Monday, September 28, 2015

Interview with Lipstick's Greg Troyan

The "colorful" Greg Troyan

For those of you who might not be familiar with the name yet (and the key word there is "YET"!), Lipstick is a up-and-coming glam rock/pop metal band from Nashville, TN. Just recently I had the pleasure of covering the re-released/expanded edition of their (funky fresh) self-titled debut album and you can read my review of it by heading to the link at the bottom of this page. As a follow-up to my review I had the golden opportunity to sit down and talk with band founder, front-man, guitarist/keyboardist and part-time bass player Greg Troyan. I want to thank Greg (who BTW is also super-friendly and extremely cool!)  for taking time out of his crazy busy schedule to stop by and answer our questions. I would encourage each and everyone of you to check out his sweet band Lipstick and then by extension the group's fun and uplifting self-titled debut! It is every-bit as colorful and whimsical as Greg himself and it can be purchased for the reasonable price of $10(!) by heading over to the band's merch section. It's well worth every penny you'll spend and as always friends be sure to keep it LOUD and PROUD !!!!

Andy-It's nice to meet you Greg. Could you introduce your band and tell our readers who is who in Lipstick?

Greg-Gladly. I'm Greg Troyan, the lead singer of Lipstick. In the studio I've played both guitar and keyboards for Lipstick, and live I've played occasional bass for the band, but for the most part I'm the lead vocalist and front-man for the group. I formed the band and wrote most of the material on the first album and am the leader of our ragtag group of misfits.

Stephen Smith is the bass player for Lipstick. He is my creative partner in the band; he writes a lot of our material, comes up with a lot of our creative concepts, and he also does lead vocals on a few of our songs. But, most importantly, Steve is my best friend (not counting my fiance). Steve is someone who has been there for me through my ups and downs, and it's an honor and a privilege to be able to make music with my best friend.

In many ways, Lipstick is like P-Funk.The band is led by a couple principal creative forces but has a large rotating lineup of excellent contributing musicians. We still have great relationships with former Lipstick members, and a lot of them appear as special guests at shows and on our albums, so in a lot of ways, it feels like they've never really left the band. They may not be able to play with us full-time anymore, but they're all still a part of the family, and we're glad to have so many talented and wonderful friends.

Right now, we've got two new members of the family who are truly excellent. Casey Horn is our new guitarist. He's the guy in the sunglasses and the black fedora in our video for “The Conan Song”. He's a great guitar player with a very Jimmy Page/Ace Frehley kinda style. He's also an excellent singer and a great songwriter in his own rite, so we're honored to have someone so talented join our team. We also have a brand new drummer with Jack Stark, a kid from Kansas who is easily one of the most talented and versatile drummers I have ever worked with. We're super excited to be playing with Casey and Jack and we feel that Lipstick has never sounded better.

Andy-Lipstick has roots in Cleveland correct?

Greg-Correct. Lipstick is a band that I founded, and given than I'm from Cleveland, it's pretty easy to say that the band has roots in Cleveland. [laughs]

The band started off with one of my high school bands, which was called Dyslexia. It was a four-piece glam rock band, very similar to Kiss: two guitars, bass, drums, and everybody did lead vocals. I was the Paul Stanley of the group: rhythm guitar and front-man. The bassist of the band was the guy who formed the band, and initially, it was his band. He wrote the songs and came up with the band's image and wanted to be the front-man, but slowly I started to take center stage as more of my material ended up in our set. It wasn't because I was trying to take over the band, but it just sorta happened that I usurped him as front-man because the crowd responded better to me than it did to him. The band broke up after a few months, but then mysteriously reformed under a different name with a different rhythm guitarist, and mysteriously the band only had one vocalist: the bass player. It felt very uncool that they did that without even talking with me about it, but I still remained friends with the guys and supported their new band, even though I was now left without one.

During my time in Dyslexia, I wrote a bunch of songs that would eventually become Lipstick songs. I didn't submit most of that material to the band, because the bassist would turn down a bunch of it or insist that it be reworked. There was a song I wrote about following your dreams called “Let It Burn” that got turned into a horror-fantasy song called “Demon Door”, at the request of the bass player. So, I wrote songs like “We're Here To Rock You” and “Rock N Roll Forever” during this time-frame. I was writing a lot of material, but I didn't submit a good chunk of it to Dyslexia because I was writing three or four songs a day, so a lot of it sat of the shelf until I could find the proper way to release it. After leaving Dyslexia, I decided I wanted to form another glam rock band, so the creation of Lipstick really started after that band broke up.

I wanted Lipstick to be a little bit more unique than Dyslexia, so I spent some time honing my skills as a songwriter and I spent a few years backing off from being in bands as I developed the sound and the image for Lipstick. I wanted to blend my various influences of things like The Beatles, Kiss, Thin Lizzy, Alice Cooper, Slade, Jim Steinman, Van Halen, Styx, etc. into something that was unique, and Lipstick is a result of that process. There was a long period of trying to develop my own unique songwriting and image style, as opposed to just copying my heroes to a tee. There was a lot of thought put into how the songs would be arranged and what the overall style and feel of Lipstick would be.

Andy-How did you end up working with Billy Morris?

Greg-I met Billy when I was 16, so I actually met him a little bit before Dyslexia formed. I met Billy at a backyard barbecue party, and Billy was jamming with some friends at the party. He noticed I was wearing a Poison t-shirt, and he asked me if I wanted to sing a Poison song with him and the band. I jumped onstage and sang a few tunes with them, and he was really impressed with my charisma and stage-presence. He kinda mentored me for a little while, giving me some tips and advice, and he'd invite me onstage at various shows of his to perform a song or two.

After years of developing the Lipstick sound, I finally felt I was ready to start recording in late 2009. I found a producer, I found some studio guys and we started working on the songs, but nobody involved in the project really understood what I was going for. When they played “We're Here To Rock You”, it sounded like a ska song. Those guys had no understanding of what I was going for, so I ended up firing all of those musicians and the producer, and gave Billy a call asking him if he wanted to play guitar for me. He said that not only would he play guitar for me, but he'd also record the album and act as co-producer for me.

Andy-What about Stephen? How did the two of you meet? 

Greg-Steve and I met at a place called Cafe Coco, which is a cool little 24 hour coffee shop in Nashville. It's one of the coolest places in town, and there's actually a picture of Steve and myself up on the wall there, alongside all kinds of great musicians like Bob Marley and Louis Armstrong, which itself is a huge honor. But I'm getting ahead of myself- Steve and I first met at Cafe Coco in 2013 at one of their open mics.

Steve was playing an instrument he invented called “The Abomination”, which is a short scale bass that uses three guitar strings and one bass string. The Abomination is tuned to D D A D, which means that Steve can use nothing but power chords and play both the bass and guitar parts for any given song at the same time. He was playing this weird instrument and playing really weird songs about aliens and time travel, but the songs were insanely catchy, and Steve impressed me with his stage presence.

I picked up his solo CD because there was a song on it about the sitcom Red Dwarf, which I'm a huge fan of. For those not familiar with the show, it's a British sci-fi comedy, kinda like Star Trek as a sitcom. Anyway, I was blown away by the CD because it was one of the best albums I had ever heard in my entire life. It easily competed with anything that my favorite bands had ever done: It was that good. It was so good I was actually a little intimidated to ask Steve to be in Lipstick, because I thought he wouldn't be interested, but I ended up asking him to join and he quickly understood what we were all about and jumped right in. I'm so glad that I asked him to join, because not only did I gain an excellent creative partner, I also gained one of the greatest friendships of my lifetime.

Greg's bassist and tag-team partner Stephen Smith

 Andy-Let's talk about "Lipstick" the album. What made you decided to re-release it with bonus material?

Greg-The Lipstick album was something I spent a lot of years working on. From writing the songs to developing the image to recording with Billy Morris, there was a long process and a lot of hard work put into developing that material. Even though it was a demo, it was a demo that a lot of effort was put into. Originally, it was meant to be a demo, something to pitch to other musicians who may want to join my project and something to pitch to various labels and record companies, but the fans at our shows kept asking us to buy our album, and we quickly pressed it in a digi-pack form with minimal packaging, because it was “just a demo”.

But it's more than just a demo. Once you put something out there, it becomes your baby. I didn't want our first album to be something that we just rushed out to make a quick buck: I wanted to put out something of quality. I love owning albums, looking at the artwork and liner notes, and I knew that this album deserved a proper release, because it is such a good record. I also love classic rock bands, and the standard in the 70's and 80's was to release an album per year, and I didn't want there to be a year where we didn't release anything, so that led into us deciding to do the special edition.

I wanted to re-release the album as a special edition with proper packaging, but we knew we couldn't justify asking people to buy the record again without offering more than just cool artwork and liner notes, so that's where the bonus tracks came in.

We had an alternate mix of “Having Fun” that was way better than what was on the original album. I uncovered that version in digging through my archives and I knew that it had to be properly released.

We've added a lot of Steve's Regdar material to our set, so it made sense to add a couple of the songs as bonus tracks. Those songs are from his solo CD that I bought (“Spoiler Alert”), which I consider to be one of the best albums ever made, so adding them as bonus tracks greatly increased the quality of the album because there were two other really great songs added to an already great album.

And as far as “I Want The World To Know” is concerned, that was a song that was difficult to record because it was so different than the rest of the material, and it was difficult to know how to approach the song both from an arrangement perspective and from a vocal perspective. I felt the emotion of the song got lost in the original version and thought we could do it better with just piano and vocals, to help show how great that song really is, and a lot of critics have given us a lot of praise on that track in particular, so I'm very glad re-recorded it and gave that song a second chance.

Andy-One of the things that I really like about your debut album Greg is it's positive outlook. Is there a secret to that?

Greg-I had a bit of a rough childhood. I got raped at a young age by my stepfather, who was also physically abusive to my mother and myself. I attempted suicide when I was nine years old and ended up in an asylum for a little bit. I was a very depressed kid with low self-esteem, and I was surrounded by negativity in the media, at least in music. I grew up in the 90's, so it was grunge and nu metal saying, “Your life sucks, your life is always going to suck, go kill yourself” and that just perpetuated the situation.

After my mother left my stepfather, my life improved greatly, and I experienced freedom and safety for the first time in my life, and that was around the time my biological father took me to a Kiss and Poison concert. I was 14, and I was exposed to music that was happy and optimistic, songs that said, “Yes, you can follow your dreams. Life is what you make it. You can be happy and you deserve to be happy.”

I thought to myself, “If someone had told me that when I was a kid, maybe I would have fought back sooner and maybe I would have gotten out of that situation sooner,”

After that concert, I became a rock n roll fan, and I noticed that positive, uplifting music about chasing your dreams and believing in yourself wasn't really being made anymore. There was a void, and I decided that someone needed to fill that void, and that's why I started doing music, in hopes that some kid out there who needs to hear something positive hears my stuff, and it helps that kid get through whatever they need to get through.

I've never been into the sleazy sex songs by rock bands, and I'm straight-edge, so drugs and alcohol never appealed to me. The Beatles are my favorite band, so I try to approach songs more from a romantic, loving perspective than a sleazy and sexual perspective.

It's taken a lot of years to get over the stuff that happened in my childhood, and my relationship with my fiance has helped me more than anything else. Finding another human being who authentically loves you, scars and all, is the thing that helps heal scars the most. I've found a lot of therapy through my music and my friendships, but she has helped me do so much healing, and I hope as a songwriter my journey can be heard through the music I produce over my lifetime, and people can understand my story and hopefully get some guidance on their path through life.

I want to say a big thank you to my fiance for all the healing she's helped me with, but also to Steve, because not only is he my band partner, but he is a great friend who has helped me with a lot healing too. So a big thank you to both of them for healing me, and a thank you to my music for helping guide me to them in the first place.

Andy-Thank you Greg for sharing all of that personal information with us. It certainly makes me appreciate the lyrics on your debut album even more. I'm glad that you have found peace after such a terrible beginning and I hope that you will continue to heal with each new day. Please know that I will be rooting for you and I know that many others will be as well.

I'm going to be changing gears somewhat here Greg, but I read somewhere that Lipstick has certain routines that it plans to follow with each album. Would you like to share those with our readers?

Greg-The first album had three songs with rock in the title, and our second album (called “Lipstick II”) also has three songs with rock in the title, so it looks like that is a Lipstick tradition. We love rock, and we write tons of songs about how we love rock, and we still actually have a bunch of songs with rock in the title that we've written that we'll probably slowly release. Someday, we'll do a set composed entirely of songs with “rock” in the title.

The first album had two “long songs” clocking in at over seven minutes, and on “Lipstick II”, we have one “long song” called “Love of Some Kind”, which is a song that Steve and I wrote that I used to propose to my fiance. It's one of the best songs I've ever written, and one of the most important in terms of changing my life.

I love Christmas songs, and we've decided that each Lipstick album should have a Christmas song, so we're going to have a Christmas song on “Lipstick II” also.

Andy-Coolness! So, what is a "typical" live show like for Lipstick?

Greg-Well, we have standards that we play at most shows. We almost always open with “We're Here To Rock You”, which was kinda inspired by the way that Poison always opens with “Look What The Cat Dragged In”.

We do “I Like The Way I Rock” at a lot of our shows, and during that song I usually run out into the crowd and perform in the middle of a sea of people. I have a wireless microphone and I like to run into the crowd during that song, and I usually jump offstage and slide on my knees after the guitar solo. Steve has a wireless bass, so he likes to run into the crowd too.

We usually play “Cha La Head Cha La”, which is a song we're recording for “Lipstick II”, and it will probably be the lead single off that album. “Cha La Head Cha La” is a song from the TV show Dragonball Z and it's a fan favorite. People love our version of the song and it's a song where if we don't play it, people will come up to us after the show and tell us that they were disappointed in us not playing it. So that one is a concert standard.

During “Having Fun”, we usually bring out Mr. Cool, our lovable cat mascot, onstage. We also throw tons of balloons into the audience and the room turns into a gigantic party. Also, live, Steve sings partial lead on this song, which adds a fun dynamic to the live version.

We often play a song called “Stop”, which is one of our more popular songs. That song is probably the catchiest song I've ever written, and everybody gets to the front of the stage and sings along with it when we play it. That's another one going on “Lipstick II”.

Our newest concert staple is a song called “Gotta Eat When You Can”, which will also appear on “Lipstick II”. It's a fun song about food, and during the song we throw candy into the audience. It's a real crowd pleaser.

We'll usually have Steve sing a song or two in the set, like “Illium” or “Fight Club”, and he has a song called “Teenage Girlfriend” that he originally recorded with Regdar and the Fighters that we're re-recording for “Lipstick II”. I usually walk offstage during that time and let Steve front the band.

“Rock N Roll Forever” is usually our closing song. It's an anthem, and we really get the crowd worked up during this one. We go out on a high note with a big arena rock ending.

The rest of the set varies from show to show, and we like to incorporate theatrical elements and stories into our shows. For example, at our Halloween show last year we had a super-villain destroy all guitars in existence, so Batman invented an instrument for Steve to play so that the show could be saved. We like to have fun with stuff like that, and we hope to do more of it in the future.

Andy-Your live shows sound as if they are not to be missed! Do you have any tour plans for the rest of 2015?

Greg-We recently got asked to be in a film called “God Gave Rock and Roll To You”, and so between that, our prior local show commitments, and recording our new album, we honestly won't have any time for out-of-town shows for the rest of the year, simply because we're already booked up. 2016 is a year I see some potential touring. We do well at anime conventions, so we'll probably do a few of those and try to book some dates around our convention dates, and we may be doing a bit of European touring depending on how a few things pan out. There aren't really any plans for a tour of North America at the current time, but we'll see what opportunities arise.
Andy-All I can say Greg is WOW! It sure does sound as if your schedule is jam packed!! Let's rewind a bit then. You've been around for awhile now so who are some of the bands that you've shared the stage with? And then I guess to go along with that question Greg let's look ahead. If you had your chance to put together the ultimate showcase who would Lipstick play alongside of?

Greg-Fable Cry is the first band that comes to mind. They're a very theatrical band and have a lot of visual similarities to Lipstick, but sonically they are more of a horror-punk band with a strong European folk influence. We're all good friends with the guys in that band: Zach Ferrin is a guy who I consider a musical brother in a lot ways, because we see eye-to-eye in a lot of things including theatricality and work-ethic. Josh Dent is a cellist who played on “Love of Some Kind”, and after I moved out of Steve's place (we were roommates for a while) Josh became Steve's roommate, so we've hung out quite a bit and developed a strong friendship. Scott Fernandez, Fable Cry's bassist, is another guy I've known for years. Scott's a real cool guy, the type of friend who you loan video games back and forth between. He had my copy of Final Fantasy VIII for the longest time, but I just got it back and am super pumped about it, but that's a whole other story. But yeah, we love the guys in Fable Cry, so those guys would definitely be on the showcase with us because they fit so well.

As far as other bands, well there are so many. I love The Slants and I have enormous respect for Simon Tam, so they'd be another band on the short list. I love Kazha, Funkhammer, Black Shag, Tall Dark Stranger...there are so many great bands we've played with and I could go on and on. I've never played with Hessler or The Protomen, but those are bands that I think would also go well with us.

If I had to put on my ultimate Lipstick show, though, it'd be something with Fable Cry, and probably something involving Jeremy Asbrock and Phil Shouse. Jeremy plays with John Corabi and Phil plays with Rodney Atkins. Those guys are two of my favorite guitarists in Nashville, and I met them at my first show in Nashville, and they've been cool friends throughout my experience here. So, Lipstick, Fable Cry, and something with Jeremy Asbrock and Phil Shouse.
Andy-I'd go to that showcase! It sounds as if it would be a lot of fun. And speaking of fun, when can fans expect "Lipstick II"?

Greg-“Lipstick II” should be done by the end of this year and should be out early next year. The only reason for delay on that would be negotiations with record companies, which may push the release date into the summer of next year. We're planning on shopping it around, but if we can't find a deal that we like, we'll self-release it early 2016.

Andy- What does the future hold in store for Lipstick? Where do you see this band in five years? How about 10?

Greg-Iron Maiden is a band that played clubs for over a decade before finally getting a record deal, and even then they still had to work their way up to becoming the band they are today. We're hoping that 2016 changes a lot of things for Lipstick, so that five years from now we could headline a successful tour. Ten years from now, I expect to have a plethora of quality albums under our belt by that point. I expect in ten years, no matter what else happens, we'll have a lot of really great albums for our fans to listen to, record deal or no record deal, I can say with absolute confidence we'll create a lot of really great music.

Andy-That sounds good to me Greg. As we wind down I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with. I always let artists have the last word so is there anything that we might have missed that you'd like to talk about Greg? Do you have a favorite story you want to share? Whatever it is the mic is all yours!

Greg-I have tons of great stories, so it's hard to think of a story to share. So, instead, I'll just share some thoughts:

The Beatles are the greatest band of all time.

Jim Steinman is really, really cool.

Naruto is probably the greatest fictional story ever written. Naruto, as a main character, is also pretty much me.

Everything in life can be understood through Dragonball Z terminology and comparison.

Frozen is really, really good.

The best video games ever are definitely from the Super Nintendo and Playstation 1.

I've seen over 30 Sylvester Stallone movies.

Thin Lizzy is probably the most underrated classic rock band.

To strive to be Christ like, which is to be charitable, loving and forgiving of others, is something that I think people of all faiths can strive to be like.

I love my friends and family.

I like T. Rex a lot, but it's hard to listen to them in large doses because a lot it sounds kinda samey.

It's hard to forgive others, but it's even harder to forgive yourself.

Also, if you're ever in Cleveland, go to Shark's Seafood and Deli. It's delicious.

Thanks for checking out the interview, everybody! Lipstick loves you! Thanks for having us, guys! We appreciate it!
As promised this is my recent review of "Lipstick".

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