In the early ’90s the band Extreme came straight out of Boston and added a unique sound and style to the hard rock world. Their brand of heavy rock included a three way split between a heavy Queen influence, funk rock and traditional hard rock. Although the group had a serious guitar heavy sound thanks to axe-man Nuno Bettencourt, it was the acoustic ballad “More Than Words” that catapulted the band into the mainstream.
The group broke up in 1996 but reunited in 2008 and released a new disc entitled “Saudades de Rock”. As the band gears up for a summer tour with Ratt, I had the chance to chat with their dynamic frontman Gary Cherone.
Associated Content: Gary Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to chat with me
Gary Cherone: Not a problem David.
AC: Looks like Extreme is gearing up for another tour this summer, this time around with Ratt. How did this pairing come about?
GC: We wanted to do a second run with this record in the states — we definitely wanted to hit the road again. We actually turned down a couple tour offers and we have known the guys in Ratt from back in the day, plus Nuno is a big fan of Warren DeMartini (Ratt’s guitarist). It just seemed to fit even though we are a bit of a “quirky” band.
AC: Talk to me about being a “quirky” band! Is it safe to say that the band has had more than a few perceptions heaped on it, in the past?
GC: Well, when I think about who we were opening for in the 90’s, I mean bands/artists like ZZ Top, Bryan Adams, and Bon-Jovi — we can hold our own with any band but early on for whatever reason we were lumped into the hair metal thing. Then “More Than Words” came out and we started to be perceived in a totally different way. We can match up with a lot of different types of bands because we have a lot of different things going on in our music, but at the end of the day we are a rock band. That’s what we are, but the perceptions have been hard to shake. If folks really want to know what we are about then they need to see us live.
AC: Well since you brought it up, let’s chat about “More Than Words”. Have you come full circle in your love/hate relationship with that song?
GC: HA! It really depended on what year we were in with regards to how I felt about that song! Seriously, that song gave us the freedom to make the record we really wanted to make when we started recording our third disc. It got us doing huge tours all over the states and around the world — the tune became a beast! As the 90’s went on however, we really started to resent the song. We were tagged, the “More Than Words” guys. We didn’t like the perception the song created about the band. I remember being on tour with Aerosmith in Poland. I mean it was our first time touring Poland and it was on that tour we decided we would not play the song. We just didn’t do it. A couple nights into the tour Steven Tyler writes in big letters on our dressing room door, “play the f#@king song!!” I mean his attitude was almost farther like. He was like, “look this is your first time in Poland, when do you think you will be back? They want to hear it so play it!” Thirteen years later we are seeing young kids come to the shows and folks our age who love the song. They have heard it at their proms or at their weddings — there is a whole new fanbase that has embraced the song and because of that and things like Guitar Hero, a new audience is finding out about us.
AC: What prompted the band to reunite?
GC: When we broke up in ’96, there was never any animosity between us. We didn’t really have “artistic differences”. There were just things that we wanted to express on our own for a bit. Nuno did his solo thing and then began working with Perry Farrell in Satellite Party and I did a bunch of stuff on my own. We were offered a bunch of tours every summer but the timing was not right. We also wanted to do it right. If we were going to reunite, we wanted to make sure that we could protect what Extreme meant to us. We wanted to make sure we had a hand in the bands perception. We got together for a benefit in 2004 in Boston and a couple one off shows but Nuno and the rest of us agreed that if we were going to tour we wanted to do it behind a new disc. We did not want to do a whole nostalgia thing. We wanted to be able to do our hits, deep cuts and new material. We like to challenge ourselves and our audience — it’s a tricky balancing act. We lost sight of the aspect of the balancing act on that tour with Aerosmith — we want to give the fans what they want but we also want to indulge our artistic needs also. It becomes a balancing act of sorts which leads to a great collective party.
AC: Your original drummer Paul Geary is not recording or touring with the band. Was he not interested in re-joining the group?
GC: Paul Geary is my dearest and closest friend. He actually left the band in late 1993. He retired from playing drums and touring and he is now doing what he loves which is managing bands. He actually co-manages Extreme. He just does not miss it like we do. He may come out for an encore or two at some shows but that’s it.
AC: The musical landscape has changed quite a bit since the band’s break up in 1996 thanks to digital downloads my space and facebook. Has Extreme been able to embrace the technology?
GC: I think nowadays you have no choice but to embrace the technology! There are kids in this generation that have grown up and never bought a record or even a cd — I mean cds today are like calling cards. They just don’t sell. This bands strongest selling point is what we can do live. It was important for us to make new music when we got back together but what we are primarily known for is what we can do on stage.
AC: So You mentioned that you and Nuno were involved in a lot of other projects after the band broke up. Let’s talk about two of yours. First, tell me about Slipkid.
GC: HA! Slipkid was basically a Who cover band that I played in with my brother. I am a huge fan of The Who — it was mainly a vehicle for he and I to do something musical together. It was really about our love for the band. We played small clubs in Boston and on the east coast.
AC: Sounds like you had some fun! And then of course there was the other band you joined! What did you learn or take away from your experience, with regards to being in Van Halen?
GC: Well looking back on the three years I spent with Van Halen I guess, if I had to do it all over again I think I would have preferred to tour with them and then put out a record — it would have been a better idea to establish myself first and then hit the studio with the band. At the time it may have looked odd on paper but it actually worked live! I made a concerted effort to do the old Van Halen tunes that Sammy was not doing. I wanted to do the deep cuts — as a live act we did songs their fans had not heard in years! I don’t however; think we made a great record. I think their were some great ideas and some little gems but it was not a great record. I had fun but at times it was like being a stranger in a strange land.
AC: How intimidating was it to be in the band?
GC: It was very intimidating but not because of them. They were great. I mean, I was joining a band that I had been influenced by! Most of the time the criticism just rolled off my back, but if I had a bad night or my throat hurt — sometimes it would get to me but what are you gonna do? I will say, each night when we came into town I would hear the radio djs take their shots at me and the band but at the end of most of the shows the same djs would be back stage and almost apologize to me or at the very least admit that the show was way better than they had originally thought.
AC: So presently Extreme will hit the road this summer with Ratt and then what’s next on the agenda?
GC: We never have a time out! We are already rehearsing songs for another record. We will probably tour Europe in the fall but then the plan is to follow up Saudades de Rock with an even better record.
AC: What can fans expect this summer from Extreme?
GC: Hmm — like I said if you really want to find out what this band is about you will come see us live. We really live to challenge ourselves and challenge our audience and it happens every time we hit the stage.