It’s fair to say that the American rock band Warrant is emblematic of the term ‘rock and roll survivors.’
They have endured the harsh challenges of the fickle nature of musical tastes and what is considered cool, hip and fashionable. They have battled through a variety of lineups and the changing nature of how music is consumed and promoted. Most significantly, they have survived the loss of their most identifiable band member – singer Jani Lane – who tragically lost his battle with addiction in 2011, three years after suddenly leaving the band.
Lane was the face of the band, for the most part, appearing as the pouting, preening, bleach blonde lead singer that was in vogue for most bands in the peak of the MTV-inspired hair metal/melodic metal movement of the late 1980s, alongside the likes of Poison, Cinderella, Bon Jovi and many others.
Warrant’s first two albums were the epitome of the genre, with Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich and it’s follow up Cherry Pie dominating the airwaves and making superstars of Lane and his bandmates. As with many of the bands who became so identified with that era of music, when it was overtaken by the explosion of alternative rock out of Seattle in the early 1990s; many who were previously at the top of the charts and the darlings of the record industry were abruptly turfed onto the music industry scrap heap – with many never being seen again, or not for many years.
Warrant survived, led by co-founders Erik Turner (lead guitar), bassist Jerry Dixon and long-time drummer Steven Sweet (1986-1994 and back since 2004) and rhythm guitarist Joey Allen (1987-1994, also returning in 2004) alongside Lane for much of that time. They released albums throughout the 1990s, to dwindling sales totals but, counterintuitively, greater critical acclaim.
Lane left for a number of years in the 2000s, replaced by Jaime St. James, and then again for good in the fall of 2008, when he was replaced by former Lynch Mob singer Robert Mason, who has continued in his roll to this day, performing on the band’s 2011 album Rockaholic.
Mason played a much greater creative role on the band’s new album, Louder Harder Faster, which came out on Frontiers Music on May 12. Dixon said the band is at the point in their career where they put out a new album when they feel like it and when they believe they have a compelling set of songs that would appeal to fans both old and new.
“Part of the problem is we don’t live in the same state. I live in Las Vegas; a couple of the guys are still in California and a couple others in Arizona. That, and the fact that we are on the road for a good chunk of the year, means it’s tough. Like, after touring for months and months, who wants to leave their house for a month and get together and write? Nobody raised their hand when that question was asked until recently. But once we got rolling we went back and forth to Robert’s place in Arizona a few times and everyone came here a few times, so it took probably a year to get enough tunes together and have a few extra ones just in case,” he said.
“Once we got a producer on board we were finally able to get everybody together when we all had a month off and banged it out.”
Warrant enlisted veteran musician and producer Jeff Pilson to produce Louder Harder Faster, with the notion that his boundless energy, enthusiasm, encyclopedic knowledge of music and his deft touch around a studio mixing board would help bring a new level of excitement and proficiency to the band’s music. And it worked, as Dixon said he and his bandmates are thrilled with their collaboration with Pilson, who is best known for his bass playing prowess as a former member of Dokken, Dio and currently with Foreigner. Over the past couple of decades, has also has carved out a reputation as an in-demand studio wizard.
“Dude, he is so full of energy. He would be sitting at the board just banging his head and throwing his arms up and spazzing out. He is like Animal from The Muppets. But it’s because he was so jacked up and excited about the music and what he was hearing, and that got us all fired up too. You know, he is really, really talented. We weren’t sure what we were going to get from him, really. It turns out that he is just a musical genius freak. He knows everything about everything – chord structures, bass lines, guitars, keyboards – everything man,” Dixon said.
“When you get that outsider’s point of view and opinion it really helps kind of tighten everything up. He basically took what we had and made it better. You end up making the songs shorter and cutting out this part and that part to get to the point, the heart of the song. So he was great at doing things like that which really helped the song structures make a little more sense. He helped tweak the arrangements to make the overall songs, I guess, a little more cohesive.”
Back during the band’s heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Warrant albums were known to be sleek, slick and sexy with a crisp, clean almost glossy studio production. And while elements of that have filtered through the band’s subsequent albums, Dixon said for Louder Harder Faster they wanted to retain a more gritty authenticity.
“On this record we tried to not overkill everything. If something felt good that maybe wasn’t technically perfect, we left it as is. Could we have gone back each take and made it absolutely perfect? I think we did that on Rockaholic and at the end of the day it can make a record a little stale. Joey would play a track and it would be like, ‘oh man, that felt good.’ And Jeff would say that it’s off a tiny bit, but we were like, ‘no, leave it, it sounds cool,’” he said, adding that the songwriting process has evolved, simply due to the passage of time and the different life experiences of band members that have occurred over 30 years.
“We have a lot more to choose from in terms of life experiences and things that have happened. So you have a lot more to sing about and write about than just chicks and beer like in the old days. Songwriting is a craft and you’re always trying to get better at it and trying to get better at writing songs. Robert has been with us for almost 10 years now, and we’re really comfortable where he’s at and how he fits into the equation, so it’s a lot easier to get stuff done, to write and to tour. There’s no more drama.
“Listen, we’ve got a song on the new album called Music Man and that’s what I call a ‘big boy’ song. It’s super heavy lyrically and it’s got a great story and is really a mature song. But then we go to a song like Big Sandy which is totally old-school Warrant. You try to make the record ebb and flow because you don’t want it to have just one vibe and feel. You want to have some dynamics; you want to take people on a ride.”
The ‘drama’ of which Dixon spoke about is a recurring topic for him and his bandmates and something that inevitably crops up during any conversation. As most fans of the band know, the commercial peak for Warrant took place almost immediately upon the release of their 1989 debut album Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich, and its 1990 follow up, Cherry Pie. Those albums spawned massive hit singles and videos such as the power ballads Heaven, Sometimes She Cries and I Saw Red, as well as the hair-metal anthems Cherry Pie, Down Boys and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
It made the band stars, particularly their magnetic lead singer Jani Lane, who became a darling of the rock magazine publishers and MTV. But as what often happened at that time, success was fleeting, and Lane became ensnared by the trappings and temptations of fame, leading to conflict with his bandmates, especially once commercial success began to wane in the early 1990s in the wake of the ascendancy of the Seattle-based grunge movement.
Lane, as has been well documented elsewhere, became unpredictable, dragged down by substance abuse and excess, quitting the band at inopportune times, especially in the 2000s, causing reputational and commercial damage to the Warrant brand.
But the addition of Mason has helped salve some of the old wounds, especially since he has become an integral part of the creative process for Warrant, as well as being accepted with open arms by the vast majority of fans.
“I do think he has been accepted now, I really do. But we do fight that battle every day with some people. We are the type of band where we don’t talk shit. We don’t put anybody down in the interviews. We lead by example and we just make records and play shows. This is our second album with Robert and we’re going to make another one probably in four or five years or whatever. We just feel that the best approach is to just go out there and do it – that’s the only way to show people, is to just physically get out there and rock their socks off,” Dixon said.
“Robert does justice to the old songs for sure. He is super conscious about making them as perfect as can be with him singing it, while being himself. The good thing about Robert is we have known him for a long time. He was a Warrant fan and he always liked our songs anyways, which is a great thing. I think the more we put out records where he can really be himself, he will feel even more comfortable and people will get used to it.
“But there are still a lot of ignorant people out there and we see it on social media sometimes. It’s like, hello; did you not know what happened? Usually those are the people who don’t go to shows, they’ve never seen the band all they know is Cherry Pie and what we did back then. We call them keyboard cowboys. Very, very rarely do you get someone who says, ‘oh I went to a show and saw Warrant and they f***ing sucked and the new singer sucked and they should never play those old songs again.’ Usually the opposite happens; if they take the time to come and enjoy the music they usually leave going, ‘okay I get it, I totally get it.’ But it’s not like we have a choice anyways, because Jani is gone.”
And when someone who is as identified with a band as Lane was with Warrant leaves under fractious circumstances, and then ultimately passes away after losing the battle against his personal demons – alcoholism in Lane’s case – it makes for a conflicting legacy for the remaining members of Warrant.
“People don’t realize that me and Erik started Warrant. We were going for three years without Jani. We started this band; it’s always been our creation. He joined Warrant and then he quit Warrant all those times and then he came back and the he quit – it was back and forth so often. We tried to reunite with him in 2008 and I am glad we did that. We gave it 110 per cent, but he was still living with his demons and quit the tour leaving us to scramble. Fortunately we were able to find Robert,” Dixon said.
“The honest answer is I am still hurt. I love him, but he hurt a lot of people. When you quit something and you leave your band on the road … I mean we lost our homes. There were a lot of horrible things that happened to us, and it hurt just as a person, not even as a band. But we always tried to rise above that, and we always let him come back to the band. We always left the door open.
“I think at the end of the day, it was a sad ending to a great beginning. He was a great guy. I think so many people built his ego up so big, that when all those people were gone he had a hard time. He thought he was Elvis and all those ‘yes’ people were gone and that was the beginning of his problems. I always tell myself that music is what I do, not who I am. I have to separate that life from reality and I don’t think Jani could.”
Warrant plays between 60 and 70 dates a year, and tries to get up to Canada at least once a year. Dixon said it’s amazing to see a broad spectrum of ages at the shows, testament to the staying power of the music and the proficiency of the band as a live concert attraction.
“The older fans get so excited to bring new people to our rock show. They also bring their kids, sometimes it’s their first show. And the coolest thing is those kids always seem to come back – they multiply like rabbits, and it’s so cool because they often know the new stuff as well as they do the older material. You would think that our fan base would be a bunch of old bastards – but it’s not!” he said.
For more information on Warrant tour dates and the new album Louder Harder Faster, visit www.warrantrocks.com.
- Jim Barber is a veteran award-winning journalist and author based in Napanee, ON, who has been writing about music and musicians for a quarter of a century. Besides his journalistic endeavours, he now works as a communications and marketing specialist. Contact him at email@example.com.