HIT CHANNEL INTERVIEW: December 2010. We talked with Ron Scalzo from Return To Earth,Q*Ball bands and the boss of indepentend label Bald Freak Music.Read his words below:
You have a new album with Return To Earth. How easy was the process of making it? Did you try something for the first time at studio?
Making an album is never easy, and ours is an unusual situation, as we all have hectic schedules and other projects we’re constantly working on. But the other guys and I have a solid work ethic, and we really dug in and tried to outdo our first album in terms of depth, heaviness, and overall songwriting. Chris and Brett are meticulous as far as the sonic landscape of the material is concerned, so we pretty much map everything out before we get into a studio to start tracking. That’s not to say there’s no spontaneity in the sound booth – I came up with a lot of harmony lines and a few vocal parts and screams while tracking vocals for the album. Being in that big room with the lights down and the metal screaming thru your headphones is always a source of inspiration.
How happened the deal with Metal Blade Records for Return To Earth? Did it help the fact that you have Chris Pennie in the band?
I’d say Chris being in the band was a major factor, and that’s fine. Whatever it took to get the album into the hands of an established well-respected label who could help elevate our status was fine with all of us. We were prepared to release ‘Automata’ thru my independent label, Bald Freak Music, but we all agreed that if there was someone at the next level who loved the album and could help get it out there to a bigger audience, we would be game, just as long as we remained vital in the promotional process. That turned out to be Brian Slagel and Metal Blade, and it was really as simple as sending the album to them and then signing a deal.
I recently decided to go the digital-only route. No more jewel cases, no more boxes in my basement. Q*Ball is something I’ve been passionate about for a long time, but realistically, with Bumblefoot constantly on the road with Guns N’ Roses, playing out and touring has been next-to-impossible, so Q*Ball has become mainly a studio project. I’ve been releasing a new single since July, one every month, and I’ve been real happy with the results. A lot of people tell me these are some of the best songs I’ve ever done, and I tend to agree. I’ve collaborated with my RTE bandmates and Bumblefoot, among others, and if everything works out, I’ll put out a full digital album of piano-themed tunes that I’ve been working on sometime in 2011.
You’re the founder of Bald Freak Music. How you decided to take a so big risk starting a record label?How the label goes this period when everyone is into downloading?
I started Bald Freak in 2005, I was just tired of putting my music and my music-related dreams in the hands of untrustworthy do-nothing folks who made empty promises of distribution and tours. I knew that I could represent my own material better than most anyone else, and I vowed to deal with artists on my label in a fair, friendly manner where the mutual goals were mapped out from the very beginning. Today, a ‘record label’ is not what a ‘record label’ was 10 or even 5 years ago. We’re outsourcing less and less, doing everything in-house, downsizing, trying to find new and creative ways to promote and sell product in an age where the average music fan expects everything for free. It’s frustrating to do everything honestly and correctly, and to have to climb those walls in spite of it. But I regret nothing – Bald Freak can survive whether my acts sell 10 albums or 10,000 – I’m not naive enough to think we’re going to change the world, but as long as I’m able to maintain a healthy catalog – and my sanity – I’ll continue to stay the course. We continue to grow, and I’m real excited about the new releases we’ve got coming out in 2011.
You have Bumblefoot in your label roster and you have worked with him in many occasions. How is working with a so genious guy?
Ron and I have worked together for almost 15 years now, which is a rare thing in this business. He’s earned my loyalty, and hopefully I’ve earned his. Taking care of his label catalog is part of that loyalty – it lends more credibility to Bald Freak and Ron doesn’t have to worry about packing up t-shirts or CDs while he’s in Australia and Hong Kong with Axl. I can’t say enough about Bumblefoot’s skills as a producer – he’s obviously heralded for his guitar work, and rightfully so – but I’ve had the pleasure of doing 3 full Q*Ball albums with him, no less various other projects we’ve worked on together (he mixed both Return To Earth albums, making sense of our ambitious mess like no one else can). The man just has magical ears and a self-taught know-how of audio software that angers me and makes me green with envy. No one should be that good without any formal training, but that’s Ron for you. He’s been an integral part of my career and I hope we maintain our friendship and working relationship for many years to come.
If you’d have to choose one artist for Bald Freak Music,who would be this? I’d die to see doing something with Iggy Pop! Stupid dream, isn’t it?
No dream is too stupid – if you can dream it, you can do it. I’m realistic about who I want to work with, but two names always come to mind as far as collaboration – Trent Reznor and Mike Patton – those guys laid the blueprint for my own musical aspirations and I would give a limb to be able to work with either or both of those guys in any capacity. Nine Inch Nails and Faith No More are bands that Return To Earth are often compared to, and I couldn’t think of a higher compliment. Call me, Trent.
Actually, not so much. I mean, I like the classics – ‘Train In Vain’, ‘London Calling’….but punk is not my go-to genre, generally speaking. I enjoy Bad Religion, The Bouncing Souls, Sex Pistols. Q*Ball is influenced by so many different acts, but the biggest are probably Beck, Depeche Mode, and electronica acts like Chemical Brothers, Moby, Underworld, and The Prodigy. There’s definitely more of a rock element to the Q*Ball stuff, and I certainly owe that to Bumblefoot’s contributions.
What music do you listen to this period?
I’m always digging for new music, I don’t think you can be a quality musician without seeking out new sounds and rediscovering old ones. Right now, my iPod consists of bands like The Temper Trap, Grum, and Chromeo. One band that I can’t get enough of lately is a band from NYC called The Head Set – I’ve been a fan for a few years now, and I’m happy to report that Bald Freak will be releasing their new album this coming Spring.
What’s your opinion about Radiohead? Do you think is the world’s best band? (as me and many others, think)
I think Radiohead is one of the most innovative bands of this generation, certainly one of my all-time faves. I like to think of them as the Pink Floyd of the 21st century – they know no boundaries and they’re masters of putting together a sonic landscape. I thought ‘In Rainbows’ was a masterpiece and I’m itching to hear whatever they do next.
Do you like touring or you prefer the comfort of the studio?
I love the studio – if computers were involved, I’d never leave. Computers always crash on me, I can’t tell you enough horror stories. But put me in front of a piano or a microphone or a bunch of keyboards and you have to pull me away. I recently picked up the TC-Helicon voice processor and it’s my favorite new toy – so much you can do with just a microphone and FX to make your own sounds. I have an extensive vinyl collection in my home studio, lots of fun, crazy, classic soundtracks and sound FX albums that I like to dive into whenever I have a rare free moment. As for touring, I am dying to do it proper with Return To Earth – I’ve never gotten a true taste of what it’s like. We’re in the process of getting that done since Chris will be off the road with Coheed for most of 2011. Very psyched to get on stage again.
Do you think rock ‘n’ roll is dead and everything is about contracts,managers and endorsements?So,Jim Morrison was right?
It’s not dead, it’s like a caterpillar that went into its cocoon and is waiting to become a butterfly again. There are so many X factors that have changed the industry over the past few years, the biggest being the Internet. The business end of things has certainly taken on a different face than in years past, but to me, at least, the most important thing is the music – maybe not in the Top 40 world or the American Idol world, but if you dig deep enough, you’ll find bands and labels that care about the music first and foremost, and not so much about endorsements, sponsors, and talk show appearances.
Would you like to play in Greece? Send a message to your Greek fans.
I’ve never been to Greece, and if it’s my music that gets me there, I couldn’t think of a better place to visit. I’ve heard nothing but good things! Thanks for all your support and I hope to be thrashing around on a stage near you guys soon!
Special thanks to Ron Scalzo for his great answers and to Ron “Bumblefoot” That for his suggestion to find the other Ron.