“The music business is motivated by money. Music is motivated by energy and feelings.” – Erykah Badu
When Kurt Cobain delivered the coup de grâce to an entire decade of hard rock and metal in 1991, Paramus-bred four-piece Trixter found itself in the precarious position of being all revved up with no place to go except to the back of the line. The industry was changing and resources that had once been allocated to them were now being funneled to anyone with a 206 area code.
Just as Erykah Badu said, the music business is motivated by money, and, unfortunately, Gen Xers were no longer buying what Trixter was selling, so the major labels moved on to what they believed were bigger and better things.
While guitarist Steve Brown agrees that their label let them down, he’s focused on the positives and more concerned with the slew of projects he’s been involved in since the mainstream stopped paying attention. I caught up with Brown recently to discuss Trixter and his current tour with Mr. Big’s Eric Martin, which stops at Rochester’s Montage Music Hall on Friday, Aug. 20.
If you miss live music and recognize the first two Trixter albums as underrated guitar gems of the era like I do, this show is a must-see, as Brown continues to shred and sing at the highest level.
MNOD: You’ve been a full-time musician for more than 30 years now, so describe what the past year-and-a-half has been like for you.
Brown: It’s been interesting, but I’m always one to focus on the positives and not the negatives. I’ve spent the better part of 30 years on the rock ‘n’ roll hamster wheel, which never stops for anything. The biggest thing to come out of not being on the road has been that I’ve spent a lot of quality time with my wife and two daughters. I love my family and we didn’t want to kill each other despite being together all the time. I really felt for my friends in music, entertainment, and the service industry, because they’re the ones who suffered through all of this. I’m fortunate to have my own recording studio, which was a key element to surviving through this pandemic. I like to have multiple income streams. I had other people record at my studio and I also was involved the mixing and mastering of their records. Another thing I did was update 35 years of material from analog to digital. I found the original Trixter tapes and went through them to see what was there. There was even some stuff that I had no recollection in writing, but it was really good stuff. While a lot people spent the pandemic drinking, eating, and getting fat, I spent it being very productive.
MNOD: How did the current tour with Eric Martin of Mr. Big come together?
Brown: We’ve been friends for a long time. I remember being on the Blood, Sweat, and Beers tour in 1991 with Warrant and Firehouse right when Mr. Big’s “Lean Into It” came out. We had that playing on our tour bus for six months straight. Eric is like a brother, because he always tried to help us out and we became really close. In 2016, he was looking for a band to take to Japan and that’s when I joined. The upcoming show in Rochester is billed and “Eric Martin and Trixter,” because it’s going to be a one-stop rock ‘n’ roll shop. We’ll play new and old stuff, and it’s going to be a rocking good time for everyone.
MNOD: How have audiences been responding to the shows thus far?
Brown: Our first show back was a two-day festival in Sunbury, PA with a bunch of other bands. Winger, Warrant, Dokken, and Firehouse were all there. It was just a beautiful weekend. All the bands kicked ass and the crowd was happy to see live music once again.
MNOD: I’ve been listening to the first Trixter album quite a bit during the past week and I think it’s a prime example of a record that just missed becoming huge by a few years. Obviously, Grunge killed everything in 1991, but do you feel as if you guys weren’t as big as you could have been?
Brown: Definitely. It didn’t help that we were on the worst possible label, because they just had no clue what to do with us. Had we been on Geffen, Polygram, or Epic, we’d be having a completely different conversation, but that’s unfortunately not how things worked out. I’m not complaining, because we’re still talking about it 30 years later. However, I do wish that we had had more time to build on the strengths of that first album. People forget, but we owned MTV for six months and had videos at Number One. The second Trixter album, ‘Hear!,’ is actually my favorite, because we took such a giant leap from the first album. It was a major record for us in a lot of ways. I had really taken the reins as a co-producer around that time, as well. As much as I loved guys like Eddie Van Halen, Neal Schon, and Phil Collen, I was just as interested in what guys like Mutt Lange, Bruce Fairbairn, and Bob Rock were doing in the studio. We weren’t a little kid band anymore with that album, but never had a chance to continue even further with the support of our label. I was always open to experimentation and the original demo of ‘Give it to Me Good’ is pretty much exactly the version that you hear on the record. That song changed my life and put us on the map. It changed the lives of all of us in the band. It was a unique song then and it still is today. What I love about Trixter is that weren’t a copycat band. We weren’t from Los Angeles, so we weren’t trying to be derivative or a rip-off of the Sunset Strip. Sure, we were influenced by bands like Tesla, Guns N’ Roses, and Def Leppard, but we were 100% Trixter. We even dressed differently. We were wearing flannel before it became a mainstream trend. We were also the youngest hard rock band to get a major deal, which I’m sure was a great marketing angle for the record company to sell. There might have been 20 other bands that were better players, but they weren’t as young and didn’t look as cool. We had the songs and we succeeded while a lot of bands didn’t. When you hear Trixter today, it’s fucking rock ‘n’ roll and everyone knows that.
MNOD: What are some of you favorite memories from touring around that time?
Brown: I loved every tour back then. They were all great and all memorable. We were learning the process of how to be a better rock ‘n’ roll touring band and not many bands were putting on a deadly live show every night like we were. We played with Don Dokken’s solo band in the Fall of 1990 when ‘Give it to Me Good’ was killing it on the charts and we were a force to be reckoned with. We played arenas with Poison in 1991 on the ‘Flesh and Blood’ tour and then with Scorpions on the ‘Crazy World’ tour in North America. They always treated us phenomenally. I became good friends with Doc McGhee around that time, as well, and he’s still a good friend to this day.
MNOD: Why did 2007 feel like the right time to put Trixter back together?
Brown: It just felt like it was time. We played Rocklahoma in 2007, which was a huge turning point for a lot bands from our era that all came back at the same time. Rocklahoma 2008 was when we almost died with Eddie Trunk during the severe storm that hit and that was highly memorable. What worked about our reunion was that we all still looked really good and could play better than we ever did. I had Pete Loran back singing with us for a while, which was great even though the reunion didn’t last.
MNOD: How did your stint with Dennis DeYoung’s band come about?
Brown: I was on the radar as a fill-in guy around 2013 or 2014 and I loved playing with him. Styx wasn’t a huge band for me when I was younger to where I knew every facet of every song, but I learned 16 songs and I improved even more as a player from that experience. I loved playing with him.
MNOD: What about your time filling in for Vivian Campbell in Def Leppard?
Brown: Phil Collen is like an older brother and he’s always been willing help me out with my post-Trixter projects. When it came out that Vivian had cancer, I got the gig to help them out while he was getting treatment. I knew the moves and the guitar parts, but I could also sing. That’s what I always tell younger guitar players. Being able to play fast and do sweep picking is great, but it’s the players that can sing different parts that will get the gig most of the time.
MNOD: Your debut solo single is set to arrive this year. Describe how that came about.
Brown: Well, I’ve always felt that everything I’ve done has been my own thing to some extent. Even with Trixter, I wrote and sang all of those songs on a demo before I ever brought them to the band. I’m always learning and always evolving as an artist. I’m fortunate to be in a position where money doesn’t dictate what I do, so I can take chances and do various solo stuff without ever feeling caged in. I’ve also taken more of an active role in my social media presence, which helps to get the word out about what I’m doing.
Eric Martin of Mr. Big and Trixter play Montage Music Hall in Rochester, NY on Aug. 20.
See www.montagemusichall.com for details.
Check out http://www.stevebrownrocks.com for all things Steve Brown.