When we spoke to Ratt frontman Stephen Pearcy, the anticipation to release his band’s first album in over 10 years, Infestation was still growing. The band had just revealed their return-to-form single “Best of Me” which fans ate up alive (pun intended) and the rave reviews began to pour in. Now, with the album out , we’re looking back on Ratt’s reunion, how the addition of guitarist Carlos Cavazo aided in the making of Infestation, and how the 30-years-later album ultimately fits into Ratt’s early days coming up on the Sunset Strip. Light up and Ratt and Roll.
Take us through the band’s evolution from your first EP to Infestation.
It started out as a monster I created, and somehow, some way, we’re still in the picture and still taking care of business with each other and everybody else, but we’re a little more aware. The thing that I think most of us hold to this day is that we really care about the music, first and foremost. To me, I wanted to get back to the way it really was: work on stuff apart, then you’re working together, and next thing you know, you’re in pre-production in the studio… and it worked – it worked very well. I’m happy with all the songs.
How did the band’s reunion come about in the first place?
I’m going to say music – it’s not like everybody really needed a dollar or something. There are benefits, and I just saw our catalogue, I saw too much interest in our back catalogue and I wanted to stimulate it whether I was involved or not, and that’s what initiated the first go-around, and then the second one, I’m just so hard to please, and you get bored very easily, and my guys think I’m just a nutbag, but I’m the sober one at the moment in this circus, so this time around, it was pretty much, ‘Hey, we got something cool here, what are we going here?’ We don’t compete with anybody but ourselves in the first place, so there’s no intimidation factor there. It was pretty much, ‘Let’s get this thing moving, it’s worth a shit, it’s worth something, and not just monetarily, it’s worth something, it’s our integrity, it’s us, we created this thing,’ and that’s what pretty much brought around the second go-around, and hopefully there won’t have to be a third.
With having so much history together, how do you pick up and get back to where you started?
It still has to do with the music, it’s weird and people are like, “Oh, he’s talking out his ass,” but for us, it’s music, even though the payoff is good here and there in the music business, and we’ve learned that, but it’s still hard dealing with each other sometimes. When it comes down to it, you get us onstage together, and everything just dissipates, and when we get offstage it’s like “Fuck you” again. But it’s all music. I go up there just looking for that few seconds of euphoria, and if I get it, I’ve done my gig. If I get off, everybody’s going to get off, if they want. That, to me, is how I direct myself, forget about the business, forget about everything else, and you just go out and do it, and if people dig it, they dig it.
And judging by the response to “Best of Me” so far, they seem to dig it…
Yeah! The single is doing good, I’m happy about that. You never know what to expect. The way this is all going, it’s like this is our first record or something. What, aren’t we jaded by now? This is no big deal… now all of the sudden we’re getting reports, 5,000 sold on the Internet, that it’s still hanging, doing good…we forgot about all that stuff years ago. You get spoiled and jaded. I can’t wait until [fans] get the big picture and the real full CD, because it actually kicks major ass.
Tell me more about the single, what is it about?
That’s a messy place…it probably has to do with some kind of relationship thing. It could be taken many ways, but it’s pretty much a him/her affair/relation kind of thing. [It’s] as good as it gets, but if there was something better, but there isn’t, this is the best of me -- and I don’t know how I came up with that crap. I just kind of put myself in the element of the way we wrote and it was exactly like it was back – or real close – to the schematics of our first records, sitting in a room together, living together for a month, however long, and all of the sudden you’re going into pre-production and you’re in the studio. Me, I can’t write lyrics until I’m in there and right before -- the minute I think it’s done -- I’m rewriting the whole song. That’s what happened on this record, I rewrote everything every morning for a couple of hours.
Adding guitarist Carlos Cavazo to the band, how did that help with the writing process?
It was great. Me and him pretty much wrote “Best of Me” with the producer putting his two cents in there, and who’s great to work with, by the way, who’s not just a fan, he’s a very prominent producer, and we took a great chance and it paid off. Carlos is amazing, I’ve known Carlos since way back in the day -- way back, before Ratt in ’82, ’81, and he fits the mold. He’s about as close to Robbin’s situation as we get, we’re back to the double solos and the harmonies and stuff that I really wanted to dig into, and as Warren did, too. He works very well. A couple of great songs we got out of him for this record, good ideas. As a bass player, too, Robbie Crane’s been in the band longer than the original bass player, Juan, and he came up with some great song ideas and I co-wrote a great song with him. It’s kind of cool for me, it’s cool writing with everybody, collectively, then I do my own thing, as everybody else does – you bring an idea in and see what happens.
Where did the title for ‘Infestation’ come from?
I don’t want to pat myself on the back on that one, but we were going back and forth on all these titles, and I’m usually spearheading a title, and everyone was asked to come up with titles, and nobody was agreeing on anything. I had some cool ones, and out of the blue, I just thought, “Fuck, our first tour was called the World Infestation Tour. Infestation.” I brought it up to everybody and it just clicked.
That being your first tour, and you’re hearkening this record back to your early days. Does it all fit full circle?
Yeah, that’s what I mean about just coming up and thinking, “Oh my god, this is almost like our first record again,” even though we’ve been there and done that, and just thinking in terms of, “OK, our first tour in ’84 was World Infestation,” it just kind of fit, and the music, to me, fits right in between Out of the Cellar and Invasion, I think people are going to be real surprised when they hear the full CD, because we have yet to put anything out in so long, the last record, to me, was disastrous, even though there are some good songs on there. That’s my personal opinion.
Why do you say that?
It wasn’t up to par, we were a mess, we’d just gotten back together, and we skipped a beat and had to get us back on track, so to speak, and you can’t change some situations and people, so the only thing that we got going for us is that we like what we do with the music, we didn’t get into this to become a success story, we got into it because we liked the music and the parties and all of the sudden things got bigger and better and more and more. They got more better. [laughs]
Now that you are reaching a new generation of fans, what do you want them to know about your legacy?
That it’s not just cookie-cutter music. There’s so many bands that came out at the end of our genre just because it was a popular thing, they’re calling it hair metal now, this or that, but it’s rock and roll. To be identified as that is a little disturbing, but I’d like to think…I have a 13-year-old daughter now, her friends know who I am, as weird as that is, and it’s so easy for them to turn on YouTube and see us either doing a great show or somebody falling off their ass, but just knowing that we are a good rock and roll band, we call it Ratt and roll, but it’s ours, and that we do like getting people good music, and if we can, the best show possible. We didn’t really start this to be press darlings or to be the most popular thing on the block, shit just happened. It’s kind of funny when people, especially for me personally, when people go, “That guy sucks, he can’t sing, he sounds like a squashed cat,” or something, I go, “Well, shit, it sure has paid well over the years, thank you.” I never considered myself a professional singer in the first place, I’m a professional screamer. That’s what I tell my kid, “Honey, I’ve got to go yell at some people.” So the legacy, I’d say we call it Ratt and roll, it’s ours, check it out, it’s good. I’ll put it up against anything.
Tell us more about the brand that is Ratt & Roll.
It’s just a strange thing, because you never know what’s a hit. Here, look at the White Stripes, you have a drummer and a guitar player, and they have hits. The industry has changed, the music has changed, the business has changed, it’s not like it was when we started, that was the tail end of the early Eighties, when you had the Motleys and the Ratts and the WASPs and these other bands, Quiet Riot, and you were getting something new. None of us knew what was going on except that it was something different. It will never be repeated, it’s like the Seventies with the Doors or Zeppelin or Sabbath or Priest or something, so to be in that category is way cool, but how we make it ours is beyond me, because we are a strange bunch, it’s hard to control ourselves.
Starting out in 1980, how do you feel knowing that Ratt is still pertinent in 2010?
Very fortunate. Either we cannot be exterminated, which is the variable to a rat, and we like it like that. It’s a weird thing. Sometimes, I think it’s the strangest occupation you could ever have. But it’s cool, because it’s dangerous, it’s colorful, it’s exciting, and it’s right in with my territory.
What do you owe your staying power to?
Hey, we’re rats, we can’t be exterminated. That’s the bottom line, we’re tenacious fuckers. We do have integrity and pride, even though we beat ourselves up, but hopefully, we’re on the victory lap here, and I’d like to see us win. We’ve never got into the race to win; we just wanted to be in it. Maybe we’ll see the checkered flag.
When you first started out, did you think you’d still be doing this 30 years later?
Me, personally, yes and no, because Robbin and I used to always say, “Man, is this ever going to happen?” I think we all thought that we were the last in the L.A. scene to be signed, and ended up pretty much still being in the game. Robbin and I used to say, “Hey, when is this thing going to end?” Platinum records and big tours and things kept happening, so it was like, “Shit, let’s see how long this party lasts.” Then you get a wake-up call, and then you start looking at this business as a real business, and what you really want out of it, do you want the party or the paycheck or the girls? I was going to say ‘pussy,’ but…that’s the three Ps, pussy, party, paycheck, my dad hates that, but I love it. You eventually figure that out, and here we are, it’s still involved, and it’s crazy to think it would still be going on. Like anything, if somebody wants it, if you work for it, you’ll eventually get it. It depends on how bad you want it. You don’t necessarily have to sell a soul to get it. You’ve just got to work at it. My advice to young bands, and I have an independent label, and I say, “Don’t even get involved if you’re not into it for the long haul,” because it’s good to you, then it’s bad to you, then it’s good to you, and then you know you’ve had success when it’s really bad to you, and then you get a lesson, and if you can get through that lesson, you’ve actually earned your stripes, and you get rewarded, you get these badges of platinum records and shit.
What was the biggest lesson that you’ve learned?
It is a business, and you can enjoy it – just expecting those you work with to play a big role, and if it’s yours, it’s yours. What’s not always good for the goose is good for the gander, so to speak, and that whole saying, one for all, all for one, doesn’t necessarily work. But as far as this whacked out bunch we’ve got, it’s still working, and we really did work hard on this record, so it’s a good thing, and hopefully people will dig it, because the end result for us, is just if people like it. We like it, so we’re excited to share it. If we didn’t like it…I knew the last record wasn’t going to go down the way we wanted just because of the way everyone was so fucked up in their own element, including myself. I was not in the best place during this record, but I think that’s what got the best out of me during this record, it was like starting all over, was the approach I took, personally.
You mentioned that you weren’t in the best place – what was going on and how did it influence what you were writing?
A lot of things, personal life and demons and chasing dragons…[laughs] It wasn’t very good to me, but it got a lot of good out of me, so I got a lesson and woke myself up and each one of us, I’m sure…I went to a weird place to get this record done, and it wasn’t a conscious decision, it was just part of what I was experiencing, and I was very honest about it on the record. There’s one song in there about heroin talking to me, there’s another song about my personal life with my kid, just weird stuff, and then you have the party element thing, and then you’ve got relation and association, and then you have, “Beat me behind the bar, whoop-de-doo, fuck you, too,” you’ve got everything in there, so something was working.
With substances being a part of Ratt’s past as well, and this record bringing you back to the beginning, how does Robbin’s passing due to his long battle with substances come into play?
It woke me up, his situation. For a while, and during the record, I was on my own trip, which wasn’t exactly a good one, but I pulled out of it, I was almost going into a nose dive to win the war, and pulled out just in time, which I did, without being specific, because it’s my business, but I went to a weird place, and it wasn’t all that good, nor was it all that exciting, but I had to think about these things, as I’m sure each one of us, in our own weirdness or whatever, or vices, you don’t necessarily have to have a vice to be a freak, you can still fuck things up just by being one’s self. In my case, no, and that’s how I was so surprised that at the end of the day, how I was able to pull that out of the bag. But I was so into it, as I guess I pull myself away from everybody sometimes, so I did what I had to do, and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing, nor was it done for that reason, it just happened to be where I was. But not now. Now I’m flying kites and balloons, stepping on bugs. I’m actually racing cars, I’m sponsoring drag cars again.
Right, tell us more about that…
It’s been something I’ve been wanting to do since way before music. I’ve been sponsoring cars for years, and we involve Ratt every now and then, or I just involve myself, like the funny car racecar I have now is a Top Fuel Records car, my record company car, and I actually just got off the phone with somebody, we’re proposing some ideas…it’s been a passion of mine, drag racing, and I’m thoroughly into it, I’ve written songs for ESPN2 and NHRA drag racing, and I’m always there at the races and I’m always sponsoring cars, and it’s very important, it’s what gets me off.
What about your record release party at the Sunset Strip, what are you looking forward to in ‘making your return’?
We’ve played there before and even did a record there, but bringing Ratt as Infestation back there, it’s like the Gazzarri’s days when we first started out in L.A., it’s like going back to step one and saying, “Here, check this out, we have our own original songs and we like what we do, here’s the party, let’s go.” So it’s going to be a good thing to play some of the new songs, and of course, we’ll lay it down, take you round and round and all that other good stuff.
What do you ultimately hope to achieve with this new record?
What I hope to achieve is to kick everybody in the ass and say, “Here, this is called Ratt and roll, how ‘bout it?” Like it or don’t like it, we love it.