Malice, James Neal, Bio-Interview,Beginning,License to Kill,Band
FIB MUSIC: What are you up these days?
James Neal: Working on original material and playing out whenever I can.
FIB MUSIC: Describe a typical day in the life of James Neal.
James: Normally, I get up between 4 and 5 am, put on some coffee, check my emails, sometimes jam a bit in my studio before going to work, do crosswords and sudoku, check the weather(living on the east coast does that to one), work til 5 or 6, eat dinner and watch cool stuff on TV or DVD with my lovely wife. Some evenings I manage to get up in the studio and work on some things, but that’s mostly on the weekends. Nothing exciting, really. We are Nichiren Buddhists, so there are various activities we participate in, which tends to keep things from getting too humdrum. As Nichiren Buddhists we also have a bit of an assiduous practice – chant for an hour in the morning, then recite parts of the sutra, which is the original Buddha’s main teaching. We also chant in the evening.
FIB MUSIC: Anything going on for you at the moment that you’d like to promote?
James: Not really. I am working on producing a solo cd one of these days, but that seems to be quite a slow process right now.
FIB MUSIC: Tell us a little about growing up. When did you start singing? Who were some of your biggest musical influences?
James: I think I’ve probably been singing all my life. My mother had a beautiful voice and used to sing in the kitchen a lot. I remember singing in the choir in church, maybe when I was eight or so, and being made fun of because my voice was so high. I actually started really developing my voice when I was 12, when I first started listing to R&B singers like Wilson Pickett and James Brown. But then I got wind of songs like “Let’s Spend The Night Together” by the Stones and “When I Was Young” by the Animals, that was it.
FIB MUSIC: Did you have that incredible voice naturally, or did you have to develop it?
James: Well, a bit of both I suppose. I discovered I could actually imitate just about anybody I listened to, so I guess you could say that I developed my abilities by doing that and noticing the nuances in their styles and picking up on them.
FIB MUSIC: Were you in any bands before Malice? What were they like?
James: Oh yeah. Every one of them had a heavy edge to them. The first band I was in, Antelope down in Corpus Christi, Texas, played stuff like “Walk Away” by the James Gang. And every band I was in attempted their hand at originals, which I was always promoting.
FIB MUSIC: Malice was formed in Portland in 1979. What can you tell us about the band’s beginning and the early days?
James: Some pretty wild and hairy times, considering we met at a party, and every time we got together it was a party. But we did get serious when Mark and Mick were interested in my working with some ideas they had as a vocalist. One thing led to the next, they went to Hollywood, I got a call, and the rest is, as they say, history.
FIB MUSIC: When did the band make the move to LA? What was that time like for you?
James: Well, I believe it was about a year or two before the release of “In the Beginning”. It was a wild, messed-up time, but at the same time, it was sort of magical. We were actually making a dream come alive, with the help of some friends of course.
FIB MUSIC: Malice was the only band with two tracks on the first “Metal Massacre” compilation. What do you remember about the studio sessions? Any cool stories?
James: There really weren’t any studio sessions except what we had done up in Oregon, at least from what I recall. But then again, maybe something was done in Hollywood for the final cuts. I don’t have any cool stories, but maybe the other guys do. You’ll have to check with them.
FIB MUSIC: That compilation also featured Ratt, Metallica, Bitch, and Steeler. Did the bands hang out at all? Were there any lasting friendships formed?
James: Yeah, a bit. I think Mick, Mark, Jay, and Cliff hung out a lot more with those guys than I did. I know I met them all and whatnot, but I seriously doubt if any of them even remember me these days. But they all did good, especially the boys in Metallica, and my hat goes off to them.
FIB MUSIC: The first Malice gig was at the world-famous Troubador in November 1982. Metallica was an opening act for you. What do you remember about that show?
James: I remember I had no idea what was going on, but that I was chomping at the bit to play. I loved getting on stage and putting on a show. I also remember listening to Metallica’s stuff and thinking “Now, that’s different!” I think they must have influenced songs like “Hellrider”.
Malice “License To Kill” Cover
FIB MUSIC: Describe a typical day in the life of James Neal in 1982.
James: Get up, eat something, go to work, rehearse, go out and party somewhere, sleep…repeat.
FIB MUSIC: What did you think about Metallica back in their early years? Any cool stories stand out?
James: Like I said, their stuff was quite different from what I was used to. No stories that I recall.
FIB MUSIC: Malice’s first demo created quite a stir and started a bidding war among record companies to sign you. Where was it recorded? How long did it take?
James: I don’t really remember the studio, but it seems to me that it took a couple of days or weeks. Who knows really? That time period is a bit of a blur. I’m just looking forward to each new day, and what can be done in the future.
FIB MUSIC: The demo was produced by Michael Wagener. What was he like to work with? Any cool stories from the sessions?
James: He was a bit reserved, but a workhorse. I know I would come into the studio to work on something the next day, and he had been there all night doing stuff. A couple of drinking sessions, maybe, but nothing stands out in my mind as far as “cool stories”.
FIB MUSIC: You signed with Atlantic in July of 1984. Do you remember what the terms of the deal were? Did you receive a signing bonus? What did you do with your portion?
James: Never read the contract, which was a big mistake. I just signed the dotted line because I wanted to record and play. I don’t remember any signing bonus, so I didn’t have any portion to do anything with. Everything was controlled by our management – it seems to me I got some sort of weekly or monthly allowance or retainer. Not much to talk about there.
FIB MUSIC: Any memories stand out from the day you signed your record contract?
James: Yeah, that I was signing my life away.
Malice – “in the Beginning…”
FIB MUSIC: “In the Beginning” came out in 1985. Any cool stories from the studio?
James: Nah…it was a lot of work.
FIB MUSIC: How was it working with Ashley Howe?
James: He was cool – quiet and another workhorse. I liked what he had done with Uriah Heep, so we got him.
FIB MUSIC: Where were the new tracks recorded? How long did it take?
James: You can probably find the recording studio on the cover of the album – I don’t even recall right now. I think the actual recording of the songs took a couple or three months.
FIB MUSIC: What are your favorite songs from “In the Beginning”?
James: Each song holds a special place in my mind because so much was put into each one. Of course I really got a kick out of “No Haven”, “Run it into the Ground”, and “Hellrider”. Those songs would knock the breath out of me!
FIB MUSIC: Tell us about the L.A. club scene in the early ’80s. What was it like?
James: From my point of view, not much to talk about, because I really didn’t hang out in the clubs as much as the other guys. Lots of long hair, girls, drugs, booze, and sheer ridiculousness. But all-in-all, I have to admit it was fun.
Malice – “No Haven for the Raven”
FIB MUSIC: Tell us about touring in support of “In the Beginning”. Any cool memories from the band’s early days on the road?
James: Nothing spectacular happened that I recall. I know we opened for bands like Alice Cooper, Motorhead, and Nazareth. It was a lot of get up, get packed, drive or fly to the next gig, eat something, sound check (maybe), get ready for the show, do the show, have some drinks afterward, sleep, and repeat. One thing I recall pretty fondly was when these English comedy writers, supposedly the best in England at the time, watched one of our shows and then approached us about a movie they were working on. They wanted us to be the rock band that the kid in the movie was a big fan of. The movie eventually became “Vice-Versa” with Judge Reinhold as the father and Fred Savage as the son. It’s sort of a cult favorite on the pay-per-views now, probably because it’s a bit of a Christmas story. But you can see it anytime, pretty much. They treated us like royalty I thought – first class to Chicago, major hotel with all the perks. It was pretty cool. When we did the actual filming, it took a whole day. I think the band was pretty much done in a couple of hours, but I had to work the crowd for the rest of the day so that they could get a bunch of different angles for the concert part of the movie. So it was a bit of work, but probably once of the best times of my life. Actually, I wouldn’t mind doing more of that sort of stuff.
Malice – “License to Kill”
FIB MUSIC: In 1986, the band’s second album, “License to Kill” was released. What stories stand out from those recording sessions?
James: Lot of long nights and cool equipment. The other guys might have some stories, but for me it was mostly about getting the vocals down tight.
FIB MUSIC: Do you remember what the budget was for that record? Were you able to stay under?
James: I don’t know. I never bothered with any of that stuff.
FIB MUSIC: Where did you record it? How long did it take to complete?
James: Somewhere in Los Angeles. It was a pretty nice studio. It took a few months – I don’t recall the exact length of time.
FIB MUSIC: How long did it take to record your vocals? Did you spend a lot of time on them, or are you a one take wonder?
James: I don’t know about “wonder”, but some of the tracks were done in one or two takes. Then some of them took a lot of fine-tuning.
FIB MUSIC: What was it like working with producer Max Norman?
James: He’s a perfectionist, which I appreciated.
FIB MUSIC: Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine and Dave Ellefson, as well as Black ‘n Blue’s Tommy Thayer and Jamie St. James contributed on the record. How much, and what was it like working with them?
James: I didn’t even know they were on the record until after the fact, so I didn’t really work with them – it was mostly guitar work, which I wasn’t involved in much. I do remember meeting them – nice guys for the most part.
FIB MUSIC: Overall, would you say that the band had grown as studio musicians, compared to the sessions for “In the Beginning”?
James: Yes. It’s too bad we didn’t do at least 1 or 2 more albums.
FIB MUSIC: To support “License to Kill”, you toured the west coast with W.A.S.P. Any cool stories from that tour?
James: Not that I recall. Mostly just travel, eat, sleep, play.
Malice – “Sinister Double”
FIB MUSIC: How about the European tour with death metal legends Slayer? Any cool stories from your first tour across the pond?
James: Yeah, Amsterdam was a blast! They had these chocolate balls called “Space Balls” that you could munch on while drinking. Two nights later we played a show and I must have been still feeling them, because doing the show was like being on the moon. Scotland and Germany were great too, because I remember the fans really being excited to see us. London was a good show as well. There is a pretty wild story about when we played in West Berlin. We took the autobahn to Berlin overnight. At some point in the early morning I woke up because there was a major discussion going on. Turns out that whoever was driving at the time missed the exit to West Berlin. So, we had to take the exit to East Berlin to the Wall, which was still up at that time. It was like a scene out of Hogan’s Heroes. When we got to the gate, I could see the American flag on the other side. On our side the guards were wearing those long coats and sporting machine guns. They went through our stuff and then laughed at us and finally let us through. We could have ended up in interrogation or something worse. We were fortunate, I guess. I was chanting under my breath the whole time. The gig in West Berlin was great, though. So I guess that sort of made up for the fiasco. Once we got out of Berlin, I made them pull the car over, got out and promptly kissed the ground.
FIB MUSIC: Did you think it odd to be paired with Slayer for a tour? Did the band have any say in those things?
James: I don’t know. This stuff was all done without consulting me – maybe the other guys had some say.
FIB MUSIC: How were you received by their fans?
James: They seemed to enjoy our shows.
FIB MUSIC: How did your departure from Malice come about?
James: That’s a bit of long story that I’d still rather not go into. Suffice it to say that there was enough difference of opinion that it was time to go.
FIB MUSIC: Are you still in contact with them?
James: Occasionally. I haven’t heard from them in a while.
FIB MUSIC: What did you do after you left the band? Any regrets, or do you feel that things had run their course?
James: I am continuing to write and perform when I get a chance. No regrets.
FIB MUSIC: If you were transported back to 1985 and had to do two things differently, what would they be?
James: Be more aware of the business side of things and take more active interest in recording and touring plans.
FIB MUSIC: Of all the band’s you shared the stage with while in Malice, who were your favorites and why?
James: Alice Cooper was pretty cool because he was Alice Cooper.
FIB MUSIC: Anything we’ve forgotten that you’d like to add?
James: Can’t think of anything.
THE FAST 5
FIB MUSIC: What is your most disgusting habit?
James: I don’t have one.
FIB MUSIC: What is the most feminine thing you do?
James: I’m not sure I know what you mean – I never stopped to check.
FIB MUSIC: If there is a God, what is the first question you would ask God when you arrive?
James: Don’t believe there is a “God”, so that’s a moot point.
FIB MUSIC: Greatest Rock band of all time?
James: Led Zeppelin.
FIB MUSIC: What were you doing 40 minutes before you sat down to do this interview?
James: At the gym working out. I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but I want to be prepared for the road.