Interview with Ted Axe by Dave Wolff
Your first band The Action has been referred to as Canada’s first punk band, and opened for The Ramones and The Stranglers getting a great deal of press. They’re also said to have imploded after releasing one EP. Do you sometimes regret this band didn’t achieve greater success?
Every day! But they say the first sign of aging is when your dreams turn to regrets. I am focused on the future and not the past. In terms of recognition, I am sure it would've helped me open doors in the music industry afterwards. I was also hell-bent on self-destruction at the time though so I think the success I craved would've gone straight to my head which was already too big trying to prove I was a punk. Got no time for regrets! I am one of the only ones from that time doing something new.
You have been referred to as a provocateur in zines and webzines. What is your personal definition of this term? Do you feel there remains a need for one?
A provocateur is someone who provokes. I am a performer that excites rather than incites. I am an entertainer who entertains, who puts on a show. I have new songs but my influences are from The Golden Age of Rock and Roll. My fangs call me The “Count of Rock” and I am bringing back the rock and roll fantasy. In the early days of The Action, I fancied myself the Malcolm McLaren of Canada and fed the press what they wanted to hear. It brought people to the gigs. Everyone wanted to see the crazy stage antics of Ted Axe! Is there a need for a provocateur now? Well, music is stale. Rock is dead. There needs to be Ted Axe the provocateur to bring it back to life.
What is killing true rock in the mainstream and how would Ted Axe repair the damage?
6/If we listen to what is on the radio, we hear music. Rap that used to be dangerous when it first started is bland and artificial and cliché. What lies at the bottom of the mainstream is crap. Everybody wants to be a singer and everyone now has the power to be a celebrity. Look at the term influencers and how they have millions of followers and do even public meet n greets. Only problem in they can't have an invisible face tune with them so their fans become disenfranchised once they see what they really look like. Then the “influencer” will get plastic surgery, filler etc to make them look more the way they do on Instagram and tic toc. Rock has faded into the nostalgia radio playlists and metal has taken its place. It all depends on an individual's definition of ''true rock''. Metal has become boring though (to me I'm saying) with the usual cliché guitar sound and white faces, Satanic fonts and occult symbols ext. What is true rock besides Ted Axe? Iggy when he was in The Stooges, The New York Dolls, MC5, Alice Cooper when he was with The Alice Cooper Band before “Welcome to My Nightmare”. The Sex Pistols who's demo was produced by Chris Spedding who did my demo in LA in the 90s. And many more of course but all from that era. Digital recording killed Rock many years ago and that's why I recorded “Sex, Horror, Violence” on two inch tape in an all analog studio ion a Neve board. Ted Axe is already changing all the boredom with “Sex, Horror, Violence”. My producer is on the same page musically so it worked out. I do all the guitar work on the album and played all the bass and drums on the track “Heaven” which was the first track we recorded at the studio. I play Ted Axe right down to the hilt. Black nail polish, half-cocked top-hat, black leather trench coat and Cuban high-heeled beetle boots .Raccoon eyes and sometimes dried blood purple gothic lipstick. The Count of Rock has risen.
What was punk when you started your musical career, and how many changes has it undergone since then? Was The Action actually the first punk band from Canada or were there others? How did Canadian punk differ from the US and England?
I went to London in '76.It was the start of Punk and it was extreme! (The beginning of any movement is extreme) King's Road, once the promenade of long-haired satin-clothed 70's rock stars, had given way to tribes of leather-jacketed punks with multi-colored patches of close-cropped hair and Mohawks. It was the actuality of the song Diamond Dogs by David Bowie. There was only one of club that had punk bands-The Oxford Club and I saw The Vibrators open for The Jamir was violent. I went to the loo and there was skinhead with a trench coat and a nazi armband who started singing “Surf City USA” when he saw my Peter Frampton-like blond curls. The Damned had “New Rose” on the radio. It was the first Punk song on the radio. It was mostly a very young male audience and they would be slam dancing and pogoing up near the stage. The first punks however did not wear leather jackets but instead they wore long Teddy Boy jackets. London was long overdue for a change. I went through my money fast and the Gibson Les Paul Jr I brought with me got nicked right away. “Why did ya come here Mate?” the taxi driver asked me on the way from the airport to the hotel. Every second bloke plays guitar!'' he said. I starved on a diet of beer, English Acid and Hovis and Drippins (a mealy English bread and bacon grease) ending up in a squat in Sheppard's Bush with some insane methadone addicts and a craggy bearded long-hair with an advanced case psoriasis who insisted on getting me in a headlock every time he saw me. If you put a piece of hash under your pillow, it would be gone in the morning. I sold my stereo to get back to Canada and joined The Action. There was no punk scene in Canada that I was aware of at the time. I invited the TV stations down to our practice place (affectionately known as “The Pit” and I made sure there was ton of garbage on the ground for them to wade through. We had a couple of groupies watching and I bought fake blood for them to spew out of their mouths during our song “Do The Strangle”. That night we were on the 6 PM news in the nation's capital. It was a laff watching myself giving the finger to the cameras as I mugged for the press. When we played rednecks had no idea what to do or how to react! They had heard that to dump beer on us and spit was the thing to do and they did not know how to react to our songs with titles like “TVs on the Blink” and “Do The Strangle”. We played a high school in the sticks on Halloween and I called the papers to exaggerate my stage antics. The next day the lurid headline screamed “Obscene Action Raise School's Ire!” We were starting to get known. There were other bands starting but they didn't start to make a noise until 1977 and mostly all were in Toronto. We were the first. We came out of Ottawa, the very dull capital city and seat of government. The only true punk scene as far as I could see was the one I had witnessed in London. We were the house band at The Rotters Den in Ottawa that started to develop a punk scene but kids would be driven there by their parents and bring punk clothes in a bag and get dressed and made up in the bathroom. In Toronto, Crash and Burn started and more punk bands started. The US had a similar punk start, mostly copying the UK one. The Ramones were like The Beach Boys on speed and when they played in London every future punk star was in the audiences.
What were your experiences sharing the stage with The Ramones and The Stranglers at the beginning of their careers? When you performed with those bands, did you have a feeling it was the beginning of something that would have such an impact?
When we opened for the North American debut performance of The Stranglers at a High School in Ottawa, one could sense the adrenaline in the crowd. We promptly nicked all their beer from their dressing room while they were onstage and their road manger was not amused! I remember that we tuned their guitar for them before they went on. We got signed to a small label that actually put a logo of a safety pin on the sleeve of our EP which we told them to take off. That pioneered EP format in Canada and it was the size of an album but was meant to be played at 45 RPM and a lot of people played it a 33! When we got the Ramones tour we started in Flint Michigan. Joey at one point near the end of their set lost his voice and mimed the words while DD sang lead. Johnny was a task master and mean to the others. He was the leader. I learned from him about focus while on stage. Most everyone in the audience thought they were brothers. I had the sense of more insanity happening near the stage it was all poseur-like compared to The UK scene. Joey had OCD; a lot of people don't know. I never thought of it having an impact on the world like it did as I was drinking all the time and would go off like a rocket on stage!
After The Action disbanded, what made you want to continue writing and recording as an artist? How long did it take you to found another band?
After The Action, I moved to Toronto in the back of a Taxi cab with my cat and girlfriend for 100 dollars cab fare. We got a place next to insane asylum because of the cheap rent and I started the band Khroma Key with my girlfriend. We were a duo. I finally could write new stuff and it came out like sped up Bowie and became more like Bauhaus as it got darker towards the end. It was the 80s but the stuff I was writing was pretty sophisticated. I called it Cryptic Funk. At one point I remember going to CBS Records and meeting an A&R guy who said that my girlfriend sounded too angry and that she should sing more like Madonna. It only took a year before we were playing out in the clubs and now Punk was pretty much over. Again however, the scene in Canada was a pale comparison to the 80s scene in London. Canada is a copycat nation. There is an old joke that goes something like...How many Torontonians does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Four...Three to screw it in and one to go to New York to make sure it's done properly! Canada eats it's young. You need to be successful in America before you get respect or taken seriously otherwise they will ignore you and back then at least you had to go gold in Canada to even be released in The States.
Punk may have ended in the mainstream in the 80s, or became new wave, but it remained underground to the present. How did Khroma Key sustain punk as you remember it?
Khroma-Key was all about style. We looked good, very high quiffs (courtesy of Final Net Extra Super hold), tight pleathure jackets and cheekbone city. Having virtually no money meant no food and a quarter ounce of Hash + we would snort diet pills which was like cheap speed.(uppers).The music was brash but original and did not follow the cliché 80's drum machine, synth and Bowie wannabe vocal. I sounded very punk whether we were doing pseudo-mid-eastern 60's like secret agent riffs on a cheap guitar or playing African fela Kuti Manu Dubango like cryptic funk riffs. We both shared the vocals as a duo and I remember an A&R guy from CBC Records who came to see us asked why does she have to be so angry...she should sound more like Madonna.(Probably because “she” could never hear the monitors) but Toronto was very industrial back in 1981 and bleak... and tough. We were constantly berated and in some instances attacked by rednecks and college jocks at night for the way we looked. I was attacked on the last crowded subway home from a show and no one did anything. My lyrics were all different depending on each theme but I remember my song Alienation in which I referred to us as “We the wretched of your nation have no homes except some trip/ Alienation where we kiss”. It was all very romantic and Parissien chic punky sophistication. We didn't dress up. We lived i.e. hated our new home and longed to go to New York or Europe. We found Toronto to be too dull and provincial. We didn't relate. We were not ambitious and we were kinda anti-social. It was more important to be different from everyone else and we also didn't like the Canuck music industry. We were rebels without a cause you might say but beautiful rebels.
Many clubs that hosted punk had to call it a day because of rising rent or Covid. But as a result, bands have gone DIY with free internet streaming. Is this relatively the same in Canada?
I myself have not done a live stream. I think they make an artist look bad. The ones I have seen from homes... well who wants to see the singer/band in their living rooms standing stationary on his carpet. With one camera angle, there is a lack of production value. They bore me and I don't think they work for Ted Axe. I have my own fog machine affectionately dubbed “Sparky” that I take with me to every show and our light guy uses horror-flick lighting to get “The Count of Rock” ambiance and dark vampire atmosphere. The clubs here have now been prohibited to do live streaming because of a brutal resurgence of the pandemic. What good is a concert without an audience reacting though really? I think getting people to pay to view these events is a rip off.
How much or little has the club closings been a detriment to independent music? What would remedy the situation of there being fewer places to play?
Clubs closing means fewer places to play and it has had a huge impact on the scene here. Today the government doc just issued a statement saying that outdoors is a very hard place to catch this so I would have to say outdoor festivals. But again contagion risks go up with crowds and rock festivals. It is a very hard thing to monitor especially with drugs and alcohol fueling crowds.
How often has the band gotten to perform amid the Covid restrictions of the past two years?
We have not played since March 2020.I am getting antsy being off stage but have still played my Dambouke mid-eastern drum in the park all through the winter which is like performing in a sense. It has also afforded me a spiritual yet musical outlet.
Where was your band most often playing before the Covid outbreak? Was your draw increasing each time you performed?
The Ted Axe Band started playing out in Feb 2019 at The Opera House, perhaps Toronto's oldest and one of its most prolific venues. Like an old Opera House (I saw Gary Numan there), it suited the Vampire vibe. There are some vids of this show up. We had a tremendous crowd and we were opening for 3 tributes. People were blown away as they all thought we'd been playing for years together. Starting somewhat tentatively, I soon took control of the show once I felt that surge of energy coming back to me from the audience who totally got into i.e. then started playing a lot at a club that has a lot of these tribute acts play. The crowd is mostly into classic Rock and Heavy Metal. My music, one DJ told me, has almost created its own genre but I disagree. To me it is just dark hard rock. It has turned out to be perfect for this massive club and its clientele....Mostly blue collar long haired rockers and their girlfriends. It's kinda Neanderthal but no one said Rock is pretty. Reminds me of the 70s in fact except they are all a bit older now! We have opened for all these tributes and when This American band with the makeup came around-Wed 13, we were a natural support for them. So now having paid our dues, we are moving to play support for original recording acts like Wednesday 13 who are a bit Mansonish. In Toronto, I have the only band like mine. I am influenced by Alice except I am cuter according to my Fangs. Which is what our draw has been growing steadily. I have about 5000 Ted Axe Fangs in my Ted Axe Fangs Group on Facebook and 1000 in my new Ted Axe Band Fan Club. This is constantly growing and the two groups are mostly all female. My Daddy always told me “Just sing to the ladies and you'll be alright!”
Flash forward to the formation of your solo project and the making of your debut album. Firstly were there any specific happenings in your life that were an inspiration to the lyrics? Did the lyrics come first or the songs you composed?
Music always comes first...a riff. The riff is crucial. I have a review by a magazine that says “Riffs that kill. Looks that thrill”-BallBuster Magazine. I am all about the riff and with all the good ones taken, it’s not that easy to come up with a great original riff. Then a chorus and I like bridges and/or middle 8s so that comes third in the process. Then a few words here and there which may lead to a story which will take me to a chorus and bridge and an outro. I like recording on cassette tape (if it was good enough for John Lennon, it works for me).Words are scrawled almost in shorthand on paper and of course editing and re-editing those first ideas without losing the crux or watering it down. Inspiration comes from different places. If we look at the songs on the album...“Get Out of Rehab” (perhaps the hit of the album as proven by its popularity with DJs and fans on radio) it is about a dude I met in the park I live near that is close to the areas main rehab. This guy had escaped that morning and he had a case of beer early on Sunday morning. He walked up to me as I was playing my Djembe drum in the park and sat down next to me. I sensed he was harmless (but I do get some crazies playing my drum in a public park at strange hours) and he told me he got fed up because they did not allow him to smoke cigarettes) so he flew the coup. Well the second line of the tune mentions this and so it goes on and the conversation, (at least that which I could remember although I jotted it all down when I got home that day) comes out in the verses. Also the possible danger is captured in the song. “Death Us Do Apart” (Both “Rehab” and “Death Us Do Apart” are videos on Youtube) is a song about marriage gone bad and uses the vows of marriage as its main theme. In it the bride “wears a smile”, because she knows she has trapped the groom in the institution of holy matrimony. Nuthin At All is about an ex bandmate and ''My Own Worst Nightmare'' is self-descriptive and “Hurt People” is about someone who is hurt who in turn hurts other people. “I Don't Want To” is self-descriptive and again the song is a situation I have lived through repeatedly. “Mother's Day” is about my brutally abusive and cruel mother (God rest her unforgiving soul) and “Heaven” is a song about someone missing someone who has passed. Once walking past a newspaper box in downtown Toronto years and years ago, a headline glared out at me from the front page- “Sex, Horror, Violence.” It screamed and I always remembered that as those three words touch are most base emotions. I used a few stories I'd head on the news recently and I became the killer in the car about to commit a serious crime. TMI means too much information and describes an ex co-worker I had major problems with and who eventually got me fired. (I have had a terrible time working in strait jobs) until of course before I became rich and famous.
Were the musicians you worked on the album with people you worked with previously, or did you find them while seeking a new band to record with?
I finally got a band to perform the album onstage, it was through a bassist who works in a high profile Kiss tribute band (who has since left) and he introduced me to Toronto drummer Stefan Ford who was working with Toronto's main Ozzy Osbourne tribute. It went on like that and now I have Marcel LaFluer on lead guitar who has been around since 1979 and who I have known for years. Bassist Corrado Bartolo and Rhythm/lead guitarist “Jules” Julio Biafore are the new guys and have only done two shows with the band before the plague. We were able to play frequently in 2019 and in Jan, Feb and March 2020 and then everything stopped. I have hit on a great way to play in front of massive audiences and that is to be the support for the city's biggest tribute bands. We have opened for Kiss, Motley Crue, Guns n Roses, Thin Lizzy, Megadeth and Ozzy tributes to name a few. The audiences have loved us and dug the tunes! Is this Punk? you might ask...having an original band open for tribute bands...well I think it is because we come out and hit hard with mid-tempo rockers that bulldoze the crowd into submission and we get huge audiences and paid well unlike other original bands who have to settle for whatever the cat drags in playing in rooms that may not have the large stages or lights and sound needed to put a band over.
Talk about the making of your two promotional videos. Who filmed and produced them, where were the locations, what equipment was used etc.
'I wanted to do a video for “Get Out of Rehab”. I did not have a band in place yet. I just looked for people who were offering their services online and found one guy whose stuff I liked more than any of the others. He had experience and he was in his late twenties, early thirties. He shot it on his phone! I shot it in our rehearsal space. It’s just me and my reflection which actually makes it look like two people. Of course we are all two people...the “normal” one and the addiction. During editing the videographer was a whiz kid...fast and we edited in McDonald’s burger joint in China Town. The whole thing and process is so punk because of all this and because it cost 100 dollars plus 40$ for the room! For ''Death Us Do Apart'' I put a different ad in and again I chose someone who was not from here...a Polish cat Michael Novalski. We shot on his tiny vintage video camera in a large graveyard on a beautiful spring day. With no band or extras, the inhabitants of the graveyard and all their graves lent a certain beautiful and gothic ambiance to the video. “Get Out of Rehab” was black and white and “Death Us Do Apart” is colour. We edited on his phone just like “Rehab” was edited. I kept on pushing him to use as many creative edits and wild effects and at one point in the vid, I am singing and shape-shifting at the same time. It’s like taking acid for 3 and a half minutes. Total cost-$350. Its guerilla warfare and videos are not about the money but about the creativity. I really don't like typical videos with a model ext...So cliché or all slow motion...again so overused in rap and rock. So the dark rehearsal space with its staircases, hallways and mirrors in a sense became Rehab and the graveyard became a symbol for the institution of marriage!
Where have you posted your videos and how has the response been since they were premiered?
Fangtastic response. Reviewed in England positively on a British video review show and a ton of views each.I still love watching both and would not have done anything differently.Videos are ridiculously expensive and they do not have to be. My videos are a testament to this. This is the crux of today’s Instastar mentality. How many of the new crop of pop stars and so called influencers actually have true rockstar charisma. The kind that drew us to Bowie, Hendrix, Morrison? You can have a ton of likes but that does not mean anything anymore. We live in a world where Madonna's daughter showing her armpit hair in a selfie with her increasingly bizarre-looking mother makes world news and anything Kardashian supercedes the most urgent world events on the news.
Are you planning to produce more videos from “Sex, Horror, Violence” in the coming months? If so, what songs are you considering?
I have been looking at “My Own Worst Nightmare” for the next video which I am already doing pre-production on. It will be completely different than the last two.
What ideas do you have in mind for the “My Own Worst Nightmare” video? How will it differ from your last two videos?
I wish I could divulge the concept but that would be telling and my Fangs would not want me to let it out of the coffin yet! It is going to be a Nightmare! It will be more surreal and there will be a cast of characters.
Are there any established underground/independent labels interested in signing you, or do you prefer to keep promoting your work independently for the time being?
We have been scouted at our last show by a great label that wants to see more. We can't wait for these lockdowns to lift so we can get back at tithe involvement with a heavy label can greatly boost your visibility so I am interested in signing with another label.
For future releases, would you consider basing lyrics on bigger world events as well as personal experiences? How do you think your audience would respond to this?
My next release will feature my new recording “Will We Get Out Of Here” which is about this current plague but also about a toxic relationship at the same time. My audience will love this song as it is very moving and shows a different side and voice of Ted Axe. However, it does rock hard! It will be on the new “Count Of Rock” album that we will resume work on asap!
How soon do you expect the next full length to be released? Will this also be in digital format or are you also planning to release it on CD?
As soon as I can safely get back into the analog studio with my producer and the studio owner I will resume recording. There are four tracks already done and just need vocals and a mix. I have been writing new material and there will six more tunes as well as the four I have done tracks for already. It will be called ''The Count of Rock'' and signifies the merging of image and songs. I would love to say I anticipate a Halloween 2021 release but can't speculate what will happen here in Canada in the coming months. It’s a tough position to be in but also one that gives me recording to look forward to when this surging is over. I have been keeping track of my band's vaccination progress as well as that of my recording team because am focused on the future. CDs, shirts and decals are all in the plans as well as vinyl.
What kind of an impression do you want to leave on the punk and heavy rock worlds? Do you see yourself eventually leaving this impression in the long haul?
I am just starting to see the potential and the effect my album “Sex, Horror, Violence” and my new album “The Count Of Rock” could have on the rock world. Right now, I just thank today for being alive! We are in the middle of a deadly pandemic that civilization has not seen the likes of for quite some time. Every day I tell myself to C'mon try a little harder...nothing is forever. I have been going through a phase in which I just wanted to get it heard by as many as possible and have them make their own minds up if they like it. Success means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To one person getting 1000 streams on their Spotify will be the single greatest day of their lives. I would love to have that ''gone but never forgotten'' thing but who does anymore? The way you talked about my album in your review reinstated things I hoped someone would see in it and for that I thank you. I felt like a god damned prophet after reading it! We would all want to leave a lasting impression on our worlds. You, on the world of writing no doubt and me on the worlds of music, art and poetry but isn't it better to be remembered for positive virtues as a decent human being? One who's made a difference where it counts...with helping animals and all living things rather than destroying. I am not satisfied with my current status in the rock world if that's what you’re asking but then who is? I have heard a famous person say that they were happier before they were famous. You can't be popular all the time. When they asked Freddie Mercury how he'd like to be remembered, he simply said “I'll be gone...what do I care?”
With his new self-release SEX, HORROR, VIOLENCE produced by Rob Sanzo (Sum 41), and mastered by LA Rock icon, Jack Atlantis, Ted is getting world-wide radio-play and recognition. He is currently performing dates in Canada and The US with his new band-Corrado Bartolo-Bass, Stefan Ford-Drums, Marcel LaFleur-Lead Guitar and Julio Biafore - Rhythm Guitar.
Buy directly from Ted Axe- www.tedaxe.bandcamp.com
"Riffs that kill combined with a look that thrills are a no better way to describe Ted Axe. A seasoned Veteran who has trekked the world and accumulated an outstanding list of accomplishments in the process that will make even the harshest of Critics say 'Wow!'" - Now Magazine