Chickenfoot’s Michael Anthony Says ‘I Was Really Given Total Freedom’ On ‘III’
The last time we spoke with legendary Chickenfoot bassist Michael Anthony a few months ago, we hadn’t heard the band's new album ‘III,’ which vocalist Sammy Hagar describes as “the best record I’ve ever made.”
Now that we’ve listened to (and reviewed) it, the record certainly lives up to Hagar’s hype, and we were happy to get a chance to dig into the inner workings with Michael with a fresh interview to find out how it all went down and what we can look forward to on the band's upcoming tour:
Is there a particular song on 'III' that surprised you as far as the direction that it went?
God, there’s actually a few of them, you know? Obviously, we’ve got the rockers like ‘Up Next’ and ‘Last Temptation.’ But songs like ‘Different Devil’ and ‘Something Going Wrong,’ are kind of a little bit of a different direction for us. I think just the fact of the studio time we’ve had, being out on tour and hanging out and being more comfortable with each other musically, the band is really evolving now.
'Different Devil' is one that has classic vocals from both you and Sammy.
Yeah, obviously as far as the vocals went, the music just really lent itself to some great background parts for me, and I think it’s probably some of the best background stuff vocally that I’ve ever done on an album.
Leading up to the release of 'Chickenfoot III,' we heard that your contributions would be more prominent in the mix for the new album. Was there a particular catalyst for that?
No, not really. But in this band, it’s so great that everybody is really allowed to put their 100% of what they want to do into it. I don’t think there was one song on this album where like Joe or myself said to each other “hey, why don’t you try this” or “why don’t you play that.”
So I was really given total freedom, which is great. Because you know, as time went on in Van Halen or whatever, a lot of the stuff, I just really held down the root, pumping 8th notes or 16th notes or something like that. With this stuff musically, Joe takes it in a lot of different directions. It's really cool and inspiring to play some different bass lines.
That’s one thing that continues to impress me about Joe is his ability to fit into the context of a group as a guitar player rather than the super-flashy over the top player that people have pegged him as in the past.
Right. And I think that he’s excited about all of this because he doesn’t have to be the guy who is playing the lead and the melody all of the time out there. He’s got a lead singer and he can do some really cool rhythmic stuff also.
Where did you guys start with this album? What was the song that really got this record going?
Oh God, you know what? Actually, the first song that I heard, I was actually playing a show with Sammy, I guess it was in Orange County, California here, about a year ago. Joe had sent him a couple of ideas that he had. One that I remember backstage, he had a rough demo of what turned out to be ‘Last Temptation.’
And Sammy was already singing and going “yeah, yeah, yeah, for the chorus, I’ll be going ‘I don’t wanna go there’” and I was like going "oh my God," that was just blowing me away right there. It wasn’t long after that where Joe, he just started coming up with a bunch of ideas. Of course he put them down on rough demo form and sends them out to Chad, Sammy and myself and this is the kind of guy that Joe is, he’s all “well, you know, don’t be afraid to tell me that they all suck or you only like one or two of them or whatever."
And I’m going, I’ve got like these six or seven songs, something like that. First one, great, second one, oh yeah, that’s great, third one, oh that’s great. [Laughs]
That's a nice problem to have!
It’s like all of the ideas he was throwing up [were great]. And then he came with another demo that he did that of a bunch of acoustic stuff that he was just goofing around with. I think some of that was when he was on tour for his last album. Boy, he was just firing stuff left and right at us.
And of course Sammy, one thing that we did that was a first for Chickenfoot, the song ‘Come Closer,’ Sammy actually had the lyric idea first and he gave that to Joe, (who) came up with a really nice piano piece to go with it. We all go down to the studio, and he’s playing it for us on the piano. Chad and I are going “okay, well let’s kind of jam on it” but Joe's all, “well, I don’t know if I can make it all the way through like this on piano” so he just put his guitar on it and it kind of took a little different direction like that.
The ideas in this band were just flying. Plus, when we were even on tour in 2009, songs like ‘Alright,’ we were jamming that backstage. Because every night before the show, all of us would get together to warm up and then just loosen up and jam a bit before we’re on stage. So we eventually had to put an MP3 recorder in the room, too, and start recording all of that.
‘Come Closer’ is one that really stuck out specifically, with that R&B groove that’s running through the song. It’s a good, different sound for you guys.
Yeah it is. It was kind of challenging, because Joe had the part and Chad and I are going “hmmm, what are we going to do to this?” A lot of times, you’ll get a little tough thing there [like that] and Chad and I, we just banged around a few ideas and came up with something that really worked with what Joe was playing.
You worked with Andy Johns on the first Chickenfoot album and Mike Fraser is the guy behind the boards on this new one. What does Chickenfoot need from a producer?
Mike engineered the first Chickenfoot record, and obviously we worked with him a little bit in Van Halen also. I love all of the stuff that Mike does. He gets a big heavy sound from AC/DC or whatever [he’s working on]. I knew bass-wise, he was really going to do me some justice there, because he gets a good bass sound.
And I don’t even know if it was even that Chickenfoot needed a producer, but it’s always nice to have that outside opinion, because when you’re working on the music and you become so attached to certain parts, sometimes you can’t really listen to it objectively and that’s where Mike was great. It’s always great to have somebody in there, an outside guy that can listen to it objectively and make suggestions.
I imagine you’ve been doing a lot of rehearsing of the new material for the webcast to launch this album....
[Laughs] Yesterday was the first rehearsal!
Well then, it might be too early to ask, but I’ll ask anyway, what are the live monsters that are starting to jump out from the new stuff? ‘Big Foot’ seems like an obvious one.
‘Big Foot’ obviously, that’s kind of a no-brainer, ‘Up Next,’ you know, all of the ones that are rockin’. But surprisingly enough, Joe was wondering, “well you know, because I’ve got this guitar part and that guitar part for ‘Come Closer,’” and we broke it down a bit and even a song like that sounded great yesterday.
Obviously, as we rehearse them up a little bit and become really comfortable playing them together, they’re only going to get that much better, but ‘Come Closer’ was one that really surprised me. We didn’t know what to expect. We just thought, well, let’s start and we’ll play the whole album and let’s see what sticks out and what doesn’t stick out... so far, everything’s sounding really good.
So, what has the vibe been like so far jamming with Kenny Aronoff on the drums?
Great. Kenny, he’s about half as crazy as Chad, so we knew his personality was going to fit in, Even before Chickenfoot, I’ve known Kenny for a while, but I’ve never jammed with him before. Man, it didn’t take him long to come right in. Obviously, he’s got to follow Chad’s parts, and I imagine it’s gotta be tough, especially for a drummer, listening to what Chad did and then [figuring out how to] put your own spin on it.
But he’s already really comfortable with the stuff and we all told him, we said “Kenny, once you’re comfortable, go ahead and make it a Kenny Aronoff thing,” because we want him to obviously be totally comfortable playing all of the parts.
After this webcast, I know there are some preview shows scheduled. What’s the overall plan for touring beyond that?
Yeah, actually, we are going to go out early November and [play] a handful of club/theater type shows, a couple on the West coast, Midwest and on the East coast, and there’s been some talk of doing some TV also. We call it the “Road Test” tour, basically for promotion and I believe that there’s talk now that we’re going to go over to Europe and do a few shows in mid-January.
But the first album, the fans really didn’t get a chance to sit with the songs that much before we hit the road. This time, we’re thinking by summer definitely, but probably around April/May hopefully, we’ll be looking to go out and do the full enchilada.
It was a ballsy move for that first album, touring with a setlist that featured that album very heavily, with very little older material from any pre-Chickenfoot projects. The focus was very clearly set on establishing Chickenfoot as a band. Is there any thought on expanding the setlist to include some of that older stuff this time around?
You know, that’s funny, because during that first tour, we obviously wanted to win the fans over on the merit of what this band is and earn their respect. And we said “well yeah, maybe we’ll sneak one or two in here on the next tour,” but I’ll tell you, this album sounds so great, we’re not even thinking about doing any of the stuff! [Laughs]
Where it would be great to play it, we don’t want anybody to think that we’re relying on what we’ve done in the past or anything. I think we have established a pretty good sound of ours and if any of it works in, then it does, but I don’t think we’re really thinking about putting any of the other stuff in right now.
What was that first tour like for you? I’m guessing that you yourself hadn’t done a tour like that relying so heavily on new material since the early days of touring with Van Halen.
Well, it’s kind of like, you don’t know what to expect, because here it is a new...even though it’s a so-called “supergroup” band, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the music is going to really go over, especially in today’s market. so you really don’t know what to expect when you go out there live. But I don’t know, I think just the songs, the energy and the chemistry between the band, we started winning some people over there.