Stevie Rachelle, Tuff – Vains of Jenna – Interview
Tuff Vocalist / Mananger of Vains of Jenna / Metal Sludge CEO
FIB MUSIC: Congratulations on your Super Bowl victory. Where did you watch it?
Stevie: Just here at home. I’m a diehard Packer fan. I was born and raised 53 miles from Green Bay. As far back as I can remember I was watching every game every Sunday and went to lots of games over the years. One of my earliest memories is going to a Packer game, in the 70’s, when they played the Raiders and John Madden coached them. I do this quirky little project called the Cheeseheads with Attitude….that was always fun. It turned into – not only was I proud to be a Packer fan, but it also became lucrative and became a big selling project. I sold a lot of records and it ended up becoming a big deal.
Cheeseheads with Attitude
FIB MUSIC: Do you go back home and perform?
Stevie: I haven’t in over ten years, but just last month the other two Cheeseheads guys…they are Wisconsin natives as well, they’re back there now. So just recently, during the playoffs, they did a couple of impromptu performances, as a two-piece. We are planning some stuff for the summer and fall. Basically it’s something like the Beastie Boys. The whole idea was to do parody songs, like Al Yankovic and do something similar to what the Bears did with the ‘Super Bowl Shuffle’. Kinda of do a fight song for the Green Bay Packers. This was a full 15 years ago; the fall of 1996. There would be three of us who would kind of rap over these tracks. We basically recorded an EP over a weekend, which cost about $900 to record. We put it out around Thanksgiving and it just exploded. The fact that the Packers, at that point, kept winning over and over and Brett Favre became this huge star. It just kind of snowballed and we had two songs that essentially became hit songs in Wisconsin, #1 requested songs and suddenly it turned this fun project into where we were selling massive amounts of records. We had distributors like WalMart, Kmart, Shopco and Fleet Farm that were buying thousands of cd’s from us on a weekly basis.
FIB MUSIC: I read in one of your interviews where you said that your biggest music related check you ever received was around $35,000.
Stevie: Yeah and it was a Cheese Heads with Attitude check.
FIB MUSIC: What was your inspiration for the song ‘Where the Hell is Neenah?’
Stevie: I had this idea to take Tone Loc’s ‘Funky Cold Medina’ and change it to ‘Where the Hell is Neenah?’. Neenah is a small city in Wisconsin, south of Green Bay. Whenever I would tour with friends from California, we’d pull into these cities and they would always go, ‘What’s Nee-Nah, or what’s Nee-Haw?’ They see all these weird names like Neenah, Menasha, Kaukauna, Wauwatosa, Weyauwega…they would always make fun of that. I just came up with this crazy idea to write a song called, ‘Where the Hell is Neenah?’ and that is the song that became a big hit. It was a #1 song and to this day still gets played in the region.
FIB MUSIC: What’s new with you?
Stevie: The main thing in my life are my kids. I have a daughter and a son. My son is in kindergarten and my daughter is in first grade. They are my #1 and #2…and #3 is Vains of Jenna, a band that I manage from Sweden. Kind of a GNR throwback with a modern twist. I started working with them in 2005.
FIB MUSIC: They were signed to Bam Margera’s label, right?
Stevie: Yes, exactly. We got a deal with Bam in 2006 and did several tours and several independent records and they’re actually getting ready to release a new record on Deadline/Cleopatra Records. The first single and video is a remake of Cee-Lo Green’s ‘Fuck You’. The video just debuted on the internet, and the record comes out in April. But the buzz on the song has already started. It’s not only a cover of the song ‘Fuck You’, ‘Forget You’ is the radio edit,…it’s not only a cover but then at the end of the song it turns into ‘Maggie May’ by Rod Stewart. It’s very cool.
FIB MUSIC: What happened to the original lead singer?
Stevie: He quit the band. Not to get into too much detail, but he just kind of started to lose interest and no longer could make Vains of Jenna a priority. It seemed like the rest of the guys were motivated to do the things they needed to do, but when it came to goals for the band, he lacked that drive and interest. Then it came to the point where we had a bunch of shows in Europe and he didn’t want to go do them, after he had agreed to do them. He wanted to stay in the United States and not go there. In a nutshell, he wanted to stay so he could marry his girlfriend. He left the band and a week later, he got married.
FIB MUSIC: What’s up with Metal Sludge?
Stevie: We are kind of doing a revamp. There’s some inspiration again. We have some new people involved and some old people involved and we are looking to ramp up Metal Sludge a couple of notches.
FIB MUSIC: I noticed that you guys were updating the site a lot more.
FIB MUSIC: What’s a typical day like for you? Run us through your daily routine.
Stevie: I actually just got home dropping the kids off at school, couple a cups of coffee, check my email, check the news. After this interview, I will run some errands, pay some bills, hit the post office. Then by about 2:00 I have to wind down my desk duties and go pick my kids up from school. Then they come home, I get them in the playroom, get some snacks and cartoons on and let them pound away on toys for a couple of hours. Then it’s time for homework and then dinner. After that, it depends on if the band has a gig, a Vains of Jenna show or if there’s a meeting to do, then I go to the rehearsal place. Or if I have some shows of my own coming up as Tuff or Shameless, I’ll have to do a couple of rehearsals. Usually rehearsals are on a week night, the middle of the week, sometimes on Sunday night….gigs on the weekend. But I’m an early bird. At the latest I’m up by 7 o’clock, but usually I’m up before that, 6 to 6:30.
FIB MUSIC: Coming up in the 80’s, how is it that you remained completely sober throughout that time?
Stevie: Just never did. Even today with the internet, Facebook, MySpace and all that stuff. Over the years I have gotten emails where someone will say, ‘Hey man, do you remember me?’ and I’ll say, ‘I don’t know, where’s your Facebook, so I can check your pictures’. Occasionally they’ll say, ‘oh, you were so wasted that night anyhow’. ‘Well, clearly you have me mixed up with someone else….that wasn’t me’. It just never was my thing.
FIB MUSIC: Did anything happen that made you not want to do drugs or alcohol?
Stevie: Well, my brother died when I was in middle school. He wasn’t a bad guy, but in the 70’s my brother was someone who smoked pot, took quaaludes, dropped acid, and cut school….and was a drug dealer. What came to light later……what our family came to know is that he was murdered by some people that lived his lifestyle. It was kind of a small town thing that got swept under the rug by detectives and police…and then 30 plus years later. I don’t know, I think there was just something in my head that told me to not go that route. Not that I’m a great guy, not that I’m some kind of angel, but when it came to smoking, drinking or doing drugs, it was just something I never took to. To this day, I have never been drunk in my life. I’ll have the occasional drink of something and when I say occasional, I mean very seldom. About ten years ago I started sipping whiskey, pre show, or during the show, because it helped clear my throat. One night I was having some throat problems on stage and this biker guy walked up to me and said, ‘hey man, take this’ and I said, ‘dude, I don’t drink’ and he goes ‘I’m telling you, take this and it will clear your throat, you’re sounding a little hoarse’. So I drank it and it did help. Then I kind of started using it as a crutch, once in a while. My band members would joke with me about becoming an alcoholic. ‘No, no, I’m just drinking it to help clear my throat’, then they’d say ‘that’s what David Lee Roth said in ’76 and look at him now’. (laughs) I can tell you that I have never been drunk, never been blackedout, never passed out, or woke up barfing in a toilet. It’s just never been my deal.
FIB MUSIC: Before moving to Los Angeles, you received a flyer announcing that Tuff was looking for a singer. How did that flyer end up in your hands?
Stevie: Actually what happened was a childhood friend, someone I had known since kindergarten, he had gone out to Hollywood in late ’86, or early ’87. He was out in Hollywood for a couple of months and then came back to Wisconsin. He called me and said, ‘Steve, I went out to Hollywood and it was crazy, I met all theses people, saw all these bands, blah blah blah’. So he tells me to come over and when I got over there he shows me all these flyers, and at the time it was stuff like BAM Magazine and Rock City News and bunch of fanzines. Then he had this stack of flyers of all these bands. I remember looking through it and seeing bands like Warrant, Guns n Roses, Faster Pussycat, Poison and all these bands that were beginning to make a name for themselves. As I am going through these flyers, I came across this one from Tuff, with the same logo that everyone has come to know; it had a band picture with Todd, Jorge, Michael, with an empty square. It said ‘Wanted – Lead singer – David Lee Roth, Vince Neil, Bret Michaels-type’ and said to contact them for an audition. My mother still has that flyer back in Wisconsin. I just thought this was the band for me…they looked just like the bands that I was into at that time, bands like Motley, Van Halen, Ratt and Poison had just started to become popular. There was a number to a rehearsal studio, Rocking Horse Rehearsals in Canoga Park. I called the number and they said the band doesn’t actually have a phone number, but you can leave a message for them. I did that and they said that I needed to send in a package, so I took some photos and sent those along with a cassette tape. I didn’t think it was a good representation of what I could do in person, so in five days time, I quit my two jobs, packed up my apartment, put it in my mother’s basement, parked my green Ford LTD in the driveway and got my friend to give me a ride to the airport. I bought a one-way ticket from Chicago to Los Angeles, got on the plane and the rest is history.
FIB MUSIC: Did you think you already had the gig?
Stevie: No. At this time, I hadn’t even talked to them. I just left a message with the rehearsal studio. I had no idea what would happen. I just knew that I wanted to go to L.A. and meet this band. So when I got there, I called the studio and said ‘this is Steve from Wisconsin, I called three days ago and I’m in L.A. now, please give this message to Tuff to call me’ and they did, two days later. They said they wanted to meet me and asked if they could come over to my apartment. I said ‘sure, I’m staying with this girl over in Van Nuys’
FIB MUSIC: You had already moved in with a girl by that point?
Stevie: No, she was a friend from Wisconsin. When I was flying out, I called her and asked if I could stay at her apartment while I was meeting with the band.
FIB MUSIC: What’s your mindset when you are flying out.
Stevie: When I’m on the plane I remember one thing specifically. The one goal I set was that I wanted to play the Whisky and the Troubadour. I wanted to play those places because that is where Motley Crue played, this was my mindset. (laughs) This was June 27th of 1987 when I was on the flight, and by November 6th, Tuff headlined the Whisky. It was our first headlining show. Shortly after, we had played the Troubadour and a bunch of others. Our first show was opening for Warrant, that was in August. That was less than two months after I joined the band. I joined the band by July 11th and six weeks later we played with Warrant.
FIB MUSIC: How popular was Warrant at that time?
Stevie: They were the biggest band. Warrant or Racer X, with Paul Gilbert, were by far the biggest drawing name bands. This was only six months removed from bands like Guns n Roses, L.A. Guns, Faster Pussycat getting record deals. All those bands got signed in late ’85 or early ’86. This was the summer of ’87, so Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me” had just hit the charts a couple of months earlier. They went from a local band who got a record deal with Enigma, to having a video for “Cry Tough” on Headbanger’s Ball and then the second single “Talk Dirty to Me” changed everything.
FIB MUSIC: What’s your initial reaction to the Hollywood scene?
Stevie: I remember thinking it was amazing. I got here on a Thursday, met some people who lived in the complex I was staying and they told me they would take me to a show on Friday. They took me to a show and it was to see this band called Angora, with John Corabi as the singer, and I remember seeing that band and the show and thinking it was great. The club was packed with tons of girls. I remember after a couple of weeks being outside of Gazzarri’s and people saying ‘that guy’s Axl Rose, he’s from Guns n Roses’. He was just sitting there talking to people telling them he had just got done recording…..I think ‘Appetite for Destruction’ was coming out sometime in the Fall of ’87. So they were talking about the recording, mastering, photo shoots and I just remember standing there and kind of eavesdropping on it. At that time he wasn’t Axl Rose, he was that guy from that band. He was just another guy with a record deal. I think, at that time, L.A. Guns were bigger.
FIB MUSIC: During your time on the Hollywood scene, do you ever begin to notice it beginning to fade?
Stevie: Well, I got there in ’87, so from ’87, ’88, ’89, it was still thriving massively. The summer of ’90 was when we got our deal. Our record didn’t come out until the spring of ’91. It’s hard to say, but 20 years ago this is what I was thinking. At this point, everything was just moving forward. But I do remember being in the van, on the first tour in the fall of 1991 and hearing the first guitar chords of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and I had a Japanese friend who worked in the industry and she told me that this band Nirvana was set to really become a big deal. She said it looks like they’re going to sell one hundred thousand copies in their first week. At this point, Soundgarden had already been around, Alice in Chains had already been around for a year / year and a half. Alice in Chains had been on tour with Van Halen and were getting booed every night. People were throwing mud at the band. Soundgarden was just this indie-grunge band from Seattle that had put out a record or two. I liked Nirvana when I first heard it because a lot of my early musical influences, in the 70’s, were punk. I was a skateboarder as a kid. That was my first love and I wanted to become a professional skateboarder. When we were skating, we listened to punk and new wave. So when I first heard Nirvana, that is what I equated it to, I really liked it….I still like it. Their style, their sound….I didn’t realize it at the time that it was going to completely change the music industry and become a huge roadblock for not just me, but for everybody. When bands like Motley Crue, Poison, Skid Row and Warrant became, not just irrelevant, but more like scabs in the eyes of the industry. It wasn’t just fans, it was producers, record labels and road crew and friends like sound engineers and people who worked in studios, or people that helped you make flyers, or stickers, or other promotional materials……I don’t want to say they turned their backs, but they just really discredited you. I will say it again, being a glam band, a hair band, wearing a bandana, or blonde hair, or tight jeans, if you were doing that in 1992, it was probably better to say ‘hi, I have AIDS, will you fuck me?’. It was really, really negative. Anything to do with Trixter, Bang Tango, the Hollywood Sunset Strip. I mean bands were shaving their heads, growing facial hair, wearing torn pants and it became a really uncool thing. I sort of equate it to when disco died – as exciting and popular as disco was in the 70’s with John Travolta, the Bee Gees and New York and Studio 54….when disco died, the reaction was ‘disco sucks’. They were like ‘come to Shea Stadium and put all your disco records in a pile’, then they light them on fire and run them over with a steamroller. Do you remember that? it was on the news. It was a similar fate for the Hollywood hair bands. It was ‘Gazzarri’s you suck, get away from us’.
FIB MUSIC: After Warrant gets signed and makes it, I guess you guys were next in line to carry the torch. What was that like?
Stevie: That’s right, we were next in line. Tuff headlining the Roxy, Tuff headlining the Troubadour, then Tuff’s headlining the Troubadour for two nights, Gazzarri’s, Gazzarri’s for two nights, the Whisky, not only for two nights, but two shows in one night. The band was getting so big that we could literally have 500 people lined up by 5:00 o’clock…the opening band was the Zeros, we did two shows in one night at the Whisky. So they had 500 people in line, the Zeros play their show at 7:30 we play our show at 8:30 and by 10:00 they kick everybody out and by that time there are already 500 more people lined up ready to get in for the same show with the Zeros at 11:00 and Tuff at 12:00. The next biggest venue was in the Valley, called the Country Club, which was like 950 capacity, almost theatre-like setting. I remember when we were trying to book Tuff at the Country Club, they were like ‘oh you guys aren’t big enough’ but finally they gave us a show and the bill was amazing. It was Tuff, Par A Dice was our support, Brunette, who later became Hardline, and then Vain from San Francisco was on the bill. There were like 1100 people there, it was beyond capacity. This was late ’88 going into ’99. At that point we couldn’t get any bigger. The next stage would have been playing Santa Monica Civic Center in front of 3 to 4 thousand people. As far as the scene dying off, it couldn’t go any further. Bands were always trying to outdo each other and it finally came to an end. I mean there were bands like Bang Bang, then there was Bang Tango, then there was Bang Gang, Pretty Boy Floyd and Alley Cat Scratch, Juicy Miss Lucy…..the one word names were used up, then the two word names were used up, now the three word names are used up……there was Tuff, then Cry Tough, then Tuff Luck, then there were bands fighting over the same name, like Par A Dice and Paradise. Everyone had used every color of cowboy boot, every headband, every guitar shape and it had to finally implode. It turned out it was a scene from Seattle with no stage show, no cool clothes, one guitar and a small amp….the opposite.
FIB MUSIC: How quickly did Nirvana have an effect on the Hollywood scene?
Stevie: I would say that within…..once Nirvana hit, Pearl Jam was hitting at the same time….all of a sudden people were liking Alice in Chains. I remember seeing guys with long blonde-bleached hair, cowboy boots with tight jeans and eyeliner on. Those guys were opening for Tuff, playing that role not only in Hollywood, but also in Chicago, in Dallas….then a year later we went on tour and saw the same guys but now they had a goatees, torn jeans, dreadlocks sewed in and suddenly tuning down their guitars. There were guys like that playing in Chicago that eventually became the band Disturbed. Some of those guys were in hair bands. A lot of guys left L.A. I can’t quote exact stories but I remember hearing about some band that was really huge in Seattle and would find out later that it was some guy who had been playing in L.A. They had moved up there and six months later they got a record deal and were making music with beards and roadie clothes on, instead of the cowboy boots that they were wearing a year earlier on the Strip.
FIB MUSIC: Wasn’t Alice in Chains a hair band before they were signed?
Stevie: Yeah. When they first came down here….as a matter a fact, I have some reviews of the band at the Coconut Teaser and Layne Staley couldn’t have looked more like CC Deville and Jerry Cantrell couldn’t have been more of a Vinnie Chas lookalike. Vinnie Chas was the bass player in Pretty Boy Floyd….RIP Vinnie, he has since passed away….Vinnie and Jerry were friends in Seattle and were in a band together. There are some photos online of them together in an early glam band, around ’84 / ’85.
FIB MUSIC: What’s a typical day like for you during the height of Tuff’s Hollywood club days?
Stevie: I do remember myself and Michael Lean, the drummer, he was the businessman of the band, definitely the leader of the band. He was also the youngest guy in the band. When I joined Tuff, he was 19, I was 21 and I was the old man. Michael was kind of like my mentor, he was the business guy and I was kind of like his left arm. This was way before the internet, way before computers. He was typing out newsletters or biographies and I was packing envelopes with t-shirts, cassettes, or panties that we were selling to people through advertisements in Metal Edge or ROCKbeat Magazine. We would go to the newsstand and pick up the paper and look for articles on ‘Hollywood band making a buzz’. We would put flyers up in Guitar Center. We’d run errands, we’d pay bills, sort things for the band, try to get endorsements for Jorge and Todd…..we ran it like a business from the very beginning. Then Todd and Jorge would wake up about two (laughs), when we were half way through our day. Then we would find girls to buy us groceries. We ran advertisements with the TUFF MUFF hotline, following suit of what Poison and some of those bands were doing to meet girls and fans. ‘If you want to hang out with us, or get backstage, then come over and bring us groceries’. They would bring us food and then we would bum a ride to rehearsal and then after that we would go out to the clubs. Tuesday night was Cathouse, I think Wednesday or Thursday was Bordello, Friday and Saturday would be on the Strip, whether it be Gazzarri’s, the Roxy, whatever the happening show was, we’d go there….the Rainbow…..then Sunday night was like Exclosure 54 or Red Light District. Then Monday night was the ‘No Bozo Jam’ at the Whisky A Go Go with Love / Hate as the house band. It was an every day, every night kind of affair. We just built on everything during that time. We’d plan a show every two months. We’d make a flyer of a photo shoot, think of a cool slogan like ‘One Pump and a Dump’, ‘Bigger Than Batman’, or ‘If We Offend You, Dial 1800 Eat Shit’. We would go out and push that show everywhere we went. As we got bigger, we started playing Phoenix and Tucson one weekend and then San Diego and Orange County a different weekend. Then the next weekend we would go play San Francisco and Oakland, or Santa Clara…..then Vegas and Salt Lake City.
FIB MUSIC: Do you remember the day you signed your first record contract?
Stevie: Yes. I was actually working for Load, Lock and Roll Moving & Storage. I was on a moving truck in Hollywood and Michael somehow got in touch with me. I think he called the office and they called the ladies house and said that I had some important documents to sign that needed to be FedEx’d back. So Michael showed up with a video camera and had an Atlantic Records recording contract that I had to sign. I took a ten minute break, from lifting furniture, in the back of a truck. I signed the contract, he filmed it and then I went back to work.
FIB MUSIC: Do you still have footage of that?
Stevie: Yes I do. As a matter of fact, I think it’s on one of the Tuff home videos. Video of everybody signing it.
FIB MUSIC: Were there any other labels interested. Was there a bidding war?
Stevie: (Laughs) No, there was no bidding war. We got signed to Titanium / Atlantic Records and the deal was for $75,000, which is not a huge deal. Some bands were much less but some bands were much more.
FIB MUSIC: Poison got a smaller deal than that.
Stevie: Yeah, I think they got $15 to $20 thousand.
FIB MUSIC: Was it just a one album deal?
Stevie: When you sign a deal there are like seven options. When these bands say that they got signed to a $5 million / 7 album deal, that’s all shit. If they bomb or even if the label halfway through thinks it sucks, or the singer sucks, ‘you’re fired, go home, you’re done’. The deal was whatever Atlantic Records wanted it to be. If we had success….If you sell five million records, then you can tell your record label, through your management and lawyer, ‘hey fuck off, give us the other $500,000 or we’re not going to stick around….we’ll make your life miserable’, then they will renegotiate. If you don’t sell enough records, it all comes to a screeching halt. We sold almost 100,000 records, which wasn’t bad, but considering the whole change of the industry and all the grunge bands are coming along, getting scooped up, and selling records. Even Skid Row’s second record didn’t sell anywhere near what the first one did. So Atlantic decided not to pick us up on the option and we were done.
FIB MUSIC: How was it working with two time Grammy nominated producer Howard Benson(Sepultura, Hoobastank, POD, Papa Roach, Creed)?
Stevie: Howard was great. I learned a lot from him and still, to this day, look at it as such a big learning experience. He had already produced bands like Pretty Boy Floyd, Sweet FA, Bang Tango, Kingofthehill, Southgang, a couple of TSOL records.
FIB MUSIC: Does anything stand out from those recording sessions?
Stevie: I remember it being a big deal. It was our first real recording session. We had already done some demos at some pretty good studios. You see these videos or pictures of Motley Crue in the studio, or Metallica in the studio, it just seems larger than life. Just like being on the road and playing in a video. Whether its for 500 people or 5000, when everything is done at 11:00, it’s empty. There’s smelly buckets of garbage in the back, there’s food on the dressing room floor, there’s sweaty clothes and towels that need to be picked up. Gear needs to be loaded, people’s knuckles get bloody, fingernails get broken…..you have to collect money and then there’s an argument with the club…….it’s the same thing with the studio…..it’s not all peaches and cream. There is tweaking, changing, and so much fine tuning and detail going on that you have to just soak into the moment and learn how it all works. I looked at all those recording sessions as learning experiences and I kind of use those today in managing Vains of Jenna and trying to walk them through and prepare them for the fact that it’s not what you saw on MTV, or what you saw in videos, or read in biographies and books.
FIB MUSIC: Where did you record “What Comes Around Goes Around”?
Stevie: We did the basic tracks at Track Record in North Hollywood, which is still there. We did some overdubs at a place in the Valley. It was basically a home studio in a person’s garage. I forget what is was called but it was very secluded.
FIB MUSIC: How long did it take to record the album?
Stevie: We started on December 26th 1990, the day after Christmas. The basic tracks took about a week, then guitars, bass took about another week or two, then vocals, overdubs, keyboards and background. Probably in the six week range. It was all mapped out. When we first got the deal, it was in the summer. Then we picked the producer, which the label was involved with. Howard laid out the budget. Then we did pre-production for most of the month of November, which was basically go to rehearsals to rock out from noon to six, Monday through Friday. Then Howard would work with us on songs, tell us what he liked and what he didn’t like. Then at some point he would tell us to go home and work on this and be back here at 11:45 and we do it again. It was very organized. Same thing with recording.
FIB MUSIC: How soon after the release of the record did you find out that the label was going to drop you?
Stevie: About a year. As a matter of fact, I think it was a year to the day.
FIB MUSIC: How did all that go down?
Stevie: Atlantic Records had given us some money to do some demos in 1992, early ’92. We did some demos. Then we hear that Jason Flom from Atlanic was coming out here to L.A., so we tell our manager that we want to go meet with him….we want to play him our stuff. Our manager kept saying ‘no, I don’t want you to meet with them, I want to be there’. We thought…..’you’re in New Jersey, so we’ll just do the meeting on our own’. He kept saying, ‘no, don’t do it. I want to be there with you guys’. But like a bunch of smartass punks, we thought we knew everything. We wanted to go play Jason our killer new stuff. We went into the office and he was sitting at the desk with Kevin Williamson, who, at the time, was junior A&R guy on the West Coast. At this point the 80’s industry was dying and they had just signed Stone Temple Pilots. He says, ‘Let’s hear the tape’. He tells Kevin to put the tape in and he listens to about the first twenty seconds of “God Bless This Mess” or something and then gives Kevin a sign to stop the tape. Then he says, ‘so what’s this, you guys are a little heavier than before, huh?’ and we’re like ‘yeah man, we’re heavier like Skid Row and Metallica’. So he says, ‘Skid Row’s first album sold 3 million copies, the “Monkey Business” single didn’t even go gold….Let’s hear the next song’ – So he fast forwards to the next song and listens to twenty seconds of the ballad, “Better Off Dead”. He says, ‘so what’ this called?, what’s this about?’…..’so this goes on the radio and kids start killing themselves because they’re better off dead, is that the plan?’ He was really being an ass. Then he says, ‘here’s this new band we just signed called Stone Temple Pilots’ and he played it for us. I don’t remember what our comments were but I am sure they were arrogant and cocky. We left. As we were getting in the elevator, some of the guys from Testament were in there. We said hi, went home and two days later our manager called us and said Jason Flom has informed Atlantic Records that they are officially dropping Tuff from the roster. It was like 48 hrs after our meeting. If I remember correctly, it was May 17th, one year from the date that our record came out.
Looking back, our manager was right. We shouldn’t have pushed the issue. Our manager said, ‘no, it’s better if I’m there as your manager to host the meeting and talk for you’. Almost like a lawyer in court. He was right.
FIB MUSIC: Shortly after being dropped, you guys sign with IRS, right?
Stevie: Yes. Brian McEvoy from Grand Slamm / IRS wanted to sign us. He essentially bought the demos that Atlantic had paid for. The deal stipulated that he had six months to release the record, or the tapes would revert back to us. At that point, IRS was falling apart. We kept asking what’s happening, he never had any answers. He was misleading and kind of leading me along because obviously he didn’t have the distribution deal anymore. After six months, we got the record back. That’s when I decided to form RLS Records and put out the recordings on our own in early 1994.
FIB MUSIC: What a great deal for you.
Stevie: I know. Atlantic gave us $5000 to record those demos, then we sold those demos to IRS for I think $7500. Then they breached the contract and we got the demos back again. Then I put it out. I released it on cd and cassette and we were selling the record that Atlantic had paid for and IRS/Grand Slamm had paid for, which we now owned. After I sold about 5000 copies of it, I was contacted by a few labels who were interested in buying the record and licensing it from us. At the time, CMC was big…they were signing Warrant and Slaughter and stuff like that. After negotiating, we ended up signing a deal with MMS / Mausoleum, which was distributed by BMG.
FIB MUSIC: What happened then?
Stevie: The same thing happened. Their initial offer was for $3000 for the masters. At this point, I’m already pretty experienced when it comes to wholesaling my own product and selling to different distributors. I had one guy who bought three hundred copies from me for $6.00 a piece. So I told the guy from the label, ‘you want to give me $3000 and then you do whatever you want with the record and release it everywhere. He says yeah. ‘Well you must think I’m some kind of asshole because I just sold 300 copies for $1800. Why would I take $1200 more for the rights to sell it anywhere and everywhere. So then they came back with an offer of $6000. Then I countered with ‘give me thirty thousand dollars and 5000 copies of the record when it’s printed and we got a deal’. That way I could get some money but also have product to sell when we’re on the road. They went low, I went high and we met somewhere in the middle, they gave me fifteen grand and 3000 copies, which over time made me another thirty grand. The record that Atlantic paid for and then IRS paid for and then I sold for 18 months on my own…..I then resold again for $15,000 and 3000 copies. Those Atlantic Records demos made me in excess of six figures.
I knew for us to make any money, we had to run it like a business. We had to own the material. Instead of signing record deals for $2000, $5000, or $10,000 and let them own me for the rest of my life. I would rather sell 5000 copies on my own at 8, 10, 12 bucks a piece – I’m going to make fifty grand and over the course of time, we build up our catalog, and that’s essentially what we did. I never had a gold or platinum record but we were able to bring in some income.
What I also learned was in order for us to make money we have to spend money. So many bands will play a show and they make $500 and everyone says, ‘I want my hundred bucks’. But somebody’s got to go ‘hold it, we just paid $100 for rehearsal this week and that came out of my pocket. The van we just rented for $50, we have to return with a full tank of gas. We had this roadie who helped us tonight and even though he just wants to hang out because we get pussy, we did promise him $25. Those thirty shirts we printed for $4.00 a piece, they cost $120. In reality we only have $175 not $500. Whatever you make you pretty much have to put right back in, otherwise there’s just not going to be any growth.
FIB MUSIC: On the video for “Better Off Dead”, I noticed the band showed signs of adapting. You were almost unrecognizable and the song even had hints of grunge.
Stevie: Even in ’90 and ’91, by the time Tuff got signed, we were no longer the glammy, frilly, lipsticky, Poison-esque band that we orginally were in 1987. We were definitely a little harder. The video for “I Hate Kissing You Goodbye” was a ballad, but anyone who listened to the record and heard stuff like “Spit Like This”, “Good Guys Wear Black” and “Lonely Lucy”. Some people compare that to Judas Priest or even Aerosmith. So yeah, in ’92, ’93, ’94, by the time we’re out playing….we’re not saying we’re glam gods forever. None of were wearing lipstick for many years now, no more bleaching the hair. We kind of adopted more of a Ugly Kid Joe vibe. We weren’t going full grunge. You couldn’t wear spandex and cowboy boots anymore, so we had to evolve with the times. But our sets still included all the songs and the ballads. We’d play “I Hate Kissing You Goodbye” and “Better Off Dead” back to back and our fans loved them all the same. But like anything we had to migrate a little bit. The song titles went from “Forever Yours”, “All New Generation”, “Sinner Street” to “Religious Fix”, “Electric Church”, “Rattle My Bones”, “God Bless This Mess”, “In Dogs We Trust”. It got darker, it got harder. Like Skid Row went from “I Remember You” to “Slave to the Grind”. I’ve have no regrets about anything I did; I have no shame. As glam as we were…..you know, Metal Sludge does the Exposed feature where we have the gnarliest exposed photos…..whether you call them gay or silly, mine are probably top ten all time. I embrace that, that was then and I loved it, that’s what we had fun with.
FIB MUSIC: That’s what always made you cool; your ability to embrace it. Now things are better because at some point, in the last decade, everyone finally decided to forgive themselves for liking glam.
Stevie: Exactly. That’s probably what Metal Sludge was doing when we started thirteen years ago, in 1998/99. There were some guys out there that took themselves way too seriously. Guys that no longer wanted to be that stage name anymore……yeah, you don’t want to be Trikki Foxx your whole life. Maybe you’d rather be called Tom now. But it was guys that would try to hide their past. We’d ask them interview questions and they would shun it. I was always quick to say ‘man up dude….so you look like a fag like the rest of us’, or the guys that did point fingers with ‘oh you’re a bunch of glam fags’…….we have Metal Sludge Exposed photos of Slayer with spandex on. They looked like what Steel Panther looks like today. You being from Dallas, you knew….part of what made Pantera such great guys and made Dimebag such an awesome person. I have heard a ton of stories that through the years…..when Ratt came to town, or Poison came to town, Dimebag and Vinnie were always at the gigs…..they hung out with Bobby Dall and CC Deville…they had no inhibitions to take a photo with someone wearing a Faster Pussycat shirt. I remember being at a T.J. Martell event when Pantera first hit and they were the heaviest band in the world. I was standing there at the bowling alley and Darrell comes up to me and says ‘hey man, you’re the Tuff guy’. He had the razorblade necklace on. He says, ‘dude I dig that ring of yours’…I used to wear this Tuff ring. I got the idea from the rapper Ice-T. I used to take all my photos with this big silver metal ring that said Tuff. That’s what made those guys so lovable, they were so genuine.