We spoke to RICH JONES for the latest edition of Vive Le Rock! As a special bonus for his fans, we're giving you this extra-special online-only content....
Guitarist, songwriter and graphic designer Rich Jones has been responsible for some of the grittiest punk/glam rock to emerge over the past couple of decades. He’s also played alongside some of the icons of the genre such as Michael Monroe, Casey Chaos, Ginger Wildheart, and Paul Cook. This year sees the release of new albums by Michael Monroe and The Black Halos, two projects Rich has been heavily involved in. Phil Singleton spoke to one of rock ‘n’ roll’s unsung heroes.
Having lived in Vancouver, LA, London and Berlin, Rich has settled in Toronto, the city of his youth. His maverick geographical journey began at an early age. “I was born in Coventry and we moved out here when I was about eight years old, just outside Toronto,” recalls Rich. “So it was easy to move back here.”
Who were your early musical influences? “There was always a lot of music going on in our house, which was great,” says Rich. “When we first moved to Canada, my parents took me to my first concert, which was Queen. It was one of those things when you're a kid, your head explodes. I still remember it really well, it was like ‘that's what I want to do’. Brian May playing the Bohemian Rhapsody guitar solo, that's a job for somebody! The radio was always on, and you know what it's like when you're young, you just want to check out everything. The first record I ever bought was ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ by Adam and the Ants. My house was Queen, Supertramp, The Beatles, Elton John, everything. I got Never Mind the Bollocks when I was about 14 and I thought ‘my god!’ You just start digging. For me a lot of it was about the New York punk scene.”
Was information easy to come by pre-internet? “There was this great set of CDs that came out in the early 90s called DIY, Rhino put them out,” Rich remembers enthusiastically. “There was one on the English Scene, one on the New York scene, and they had these amazing liner notes that told you everything about the bands. That started me down that path. Over the years I felt that has always been the base, but you have to listen to more stuff and you have to find other bands. I've always tried to remember how exciting it was when I was younger to discover a new band or a new sound. I still want that thrill, and I still look, and I still get it.”
Your life as a musician appears to have taken off when you left Toronto. “In the early 90s I moved to Vancouver and I started The Black Halos out there.”
The 1999 self-titled debut and 2001 follow-up, ‘The Violent Years’, are fabulous down and dirty,hard rocking, glam punk albums. This was followed by a long hiatus with a new album ‘How the Darkness Doubled’ due this year. After we made our second record 20 years ago, I had already decided the third record was going to be called this. Then we broke up, so now we’re back together that’s got to be the album title! It’s a spiritual follow up.”
You were in Amen for three years from 2001, I suspect it could get pretty wild? “I lived in LA for a few years and that was also completely not for me!” grins Rich in agreement. “Amen all blew up in dramatic fashion in London when we released an album and did an in-store appearance at the Virgin Megastore in Oxford Street and it turned into a fist fight with the band during our signing session! [‘Death Before Musick’ LP]. So I ended up leaving the band during that tour, and just stayed in England, ‘I guess I live here now!’”
London would see Rich form bonds that remain strong to this day. “I lived there for the next 10 or 11 years and played with a load of people during that time,” says Rich. “I played with Tyla from The Dogs D'Amour, I was in The Yo-Yo's, I played with Alec Empire from Atari Teenage Riot. Then I joined Ginger Wildheart’s band for a few years.”
What about the Bassknives? “That came about because The Yo-Yo's did a UK tour with 3 Colours Red,” remembers Rich. “Pete Vuckovic and I really hit it off talking about Killing Joke records. When 3 Colours Red ended and The Yo-Yo's were gone, Pete started Bassknives with Paul Grant from 3 Colours Red. He realised when they were going to play live they needed another guitar player, so he called me up. They did the first EP [‘Come on You Motherfuckers’] without me, then we started working on stuff and made a record that never came out. It was a weird time because the stuff was great. Pete was a really talented singer songwriter but he had some kind of mental block about finishing this record. The mix was never right, he was at home trying to do it himself. He spent years mixing the record so it just fizzled out eventually. It’s a shame, whatever Pete's reasons were, it was his baby and so if it wasn’t right for him, it wasn’t going to get done unfortunately. I thought it was really good, it had a lot of potential.”
Rich and Scott Sorry got together for a relatively short lived venture, Sorry and the Sinatras. “Scott Sorry and me are still great friends to this day, he’s one of my favourite people in the world. It’s worth saying that if we kept up with Sorry and the Sinatras we probably both would’ve died.”
In the meantime he relocated once more. “At that point I was still living in London, but it was so expensive to live there and everything was getting shut down, like the 12 Bar. I worked in a studio right behind the 12 Bar. The Astoria got knocked down, one thing after another, it was like dominoes falling. I was paying all this money to live in the city yet everything I loved was disappearing. I had a friend in Berlin and he said ‘hey do you want to rent my flat, it's 300 euros a month’. I said I'll be there in two weeks! I just loaded all my shit into a van and went to Berlin. My wife did her master's degree in Berlin and she had to find work and she didn't speak German so we ended up back in Canada. I'm glad we made the move, it feels great to be here. I don't plan on going anywhere else for a while now!”
He also joined Ginger Wildheart’s band. Ginger recommended Rich to Michael Monroe, and he’s been a permanent fixture in Michael’s band since 2013. Rich’s major project currently is the forthcoming record he’s been making with Michael. When I say making, I mean, writing, producing, designing, as well as playing guitar. This sounds far removed from The Black Halos. “It’s nice to be in something like The Black Halos compared to when I’m making a record with Michael, when there’s a lot of pressure, the record has to be good, we have to make sure the record company picks up the option.”
You are the main songwriter for all the bands you’ve been involved in, including Michael’s. I take it you enjoy that level of responsibility?. “I don’t think I enjoy the responsibility, but I like the process,” Rich clarifies thoughtfully. “For instance, when the pandemic started we were in the middle of a tour with Michael, which we cut short. I was going to be home for a while and thought I would make the most of this time and originally decided to write a song every day for a month, which I did. How many of those were good, I don’t know! It kind of got me going and as the pandemic went on I thought I should use this time to be creative, not just sit around watching movies and getting fat. By the time we were ready to do things, I had 30 songs for the Michael Monroe record and I had 20 for The Black Halos record. So I was like ‘let’s go, we’ve got all this stuff to work from’. The responsibility is the part I hate about it, it puts the pressure of success on your shoulders. Let’s say I write 10 of the 12 songs on the Michael Monroe record, and it bombs, then it’s my fault. That’s the part I have a hard time with. I had a bit of a meltdown before the last Michael Monroe record came out [‘One Man Gang’], because I’d written the vast majority of the stuff for the first time. What if it’s not good enough? What if people hate it? And I kind of lost it for a little bit.”
Needless to say, the album got rave reviews. “The record came out and it was well received, fortunately,” says Rich with a sigh of relief. “But then the whole thing fell apart with the pandemic. The pandemic changed my attitude about certain things. I’ve always been the guy that said let’s go on tour, let’s get in the van. Normally I’m away all summer, now having all this time on my own with my wife and family, I’m trying to prioritise and find a better balance.”
Is being in Michael’s band one of the ultimate achievements to-date for you as a musician? “I guess, I don’t tend to look at things like that. Obviously I feel real happy to do it, and feel fortunate to be in that position to play with those guys. Those guys are all a much higher calibre of musician than I am but I fit in well, I kind of fulfil a role in the band that works. The first time I got in a room with those guys in a rehearsal space in Helsinki, it was mind blowing. But then after a while those guys became my friends and band mates and now they’re just guys that I sit around with, get drunk on the bus with and tell jokes, talk shit. I just think there’s something really special, that combination of those guys in the band, we can give any band a run for their money live. That’s a great feeling for sure. That’s the goal, to be in that kind of band where you feel super confident about everyone and everything. I love all those dudes like brothers, like some of my best friends in the world. That’s pretty rare in a band, there’s usually one guy, the fart in an elevator guy, who comes on the bus and you think ‘oh god, here he is!’”
I challenge Rich’s belief that he’s not of the same calibre as the others, after all he wrote almost all of the new album. “That’s what I mean, in a sense I kind of fit in, in my own way,” says a modest Rich. “I’m a solid self-taught guy who can hold his own. They can play anything. It definitely gave me a kick in the ass to get better as a musician.”
Where do you get all these lyrics from, what inspires them? You’re very prolific. “It’s life experience,” says Rich. “Especially when you’re touring and travelling as much as I am. I get a lot of stories. I always keep a notepad on my phone, I just write down ideas and I have a huge list.”
Rich will never tell you this, but he’s one of rock’s nice guys, humble and unpretentious. He’s also the real deal, a dyed in the wool multi-faceted rock ‘n’ roll trouper, a grafter, the likes of whom underpin the rock ‘n’ roll we adore. Lend your ears to The Black Halos compilation ‘F.F.T.S.’ and Michael Monroe’s ‘I Live Too Fast To Die Young’. Authentic rock at its finest.
Read a full feature with Rich Jones in the new edition of Vive Le Rock!
Pic by Bobby Nieminen