Interviewed by Mark Balogh
Date: March 12th, 2005
AMERICAN ANGEL has been on the local NJ/NY scene for quite a while now. I was a fan of the band “back in the day” and have seen them in concert many times over the years. After AMERICAN ANGEL broke up in the mid 90’s and the band went their separate ways not much was heard from the individual members… except original singer Rocco Fury, that is. Rocco kept making music in a series of projects and played the occasional gig around NJ. I never got the chance to see any of them though. So it was with much excitement when I found out that Rocco had put a new version of AMERICAN ANGEL together with the purpose of not only bringing the classic AMERICAN ANGEL songs back to life but also to “further the cause” with new music and eventually a new album!
Rocco and the new band were gracious enough to invite Rockeyez head honcho, Brian Rademacher and I down to their rehearsal studio recently as they prepared for their opening slot for the Enuff Z’Nuff / Tramp’s White Lion show at Dingbatz in NJ (see live review on this site). Rocco filled us in on all things AMERICAN ANGEL.
So here’s what he had to say…
AMERICAN ANGEL started out on the local NJ scene in the late 80’s. Can you give us a history of how the band came together and got started?
Rocco Fury: Well it was Memorial Day 1987; I’m kind of despite and just floating around. I was a singer/songwriter with no band. I mean I had a lot of cover bands but they weren’t really doing it for me. I had this band called Fastax. It was a Judas Priest cover band. I had the short bleached blond hair, the leather; I did the whole Halford thing. So I’m floating around the ( Jersey shore) boardwalk and I can’t really take these guys anymore because they’re just into hanging out, drinking, drugging, and not really doing anything. I had one song called “The Magic of My Eyes” that I wrote with Steve DeAcutis. He’s a producer now; he’s worked with Russell Arcara and Corey Glover (Living Colour). He and I had a brief stint as a band but it was never going to work because we were too “power-trippy”… I wanted to run it one-way, he wanted to run it another. So we kind of parted ways and I’m walking the boardwalk and I saw these four dudes with satin robes on! They all had long curly hair with little bleached pink streaks… pink, no less! So I didn’t know what to think, I figured they had to be a band. All of the sudden like twenty minutes later one of the guys comes up and asks me “Aren’t you Rocco Fury?” Well one thing led to another and they said we’ve got some songs but we don’t have (any) vocals. It was like 30 songs on tape. Through those, I think I dug out four that I liked and that was it. We rented a place, we took everything we had, every egg crate, every milk crate and every piece of carpet we could put on the walls. We practiced our ass off and one thing led to another. We played every little shit-hole and every little dive you could play. Then we got a shot at playing with Skid Row. This was as soon as they got Sebastian (Bach)… just after Matt Fallon left. They wanted to debut Sebastian, so they put them at the Brook Theater in Bound Brook, NJ, and we played with them. It was us, TNA and Skid Row. That was it, we were on a big stage, we had big lights and big sound, and we all looked at one another and said this is where we’ve got to be. We cannot go back down from here.
The first album came out on Grudge Music in 1990. How did you get involved with them?
Rocco: Well we were sniffing around at that point, we had some offers and Jeff Miller from Grudge was dangling money and saying come over to Studio One (in North Newark, NJ) I know the owner there and he’ll get you good gigs. We had played there once or twice but we always got shitty “ Battle of the Bands” nights… like ten bands and we went on third! We worked our way up quick; we basically went from being third from the opening band right to like… Bam! At the time, it was TRIXTER and us. One night would be TRIXTER; the next night would be us… then TRIXTER then us. We rolled like that for about four months until we finally decided to tell Jeff “OK, the money is good and now you’ve got major distribution with BMG so we’ll roll with you.” We recorded the record in September / October of ’89, released it January ’90, and then started a tour. We did the local scene first and then got picked up with Company of Wolves and then Killer Dwarfs, because they were on our label. We bopped around with them and then we came back to Jersey whenever we needed money because the money was good. You could come back to Jersey and grab a quick $3,000-$4,000 in a club then you could go up to Connecticut or Boston and suck it up for $300. Then you could come back to Jersey for a little more money and feed yourself and that was basically how we did it… we’d come into Jersey hit two or three shows make about $10,000 and then boogie as far as we could go on the cash. And then Grudge pulled the plug right after we shot the second video. We shot “How Can I Miss You” on my birthday, January 28, 1990. It was released and Headbangers (Ball) played it on a “Smash or Trash” but it didn’t pick up. U68 (local cable TV show) picked it up along with all those other little half-ass video channels.
The band put their 2nd album out in 1992 on NJ-based Criminal Records. How did that come about?
Rocco: We got real discouraged, I guess by ’91, and we were out of money… we had a business manager who was out of money. So we just came back to Jersey and sat on it and just played locally and did our own thing. “EP ’92”, which was actually released in ’93, we put that all together and Trax-East (Studios), which now had recorded us, two Skid Row records and Glen Burtnik, they had a lot of money rolling in and so they started Criminal Records. By then you’ve got the age of the computer so we put it out on a website and a couple local record stores. It sold real well for a while… maybe a few thousand the first couple of weeks and then it started to get… I mean it went from, “hey we sold 500 this week to… uh… we sold 12”. We had to do shows and bring them in boxes and have somebody sit there (and sell them). It would be like “we sold 30 tonight!” and then the next show we would sell 3. And we saw it; it was going to dry up quick.
What led to the break-up of the original band?
Rocco: We went up to Connecticut and got out of town. We rehearsed with Steelheart and Michael (Matajevic) and did a few shows up there… but then we got really discouraged. By ’94, we decided a couple more shows and let’s can this because nothing is going to happen, and then this other band came out… Nirvana . I mean I woke up and this show on MTV called 360 Minutes… I mean 120 Minutes (laughing) debuted this song from this band Soundgarden called “Loud Love.” I loved the tune; I was like cool… they look metal. But the graininess and the photography were different though. It didn’t have that “metal luster” and when I really started to listen to the music, it didn’t have the background vocals nor did it have a big guitar solo. I liked it, but it didn’t have a whole lot of what we do. And before you know it right behind them was about 17 other bands that came storming in and that was it. It pushed us right out of the scene. That was when the whole club scene died. The Seattle club bands came to the east coast and became arena rock and they stomped it to death… the clubs starved and died, and it was over.
You were involved in some bands post AMERICAN ANGEL such as The Neighborhood, Rocco’s Modern Life and Trippin’ On Dolls. Can you fill us in on those and any others I may have left out?
Rocco: The Neighborhood was Stevie DeAcutis, Bobby Hart, and Kenny Kness, who was previously in a band called Aviator out of Philadelphia. They had one album on RCA. The Neighborhood was a great thing…we were kickin’ ass, but Steve DeAcutis and I again… it was like which way do you want to go. He wanted to be a recording engineer, producer and superstar and I just wanted to be a singer. I just wanted to go out and control crowds and then go home… with somebody from that crowd! So I scrapped The Neighborhood and started a cover band with the AMERICAN ANGEL guys called Mr. Slugworth, I think, or Punching Judy. We had a couple tunes we recorded which were real progressive. It was like the AMERICAN ANGEL guys and I trying to do it again but with all the bad blood… this one guy maybe didn’t want to do this and that guy didn’t want to do that… so 1995-96 that was it. Done. Then I started Rocco’s Modern Life in 1999. I threw a couple guys together and we tried to do AMERICAN ANGEL and cover songs but it wasn’t working. Then I grabbed Ronny Smith who was playing second guitar for Xenon. He had a studio and I said let’s write some tunes. So we did the Trippin’ On Dolls thing for about 2 1/2 years. We did the whole club thing and got a good response first show out because it was billed as “featuring Rocco from AMERICAN ANGEL”. But then that went away. I would do 1 or maybe 2 songs from AMERICAN ANGEL but the crowd wanted to hear more. Ronny was so involved in writing all the new stuff with Trippin’ On Dolls that I really didn’t want to turn around and say, “I know we just put 2 1/2 years into this but let’s turn it into AMERICAN ANGEL”. I just couldn’t do that.
So what was the driving force behind your decision to put AMERICAN ANGEL back together?
Rocco: A little over a year ago,my wife said why don’t you do what you wanted to do all along. Call up the guys from AMERICAN ANGEL and see what they’re doing. So I systematically found out each and every one of the original guys had just gone in some strange directions. So I had to find new guys. As soon as we came out and said AMERICAN ANGEL, people started to call and I had to explain to them it’s not the original lineup. So we called it “AMERICAN ANGEL featuring Rocco Fury.” After the first time out we didn’t hear any negativity so we said f*ck it, we don’t have to use that “featuring” thing anymore. I mean I wrote or co-wrote most of the stuff, I own the name and I’m still me! So we rolled, I called up Ted (Poley of Danger Danger) and said we want to do a show, so we did that, and then the Jani Lane show came up because of the Tour Bus (radio show) and we knew that we had something. But to go out now and just play the old AMERICAN ANGEL songs without a few new tunes isn’t going to do what we want it to do. We want to succeed in saying, “here’s where this should have went”… but it’s not going to be easy to do that because I’m trying to teach four new people how to think like me. In the meantime, we’ve got to have a balance… a little playing and a little writing. So that’s where we are right now.
The new song, “Turns To Grey” is great. Is it a newly written song?
Rocco: Newly written and newly recorded. Dennis wrote the guitar part in Jersey while I was in Atlanta. I took it into memory with me on the plane and I wrote the lyrics, came back, and we went to the studio the day after and banged it out in two nights. We wanted to give something to the Tour Bus because we want you to understand that we’re serious about 80’s metal and even though that we don’t want to sound light-hearted like some of it we also want you to understand we’re not going to go into “speed land” or “heavy-heavy” land. We wanted to show we’re still right in the middle.
At this point in the interview Rocco offered to grab the rest of the band from the rehearsal room and let them fill us in on how they got hooked up with the him. Guitarists Mike Bisulca and Dennis Zehrer along with bassist Dan Bourguet and drummer Marc Ambrosy sat down and told us their story…
How did you guys hook with Rocco and get involved with the whole AMERICAN ANGEL thing?
Dan Bourguet: A drummer acquaintance of Rocco’s and mine had called me up one day out of the blue. I had played with him in cover bands in the past but hadn’t talked with him in months. So he calls and says, “How would you like to reform a band?” I asked “who?” and he said AMERICAN ANGEL. I didn’t think twice, I said sure. He had a guitar player that came with him and there was another person involved as well but essentially, it wasn’t gelling. So I’ve known Dennis and Mike for quite some time… we’ve all crossed paths. So I called Dennis up.
Dennis Zehrer: So Dan calls me up and I’m sitting at my house with Mike and we’re getting ready to go do a Def Leppard tribute band. So he says we need a guitar player for AMERICAN ANGEL. I said, well isn’t that two guitar players?
Dan: At that point, it actually was the need for one and then we’d see what was going to happen.
Dennis: Well Mike and I are pretty much inseparable and I said I’d come down if we could both do it. And that’s how it happened. Mike and I learned four songs in a day while watching a Yankees game. Rocco had called me up and said we were getting together on a Friday and this was like Wednesday! We came in and did the four songs and that was it.
Dan: And the drummer who had brought me in never showed up to one rehearsal. So he didn’t work out at all. So Rocco kept mentioning that he knew Marc, and that’s where he came in.
Marc: Yeah, I know Joe (Kosa), the old bass player from Xenon . Rocco, Joe, and myself were going to get a cover band going but that didn’t work out. So Dan and Rocco called me up and asked me to jam. So that was it.
So there you have it! AMERICAN ANGEL’s show at Dingbatz was a very successful one and they already have a few more shows lined up in the next several weeks. So check out www.americanangelrocks.com for the upcoming dates and be on the lookup for a new album later in the year. Thanks again to the guys for taking the time to talk with us!