interview by Michael McCarthy
Jack Russell is the original lead singer of the iconic hard rock/heavy metal band Great White, which rose to fame in the ’80’s and early ’90’s with hits like “Rock Me,” “Save Your Love” and their cover of Ian Hunter’s “Once Bitten, Twice Shy.” Where most of their peers were influenced by glam, Great White were more so influenced by Led Zeppelin and the blues. To that end, Jack’s voice has often been compared to that of Robert Plant. One thing is for certain, Jack is a storyteller, both on his new album, He Saw it Coming, and, it turns out, as an interview subject. But before we get to the interview, I have to praise the album. He Saw it Coming is easily a career highlight. I’d say it rivals the best Great White albums. It’s easily right up there with Once Bitten and Twice Shy. It might even be my favorite album that Jack has done to date. You might think, yeah, yeah, he’s just saying that because it’s new and exciting but let it age a little while and he’ll take that back. Uh, yeah, that’s not happening. I’ve been listening to this album two, three times a day for the past few weeks and I actually find myself liking it more each time. And I’ll be honest – usually, I’ve started to lose interest by now because I’m swamped with so much stuff publicists send me that I don’t get to listen to what I want half the time. But this is an album I’ve been putting aside a lot of new stuff to get into. The songs are tight, punchy, catchy – everything you could want from Jack, all walking that fine line between old school heavy/hair metal and classic rock. That said, the songs also have a modern tinge to them, especially in terms of the guitar tones and rhythm section. The production is grade A, too. The album truly sounds incredible. Even if you don’t like this kind of music, I think you’d at least agree to that much after listening to the title track. Bottom line? The band Jack has today is on par with the classic Great White line up. Check out He Saw it Coming, which is out now, below and get to know the man behind the music.
MM: So, where are you calling me from tonight? Are you out in L.A.?
JR: Yeah, I’m actually down at the beach where I live in South Bay. I’m on my boat.
MM: Your new album, He Saw it Coming, was just released today [February 27th, 2016] on Frontiers Records. How did you hook up with them?
JR: A manager actually got a hold of them. He knows Serafino, who runs the company, and he talked to him and negotiated a deal and, boom, you know, we’re in the studio working on an album. I’m just glad we got to see it to fruition, you know? It took a long time because I was waiting around to have the right group of guys ’til I recorded. It took a while to get the right people. And I felt like these are the guys I wanted to record with. So, after our new bass player came in I was like, OK, this is it. This is my band.
MM: I think it’s your best album in I don’t know how many years. And I’m a fan, so I like them all, but this one’s like right up there with the classics.
JR: Yeah, thank you. To me – and this is my truth – I believe that it’s the best thing that I’ve ever done. That’s just the way I feel. Everybody always says that. Oh, it’s the best album we’ve ever done, you know? And I feel stupid even saying that. But I honestly believe that. I’ve said it before about other records and I didn’t really believe it, you know what I mean? You’ve gotta say that. They train you to say that. Make sure you say it’s better than the last one. Oh yeah, well, this album really sucks, but it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. And I can honestly say that without feeling a little sick in my stomach. I’m not gonna lie to everybody. They’re gonna buy this and they’re gonna hate you for saying it was good. This is something I’m really, really proud of. If nobody buys it, I’ve got a great album to listen to. That’s how we write anyway, you know? You try to write for yourself first. I’m like John Q Listener. If I like something, pretty much everybody else is gonna like it. I don’t have this big sophisticated ear to go like I think the bass tone needs a little more bassy-ness to it. [Laughs] It’s like, if it sounds good, I don’t care what it is. I just want it to sound good and make me feel something. A song should stir some emotions. Sad, glad, mad, happy, whatever, cry. You should feel something from a song. It should take you to a place in your life or take you somewhere. Everything I write about is something I’ve been through. The only song that’s not autobiographical on this album is “Spy versus Spy.” But if I was a spy I couldn’t tell you anyway so I’d have to say that. [Both laugh]
MM: I know you used Pledge Music to finance the album. At what point did Frontiers come into the picture? Did they come into the picture after that or before that?
JR: They came in before that. We just used the Pledge campaign to help promote our record. We’re using all those funds. We didn’t split them up or something. We’re using them to promote our record because the label is only gonna do so much. They have a lot of bands. And as far as return goes on their investment, I imagine that it’s not as lucrative as it would’ve been back in the ’80’s. You’re not getting 200,000 dollar record deals anymore either. It’s all a sign of the times. So, you know, they do what they can with what they think they can afford and they’re gonna put their money on what pony they think is gonna finish the race first. So, I don’t know what they’d be willing to do or not do on this record, but it doesn’t really matter to me because whatever we’re gonna pump it. We’re gonna make our own music videos. We’re gonna do everything we can to promote this record and get it out there. Because I want people to hear it. It’s really good. I think they’ll really enjoy it. I think it’s gonna take them somewhere. It’s not a merry-go-round, it’s a freaking roller coaster. You’re gonna go [fake screams].
MM: I saw that you’re putting out the album on vinyl on the Pledge Music page –
JR: – Yeah, yeah. The album’s on vinyl. I can’t believe it. The last record I saw of this band on vinyl was they re-released Twice Shy. Some Relativity Records or something [Ed. Note: The label is Friday Records, according to Amazon, which has it in stock]. I guess they licensed it. They came out with Twice Shy on clear red vinyl and it was a double folded album. It was really weird. The colors were horrible. Everything was so red on the album cover. It was like, oh my God, it looks horrible. Whoever did the graphics must have been on quaaludes or something. But it was fun to see something on vinyl. There’s a certain smoothness and a warmth that comes with vinyl with analog because of a certain thing called tape compression and it acts on the vocals and on the drums and it makes them really smooth and warm.
MM: I’m a vinyl fan. Is it being released widely on vinyl or is it only for people who pledged?
JR: Honestly, I don’t know. I really don’t have an answer for you. I should be more well-versed in what’s going on with my own record, you know? I’ve got so many other obligations that I have to do to help the record that I don’t have a lot of time to sit there and figure out all the nuts and bolts. I’m so computer illiterate, dude, you wouldn’t even believe it. I still do my lyrics on a stone tablet with a chisel. [Both laugh] I’m so archaic it’s just ridiculous. I might as well be back in the stone age. [Editor’s note: it will be available on vinyl March 3rd. Amazon is taking pre-orders.]
MM: Sometimes that’s for the best.
JR: I’m hearing Flintstones tracks beyond where I’m at. Technology, to me, has ruined my business. Completely ruined it. Why should I befriend this monster that’s destroyed my life as far as my job goes. Hey man, you just allow people to steal everything that I make. I mean, OK, it’s just music, you know? You can’t see it. You can’t even touch it. You can’t smell it. It doesn’t even exist. It does exist. It is something tangible. Just because you can’t see it, you know? I can’t see the other side of the moon, but I know it’s there.
MM: So, what do you think about all of these streaming services then?
JR: Unless I’m making money off of it, I just piss all over them. If we’re not getting paid for our music then we’re just getting ripped off. It’s horrible. People don’t realize. They’re like, ah, my favorite band broke up. I can’t believe it. Well, if you hadn’t stolen their music, maybe they would have stayed together. They couldn’t eat so they had to break up. People don’t realize. I’m just one guy. How many millions of people are saying I’m just one guy? You’ve got ten million people thinking they’re the only one that’s stealing. I mean, c’mon. It’s disgusting what these athletes get paid compared to what we get paid. It’s like, wow, man, really? You know? I don’t know. I’m just ragging. There’s nothing I can do about it. Just keep making my music and be happy that I have the opportunity to share it with somebody.
MM: Earlier today, I looked to see if the new album was on Spotify and I had to specifically type in Jack Russell’s Great White for it to come up. When I searched simply for Great White it did not come up at all.
JR: Yeah, no, it’s gotta be Jack Russell’s Great White. Because we’re a separate entity.
MM: Yeah, I get it. I just didn’t know if they blocked you from coming up on that search or something.
JR: Oh, no, no, no, everything’s all done. All the legal stuff’s over with. I have the right to use Jack Russell’s Great White as long as I’m alive. That’s fine with me. I like the idea of being set apart. I don’t want to be thought of as the singer of that band at this point in my life.
MM: Who produced the new album?
JR: That would be Robby and myself.
MM: It sounds fantastic.
JR: We had another guy mix it, you know? I didn’t wanna have to sit there and mix it ourselves. It was just better to sit back and relax and just go, OK, bring that up a little more, put a little spit on that, OK, bring up the high end up on that one part. I just think it was a smarter idea to have someone else mix the record.
MM: You’ve worked with a lot of different producers over the years, as well as being a music fan. Who is your all-time favorite producer?
JR: Jack Blades. He’s great. He did a great job. He’s a great songwriter. He’s just a great musician. He’s got a really great attitude. He was always hopping around like me. He told me one time, slow down child. I’m always moving something. My feet or something. I’m always doing something. I’ve got this energy I can’t get rid of. I don’t know where it comes from. Nervous energy or whatever it is.
MM: “He Saw it Coming,” the song, really reminds me of Queen. Were they an influence on that one?
JR: It’s funny because the working title of the song was “Angry Queen.” [Both laugh] Like a pissed off version of Queen. We didn’t do that intentionally. The song wrote itself, really. We just started out with the idea and it just kind of progressed and grew and we said let’s try this. Let’s try another part. Let’s not go that course, let’s try another part. Here’s an idea. Try this. It just took these different directions. It was like Mister Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland. It was awesome. It was a great ride.
MM: Where did the idea for the rap verse in “She Moves Me” come from?
JR: That, we were doing the scratch vocals. I was singing the scratch vocal on the track so the guys would have a guide to know where to play and where not to play and I sang it down and when that part came in I just started going [rhymes a bunch of sounds] she moves me. [Both laugh] They go, that is so good! You know? That’s great, man. So, I wrote some words for it and I already had the last line she moves me so I just wrote some words for it and I go that sounds so good. And I hate rap. The only rapping I do is around Christmas time. [Both laugh] Some people like it. This one critic was going I love that, I’m getting into the song then they start rapping, I hate rap, this song sucks, this album’s a five, there’s only three good songs on it. Rah, rah, rah. Obviously, he’s at every single Slipknot show. Well, OK, not everybody has to like my record. I don’t care, you know what I mean?
MM: Where did the idea to open “Spy vs Spy” with the guitar solo come about?
JR: That was just Robby’s thing. I came down there after we’d done the song and it was almost finished and all of a sudden he plays this thing for me and I go whoa that is cool, man. So, he’d do a lot of stuff when I wasn’t around so I didn’t have a chance to reject it. Then I come down and I have to hear it and sometimes I say no, I don’t like that, get rid of it, but more often than not I’d be like whoa, that’s cool. It’s stuff that I might not have even let him try if he would’ve told me about it. And he knows me well enough to know when I would have done that so he made sure that I wasn’t around and put it on the tape. That way I wouldn’t automatically veto it without being subjected to hearing it first. It’s a winning combination. It really is. This band is everything I’ve ever wanted from a group of guys. I’ve just gotta hope we can all stay together and keep doing what we’re doing because it is so much freakin’ fun. I’m having the time of my life. Honestly, at 56 years old I can say I’ve never been happier in any band or any group of people I’ve been with. I feel like a little kid. It’s amazing. These guys are my friends. We really love each other. You don’t find that, you know? I’m not saying that at one point Great White wasn’t that because we certainly were. We were each others worlds. That’s all we knew. We spent more time with each other than we did our own wives. But, gradually, as any relationship, things pile up and [there’s] luggage and you’ve gotta get rid of it, you know? So, you know, right now there is so much water under the bridge with the other guys and myself that it’s not even worth getting a canoe. [Laughs]
MM: This album sees you reuniting with Tony Montana, who had played bass in Great White but is now playing guitar and keyboards in the band. Had you guys kept in touch during the years you weren’t in the band together?
JR: No, we would talk every once in a while. I remember running into him at the NAMM show and I didn’t even recognize him. He’s like, Jack? I go, yeah. He goes, dude, it’s Tony. I go, dude, what’s up, man? You’re old by now. He’s towering over me. Like damn I didn’t think I was this short. Oh, yeah, I guess I have lost four inches. So, yeah, we talked after that. And once I started the band I kept hinting around, hey, man, you know, why don’t you come join the band, dude? He’s like, I don’t really know if I want to. Finally, one day I was talking to him and I told him I fired my bass player and he goes you know dude, somebody out there is playing my riffs and getting paid for it and I’m sitting here doing nothing. Well, what does that tell you? He goes, dude, I’m in. All right, you’re all the way in? He goes, all the way. I go, you got the job. So, he started playing bass and then I fired my guitar player and he goes can I play guitar? And I go, I don’t know, can you? He goes, dude, don’t you remember I was a guitar teacher doing all this music when you guys hired me? Not really. So, he pulls up his phone and shows me this video of him playing and I go, oh my God, that’s you? He goes, yeah. I go, you got the job, man, you play keyboards and guitar – I mean, keyboard and harmonica – and you’re in. He got a raise. It doesn’t mean more money, but he’s got a raise. He has more stuff to do now.
MM: How did you find your lead guitarist Robby [Lochner], drummer Dicki [Fliszar] and bassist Dan [McNay]?
JR: Well, Robby was a friend of my old bass player who was a friend of my old drummer. So, Robby is the only one I kept from the original incarnation. Everybody else got shown the door. Then Robbie knew Dicki and I think Dicki knew Dan. It was like dominoes with a couple of them going astray.
MM: I know Dan was the last addition to the band. Did Tony play bass on the album?
JR: No, no, no, Dan did. We didn’t start recording until Dan was in the band. That’s when I knew it was time to record. Like, OK, this is the right band.
MM: I love the video for “Sign of the Times.” Whose idea was it to show all those photos in the background?
JR: That was the director. The guy did everything. He filmed it. He directed it. He edited it. He was somebody that Frontiers put on us and the guy was amazing. The one thing I wanted him to change was to put the band in black and white and leave the background in color. It came out really, really good. The contrast was really cool. I love the black and white because it’s so dramatic. I just love the way it looks. The mix with the color is really, really cool and abstract. All the old photos – he went and bought this projector from somebody – I don’t know where – just some old lady or something like that. Old time projector. And the slides came with it. This is all pictures from somebody’s lives. It was just amazing, all these shots and patriotic. So many pictures of the United States and the flag and generals. So, somebody in the family was obviously in the military as a career. It was really interesting to sit and go through those slides. I went through a lot of them for the shot. And he wanted the shot of me putting it in the machine and he filmed that for twenty minutes before he got what he wanted. We got to see a lot of stuff. I was like, wow, this is really cool stuff, you know what I mean? When we did the little walk around thing where Tony’s playing the acoustic guitar and [there’s] the vocal breakdown we’re walking around, pointing at the walls and looking and there was nothing there at that time. He was gonna superimpose that. So, we’re just kind of walking around, not even knowing what’s gonna happen. I kind of had a general idea but I didn’t really understand that it was gonna be the whole wall. I’m pointing up. I didn’t even know if I was doing anything right. So, I’m pointing at a picture of myself when I was younger. It was really cool.
MM: What are your plans to tour behind the new album?
JR: Anywhere and everywhere. We’re gonna do as many shows as we can. As long as they’re decent. Decent offers, you know what I mean? Yeah, just support the record, man. Go, go, go, go.
MM: I was just thinking today how Ratt’s reforming and Stephen Pearcy just put out a great solo album on Frontiers today as well. Maybe that would be a good double bill?
JR: Yeah, that would be. That would be a really good double bill. You’re right. We did that before. With the initial release of Twice Shy we toured with Ratt and Warrant opened up for that. It was really fun.
MM: Speaking of Warrant, for a little while there when you had some health issues Jani Lane filled in for you. Was that with your blessing?
JR: It was my coercion. He didn’t want to do it. He told me that in no uncertain terms. I said, please do me a favor and do this. All right, man. He calls me up one day, he goes, dude, why do you have to sing high all the time? I go, it’s the way I wrote the songs, man. He goes, man, I sing high and that stuff is a bitch. You tell me about it. I know. If I would’ve known how high it was gonna be later on I would’ve wrote it differently.
MM: One of my favorite things you’ve done was that live tribute to Zeppelin.
JR: Yeah, that was one of my favorite things, too. That Zeppelin album is so good.
MM: How did that idea come about?
JR: I just thought of it. We were coming home from touring and I thought, you know what, people always ask us, play some more Zeppelin. You know what, let’s go out and do three shows of nothing but Led Zeppelin. Everybody write down your favorite songs. And we kind of took that list and we kind of went by how many went for one song and blah, blah, blah and I wrote the set list up. I said, OK, learn these songs. And we’ve got four days to learn them. And we did. In four hour rehearsals. There was a couple that didn’t make the record because our drummer messed up. He couldn’t do “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” I was like, aw, man, c’mon, dude, we used to play this in a band when we were kids. Him and I. I was in a band with him before I met Mark. So, that was one that didn’t make it and there was another one, too. It was so stupid because it’s such an easy song, everybody knows it, “Good Times, Bad Times.” He couldn’t get through that song without screwing up. They screwed up, what was the other one they did? Oh, God, it’s on Zeppelin Four album. “When the Levee Breaks.” There’s a part in there where he just totally misses but I said you know what, it sounds so good we’re gonna leave it on there anyway. Who cares? It’s live, man. You make mistakes. But I thought the vocal performance and the guitar thing was just excellent.
MM: Yeah, definitely. Now, I looked on Amazon expecting to see that you’d released an autobiography like so many other rock stars and was surprised to find that you hadn’t. Is that something you’ve thought about?
JR: I’m in the process of doing that. It’s just such a long, winding story. It takes a long time to figure out what to leave in and what to leave out and keeping the continuity and not leaving out any of the really important or funny or tragic or cute little moments.
MM: Are you writing it yourself or are you working with someone?
JR: Right now I’m working on it myself. There’s a couple writers I’ve been waiting for them to finish other books and once they’ve finished working on other books they’re gonna take a little break then we’ll start working on my stuff. All in the works.