EXTREME’S GARY CHERONE DISCUSSES THE BAND’S NEW AND OLDER MATERIAL. REGARDING HIS TIME IN VAN HALEN, HE SAYS, “IN HINDSIGHT… I WOULD HAVE RATHER[ED] TOURED AND THEN RECORDED [VAN HALEN III]
Greg Prato of Songfacts spoke with Extreme singer Gary Cherone, excerpts from the interview appear below.
Songfacts: Let’s discuss the new Extreme album, Six. How does the songwriting work now compared to earlier albums?
Gary Cherone: As far as me and [guitraist] Nuno [Bettencourt], it’s pretty much always been the same, most of the time inspired by a guitar first. And if something moves me, I’ll write a lyric. It evolved after the band split up in ’95-’96. We started writing separately and with other people, so there’s some contributions from other people on this record. But as far as me and Nuno, it’s pretty much always been the same. Sometimes I’ll hand him a lyric that might inspire something, put him on the piano, and vice versa.
Songfacts: How do you feel about [your hit song] More Than Words these days?
Cherone: It’s funny, that has a history with Extreme. It was the vehicle for our success. It brought a lot of people to the band. To this day, it still does.
There was a time when we thought it was a blessing and a curse because it was a misinterpretation of what the band was. It was one-tenth of the band. It was a ballad, but it became so big that it was bigger than the band. People know the song and don’t know who does it.
But over the years, we embraced it. It was our vehicle to reach a bigger audience. We still love singing it. Lyrically, I think it holds up. Actions speaking louder than words. It has some biographical history to it with a certain person, so when I hear it, it reminds me of that time.
Songfacts: What was the lyrical inspiration behind [Extreme II: Pornograffitti’s] Get The Funk Out?
Cherone: Get the Funk Out certainly started from the music, when Nuno showed me that. We were on the road touring our first record. It was one of the first songs we wrote for Pornograffitti. I don’t know if it was an exit sign that inspired that song, but it was just something… a catchphrase. I don’t think that it has any deeper meaning. It’s pretty self-explanatory.
Did it represent the band at the time, like we’re this kind of funky, groovy hard-rock band? We might have been a little bit outside the hair-metal scene we were coming out of. It was like a defense of what our music stood for. But again, it’s a general sense. I think anybody can apply it, “If you don’t like me, get the funk out.”
Songfacts: What’s the best Van Halen song you worked on?
Cherone: Two songs come to mind. One I Want, I thought was the closest thing to down-the-strike-zone Van Halen. And I thought lyrically it was fun – that it could sit well with their old catalog.
But something that I thought was new and original was a song called Once. I thought Eddie [Van Halen] musically expanded his horizons. It started off as a piano piece, but then it got a little bit more elaborate with the band. Lyrically, I think it was a bit more complex.
Year To The Day is another track I thought was a strong song on that record.
Songfacts: What are your thoughts on How Many Say I? That’s the only Van Halen song that Eddie sang lead on.
Cherone: In the past with me and Nuno, we’ve always traded off – I would show Nuno a lyric, he might write to it. With my experience in Van Halen, that’s not how Eddie wrote. So, that was one of the new things we did together. I just had a lyric – I might have written it over three days – and he looked over my shoulder one day and said, “What’s that?” And I said, “I’m finishing up this lyric called ‘How Many Say I.'” And he said, “Do you mind if I take it?”
He took it, I went to bed in the guest house, and he stayed up all hours of the night. Woke up the next morning and he showed me on the piano. He sang it – he’d made a rough demo of it. I thought it was brilliant. His voice reminded me of Tom Waits or Roger Waters.
I was the one who encouraged him to do it on the record. He was a little reluctant. It’s gotten criticism over the years because Eddie sang it, but I thought the initial demo was so inspiring. For me, it was just like, “You should sing it.” I twisted his arm a little bit, but then he embraced it because I was comparing him to Floyd. His demo was so emotional – I thought it was great.
Songfacts: Michael Anthony and Eddie Trunk have both said that the material demoed for the next Van Halen album after III would have been even better. What are your thoughts and do you remember any song titles?
Cherone: In hindsight, looking back, joining the band, I would have rather toured and then recorded the first record with them, because Van Halen III was a studio production, I was getting to know the guys, and there was a writing/evolutionary process of me and Eddie writing. Then we went on tour and we became a band. We pretty much lived together on the bus and playing so many shows, so we came back tighter, we came back more focused.
I don’t know if it was subliminally because the record wasn’t received great that we were writing material that was more down the strike zone of VH. Titles come to mind… there was one lyrical title, Left For Dead, that I took those lyrics and I did a record with a band called Tribe Of Judah a couple of years later and wrote to different music. A song called Rivers Wide comes to mind. I’d have to rattle my brain as far as some of the other titles.
Songfacts: How much of that material was actually demoed, and would you like to see it officially released at some point?
Cherone: That wouldn’t be up to me, that would be up to Alex [Van Halen]. There are different degrees of recording. There’s some demos that are just me and Eddie and a drum machine, there’s some rehearsal stuff, there’s some stuff that we brought in Patrick Leonard and did a couple of those songs, so those were pretty much finished.
It doesn’t bother me if they don’t see the light of day. Maybe somewhere down the road if they were to do a reissue of VH III and we would add a few songs, that would be something I’d be interested in, but that period for me is pretty well-documented. It is what it is. More importantly, I’d rather remix VH III if I had my choice. But I’m more focused on Extreme and the new music at this point.
Reas more at Songfacts.
Extreme’s new album Six is due on June 9th, to read more about this release, and to hear the band’s first single, Rise, please click here.