'Retrogrenade': Gary Cherone Talks New Hurtsmile Album, Extreme and Van Halen

If you follow the career path of frontman extraordinaire Gary Cherone, you can't avoid bumping into some serious guitar-rock royalty.

Whether it's his partnership with Nuno Bettencourt in Extreme, fronting the mighty Van Halen or performing with his idols Brian May and Tony Iommi at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert in the early Nineties, Cherone has performed with true living legends.

But perhaps no guitarist knows Cherone better than his brother. That's why Hurtsmile — which consists of Gary Cherone, his brother Mark Cherone (guitar), Joe Pessia (bass) and Dana Spellman (drums) — is a reflection of Cherone's personal tastes.

Inspired by the records they grew up on, Hurtsmile's new album, Retrogrenade, which will be released October 7, is full of swaggering guitars, soaring vocals and Cherone's trademark eclecticism.

From the fiery opening track, “Rock and Roll Cliché,” to songs like “Hello I Must Be Going” and the politically charged “Big Government," Hurtsmile finds inspiration through a joint collaborative process. It's not “retro” in the sense that they're trying to sound like someone else. It's a sonic nod to some of their early influences.

I recently spoke with Cherone about Retrogrenade, Extreme and some memorable moments from his career.

GUITAR WORLD: How did the writing process for Retrogrenade differ from the band's first album?

On the first record, Mark and I wrote a majority of the songs. For this one, everyone contributed to every song. Joe really stepped up and contributed songs rather than just contributions within another song. Songs like “Walk Away,” “I Still Do” and “Sing a Song” were ones that Joe and I wrote. Mark and I also wrote songs together and then there were collaborations between all of us, including Dana. That to me is the real strength of this record.

What was the songwriting process like?

It all starts with a riff. That's how I like to write. Usually, I'll get inspired by a piece of music and will write melodies or have a lyric already written. In the past, I'd sometimes hand Nuno lyrics and he would write music to the words. But as the years have gone by, I've found it better for me to write a melody to the music.

Let's discuss a few songs from Retrogrenade. "Rock and Roll Cliché."

That was a classic Mark riff. Then the band joined in and jammed on it and I scatted melodies over it. That's how that song developed.

"Hello I Must Be Going."

I wrote that song on an acoustic guitar. It was driven by a melody that I had in my head and then I presented it to the band and we hashed out different ideas for it at rehearsal. Songs that develop in rehearsal are ones the typically come out better rather than studio creations.

"Big Government."

Musically, it started with a Mark riff. Then Joe came in with the middle section. I had that chorus "Big Government" in my head. It's a critique on how the bigger the government gets, the smaller the individual gets. It was inspired by a quote from talk show host Dennis Prager.

You've worked with a few great guitarists like Nuno and Eddie, but what's it like working with your brother, Mark?

Mark knows me better than anyone. I remember him as my little brother who used to follow me along to band practice when I was in garage bands. He was the little kid who stood in the corner watching his older brother during those days. Then I watched him kind of go his own way and develop in the local scene. I'm lucky to be able to do this with my brother.

What are some of your best memories from your tenure with Van Halen?

The fondest memory was that tour. The actual making of the record was a little awkward because they were going through some stuff when I joined them. But Eddie, Alex and Michael were always great to me and were very supportive. Eddie was happy and played his ass of on that '98 tour. As far as being in the band, it was all good.

Can you tell me the origin of Extreme's “More Than Words”?

It really was one of many that Nuno and I wrote. During those years, Nuno was living at my house and were constantly writing. Out of all the songs we had written up to that point, we knew it was a good, but we had no idea that it would become bigger than the band. To us, it was just another song that we were writing.

Can you give me an update on Extreme?

We'll soon be going to LA to write and record a new record. Nuno and I have already written some songs together and separately. With every Extreme record, we really have no idea what it's going to be like until we get in there. Then the album sort of writes itself. We're excited about it.

I have to ask you about the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992. What was that experience like?

My mind goes crazy whenever anyone brings up that day. It was the best day of Extreme's career. We were so excited and embraced the whole day. Meeting all of our heroes: Roger Daltrey, Robert Plant, the guys in Queen, Elton John and David Bowie. I remember Nuno standing before I went out and said "Don't scream!" And what was the first thing I did when I got out there to do "Hammer To Fall"? I screamed [laughs].

It was a special moment for us. To be asked to be one of the few people to go up and sing was incredible. I couldn't believe I was actually singing with my favorite band of all time. What a day!

Are there any other memorable moments of your career that stand out?

With Extreme there were so many. The first time we sold out a club, getting signed, putting out our first record. I remember in the summer of 1991 when Pornografitti went platinum. We did a hometown show with Cinderella and David Lee Roth. We were the hometown kids coming home, and “More Than Words” was blowing up on the radio when they brought out those plaques. It was a very memorable moment. Ironically, we were backing up Roth and little did I know that a few years later I'd be joining Van Halen. It's been a crazy career!

For more about Hurtsmile, visit hurtsmile.com.

James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.

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