When people think of the glory days of the late-'80s, early '90s metal scene, New Orleans isn't typically the setting that comes to mind.
However, New Orleans did prove to be the birthplace of one of the most overlooked bands of that era, Lillian Axe. Blending catchy melodies and sleazy lyrics with an equal amount of classically inspired acoustic pieces and great songwriting, they developed a loyal fan base that support them to this day.
On February 14, they released their 11th album, XI: The Days before Tomorrow.
We recently caught up with founding member, songwriter and guitarist Steve Blaze to talk about the band.
GUITAR WORLD: Coming from New Orleans, Louisiana, what was your musical background when you began playing the guitar?
I started playing guitar at the age of 6 when my parents gave me a classical guitar for my birthday. I remember that later in life they told me it cost them $19 at the time. I cherished that thing, and I believe I may still have some of the parts around somewhere. I spent three months taking lessons at school until the instructor informed my parents that I had outgrown the class and needed to move on to private lessons. I then spent several years under Edie Leibe learning classical and flamenco styles. It wasn't until I was about 11 that Alice Cooper showed me the way of hard rock guitar.
Your playing style has always had a very classical influence. How did that work its way into your playing style?
My classical background taught me the importance of melody, layering and composition. The beauty of dynamics and importance of the whole piece, as opposed to the individual parts became of utmost concern to me. This helped me in my writing style to hear all the pieces as I would create a song.
The late Ratt guitarist Robin Crosby played a role in the history of Lillian Axe. How did Robin get involved?
After several years of growing popularity as a regional cover band playing originals, Lillian Axe was asked to open for Ratt and Queensryche on five arena shows. I was contacted by their manager after two shows, stating that he wanted to manage us and get me a record deal. He mentioned Robin liked us and wanted to produce our album. We met and the rest is history. Robin was a great soul and taught me a lot about humility.
You have your own signature series of Guilford guitars. How did you come to work with them and can you talk a little about the design?
My brother-in-law is a successful guitar tech. He turned me on to John. I was looking for a start-up company that would give me the attention I needed and design the perfect guitar for my needs. In the past I endorsed Jackson/Charvel, Ibanez and Robin guitars, but I was still unable to get my own line of guitars. John is amazing and is able to take my ideas and bring them to the next level.
The two models I have now are the Blaze and the Redeemer, and they fit my specs like no other guitar I've ever played. I have always been a fan of the unfinished maple neck. John has this secret stuff he puts on them to make them as smooth as butter. Seymour Duncan Blackout pickups in both positions, and the Buzz Feiten adjustment at the nut. The Redeemer has an amazing body shape similar to a cross between a V and an Explorer. It is perfectly weighted unlike most V's that are top heavy.
On the back end. what are you using?
I endorse Peavey amps. I use JSX heads and Windsor cabs. I love the Morley Wah pedals so much I live on them it seems. The G-System gives me my boost, octaver, phase, chorus and delay. Other than a blu box for gain and a noisegate, thats about it. Half of my tone is in my hands. I do use the Peavey Vyper combos for my clean sound and for my acoustic guitar.
Lillian Axe is about to release their 11th album, XI: The Days before Tomorrow. Obviously you have a new singer, Brian Jones. What else can we expect?
This being our 11th album, it is a milestone for us. We have been getting great reviews so far from press and fans alike which means a lot due to the fact that this is our first album with Brian on vocals. Everyone seems to love him, which makes us happy because changing vocalists after 10 albums is a monumental task. We plan on promoting and touring as much as possible here in the U.S as well as Europe and Japan and Canada.
You had produced the previous album, Deep Red Shadows. This time you worked with an external producer, Sylvia Massy. What did Sylvia bring to the project?
Sylvia is amazing. Her assistant Richard Veltrop is also the bomb. Sylvia has the ability to create power and depth in her mixes. She understands what we are about and how to emphasize the emotion and feel in our music. Rob Hovey, the engineer, and I have worked on the last 4 albums and we have a telepathy between us that is magic. It was an amazing team effort.
You offer fans something very unique in that now you have set up a way for fans to collaborate with you on their song ideas. How does this work?
I have gotten involved in a project where I collaborate with individuals whether they be musically inclined or not, and write a song or songs specifically for them as a dedication to a loved one . Usually, the person has no musical inclination, so I work with their ideas lyrically and musically to create a song that is theirs and only theirs. If for some reason it is ever published, they share the ownership with me. I have written for family members who have passed on, weddings, and just songs telling how much someone loves another person. It's a chance to give a gift that is pure and everlasting.
Lillian Axe did a free show at the Howlin' Wolf in New Orleans on February 4 to celebrate the release of the new record. Can we expect a full tour this year?
We are in the process of putting a package tour together with our agent in a few months from coast to coast. We are playing Firefest in the U.K. in October. Also, we are looking at other dates in the U.S. and Europe. We would love to see Japan and Canada as well. We will know more soon, as well as when the album comes out.