I’ve interviewed artists on both sides of the metal vs. grunge debate throughout the years, but no one has ever offered a take as sensible as Steve Blaze. As the lead guitarist/songwriter for Lillian Axe since 1983, he’s been through it all and doesn’t buy into the prevailing mainstream position that both genres couldn’t have existed within the same commercial landscape. His description of the media in 1992 as “purveyors of dissension” is painfully relevant in 2022, even as the band prepares to tour behind its first studio album in a decade and is hoping for the best.
Blaze spoke at-length regarding the new album during our recent conversation, and, if there’s a band from the late ’80s metal scene that deserves more than what they got the first time around, it’s them. They had the look, the melodies, and the unsung guitar mastery of Blaze to put them in position to succeed, so hopefully things work out in their favor with this latest project.
MNOD: “From Womb to Tomb” marks the band’s first album in 10 years. Why did now feel like the right time to make a return?
Blaze: Well, time flies by. We continued to play during that time and I never stopped writing. We went through a lot of financial stuff with our label and there were changes within the band, but I always expect a lot out of us. COVID actually helped out, as well, because we were off the road and had a lot of time to work on the material. This new album represents a sort of reinventing of the band in a way. It feels like the right time to get back out there.
MNOD: How did the creative process of this album compare to the band’s classic period?
Blaze: It’s not that different, really. Four of us live within a half hour of one another, so I was able to make the demos at home and we worked on the album on track at a time. I made the change years ago within the band to say that I didn’t want the same mentality to be present in every song. Each song has its own unique identity and that really comes through on this album.
MNOD: What is chemistry of the current lineup like?
Blaze: I have to tell you that it’s really strong. We’ve always been about getting at the essence of the relationship between us and our fans, so I have nothing but good things to say about our current lineup. The thing about Lillian Axe is that we’ve never had any negative exits, which is important. I’m still friendly with the ex-members. Right now, though, all five of us get along really well and actually hang out outside of just being in the band together.
MNOD: Describe your approach to songwriting at this stage of your career.
Blaze: For this album, I had the parts constructed in my head already. I don’t write sitting down with a guitar. I write in my head and the songs come together that way. A couple came quickly while others I had to fight with for a while to get them to where I wanted them to be. I don’t have a set pattern. I could be outside or watching TV and get inspired by something at any moment. One song actually came to me in a dream about six or seven years ago, so I woke up and recorded it right then and there. I wanted this album to be written chronologically, because we’re telling a story from beginning to end. It’s a concept album about an infinite soul. We all learn lessons at different times in our life and each song conveys that message in a different way. I have an organic method of working a lot of times, so things stay fresh. On the first album in 1988, we were less experienced at that time and had more pressure on us to deliver, but now I can be very meticulous and pinpoint certain things to make sure they fit how I want them to. I love performing and I like recording, but sometimes the minutiae of the studio can get crazy and make you feel like you’re stuck in one spot.
MNOD: Robbin Crosby from Ratt produced Lillian Axe’s debut album back in 1988. What was his presence like in the studio?
Blaze: He was a great guy and a funny soul. The thing about Robbin was that he always seemed humble and kind of insecure about himself. He would always ask if he was any good or doing things the right way. He didn’t seem comfortable in his own skin, but he was always concerned about other people’s feelings and went out of his way to be caring. Unfortunately, he’s a guy that we lost way too soon, but he was great to work with and be around without having that Hollywood mentality.
MNOD: I read once that Jani Lane almost became the singer of Lillian Axe, but I know that certain things can take on a life of their own through the years. How close did he actually come to joining?
Blaze: That was one story that really got blown out of proportion. Marshall Berle was the one that put us in touch, because he thought that we would get along. We hung out for a few days and that was pretty much it. We were both the chiefs of our own tribe so to speak, so we both wanted to lead our own bands. Obviously, it worked out for both of us, because Warrant went on to have success and so did we. He was a good dude, though, and was very gracious. Another tremendous talent that we lost too soon.
MNOD: “Love and War” comes out and you guys end up getting dropped by MCA. What was that situation like?
Blaze: The record was well-received, but we just didn’t have the right machine behind us. Other artists from our genre that were on MCA like Alice Cooper also told us that they were treated poorly at the time, but we moved forward. We were bullshitted and lied to a lot, but that’s just part of the business sometimes.
MNOD: “Poetic Justice” follows and I’ve always considered that to be your finest album to this point. What do you recall about that period?
Blaze: The label actually did a good job with that album. The only issue was that they made ‘No Matter What’ our first single and we made a video that was in rotation for a while. I.R.S. was struggling with money at that point, as well, so it could have been a lot better. 1992 was a transitional time in the industry, because the Seattle thing was happening and metal wasn’t considered cool anymore. I blame the media and mainstream press at that time, because they kept pushing the narrative that both grunge and metal couldn’t coexist. One of them had to die and unfortunately labels made their choice. It didn’t have to be one or the other, though. You could have just introduced new bands into what was already there and fans wouldn’t have said shit. They would have just enjoyed all of the exciting music that was being made. Alice in Chains and Soundgarden could have done just as well as Motley Crue and Ratt without the division. The media put a wedge into people’s minds and were the purveyors of dissension at the time.
MNOD: How important was it for Global Rock Records to reissue the entire Lillian Axe catalog onto streaming services?
Blaze: It’s great, because people can rediscover our music or younger fans can discover it for the first time. I see multiple generations in the crowd all the time, which is a great feeling. Parents educating their kids about older music is important, because I think there’s so much current music that leaves a lot to be desired.
MNOD: Lillian Axe is returning to UK for the first time in 29 years. What is your feeling on traveling abroad at this moment?
Blaze: It’s going to be a lot of fun. We went to Europe about 10 years ago, but I’m looking forward to going back to the UK. It’s a short run, but we’ll have a good mix of the back catalog and stuff from the new album. I’m always afraid of finding a horse head in my bed if we don’t play certain songs, so it’ll be a good cross section.
“From Womb to Tomb” is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.