Interview With Keith Nelson of Buckcherry
By: Cara Carriveau
October 30th, 2009
A band can respond to success in many different ways.
It can become complacent and rest on its laurels. It can become cautious and just give fans more of the same thing they liked the last time. It can become cocky and not even care about what comes next.
Or it can be like Buckcherry and go for the throat.
Emboldened, enriched, inflamed, and re-invigorated by the success of 2006’s RIAA platinum, Grammy-nominated 15 (which included the monster hits “Crazy Bitch” and “Sorry”), the hard rockin’ California quintet returns with BLACK BUTTERFLY, a 12-song set that strides forward with the kind of confidence and spirit of adventure you expect from a band that feels it constantly has more to prove. Produced by guitarist Keith Nelson and Marti Frederiksen (Aerosmith, Def Leppard, “Almost Famous,” Fuel), BLACK BUTTERFLY finds Buckcherry using the revival spurred by 15 to push itself even further in its quest for Sex, Drugs, and Buckcherry.
“The bar’s been raised because of 15,” says frontman Josh Todd. “We spent longer on the writing process for BLACK BUTTERFLY than for any of our other records. We wanted to make sure that we had the goods, because 15 was a great record. We want to continue to elevate our game.”
Nelson concurs, adding that, “I think the challenge for us has been just to get back to the headspace we were in three years ago, when it was us against the world and we had to make the record of our lives. I think that’s exactly where we’re at. We haven’t changed much in the process – it’s the same rehearsal space, the same pre-production room. The only difference is the cars in the parking lot are a little nicer.”
There’s no question that 15 was the album of Buckcherry’s career to this point – the right record at exactly the right time.
After a quick-start in 1999 with an RIAA gold debut album and hits such as “Lit Up,” “Check Your Head,” and “For the Movies,” Buckcherry went on a much-needed hiatus in 2002 in order for Todd and Nelson to regroup and refresh their enthusiasm for the band. Todd recorded a solo album in 2004, while Nelson wrote and recorded with other artists. The two even performed and wrote briefly with Slash, Duff McKagan, and Matt Sorum in the precursor to Velvet Revolver. But the duo never lost their desire to bring back Buckcherry. They reactivated the band in 2005 with three new members – guitarist Stevie D., bassist Jimmy Ashhurst, and drummer Xavier Muriel – and signed on a committed management team at Tenth Street Entertainment.
That commitment was particularly valuable, since the music industry as a whole was lukewarm to 15 when it was first shopped around. The band financed the album itself and first signed deals in Japan and Canada (where 15 also went platinum) before a self-release at home was ultimately picked up by Eleven Seven Music/Atlantic Records. An active and forward-thinking viral campaign had “Crazy Bitch” coming out of every radio, Internet portal, and strip club you could imagine. It went on to sell more than 1.2 million digital copies – scoring an RIAA platinum single, earned an RIAA double-platinum ringtone certification, and landed a Grammy Award nomination for Best Hard Rock Performance.
15 itself sold more than the combined total of Buckcherry’s two previous albums, and “Sorry” – sweeping behind 15’s other singles (“Everything,” “Next 2 You,” and “Broken Glass”) – became Buckcherry’s first Top 10 hit, peaking at No. 9 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart as well as hitting the Top 10 of the Hot AC survey. And more than 300 live shows in support of the album kept the band abundantly visible throughout that campaign.
Nelson says that Buckcherry appreciates the milestones it was able to achieve with 15. “It’s all such a gift,” he explains, “because four years ago there wasn’t a band. A lot of people left us for dead. So you can be fearful of success, or you can move on. I think being grateful and excited about how lucky we are to have this job… that’s the head space we’re in moving forward.”
Buckcherry began writing for BLACK BUTTERFLY last November before hitting the studio in the spring. “That’s coming off 25 months of non-stop touring,” Nelson notes. “Nobody was really taking off on vacation. We got right back to work.”
The process, Todd says, was much the same as on 15. “I’ll just come in with a vocal melody and we’ll build a song that way… Keith’ll put his magic on it, and Jimmy or Stevie will add their input as well, and we hash it together in a room,” he explains. “We just tried not to overthink it. The challenge is to not get all caught up in ‘Are they hits? Are they good enough? Is it gonna be great?’ We just finish the songs and start tearing them apart once we have a body of work that we can look at.”
Ultimately, Todd adds, Buckcherry wanted to keep pursuing a broad variety of material that would appeal to the rock dogs who favor “Crazy Bitch” and “Lit Up” and those who were captured by the soaring melodicism of “Sorry.” “We like to be well-rounded. We don’t want to be just one speed,” Todd says. “We’re always going to have songs that are gonna be great on Hot AC and Top 40 radio. We always have ballads on our records. It’s OK as long as we stay true to our roots, which is rock ‘n’ roll.”
The result, BLACK BUTTERFLY, again captures the band’s ability to master a diverse repertoire of songs. The album erupts with fierce, fast-paced rock tracks like “Rescue Me” and “A Child Called ‘It’.” Yet “Don’t Go Away” is a melodic, mid-tempo plea “about being vulnerable, longing to be with a loved one but feeling so far away,” Todd says.
Buckcherry does throw a bit of a curveball out of the box on BLACK BUTTERFLY. The first single, “Too Drunk…,” is a slinky and sexy track that takes the band in yet another kind of direction, while still retaining a muscular, rocking core. “I just wanted something that was funky,” notes Todd, “so Keith and Stevie collaborated on it and just turned it into something with a lot of space to tell a story.”
And that story? It’s about being too inebriated to, well, let’s say perform. “It represents my childhood,” Todd reveals. “‘Too Drunk…’ tells the story of how we rolled as kids. I just thought it was funny to throw that tag, ‘too drunk to fuck,’ because sometimes that was the case.”
Buckcherry rolls into another kind of childhood on another couple of songs. Dave Pelzer’s book, A Child Called “It”, about a horrific case of child abuse in California, yielded two songs for BLACK BUTTERFLY – “Child Called It” and the redemptive “Rescue Me.” Todd says of A Child Called “It,” there were times when I had to put the book down because the abuse of this boy was so bad, but I felt like the book found me… I was compelled to write this song out of inspiration from this guy’s incredible journey.”
“Fallout” deals autobiographically with some of the struggles and turmoil that have dotted Todd’s life, while “Imminent Bailout” is “just balls to the wall rock ‘n’ roll, more on our punk rock side.” “Rose,” meanwhile, is a sweeping road song that Todd likens to Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” and Guns ‘N Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
Adding to the process this time around was Frederiksen, who had co-written two songs, “Sorry” and “Next 2 You,” on 15. “After that,” Nelson notes, “the seed was planted that maybe we could work together as producers on the new album. We had a great sort of vibe with him, and he seemed like the perfect choice.”
Todd says that Frederiksen – who co-wrote four of BLACK BUTTERFLY’s songs and also sang backing vocals – “is really great with melody, and he’s a great musician as well. He understands every aspect of how a rock song is put together, and he really helps us to make our ideas gel.”
Knowing that 15’s rise was very organic and built on a grass-roots fan campaign and word-of-mouth, Buckcherry hopes to continue that path with BLACK BUTTERFLY – at least as much as they can, considering it’s one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year, quite a change from when 15 came out nearly two and a half years ago. In fact, as BLACK BUTTERFLY nears release, 15’s “Sorry” and “Crazy Bitch” remain very active on radio and singles charts. There will, of course, be plenty of viral adventures to help fans tap into the band on a very direct level, but Buckcherry is particularly looking forward to returning to the road, first with Mötley Crüe’s inaugural Crüe Fest tour – which Nelson calls “more fun than human beings should be allowed to have” – and then with global headlining dates of its own.
“That’s the heart of who we are, playing live,” Todd says. “We’ve always prided ourselves on our live show, and that’s why we have this really great foundation when we go out there. I feel like we really bring the thunder. When we come to your town we really are focused on giving you you’re money’s worth. We’re adamant about bringing that to the table every night, and nothing’s ever gonna change that.”
Learn more about Buckcherry at their Official Website: www.buckcherry.com