INTERVIEW: Steve Brown of Tokyo Motor Fist
Famed guitarist and producer Steve Brown who first hit the scene in the band Trixter and now leads Tokyo Motor Fist spent some time with SoCalMusicToday.com recently to talk about Tokyo Motor Fist’s new album Lions. The follow up to 2017’s self-titled album will be released on July 10, showcases Brown’s best music of his career. Brown also fills us in on what makes his bandmates so great (you will surely recognize these names and faces), the recording process for the album and relives being part of Riki Rachtman’s Cathouse Live concert. Check out their killer new song and video for “Around Midnight” here.
Hello Steve, great to speak with you! Thank You for taking the time to chat about the new Tokyo Motor Fist album Lions.
So let’s first start with talking a little about the band itself. I would say this is somewhat of a super group as in addition to yourself we have Ted Poley from Danger Danger on vocals, Greg Smith from Ted Nugent’s band on bass and Chuck Burgi from Billy Joel on drums. That’s quite a lineup . . . from your perspective what does each one of these guys bring to the band that gets you excited?
Steve Brown: Well first and foremost we are all like brothers; we have known each other so long, since we were all young lads. That’s the most important thing – we all get along great. Ted and I, we pretty much grew up together, I have known him since I was a teenager, since before he was even in Danger Danger.
Everyone brings great history and great musicality, great vocals, great energy. It’s fun to be in this band with these guys because there is no drama, everybody knows what the deal is and the work speaks for itself. We are on our second record and for us guys that have all been in this business so long, we are making the best music of our careers with this new Tokyo Motor Fist album – that speaks volumes right there.
Just Like anything else in life, it’s gotta be fun right, if it’s not fun it’s not worth it.
Steve Brown: Yes and with that said, I’ll answer about the Trixter situation in case you were gonna ask . . . The Trixter situation was not fun for the last couple years and that’s why we are not doing it anymore. For me it’s not about the money, at the end of the day I have to love what I’m doing. If I don’t want to be around you, if I don’t want to travel with you or be onstage with you, I’m just not gonna do it. Right now Tokyo Motor Fist is the number one priority for me.
I know you have known Ted forever and I read that Chuck was a neighbor . . . how did Greg get involved with the band?
Steve Brown: Chuck, Ted and I are all from New Jersey and Greg is from Long Island so we are all tristate area people. Chuck and Greg know each other from playing in Rainbow together but Greg and I have known each other since the early 90’s when he was in the Alice Cooper Band. We have so many mutual friends – it just took us this long to finally get a project together. Again it’s been like a marriage made in heaven. So many things can go wrong with guys our age that have been around; personalities, egos, ideas . . . that is the one thing in this band – it’s very simple, everybody’s role is well defined. I make it easy for everyone with me being the producer, primary song writer, the guys trust me 200% to make the best decisions on their behalf – it’s just awesome working with these guys. We are just a real band, we play live, we make videos and we just have fun together.
But going back to Greg, he is just super talented and as good of a bass player as he is, he is that good of a singer as well. Similar to myself and my guitar playing, I believe as good of a guitar player as I am, my vocals stand out as well.
Well since we are on that topic of backup vocals, let me jump forward a little bit before we get into the album . . .
I’ve listened to the record a couple times; my favorites are “Monster in Me” and “Mean It”. I love the riffs, the solos but really dig the backing vocals. I know you have some great pipes and Greg is a fantastic singer as you stated. How important is the backing vocal element to the sound of Tokyo Motor Fist?
Steve Brown: That is one thing that makes Tokyo Motor Fist so powerful. On the records I do all the backing vocals, it’s a matter of tightness and the sound I am going for. I make records much like my idol Mutt Lange, he is all over his records and that’s what I do. Back in the Trixter days, I was the guy doing all the high harmonies and vocal stacks. But for Tokyo Motor Fist, there is a specific sound that I want and I can only get when I do vocals by myself – very similar to what Mutt did with Def Leppard on Hysteria. Most of the gang vocals you hear, that’s all Mutt as he has a certain tightness and a certain style of singing that no one else can duplicate. So yeah my vocals are very much influenced by Def Leppard and Mutt Lange.
So the new record Lions will be released on July 10 and is Tokyo Motor Fist’s sophomore album – the follow up to 2017’s self-titled album. You guys have created a real fun and catchy record with a great 80’s arena rock vibe. How would you compare Lions to first album both musically and lyrically and did you guys have a specific goal in mind at the onset of this second album?
Steve Brown: With every record I make, it’s all about making the best possible record at that point in time. I still believe in the album as a whole to this day . . . I’m a kid of the 70’s and 80’s so I love the full album, start to finish – every song.
My first order of business is to have 11 or 12 great songs, every song counts. There are too many bands that just phone in a record with one or two good songs and the rest are just crap . . . that’s not the way I do business. If you listen to the two Tokyo Motor Fist records, every song is fantastic; they are all different and unique, they all tell a different story and show a different side of the great melodic, hard rock we are all waving the flag for loudly and proudly.
The first song I wrote for the record was “Youngblood” and that kicked everything into motion and as soon as I sent it off to the guys, their reaction was – this is the coolest song I have ever heard. So once I had that, it gave me the confidence that we are gonna go and make the best music of our career. I am most proud of that, I have been making records for 30 years and this is the best music, the best singing, the best playing I have ever done in my life.
Whether we sell one record or one-hundred million, the goal is to make the best possible record we could and that is what we did with Lions.
With all parties involved having other projects and commitments, how difficult was it to get everyone rallied together to write/record this new album? Was all done remotely with technology or was there any jams sessions in person?
Steve Brown: So with this being a one-stop shop, I am the producer, writer, manager, art director, musician . . . I don’t make demos, I make finished masters – what I call work masters. It is me doing everything – singing, guitars, program drums, basic bassline, but it’s a finished song.
There’s no grey area, I take these songs and give them to the guys and say, “I want you to take these songs and put your own personality into it and make it your own, make the parts your own”. I let Greg lays down that thick bass, Chuck comes in and with unique drum fills and patterns that take the song to a new level. And then of course Ted’s unique voice, a great voice, he makes these songs even better. In the end, it’s a true band effort.
Chuck did the drums at his own studio, Ted did his vocals here with me and Greg did his bass parts at his place – it just makes it easier for everybody. Again the band and even the people at Frontiers Records trust my vision that I am going to give the greatest possible record we can deliver.
So the title of the album is Lions . . . tell me about what that title means to you guys and who came up with the idea and the concept?
Steve Brown: The song “Lions” is extra special because that goes back to me being the fill in guitar player for my friend Dennis DeYoung (formerly of Styx) and that happened in 2015 and I was never the biggest Styx fan – they just weren’t my thing. But when I filled in and had to learn the Styx catalog, I fell in love with the music of Styx and the genius of Dennis DeYoung as a songwriter.
The song came about where I wanted to write a song that was about “the best of times” like Styx’s “Suite Madam Blue”. I tell everybody this song “Lions” to me is like my “Bohemian Rhapsody”, the most daring thing I have ever written both musically and lyrically. I wrote the song a year ago but wow, the times we are living in now – how appropriate are the lyrics . . . the first line of the song goes – “The world is in chaos, the rats are running the race”, if that isn’t what we are living now . . . and believe me I am no prophet in any way, shape or form.
It’s a song about believing that people should be Lions. Lions are the most powerful animal in the jungle and more people need to live their life like that. It is certainly how I live my life. I’m a Lion, a leader and I don’t take shit from anybody, I will kill for my family and my friends if you know what I mean.
Here’s my joke with this . . . although at times I am a part-time/sometime Def Leppard, I’m always a full-time Lion in the way I live my life. The message in the record as a whole is positivity, if you have a dream go for it, if you have a problem in your life – change it, go out and make things happen . . . be a Lion don’t be a sheep. Be a Lion and go out and make something happen.
The band recently released a video for the song “Around Midnight” which is really cool. The band is transformed into animated characters playing their instruments and you do a killer animated guitar solo. How did that come together and who did the animation?
Steve Brown: It’s a great story, we had the first video for “Youngblood” we made quarantine style, each of us at home with our Go-Pro’s and iPhones and that came out great. But the guy who did the animation, his name is Wayne Joiner who is a phenomenal visualizer, graphic artist and animator, he just did the new Stryper video, he has worked with Dream Theater, he is just a fantastic talent. So for “Around Midnight” we all thought what Wayne did with the storyline and characters worked perfectly and what’s really cool is here I am again, 30 years into my career and if you go back to the first Trixter album it was an animated illustration by the great Neil Adams. So yeah I finally have gotten the animated guitar solo and the entire band loves the video – it’s just a super cool thing, the video fits the song perfectly.
If we can get past this COVID-19 pandemic, any live show or touring plans for Tokyo Motor Fist?
Steve Brown: Certainly, we had some plans that obviously got cancelled this year. Right now, I personally have a few dates on the table with Eric Martin, we are supposed to play in the Pittsburgh area on July 25 but I don’t know what to tell anybody if that is gonna happen at this point. We all know the big shows, the indoor arena shows are all on hold. Tokyo Motor Fist was supposed to go to Japan in November – we were really looking forward to that – Tokyo Motor Fist live in Tokyo, how cool is that . . . so for the rest of the year we will have to wait and see but we are so looking forward to getting out and playing live. This is the first time in my life I have gone three months without playing a gig.
You have to be positive so as a result of this I am getting to spend quality time with my beautiful family – my two daughters and my wife. I am praying for all my band brothers out there, all the crews, all the people that work in the entertainment business and for the fans – that we are all able to get back to where we need to soon and get there safely.
So the last time I personally saw you play live was at Riki Rachtman’s Cathouse Live in Irvine with Trixter. That was an epic day with LA Guns, Dokken, Stephen Pearcy, Tom Kiefer, Extreme, Sebastion Bach. Do you remember how hot it was that day? Trixter played I think early in the afternoon in the scorching sun. Do you have any cool memories of that show?
Steve Brown: How can I forget that, I felt like I was an egg getting fried onstage it was so hot. We (Trixter) were honored to be a part of it. Irvine Meadows is near and dear to our hearts in Trixter because when we played there for the first time in February 1991 with The Scorpions we found out that our record had gone Gold – so that is always an incredible memory.
It was great to be back with all of our friends, all those bands – we are all like family. But yeah it was so hot, we came out on that revolving stage and it was like someone hit us with a blow-torch but we put on as good of a show as ever under the circumstances. As the night went on it was just a magical time to be there with Riki and all the old friends KNAC and Metal Edge magazine – everybody was there. It was a blast; my good buddy Jeremy from Lit was there who brought his son who had never seen any of the bands before. Again I thank Riki for having us and Sirius XM and Hair Nation for having us that night. Something I will always remember for sure.
You do know that Irvine Meadows no longer exists as it was torn down like three years ago.
Steve Brown: I do know that and it’s a sad thing but it is the world we live in today. We hear about venues disappearing all the time, I am just grateful that my dreams came true and I got to play so many arenas in the country and around the world. I’ve lived the rock n roll dream and I am still living it every day.
Thanks so much for taking the time to chat. Best of luck with the release of Lions and I hope to see you and Tokyo Motor Fist out on the road sometime soon!
Steve Brown: Hope to see everyone in 2021 and can’t wait to get back to Southern California. Be safe and God Bless America! Thank You