Adrenaline Mob interview (Russell Allen)

"Mike Portnoy thought Adrenaline Mob would be a quick path back to the success of Dream Theater"

12/02/2014 @ 11:55
Apart from being one of the greatest voices in metal music for the last 20 years, Russell Allen is also a great guy to talk with, as I already knew from previous interviews with him. With the release of the second album of Adrenaline Mob he spoke about how it is to have his feet in two rather different musical worlds at the same time, the challenges he faces in each of them, but also about the changes that took place in the band and of course the music of "Men Of Honor". He, also, proved to be a big fan of current rock music, as we talked about the voices that stand out in rock and metal music today and for various other topics as well.

Hi Russell, how are things going?
Things are going great. Besides the fact that I have a cold, things are going really good. I just got home from 70.000 Tons Of Metal, which is a great experience and I’ m just giving up for this release with the Adrenaline Mob as I’m really excited about the record. So, things are going good.

I have to congratulate you for making another highly enjoyable album. "Men Of Honor" is really a good album...
Thank you very much. We put a lot of love into this one and we’re really happy that people are responding to it so positively.

It seems like Adrenaline Mob are kind of destined to live through changes and different lineups, isn’t it? From the EP, to the debut album and now to the second one... What’s with that?
Well, it wasn’t meant to be that way, but unfortunately we’ve been dealing with people who are already established artists. The only unknown guy in the band was the one that helped me found it, which is Mike Orlando and he didn’t have any other real commitments that were prohibiting him from being in the group. We didn’t intend to be that way, but other guys have other things and so they have to move on. We are hoping that this lineup is going to stick around. We definitely like the group right now, everyone gets along really good and the guys really click in the sound of the band obviously and I think the lineup is the best right now. The groove and the rhythm section is killing, all players are top self and this version of the band is the best. It always takes some time. You know, I’m not the original singer in Symphony X either. I don’t know if a lot of people know that, but I was the set replacement guy and we lost Thomas Miller, our bass player early on and we lost Jason Rullo for a bit there when Thomas Wailing came in on drums. Even on that band it took 1,2,3... 4 records before the version is what you have now, which has been together for ten years now and which  started on the 5 album, which is our fifth record. So, even Symphony X had a lot of changes for four records. I’m hoping that that doesn’t the case.

I think I know why people don’t know that there was a singer before you in Symphony X. The singer himself wouldn’t want it. Who would like to compare with you?
(laughs) I guess, yeah... I mean I don’t know... I don’t think like that, but whatever you want it to be brother... It’s all you.

In comparison to "Omerta" you have John as a permanent member and of course Mike is out. Yet, it seems to me that John’s addition was more important than Mike’s departure to the overall sound of the album. Could this be true?
Partially true... John Moyer’s addition was a big part of the sound of the band changing in terms of him actually playing on the record. The first album "Omerta" it was Mike Orlando playing bass, cause we had so many members changing, we lost Paul Di Leo and we didn’t have a bass player. So, that’s a big deal. When he came in, we had another human being playing a part in the band. The human ear understands that there’s another person there, the ear knows it. Like, if I had to sing harmonies on myself, which I have done a lot in the past, you know it. You can hear that it’s my voice. When another person is singing that harmony with me, it makes it rich. It makes it full, it makes it real. And it sounds better. Actually, in that regard Mike Orland did a lot of backup vocals on the new record, he sung a lot. It’s something I wanted to do to have more textures, have more richness in the sound, more real sound, more organic sound. So, John was a big part of that.

Adrenaline Mob was the first shelter that Mike run into after leaving Dream Theater and he seemed very enthusiast about it in the beginning. Is there a bitter taste for you thinking he left the band quite easily? Is everything fine on a personal level?
Yeah, everything is fine on a personal level, me and Mike still talk, we’re still friendly and everything. The thing with Mike is that he wasn’t happy with the band’s growth. I think he thought it would be a quick path back to the success of Dream Theater. None of us thought this was going to be an overnight success; I didn’t. But, we were willing to stick there and make it happen. But, he couldn’t do that. He wanted to move on, get involved with something else and that’s what he chose to do. I wish him luck, but I didn’t want to wait around for him to launch another band while I was trying to do this with Mike Orlando. I have Adrenaline Mob because I have so much time between records of Symphony X. And this was something that I really wanted to do and get go of it. I didn’t want to have another band where I would have to wait around for another who knows how long. Me and Mike are fine, he just wanted to do his thing, so I wish him luck.

To be honest with you, when I first listened to songs like "Indifferent" and "All On The Line" on the debut album I thought that they were about Mike’s situation at the time. Don’t get me wrong, but now lyrics like the ones on “Dearly Departed” leave me with the exact same feeling for the current situation.
(laughs) Well, there was no correlation in the first record with him at all, but you know, the second record... Ηe has no influence at all... he had nothing to do with any of the writing on the first record at all. But, I understand the perception people have because he’s the most famous guy in the group. That this is his band and everything and the songs all revolve around him... This new record, you could definitely argue that there are some things that seem similar to his situation and that’s great... You know, whatever you want to take away from it, it’s fine with me brother... (laughs)

Overall the songwriting on the new album seems more cohesive. Do you feel that your collaboration with Mike Orlando has evolved in some ways? Has John contributed on a writing level as well? What was different this time when you were writing the songs for the new album?
John Moyer didn’t really contribute on the writing aspect of the album. It’s always been me and Mike Orlando writing the songs. There is really nothing that was different. I mean, me and Mike Orlando have a way of working together that’s really fast, really productive and obviously very effective. We just wanted to have a very coherent sound for this record and really show the world that this is a band and this is something that we’re very serious about. So, we took the time to just focus on the sound of Adrenaline Mob and make that our priority. Nothing on the writing level changed. Mike would bring me stuff, he brought material over, he would share it with me, we would work on it together, make songs and literally within one day we would finish one song, from lyrics, melodies and arrangements. We just kept the same writing pace. We just really focused on the songs and trimmed the fat and made an effort to make solid, coherent music that sounds like a band. And we have a great rhythm section that came on board with John and A.J. (Pero) and we sound the way we always wanted to. Of course, on the engineering side Mike Orlando did a great job mixing and mastering the CD and I’m really happy with the way it turned out.

Also, apart from the expected parallels that can be drawn with bands like Pantera and Black Label Society I was very happy to mention some elements from modern bands that I adore like Shinedown or Foo Fighters. Specifically, I hear some Shinedown elements on the chorus of "Come On, Stand Up" and the latter on the vocal lines and the basic melody of "Dearly Departed". Are you following these bands? Are you fond of them?
Yeah, we’re big fans of these bands. Big fans of Shinedown, big fans of Foo Fighters. Some other influences that balance the sound of Adrenaline Mob is old school stuff, but also modern bands like Sevendust. There are sprinkles in there, there are influences in there. Like you said Foo Fighters is a big one. So, yeah, there’s a lot of influence of modern bands that are relative right now, that are current. We really do like that kind of music. The first album had more of that Black Label sort of thing on it, cause it was raw, a very raw sounding album. This one has -like you said- more of these current bands and stuff that we are listening to, getting in to and love a lot. So, yeah, we have a lot of respect for those guys and really enjoy their music.

At the end of "Feel The Adrenaline" I can hear a small tribute to Alice In Chains. How did you decide to put this part?
Well, it was just a half time thing that we broke into. I’ve always been a fan of that. I’ve done that in the past on other records. On early Symphony X days I did stuff like that. And I’ve always been a huge Alice In Chains fan, so I had a chance to throw in these harmonies and sing like it would fit to my tribute to Layne Staley, God rest him in peace. I think he’s one of the greatest and he influenced modern rock more than he takes credit for and Alice In Chains are in my opinion one of these legendary bands out of Seattle, that really had a huge impact on the modern sound of America’s rock music. So, that was my tribute to those guys and I love them a lot and they will always be one of my favorite bands.

Mine too. Now, the acoustic side of Adrenaline Mob seem to serve you better as it gives you the chance to put some extra sentiment on your performance. There are 3 songs in the new album in that vein. How important are these songs for you?
There are two very important things for me. As a vocalist I get to showcase my softer side, my more emotional side like you just mentioned and it gives me a chance to really speak from the heart. I’m always singing from the heart, but to speak from the heart about things that are maybe more personal and introspective, songs like that allow me to do that. They’re very-very important, I think they balance the record for this type of music and it gives the listener a chance to really know us personally through these songs.

As you sing in two bands, I did a little research about vocalists that sing in multiple bands like you do -not solo careers, but real bands- and I came up with ten that I think stand out. You are one of these ten singers I’d like to ask your opinion for some of the others. The first of them is Myles Kennedy who sings with Alter Bridge and Slash. What do you think about him?
Myles is amazing. He’s a great singer and a good guy too. I had the chance to meet him once in Los Angeles, at the airport among other places. He’s a phenomenal voice and a great songwriter. Just a great songwriter! Good player as well. I really like what he’s doing with both of his acts, with Alter Bridge and what he’s doing with Slash.

Would you vote for Alter Bridge or Slash?
I would probably vote for Alter Bridge. I really like what he’s doing with Slash, but he’s a little more of himself on that to me and that’s the one I would go for...

Second one is Corey Taylor who is with Slipknot and Stone Sour...
Hmm, that’s a tough one. I mean, of course Slipknot is a great band, one of the best bands ever that has done this style of music, but I got to say I’d vote for Stone Sour as I really love the fact that he’s able to write chops in a rock vein in that band. I think it shows his versatility and how talented he is, so I’d vote for Stone Sour.

The third one is Maynard Keenan from Tool and A Perfect Circle...
That’s a tough one too. There are A Perfect Circle songs that I really like, but I’ll have to go with Tool for that one...

The fourth one is Mike Patton with Faith No More and Tomahawk...
Faith No More... Easy...

Hands down, right?

And the fifth one is tricky with Chester Bennington from Linkin Park who is now with Stone Temple Pilots...
Linkin Park. Cause the Stone Temple Pilots to me is Scott Weiland, you know. That’s what I grew up with. I’m a little biased. No offense to him, he’s great. I think he brings some cool elements to STP but for me it’s Scott Weiland. And his work in Linkin Park is nowhere near, that stuff is just brilliant, it’s genius. It was cutting edge when it came out, just like Weiland was when STP came out.

Are there any current vocalists that stand out in rock and metal music these days, in your opinion?
Well, you named a bunch of them. Definitely Myles Kennedy. Brent from Shinedown is excellent, he’s one of my favorites in modern American rock. Those guys really stand out to me as the two voices that I really gravitate towards. They have melody, Bren has power in Shinedown, which I like a lot. I love David Draiman, I think he’s great, he’s such a good front man, he has really cool rhythm elements to his singing that I admire. I really like M Shadows, I think he has a really unique voice for metal and rock. He’s got that cool, raspy voice that’s rare in that kind of music. I like that and I like his voice a lot. I like Jorn Lande in Europe. Obviously, I’ve done a couple of records with him and he has a phenomenal voice. I like some of the girl voices too man, you know. Spread it around! Floor Jansen, my girl! She’s the shit man! She’s singing with Nightwish now and she’s always been a powerhouse vocalist...

You were together on that Star One tour, right?
Yeah, when we were kids. But, yeah, a long time ago we did that and she had a huge impact on me. I always remembered her. I knew she was going to do something like that some day. I’m really happy for her, she’s doing great with Nightwish right now. Good for her. Lacuna Coil is another one, Cristina’s got a killer voice, but I got to give props to my number one, who just killed it on the last record with me, with Adrenaline Mob, which is Lzzy Hale.

Man, she’s got such a kick ass voice. Probably the best female rock voice I‘ve ever heard. Hands down the best I’ve ever heard in terms of her range, her power, her emotion. She’s just hotter than the sun. She’s just amazing...

Well, I had the chance to witness her performing live three times in the last couple of years and I have to confirm that what you say is true. But everything you just said is completely true I have to say. I really agree with you...
(laughs) Well, thank you. That’s very rare for people to agree with me... (laughs)

Their problem man... (laughs)
No, I pretty much go with the obvious. To me these are just obvious choices. They’re all phenomenal.

Now, your singing on Adrenaline Mob and the music approach is very different than Symphony X. Of course, that’s the meaning of having another project, but how easy is this for you? Also, do you feel more comfortable singing on one of them?
The difference obviously is the music, the direction of the music. One is very straight forward and honest in terms of its lyrical approach and its musical approach being Adrenaline Mob. The other one is more complex and more involved. Symphony X is a good exercise for me if you will. It tests my boundaries in terms of the vocal range that I have to do with that band in one single night and hit everything from high C to whatever, you know…  to a low G. I am all over the map with that band. With Adrenaline Mob the challenge isn’t so much in the range, it more or less challenges in the power and the endurance. So, in Symphony X I got like ten minutes between verses (laughs). You know what I’m saying, I got a lot of time between singing parts. Every song has a two minutes intro practically, so I can catch my breath I can get my wing and Symphony X doesn’t really challenge me in that regard, whereas Adrenaline Mob is a huge challenge physically, because I don’t have a lot of time, I don’t get to leave the stage. It’s the type of band where I have to front that band and be out there for the entire performance. So, they’re very different in that regard. Vocally, they’re challenging in different ways. One is more of a range thing, the other one is more of a physical endurance sort of a challenge. But both of them are very emotional and I put a lot of passion to my performances in both acts.

I guess we have something in common. My big love is progressive metal, but the other half of me loves modern rock and current bands that we referred to before...
Well, I’m the perfect singer for you... (laughs). Just kiddin’...

Well, it’s basically true. But, you may be aware that some fans of Symphony X and progressive metal still don’t get why you would sing in a band like Adrenaline Mob. Isn’t it a paradox that the open minded prog fans won’t accept such a move? What’s your answer to them?
I don’t have an answer. You can bring a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. If you’re just not interested in it, you’re just not interested in it. And that’s totally cool with me. I didn’t make Adrenaline Mob so that the prog metal audience would come and join in and engage with it. Blabbermouth misquoted me one time saying that “I don’t give a shit what Symphony X fans think”. That’s total bullshit. I care about what they think, but I didn’t make music that I was gonna force down their throat. You know what I mean?

It’s there for them to like. If they like it, it’s great. If not, that’s ok, that’s totally cool. I didn’t want this band to be perceived as something that would replace Symphony X or anything like that. This is a different genre of music, it’s something that I grew up on. This is what I was doing before I got into Symphony X. Rock music was what I lived on and breathed on growing up as a kid and power metal things like this I got in with Symphony X and then started to develop my interest in progressive music. I kind of got the gig before I got the genre if you get my meaning. So, I explored the genre pretty intensely when I got the gig and went from there. Prog fans are great and it’s a shame if it’s too simple for a lot of them to grab to. But, these are really great songs, you know. They are straight forward, simple songs that speak the truth, they speak from the heart and that was the intention. Some people love them, some people don’t. I’m not gonna tell people what to like and what not to like. I just make the music and whoever likes it, likes it.

Since we got to that, what’s new from the Symphony X camp? When should we expect to hear new music from this band?
I have no idea! And I feel bad because a lot of people look at me and ask these questions that I don’t have the answers, cause I don’t write the music in Symphony X. That’s Michael Romeo, it’s his ship, so whenever he’s ready to get the stuff going, I guess I’ll be getting into music. I’m definitely wanting to work on stuff with him and we talked about it but I have yet to receive any music from him. I know he’s working hard on it right now -at least that’s what he told me- but I would direct Symphony X fans to getting on the website and getting in the forums and ask all the questions there, because I just don’t have an answer.

What do you remember from playing with Symphony X in Greece? Do we stand any chance of seeing you playing live here with Adrenaline Mob?
I hope so! I definitely want to come back in some shape or form. I’ve been actually dealing around with the idea of doing a show with a friend, that’s all I’ll say. But it has something to do with one of my heroes, who’s no longer with us. That’s all I’ll say, I’ll throw that out there… (laughs). As for Adrenaline Mob I’d love to get them there, just need to find the right promoter, someone who wants to bring the band out and we will be there.

The ball’s in our court...
The ball’s in your court. Come one Mob fans...

Thanks for your time. Always a pleasure and a privilege to be able to talk with you Russell.
Thank you Chris. Have a nice day!

Chris Karadimitris