Axe - 2001 Interview with Bobby Barth

INTERVIEW: Axe (Jun 2001)
Bobby Barth talks with Lee Bradfield about Axe's recent Euro tour.

This is the 'In The Spotlight' page. Fresh from a recent tour of Europe during June 2001 is the American band Axe. Lee Bradfield caught up with their main man and all round melodic rock supporter Bobby Barth.

First off Bobby, many thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Axe has just returned from a German tour, how did that go for you?
It was fun, but the crowds were not as big as we would have liked. The company didn't spend what they should have on promotion and that can really hurt.

While grunge/rap is dominating the charts in the USA, it seems that in Europe, especially Germany and the Scandanavian countries, there's still a big and loyal fan base for AOR/melodic rock. Has Axe benefited from this warm climate for good music?
Sure. This is one of the reasons we continue to make records. If we had to count on only American sales, it would be tough. We started to record again mostly for the Japanese and Euro fans.

'The Crown', as with all Axe releases, is very melodic - but there are some pretty heavy moments, specifically the title track and 'Childrens Memory'. Was this a deliberate move, or did the songwriting just move in that direction naturally?
The band has always been that way, but before I was in control, the producers had a tendency to avoid the heavier stuff in favor of more radio sounding songs. Now that I have control, I just let it go naturally. 'The Crown' is the closest sounding record to us live that we have ever done.

Axe - The Crown

On the other hand there's plenty of classic AOR as well, such as 'Fire And Water', 'Restless Angel', 'Torturous Game' and 'Foolish Deception'. Have these tracks been getting favorable reactions when performed live?
Of the songs you mentioned, on the tour we only played 'Torturous Game'. We have so many records over the years that it is impossible to play all of the songs from any one album. But it went over great. You must understand that we have had quite a few hits in Europe and of course they get the bulk of attention.

You mentioned in the liner notes of Twenty Years Volume II that each Axe album had a song with a slow, melodic guitar solo that you could close your eyes and get lost in playing live. Would it be fair to say that 'Sunshine Again (Mario's Song)' is that track on 'The Crown'?
Yes, I had a great time playing it on tour, the only problem is that if I am digging it, the song turns out to be ten minutes long. No complaints from the crowd, but I think the other guys get a little tired.

How well has 'The Crown' performed commercially, and are you satisfied with the response it has gotten internationally?
The verdict is not in yet. So far things look OK but overall sales of AOR have been falling every year over the last two-three years, so I must wait to see what happens.

'The Crown's liner notes include a message from you to 'Support Melodic Rock or lose it.' Do you think AOR record companies like NEH, and genre intensive websites are doing some good work in trying to keep this precious music going strong?
I think that they (we) along with some of the press are the only ones doing much to keep it alive. The major companies are the major retailers won't give AOR the time of day, much less any promotion or shelf space.

Apart from fronting Axe, you're quite involved in producing younger melodic rock bands - tell us a little about Jaded Heart and CITA, and how well their versions of Axe songs stand up to the originals?
I had been doing production and didn't really think I would do any more Axe records, so I started to give songs to CITA and a few other bands. I think that both Jaded Heart and CITA are fine, fine bands, and if you could take them back to 1985 they would be huge. Michael Boormann of Jaded Heart is one of the finest singers I have worked with, and he would scare the shit out of almost all of the major singers out there, and I have worked with most of them.

Many of the more recently converted Axe fans, myself included, have got both '20 Years' compilations but have never heard the four original albums. How likely is an eventual CD reissue for each of them? Would you like to see this happen ?
I would love to see it happen, but it won't. With MP3's on the horizon, all of the Majors are holding onto their masters. All of our old records are owned by MCA or Atlantic, and I have been trying to get the rights for years without much luck.

What were the three or four highest charting Axe singles from the first four albums?
'Rock And Roll Party' was the 56th most played song in the USA during 1982. It beat out The Police (Spirits In The Material World) for airplay. I don't remember how high it got on the charts, but the album was in the Top 75 Records of the year. Other chart songs were 'Hang On', 'Now Or Never', 'Heat In The Street' and 'I'll Think You'll Remember Tonight'. I think the highest chart song was 'Now Or Never'.

Which tracks do you regard as impossible to leave out of an Axe setlist?
'Rock And Roll Party'.

Axe has toured with, among others, Cheap Trick. Was it fun to open for them and were they supportive of your music? Any 'on the road' stories to share with us?
You make it sound so funny. Axe has toured with Judas Priest, Ozzy, The Who, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, Kiss, Journey, ZZ Top and just about every major act from the 70's and 80's. So Cheap Trick were one of the smaller tours. As to any stories you will have to wait for my book. A peak at some of the chapter outlines is on, go the news page and click on my name.

Does it please you when other classic AOR bands from the late 70's/early 80's era make a strong comeback, eg Hobbit (who opened for you guys)?
I love to see any great band making records again, hell even some shitty ones. What has to happen is that the people need to start searching out these great records and buying them. If they don't, bands will stop recording and the genre will be dead.

At this point there's no official live video material for Axe fans to buy and enjoy. Were any of the German shows recorded for a possible video release? Failing that, do you have any live Axe footage from the 80's that could possibly be released as an official Axe live video?
I don't even have the four MTV videos we did. Nothing was recorded officially on this tour, but I am sure that something will crop up, as we put no restrictions on taping or filming.Can we look forward to a studio follow up to 'The Crown' sometime in the future?
Some time, but I need to finish several CD's that I have committed to produce first. I am in the middle of one now, and have two in the wings, so it will be a while.

There's a particular link between you and South Africa. Would you like to share that with us?
My family is from Durban. My father hopped ship on his 17th birthday and came to America. I was born four years later. My Grandmother lived in South Africa until close to the time of her death. I still have family there, but have never gotten to meet them. Maybe someday.

An old Creem Magazine review compared the first two MCA albums somewhere close to Foreigner territory, while the next two on Atco were beefed up considerably. How much did Al Nalli contribute to that perceived change, or was that a natural progression for the band at that time?
Not at all, Nalli was not a musical producer, he was more of an organizer. The difference lies in that we were getting more comfortable in the studio and that Michael Lloyd didn't produce the third and fourth albums. Lloyd was more of a pop producer, hell he produced 'You Light Up My Life' by Debbie Boone around that time.

Axe - Axe (MCA, 1979) : Axe - Living On The Edge (MCA, 1980) : Axe - Offering (Atco, 1982)

'Offering' got a lot of publicity in the UK at that time. Was the band in a position to support the album in Europe? I know that Atco labelmates Blackfoot played a few gigs over there in support of their 'Marauder' album.
We were set to tour England with Iron Maiden, but the label pulled our support and we had to cancel the tour. This was one of the bigger mistakes that Atco made. Someone in the British Atlantic Office thought that we were not worth bringing over. Nalli should have fought them hard on this, but the President of the label was his sister, so we lost England and never really got it back.

Are there any plans for future collaborations with the Red Rock Roosters, or any other projects?
We are talking about it now, it will be a bit tougher as I am moving the studio to New Orleans later this summer.

What does it mean to you that your music, both classic and recent, continues to enrich the lives of many AOR fans even in the most remote areas of the world?
Well of course that's the reason I still do it. It sure ain't for the money. This becomes the motivation for almost any artist as they get older and have made what money they will make, and reached what fame they will reach. I have no need for fame at this point in my life, but it does feel great that so many people still listen, and that we have helped make so many memories for people.

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