How Extreme Finally Moved Past the Stigma of ‘More Than Words’
The stark acoustic ballad struck an emotional chord with many listeners, giving the Boston-based group their first and only No. 1 single. But even back then, "More Than Words" was an outlier.
"A lot of our contemporaries had a lot of rock hits and they were power ballads and maybe of that time, but they were big productions," singer Gary Cherone once told this writer. "I think 'More Than Words' was an anomaly in how it was just a guitar and two vocals."
It also raised different expectations for new fans who bought Extreme II: Pornograffiti on the strength of the single. More mellow fare like "More Than Words" and "Hole Hearted" was the exception on an album filled with songs that moved seamlessly from melodic rock to groove-heavy funk metal.
More than 30 years have passed since Pornograffiti, and Extreme continues to deliver unexpected moments like "More Than Words." This year's "Rise" was a piledriver of a single which reminded music fans that very few people on this planet can tear off a solo quite like guitarist Nuno Bettencourt.
Cherone argues that Bettencourt deserves to be in the conversation with his influences, including Queen's Brian May, and Aerosmith's Joe Perry and Brad Whitford. "You know Nuno the minute he picks up a guitar as well," Cherone says, referring to the signature tones of Bettencourt's fellow players.
During a conversation with UCR, Cherone shared some stories behind Six, Extreme's first album in 15 years, and why it took so long to finish. He also discussed how gratifying it is as new generations find their way to "More Than Words."
One thing that stuck out right away to me is that it feels like you're unlocking some new things with your voice on this album.
Wow, maybe I’m too close to that. You know, hearing it from an outside perspective, what that makes me think of is maybe some of the keys these songs are in and some of the ranges I’m singing in might be a little bit different. “Rise,” “#Rebel” come to mind. Just speaking of the band in general, I think we’re better at our craft. I think we’re still pushing ourselves. So thank you, that’s very nice of you to say.
Watch Extreme's 'Rise' Video
"Beautiful Girls" has a reggae vibe, but also kind of a funk thing. How did that one come together?
When you say that, I think of the sequence of the record. That’s following probably one of the most heaviest and eclectic tracks, “X Out.” It’s just a noise fest. And then here we come with “Beautiful Girls,” with this almost-summertime, roll-down-your-windows kind of groove that you can dance to. I don’t know if we’ve ever touched on that in the past, other than maybe that the band can take a left turn. [Songs] like “When I First Kissed You” back in the day [from] Pornograffitti [are an example]. “Beautiful Girls” is just a fun, lyrically light song celebrating the fairer of the sexes. I think that will probably be a fun one to do live. For me, maybe I’m analyzing it too much, but I think by the time people get to that on the record, it’s almost a palate cleanse. Like, it will make the listener smile coming after some of the other stuff.
Nuno's guitar work on this album is, as always, something else. The intro on "#Rebel" has a Tom Scholz feeling in the introduction, but then he just takes it to the next level. He's doing that all over this album.
Yeah, I think he outdid himself. It’s funny, you know we released the song “Rise” and the reaction has been overwhelming for the band. Nuno’s blown away. I’m saying to myself, “Wait until they hear the record.” Because Nuno’s guitar playing is ballistic. You know, his reputation precedes him, but he’s on fire with this record. I think he’s pushed himself. I don’t know what got into his food or the water, but “#Rebel,” you know there’s great riffs on this record, but the solos are just [unbelievable]. Even on some of the poppier tunes like “Other Side of the Rainbow,” he kind of channels a Brian May philosophy, where it’s melodic, but there’s still some shred in there. He’s always had that, but I think you nailed it, that’s going to be a standout. People are going to get through this record and almost be exhausted by some of the stuff Nuno is doing.
How did you approach "#Rebel" from your perspective?
The theme of that, as far as how I approached that song, it was kind of calling out those trolls that hide behind their keyboards. You know, we live in that day and age where it’s easy to criticize rather than construct. It’s easier to tear down than to build something. So the chorus, “You got something to say? You talkin’ to me?” You know, the whole [Robert] De Niro [thing], “You talkin’ to me? You got somethin’ to say?” [Laughs] That’s one we will probably do live for the rest of our lives because it’s aggressive. I think some of the one-off festivals that we play in Europe, it might even open up the set. It’s a punch in the face.
You've got a lot of theatrics with your voice on that one.
That affectation that you put on your voice, the snarly, sarcastic [feel], maybe there’s some subliminal Alice Cooper coming out of me. [Those moments] on records where he’s playing a character. I’m actually playing the instigator. I’m calling out the instigator, but I’m actually being the provocateur in that scenario. The band almost breaks down, it’s very syncopated and it focuses on those lyrics. Maybe there’s a little bit of Cooper and maybe there’s a little bit of Roger Waters in there as well.
Watch Extreme's '#Rebel' Video
Nuno has talked about how the band had three or four albums of material, written and demoed. What was the key to finally getting this record out to the masses?
Well, that was a difficult thing. We have stuff throughout the years, half-finished rough things that me and Nuno have done. We go, “Okay, let’s take this to the band.” Then, it will be put on the shelf, because something else will come up. So the difficult part of this record was sequencing it and deciding. I’m sure a bunch of the guys had some favorites that didn’t make the record. Usually, that comes down to me and Nuno, but there’s a general consensus. I think that’s what a lot of bands do. [At] sound checks, we’ll write and it will just be put on an iPhone and we’ll dig it up six months later. “Oh yeah, that’s a good idea. That’s a good title.” There’s always that [kind of] material and I think a lot of bands have that. For us, looking back on it, I think we picked the right songs. I think the audience is the final judge of that, whether it’s received well with our crowd and maybe we can turn on some new fans. With “Rise” coming out and getting the attention that it has, I get a kick out of the reaction videos, people listening to the song that have never heard the band before.
So you watch the reaction videos? I love that.
Yeah, I love the first-time listeners. You know, you’ve got your Extreme fans that will dissect the new song and they know the history. So I got a kick out of that, watching some “Rise” reaction videos, people blown away by the solo. "This doesn’t sound like old Extreme" or "this part sounds like old Extreme," you know, all of that stuff. But I get a big kick out of people from different walks of life discovering [our music]. Whether it’s “More Than Words” or III Sides to Every Story – and even the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert performance, you’ve got these kids that weren’t even born. “Okay, today we’re going to look at Extreme’s performance at the Freddie Mercury.” You know, they don’t know us from a hole in the wall – and to see their reaction to that or an obscure Extreme song [is really cool].
It’s funny, I’ll go back to “More Than Words,” to me, those reaction videos with the new listeners, it’s comforting that song, in particular, can still touch the woman’s reaction or the guy’s reaction. They get the lyric and they get the sentiment. All of the shit, all of the trends, fall by the wayside – whether we came out at the end of the hair metal thing or whatever. They’re looking at it as a song. They’re distanced from the time it was put out. They have no idea when it was put out. To get a reaction to a song that you wrote years ago like it was new is still a thrill, whether it was that song or “Rise.”
Watch Extreme's 'More Than Words' Video