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, why you should go and see live music, and more. Read part 1 of this interview.
DGT&G: Do you still play Ibañez basses?
Hazelzworld: It’s the Kiwi in her.
BL: In Mexico they call it Ibañez too. Yeah, I’ve been playing Ibanez basses for years. When I was in Jet Red we got an endorsement through Ibanez. Up till then I was playing a Steinberger 5-string, a little stick bass. And then I started playing the Ibanez, and have been playing them ever since.
DGT&G: So, what is it about the Ibanez that keeps you—
BL: The neck is really good. I really like the way they play. They kinda have a hybrid neck, like a Fender jazz bass, where it’s kinda thicker up here and gets thinner down at the end. But it’s shallower too; it’s just really comfortable. Killer tone. They’ve got a bunch of different models. I think I have six of them, seven or eight now. I’ve been using the Ergodyne bass, which is a composite body. It’s all plastic. It’s like a countertop. Some guys are, “It’s got to be wood.” Whatever. [Laughs] But I like it because it’s gonna sustain because it’s solid. It’s really light; it’s got a cool body shape. And I’ve got mine hot rodded. It has the Ibanez pickup in it, and then it’s got a Piezo pickup in the bridge, where each individual string has its own pickup through the bridge, so it’s very bright. And the pickup in the body, the soapbar pickup, it’s got kinda a meaty kind of thing. Well, mine is hot rodded with the EMG pickup, a big fatty. I took it to the EMG factory and they routed out the bass to put this thing in, cause it’s just a bomb, like a brick. And it’s big and fat—it’s got a big, fat bottom end on it. Between that and the bridge pickup that’s bright—mix ’em together and it’s got this cool growl on it.
DGT&G: And that’s your main one?
BL: Yeah, yeah. I’ve been playing the Ergodyne, and they stopped making it. So, I have three of them. Because it was a plastic bass. And who wants to play a plastic bass? So, I re-endorsed with Ibanez, and I wanna see if I something can happen with that. Maybe get ’em to reissue or something. I’ve been having to find them off Craigslist. But I have three now. Two of them I have wrapped, with the Rad Wraps, the rainbow and the abalone.
DGT&G: Trickin’ it out.
BL: Something crazy.
DGT&G: What are some of the more memorable gigs that you’ve played?
BL: Rock of Ages festival with Alice Cooper and the Tubes in Germany last July. It was cool because the whole time we’re on stage, Orianthi, the guitarist, she’s standing right there, just hangin’ out. [Makes a face—we laugh] And it was crazy, crazy. That was the first big festival I played with the guys and the crowd was amazing. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZPZHFqQW8c)
DGT&G: How many people?
BL: Eight to ten thousand. I’m not sure. I’m not good at looking out and seeing—but it was a sea of people. Big monster stage. We were on right before Alice Cooper, right after the Tubes, so it was—
DGT&G: Yeah. And playing with Foreigner, and opening for Y&T. A couple of times I opened for them, three times. I did a Christmas eve, I think it was ’86 or ’87 down in Stockton at the arena. And we had to play our set and load the gear because it was New Year’s Eve and I had to come to Sacramento to play our show. So we played at 7:30 in Stockton, did a 30-minute set. We just blasted in—five minutes, get the gear and go! It was an hour drive, and we’re supposed to start playing at 9. So it’s like, OK, whoever gets there first, just start playing something. [Laughs]. It was me and the drummer and the keyboardist, we all got there about the same time. [He pretends to run] “OK, let’s play!” The other two guitarists show up and then by the time we were four songs in, everybody’s blasting. [Laughs]
DGT&G: Was that Jet Red?
BL: That was Jet Red.
DGT&G: That’s hecka funny. Put on a show.
BL: Exactly. Get it done. So we had two shows—that was cool.
DGT&G: It must boost you when the show is really packed.
BL: Oh, yeah. It’s always nice to play to a full house. No matter the size of the house. If it’s 300 or 1200, or whatever, it’s all good.
DGT&G: What’s the biggest crowd you’ve played to?
BL: That I played to personally, was when I did some fill-in work with Foreigner, and that was 20,000.
DGT&G: Where was that?
BL: Niagara Falls, an outdoor amphitheater. We’re driving in, in the passenger van, and the itinerary said 2,500 or something. But that was the seated area down front. It was just a sea of people. Jason Bonham is like, “WHAT IS THIS? WHOA.” So, it was good. [Laughs]
DGT&G: You played the Monsters of Rock [cruise] this year. Is that right?
BL: Yeah, for the second time. And we’re gonna do it again in 2014.
DGT&G: What’s it like?
BL: Crazy fun. It’s cool because everybody is there to see all the bands. It’s a cruise and everybody hangs together. The artists and the clientele and the fans all hang together. The first Monsters of Rock cruise, they had artists-only areas all roped up. And after the first day—
DGT&G: It was boring?
BL: Yeah, nobody was there! They were just vacant because everyone was out hanging with the fans, having a good time. And in that kind of a setting, if you’re eating and so forth, people weren’t coming and hounding you. Everybody was very respectful. It’s got a cool vibe on it. We’re looking forward to doing it again. This last year, my birthday was over it, so that was [smiles—we laugh] a little off the hook.
DGT&G: Good thing it wasn’t rough seas.
BL: No, no it was beautiful.
DGT&G: If you could no longer perform live, would you still play?
BL: Yeah, I like to just sit at home and—when I have time. Like I said, in between touring, it’s all about scrambling to get everything done. Especially with this house. I just wanna get it done. Turn my sights to writing and water skiing.
DGT&G: Another 7,000-square-foot addition on the house?
BL: No more of that.
DGT&G: I have some questions about syncing with the drummer. What are the ideal qualities of a drummer?
BL: Consistency. Tempo. Meter. That’s the thing about Mike [Vanderhule], he’s a great drummer. He’s one of the best drummers I’ve ever played with. Especially in the fact that he has great tempo—once it starts it does not change. It is there—right there—and consistency. I know where he’s gonna land, and so he makes me look good. ’Cause all I have to do is the same thing, and we can lock in. Like I said, being a drummer myself—a wannabe drummer—I understand where the kick drum is. And how to lay back on the snare drum, to keep behind the beat. The one thing you never wanna be is, I call ’em “a-rushin’,” ’cause they’re always a-rushin’. [Laughs] So you always wanna be on the back side. Especially in live situations. Some of the live songs we play a little on the backside of the tempo because it gives it more size. Makes it bigger and stronger. If you’re on top of it, it kinda gets weak and loses that groove. So we’ll just knock it down one or two beats per minute, just to be on the back side of it.
DGT&G: So the best thing a drummer can do is be on the nose.
BL: Lay back and be consistent. Yeah, I mean as far as to be able to play together, because, being the bass player, I always consider myself the bridge between the drums and the guitars. The bass is very rhythmical and locking in with the kick drum— [cell phone rings]
DGT&G: What’s your best Spinal Tap moment?
BL: I don’t know if there’s a best one. They’re all pretty bad.
DGT&G: What’s your most memorable one?
BL: I don’t know, I’ve fallen off the stage before.
DGT&G: How about with Y&T?
BL: With Monsters of Rock, I couldn’t find the stage.
DGT&G: [Laughs] That’s classic.
BL: We were backstage and I forgot something backstage. And I went through the wrong hatch. You know, it’s all ships with ladders—and it all looks the same. [Laughs] “Where’s the frickin’ stage!? Where am I?!” As the intro tape is rolling. “AAAAHHHHHH!” So, I think not finding the stage this last Monsters of Rock too. Big dummy.
DGT&G: All white walls.
BL: Yeah, it’s all white. Nothing’s marked.
DGT&G: They should put temporary “Stage this way” signs. How long did it take for you to find the stage?
BL: Oh, I just backtracked. It was only 15 or 20 seconds or so. But man, oh the panic I was in—“Oh my gosh, I’m gonna look so stupid,” ’cause I was feeling it. [Laughs] ’Cause they just went through that door—I think. [Laughs]
DGT&G: We have a couple of questions from fans. We put the word out that we were going to be talking to you. A couple come from Elyse. She says, “In all the places you’ve traveled, where was the wildest crowd?”
BL: That Rock of Ages show in Germany was pretty crazy. I think we played like 12 songs in the set maybe. And after six of them it was “Y&T! Y&T!” I was like, “Really? Wow.” The European fans are really zealous. They are crazy, man. Or when we played in Athens. Athens and Spain, they sing the guitar lines. Like in the beginning for “Forever.” [He sings the guitar lines]. It’s like they’re singing at a soccer stadium. And it’s everyone.
DGT&G: That’s cool.
BL: Yeah, it’s wild. It’s surreal.
DGT&G: Elyse also asks, “What’s your favorite place to visit and why?”
BL: Home. [Laughs] Hometown. Although, Europe—the UK is really good. We play there a lot; we do 10 shows there. Out of when we do 30 shows in a row in Europe. That’s over maybe 10 or 11 countries. So we do 2 or 3 shows in each country, but in Great Britain, there are 8 to 10. Which we’re doing again this year. And there’s a place called Rock City in Nottingham. CRAZY. I think that’s one of my favorite venues there. It’s just set up right. It’s not the biggest stage, it’s not the biggest venue. But it’s got this vibe on it, and there some pubs right around it that are—
DGT&G: Good to visit? [Laughs]
BL: Yeah. Yeah.
DGT&G: Speaking of Nottingham and Rock City … the last question is from Martin Beane, in Nottingham. He says, “The question I always want to ask is, do you think the current obsession with programs such as Pop Idol or X Factor to bring new music to our attention—do they bring new music to our attention, or are they only a hindrance? Do they only result in short-lived fame, and are those programs the reason that so many bands, such as the Stones, the Who, Fleetwood Mac, Black Sabbath, Y&T are so popular, because you’re the only people out gigging extensively and interacting with fans and staying in the forefront of people’s consciousness?” And he says, “I’m really looking forward to seeing Y&T on the 21st of September in Rock City.”
BL: Um, hmm. Me too!
DGT&G: So that’s his question.
BL: So the whole American Idol/Pop Idol/X Factor thing. I think that those shows have a purpose. But it’s all about singers. And everything that is being processed through, it’s not new and original music. It’s not these artists that are trying to bring something new. They’re just singers. I shouldn’t say, “just singers,” ’cause some of them are amazing. And then they become part of that machine, the whole American Idol. At the end of the show, you always see “19 Entertainment”. I just went and saw John Mayer play, and Phillip Phillips was out opening for him. Well, 19 Entertainment owns him. And the band that backed him up was all LA studio guys. And although he probably had a big hand in writing those songs, those are writing teams. And every song he’s out doing, 19 Entertainment gets a piece of. So, it’s all about that corporate thing, which is all fine and dandy. And it’s another outlet. But for so many artists as composers—look at Neil Young. The guy doesn’t have a great voice, as far as a singing voice. His songs are amazing. Look at Bob Dylan. [Sings like Bob Dylan] [Laughs] NO. Great song. “Blowin’ in the Wind.” I think it really hinders that kind of creativity and that kind of—just, new music. Because a lot of this stuff that is written through these corporate guys, corporate writers, they’re written for the radio. A lot of these writers, although they would love to have their music widely known, don’t give a shit about the radio. This is what’s coming out of them. It’s not written for the radio, it’s written from the heart.
DGT&G: And do you think people feel that? That’s why they come to live shows. That’s why they come to see Y&T. They come to see the Stones.
BL: Well, I don’t know if that has a bearing on that, because I think just seeing live music—I live for it. I’m always out seeing buddies’ bands or just seeing new things, just to see. First of all, I love playing live. It’s the best thing on the planet, being on stage and playing to a crowd that’s into it. There’s nothing better, nothing. There’s a few things that come close. [Laughs] But that’s a different story. So, I think, that, and playing in a band like Y&T, where it’s the real deal. We don’t play the music tracks, there’s no backing vocal tracks. It’s just guys playing and singing. And sometimes, most of the time, there is magic happening. And being a bass player, I’m not a guy that can go out and play by myself. A guitarist and a pianist can go out and play songs and sing by themselves. So they can emote whatever they want. But being a bass player—I’m an ensemble player. So I need to be able to do that, to be a part of that. And when you think of the power and what comes off stage from four dudes. You know, sometimes you listen to it—and there’s only four of us.
DGT&G: It’s greater than the sum of the parts.
BL: Yeah, it’s massive. So, the whole American Idol pop thing, like I said, I don’t know if it has— The thing is though, the American Idol, and the Pop Idol, and the X Factor, they all go out and do summer tours. So that does attract a different audience, rather than just listening to the radio. Most of ’em are singing to a track. I’ve seen a bunch of ’em. It’s just them, and hit “play.” So—
DGT&G: Doesn’t have the same feel.
BL: No, no. It showcases their vocal ability and what they put in the song. And singing the song, it’s all about telling a story and feeling it. And it ain’t the same. [Laughs]
DGT&G: When you’re having a down day, what song do you put on to pick you up?
BL: I don’t have down days.
DGT&G: Nice. Even when the house is kicking your butt?
BL: Well, yeah. Like I said, I was raised on the radio. So, I turn on the radio.
DGT&G: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
BL: Go out and see bands. Go out and see live bands, cause there’s nothing like it. Sometimes you find a gem. Sometimes you stumble upon somebody and go, “Who are these guys? I love them.” So that’s it. Just go see it. It might be crappy, it might be spectacular. You never know.
DGT&G: Well, thank you very much.
BL: Thank you, thank you, ladies.
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