Here's a interview with ex- New England drummer/vocalist Hirsh Gardner. He will release his first solo album ever in a couple of months time (MTM-Music). - Urban 'Wally' Wallstrom

First of all, I must say it's good to have you back in biz!!! The main question here would be: How come you finally decided to record a solo album some twenty years down the road?

I've always thought that should I ever finish ten or so songs that it would be cool to release a solo album. There are so many other things that I have been involved with though, it was hard to put aside a year or so to devote to writing, recording and performing a solo album. Most recently, I put together a digital studio in my home, at first just as an experiment to keep up with the concepts of digital recording, you know, staying current with what was going on the industry. As I became more familiar with the gear, the songs that I was working on became more complete so the solo CD idea just fell into place. I've never obsessed about the idea of having a solo album but it was coming together nicely so I decided to finish it.

Another reason is obvious…the fans. New England has enjoyed a cult following for years. People who know of the band and the music are fanatic about it. The emails since Marquee/Avalon in Japan and GB Music in the USA re-released New England on CD have been incredible. So many listeners were asking for new music. I felt that this would be one way to say thanks for hanging in there. The folks at Marquee/Avalon (Naohiro and Hiroshi) in Japan have always been huge fans of New England as well as the distributors of the New England reissues. They offered to sign me after hearing just one song…it was a perfect match. MTM-Music is the label we chose to go with in Europe. They put out so many other great AOR bands, they too were a logical choice for a record label.

What can you tell us about your CD "Wasteland For Broken Hearts" ? 45 minutes of drum fills and solos? :-) Or Melodic Rock in the tradition of New England?

Very melodic rock in the tradition of New England. Yes I play drums, but I am also a songwriter. I write on guitar or keyboards and primarily use these instruments as songwriting tools. As you probably remember from New England I also sing. So on the album I am singing lead vocals and backgrounds, drumming, and playing keyboards. I have quite a few friends who were kind enough to join me on the album as well. My former bandmates John, Jimmy and Gary join me on "More Than You'll Ever Know", a song written in the New England style with tons of mellotrons, huge guitars and vocals, rockin' drums and bass. Andre Maquera of 8084 plays guitar on a bunch of tracks and just tears it up…he is so awesome. Enzo Smith, a tremendously talented guitarist and keyboard player also graced me with his presence on a few tracks. It was great working with all those talented artists and the others that I haven't mentioned here.

There's even a cover of The Outfield's "Your Love" included here. What ever made you record this particular song? Any good (or bad?) memories involved?

The Outfield is simply a great band. They have so many songs that were so incredible. Anytime I do a song from another artist it will always be a tribute to that artist.

Are you pleased with the outcome of the CD and any favorite songs you can tell us about?

Well, I've yet to do a production that I am 100% pleased with. There are many things that could have been better. My hope is that those who listen to the music get something out of it. Be it a melody that they can sing along with for the day, a lyric that gets them through the night or a guitar riff that just rips their head off. As far as favorite songs I like the ballads on the CD. I'm a sucker for a good rock ballad. I also really like Bad Cowboy. That track rhythmically is relentless and a bit different stylistically…kind-of-a punk rock thing goin' on.

Will you be able to take this show on the road?

I don't know about that yet. My life is pretty full right now and going on the road is a tremendous undertaking. I'll say this though, I'd love to go on the road…I loved touring with New England. I may do some short promotional tours, meet and greet, TV appearances, radio interviews, that sort of thing.

What's up with your obssession with Melotron's anyway? You used 'em back in the New England days and now again on your solo album!!!? :-)

It’s a gorgeous sound. Especially the way Jimmy Waldo plays them. New England came on the scene when analog keyboards were just coming into the spotlight. Then as digital took over all those great keyboards faded away…the Mellotron, the Mini Moogs, the Arp family of keyboards, the Fender Rhodes. About ten years ago all these analog sounds again became the rage. I just happen to love the sound. Check out the eighth note mini moog patch I used in the second verse of "Hold Me In Your Dreams"…very retro.

'Wasteland For Broken Hearts' is set for a October release by MTM here in Europe. What do you think about your fellow label mates? Any bands or CD's that you're into or is Britney Spears the s**t now? :-)

I have always loved what MTM has done for AOR music and bands that perform that genre. It is the only label in Europe that we approached. Mag and I have been friends for many years - since the New England days actually. Even though he is not with MTM now, he suggested that I get in touch with them for my release. I am very glad to be on that label.

My musical tastes are very strange. I love country artist Vince Gill for instance. He is one of the greatest male singers of all time. Godsmack, Creed, yes even Britney have a place in my cd rack. I listen to music in different ways though. Sometimes its just background music, most of the time I'm listening to production ideas, vocal arrangements, how a guitar is recorded etc. A lot of people are putting down the "canned" music of today…Britney, Back Street etc…and in most respects I agree. BUT…think of it like this, these people have huge budgets, can afford to hire the best musicians, producers and engineers. So the albums are of the highest quality. There is always something to be learned by listening selectively to these artists. Now…I will tell you that most of my listening time is devoted to Def Leopard, Aerosmith, Journey, Bon Jovi and other artists in that genre. You know who is the best??? PINK. I love that album too. She's so expressive vocally. Am I weird or what? [U - nah... I kinda like that album too! You really should check out Lambretta though... great, kick ass, female rock/pop from Sweden with Max Martin doing some rocktunes]

What do you think about the whole hardrock scene today?

I love it but is it really different from 5 years ago to 10 years ago to twenty years ago? We always will have our rebels, we'll always have our pop stars, we'll always have our novelty tunes, we'll always have summer songs, love songs, break-up songs, happy songs, sad songs etc. If you look at the history of music…when Bach was writing his daily songs for the King's Court, he was the pop star of the day. He wrote music for the folks, folk music. Some of it was daring…yes he was a rebel. Some of it was melodic and lyrical. Nothing has changed really. The hardrock scene of today is a delivery system for melody and lyrics with the instrumentation of the day.

Not only a hard hitter as you play the drums with excellent skill & finess too. Do I notice some Jazz in there? Are you into the old school of Jazz drummers at all?

Absolutely. I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston. I played in jazz groups in my younger days and you're right, my style is jazzy, especially my approach to drum fills. But when it comes to kicking the shit outa two and four in a rock groove though…I love that. When I hit my snare on the upbeat the idea is to try to break the snare drum in half…yikes!!! Joey Kramer…remember how you used to play at the Lakeview mics!!!

You've been working as a producer lately, is this something you will continue with in the future or will your only focus be your solo album?

I'll be focusing on my solo stuff for the foreseeable future. I would like to do a couple of shows locally very soon, record the material, and possibly produce a live recording of the songs on my current CD. Just for fun…to see how the songs turn out. Maybe even cover a couple of New England songs like Don't Ever Wanna Lose Ya and Holdin' Out On Me.

I noticed that your old team mates from New England do play on your CD. Will there ever be another New England album in the future?

I really don't know the answer to that question. To get four people together to do a massive project like a New England CD would be very difficult. All of us have very different lives now…priorities, families to take care of…so it would be tough. It was tough enough for me to get all of us playing on "More Than You'll Ever Know". Sounds great though!!! I guess we'll all have to wait and see. I do think though that if my CD does very well it might make it more appealing for the New England guys.

How did you come to the attention of Bill Aucoin back then, and what ever made you choose Paul Stanley (KISS) as producer on your first album?

A friend of ours in Boston knew Ric Aliberte, Bill's right hand man at Aucoin. Kiss was playing in the area so our friend invited Ric to hear the band. He came to our little 30'x30' rehearsal studio in Braintree Massachusetts and we played him our set. We blew him away. Bill flew in to Braintree with Ric within a few days to see the band. We played two sets for Bill. Within a week we were flown down to New York, chauffeured around in limos, wined and dined, and basically offered a deal to sign with Aucoin Management. At that point we pretty much had our choice of any record producer in the industry. The record company was really into the band and they said "Ok, who do you want?” Paul really wasn't a consideration at that point but when our manager Bill Aucoin suggested it, we were pretty open minded, so we said "sure, send him up to Boston for rehearsals". So Paul flew in, worked with us for a couple days and the vibe was great. Shortly after that we started preproduction in Massachusetts for our first album with Paul producing. Oh, here's a good one for ya. So we're rehearsing with Paul and we decided to take a break and go to the supermarket to get some junk food and soda. Paul and I jump in my Camero, and shoot over to the local Stop and Shop. There we are walking up and down the isles, shopping cart and all, Paul and me. People are lookin' at us like we're from Mars. Remember this was 1979, and I think both Paul and I had the biggest hair in Rock and Roll. Once people found out it was Paul though, we had to get out. We never went back there again.

It was very cool working with a guy like Paul on your first album. Not only does the guy know his music, but the attitude, you can't help but have a great rock and roll vibe with Paul in the studio with you. Oh, check this out, a little known fact. I was doing the background vocal for "Lose Ya" in LA, Paul producing. He's busting my chops, "Hirsh, you're still singin' that part out of tune". So we try it again, and again, and again. I still don't get the part right. "Hey Paul, why don't you come out and sing the part," I said. So Paul comes out and knocks off the part in seconds flat. Check out the vocal harmonies on the verse lines in "Don't Ever Wanna Lose Ya". That's Paul Stanley singing background vocals. You gotta love that guy!!! Mike Stone was brilliant as an engineer. I had a lot of interest in the field of production back then, so I watched his every move. I learned a lot just in the studio with Mike, it was a wonderful experience.

After New England split up in the early 80's, 3/4 of the band started to work with Vinnie Vincent and his Warrior project. How did all this happen anyway and what about Vinnie V ? Mad shredding guitarist or misunderstood genius?

I first met Vinny through Gene Simmons and Lenny Petze (VP at Epic Records). They both knew of New England’s demise and within a week of each other called me to tell me about this guitar player that I should try to hook up with. So I called Vinny and invited him to Boston to jam. We immediately hit it off. Within days we were crankin’ out tunes like Gypsy, Back On The Streets and other great Vinny songs. We decided that the best place to put together this band would be LA, so we all packed up and moved west. I think we probably put together about 8-9 songs, did a demo for CBS records and were about to get signed when Gene and Paul snagged Vinny for the KISS gig.

You know its strange how this KISS connection keeps coming up in my life…can’t seem to shake those guys..haha. Vinny and I stayed in touch while he was with KISS. I hooked up with him at the end of his last tour with the band at the Worcester Centrum. We were backstage jammin’, me playing drums on my knees, Vinny crankin on the Ol’ Jackson. It was just fun, like the old days in Warrior, just two musicians creating a vibe. The vibe was so good in fact, we decided that after the tour, Vinny would come live at my place, we’d put some tunes together and just have a great time. I was doing a lot of producing and engineering in the Northeast so access to recording studios was no problem. Vinny and I were soon putting together what eventually was to become The Vinny Vincent Invasion. We worked just about every day for six months. I was co-producing, engineering, singin’, playin’ drums and co-writing (at least I thought I was co-writing) with Vinny, both of us just havin’ the greatest time. I had my rehearsal studio at my home just south of Boston where we would put together the songs, then we’d drive to a 24 track studio and lay the stuff down. Besides the Warrior stuff that Jimmy, Gary, Vinny and I did the year before, this was the best stuff that I’ve ever heard Vinny do. The guitar playing was focused…it was well within the framework of these great songs. The arrangements were right on the money, vocals harmonies, lead vocals everything was in place. And the funny thing about all of this was…I knew that Vinny wasn’t gonna go back to Kiss. The project was simply too good for him to give it up. I don’t think he was fired from Kiss, I think he quit.

As it turned out, about six months into the project, Vinny and I went our separate ways. The Invasion project finally came out and strangely enough, I never bothered to listen to it until last year. I found a cassette of it on the floor in a friend’s closet. After listening to a few songs I put it back on the floor. Oh well, I still have an old recording of Warrior doing Gypsy. Now that was a great band.

What's your opinion about KISS today? I find all this stuff about Eric Singer in the Cat make-up, the Black'n'Blue dude as Ace etc. as too much b.s. personally [the music is still good tho'].

Kiss has refined the art of combining business and music. For Gene Simmons writing a great rock anthem, playing an incredible bass track, selling the Kiss coffin or having Kiss Visa credit cards and putting on the greatest live show in the biz…these are all the same thing for him. Call it schlock…call it Gene-ious…its what Kiss is all about.

Do you have any unique, obscure,humorous story that happened somewhere along your career, to tell us?

There are so many great war stories to tell. How 'bout the time we beat the shit out of John Cougar and his band…at least that's how Rolling Stone Magazine characterized it. Kenny Aronoff , Cougar's former drummer and I had a chuckle about that one a few months ago. I met him and he says, "you look familiar". I told him who I was and he started to laugh hysterically…"you were the guy that beat the shit out of John Cougar".

Interview by Urban "Wally" Wallström,