instead of one food all the time.

I guess I asked because sometimes you hear musicians say when they do an outside project, they think it’ll be great, and once it’s done, they feel like, “I never want to do that again.” But with this one, it feels special. It feels like it comes from a special place because you were a fan.
SI: Yeah, it’s certainly different from anything I’ve ever done. You know, all the stuff I mentioned, all the stuff I did obviously I was involved in the songwriting. Whereas this is essentially me having this idea to just have a party and play a bunch of songs that I love that were written by Jim Wilson with my friends. And then we made a record of it. Essentially, I’m playing a bunch of cover songs, but a bunch of cover songs from a band that I love and now actually we made a band out of it and I’m actually in the band with Pearl and Jim and Johnny and Joey, because Jim was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” When we got the offer to make the record, the phone call actually came to us, to Pearl and I. And I said, “Yeah, I want to do it, sure. But you need to ask Jim. It’s not our decision to make. This is Jim’s music.” And he was totally into it, and he was totally into making it a band and playing shows. It’s really his thing. That’s what does make this special, that in a lot of ways, it’s just me getting to play a bunch of songs that I love. Like, what if I just said, “Hey, one day I’m getting a band together to play AC/DC songs and somehow get Angus Young to play along and go out and play AC/DC songs with Angus.” That’s the same thing to me, getting to do this with Jim. That’s how cool it is.

And then Jim’s voice has a very Paul Rodgers’ feel to it. It has a hard blues soul to it. And did you find playing with him that any traditional hard-rock influence seeped into this album when you were playing it?
SI: Well, I’m not sure what you mean, because the songs were already written.

Well, I know they were already played, but did you find that influences from the past – like hard rock bands you were into, whether, and I’ll just throw some out there, Foghat or any of those ‘70s bands – did you feel some of that seeping in, as well as Mother Superior?
SI: Well, yeah, Mother Superior obviously is influenced by a lot of ’70s music, whether it’s Humble Pie and Free, or whatever. You name it. Me, KISS and Aerosmith … name a great ‘70s band and Mother Superior … Thin Lizzy. Jim always says it best: In the ‘90s when people were listening to grunge and rap metal Mother Superior were playing songs that sounded like Humble Pie. That’s probably why people weren’t paying attention.

You take a song like “This Song Reminds Me of You ” … I almost feel like if that song was played on a classic-rock radio station, listeners would be drawn to it, don’t you think? It has almost like a Bad Company feel.
SI: Absolutely. Given the opportunity, I think people would … I defy someone to listen to … if you’re into rock ‘n’ roll, rock, metal in any way, shape or form, I defy you to not get into this record. It’s almost impossible. I can’t tell you how many people we’ve spoken to who’ve never heard Mother Superior before until now, because of the Motor Sister record, and have gone out and bought a bunch of the Mother Superior catalogs. So, it’s what we’ve been saying for ages, that this is a great band and Jim is a great songwriter, and if this opens the doors to more people getting into the music he’s been making his whole life, that’s awesome.

That was my next question. I think this is definitely going to turn people on. I mean I’d never heard of Mother Superior either before this, and I’m going to go out and buy some albums. And I just I find it weird that I’d never heard of them (laughs). It was very strange that the band could be overlooked by so many people. It’s almost unjust.
SI: Yeah.
PA: That’s why we did this (laughs). That’s why we did this. Like I say on the featurette, it’s just too good for people to not hear. And people are going to love it just as much as we do. They just don’t know it yet. They’ve got to hear it, and then they’ll go, “Aaargh,” just like you did and say, “I can’t believe I haven’t heard of it before, you know?” I mean that’s why Scott wanted to, in essence, resurrect this music again for his 50th birthday. That’s a milestone, you know? And that’s the thing he wanted to do: “I’ve got to hear this music live again, because this band I love them so much and they’re defunct, but let’s give it life. Let’s bring it to life again. So that’s why we did it, because it’s so awesome (laughs). And it shows in the way it’s being received now. We’re just so lucky that things fell into place the way they have, because we get to keep playing it live, you know what I mean? We don’t have to make it a special occasion. It’s sort of like, “Wow! We were right. Everybody is loving this. Everybody’s going to love it. And just more and more people get to hear it, and we get to play it for them. It’s so cool.

Yeah, and there is an appetite for retro-sounding stuff now. You can look at …
PA: The real old stuff – something genuine, something authentic, something with some talent. It’s something that people are hungry for, I think.

Look at a band like Rival Sons. They’re very traditional, and bands like that … you almost think if Mother Superior came out now would they be more popular?
SI: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. Or if they would have existed in 1972 or ’73, would they have set the world on fire. I mean, you could think about that all day long. Let’s see. We are putting out a record now with all these songs on it, and certainly there’s been no lack of promotion or awareness of what we’re doing. The word is out there. So it’s a case of, people getting an opportunity to hear it, they can click online or stream for free before they decide whether or not they actually want to purchase one … you know, they don’t even have to worry about buying a record that they may not like. They can listen to it first, and then see how rad it is and then decide, “Hey, I need to own this.” So I would think it’s a pretty good time to put this record out. Granted, people don’t buy records anymore, but still, from just the point of view of people wanting to hear a record like this, I definitely think it’s a good time for it.

Yeah, Jim had a great quote about this album. He said, “We were a little ahead of our time or a little behind our time.”
SI: Right.
PA: And now they’re getting a second chance.

Yeah, exactly … which song on the album are you guys most pleased with?
PA: All of them (laughs).
SI: Yeah, I mean I picked my 12 favorite Mother Superior songs initially to do this party, so those were my 12 favorites. So I don’t pick one out of those 12. Those are the 12 that were my favorites, and then even more. It wasn’t too long after we made the record, one day Pearl was playing Mother Superior in the house and the song “Rollin’ Boy Blues” came on. And we were both like, “What? Why didn’t we do this song?” So you just … it would probably be easy to pick another 12 songs (laughs) and do Vol. 2, but I would think moving forward, we’re going to try and write our own music out of this lineup. And maybe do “Rollin’ Boy Blues,” too (laughs).      

I was going to say, this can’t just be this one album. You’ve added something to that old Mother Superior sound. Why not an album of originals?
SI: Oh, absolutely. We’ve all been talking about it and it’s definitely something we want to do. I think this lineup, getting together in a room and banging out some songs can only be awesome.

And you’ve got a superior rhythm section in Joey Vera and John Tempesta. That sounds great on the record by the way. Those two together also sound great.
SI: Oh yeah, they rule. Just the idea of us writing songs together, kind of getting in that room for the first time, we have some awesome riffs that we’re jamming on, I’m looking forward to that.

How did you get them to commit? It’s almost like a supergroup? They have a lot of things going on.
SI: I didn’t have to do anything. Joey has already been a Mother Superior fan forever. Joey’s actually produced Mother Superior stuff in the past. Joey’s been playing with Pearl and Jim together in Pearl’s stuff together forever. And then Johnny, all I had to do was send him Mother Superior songs. He heard the music, and he’s like, “How, when and where?” So it was literally that easy.

Do you think if you did do something else, they’d commit to that as well?
SI: Oh yeah, they’re already in.

Even a tour?
SI: Well, a tour is something we’d all commit to. It’s just a matter of finding the window to commit to it. Yes, of course. But as far as a tour goes, we’re kind of waiting on some schedules to firm up with all of us, with our day jobs, so to speak. And as soon as we know what’s going on in those worlds, then we’ll be able to pick a window or two of time where we might be able to go out and do more shows. I mean, we really want to get over to the U.K. I think a week or two-week run in the U.K. with this would be amazing and certainly get out and play through the Midwest through Milwaukee and Chicago and Detroit and all those areas, I think it would be awesome.

So, what’s next? I know you have a lot going on now, Scott. You’re wrapping up Anthrax, you’re wrapping up the new album?
SI: Not wrapping up. We’re right in the middle of it.

Oh, you are. Okay. So you’re doing that, and what’s next for both of you? Pearl you’re working on solo stuff?
PA: Yeah, Jim and I have actually been working on an album for a while now, and we’re almost finished. We’ve got I think nine songs and we just decided to add two more, which we’ll be recording soon, so that’s really exciting and something to look forward to. It’s not hard rock. You know, our last album Little Immaculate White Fox was hard rock and the Swing House Sessions, and this is rock and roll, but it’s sort of more like The Eagles. We’ve been calling it “California country,” but it’s rock and roll, how that term is used. I know people don’t really know that term anymore, but we do (laughs) and we made a rock album, but it’s just not particularly hard.

Well, you have a very Janis Joplin soul to your voice, so I think that would sound really good in that Eagles sort of … add that country blues and make it heavy – that would be really cool.

PA: Thank you.

To read our review of Motor Sister's Ride, go to Visit the Motor Sister page at the Metal Blade Records site to learn more about Motor Sister here. To get the inside scoop on the making of Motor Sister's Ride album, check out the video below:

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