Kenny caught up with the enigma that is Chris Holmes just before he hit the stage on his recent performance in Crymlin as part of his UK Tour. Sit back relax and have a giggle its the one and only Chris Holmes.
Thanks so much for taking the time to have a chat with me Chris!
Welcome back to Wales. Can you remember the last time you were here?
‘I’m not sure if I’ve ever been here’
I saw you in Cardiff with W.A.S.P. back in the day.
‘Oh yeah, I’ve played there, is that in Wales?’
Yes, Cardiff is the capital city of Wales.
‘You learn something new every day, y’ know?’
How are you, Chris? You’ve had a rough few years.
‘Yeah, I’m good, I was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, going through the radiation and the chemo wasn’t fun. I finished treatment exactly a year ago. I’m still feeling the effects of the radiation, it was done in my neck, I can’t swallow too good. My voice is getting better, I sing now. For the last year on the road, the singer sang all of my songs, it was weird playing them without singing, but I’m gonna do them on this tour.’
So, your voice is much stronger now?
‘It hasn’t got any stronger, it’s just come back.’ I lost a lot of weight; I went from a hundred and twenty kilos down to eighty-eight. I’m back up to ninety-three kilos now.’
Tell me about lockdown Chris, were you productive? Were you writing music?
‘Yeah, I’ve got a bunch of music stored on a computer. In lockdown I recorded every song I ever wanted in my life from the internet. You can say that I bootlegged it, who cares about bootlegging? I never made any money from my publishing anyway. I sat for hours just getting every song and storing them on SD cards.’
Any new material from Mean Man?
‘Not right now, my computer went down. When I get that back up and running, I can record all the stuff and listen back and submit it to everyone else, depending on how I want to do the next album. Last album I did, it was actual people playing, the one before that I just programmed it all with Pro Tools.’
Have the rehearsals for the tour gone well?
‘Yeah, yeah, we did three days and we’re good.’
Tell us about your current band Chris.
‘I’ve got the same drummer I’ve had for about five or six years, Stephen Jackson, he’s from Carlisle, he plays in a band called Heartbreak Remedy, when Mean Man is in the UK, he plays for Mean Man. The bass player is a guy named Charles Lambert, he’s from Montreal and he speaks fluent French, I call him Chuck. We were going to tour together and then Covid hit, when Covid started dying down, Bam! I got cancer so we had to cancel everything. We did five shows in Canada together and I did a Q & A after a showing of my movie, the Mean Man documentary. I came out and I answered questions for around half an hour, and we played five songs. That was good. Florien plays guitar and sings back-up vocals.’
So, it’s a stable line up?
‘Oh yeah, yeah. Usually, I have some guys from the Wicked Jackals, but they had some shows booked during this tour, so what can you do?’
Are you looking forward to this UK run of shows?
‘Yes! I haven’t really played properly for a long time.’
You live in France; can you speak much French?
‘No, my wife does all of the translating.’
Do you miss living in Los Angeles?
‘No, I was just there recently. In Cannes, the police are really nice, in LA they’re pricks. I got tired of it; I was bothered every time I got in a car by a cop. Good cop, bad cop, I don’t give a crap. I got sick and tired of it, it’s the way that I look. I understand what black people must go through; I don’t think it’s very nice. They think I look like a drug addict criminal; I choose the way I look. To most cops in LA I look like a criminal and I got tired of it. In the UK I don’t even see any cops! The cops in France are cool, they don’t look at me like I’m a criminal. I was just back in LA for two days because my father had passed away, I had to go and take care of everything.’
My condolences Chris.
‘It’s the way it is, this planet. In a hundred years from now, this planet will still be turning, who knows what shape it’s gonna be in? But we’ll all be gone. I don’t miss LA, the rock music scene, just aint happening, it kinda died out in the Nineties, a lot of the clubs are closed, it was a better decision to leave.’
I’ve always wanted to visit LA, see the Sunset Strip, Rainbow Bar & Grill etc.
‘If you’re not from there, it’s probably fun to check it out, I was born in LA so it’s a lot different. I’ve been going to that garbage all my life. I didn’t come from out of state to make it in a band, I was stuck there, so it’s a much different situation.’
Were you pleased with the reaction to the Mean Man: The Story of Chris Holmes film?
‘Yeah, yeah, I’m pleased with it, it just shows, a few of my friends have said, it shows a different side to you Chris. Instead of sitting in a pool drinking booze, a lot of people have a vision of the way I am. If that’s all I did in W.A.S.P. I wouldn’t have played in W.A.S.P., I did a lot more than drink alcohol. I actually made it onto a stage once or twice! (Laughs) That’s not what most people think though.’
How is it, having your wife as your manager?
‘I couldn’t imagine, if I didn’t have her, I wouldn’t be doing this right now. I’d probably be sitting in LA, I’d either be in jail in LA, or I’d be sitting there playing with Pro Tools somewhere in a closet, doing nuthin’ trying to find some band in LA to play with me. I’ve tried and tried and tried, nobody will really play with me. When I did find people, they would want to be put on a salary, it’s all about money. I didn’t make any money in W.A.S.P., I never got my publishing, I didn’t understand how it worked when we signed the deal and all that stuff, I was taken advantage of by someone I considered at the time my best friend. I didn’t understand how the situation worked back then, nobody told me, nobody explained it to me. They knew that I didn’t understand it.’
Most musicians get into music to play music. Not to be an accountant.
‘You’re right, the accountants and the people that know what’s going on take advantage. It’s really sad, when I actually looked into what’s going on, it really jerks me wrong that I would actually be a friend to somebody like that. All these people say to me, God, you should be back in W.A.S.P., no, no. You screwed me once, you’re not gonna screw me twice. No way. I did go back to W.A.S.P. in ‘95, I was promised it was a whole different ball game, everything will be cool. No, it was the same crap as before, it was the same narcissism as before, I just hung out on my own and did my job.’
Who inspired you to pick up a guitar Chris?
‘Jimi Hendrix was my first. My second would be Johnny Winter, my Mom always listened to the Stones and the Beatles. I would like to say Eddie Van Halen, but I was already playing guitar by the time I met him. I met him way before he was in Van Halen when he was in Mammoth. He was probably a bigger inspiration than Hendrix because I was friends with him. Inspiration as in, using a Marshall, how to set your equipment up on stage, how to treat other people, very important. I was in a dressing room in 1987, Van Halen’s dressing room at the Omni theatre, snorting blow, guzzling down booze with Tony Iommi and Eddie Van Halen and who walks in? Blackie Lawless, thinks he’s our friend. Eddie looks at me and goes ‘Who in the fuck is this dickhead?’ and Blackie walks right out. Ed could see the bullshit with people, he could see who’s full of shit and who’s not full of shit. He knew David Lee Roth was the way Dave was, Dave was exceptional with his lyric writing and Ed knew it was worth having him around.
I learned a lot from Ed, I’d see him play and just be envious, I wish I could play like that! One time we were at my house in Pasadena, I had just got this Marshall amp. This was before Sister and W.A.S.P. Ed was in the process of making the first Van Halen album. He was over, we were getting high on pot, some real good weed. I had my Marshall cranked and he was playing my guitar, he was doing some tricks and he goes ‘Chris, you’d better close your windows, your neighbours are gonna get mad and call the cops’ I was like fuck the neighbours! and I was hoping they would think it was me playing! He was so good. He knew the insides and out of his gear. I learned a lot of tricks from him. If it wasn’t for Ed, I wouldn’t have the sound I have today. He was a big inspiration. Hendrix was a killer entertainer though.’
You mentioned Tony Iommi, was he an influence?
‘I love Tony’s sound and the way he plays guitar, he’s killer. Those riffs. I can sit and play and come up with ideas easily though. I don’t like using an acoustic, it must be an electric guitar’.
What was your first guitar?
‘My sister had a flamenco guitar and I put some super slinky strings on it and bent the neck! (Laughs). So, you could say that was my first guitar, I then moved onto a Fender Jazzmaster, I didn’t have too many guitars, I got an Ibanez destroyer when I was sixteen or seventeen, Eddie Van Halen used it on the second Van Halen album, I had broken my back in a motorcycle accident, and I was laid up in hospital. Eddie came in and asked if he could borrow my guitar. I said well, I aint gonna be playing for a while, he goes ‘apparently not!’ Then I got an endorsement with Jackson, so I’ve never really bought many guitars.’
What was it like being a part of the LA backyard party scene back in the day? Did you ever play with other bands on the circuit like Van Halen etc?
‘Yeah, I met Eddie at a party when he was in Mammoth, he had a guy named Michael Stone on bass and Alex (Van Halen) was on drums, they were playing all covers. Sabbath, ZZ Top, Ed would sing. I used to play at parties too, that’s how it worked back then. If you were in a band, you would play at a party on a Friday and Saturday night. When we weren’t playing, we would go and see Mammoth a lot. That was fun, good old times. Do they have that here in the UK?’
No, we don’t have the weather or pools in our gardens!
‘Oh yeah, we definitely had the weather. Sometimes we would get a friend to go to a gas station and call the police. They would come and bust the party and we wouldn’t have to play too long, we could just party! (Laughs)’
What was your biggest achievement as a member of W.A.S.P.?
‘Probably just staying alive…that really is my biggest achievement. I really didn’t give a crap back then; I burned the candle at both ends. When I was young, there was no say no to drugs, if you didn’t do drugs and alcohol, you were an outcast. I’m from California, born and raised in Pasadena, all my friends did drugs. I don’t even want to get into it, I was really stupid. I’m still here, that’s my biggest achievement. How many records did W.A.S.P. sell? I don’t really care, I have some gold records, they’re in a box somewhere at my mom’s, I don’t really give a shit about it because I look at them as a reminder of getting ripped off, rather than I sold 250 million records or whatever. To me that’s a bunch of crap, because I didn’t get any of my publishing so I really couldn’t give a shit. It’s sad, it’s sad. That’s something that at the age of fifteen I would have died for, a gold record? That was my dream. When I got it, I didn’t get what’s supposed to come with it, a nice house, cars and all that stuff. I was always in the dark, that’s the way it is. It’s sad that that’s what that bands about, it’s all about just the money.’
What are your memories of the Ronnie James Dio charity project Hear N Aid?
‘It was horrible. I knew Jimmy Bain well, a year before he died, he said, Chris, we personally asked your management if you could come and play guitar and they said that you had other obligations and couldn’t. Did you see me playing guitar on there? You know why I didn’t? It’s because of one man’s jealousy, I went to sing on there, yes, I sang on there because I went with Rod (Smallwood) our manager and Blackie Lawless. Jimmy Bain asked FOUR times and they said I couldn’t play; I had other obligations. That came from Blackie Lawless himself, he was jealous, didn’t want me being seen better than him. That’s what happens when you work with a narcissist. That Hear N Aid thing is a crock of shit to me, a bunch of crap. It was nothing but a jealousy thing. I don’t care what people say about that, when Jimmy told me that, we were great friends, we hung out together, he said we asked your management four times, I said, why didn’t you just ask me personally Jimmy? He said, we didn’t know how to get hold of you.
Do you know why I did the Decline of Western Civilisation? Penelope (Spheeris – Director) called me personally. That’s why I did it. She didn’t call the management, she talked to me personally. She knew somebody that knew me, if she had talked to management, of course they would have said no. You know how many times I’d be on the road, this is about 1998, I found a bicycle in Switzerland and before soundcheck, I’d wake up on the bus, we were staying on the bus instead of hotel rooms. I would ride the bike around, come back play the show and then at night we would do a meet and greet, I never got paid any money for them, but fans would have to pay to meet us. A photographer I knew says, Chris, where were you today? I said why? He said, we requested an interview for you personally and management said you got other obligations. I was like, I was off riding my bike, I could have done it. It sucks that somebody keeps you down, its sad. That’s why I hate that whole situation.’
You’ve been referred to as the American equivalent of Lemmy on numerous occasions, and you worked closely with Philthy Animal Taylor. Tell us about that.
‘Philthy is one of the reasons I sing. A lot of people hate my voice, but Phil was one of the reasons why, if it wasn’t for my wife and Phil I wouldn’t have done my solo albums. He was a big inspiration for me, he taught me how to use Pro Tools and how to put drum tracks down. Phil was one of the coolest musicians I ever met in my life. He was famous but had a heart of gold. He didn’t like fake people, he didn’t like assholes, he wouldn’t even talk to ‘em. Believe it or not, he was a very quiet person.’
When you left W.A.S.P. in 1991, you formed a band called Psycho Squad, do you think the grunge movement was instrumental in the band not taking off?
‘We all drank, you know, they weren’t signing bands like mine with the kind of music I did, they weren’t signing anybody at that time. Bands like mine couldn’t get a deal, grunge was happening, and I didn’t play grunge. It was a great band, if it was a few years before that it would have been good, but it was the wrong time.’
You seem to be happiest when you’re playing guitar, do you feel that playing is the most important thing to you?
‘Yeah, my first wife was pregnant, and I wanted to do music more that raise a kid, my mom told me that if I stay around then the kid would get in the way of your music and ruin your career. I made a lot of sacrifices. I just enjoy playing, watching people enjoying themselves and enjoying the music you know? Now, a lot of people see me, I’ve been doing this for forty years, I play a certain way, I’m the only guy on the planet that plays like I do. I got my own sound, and some people still enjoy watching me play. I’m not schooled at music at all, I’ve learned what a major and minor chord is (laughs) I play by feel.
My guitar sound is a really clean guitar sound, it’s got distortion, there’s ways of overdriving your equipment without getting white and pink noise. If you ever went to a Motorhead concert, now there’s white and pink noise! So loud and distorted but that was Motorhead! Phil Campbell is coming down tonight, we’re old time LA birds of a feather. He’s always treated me with the utmost respect.
Chris, on behalf of RPM Online, thank you so much for your time. Have a great gig tonight and enjoy the rest of the tour!
‘Thanks man, appreciate it.’