We were very excited when Rex Carroll agreed to do an interview. He had a lot of very interesting things to say, and we think you’ll agree. Let’s get started!
The Pure Metal Fan: What made you want to become a musician?
Rex Carroll: As far back as I can remember, I was always enthralled by the beat, and the rhythm. All these years down the line, and I still love that beat. And the excitement of the crowd, the anticipation for the show… I love that feeling.
TPMF: Who are your major influences?
RC: Too many to count. Peter Frampton was an early guitar hero. Eric Clapton from the days when he was a blues player. I actually figured out a lot of “country guitar” style phrases by listening to Jimi Hendrix! Robin Trower, Johnny Winter, Frank Marino, Michael Schenker. All the best of the old guard. And then of course the mighty Edward Van Halen. Stevie Ray Vaughan. Yngwie Malmsteen, all of them, amazing. Richie Blackmore was huge for me, I figured out a lot of songwriting things by listening to a lot of Deep Purple records back in the day. I know everybody says this, but almost everything you hear can influence you in some way. I’m also influenced by the guys I play with as well!
TPMF: Could you describe the music-making process?
RC: Well, that’s an open ended question! I think maybe I will give you a discussion of, how does a song go from a vague notion in the brain to a finished ‘masterpiece’ on a cd? The most important thing, IMO, is to always have my iPad handy. For many years the humble cassette boom-box was the fastest way to get an idea from my guitar on to some kind of recorded medium. Once I started using computers, I came to the conclusion the computer is NOT helping me! For example, if I was having an idea, I was running into this: 1. turn on computer and wait. 2. launch recording software and wait. 3. open new song folder, 3 or 4 clicks. 4. Save song folder and route to correct hard disc location…more clicks 5. Plug guitar into interface, set appropriate levels, route into the correct track in the software, insert “guitar amp simulator” on the software track…more and more clicks, and more wait. NOW…hmmm, what was that idea again..? Eventually I got really super fast at all of that, but it was still taking me 5 minutes to do it, and half the time, by the time the computer is ready to record…you’ve lost the idea in spite of your best efforts to recall. The best use of the computer for me, is to develop the song in the recording software AFTER the original idea has been documented elsewhere, namely on the iPad. With the iPad, (or ‘tablet’ for you non-mac using heathens) there is free recording software available from the app store. Nowadays, if I have an idea, I simply set the iPad in front of the guitar amp that I’m already plugged in to, open the recording app and hit record. That’s actually faster than the old cassette tape used to be! (And the sound quality of the recording is approximately the same, too lol). It’s super convenient. If I want, I can hum or sing a melody , play my guitar, whatever I’ve got, and the iPad captures it. And the number one thing in making music….is simply to capture your song idea, exactly the way you played it the FIRST time, as quickly as possible. Everything else after that is just “process”; Band rehearsal, recording demos, recording again in the studio, live performance, etc. I’m not sure if that’s what you were looking for in a response, but these are the kinds of things I go through when I get an idea for a riff or a song.
TPMF: Who does the song writing for your various bands?
RC: I have always been heavily involved in songwriting – I can’t help it. It’s who I am, and it’s a big part of my life. I can usually express what I feel in my gut a lot more fully through a song or a melody than I can by just talking about it. When I was in the 3rd or 4th grade, I remember becoming very alarmed when I saw a headline on one of the teeny bopper rock magazines that said something along the lines of “The Monkees have written EVERY POSSIBLE SONG there is to be written”. Hahahahaha man I was freaking out for a while, like, “That’s not fair! They have to leave something for ME!” Because even at a young age, I was so fascinated with music and songs, I just wanted to be immersed in it all the time. In the early days of Whitecross, nobody else in the band took the songwriting seriously AT ALL. I got the impression they regarded it as extra busy-work taking time away from important things, like watching t.v. or eating nachos. Mark Hedl the drummer however was very literate, well-read, and had a lot of good ideas and things to say and he really grasped on to the songwriting as a chance for artistic expression. So that was good, Mark and I collaborated on some things. So in the beginning, nobody (other than Mark) took it very seriously. But then a couple of years go by, and all of a sudden people see actual revenue starting to generate from the songs and flowing to the writers…well, now it’s a different story and all of a sudden EVERYBODY is interested. And then everybody wants to “stake out their turf” and the writing room is getting crowded! Obviously, that approach is not in the best interest of the songs OR the band and eventually the songwriting reverted back to the people who are actually invested into it. Before Whitecross, when I was just starting out in the Fierce Heart band, I had some, but not enough songwriting skills. Larry Elkins the singer knew a lot more about it, was way ahead of me in that department, and he certainly took advantage of it to claim most of the songwriting credit. Furthermore he was definitely not interested in sharing any of his “hard-earned knowledge” as he described it, with punks like myself; and he made that quite clear in his own inimitable style on several occasions. However, I was a quick study (at least, in those days) and it only took the one recording project we did together to figure out the various parts of the game I was missing. Larry went out of his way to conceal his craft, but it’s not that difficult to figure it out if you’re working on it every single day. Actually, going through the Fierce Heart album was invaluable for me. If I hadn’t done the Fierce Heart band first, there is most likely no possible way that Whitecross could ever have happened. These days, I love teaching the occasional songwriting workshop and I’m always mindful not to be “hoarding” information. Anybody who has something to say in music, will eventually find a way. Anyways, so for me it’s just better to help those who are coming up behind me and have a reputation as somebody who mentors and helps. And, I’m learning things too, all the time, from other writers, from my students, from studio clients, from guys and gals in other bands…it’s a small world in the music community and your reputation as an artist/writer/producer/musician/whatever gets around pretty fast.
TPMF: Tell us about your experience auditioning for Whitesnake, and the outcome.
RC: In 1982 I was living in my college town where I had gone to school. There was a local head shop where you could get “smoking supplies”, used records, and plus they had all the rock music publications. I was such a cheapskate I never paid for anything, so I would stand in the magazine section for hours at a time, read the magazines from cover to cover and then put them back on the shelf, lol. My favorite magazine was called “Kerrang”, a British import. One day I’m reading it and I came to some momentous news: David Coverdale had fired both Micky Moody and Bernie Marsden from Whitesnake and was looking for a new guitarist. That was huge for me, because I was a big fan and I felt a moral obligation to at least try to do something. I was clueless then (as opposed to now, when I am clueless AND ignorant, lol) but I figured I could at least make a cassette tape of myself playing guitar and mail it in to the record company. Crazy, right? So I did that, played two songs on the guitar, overdubbed a solo, and mailed it in to the address on the back of the cover. 3-4 weeks later my phone rings and it’s Jim Delehant, who is the head of A&R for Atlantic Records. He starts asking me questions and my hand started to shake, I completely lost my mind and dropped the phone to the floor….I’m surprised it didn’t shatter into a thousand itsy bitsy pieces! After informing me that Whitesnake was going with the BRILLIANT John Skyes, he nevertheless liked me anyways and wanted to put together a band around my guitar. So from that point, I spent 18 months driving around the chicago area with my Illinois Entertainer newspaper, with the musician ads in the back, looking for a singer. I never could find anybody. But Jim did, because of course everything that came to the label went across his desk. One day he received a demo from a guy named Larry Elkins from Virgina Beach,VA. He figured Larry’s voice would go together with my guitar, and so the Fierce Heart band came together pretty quickly.
TPMF: You’re currently working on a new Fierce Heart album, when can we expect that?
RC: Circling back to the “songwriting” topic, I have to tell you it has been a fantastic pleasure working with Robert Reynolds on the new Fierce Heart record. He’s a friend of mine from waaaay back, and actually became the singer of Fierce Heart in 1986. While I was out doing Whitecross and other things, he went to L.A. and busted his butt to also become a very accomplished musician, singer, writer, and for a while he was a full time mastering engineer. So it’s great when you can just get together and write for the song and have the confidence and trust to write together and believe in the end result. I’ve been working on it for 14 months and it’s done as of the time of this interview. Now it’s just a matter of either releasing it through a record label, or self-releasing. I hope it will be out very soon.
TPMF: Which songs do you like the most off the new Fierce Heart album?
RC: Of course, I like them all! LOL. standard answer, right??! But you know what? Just for once and just for fun I’d love to see somebody come out in an interview and tell THE TRUTH. I imagine a bunch of clodhopper rock musicians sitting around after their record is done, and Nick the guitar player (in a thick New Jersey accent) says something like, “yeah, you know I only like the first two songs, the ones that I wrote – I thought my solos really rocked even though the guys said it was just a lot of ‘mindless shredding’. The rest of the songs are totally lame, but the singer liked the one he wrote about his girlfriend. And that one song the record company insisted on? man, that was pure crap just to fill up space IMO. I guess they thought it was going to be a radio hit, but what do THEY know? And the 4th song? …hoo boy, pure torture….well the drummer wrote that and it’s god-awful you know, but it was either that or else he was gonna quit the band. As it turns out, we fired him anyways” hahahaha sometimes, I just entertain myself with these kinds of things…
TPMF: What has been your biggest challenge as a musician?
RC: To try and keep going. This doesn’t get any easier. It gets harder, every year. At least for me, it does. The farther in you get, the harder it gets. a couple months back, John Lawry and I were discussing guitar tone in studio recording. He asked me if it was any easier, and I said “no, it seems to be getting harder!” He concurred; in his opinion, the more your ear becomes attuned to the various frequencies, the more details you become aware of and thus you drive yourself crazy trying to get everything right.
TPMF: How big of a role has your faith played in your song writing?
RC: My faith informs EVERYTHING in my life. It comes through in every single interaction with people, every day. It makes me a better person, and also it impacts decisions that get made about who I want to work with, and the kinds of things I want to say through my music. I know we live in a very polarized political climate these days…but I’ve been a God lover and a Christ follower and church goer my whole life. I see no reason to quit now!
TPMF: It’s been almost 15 years since the last Whitecross album, when can we expect a new one?
RC: As you know, Whitecross hasn’t done much in a long time although the desire (at least for me) is still there. Little by little it has gotten harder and harder to work with the lead singer (for me). The reasons for that have all been discussed, and some of the reasons have NOT been discussed, but basically it comes down to differing vision and differing expectations. Plus we don’t have a record label advancing us $100,000 like back in the old days. So if there’s a new album, I think it’s entirely on my shoulders to make it happen. It’s also up to me to fund it, and pay for everybody else to be on it. It’s a tall order. I’ve done a couple of crowd-funding campaigns and they are useful, but I have also found crowd-funding to be a full-time job as well. So, the honest answer is, I would very much like to bring you a new WC album or even a couple of new songs…but it seems like it’s harder for me than for everybody else. Honestly, I have no idea how some guys keep coming out with new records every 8 months with no external help and no budget. My sincerest hope is that God will make a way! Lord Jesus, please let there be a new Whitecross album, AMEN! Yes that’s a prayer, right there.
TPMF: What was the last album or song that you purchased?
RC: My son introduced me to a whole genre of orchestral movie-score themes. I’ve been listening to some of that, and purchased some of it on cd. I’m EXTREMELY excited that vinyl records have made a bit of a comeback, I hope it’s a trend that continues to grow.
TPMF: Any parting words?
RC: I’m very grateful and happy for all our friends who have supported my music endeavors all this time. Many of them I’ve had the privilege to get to know a bit. My sincere hope and prayer is for everybody who reads this to receive blessing and good things. As always, I look forward to seeing you out there!
Be sure to stay tuned for release info for the upcoming Fierce Heart album, and for additional Rex Carroll news.