When you formed Acme Dynamite, what made you decide to exclusively play cover songs? Did the band brainstorm to choose what bands and songs you would cover?
The decision to be a cover band for me was that my "rock star" dreams were over long ago, but the desire to still perform for people wasn't. When you put years into something that just fizzles it's a bit disheartening. In the meantime you have to eat and put a roof over your head. And for some people a "job" turns into a career and you invest so much that after time it isn't logical to give it up to chase a dream. I admire any original band that goes out and sleeps in a van going from town to town for a show. That's really what rock n roll is, Elvis did it. The Beatles did it. For guys like Lemmy that was his whole life. He gave his whole life to rock n roll and his fans. And in the end when he was very ill he kept going. So for us being a cover band the way we say thank you to the ones who gave so much for music. When we formed we never sat down with a list of songs to do. We started just choosing who we wanted to cover and who we didn't. We chose really to stay in a range from the '70's and '80's and pick bands from that period. We do reach back to some '60's stuff but mainly it was the period stated. We chose songs that we hope people like as much as we do but are also fun and/or challenging for us to play.
Why do you think your desire to perform outlived your “rock star dreams”?
My desire to perform has never waned. For me it's the feeling of satisfaction I get that people have chosen to see an Acme Dynamite show over another band or movie or what have you, and I want them to feel that it was a good choice. That's also why an Acme show isn't just four people playing, it's also the visuals we've incorporated into our show. We have the lights, smoke and a video screen to enhance our performance. I have a tablet to run the backing tracks, but I also have sound bites and intros to kill the dead space between a song. I want to see and hear people having a good time, that's why I never gave up on playing music. I'll never tour the world. I'll never write a hit song. I'll never get a Grammy (thank God). But I don't care. Come see and enjoy us; that's my gold record.
Most of today’s “hit songs” are fleeting, while the songs you cover have been appreciated for many years. What changes have you seen in radio in recent years?
I don't listen much to the radio. When I do it's probably because someone else has it on. New York radio has the "classic rock" station, whose call letters I won’t mention. They've been the same for decades which is cool, but they never mix it up. And they seem to have some fanatical devotion to Bruce Springsteen which I can't understand. Plus being a Long Islander, Billy Joel is always on. I'm not a fan of his, but I respect him. He's done good things for the communities out here. We also have The Shark out here, I don't know the station number. My kid listens to them, they play some cool stuff. Some of the newer, radio friendly metal like System Of A Down and Disturbed plus classic metal like Black Sabbath and Metallica. They don't play much Motorhead. And way too much Guns 'N' Roses. Then there are the commercial stations that the same ten songs every hour. Whatever is on the charts this week. I think WCBS, the oldies station is still going. Radio on Long Island, I must say really has diversified through the years. Now there's Latin, hip-hop and alternative where there used to be mostly commercial.
I know what you mean about radio stations that play the same songs again and again. Lately there have been internet radio stations that play more unsigned bands and have more diverse play lists. Have you heard any of these?
I know of internet radio but I don't know anything about them. I'm sure there's lots of unsigned and independent bands of every genre on the stations. I really haven't explored it though.
Where did the inspiration for the name Acme Dynamite come from, and why was it chosen?
Band names are the hardest part of a band. You need to kind of describe yourself but not type yourself at the same time. And we wanted a name that would tap into a person’s psyche. Something to stir people’s imagination. And we couldn't think of any, ha ha. Truthfully, we didn't really put too much focus on a name when we were working on our song list. We were still trying to figure out if we were going to be a five piece band with Steve playing second guitar. Then when we got to the name point Robert said Acme Dynamite. And it was kind of a no brainer. Steve and I watched Looney Tunes together as kids. Heather did. Robert did. We were all fans of the old cartoons. I even have an animation cell of 50 Looney Tunes characters call "Looney Lineup". The video we run during shows has clips of the Coyote getting blown up by good old Acme brand dynamite. So we went with it. Our Facebook page has pictures and clips from those cartoons.
Did each member of the band have favorite songs they wanted to cover?
There was always certain songs that each member wants to play. Generally we try to stay away from the most popular song by a band. When it came to choosing Led Zeppelin songs, we didn't want to do the "tried and true” ones like Good Times, Bad Times or Black Dog. So we chose ones like What Is And What Should Never Be. But Heather really wanted to do Ten Years Gone.
Robert is big into bands like Deep Purple. Everyone who does Deep Purple chooses Smoke On The Water. So we did but we weren't happy with how we played it, so he suggested Highway Star. But Robert likes most songs to sound like the record, and through the magic of his guitar processor and the fact that he is a really great player, he does the John Lord keyboard solos complete with the Leslie sound.
The one band Steve requested we do is Kings X. On the list to learn for a future date is Over My Head. As for myself, the one song I always wanted to do was The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again. Robert was able to get the backing tracks for it and we learned. It really is a fun song to play because what drummer doesn't love to play Keith Moon? It took a little work but it's now a regular in our set.
How did you all share your input? What would you consider a song that is challenging to play onstage?
Each member gives as much input as possible when it comes to choosing what songs we want to cover, not just the choices of songs but how we play them. A very big part of our performing a song is trying to replicate the sound. We decided to do Paranoid by Black Sabbath. But how we chose to perform it was as close to the original recording as possible. Robert was set on not overplaying it. He wanted to stay away from the versions that Ozzy's guitar players have always done. The same with Ozzy's I Don't Know. The sound he uses is identical to the Blizzard Of Ozz recording. There are also songs we do that fade out, so you have to come up with an ending. Someone will throw out an idea and we take it from there.
The most challenging song to play onstage so far has been Won't Get Fooled Again. The keyboard track goes through the entire song. Keeping the time isn't the hard part. It's remembering how many measures certain parts of the song are. We are going to perform Cult Of Personality by Living Colour at the next show. I recently wrote a backing track for it complete with the JFK and FDR quotes. That should be a challenge because of the intricacies of the guitar and bass lines. But our confidence in each other is high and were sure we will rock it.
Who would you say are your favorite Looney Tunes characters? And how long did it take to develop the band’s concept?
May favorite character has to be Foghorn Leghorn. He's what I'd call a "shit stirrer". He's never happy unless he's causes a problem messing with the dog. I also liked Pete Puma. That's the cartoon with the "How many lumps do ya want?" I believe it’s called Rabbits Kin. That was the only cartoon with him but it’s one of my favorites. Those cartoons were classics and a big part of my childhood. It didn't take long to incorporate it into the band’s persona. Various advertising flyers I made have contained a Looney Toons character. The intro we use onstage has Looney Toons music as well.
How do your audiences generally respond to your incorporation of Looney Tunes clips into your shows?
I can't really say what the reaction to the Looney Tunes stuff in the actual show, I more or less look at the whole. We've posted and others have posted Youtube clips on our page. Those get a good reaction from folks.
Where in Long Island have you played this far? Has Acme Dynamite played Manhattan and other areas of New York?
We've played mainly Nassau and Queens. Our main gig is at Suite 1828 in Merrick. They treat us well and have a great sound system. We've also played in Suffolk, Brooklyn and Manhattan. We were fortunate enough to play Trash Bar before they closed. Our last Queens show was The Shillelagh in Astoria, for the owner Rusty's birthday. The crowd there went crazy for the old school metal we played that night. Astoria knows how to rock.
How do you see the tribute bands that have appeared on Long Island over the last decade? Do you see them as having nostalgic value or do they take away from original bands?
Tribute bands? Can't stand them! The only one I've seen that was worth watching was the cast of Beatlemania. And if you’re a Beatles tribute band and your McCartney doesn't play lefty then it's not a Beatle tribute band in my eyes. Plus I can't see why there would be a tribute band for a band still together. But that's just my opinion, so I hope no one in a tribute band will dislike me for that. As far as taking away from original bands I don't think they are. I think it depends on the venue. Some places do want original bands because they feel there's no draw. Keep in mind every club that relies on live music wants bands that fill their place, but if you have no one there spending money, you don't get asked back.
Where outside of New York would you and the band most want to play?
We would like to play around the tri-state area (NY, NJ and CT) as long as it doesn't cost us a lot of money to travel. We don't do this for the money, but we don't want to lose money either. I'd like to play some of the biker rallies like Sturgis or Daytona.
Being that the band has a female vocalist, are your audiences surprised that she handles songs originally sung by male vocalists or does it not matter either way?
It don't think it surprises people at all that all of our songs are male vocalist songs. I think we had four songs by female artists, and we haven't done any of them in a while. We play what we think people will like and what we enjoy playing. We're not going to play, say, "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" simply because we have a female singer. Heather doesn't want to do that. We want people to hear us do something they haven't seen other bands do: songs everyone else does. Heather and I go way back. And we were both Metalheads growing up, so for her to sing songs she doesn't like is counterproductive.
How long have you known Heather and what convinced you she had ability as a vocalist?
I've known Heather a long time. If I said how long it clue you into how old we really are as opposed to how old we act, ha ha. I'm not sure she'd want me to tell her age to the readers. But put it this way, there weren't cell phones when we were kids. We met through Steve. Heather's parents lived a few blocks from my aunt and uncle, and I met her one day and we became friends. We used to hang out all the time. She remembers way more of those times than I do, but I always remember the time that an elderly woman asked if we were sisters. Heather is a good soul. She's got a great sense of humor too. The time we had reconnected was around the time my last band split up. She was looking for a new project as well. I was always convinced that she could sing. Then when we had the first jam with Robert, her ability was beyond my expectations.
Can you describe in more detail your first practice session with Heather and Robert?
There was a real positive vibe going in because I hadn't seen either one in quite a while. When I spoke to Robert he told me songs he knew and I either knew or could fake, which I passed on to Heather. Even though Robert and I played in Vasaria, he wasn't at heart a death metal player. So he brought like two guitars, E and E flat tunings, and we did some Ozzy, Sabbath, Van Halen and Zeppelin. I think we messed with "Wicked World", "War Pigs" and "I Don't Know". I can’t remember what else, but we did quite a few. Heather either new most of the lyrics or knew none of the lyrics, but knew the song. And the three of us played what we knew or knew a sizable portion of, and critiqued it or pointed out a part we missed. And from there we got a base eight or ten songs to start with. There was supposed to be a bassist I met online, but he never showed.
How far have female vocalists come in metal, for their ability as well as their appearance?
Female singers in metal haven't really come far at all in my opinion. They will never be appreciated for their talent as long as marketing dictates appearance. Mainstream music has produce a dumpster full of Katy Perry's and Miley Cyrus's that true talent gets over shadowed. People didn't care as much about Amy Winehouse's music as they did her drug problem. Metal will always be the ugly step-sister of music. You'll never see Doro performing the Super Bowl halftime show. Amy Lee won’t be plugging Revlon. Nightwish, Lacuna Coil, Baby Metal, their music can't sell cars or cell phones or shit people in America buy. Metal has always had a bad rap and always will. Even mainstream artists like Christina Aguilera were always image first, and she's a very talented singer. Appearance will always be everything.
I was talking with a friend about this and he basically said substance is as important. Do you think this has something to do with the longevity of metal, because bands had talent as well as stage presence?
Substance being important is kind of a double edged sword. Venom we horrible when they released "Welcome to Hell". Abaddon had no sense of timing, and Cronos was no McCartney. But the album is a metal classic. The songs, while not performed the best they might have been, were what metal was in those days. And Venom's live shows were unmatched but the talent didn't back up the show. All the first bands from that first onslaught of the European death metal were like that. The first Celtic Frost album, the first Sodom album, they weren't the greatest musicians, but the songs fit their persona and the bands got musically better from that point. And as you well know, Celtic Frost's "Monotheist" is in my opinion the greatest metal album ever. But then you take Metallica. The first three albums were so great, then when Cliff died, I felt the song writing declined, even though their popularity soared. I can listen to the Cliff albums first song to last song every day, but everything after that has one, two or three really great, standout tracks and the rest are mediocre. And don't get me wrong, song writing is really hard, but a band’s album should contain its best material. And the other side is that bands that were innovative have to keep pushing that innovation. A great example is Tool. The songs like "Prison Sex" and "H." are dark and complex but later their songs while still dark and complex are also long. Too long sometimes. Like they were overreaching. The new album they’re releasing, every song is twelve minutes plus. Bands like Motorhead, iron Maiden, Judas Priest, AC/DC, Black Sabbath all stood the test of time because of the substance of the material, but also because of the sad state of music today people, hold on to these bands because they’re tried and true. So in answer to your question, I don't think longevity and stage presence necessarily go hand and hand. I think the metal genre has enjoyed such longevity because of the dark and rebellious nature of the music itself. It's always been nonconformist even though some metal bands have enjoyed major success.
I’ve noticed a lot more media spin surrounding pop and metal. How much does this take attention from music?
The media attention surrounding pop music is so ridiculous. The big news is whether Taylor Swift is fighting with Kanye or Miley Cyrus with a strap-on or Justin Bieber's new tattoo. It's stupid. With metal it's usually negative press. Marilyn Manson was always the biggest target. Rammstein too. The music press never gave a shit about Lemmy until he died. Jeff Hanneman of Slayer died and got even less press. American media has always pissed on metal and punk. The Ramones are revered as American heroes after they all died, but they were shunned when they were still recording and touring, even in New York. The media drools over everything Beyoncé says, and she is such a hypocrite. She gets all this police protection at her shows and then says she doesn't trust the police. She donates to Black Lives Matter but prices her tickets so high only rich white people can afford to see her.
How much does social media (from Facebook to Bandcamp) help bands these days, and how much does it hinder them?
Social media has been very instrumental in getting attention for bands. The world is so small now. The days of "stumbling" upon a band are past. It's like when Beavis and Butthead came out and brought attention to White Zombie. I don't see the internet hindering groups, groups only hinder themselves in certain actions and opinions. There are some things people should keep to themselves. I have my opinions on politics and social issues. I might express them through my own social media pages, but never through the bands. I did it once when I expressed my opinion on tribute bands, Robert viewed it as alienating people, so I removed it. I never want to hear celebrities’ opinions, I feel that most millionaire actors and musicians live in a fantasy world where just because they have fame, their opinion is right and only right. I do like when celebrities do stand up for military personnel, law enforcement and veterans. America is the freest country in the world and freedom of expression is a person’s right, but I don't need Bono telling me how to live my life.
It’s the same with CBGB. The mainstream press virtually ignored the club while it was open, but when the BRC was forcing it to close the blurbs were plastered all over the internet. Then that crappy movie was released in 2013 and was slammed as cheap exploitative schlock by people who had actually attended the club. If you saw the movie, what did you think of it?
I did not see the CBGB's movie, and I'm not really sure why there was a need for one. Your own experiences there are YOUR movie, not some writer’s version of it. I remember seeing Carnivore and Scraping Feotus Off The Wheel there. I had played there with C.O.M.A., Shove It and Vasaria. I couldn't help but feel I was on hallowed ground. The greatest sound system inside the dirtiest club (laughs). The impact CBGB had on music history is undeniable. Not just being the birthplace of Ramones and Blondie and Talking Heads, it was the site of The Police's first American gig. It's a shame that it had to close, Hill gave a lot of New York bands a chance when other clubs wouldn't.
Would Acme Dynamite ever plan to record a full length CD of the covers you play? Would you rent a professional studio or use your own equipment? How about a live CD or DVD perhaps?
I couldn't see Acme going into a studio to record an album of covers. We’re not a famous band. Plus when big bands do a remake, they do it in their vein. Out of the music we play, we to replicate the sound from the record. As for a live CD or DVD, I could see us doing that. We have had some material filmed, they’re on Youtube and Facebook as well as our web page.