Interview: Kyle Hughes – a young English drummer touring the world in the name of rock

Kyle Hughes in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

English drummer Kyle Hughes may only be 21 years old, but he’s already toured with Bumblefoot and Marco Mendoza. With his first Japan tour now under his belt, this drummer has a bright future ahead of him. 

Having started to make a name for himself locally as a drummer in Twister, young and talented Newcastle drummer Kyle Hughes got discovered by former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Bumblefoot. Having toured internationally with Bumblefoot, the English drummer then teamed up with former Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy bassist Marco Mendoza. When Marco Mendoza’s trio recently came to play in Japan during their “Viva La Rock” world tour, Roppongi Rocks sat down with the drummer at his hotel for a chat a few hours after he had landed in Japan for the very first time.

You’re from Newcastle in England. How did you go from playing the local pubs to playing internationally with American artists like Marco Mendoza and Bumblefoot? “It’s crazy and it blows my mind that it’s worked out that way. It’s kind of one of them stories where it’s like – it takes one moment for something to happen and then it just changes everything. Meeting Bumblefoot was actually one of those moments. I was in an original band, which was called Twister when I was… How old was I, 15 when I joined them? They were a bit older than me, mid-twenties and stuff. I got a phone call from the singer. Well, actually, we were in a local club, ironically. ‘Bumblefoot is coming to town and he needs a backing band and we’ve got the gig!’ He was travelling around the world, just kind of going into different, I guess it was music schools and doing gigs with lots of musicians all over the shop. Then he comes to Newcastle of all places and my band, through Peter Mann, who works in the northeast scene. He had seen us play a local gig in Durham somewhere and he got the call: ‘We need a band, who’d you recommend?’ That’s how it works! So, we got the gig. I was 17 and I jammed with Bumblefoot. I loved the material, it’s full of a lot of chops for me to play and stuff. ” He met Bumblefoot for the first time at soundcheck and, there and then, they ran through the whole set. “We went on stage after one rehearsal and just blasted it out. Ever since then we’ve kept in touch and played gigs all over the place – in USA and Europe. I’m very grateful for that. He’s a very good friend of mine. Yeah, crazy experience! It leads on to everything else, to now! That’s how it works!”

Kyle Hughes on stage in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

How did you meet Marco Mendoza and ended up playing with him? “In London. That’s when I, I guess, got the gig if you like. We’d met, he was looking for a drummer and my friend Micky Crystal, fantastic guitar player of the Tygers of Pan Tang – a good friend of mine from home, obviously – recommended me for the gig. Marco was open to the idea, so we exchanged emails and the next tour he called me and said: ‘Do you want to do this?’ I was like: Yeah, why not? Haha! You’re not going to say no. I mean I grew up… My dad’s a bass player and a singer. We watched videos and Marco’s name would pop up with Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy of course. So, I was like: Yeah, I’m in! We just hit it off musically. He’s a great person and here I am in Tokyo, Japan! It blows my mind! I’m really grateful for the friendship and we have a great time on stage. That relationship from the bass and the drums is really solid now. I’ve been in this band now for about a year, so it has to be! Haha!” 

As a younger musician, you’re still only 21, do you ever feel nervous or intimidated playing with industry veterans, or do you just get on with it? “Not really. I was jamming in LA a couple of months back with Mike Keneally and some friends like Bryan Beller. You know, they’re older than me, they’ve been around awhile. But it’s one of them things where I feel once you are kind of in with people and you’re friendly with them, I think that’s the difference when you’re comfortable with someone on a friendly level. This guy is just a normal dude or whatever, just normal people. The more I’ve been in those circles and hanging out with people like that, it just becomes, I guess, normal and you don’t really get starstruck. Obviously, I have my heroes, which if I’d have met, I’d be a bit more… Like Tommy Aldridge, who Marco knows. Haha! Certain people, but in general, it’s kind of like I feel like when you’re in that circle you’re on the same level as everyone and you don’t feel intimated. There’s a reason that you’re there, I guess. I stay humble. I’m always one to work to improve and get better, but I feel when you’re in the same room and you’re going to be on stage with someone, they obviously see you as, I guess, one of them. ‘He’s on my level.’ That’s the way to kind of look at it, which keeps you confident and doesn’t put you in that intimidated spot.” 

Your hometown Newcastle has a proud history of producing some serious musical talent. What’s the secret? “That is a really tough question. But I am going to say this much, and I wouldn’t just say this. Even now I still play gigs locally when I’m not on tour. There are some of the most talented musicians… There’s some amazing talent in Newcastle that some people don’t even know. Some of the best players I’ve ever played with are from Newcastle. I don’t necessarily know why it is, but there is something about… Like for me, here I am now and in a couple of weeks, I’ll be back playing a working men’s club. It keeps you humble. It just brings you straight back down to Earth. I always think that something like that is a good thing. It keeps me in check. It’s the grind of like pulling big bass bins and drum kits up the stairs to get to the gig. It’s really cool and, honestly, I treat every gig the same. There’s something about that, where you play a pub or a club and then you’re given an opportunity to do something like this or when you’re touring Europe or the world, you’re just ready. I started in the pubs and clubs with my dad’s band when I was about 13 years old. I had the training years before I even met Bumblefoot or any of this even happened. I was, maybe not tour ready, but I was ready musically. You learn your craft and that’s for me, anyway, how it worked. I knew what I had to do. Then you get one tour and the next tour and then you just adapt. It’s all a learning experience though.”

Kyle Hughes on stage in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

What’s the highlight of your career so far? “This being one of them. I can’t lie. I’ve always wanted to come to Japan. I feel very welcomed here. It’s amazing! I’m very grateful for this experience. Haven’t even played a show yet! There’s so many – doing my first gig in America, playing at the Iridium with Bumblefoot, that was a highlight for me. Playing my first big gig at a festival supporting Simple Minds – it was insane – with my old band Twister. There are so many… I can’t put it into one. This whole tour has been amazing. It’s the longest tour I’ve done. I’ve played places I’ve never played before. I’ve seen new places. I’m just really grateful for everything. I know it sounds cheesy, but I never want to take it for granted. I wanna be in the moment.”

Marco Mendoza’s shows in Japan are followed by a few gigs in Russia. What’s coming up after that for you? “5th Avenue from Hamburg has called me to do a few shows and maybe Wacken festival and things like that. Pretty much kind of studio things and I have companies asking me to do things. I am just trying to find the time when I am home so that I can actually act on it. And, of course, I want to get back to LA as soon as possible. We played there at the start of the year, me and Marco, and it was great, it’s really working out over there. I feel that’s the place where I want to be. I want to try and maybe experiment with going into something new, stylistically, musically. Just experiment and try something new, kind of like Conrado Pesinato. Doing like a hip-hop R&B thing. That’s kind of what I want to try. That scene, like pop music. Not to go away, or detach myself, from the classic rock thing, it’s nice to do something that keeps you versatile, it keeps you on your toes. There’s something about learning a new style. It’s rewarding when you nail it and do a good job. I’m always one to keep things fresh, for sure.” 

Kyle Hughes in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Album review: Neuroticos “Kill for God”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Brazilian-Japanese death metal band Neuroticos is finally releasing its debut full-length studio album some 15 years after forming. The wait has been worth it. This is one crushing metal album without compromises.

Formed in Hiroshima, Japan in 2004, Neuroticos is led by Brazilian brothers Bruno Dias Matsuda (vocals) and Kleber Dias Matsuda (guitar) and also consists of Jumpei Nakamura on bass and Yuichi Ishiguro on drums. I have seen them perform live in Tokyo a number of times and have always been impressed with their crushing delivery of this terrific kind of underground death metal. Neuroticos’ music is always brutal, crushing and without compromises. If you like your metal extreme and hard-hitting, this is a band for you. Neuroticos plays a version of metal firmly based on old-school death metal, but without sounding dated. This is not retro music. This is here and now. They have created their own music based on Brazil’s proud tradition of extreme metal. “Kill for God”, the band’s first full-length album, opens with some haunting church bells and some splendid heavy guitar riffs before the mayhem kicks off. The title track is among the album’s best tracks. It’s like being hit in the face with a metal bar and then dragged behind a getaway car. Fantastic! “Blinded by War” is another favourite track. But “Pray Until You Die” is the stand-out track on this album for me. It immediately knocks you to the ground, helps you up on your feet again, only to kick you to the ground again. Brutal! Overall “Kill for God” is a splendid album and Neuroticos is among the best of the many interesting metal bands in Japan today.

Neuroticos’ album “Kill for God” will be released on 16th June. To mark the release of the album, the band will tour Japan during July with shows in Hiroshima, Osaka, Tokyo, Sendai, Nagano, Nagoya and Sapporo. 

www.facebook.com/neuroticos.official

www.neuroticos.com

Gig review: Lucifer | “Black Sabbath meets Fleetwood Mac” on stage in Tokyo

Johanna Sadonis of Lucifer on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Lucifer, one of the best rock bands in Sweden right now, returned to Japan with a close to flawless rock show of the best kind.

Lucifer at Club Quattro, Shibuya, Tokyo on 10th June 2019

Lucifer on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Aki Fujita Taguchi

It’s a rainy Monday evening in Tokyo. But it’s OK as Lucifer from Sweden is here to entertain us with a terrific rock show. To call Lucifer a Swedish band is a bit of a stretch. The band formed in Berlin, Germany in 2014 with no Swedish members. From those early days of Lucifer, only German lead singer Johanna Sadonis remains. The band is nowadays based in Sweden and three of the five members are Swedes: Nicke Andersson (The Hellacopters, Imperial State Electric, Entombed, MC5) on drums, Linus Björklund (Vojd) and Martin Nordin (Dead Lord) on guitars – and some awesome coordinated stage moves. The current line-up also features Austrian bassist Alexander Mayr.

Lucifer’s music is doomy, at times dreamy and always very good. Backstage after the show, Nicke Andersson describes Lucifer’s music to me as “Black Sabbath meets Fleetwood Mac” and that is a fitting description. Lucifer’s song material is strong, very strong. Initially, Sadonis wrote songs with legendary Cathedral guitarist Gaz Jennings. Gaz was an original member of Lucifer who made his mark on the first album and the first few tours. Nowadays, Sadonis writes the songs together with her husband Nicke Andersson, who joined the band in 2017 after Gaz had departed.

Nicke Andersson of Lucifer on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Aki Fujita Taguchi

This evening at Club Quattro in Shibuya we get a tremendous 19-song set. We get all the nine songs from the band’s most recent album, 2018’s “Lucifer II”, including the Rolling Stones cover “Dancing with Mr D”. From the band’s 2015 debut album, we get treated to five terrific tracks: “Abracadabra”, “Izrael”, “Morning Star”, “Purple Pyramid” and “Anubis”. We get a few more covers: “Snowblind” (Black Sabbath), “Bomber” (Motörhead) and, a husband-and-wife duet by Nicke and Johanna, “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” (ZZ Top). We also get an absolutely fantastic version of “Take Me Away (Together as One”) from KISS legend Paul Stanley’s 1978 solo album. It’s a fitting song choice as Johanna Sadonis, like Paul Stanley, is a complete entertainer that commands attention. She has a terrific voice that gets to shine on all songs. But she’s not just a voice, she has a stage presence and charisma second to none. She has the whole package and is a dominating force on stage that leads her band from the front.

Lucifer on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Aki Fujita Taguchi

There seems to be nonstop energy on stage throughout the show. This is a band that doesn’t stop – they are here to perform and will do so no matter what. The show’s highlights for me include the smashing tracks “Dreamer”, “California Son” and “Purple Pyramid”. A brand new and yet unreleased song, the splendid “Ghosts”, shows us that the band already has started to create some great new material for the band’s third album which is expected to be released in the spring of 2020. This is one fine evening of exquisite rock delivered almost flawlessly by a terrific band. Swedish or not, this is, without doubt, one of the most interesting and best bands in Sweden.

Johanna Sadonis of Lucifer on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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EP review: The Babes “It Ain’t Easy”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

Aussie rock band The Babes has a great EP out and will tour Japan this month.

“It Ain’t Easy” is a four-track EP that is a great introduction to The Babes, a good-fun rock band based in Adelaide, Australia. It’s a family business: three of the four members are siblings and their dad is their manager. Of the four great tracks on the EP, my favourite is the terrific “Ride It”, a rock song with a punk attitude. The band has opened for artists such as Ace Frehley, Hardcore Superstar, Cherie Currie and Sebastian Bach, which should give you a hint of what type of music this is. This is meat-and-potatoes rock’n’roll made to entertain. It’s straightforward party music, nothing too deep. Bring out the beers and turn up the volume. The Babes are here to give you a good time. The EP closes with “Always Ridin’” a hair metal power ballad that is a soundtrack to get laid to. They call their music “underdog rock”, but that will have to change soon as these Aussies are now winners. Live on stage these songs will be great at getting a crowd going. The band has already toured the US and extensively at home in Australia. Now they’re taking on Japan.

The Babes will play in Tokyo on Sunday 23rd June as one of the opening acts for Girlschool and Venom Inc, and will also do gigs in Tachikawa and Kyoto as well as an in-store appearance in Osaka. 

www.thebabesrock.com

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Interview: Conrado Pesinato | Escaping from Alcatrazz to get Out Of The Woods

Conrado Pesinato in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

He made a name for himself as lead guitarist in Graham Bonnet Band and also sitting in for the Alcatrazz reunion of 2017 when he filled in for Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai (as documented on the live release “Parole Denied – Tokyo 2017”). Now Brazilian guitarist Conrado Pesinato is hard at work with his new band, Out Of The Woods in Los Angeles. When he recently visited Tokyo again on tour with Marco Mendoza, Roppongi Rocks sat down with Conrado at his hotel in Roppongi to talk about his career.

Conrado Pesinato played with bassist Beth-Ami Heavenstone in Hardly Dangerous, an LA rock band fronted by Tomirae Brown, the widow of James Brown. In 2015, Beth-Ami subsequently brought him into the Graham Bonnet Band which she was forming with the legendary Rainbow, MSG and Alcatrazz vocalist. In GBB, Conrado played a significant role as guitarist, songwriter and producer of the band’s 2016 album “The Book”. He toured Japan twice with GBB. First in 2015 when GBB opened for Michael Schenker’s Temple of Rock (when Michael Schenker and Graham Bonnet reunited on stage for the first time since their brief time together in MSG). In 2017, GBB did a headline tour of Japan which also included the terrific Alcatrazz reunion with Graham Bonnet, Jimmy Waldo and Gary Shea reunited on stage in Tokyo.

Conrado Pesinato in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

You’ve done two Japan tours and now you’re here for the third time. “That’s right! The first time was 2015 and…2017, yes. It seems to be the pattern, every two years I am back” says Conrado with a big smile as we sit down at his hotel a few hours after he has landed in Japan. 

What’s your best Japan memory so far? “Too many. Too many! Ah, Jesus. Where do I even start? The first one was really special. It was my first time in the country. It was my first time experiencing all the excitement about rock music that the Japanese fans have. It spoils the whole thing for you and anywhere else you play after that. It’s not quite the same. And seeing Graham and Michael for the first time together, being a fan, that was cool. But the second time was really special too because that time we were headlining.”

Is it different for you as a guitarist to step into a band like Alcatrazz compared to playing your own music? “Yeah, that was a lot different, for sure. I’m a lot more comfortable… I think I excel as a songwriter and doing my thing. I think I did a decent enough job honouring those songs in those performances. But, by all means, I was never to do that, playing Yngwie note for note. That’s just not the kind of player I was. So, it was challenging. A lot of growth for me, I learnt a lot trying to make justice to those songs. It was challenging because I was never that type of dude that sat down… I can definitely count on my fingers the number of solos I’ve learnt note for note. I have always tried to find my own voice and that’s always what I prefer to do. As much as I had fun and I felt honoured to be part of that, especially being a guitar player… At the same time, I was a lot more excited to play the songs we wrote back in the day on the album that we just released, ‘The Book’. I was a lot more excited about the response of people from those songs, because those were my babies, than doing the whole Alcatrazz thing. Then, of course, there was a little bit of guitar ego there. ‘Yay! Look at me playing in Alcatrazz!’ It was good. It was fun.”

On the Graham Bonnet Band album “The Book”, Conrado not only played the guitar, he wrote songs and produced the album which also featured Beth-Ami Heavenstone, Mark Zonder and Jimmy Waldo. “I co-wrote ‘The Book’ with him. It was mainly me and him and Zonder did a lot of good ideas. Great drummer, great guy. We co-wrote the songs and I ended up producing. I was wearing many hats in that band. That was one of the reasons that that band was very challenging for me too, other than all the legendary guitar stuff. I was always so busy with everything else, helping with arrangements and recording and writing. I produced the album, but I didn’t mix or master, but I engineered the whole thing. I’m proud of it. It’s a good album.”

Now you’re here in Japan for two gigs with Marco Mendoza’s trio with Marco and British drummer Kyle Hughes. These are your first-ever gigs with Marco. “That was an invite that came through my good friend Kyle. I knew of Marco and I think we spoke a couple of times previously on different occasions. Kyle was like ‘Hey, we need a guitar player for Japan’. I was like, wow, that will be fun! I love Marco’s material. I think, even me as a guitar player, I’m a lot more comfortable with that kind of classic rock-funk-bluesy type of thing instead of the neoclassical stuff. I think that is a lot more who I am as a guitar player. It’s my first gig with them so that’s definitely exciting.”

Conrado Pesinato on stage in Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

Marco and Kyle have come straight from a European tour and you flew in from LA. Have you had any chance to rehearse together as a trio? “No! Haha!! So, we’ll see how it goes. We have not, but they have been very solid together. They are the rhythm section and the front men together. I just have to sit in and do my part. I think we will be alright. It’s gonna be a good time, no doubt. At least for me! Marco is such a legendary musician, playing in such legendary bands like Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake, which I love. Thin Lizzy is one of my favourite bands of all time. Even his solo material has so many guitar players, like Richie Kotzen and Steve Lukather and all these kinds of guys. I have to do justice to those songs at those gigs. It’s an exciting part of the process. Yeah, it will be a fun time!”

Recently Conrado formed a new contemporary rock band in Los Angeles called Out Of The Woods together with vocalist Zach Jones and drummer Tomas Slemeson. The sound is quite different from the classic rock we normally hear Conrado play. “Yeah. The way I see it is… I would call it modern American rock radio. Bands like Bad Wolves and Bring Me The Horizon, that kind of stuff. It’s a whole different thing. I co-write everything with the guys and I help with a bit of the production. I don’t do the full production, but I do a little bit of it. That’s kind of exciting, to not be the guy that does everything. I use a seven-string guitar, which is something I don’t use in the most classic rock sound bands that I do. Seven-string guitar, I try to do more effects, I try to do beats and samples and things like that. It’s different stuff. That’s the beauty of it. I like it all. From The Beatles to extreme death metal to ABBA to whatever, you name it. Linkin Park and Ramones and whatever else. I dig songs!”

Out Of The Woods has done some gigs in the US and released its first song. “We have one single out and finishing an EP. We’re excited about it. We’re shopping it around with some labels for that type of music. It’s nice doing something different. It’s definitely refreshing.” Out Of The Woods is Conrado’s main focus now. “There’s a couple of other things I am working on, but, for sure, Out Of The Woods will be it. We have this EP coming out. I am trying to get busy. I like to do it all. I was even making beats for hip-hop artists! I just like to be busy and collaborate with creative people with a good heart.” 

Keep an eye (and both ears!) on Conrado Pesinato. He likes to stay busy and there will no doubt be more interesting music coming our way from this creative musician.

Conrado Pesinato in Roppongi, Tokyo. Photo: Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks

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Single review: Dambusters “All the Way to Your Heart”

Dambusters. Photo: Lori Bockelken

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

With pedigree from Cactus, Quiet Riot, Dee Snider and Noisy Mama, American band Dambusters play straightforward, but groovy, rock’n’roll. Their first single is out today.

Freddy Villano is one of the nicest guys in American rock and also a rock-solid bassist. Having made a name for himself in the early part of his career with Quiet Riot and Dee Snider’s Widowmaker, more recently he has been releasing music with American Mafia and now with Dambusters. “All the Way to Your Heart”, the band’s first digital single, is an unpolished gem of a song. The production is raw and straightforward, no fancy stuff. And that is a good thing. This kind of music is best served straight-up and raw. Should this be repackaged in some overproduced, fancy and shiny format, it wouldn’t work. Now, as a straightforward rock song performed more or less live in the studio, it sounds great. In Dambusters, Villano has teamed up with guitarist Jimmy Gumina (Noisy Mama), drummer Vic Pullen (Larry Mitchell, Francis Dunnery) and a guest appearance by vocalist Jimmy Kunes (Cactus, Savoy Brown). Having also heard some more yet unreleased songs from the same studio sessions, it is obvious that the Dambusters boys have something interesting going on here. There is pedigree, know-how and also chemistry. This is blues-based hard rock performed by a bunch of seasoned rockers. It’s good stuff.

Dambusters’ single “All the Way to Your Heart” is out today.

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Album review: Xentrix “Bury the Pain”

By Stefan Nilsson, Roppongi Rocks 

British band Xentrix is back with a new line-up and a terrific album of excellent thrash metal.

British thrash metal band Xentrix may not be known to the masses, but they formed already back in 1985. They are perhaps best known for their tongue-in-cheek thrash metal version of the “Ghostbusters” theme song. But gimmicks aside, it is very evident on their new album “Bury the Pain” that this is a quality thrash metal band. They have both the musical skills and the songs to be real contenders. Xentrix’s music is firmly rooted in old-school thrash metal, but they do not sound dated at all. They have brought the classic thrash metal sound with them to here and now. 

New vocalist Jay Walsh’s voice reminds me a lot about how Dee Snider sounds on his latest album, 2018’s “For the Love of Metal”. The more I listen to Xentrix I realise that the music is also not miles away from the songs on Snider’s album. Just listen to the fantastic song “There Will Be Consequences” and it oozes Dee Snider. It’s as if someone has listened to Snider’s album and decided to do a thrash metal version of it. I don’t know if that is the case, I guess not, but the result is terrific. This is a hard-hitting thrash metal album with terrific guitars, great melodies and a vocalist that does this music justice. Bassist Chris Shires is another newcomer in the band which also includes Kristian Havard on guitar and Dennis Gasser on drums. The hard-hitting “Bleeding Out” is the highlight of the album, but there are also many more great tracks on this terrific album. In fact, there are no weak songs at all. This solid and modern thrash metal album has been produced by Judas Priest’s Andy Sneap. I dig it.

Xentrix’s album “Bury the Pain” will be released on 7th June by Listenable Records. The Japanese edition will be released by Spiritual Beast on 17th July with a bonus track. 

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www.xentrix.co.uk