Fleur the Kiwi
Three years ago, Brad Lang was getting his ass kicked by the house he was remodeling, when his phone rang. It was legendary Norcal band Y&T, mid-tour, asking if he were available to stand in for Phil Kennemore, the original and highly regarded Y&T bassist, who had to return to the Bay Area for medical treatment. It took 0.03 seconds for Brad to say, “YES!” Kennemore passed away from cancer a few months later, and Brad became a full-fledged member of the band. His bass-playing career began in middle school and has encompassed a variety of styles. He has been a member of bands ranging from heavy to pop — Revolver, Knock Out, Jackie Blue, This Guy Mike, Jet Red, War & Peace, Planet Zero, Y&T. On the anniversary of that phone call, July 27, DGT&G sat down with Brad before Y&T’s hometown show at the Ace of Spades in Sacramento to talk about joining Y&T, the capricious nature of success in the music business, syncing with a drummer, his best Spinal Tap moments, why he plays Ibanez basses, and more. Tune in next week for part 2 of this interview.
DGT&G: Thank you very much for meeting with us.
Brad Lang: Oh, of course.
DGT&G: I’m gonna go back in time a little bit. What we’re really interested in is the artist and the creation of the music. You first performed live when you were 13.
BL: That’s when I picked up the bass.
DGT&G: Did you get stage fright? Because that was at school, right?
BL: Yeah it was school. But I was already in the school band, so I was used to playing in front of people. Christmas programs and all that kind of stuff. That was the reason I picked up the bass, to play in the Christmas program. It was a rock tune. My buddy Bruce Beck, who was a year older, he had played the bass and the same song for the Christmas program the year before. And I was just like— [makes a face like he was in awe].
DGT&G: What was it about the bass that appealed to you?
BL: I don’t know.
DGT&G: You just fell for it?
BL: I don’t know. It had groove on it, and it just seemed very cool to me. I dug it. I’m not a guitarist per se. I play guitar for writing purposes and so forth, but just very basic stuff. I could never go play guitar, a lead, that kind of thing. It would be simple. [Laughs] “Wow, he’s really tasty, he doesn’t use a lot of notes!” Rigggggghhhhtttt. [Laughs] The strings are so small and close together. [Mimes trying to play guitar] “What the—AAAHHHHHHH!” [Laughs].
DGT&G: You’ve been in a lot of bands in the last 20 or so years. Do you have a particular favorite?
BL: Well, Jet Red was my baby. That was where we really got a taste of success. They were a band that was already popular here in the Sacramento area, and I lived down in Lodi. We were mutual friends. We had done shows together in different bands and so forth. And their bass player was leaving. They asked me to come check it out … and away ya go. It was jumping on a train. It was awesome. They were very popular already in the Sacramento area, so then we just took it from there and got a record deal with Relativity Records. But a couple of weeks before the record was to be released, the vice president of the company—who was our point man—was in a head-on collision. Head injuries—out of the business. And so were we. I remember we’re sitting there, in our manager’s office. He’s on the phone in a conference call. And they go, “Glen was in this bad accident, and he’s got head injuries. He’s in the hospital.” And Billy Carmassi, the drummer, turns to me and goes, “We’re dead.” And we’re like, “NO, NO, NO. In two weeks it’s gonna be great!” He goes, “We’re dead.” And he was right.
DGT&G: That sucks.
BL: Yeah, it was—I was bitter after that for a while. We were gonna go out and play with King’s X. And go tour, and our video budget was all … And it was BAM! Done. It was tough.
DGT&G: Is the industry as a whole like that? If your person, the one who is fighting for you at the label, goes away—
BL: I would think so. When bands are recording demos and so forth, they’re always just trying to find the right set of ears, the guy or girl who is going to latch on and go, “We can do something with this.” There’s a million ways to skin a cat, so you never know. But I would think that’s pretty much it. From experience, what I normally dealt with is the right set of ears hears it and—“Let’s do something with this.”
DGT&G: So much is luck.
BL: Yeah, yeah. There’s a million—you hear the stories about how bands were turned down, and turned down, and turned down, like Rush and Aerosmith. So you never know.
DGT&G: When did you know you wanted to play—you wanted rock music to be your life?
BL: My first time on stage. [Laughs] The first time I played, I think it was a school assembly and we played three songs. I think “The Rover” by Led Zeppelin, “China Grove” or something like that by the Doobie Brothers, and “Rocky Mountain Way,” and everyone went nuts. [Laughs] “OK. THIS is what I want to do!”
DGT&G: You were 13?
BL: Yeah, I was 13. In junior high. I was an 8th grader.
DGT&G: Did you ever follow convention and try to do a real job, or did you go for rock music?
BL: Yeah, you have to along the way. In playing in different bands, I had the opportunity a few times that the band was the only thing—my only source of income—and sometimes it was good and sometimes it was not so good. But most of the time, it was all having a job, and then doing your own business. So, I’ve been renovating homes. I find beat-up pieces of shit that nobody else wants. I’m in the middle of doing an addition to my own house. It was 2,000 square feet, now it’s 7,000 square feet. So the kitchen itself is 850 square feet.
[DGT&G gals are laughing and in awe]
BL: Yeah, it’s bombastic, but I’m doing it all myself. So it’s just material costs. I’m just taking my time. In between touring and so forth, I’m at home tinkering away. Chipping away at it. I’m almost done.
DGT&G: Is it because you just wanted the house that much bigger? Or you’re thinking resale value, or what?
BL: Well, I live in the country, so I have the room. I love the Sacramento area. I’ve kinda been a nomad around Northern California—Petaluma, Ukiah, Lodi, Stockton, and then landing in Sacramento when I moved here with Jet Red, to join the band. No matter what happens, I’m always going to keep that house. It’s got a guitar-shaped pool. That came with the house.
DGT&G: Do you know who owned it before you?
BL: It was a contractor who traded work. Contractors do a lot of trades. It’s not an exact guitar, but you look at it and go, “That’s a guitar.”
DGT&G: You mentioned song writing. Do you do a lot of it?
BL: I love it. Love it. I wish I had more focus to do it. I have to really clear my head and dive into it. Which can be a days-long process. You get an idea—and when I’m writing, a lot of it is in here [taps his head]. Melody, words, the premise of the song. That kind of thing. But it’s tough to stay focused.
DGT&G: So what do you do with those songs? Do you take them to—
BL: Record ’em down. I’ve recorded them with different bands and played them out in different bands. Since playing with Y&T, it’s been pretty much nonstop touring. We’ve just been playing and playing and playing and playing. We come home for a few weeks and that’s kind of where you catch your breath, decompress, and—BAM! out we go again. This summer has been kind of light for us. We’ve been really doing a lot of recording. And then in September we go back to Europe for seven straight weeks. When we’re out, it’s a lot of driving. Get on the bus and it’s 300 miles. It’s driving to LA every day. And playing with these guys—a lot of singers, they’ll want to play one or two shows and then take days off. Or maybe just one show and two days off. Well, Meniketti, it’s four days in a row then one day off because the next drive is 500 miles, and we don’t want to do it one day, that kind of thing. So it’s always—
DGT&G: You’re on, you’re on, you’re on.
BL: When we start in Europe, we play a festival in France. We go right to Germany. You’ll have to look at the tour schedule. It’s like four in a row, day off, five in a row, day off, four in a row, day off.
DGT&G: That’s a punishing schedule.
BL: So, as far as throwing ideas around, we’re just fighting to get enough sleep. That’s where it is. It’s grab sleep, because none of us sleep in the bus. We’re all cursed. When we get there, it’s like blow into town, check into the hotel, and the crew will go to the venue and load in. Then we’ll go two hours later, so in that two hours everyone just jumps in bed—and BAM! [pretends to sleep] [Laughs] I just walk into my room, throw my bags down and close the curtains and DOWN. Set the alarm—and BAM! And then we go sound check, and then grab an early dinner. It’s usually about four hours between sound check and show. BAM! [Laughs]
DGT&G: So we’re disturbing your nap right now. [Post sound check; pre-show]
BL: No, I’m good today. [Laughs] No napping today. I’m a local boy, so I don’t have a hotel room. I get to go home.
DGT&G: How did it come about that Y&T contacted you?
BL: John Nyman and I have known each other for years, because he played in a band called 415 that turned into the Eric Martin band, and Mark Ross was the other guitarist in the Eric Martin band. He was the guitarist in Jet Red.
DGT&G: So, a little triangle.
BL: Yeah. There were some 415 reunion shows, and I did those shows. So John and I actually played together. And we’ve been pals. And then Mike Vanderhule and I met doing some studio work at Tesla’s studio—a mutual friend of ours was recording a project and hired us to go into the studio. And while they were dinking around with their guitar parts, Mike and I were like—ready. Here’s our parts. BAM. READY.
DGT&G: We’re done. Yup.
BL: We’ll be over here waiting, while you guys, you know.
DGT&G: Rhythm section is ready.
BL: And the session went great. We played really well together. And then a couple of years later, him and I ran into each other at the NAMM show in LA. That was about five years ago. I’m a closet drummer, too.
BL: So I’m all into the drum stuff. We went and saw some drum clinics together and hung out. And had a ball, had a great time. And then two years later, when they found out that Phil [Kennemore] was sick, Phil was like, “OK, we’re right in the middle of a tour. I have to go home, but you guys have to keep playing. We have to find somebody so the band keeps going.” And so they called the bass player from Quiet Riot, the bass player from Dokken, Ratt—all these guys that they knew, that he was friends with. Well they were already all scheduled for stuff.
DGT&G: Oh, there’s Dave Meniketti.
BL: HI, DAAAVVVVE! [He waves]
BL: So, they had basically run out of options and Dave turns to Mike and John and goes, “What do we do? You guys know anybody?” And Mike goes, “Well, I know this guy, Brad Lang.” And John goes, “That’s who I was thinking of. Let’s call him.” So, it just kinda happened. [Leans forward conspiratorially] It was 3:08 in the afternoon.
DGT&G: You know the time? [Laughs] Can you be more precise? How many seconds?
BL: On Tuesday, July 27. I was remodeling a home. Getting my ass kicked by it. [Makes a face] [Laughs]. This inanimate object. [He pretends to pick up a phone] And the phone rings, and it’s Mike Vanderhule, out on tour. “Mike, what’s up?” He goes, “Oh, what are you doing?” I go, “I’m getting my ass kicked by a house.” [Laughs]
[Dave Meniketti walks over to our table.]
Dave Meniketti: Is he interviewing for a new band? [Smiles]
BL: [Laughs] Shh. Don’t tell him. [Laughs]
[Dave grins and walks back to his table]
BL: I go, “What are you doing?” He goes, “We’re out on tour.” I go, “I know.” [Laughs] “Why are you calling me?” He goes, “Well, Phil really hurt his back and we were wondering —” “YES!”
DGT&G: [Laughs] I’ll be there in 12 minutes.
BL: He goes, “We’re in Wisconsin right now.” I go, “YES, yes.” “Can you be, you know, if it all works out, can you—” I go, “You already have my answer. It’s YES.” So then about an hour later, Jill called me, the manager. And she said, “Well, can we send you songs?” And, “YES.” And “Can you be on a plane? I know it’s short notice and everything.” I go, “If you need me to be on the moon tonight, I’ll be there.” [Laughs]
DGT&G: It says in your bio, you learned 21 songs in 24 hours. Did you stay awake for 24 hours?
BL: No, I finished getting my ass kicked by the house. About an hour later, I went home and they were emailing the songs. I downloaded them and got them onto my iPod, and by about the time I got all the songs where they needed be, so I could work with them, it was about 2:30 in the morning. The next morning at 6 a.m., I got up and listened to them again, charted them out. By that time, it was like, OK, I gotta get to the airport. I was the last one on the plane. The flight was at noon and I got on the plane at five to noon. [Laughs] “Waaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiitttttttttt” [pretends to run to gate]. It was a 2-1/2 hour set, and it was a 5-hour flight, so I got to listen to it twice. And looking at the charts, going—OK this is—
BL: Yeah, yeah. Mentally planning. I got into Madison, Wisconsin—by the time time I got out of the airport and cab ride and all that, I met up with them at dinner at about 10 o’clock. [Pretends to shake hands] “Hi, I’m Brad.” “Hi, I’m Dave Meniketti.” [Brad makes a shocked/ stunned/starstruck face] “I know.” [Laughs]
DGT&G: So that was the first time meeting him?
BL: Yes. And so I went to bed. Did not sleep. [Laughs] The next afternoon, John came over to my hotel room with an acoustic guitar and an acoustic bass that they had on the tour bus. And he goes, “Here is how it goes.” I didn’t know which vocal part was mine, so I just learned all of them, all the harmonies and so forth. He goes, “OK, this one is yours.” We did a little bit, and then went to sound check. And then played.
DGT&G: What was it like the first night?
BL: Scary. I remember I was standing on the stage next to Dave Meniketti, freaking. I had my charts on the floor, and I just did one page per song. Dave said, “OK, this is the set list.” So I stacked them in that order. We played the first song and [the stack] was next to my monitor, and I would just reach over with my foot and sliiiiiiiiiiiiidddddddddde [mimes sliding the top piece of paper to the side]. The guitar tech was right over there, and he would take them. [Laughs] The stack got shorter and shorter.
DGT&G: That’s awesome.
BL: I had the charts with me maybe three or four days. Then after that, they became a distraction. So, I was like, OK, ditch the charts and buckle down and do it. Actually, today is my 3-year anniversary of getting the call to come out on the road.
DGT&G: Happy birthday. Happy Y&T birthday. [Laughs]
BL: Yes, yes.
DGT&G: So, did you and Mike sync? ’Cause you’d already played together.
BL: Just the one time in the studio. Just that one session. Now, he’s a machine. The thing I love about this band is I’ve played in bands before where it’s a little bit free form and guys play different things and so forth. With us, the songs are the songs. So, here’s the fill that goes here, and here’s the next fill. So yeah, when we play together—last night was our first show in over two months. The last show was May 18 at the Fillmore—and it’s like coming home [snaps fingers]. We did a quick rehearsal in between recording, and it just kinda warmed up the vocals and stuff. So [we played] the first night, and got through it. And then it was just onward from there.
DGT&G: I was looking at your list of song credits over the years—you played on the Lexicon of Love?
BL: No, no.
DGT&G: Is that a different Brad Lang?
BL: It is a different Brad Lang. Yes, he was the bass player for ABC. He’s played on a bunch of stuff. I want to get a picture together with him—the Brad Langs. [Laughs] “Meet Brad Langs.”
DGT&G: You could do a little website, Twitter feed.
BL: Yeah. I’m sure he’s pissed off at me, though. “God, that’s MY name.” [Laughs]
DGT&G: I got here first. [Laughs]
BL: Yeah, that’s right. [Laughs]
DGT&G: Who are your bass-playing influences?
BL: I’m a huge Geddy Lee fan. When I was a freshman in high school, playing bass for one year, my buddy goes, “You gotta hear this record. You’re a bass player. It’s called 2112.” I was floored. And Mike Anthony from Van Halen, the guy sings, plays. He’s one of those [makes a “do, do, do, do, do, do, do” sound] finger guys and just lays down the train [makes a “ch, ch, ch, ch, ch” sound]. A lot of the stuff we do, like “Forever,” it’s a lot of fast finger work. So, he really was a big influence on me. John Paul Jones from Zeppelin. [John] Entwistle. A bunch of guys. I was raised on radio. So, a lot of my buddies, they’ve got their big record collections. I have a record collection, but it’s not—like I said, I was raised on the radio. So it’s all been pop rock radio kinda thing.
Click here for Part 2: Brad on syncing with a drummer, playing the Monsters of Rock cruise, his best Spinal Tap moments, why he plays Ibanez basses, and more.
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