Ratt: Back For More
Originally published in Guitar World, August 2010
On Ratt's latest album, Infestation, longtime guitarist Warren
DeMartini teams up with former Quiet Riot guitarist Carlos Cavazo and keeps the Eighties hair metal franchise rocking on.
Oh, the Eighties. Those were fun times: big hair, big guitar riffs, exuberant songs and scantily clad women groovin’ to the music. The genre of hard rock that came to fruition during that period, now nostalgically dubbed “hair metal,” was everywhere—on top of the charts, on MTV and radio, and at a concert venue near you. The bands, many of which emanated from the Los Angeles glam-metal scene, integrated the high-volume force of traditional metal and mixed it with hook-driven pop. From 1983 to 1989, scores of hair-metal albums were often listed near the top of the Billboard charts, thanks both to the preponderance of female fans and the success of MTV.
Ratt and Quiet Riot were among the biggest bands of that era. Though both groups fell apart—Quiet Riot in 1988, and Ratt in 1992—each eventually picked up the pieces and carried on with one lineup or another. Most recently, the star guitarists in both bands—Warren DeMartini and Carlos Cavazo, respectively—teamed up to form Ratt’s new guitar duo. Their union can now be heard on Infestation, Ratt’s first record in 11 years. The disc is a celebratory return to the band’s classic sound, packed with big, brash sing-along anthems emblematic of the group’s best work.
“The songs on this album are a logical continuation of Ratt’s mid-Eighties period,” DeMartini says. “There was a conscious effort to revisit the double-lead guitar playing that we crafted when we first became popular with albums like [1984’s] Out of the Cellar and [1985’s] Invasion of Your Privacy. But we didn’t want to make the same record over and over again, so there are some different directions and color tones on the albums we made since then. For Infestation, about the only thing we said going in was that we didn’t want to do too many overdubs. We wanted a pretty live feel to everything, and we wanted an album that had a similar energy to our best work from the old days.”
The two guitarists shared rhythm and lead duties, giving each a chance to lend his signature style to the music. Cavazo says, “On certain songs, Warren does all the guitar solos, but on other songs we both solo. Warren is definitely the main lead guitarist in this band—I’d never take that away from him—but I play a lot of the lead breaks on the album, as well.”
Producer Michael “Elvis” Baskette, who is best known for working with bands like Chevelle, Alter Bridge, Incubus and Limp Bizkit, recorded Infestation over a four-month period last year at Studio Barbarosa, just outside Virginia Beach in rural Bavon, Virginia. The studio is a beach house that’s been converted into a recording studio. “The whole band lived on the premises,” Cavazo says, “and sometimes we’d fly out and do shows on weekends. It’s a great place to record an album. From the control room you get a full 90-degree water view of Chesapeake Bay. I’d go swimming a lot, then come back and record my parts with my bathing suit on. It was totally laid-back.”
That’s certainly not a term anyone would have associated with Ratt in their heyday. From 1984 to 1988, the group scored four consecutive Platinum albums (Out of the Cellar, Invasion of Your Privacy, Dancing Undercover and Reach for the Sky). In 1990, Ratt had another hit outing, the Gold-certified Detonator. But shortly after that album’s release, tensions within the band came to a head. “After Detonator, I took a long-deserved break,” DeMartini says. “After several years in a row of the album-tour-album-tour cycle, I was burned out. Playing guitar in a successful rock band was a dream come true for me, but I just needed to chill out for a while.”
The excesses of the time took a toll on the group as well. Robbin Crosby, DeMartin’s former coguitarist and the band’s main songwriter, developed a debilitating addiction to heroin and left the band in 1991. Crosby became HIV positive in 1994 and passed away in 2002 from AIDS-related complications. Together, DeMartini and Crosby had been one of the mid Eighties’ great guitar duos. Crosby would anchor the beat with his steady rhythm, providing DeMartini with the platform upon which to unleash a fluid barrage of licks. “I never would’ve been able to able to play as wildly as I did if Robbin didn’t hold the songs together,” DeMartini says. “Robbin was more of a slower, feel-type player, whereas my playing is more instinctual.”
Crosby’s illness and subsequent death robbed DeMartini of not only a playing partner but also a friend. “Robbin was a dear friend, and his death affected me deeply,” DeMartini says. “One of the dangers of this business is the temptation of drugs and alcohol, and there is a great potential for abuse. It’s something that no one expects will be a problem for them, but the nature of it is that you get too far into it before you realize what’s happened. Sadly, in an oversimplified way, that’s what happened to Robbin.”