Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Interview with Lipstick members Greg Troyan and Steve Smith

Nashville, Tennessee's own Lipstick recently-released it's second album, "Lipstick II". I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with band members Greg Troyan (lead vocals, guitars) and Steve Smith (lead and backing vocals, bass, acoustic and electric guitars) about that album and so much more.  

Andy-First off, congrats on the new album. It's great having you guys back and "Lipstick II" is a real fun time!


Greg-Thank you!

Andy-"Lipstick II" is more laid back than your debut. Obviously I loved the album, but how does everyone else feel about it? What have the reactions been like from fans and the critics?

Greg-The album just came out, so we're still waiting on a lot of the reviews from the critics so it's hard to say. The fans as a whole are liking this album a lot. I think the first album people had to get used to us and figure out exactly what kind of band Lipstick was, but the new album has a really powerful and youthful energy to it that people have been instantly drawn to. I've found people have gotten sucked in to this record much faster than the first record. And some of the songs, like "Cha La Head Cha La" and "Stop" have been concert staples for years, so people are glad to finally have recordings of those songs. The reaction to the new material live has also been really strong. We tried out a bunch of the songs live at the CD release show and they went over really well with the crowd so we probably have some new concert staples.

Andy-You guys cover a lot of topics on your new album, some of which are a little silly and some are surprising serious.  Other than "Love of Some Kind", what song sticks out the most for you and why?

Greg-From a lyrical perspective, the songs that stick out to me right away are "Love of Some Kind", which you already mentioned, "Fight Back" and "You Can't Stop The Rock". "Fight Back" is about overcoming child abuse and defeating your abusers, and it was largely written as a way to spread awareness about the issue. I felt that grunge bands would just say, "Child abuse sucks, sucks to be you," so I wanted the message to be, "Child abuse sucks, but you can change your life so don't let someone else control your life". And then there's "You Can't Stop The Rock", which I wrote to be either about God, Satan, Rock N Roll, or some combination of the three depending on your interpretation of the lyrics. I like that one from a lyrical perspective a lot. My interpretation of the song is that it's about God, but if you interpreted it any of those three ways I'd be fine with it.

Steve-"Electric Pussycat" sticks out to me. On one hand, it's blatantly a geek rock song. On the other hand, it stays true to the riff-rock roots of "Lipstick I" in spite of it. Most of the other geek rock songs tend to be punkier and less riffy. Ska song also sticks out as probably the most tonally distinct song on the album. There really was no precedent for ska on "Lipstick I"!

Andy-I don't address it very often in this blog, but I am a big fan of ska. I like everything from Madness to The Mighty Mighty Bosstones (best pit EVER!). So, a little bit of ska is fine by me! Moving on, as a father of two teenagers there were a lot of subtle lines that really stood out to me. Does all of that come from having a stepson in your life Greg? Do you find yourself surrounded by other teenagers? You'll forgive me for asking this, but Steve, do you have any child of your own?

Steve-No kids for me!

Greg-A good chunk of the album was written before I had ever even met my stepson. Songs like "Fight Back" and "On The Eve of the Attack" date back to when I was in high school myself. I always try to write under the assumption that a teenager may end up listening to the album, but there weren't many subtle clues to my relationship with him in any of the songs. The one exception, however, is "Christmastime Machine", which I specifically wrote because my stepson is really into Dr. Who (Editor's note: Same here!) ), Ecco the Dolphin, y'know, time travel stuff, so I wanted to write another song about time travel for the record so he'd have a song he'd really dig. We toyed with the idea of dedicating every song on the album to someone, and that song would have been dedicated to him if we decided to go through with that.

As far as being around other teenagers, I'm less surrounded by my stepson's friends and get most of my teenage interactions when we play anime and comic book conventions. We've gotten some very kind e-mails from our teenage fans telling us how much they appreciate the music, and we're glad we were able to make them happy.

Andy-Even though I have a 18 year old daughter of my own, "Teenage Girlfriend" really hit home for me. As strange as it is, 1st loves* stick with you all of your life no matter how many other lovers come and go. Has anyone else told you how true that song is?

Steve:-Not really. I've gotten, "this song gets creepier every year" and "I'll go back in time to be your teenage girlfriend!" But nobody has really affirmed that all those guys with their songs about their teenage loves are right.

Greg:-As a huge Jim Steinman fan, I really dig all those teenage romance epic songs, but I also look at them in a very tongue-in-cheek manor. Like, I can take them seriously and think they're hilarious at the same time. "Girl Dressed as Sailor Moon" is a song about lost teenage love, but I wrote it more out of an appreciation for the art than actually pining for a lost romance. But, I remember how heartbroken I felt as a teenager and was able to tap into that emotion for the song, so maybe it's a way of time travel with emotions and that's why people dig that kinda stuff.

Andy-I hear ya. Just like on your debut album, "Lipstick II" has three tracks with rock in the title and one song with a Christmas theme. Please tell me we can expect more of the same when "Lipstick III" is enviably released!

Steve-Absolutely! Plus, 3 songs with "stop" in the title and probably at least one more arbitrary tradition that will make titling songs completely untenable by "Lipstick V".

Andy-I can only imagine! LOL! Now, there are some great names that show up in the credits, but who was the biggest surprise to you two? I mean as far as who you were able to get to help out and all.

Steve-Kyle Hebert probably. He's a professional voice actor, so he normally collects a real salary to do things like this. He's such a great sport tho! It seems like he's always happy to do quick one-off narration for way less than he deserves for it.

Greg-Nobody was really a surprise, but I was really excited about everyone who appeared. Everyone who appears on this album is a friend of mine, so the album is a celebration of the friendship I have with all of these people. Obviously, Kyle Hebert appearing is huge thing for me because Dragonball Z is my favorite show of all time, so having someone who was such a big part of my childhood appearing on this record is awesome. And Tom Pappas has actually played on Conan with Superdrag, so it's cool to say that at least somebody in Lipstick ended up on the show! Phil Shouse and Billy Morris were the two most difficult ones to get on the record because they have the busiest schedules, so it's a testament to my friendship with those guys that I was able to get them to appear. I asked Phil to play on the record before I knew anything about his gig with Gene Simmons, so the fact that there's now only one degree of separation between Kiss and Lipstick is also pretty cool. But yeah, I'm honestly excited about every single person who appeared, because I got to make music with people I love. It's exciting.

Andy-Cool, I love that answer Greg. As a follow-up to that question, (production-wise) how did things go in the studio when it came to "Lipstick II"?

Greg-"Lipstick II" was an interesting album to record. We started by recording drums in our practice space with a drummer friend...

Steve-Jeremy Edge.

Greg-Right, Jeremy Edge, in Nashville. We then sent them off to Greg Loyacano (Gregor the Terror) in Texas to record because he has a really nice home studio and recording drums in Nashville is stupidly expensive. The rest of the stuff we wanted to record, like guitars and vocals, we realized we could record in Steve's bedroom and get the exact same quality as the professional studio we used for the first album, so we decided to do that. And, because Steve and I have years of producing experience under our belts at this point, the album recorded in Steve's bedroom sounds better than the album recorded in the professional studio!

With the technology today, and with a little creativity, you can make a really good product without needing a studio. Some good mics, a little soundproofing, and a lot of creativity can make an excellent sounding album. Steve ended up moving midway through the recording process (another reason it took so long) and his studio moved form his bedroom into a more proper studio space, but I still like the charm of saying we recorded it in Steve's bedroom.

Steve-A few of the leads (Billy Morris' solo, etc.) were also recorded remotely, but everything else up until mastering was done in my home studio. Whatever guest musician would come in; hang out for an evening; and throw down their parts.

Once we had all the instruments done, Greg and I spent months pouring over things, layering in vocals, mixing it, tweaking it, punching in extra guitar parts where there just weren't quite enough - Cha La credits five lead guitarists; honestly, four of them are mostly just different people doing that huge bend at the beginning!

Andy- As mention in one of my earlier questions, "Lipstick II" has the feel of a laid-back kind of recording. That was your goal heading into the studio right?

Greg-The first album was very much a statement. "We are Lipstick, we are here to bring back classic rock n roll, and we sound like this!" The songs were structured around making that statement, so there was a really strong cohesiveness to the product.

The second album was always meant to be an expansion on the first and wasn't meant to drastically change things. Instead of coming in with a really focused direction, it was more looking at the list of songs we had written and deciding, "Okay, which of these do we want to go on the new album?"

Steve-We're still going for a hard rock sound, but we didn't feel as much need to establish our rock cred in this album. We know who we are and don't need to prove it to anyone. So we focused on writing about what's important to us and just having a good time and encouraging everybody else to do the same!

Andy-Yeah, I can see that.  As the weather is starting to settle down some do you think that Lipstick might be hitting the road? Possibly even playing any dates up north? Like say Ohio? (Hint Hint)

Steve-We should! C'mon, Greg! Let's tour!

Greg-We're making our plans for the rest of the year right now, and I would love to come home to Cleveland to do a show. There aren't any plans to hit the road just yet, but we may do a few out-of-town shows to help bring Lipstick love to the masses.

Andy-That would be cool. Where do you see the band being at this point next year?

Steve-Signed and making a bajillion dollars touring the world?

Greg-Gearing up for the release of "Lipstick III".

Andy-Word has it that you are currently in talks with a few labels. How is that going?

Greg-You know, in today's music market, most bands aren't making any money except for huge huge bands or bands that tour nonstop and never get to spend time with their loved ones. However, having a label behind you allows for you to spend less time marketing yourself and more time working on the art. So, in hopes to alleviate some of the pressure from us having to do all that stuff, we're talking with a few people to see what our options our. We've been a self-sufficient indie band for so long, it'd be weird giving up some control but it would give us a lot more time to focus on writing new songs and coming up with fun ideas for shows, so it'd be nice to have that happen. But at the moment, we're currently talking with a couple major labels, but we're not assuming that we're definitely getting a deal, and we're not assuming that just because we get a deal means we're going to explode overnight. I know tons of people who have gotten record deals and who are working day jobs now, and I know some dudes who currently have a record deal and are still working day jobs.

But as far as how the talks are going? I'm confident in the product that we have, but you never know what somebody else is gonna think. I'm just focused on producing quality product and not worrying too much whether this label likes it or this label doesn't. "Bat Out of Hell" got rejected tons of times, so I'm more focused on having pride in my work than worrying about negotiation success. And I think that peace of mind is what we need to stay happy and successful.
Andy-Very true. I hear you have a side-project Steve. Mind telling us about that?


I've got a lot of side projects, really. The goal is to be the Mike Patton of weird, punk bassists. The project Greg mentioned was "We'd Sell Out For $50 Bucks". It was a one-off project I did with the drummer from To Slay Zombie Newton back in college. The goal was to do simple, "rail spike in the eye of the establishment" Christian punk. So over the course of a week, the two of us recorded twenty some pro-socialism, pro-anarchy, curse-laden songs about how great Jesus is.

We sold zero copies.

A few years later, I spent a weekend hanging out with him again and we recorded another 11 of these things in a day. That also sold zero copies. I don't know if we even burned more than two. Anyway, it turns out that it's super-easy to write punk songs when your only constraints are "no more than two verses" and "things you actually think, but - like - a dumbed down caricature of that". So I've got another stack of songs, and I'm trying to get the band back together by the end of February for RPM/FAWM.

Andy-Well, I would love to hear all of it! As you know, Heavy Metal Time Machine (or at least last yours truly) likes to let artists have the last word. What did I miss that you two would like to address? Words of wisdom for your fans? Want to defend yourself for liking potato salad? The microphone is all yours.... 

Steve-Hey, potato salad is delicious!

Greg-I'm actually not a fan of potato salad. That was a line that Steve wrote, but it was really funny so I'm glad it's in the song. Steve's not as into Vegemite as I am, so there were bits and pieces of compromise in that song. But as far as a final message? Be excellent to each other. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Andy. You rock! God bless!

Andy-Thanks guys and good luck with everything!

*For our younger readers, "Teenage Girlfriend" brings up a serious topic that I would like to address. When you are young and first fall in love it feels like the world stops and there will never be anything like it ever again. Unfortunately, nine times out of ten that relationship does not last. As I have told my own children, heartbreak doesn't last forever and you will likely dates a lot of toads along the way before you meet your own prince/princess charming. Again, nine times out of ten that does not happened up you are LONG out of high school so PLEASE do not think that your first breakup is the end of the world! Also, true love means your significant other will wait on you to consummate your  relationship. Never EVER let anyone pressure you into something that you are uncomfortable with and don't mistake sex for love! I'm not hear to preach to you, but having sex when you are not ready can lead to a world of complications. It's not just that you can get pregnant or that you can catch something. Every-time you cross that road with someone new you lose a little bit of what makes you special. It's old fashioned to suggest it, but saving yourself for someone who really loves you for who you are on the inside (and treasures that aspect of you of above all!) is a magical thing. To this day (and I'm almost 44 years old here) I regret giving away my virginity so haphazardly. I equated sex with love and it is was the furthest thing from the truth. It took me a long time to forgive myself, but that doesn't mean that I wouldn't time travel back to the past to do it all over again if given the chance! As with everything in life, choose wisely as you move forward and grow.    

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