Interviewed by David Felix
Date: April 19th, 2006
Best known for his work in the hard-rock/ heavy metal band Firehouse, with the release of his debut solo CD entitled “Wanderlust,” Bill Leverty continues to prove himself a man of many talents. Already a talented singer, song-writer and guitarist, Bill increases and expands his repertoire to producing, mixing, arranging and just about anything else you can think of on a release that’s anything but ordinary.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Bill about “Wanderlust.” Here’s what he had to say…
How did the idea for “Wanderlust” first come about?
I don’t really know! It wasn’t as if I was trying to make a conscious effort to write another record. I just had a bunch of songs and they really didn’t fit Firehouse’s musical environment. I was singing on the demos and I was like, “You know what? I’ve got enough songs here for a record! I might as well just put this out!” And we were in-between records anyway, so I got Michael (Foster) to play drums and Bruce (Waibel) to play bass on them and then we just took it from there!
The album contains a varying array of different styles. From blues to country… even a little bit of jazz and soul thrown in there. How difficult was it approaching and writing in these different styles as oppose to the work you’ve done with Firehouse?
It was all a “from the heart” effort! I just wrote, played and tried to infuse a style in both my guitar work and the vocals which I felt fit the song. When I’m writing, I never just sit down and say, “Ok! I’m going to write a hard-rock, melodic kind of song that’s going to sound European!”… Or something like that. I just sit down and start writing and jamming and work with what comes out. I never really come in with any preconceived notion or anything like that. This record was very natural.
How supportive were C.J. (Snare) and the rest of the guys in Firehouse when they first heard you were taking on this project?
Very supportive! As I said, I had all of the songs pretty much written so I told Michael about it and asked him if he’d like to play on it and he said he’d love to. Then I asked Bruce and he said the he’d love to and I had told C.J. that I had all these songs written and we were going to put out a record with them and he was totally cool with it. So we did it in our spare time and it wasn’t like it was the kind of thing that would take away from Firehouse in any way. I wasn’t like, “Look, let’s cancel some dates so I can go into the studio and record.” It was all done in our spare time which is the way I work. Any of these side projects I get involved with are all done around Firehouse so that I don’t affect anybody else’s income or anything like that.
Obviously you recruited both Michael Foster and the late Bruce Waibel from within Firehouse. What do you remember about the experience working with them outside of the band?
Well, Michael is a guy that I’ve recorded with so many times… I mean we’ve been working together since 1984 so it was just like any other project for him. He came in and just did a bang-up job! He recorded all the songs in one day and I actually had to record him in a different studio because my studio wasn’t complete yet. I was in the process of moving, so we recorded it in this little place downtown and he came in and literally knocked them all out in one day. Then with Bruce, we recorded a little bit every day. He’d come into the studio in the afternoon when we were off the road and just lay down a song. Then we’d eat dinner, go back up and check it, fix anything that was wrong or that didn’t sound right and then he’d go home. I just remember him saying that he was most proud of this record than anything he’d ever recorded before. So that was really cool and a great compliment from a very dear friend.
How much input did they have as far as the musical direction of the songs, if any?
Well, the songs were all pretty much written. Obviously they both put in a little bit of their own licks and ideas but a lot of the drumming and bass lines were already there. Both of them took the songs to a new level, though, with their ideas. So, I don’t know how you’d quantify “how much” but they definitely did bring the songs way up from when I handed them the demo.
So let’s go through the songs a bit. I’ll say a track and you tell me a little bit about the track…
“Playing a Game”
“Playing a Game” I had the music for over a couple of years. It was originally going to be an instrumental but I just didn’t think it was really strong enough to be as good as like an Eric Johnson instrumental or whatever. So I started poking around with a vocal melody and a chorus. Then the melody came, the lyrics and the lyric for the chorus came… “Playing a game with my heart” and I, kind of, warped it backwards from that. Once I had the “playing a game with my heart” idea, the lyrics to the whole verse and the rest of the lyrics all came really quickly. The basic arrangement was a similar arrangement to the one I had when I first demoed it up. When I wrote it up, as I said, I actually recorded it as an instrumental so it ended up coming out as a vocal song. When I first wrote it, I don’t think it knew what it wanted to be yet but after I did it, I was very happy with the way it turned out. It’s, kind of, a soulful, rock kind of tune with a southern feel to it and it was really fun to try and sing that one. That one definitely got me experimenting a little and it ended up being the first track on the CD!
“Forever Rolling On”
That one was the first song that I wrote in my new house in Florida. I had moved after living in Florida for like nine years and the last house that I had lived in was this little house out in the country. I’d set up a little “make-shift” studio up in the bedroom and that was the first song that came out of me. I guess the feeling of moving out to the country inspired the guitar riff which has a heavy rock/ country feel and the lyrics which are a little country as well but also maintain that hard rock feel. There’s kind of a weird mix to that song but it was also about my wife, whom I had been married to for a while, and I moving into this house and just being madly in love so, that inspired it as well.
“You’re Not Getting Over”
That song was one of the two that were co-written by C.J. and myself. I had the basic idea for the song and then we co-wrote the lyrics together. He sang on the original demo
which was actually one of the songs on our demo for the “Category 5” album and it just missed getting on there… by a vote or so! (Laughs) So, we put it on the back burner but I always loved that song. I thought it was a really cool bar room, up-tempo, bluesy rock song so I thought, “I’m going to take a crack at singing on it.” So I re-recorded the demo with my vocals. I mean, I thought it was in my range and I could perform it the way I envisioned it so, I did it and I’m real happy with the way it turned out. It really is a different song for me and I think it shows a little diversity.
“Never Going Home”
That song started out with a riff... the very beginning riff at the opening of the song which, in turn, becomes the chorus. I just remember seeing a movie with Eddie Murphy… I think it was called “Harlem Nights” and the lyric, “Baby we ain’t never going home,” came from that movie. There was a scene where this guy had just been with a prostitute and it was so good he goes up to his wife and says, “Baby, I ain’t never coming home!” (Laughs) So it all evolved from that. It’s a song about a young couple who are really close and one of them is in the music business and trying to make it. It even, kinda, has a story in it about what I’ve been through as a musician and trying to make it through all the adversity we’ve been through but still having your woman beside you helping you and guiding you.
“All My Life”
“All My Life” is a song that took me about six years to finally finish. I had the melody and the music but I just couldn’t find the lyric for it. Now this was all just shortly after my father died and I didn’t want it to be about that because it would have been a very sad thing. Then one day the idea for the song came to me which was the search for a soul mate… so that’s basically what it’s about. It’s got a really haunting melody and I’m singing it in my best Timothy B. Schmit voice which shows the “lighter” side of me but it’s a very dark song when it comes down to it.
That’s another that C.J. and I co-wrote. I had all the music and the chorus written and the whole idea behind the song is mental illness and how we live with mental illness all around us and we don’t even know it. Or sometimes we DO know it and it’s just like the “big elephant” sitting over in the corner - we refuse to acknowledge it or deal with it. So basically, it’s about mental illness either within ourselves or in our family, our friends, or “peripheral” friends but, for sure, it’s all around us whether it be substance abuse, depression or… really whatever. It kind of makes light of that but at the same time, it addresses it as an issue and really gives you something to think about. It’s a quirky tune and different from anything else on the record. It almost has a Beatle-esque chord progression in the melody and is musically and thematically different than anything I’ve ever done before.
I think that song really shows off a lot of Bruce Waibel’s talent. It’s got an awesome groove to it that Michael laid down and it’s a very “funky” kind of song. Lyrically it’s about the perfect woman or the woman that’s just perfect for you. It could almost be a song that a girl could sing to a guy but it’s a very sexual kind of tune as well. It’s one of the few on the record with that kind of innuendo behind it but I really have a great time playing it and I’d love to do it live if we ever got around to it.
“Don’t Give Up”
I think that’s the closest song on the record to a melodic rock or heavy metal type of song. As far as writing goes, it all came to me almost all at once. I had the melody for the chorus, and then the lyrics me at once, so I had to figure out what chords to put underneath it during the chorus. Basically, the song just wrote itself in about thirty minutes. It’s a song about “not giving up” and it could be a good song for someone who’s in recovery, a good song for our troops or a good song for a sports team. It’s something to keep you going… a motivational song.
That’s a song I wrote for my daughter when she was in-utero, so to speak… before she was born and the message is, basically, if I’m ever gone or one day when I’m gone, I’ll always be there with her… even if I’ve passed away. I’ll always be there; I’ll always be her friend and always be someone she can rely on.
And finally, the title track “Wanderlust”
Well, that’s probably my favorite song on the record. It’s funny because when I was writing it, I was wondering if it was really good enough to continue on with. But once I had it done, I was so happy with it. It’s very bluesy and Allman Brothers influenced - it’s a song about loving the road. Being on the road on and off now for over 20 years, I’ve spent a lot of time traveling. You spend a lot of time traveling in this business and you really have to enjoy it to just survive in the music industry. So that’s what it’s about… being on the road.
On this record, you had complete control over just about everything. From writing to performing…even from mixing to producing. What was that like for you?
It wasn’t much a stretch from what I’ve done in the past. Since our fourth record, I’ve been kind of the guy who produced and was involved a lot in the production. So I’m used to that although producing myself was more of a challenge because I don’t know when to stop sometimes. I always want to keep getting better and a good producer will keep pushing you to get the absolute best out of you. So it’s a bit harder to produce yourself… you have to know when to let go and stop pushing.
Now mixing I’ve always had a huge passion for. I mixed our very first demos which got us our record deal with Epic Records. So I’ve always loved that aspect of it… and writing, of course. I guess singing was the biggest stretch for me... just singing all the songs on a record. I mean, I had sung one song on our “02” album and got some good feedback from our fans and they wanted to hear more! So… here it is!
Was there anyone who helped guide you along the way in any of these aspects?
Not really. Ya know, Michael’s real good at helping me with drums which are a very difficult instrument to record. He helped me get the right drum sounds when I was mixing the songs to make them sound as good as they possibly could. He’s got a really cool car stereo with a sub-woofer and all that so I can check the mixes and such. So that helped a real lot.
Have you ever played any shows in support of the release?
Never have and unless Firehouse take a long break or something (which we never have before and I don’t see happening in the future), I probably won’t. It was just a side project without any kind of tour plans attached to it. I just wanted to get these songs out there and let people hear this record. The last thing I would ever want to do is tell these guys, “Hey, I’m going to selfishly tell you guys to take six months off with no way to make a living or feed your families so that I can go out and get my solo career going!” That’s not what this was about at all. My whole intention was just to get the music out there and as far as the “playing it live” thing goes, it was never a concern to me. The idea of getting a band together, rehearsing them, getting gigs and then going out to actually play the gigs is a tall order and it would take a lot of time. When you have everyone in Firehouse depending on each other, you’d really have to be a selfish bastard to go out and tour on a solo album.
Has there ever been any talk about you incorporating any of the songs into a Firehouse set?
I sing a song as it is now off the last Firehouse record “Primetime” and I sell these records at the Firehouse shows but when we go out and play our gigs, we just have so many Firehouse songs to choose from that it’s kinda hard to say, “Lets do a song off my solo album!” When we do a Firehouse show, we have enough songs already and everyone gets to do a song anyway so it would just be a real hassle to try and get everyone to learn one of my songs. So, artistically I’m happy with the way things are going. I never really asked to do one of my songs and I don’t think I ever will… I’m just glad that I’m able to sing a song and get that part of me out there.
You obviously spend a lot of time on the road with Firehouse. Are there any plans for another solo project in the future?
I’m actually working on one now but it still has a long way to go yet. It’s got more instrumental stuff on it but I might do a cover on it. I’ve got a couple of “funk” covers in mind that I’d like to bring back. I was really influenced by 70’s funk bands but the guitar was never really a big part of those bands so, I’d really like to do my interpretation of, maybe, a song or two. But, I’ve got a couple of instrumentals together, a couple of vocal tracks in the works but it’s really hard to put something like this together when you’re doing it in the “off” time. It’s very time consuming. This summer we’re touring a lot and the little bit of time off that I do have I would like to spend with my family.
I do a little studio work as well with people who hire me to play. For instance, I played on Ted Poley’s record and the Bombay Black record for Kivel Records and I’ve got a couple of other projects I’m working on as well. So, I’m sure I’ll get one out there but it’s just a matter of finding the time to do it.
What has the reaction been like to “Wanderlust” from both the media and your Firehouse fans?
Ya know, I’ve got nothing but positive responses to it. A lot of people are surprised to hear that I sing but I think they get to know me a little bit better by listening to this record and understand a little more about where it is that I came from. I grew up in Virginia and listened to a lot of southern hard rock and it’s definitely one of my influences. Everybody’s been real supportive, though. I haven’t gotten like any type of email or anything from anyone saying that they didn’t like it or it was just “ok.” Everybody’s saying that they really, really like it so, that’s very gratifying.
Who are your influences both as an artist and as a guitar player?
I’m influenced by a lot of people almost in the same way. The whole musical picture of an artist influences me… whether they’re a guitar player or not. I mean, one of my biggest influences is Stevie Wonder and there’s not much guitar in his records but the whole musical picture of his records was a huge influence on me. As a guitarist… especially for lead guitar, Eddie Van Halen was a huge one. Randy Rhodes and Ted Nugent were a couple of my early ones. Lynyrd Skynyrd was another huge influence… Michael Schenker. Then, later on, there’s Joe Satriani, Steve Morse, Allan Holdsworth, Jeff Beck, Al Di Meola, and Eric Johnson who’s just an amazing, amazing guitar player. So those are the big ones... but I actually sat down and really thought about all of them, tried to list as many as I could and put them on my website, www.leverty.com. People can just go to the “bio” section and read ‘em there.
Tell me something about yourself that maybe either your fans or even your colleagues might consider shocking.
Ummm… I play ice hockey two to three nights a week when I’m home! A lot of people probably don’t know that but I’m a HUGE hockey nut. I play with 18 and over groups but… I still have all my teeth! (Laughs) Now you being up in New Jersey, are you a hockey fan?
I am. I can’t say that I follow it religiously but I do like it.
No… Vancouver, actually.
Are ya? Cool, man! But the reason I asked is because there’s a guy on the New Jersey Devils who’s a big fan of ours and a friend of mine. He just got traded there… his name’s Brad Lukowich. He’s a really cool dude and a huge music fan.
What position do you play?
I play forward or defense so, whatever’s needed on the team. I just go where they want me depending on what’s needed against out opponent. I shoot right so I like playing left wing… coming in across the off wing, cutting across the middle and being there for one-timers and all that.
What artists or CD’s might you find in Bill Leverty’s personal collection right now?
I’ve just got so many CD’s but here lately, I’ve been listening to Eric Johnson’s “Bloom,” Miles Davis “Live,” Perfect Circle, and The Dixie Dregs live record. I just love so many different types of music… I listen to everything!
What do you feel has had the biggest impact on your life, so far?
I would say my wife. When I met her, my life was complete. Before I met her, I wasn’t really completely happy with myself and my life. Then when I met her, everything just fell into place. It was definitely the greatest thing that’s every happened to me… and the greatest thing that ever happened to US was the birth of our daughter. That definitely adds a new dimension to your life and changes the way you feel about everything.
So what’s next for Bill Leverty?
Well, I’m writing more music, recording new songs… we tour all the time so the next thing is another recording. Whether it’s for a commercial… I’m up for a “Hummer” commercial, actually. I hate to jinx it by putting it in the press bit I wrote and recorded the music for a “Hummer” commercial and its real heavy in the beginning then turns very melodic in the second half so, we’ll know real soon whether we got it or not. Those kinds of things are always a challenge and are exciting so… that’s what I’ve been dabbling a little bit in. I love to come down here in my studio and record and if I’ve got an idea to record something I just record it and if it fits for Firehouse, it goes into the Firehouse pile… if it fits my side project stuff, it’ll go there or if it fits in somewhere else, I’ll try and figure out where it’ll go. That’s what I do… I just keep making the music then head on out and do the Firehouse gigs. We mainly go out on the weekends, but if we get another package tour or something like that, we’ll certainly consider it or go on out and do it! Just making music and spending time with my family… life couldn’t be better!
Bill, thank you very much for taking the time out to do this.
Well, thank YOU Dave, I really appreciate you taking out your time to do it!