When I first interviewed Dave Meniketti in 2002, we covered a lot of ground. He had just released his second solo album, Meniketti, and Y&T had taken a back burner on his priority list. A lot has changed since then. Y&T is back, re-vitalized, re-energized, and has just released their first new album in 13 years, Facemelter. (See the official Y&T website for tour dates and additional info about the album.) It seemed like a perfect opportunity to touch base with Dave again and discuss the new album, and how and why the band has had such a strong resurgence. As with each time I've spoken with Dave, he was very gracious, good humored, forthcoming, and in this case, a real good sport as well, as my tape recorder -- which had been working fine earlier in the day, crapped out on me about 10 minutes into the interview. Fortunately, I had a backup, and we were able to carry on.
Interview conducted by Dinosaur David B. May 25, 2010.
DRG: When we last spoke in 2002, around the time of your Meniketti album, you told me: "Y&T is a band that at this point, isn't going to be doing anything other than playing occasional shows. The fans love it, and we love it, so it's fun to do on an occasional basis." What changed such that Y&T has become your major focus once again?
Dave: Well it all started to happen again in 2003. Y&T had been playing a few local shows in 2001 and 2002, and the word got out to different promoters that Y&T had been playing again, and a call came to our (then) manager: would the band be interested in coming back to Europe again to play some festivals? And as soon as the manager called me, I said HELL, YES, we're gonna go back there, because we had stayed away for such a long time. And I had never agreed with the decision (Y&T management made) in the mid 80s to stop going back to Europe. So, yes, absolutely. I've been dying to go back there again. So the first festival we played was the Sweden Rock Festival. And the anticipation of the band playing -- by the press, by the fans -- the reaction we got when we played -- it really turned our heads around. It made us realize what we had been missing for so many years, by not being a full-time, going-for-it-all-the-time band. We had sort of taken off the 90s, only doing things here and there, but we weren't going full-bore again. Part of that was because of the 90s themselves, which was a bad time for our style of music. But once we had that Sweden Rock experience under our belt again, there was no looking back. At least not for the band. We realized if we wanted to do something full time again, that we had to change management. Because at that time, going full out and trying to book us year-round was not something our (then) manager was interested in doing. It takes a whole lot of work to do that, and he had reached a point in his career where that was not what he was looking to do. So we went to my wife, Jill, who has the ability and the smarts to do it, and put it all together, and from 2005 on, since she's been in the driver's seat, we've been playing 50+ shows a year. This year, we're actually playing 70 shows. So we decided in 2003 that we were gonna go for it, but it took a couple of years to implement it with the correct management and getting everything together.
DRG: It sounds like you're really enjoying it again.
Dave: We are! That's the whole reason we're doing it. We're truly enjoying ourselves. The other thing is, we were still trying to do something in the 90s, but it was so difficult that it got us frustrated, as it did with a lot of artists.
Dave: And that frustration turned into anger and all kinds of things. It left us in a weird position where we really didn't know what we wanted to do anymore. Because it didn't seem like we were gonna be able to do what we wanted to do -- which was to just keep playing and keep being in the music business. So that was just a crap time for us. It wasn't till the early 2000s that it became clear to us that we could still do it (again). There were lots of things we had overlooked, and also, the musical climate was changing at the same time. This is what we had been wanting to do, so the fact that we've been able to put it together again, and be out as a legitimate band on the scene again has been huge for us. We've never wanted to look back after that. We're not thinking about doing anything but exactly what we're doing now.
DRG: Seeing as how your wife is your manager, and you're sort of keeping it in the family in that regard, do you get to do things like tours more on your own terms and schedule?
Dave: We try to make it as sensible as we can, but there are times when you really have to take what you are offered in the way of bookings. And if that means you don't get many months off, then that's just the way it has to be. But because we can rule our own careers to a degree that we never could before, we do have some of those options. We have the options of what we want to do, and the timing we're trying to go for, and in general, we've been pretty good at hitting the mark with what we've been trying to do each year. The time frame of when we want to do it, the markets we want to hit, and how much we want to be out there playing. This is more shows than we've ever taken on before. In fact, I don't know that we even played 70 a year in our heyday in the 80s. I'm not sure that we were. But it's worthwhile to us, especially since we have a new record out. It means even more, and there's even more reason to be out playing as much as we can.
DRG: Are you finding that Europe is still generally more receptive to your style of music than the U.S.?
Dave: Well they certainly are receptive. As to more receptive . . . I think in terms of coming to the shows, that is a bit better. There just seems to be more people per-show in Europe then there is in the states. Not always, but it does seem a bit harder to get people off their couches in the U.S.
DRG: I think also, that the big festivals in the States, other than maybe Ozzfest, tend to be more about new acts and less about classic rock.
Dave: Yeah, they're a different thing. But there are some festivals now that have sprung up in the last few years, such as Rocklahoma and a couple that are sort of similar. We've played a few of them in the last few years, and we're playing another one this year. These festivals are trying to get a little more back to basics by keeping them straight-ahead rock n roll stuff. But yeah, in general, the Europeans are so far ahead of the states in terms of that. They've been doing it decades. They never stopped doing it.
DRG: It still seems to be 1986 in Sweden. They love their heavy rock and metal.
Dave: (Laughs) Sweden is great. The Sweden Rock fest was so inspiring for us that first year we played it. Then we played it again the following year, and we're going back this year. And when I see interview with other bands, I see them also rave about Sweden Rock. That particular festival is just run really well, the fans are great. But there are lot of good festivals over there, and the European people generally save their money up for the summer festivals, and the distances being what they are, they can travel from one to another, country-to-country the way we travel in the U.S. state-to-state or from LA to San Francisco.
DRG: When we spoke before your B.B. Kings gig in 09, you mentioned that recording the new album was progressing really slowly at that point. You gave me the impression that it was, slower than you would have liked. What was going on? Why, in your opinion, did it take so long this time?
Dave: Well, I think it was because we had been working so much on the road, that it didn't give us the opportunity to have a couple of months off where we had a chunk of time where we could focus on being creative. We finally got that time in January and February of 09, but January always has a lot of distractions. But that was the main reason. I like to write when I put aside time for it. I'm not good guy for being on the road and writing while I'm on the road. When I'm on the road, I'm concentrating on live shows, keeping myself healthy, and all that kind of stuff. I'm just not focused on being a creative guy at that point. So I need those chunks of time to be carved out so that I don't have other things distracting me, and that was basically it. We just didn't have enough time to really get it done in 09. But we did have another chunk of time later on in the year, and we took advantage of that, wrote some more. And then we just took some time and said: this is it. We have to get this done between Jan 1, 2010 and April. We should be able to finish off the songwriting, and finish off the record in that span of time, and indeed we did. And it worked out perfectly.
DRG: Did you record Facemelter at your home studio?
DRG: Can you take us through the process of creating the record? I know for your solo records, you said a lot of that music came out of jams and ideas you already had. Is it different when you're writing for Y&T?
Dave: Not much. We pretty much write the way I've been doing it for the last 15 years or so -- whenever I've had music to release, whether it was the solo stuff or those two independent Y&T albums we did in the early 90s. It's generally a combination of jamming and me or anyone else spending time on their own coming up with ideas, and bringing them into the band. It's about a 60/40 split on that, with the 60 being each member woodshedding on their own, and 40% was trying to come up with something on the spot. I'm just gonna just let my fingers start going. You play a groove, and he'll be inspired play a lick, and who knows what. That kind of thing. Jamming. And even with the songs that I tried to construct myself, generally, there would only be a few that I would finish completely. The rest were works in progress that came together once we got the band together. Here are the parts, let's just jam it and see if it inspires us to finish the song. That's the kind of songwriting we normally do.
DRG: Was it still more of you and (Y&T bassist) Phil Kennemore coming up with most of the material?
Dave: Well, everyone was involved in the writing process. They all had the opportunity to bring in ideas and so forth, and everybody did, including (drummer) Mike Vanderhule and (second guitarist) John Nymann. They all brought in ideas. We would go over each one of them, and work them out to the fullest degree we found inspiration for. At that point, we all discussed it and it usually became obvious that this is not working, or this is really working. At the end of the day, it was mainly me and Phil writing most of it, but John came in with one complete song, and co-wrote on two others, and Mike was there for the whole process, and had input on grooves and things. So it was a group effort, but yes, it was mainly me and Phil writing most of the material.
DRG: Do you find that is there any difference in -- I guess you would call it the song filtering process for Y&T vs. a solo album. Are you consciously aware of trying to deliver an identifiable Y&T sound and vibe, as opposed to a solo album, where as you might feel more freedom to do pretty much anything?
Dave: Yeah, there has to be some distinction made. When I'm writing for Y&T, and when the band was writing for Y&T -- I can only speak for myself, because I only know what goes on in my head when I'm writing. I really just try and come up with good stuff. It's really not about sounding like something we've done in the past. If it ends up being like that naturally, then it's going to be. We all write whatever we feel like in the moment. I have come to this conclusion -- after talking it out myself -- that I think the reason Facemelter sounds so much closer to what I think fans want to hear from Y&T is because we've been touring so much over the last five to six years. And getting the feedback from them, the reaction from them when we play live. You know, it's inspiring. We're not in that confused, frustrating place we were in the 90s when we did (Musically Incorrect and Endangered Species). It just makes it easier for you when you're on top of your game, and you're in the game.
DRG: And you're playing the classic numbers every night, so it's fresh in your musical minds as sort of a continual reminder of what it is you're about, and what your musical history sounds and feels like.
Dave: Exactly. So the answer to your original question is, no, we don't plan anything out, per se, for Y&T, but there were some songs that I wrote that were too bluesy, and even though the band wanted to do them, and record them for the record, I pulled them. I said: they're just not right for Y&T -- we don't want to confuse people. And if anything, they're perfect for my next blues record (laughs). I ended up with a couple of songs that will more than likely end up on that.
DRG: Sure. I was just curious where in your mind you made that distinction.
Dave: There's a point were it sort of becomes obvious, although, we're always in a very melodic mode when we write, it's sort of like melodic and aggressive. They both sort of go hand-in-hand with Y&T writing, and we love both of those styles, so every now and then we write something that we think is on the borderline of being maybe not quite rock enough, or too melodic or this or that. That's when we end up making our decisions and editing ourselves. Not in the writing process itself, but we have more than enough material than we need to do an album. That's when we'll say: we've got these 17 songs, we can't do them all. What are the ones that fit? To make the best fit for an entire record.
DRG: I remember when you guys did the song Nowhere Land (Musically Incorrect), and I remember hearing that song and thinking: this is a really cool song, it's got great hooks, and it gets stuck in my head, but it doesn't sound anything like Y&T. It almost Beatles-esque in its composition and feel.
Dave: Right. That's true. That's a Phil thing. Phil is very Beatles-oriented in all of his writing, it comes out one way or another. At some point we have to make a decision and say: OK, that's a great song, but is it a good Y&T song? Those are the interesting decisions that have to be made along the way. And of course now we have two different perspectives on that. We have Phil and I who've been in the band for so many years, and we have Mike and John who know our material, know what works, but they bring their own viewpoints on what are acceptable Y&T songs. It's a good blend for bouncing ideas off each other and seeing if we're on track or sort of heading in the wrong direction.
DRG: Was the consensus easy to reach?
Dave: It was. The worst part of it for us was not which songs were gonna be on the record -- that sort of became clear eventually. Our problem was that we felt we wrote too many good songs. And Japan wanted a separate bonus track from the European bonus track -- it was supposed to be different. So we had to write the U.S. version of the record, and then write two more songs on top of that. But we already had them. We had more than enough songs. But the problem was we couldn't decide which would be the bonus tracks because none of them seemed like bonus tracks to us! When I think of bonus tracks, I think: here's a song we also did, it's no big deal, here ya go. This wasn't like that. This was more like maybe one of the best songs on the record is gonna end up as a bonus track. And that's how we felt at the time, and that was the most frustrating thing. Because we like to put a record together like a live set. Start it off with a fast rocker, and then move to different feels, bring it down, bring it back up, and finish strong. So with the amount of songs we had for this album, there were so many different ways we could have made that work, sequence-wise. It was difficult decision, and even now a month and a half later, none of us agree on it. We all think it should have been some other way. But then again, I think we made a good choice regarding the sequence. As far as picking the songs to be on the record -- not a big deal. That was easy.
DRG: That's a good segue into something else I wanted to ask you. You and I grew up in the days of vinyl, where only your best 8-10 tracks made it on the album. 14 songs is a lot of songs to digest on anyone’s album. Was it the band’s decision to do even that many, or was the record company asking for that many?
Dave: The record company was requiring 11 songs. And based on what everyone else seemed to be doing, and what we had one in the past, we were thinking 12-13 songs was gonna be right. But we didn't know for sure until we saw how long the songs were turning out to be, and so on. The first song on the album (Prelude) is sort of an intro thing and it's only 1:39 and not really a song. It's more of a piece. So there are really 12 full songs on the U.S. record, and two extra songs for bonus tracks. It ended up being around 60 minutes of music even for the U.S. version, and that's plenty.
DRG: It's hard as a listener, to get your head around more than that.
Dave: Yeah, we've had discussions about that ourselves. Although listening to a CD is different from listening to a record because you can skip around easily on a CD, and people can skip over whatever they want to, but I think that most fans still listen to an entire CD a few times, at least initially, just to get the vibe of it. And in that regard, it can be too much.
DRG: I think that those of us who grew up with vinyl definitely try to process the CD as an artistic statement, in the way that we used to process it with records. I think every rock fan old enough could recall all of the songs that are on Zeppelin IV off the top of their heads because there were only eight songs on it. But I can't do that with CDs that are over a dozen songs long -- even on CDs I love. I'll be able to name some of the tracks, but I usually can't recall all of them. In some respects more music is a good thing, but I think the album as an artistic statement has lost some of its impact with so many songs being available. It's like
. . . was that song on that album? I can't remember.
Dave: Yeah, tell me about it! I can't even remember to this day, even though I was so heavily involved in this record, it takes me a while to remember all the songs that were on this record. So we did this one, this one that one. What am I missing? Oh, yeah that one. It's true. 13, 14, 15 tracks -- that's a lot of stuff! I'm grateful that I feel like we came up with decent stuff, regardless. But it is hard to put so much stuff on a record because you know some of the songs are just gonna get buried. That's just the nature of it. In fact, when we were about 2/3rds done with recording the album, Phil's wife said: "the problem with you guys is that you write too many good songs. You should really write three or four great songs, and the rest should just be OK. songs."
DRG: I think it has gone that way with many artists, and things like iTunes anyway. Not so much with your stuff, because you have a long-standing fanbase that grew up with albums and wants to hear a whole album. But in general, it terms of the sorry state the music industry is in, young people -- if they buy music at all, will just go to iTunes or Amazon and just buy the two or three tracks they want off the album.
Dave: And I do that myself, because there are so many artists who only have a couple of good songs on the record -- at least the ones that appeal to you straight off. I know sometimes you have to listen to something over and over to really get it, but it's easy now to not give an entire record a chance because of all of that. And rightfully so, to some artists. Sometimes they only wrote two or three good songs (laughs).
DRG: Let's switch gears for a bit. I saw you guys did a video for I'm Coming Home, and in it, you seemed to be playing a Diezel amp. Is that a new amp for you, or was that just for the video?
Dave: Yes, that's a new amp of mine. Last year, Peter Diezel had gotten hold of our guitar tech in Europe, and our tech emailed us and said: "hey, Peter Diezel just contacted me, and he heard that you were coming back to Europe to play the summer festivals -- would you guys be interested in playing his amplifiers?" And I had heard the name, but I didn't know anything about them. I asked a couple of my guitarist buddies, and they were like, oh yeah! Diezel makes great stuff! So I said: "look, just make sure there are some other amps available in case we don't like them, but sure, let's do this and give them a ride." So the first date we did, we tried them during the sound check, he gave me two different amplifiers. A VH4 and an Einstein I think. Anyway, I tried them both out, and as soon as I hit the third channel of the VH4, it was like: oh my God! This thing is killer. We're definitely gonna use it! So when we went back in the fall, I asked if we could get them to use again, and he said absolutely. So when we showed up for the fall tour, my guitar tech said: "check this out!" Peter had signed the back of one of the amps, and the serial number was: D-A-V-E, so my tech said: "I think he means for you to have this amp!"
Dave: I literally carried it back on the plane back home with me, and I've been using it ever since, locally. I love the thing. It's a great amplifier.
DRG: Did you use it on Facemelter?
Dave: Yes, I used the Diezel for part of it, and my Mesa Tremoverb for other parts, and I think once, for one part, I used John Nymann's old Marshall. But it was pretty much 50-50 between the Diezel and the Mesa.
DRG: What kind of things were you looking to get out of one vs. the other?
Dave: It was just a texture of sound. More for rhythm reasons. For soloing, both were equally up to the task, but there was a certain type of midrange cut that the Diezel has that makes it obvious whether it's right or wrong for a particular song. But both of the amps are very flexible, and both provide nice clean sounds. And you can get raunchy, and in-between, although I think the Diezel does a better job of giving me the in-between raunchy sound. I always found it was harder to get that semi-clean/semi-distorted sound -- that you can get so easily with a Marshall -- out of the Boogies. For some reason, it's a little bit more difficult to get that from them, and I think the Diezel does a little bit better job of that.
DRG: From what I understand, the Diezels run about $4K so I would hope that they should do everything well.
Dave: Yeah, no foolin'! Cause before I brought mine home, I was looking to see if anyone was selling one here, and I saw one on eBay for $4100 used. It was like: What? Used? $4100? Damn! And John (Nymann) was interested in getting one as well, and where Peter had given me one, they weren't being quite so kind to John. They were gonna give him a good deal, but even on a good deal, it was something like $2500.
DRG: What songs on the new album would you say are characteristic of the Diezel sound?
Dave: The solo on On With the Show is the first thing that comes to mind. I remember just loving the attack it gave the guitar when I was hitting notes for the solo. There's a certain thing that happens where you pick a note, and it either just crunches right there in your fingers, or it takes a millisecond after you've hit the note. That weird thing.
DRG: I think that's rectifier sag.
Dave: There's just something about the Diezel -- it's just fast, and crunchy, and all the sustain you could ever want from an amplifier if you want to go that far. But it also has this clean thing going on at the same time, and that's the other thing I like about it. It doesn't fuzz out, where as the Mesas can fuzz out a bit and get a little less distinct on certain things. The Diezel remains very distinct and articulate. It's got a cleanliness and midrange clarity that is very cool about it.
DRG: Is this EL34s or 6L6s?
Dave: These are 34s.
DRG: There you go. That makes sense. There's your difference. Your Mesas are 6L6s, right?
Dave: That's correct. Though you can put 34s in them and flip the bias switch, but I put 34s in one of them, and I felt it got even mushier sounding, so I switched them back to the 6L6s.
DRG: So you have the best of both worlds and both sounds now. Did you use your old 4x12 cabs, new Diezel cabs, or something else?
Dave: Well, they were going to give us new cabs, but they weren't able to get them to us. In Europe, we used their cabs, and they sound phenomenal. But at home, I have access to a lot of different cabs loaded with lots of different speakers, and the one I ended up using the most for the album was a Mesa 4x12 straight cab that has (Celestion) Vintage 30s in it. It's not a Rectifier type Mesa cab. It's made more like a Marshall cab, with the same kind of dimensions.
DRG: Another thing we talked about in our 2002 interview was the quality of Gibson Les Pauls. You had mentioned wanting to find a backup for your old 68 and having a hard time. You must have finally said "screw Gibson," because you had a non-Gibson Les Paul made for you. What can you tell me about that guitar and the process of having it made? And now that you’ve had it for a while what can you tell us about it.
Dave: It turned out that this friend of mine, George Bisceglia, was a great woodworker, and he wanted to get into doing guitars. And his first guitar was one he made for another guy, but I played it, and I said: "my God, man! This is a fantastic piece of work you did!" And he said: "well, I'll make you one, but I want it to be something that you love. I don't want you to go: yeah it's a good guitar, and never play it." So I said, all right -- let's get at it. And knowing that I love Les Pauls, he went at it from that style, and he did it right. The guitar is a solid as you could ever imagine. It plays really clean, and it's one of the loudest guitars I own. When you plug this thing in, it's a good 3-6db louder than the guitar that was plugged in before it. It's just killer. He did an amazing job, and I ended up using that guitar on half the record. Both in rhythm and on leads.
Dave playing the Bisceglia Les Paul. For more info, see www.biscegliaguitars.com
DRG: Other than it being louder, how would describe its tonal characteristics compared to your old standby, the 68?
Dave: The tonal characteristics are actually quite different. I would say that my old Les Paul has a certain raunchiness to it, and as the years have gone by, I think its gotten a bit brighter, and a little bit thinner sounding than it used to be. Whereas, I think this new one goes in the opposite direction. It's a fuller sounding guitar, but it has an upper midrange edge to it, that helps it clean itself up, but still has the lower midrange thing going on, too. They're quite different animals. When I pick up my old Les Paul, and then I pick up this one, there is a distinctive difference to them. The old Les Paul has a certain something about it that I've never quite been able to get from any other guitar. But I'm also looking for things that I remember it used to have but it doesn't seem to have anymore, maybe from age, or from moisture coming out of the body, maybe the pickups -- who knows? But that Bisceglia guitar he made for me has just been fantastic. In fact, he made another guitar -- a semi hollow body, that we heard right before we made Facemelter, and John eneded up using it for almost the entire record, because he loved it so much. So Facemelter is almost a (completely) Bisceglia record.
DRG: Wild Child and Don’t Bring me Down both feature brief acoustic intros. Those acoustic parts sound really nice, warm and rich. What kind of acoustic guitar do you use on your albums, and how do you like to record acoustic guitar?
Dave: It's funny. John was going out to do the intro on Don’t Bring me Down, he brought with him a Takamine and a really nice Martin, and I had my Yamaha that I had gotten from the Yamaha rep two years before. It's not an expensive one, just midrange -- probably a $500 Yamaha -- something like that, but I always liked that guitar. It played well and had a great sound to it. Anyway, I handed him the Yamaha, it was just hands down -- that was the one. Really weird. And the other two sounded good (too), but the Yamaha just had the right thing with the mic we were using, and the room and all. It just worked out perfectly, and we used it for all the acoustic stuff. And I ended up using a Microtech Gefell condenser mic into the DW Fearn preamp, and that was it. That was all she needed.
DRG: So it was just one mic over the sound hole? Or elsewhere?
Dave: Just one mic, about ten to 12 inches from the guitar right at the 14th fret or so, sort of looking toward the sound hole.
DRG: Well, it turned out really warm sounding and it's really impressive. Since you brought up the Fearns I wanted to ask you if there was anything else new and cool you're using in the studio. For example, the last time we talked, you were raving about the Fearn mic preamplifiers.
Dave: Yes, I was using the D.W. Fearn preamplifiers, and also a Requisite preamplifier. They're both tube preamps, and sometimes when you're recording in digital, a little tube preamp helps gets you a little closer to the analog sound of recording. It just depends. I guess I could have used a great solid state pre, and gotten a decent sound as well. But these are ones I've been using in my studio for many years, and they've proven themselves over and over again, so it seemed good sense to just keep using them. So I didn't do anything that new or cool, but I did actually get some new guitar cables, which is kind of interesting. Just before we went in to record, I was thinking I needed some new chords. So I Googled guitar chords to see what people were liking these days. Because there is no question, every chord has a slightly different sound by way of it's capacitance or whatever. So I picked a couple of chords people were raving about. I picked one that tends to be a little brighter, and one that tended to be a little mellower. And I generally went with the one that teneded to be mellower. I can't remember the name of them, but they were a yellow mesh on the outside, and John and I used them for the whole album. They were clean and clear, but they also had a midrange warmth where as my other chords were quite as forgiving.
DRG: Did they cost an arm and a leg? I know some of those boutique chords are outrageous.
Dave: I didn't buy a super expensive one. They were about $40 a piece for 20 foot chords. To me, that's not that big of a deal. I've been used to the ones from the guitar stores and they cost almost that much. $25-$30 for 20 feet. I figure it's worth the investment if it makes enough of a difference, you know? I've tried some that are to bassy, and you don't get much of a lead sound and then some are the opposite, too trebley and not enough meat to them. You can go crazy going after that.
DRG: I was gonna say -- when would it even occur to you that that problem might be the chord?
Dave: Right! Exactly. You're right. In most instances, you're not gonna think about the chord. You're gonna think it's the amp, or your guitar, and so on and so forth. And if it's a big deal, it probably is one of those things, but these are just subtle changes. And I found myself going with them. Not that my other chords sounded like crap, but it sounded good enough to go for it and use it.
DRG: Did you guys bother recording to two inch (analog) tape this time around or did you go straight to digital?
Dave: We actually tried that first. Going to two inch. Before we really got too involved, we used a splitter to send the same signals to both digital (hard drive) and analog (tape) at the same time so that we would have a reasonably fair comparison of whether or not we wanted to go with the tape. In the end, we listened to both, we liked the way the analog was sounding in some ways, but overall, we thought that the digital sound was great through my system, and totally happening. So we felt that it would just be so much easier in the long run just going digital -- in part, because we just didn't have enough tape available to us right now. Because if we wanted to do six or seven tries of one song, and we're putting 15-17 songs down, it's gonna take a lot of tape! It's just so much easier with hard drive space. So it turned out to be an advantage to doing it this way.
We're really proud of this record. It's the first one we've done in 13 years, and I think it speaks well for the band right now, and we obviously want as many people as possible to hear it. I think it's going to do well for us.
DRG: I think it can't help but do well for you. Speaking as a long time fan, I can say that this album is exactly what a fan wants from a Y&T album. You guys came back with a vengeance, and gave us what we would like, if we could have imagined what a Y&T album would sound like in 2010. You guys nailed it. And I can also tell you that I got the DVD from the Belgium show, and when I got a chance to see the show last year in NYC, and I can tell you honestly that you guys were fantastic. If you've lost anything over the years, I can't tell what it is!
Dave: (Laughs) Thank you.
DRG: And if you guys know what it is you may have lost, don't tell anyone! Because you personally are playing and singing as well as I've ever seen you play and sing. And John and Mike are really adding a wonderful compliment to what you and Phil were already bringing. They play really well, and you all sound great when you sing together. I think John's voice adds a lot to the backup vocals.
Dave: I agree with you 100 percent, and I'm not going to tell you there's anything wrong with us now (laughs). Actually, quite the opposite. I've actually become a much better singer over the last two decades than what I started out as. I think my guitar playing has certainly changed over the years. I think that I have grown, and certainly matured as a player in some ways. It's a band that has been a good live band forever, that has gotten better at it, I think. Or at least retained what we had, at least.
DRG: Yeah. And it's a really cool thing, because so many of the bands from that era have lost some ability.
Dave: Yeah, it's true, but I can't dog anybody for it, because there are a lot of guys out there working their asses off, and unfortunately -- the singers especially, are having a lot of problems. Some of them are my friends. And I hate to see it happen, and obviously, they really hate to see it happen. Some of that is their own fault, and some of it isn't. Some of it is just nature taking its course. A vocal chord is just not something you can expect is always gonna be there for you. But I've been fortunate. My voice has been strong, strong, strong since the day I started, and when I eventually got to the point were I was really comfortable being a singer, I sort of mastered that maintenance aspect of it, and I have made sure that I keep my voice in good shape.
DRG: Did you have formal vocal training? Did you take any lessons?
Dave: We took a few lessons. The first manager we had back in 1974, he said: we're gonna send you down to this guy, and he's gonna teach you how to breathe correctly. So we had maybe four lessons as a band. It wasn't a strict instruction thing. More just like: this is how you breathe. If your voice is in trouble, do these excercises, it might help work it out. It was actually good stuff to know, as a background, but I didn't have any real formal training. It was me experimenting over the years, and realizing I needed to put more effort into it. And once I got serious about being a singer, I think that's when things changed. Because for the first few records, I just considered (singing) to be one of my jobs. And I wasn't concentrating on it the way I would have been if I had been just a singer. I realized at that point, I needed to do that. To really concentrate on it, get into it, and be the best I can be at it.
DRG: So even then it was still just intuative for you?
Dave: It was, but around the time of the In Rock We Trust record, we had this guy who was writing songs with us, it was one of the few times we worked with an outside writer that was brought to us by the record company. And the one thing this guy did have was an amazing voice. He helped me out, and show me some things, and gave me some instructional tapes. Not so much on how to sing, but more like vocal exercises to warm yourself up and things like that. So being around him was a good thing for me, because outside of this guy, I wasn't really hanging around with singers that much. Here was this truly happening singer, and you learn by being near people like that. I always felt I became a better guitar player because I was hanging around with a lot of great guitarists. You kind of learn by osmosis. You pick things up whether you're conscious of it or not. It's not that you're trying, but it's like you'd pick up an an accent if you lived in England for a year or two. So that's probably the only person I can point to who helped me along the way. Just by being around the guy, I feel like I learned a bit.
DRG: Well to be doing this so long and being able to protect your voice where so many others have blown out their chords . . .
Dave: Yeah, unfortunately it reminds me that about ten months ago, Ronnie James Dio and I were sitting in a room for about an hour after one of his shows, and we were discussing the state of different singers, and the guys who were having all kinds of problems. Ronnie and I have -- had, sorry, it's still so hard for me -- we had a mutual respect for each other, and we were talking about this -- and he said that's because they don't know how to take care of their voices. We know what we have to do to keep our voices in shape, and we do it. And I agree with that to some degree. There are some people who just genetically . . . their stuff doesn't last forever. But a lot of it is abuse. I know two singers in particular, that everyone knows were having problems the last few years, and everybody knows, they weren't taking care of their voice right, and were abusing their voices the way they were singing. It is true that if you have this (vocal) insturment, you have to really work at doing the right things for it, or it's just not going to treat you right. I'm not that technical of a singer myself, but I've learned what to do -- if I'm having certain troubles on a given night -- what to do to work around it.
DRG: I was going to ask you if you wanted to say anything about Ronnie (James Dio's recent passing due to cancer) considering we just lost a true giant of the genre, and I know you had a relationship with him, having toured with him, and having done the Stars session with him. I have to tell you: we are ALL in mourning over this.
Dave: (sighs) Well, it hit me really hard. A lot harder than I had expected. The guy was just an amazing vocalist. Y&T had the good fortune of being able to tour with them in 83 on the Mean Streak record. We did a little over the month on the road with them. And of course I was involved with his (Stars) project. We'd see each other on and off for years later. And like I said, I saw him last year, and the year before. It was just such an amazing shock. I felt like I had just seen him. It was like May of last year, and Heaven and Hell was playing in San Francisco, and I went back to see him after the show, and he just grabbed me and said "come back here," and the two of us spent some time together in his dressing room, and we were talking about -- hey, I see you're going to be in the UK in October -- well, we're doing a whole tour, too, in the same time frame, so maybe we'll meet up. And then literally a couple months later, I hear they cancel the tour because Ronnie is sick. And I was like: god damn it! Because as soon as they said stomach cancer, I thought . . . . awhrrgggh. That can't be good. I mean cancer is never good, but there are some where if you catch them early enough, you have a chance of surviving it. But not in the stomach. When you get something there, chances are they found that too late. Or you're gonna have a hell of a go. So I was talking to (Dio/Heaven and Hell drummer) Vinnie (Appice), who had come out to see us when we were playing three shows in southern California a week or two ago, and it was two nights before Ronnie died. And I told Vinnie, you have to get a message through to Ronnie, because I've been trying for the last eight months to get through to Ronnie . . . and I understand that they are trying to keep people away from him so he can get through his thing. But Vinnie was telling me about all the things he was going through. His chemotherapy was really rough, and it had created a fungus in his voice, and he was having all kinds of problems.
DRG: Wasn't he like flying weekly from L.A. to Houston for his chemo treatments? It sounded so horribly difficult.
Dave: Yeah, it was tough. The guy was a fighter. We know that! He was gonna do everything that he could to get through this. But it's a sad, sad day. When he went, we were playing those three shows, and we had just gotten off the stage and someone had said through the P.A. that Ronnie had passed . . . and my god . . . I almost had a panic attack! It just weirded me out so much. And at that point, it was just the rumor, that he had passed about eight hours before he actually did. It's a tough one, man. You lose a cohort. A friend, an acquaintance, whatever. In the arts, when you lose somebody, you really lose somebody. You lose a voice for things to come. Something that you celebrated for years and years. All the songs he had sung that he can no longer perform now. But we have a mountain of material that he left us, to listen to and to celebrate. That's the good thing.
DRG: Yeah. I think it's just that he was such an amazing, powerful presence, that it's so hard to imagine that he's not there anymore. I mean, the rational part of your brain says: stomach cancer . . . it's a death sentence. You hope for the best but you have to expect the worst. But Ronnie was such a powerful presence -- you hope he's going to be the one who beats it.
DRG: It's just a devastating time for those of us who were fans . . . and colleagues.
Dave: I agree. We just played a sold out show at the Fillmore in SF, 1200 fans, it was sort of our record release party. And we thought: we've gotta do something for Ronnie, so we worked up Rainbow in the Dark. And we didn't try to do the whole song, but we thought at the end of one of our numbers, let's go into Rainbow in the Dark, so we did two full verses, bridges, choruses. It was an emotional moment, and the fans loved it, so it was a good moment. Our sound man already put a video of it up on YouTube, so it's up there. You know, it was . . . the least I could think of doing, you know? And Don Dokken opened up for us that night and Don played one of Ronnie's songs that he loved from way back in Rainbow. And I think those kinds of things are gonna go on for a while.
DRG: Well on that note, I think we can start wrapping up. We're all looking forward to enjoying the new album and seeing you guys out on tour. I thank you for your time.
Dave: Always a pleasure. Take care.
We at Dinosaur Rock Guitar would like to thank Dave Meniketti for taking the time to answer our questions. Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved.