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Interview:
Rock Star Supernova Goes For Supergroup Blast
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK



Gilby Clarke acknowledges that if producers had come to him a few years ago to put together a band and choose its singer on a TV show, "I wouldn't have thought twice about it."

"I would've said no. It's not the kind of thing you did with a rock band back then," says Clarke, a former member of Guns N' Roses and current guitarist in Rock Star Supernova, a group he put together with Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee and ex-Metallica bassist Jason Newsted for the CBS reality show of the same name -- where singer Lukas Rossi was chosen from more than 25,000 entrants and 15 finalists.

What changed Clarke's mind?

"The whole music thing has changed," he explained. "If you put a new band together, we wouldn't have had the support of MTV or VH1 or even radio -- especially as a [i]rock 'n' roll[/i] band. There's absolutely nothing left for us.

"This way we knew that millions of people every week would be watching and would be able to hear Supernova, even as a work in progress."

"Rock Star: Supernova" -- the follow-up to 2005's "Rock Star: INXS" and the brainchild of "Survivor" creator Mark Burnett -- did draw six to eight million viewers for each of its 14 episodes. But the group's self-titled debut album has sold less than 46,000 copies since its Nov. 21 release and the group, with Train and former Black Crowes bassist Johnny Colt filling in for an injured Newsted, has failed to drum up much heat.

"INXS had a built-in following, obviously," says Dave Beasing of the Southfield-based radio consulting firm Jacobs Media. "The Rock Star Supernova folks are more of a supergroup with no history, no catalog.

"They're caught between radio formats. They're the result of a reality show, and the first single ('It's All Love') was kind of wimpy, so rock radio didn't take them seriously, and yet the makeup of this band, they're all rock dudes with a capital R, so pop radio didn't embrace them either."

None of that has spoiled the Supernova ride for Rossi, however.

"It's definitely the best experience of my life, man," says the Toronto-born singer, who list his virginity to Metallica's "Enter Sandman" ("I don't know if I'm the romantic type, bro.") and has found the TV-to-studio-to-tour whirlwind to be "surreal."

"I think people are going to receive it the way they receive it. You never know, and that's kind of the beauty of it, to me."

Clarke, 44, acknowledges that the band -- initially called Supernova until a California punk band with the same name sued and forced the change to Rock Star Supernova -- "would not have happened if it wasn't for the show. It's something I would've wished to have happened, but we would've never got together." He, Lee and Newsted began trading ideas and writing songs about two and half months before the show began and, Clarke contends, had no qualms about the method of finding a singer.

"You start a new band and what do you do? You go to your Rolodex of the same old guys, and there's nobody," Clarke says. "So what a great way to try to do something new."

Nevertheless, he adds, it was strange to be working as a band with a vital component missing.

"We kept looking at each other," Clarke recalls, "going, 'What the hell are we thinking? We're making a record and we have no idea who the singer is! This is so unnatural...' It was a very strange way to do it."

Butch Walker, who produced the album, concurred that process at times seemed like "a train wreck -- a band that has no singer 'til the end of the record, and we had to come up with the music not knowing what the songs were gonna sound like." Nevertheless, he, too, bought into the freshness of the concept.

"I'm up for any challenge -- and this one seemed like a tall order," Walker says with a laugh. "Yeah, it's very strange, but sometimes producing records can get mundane, and you just don't want it to be the same old crap. This seemed like an interesting challenge."

After sifting through the candidates, Clarke says that he, Lee and Newsted were "impressed that there are that many talented people that go under the radar." He adds that the trio did seriously consider some of the women -- particularly runner-up Dilana Robichaux, who he used to sing a new version of "Black" for "Gilby Clarke," a compilation of tracks from his five solo albums.

But Rossi, Clarke says, won out because of his resilience and his easygoing nature. "Lukas was always the one that got the last song (chosen)," the guitarist explains. "He didn't care; 'Just give me any song. I'll sing it.' Sometimes he blew it. Sometimes he was great.

"That's more along the lines that we are. Rock 'n' roll is supposed to be spontaneous like that. You're not supposed to put as much thought into it."

Rossi, for his part, was pleased to be able to co-write five songs on the album once he was chosen.

"They didn't want to just hire some singer, man; they wanted the final component to (the band)," Rossi, 30, says. "They welcomed me in just like a friend to work on the art, the music. It was crazy cool, working with these juggernauts of the game."

The question now is whether Rock Star Supernova will be a going concern -- and Clarke freely acknowledges that "I don't think we know the answer to that." The album's sales and tour ticket sales will certainly have something to do with it. And so will the members' other endeavors: Lee is still part of Motley Crue and its intermittent projects; Clarke plans to continue his solo career; and bassist Colt remains part of Train.

Nevertheless, Clarke says he's in no hurry to burn out this Supernova.

"When we were rehearsing and learning the material and getting ready for the (tour), we looked at each other and said, 'Y'know, this is a pretty good band,' " he notes. "I think it's something all of us would love to keep going. We just have to get out there and see if people come to the shows."





Rock Star Supernova, Panic Channel and Dilana perform at 7:30 p.m. Monday (Feb. 5) at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $45 and $39.50. Call (313) 471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.

Web Site: www.olympiaentertainment.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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