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Gary Cherone - Hurtsmile, Extreme, ex-Van Halen

Gary Cherone is one of the greatest vocalists in rock and roll today.  Consistently, overlooked and underrated, Cherone continues to write, record, and perform his own brand of melodic rock - virtually the same brew he has been perfecting, since hitting it big with Extreme, in 1989.  It hasn't been an easy road for Gary, with Extreme disbanding in 1996 and getting an unfair shake as the singer for Van Halen in 1998, to steal a line from the latter VH, he's "roll(ed) with the punches" and has gotten "to what's real."  Marching on through the times - from where straight ahead rock and roll was considered passe, to today's age of downloading, with artists having to reinvent the music industry 'wheel,' in order to continue making money from their craft, Gary Cherone continues to deliver great music, with 'real life' inspired lyrics.
From the somewhat quiet reunion of Extreme in 2007, Gary has decided to expand his musical horizons by starting a brand new band, Hurtsmile, with his brother Mark on guitar, and members Joe Pessia (bass) & Dana Spellman (drums).  Ironically, not only is there the obvious relation between Gary and his brother Mark, but the entire Hurtsmile group, are a somewhat kindred spirit to Extreme.  Mark Cherone played in a band with Nuno Bettencourt's brother, Joe actually played in Nuno's other band (Dramagods), and Dana was a music student of Extreme's former drummer, Mike Mangini.

While Hurtsmile is currently rehearsing, in anticipation of touring in support of their debut CD, Gary took some time out of his schedule to speak with us here, at  Dicussing the past, present and future, Gary Cherone makes it perfectly clear that he is "More than Words."
RockMusicStar:  First of all, congratulations on the Hurtsmile release.  I've really been enjoying listening to it, as I've always been a fan of your voice.  In my opinion, there are many bands out there that have singers, but there are very few that have vocalists.  I've always considered you a vocalist.  You have such a strong sense of melody, which makes your voice more like an instrument.  You have an equally strong identity (with your vocals).  That being said, when doing a solo project, or a side project, like Hurtsmile, how do you deal with being immediately identified as the 'voice' of Extreme?

Gary Cherone:  Thank you for your compliments.  I dunno if I go in thinking about that.  I remember coming out of Van Halen, and doing a project called Tribe of Judah.  That was probably my only time where I really wanted to change my voice up, and use some industrial & electronica vocal effects.  Kind of make my voice sound more like an instrument.  I was always jealous of Nuno, and other guitarists I've worked with, always getting to use those different effects.  So that was the only time I really looked at it that way. 
RMS:  So you're not overly concerned with people differentiating your other projects, with what you do in Extreme?
GC:  In this instance, people who get turned on to Hurtsmile, are going to hear something that's familiar.  That's obviously going to be - the voice.  Some things you can't get away from.  You surround yourself with different textures, different music.  Mark, the (Hurtsmile) guitar player, comes from a little different school than Nuno, so that would inspire and draw different things out in my voice, against that background.
RMS:  What was the motive in putting together Hurtsmile?  Was it that there was something different that you wanted to explore musically, that you weren't getting out through Extreme?  Or was it just something to pass the time, while Extreme is inactive?
GC:  Hurtsmile was something I actually started with my brother Mark, back in 2007.  But it was put on the shelf because Extreme got back together.  We did the reunion, the tour, and the record.  Then Extreme had some down time, because Nuno went off to tour with Rihanna.  So at that point, it made sense to finish doing the record with my brother. 
RMS:  So, is Hurtsmile an actual band that you intend to keep on doing, and have coincide with Extreme, once Extreme becomes active again?
GC:  Yes, I plan on keeping this mistress alive for awhile. (Laughs) I think both bands can co-exist.  Hurtsmile is in rehearsals now, getting ready to do some shows in a couple months, and we're already writing new material.  So that's always exciting.
RMS:  Are you looking to get on some sort of arena/shed package tour, with other bands, or will you be headlining clubs?
GC:  We're looking for the right band to play with.  It's very difficult, but we plan on doing Japan and getting some European dates.  But in America, it will probably be clubs, and I'm excited about that. 
RMS:  Can you tell us what is going on with Extreme at this point?
GC:  Nuno's still on tour with Rihanna, finishing up the Australia leg of the tour.  Most likely, we won't wind up playing this year, but we're both writing separately.  We're gonna plan on doing some recording in between the cracks of Rihanna this year.
RMS:  Going back to the Hurtsmile CD, one thing I noticed you did on a couple of the songs, was that you were almost channeling some other singer's characteristics in your vocals.  On "Just War Theory," it sounded like you were doing a Johnny Rotten (Sex Pistols) imitation, and on "The Murder of Daniel Faulkner (4699)," you sound like Bob Dylan.  Am I right?
GC:  I think you got it right on, brother.  I'm a big fan of both.  "Just War Theory" has a real snarling guitar riff and lyrically, there's some cynicism and skepticism going on there.  When I was writing it with my brother, it smelt like Rotten could do this.  I'm a big fan, so I guess I was channeling that.  As far as "Daniel Faulkner," the last track on the record, without a doubt.  I'm a big Dylan fan.  I even do a better Dylan imitation than that.  I'd have to have a few beers before I could do that one. 
RMS:  This isn't the first time I've heard you channel another singer.  On the 1994 KISS tribute album, "KISS My Ass," you did a great cover of "Strutter" with Extreme, where some fans, to this day, argue whether or not that's you or Paul Stanley, doing the scream at the end of the song.  
GC:  I'm a big Paul Stanley fan, he's one of the best.  Some people always said there was a tone, when I went up in the higher register (that sounded like his).  We did that last scream, very much on purpose (to sound like Paul) and tripled the vocal.  I just went into my best Paul Stanley imitation. 
RMS:  I'd like to touch on your time in Van Halen.  What I really enjoyed about you being in VH, was the fact that you could nail both, the Roth and Hagar era songs.  Let's face it, a lot of fans don't like the way Hagar sings the Roth stuff, and it will probably be when hell freezes over, when we hear David Lee Roth sing a Sammy Hagar tune.  It seemed like a lot of people, like myself, enjoyed the live show at the time, but really didn't like the Van Halen "III" CD.  Where do you think the disconnect was with the fans?
GC:  It's easier to look back now and see things I would have done differently.  I look back at that record, and I wish I would have went on tour with the band, before we recorded the record.  That way, I would have felt like I was in the band, and been comfortable.  I think there are a few gems on that record.  I'm very proud of some of those songs on that record.  I think the production and some of the arrangements fell short.  As far as the fan perception, I knew what I was getting into.  It was funny, because the record was criticized for trying to sound too much like Van Halen, or the opposite, saying it doesn't sound anything like Van Halen.  It was almost if I was damned if I do, damned if I don't.
The tour was great.  Playing both eras, probably worked to my advantage.  I enjoyed both eras.  It was easier to sing the Dave stuff.  I think singing the Sammy era stuff made me a better singer, as far as trying to hit those notes.  If I wasn't in that band, I wouldn't have tried to reach some of that stuff. I thought the tour and the performances were great.
RMS:  Sammy Hagar said in an interview, that he felt the Van Halen "III" album didn't work because he felt that you didn't have enough tenure in the band, in order to reign in all of Eddie's riffing.  He felt it might have gelled more, if you were in the band longer, at the time the CD was recorded.
GC:  That was nice of him to say.  I know Sammy, and he felt for me during that period.  Actually, the stuff we were writing after the tour was the comfort zone.  I played some of the stuff, to some close people here,and the consensus was, the stuff we were writing AFTER the tour, should have been what was on the record.
RMS:  It seems like your whole time with the band was set up for failure from the get go, since right before you joined the band, Van Halen did the MTV Awards appearance with David Lee Roth, and then they released the greatest hits CD with the 2 new Roth songs.  Many people thought Dave was back in the band, and then it was announced you were the new singer. 
GC:  It certainly didn't help.  Believe it or not, I remember MTV playing that "Welcome Back Kotter" theme,showing Dave back in the band.  Pretty much, a couple months before I joined that band, the sense was -DAVE'S COMING BACK, DAVE'S COMING BACK - with the big hype and the greatest hits.  The whole perception was DAVE'S BACK and then, all of a sudden, Van Halen comes out with a new guy.  It didn't help.
RMS:  Regardless of how it all panned out, I'm sure you enjoyed the time working with a legend like Eddie Van Halen.  Speaking of music legends, is there anyone else in the music business that you'd really like to work with?
GC:  I'd really love for Extreme to tour with KISS.  We toured with Aerosmith.  I'd love to tour with Cheap Trick.  All the bands I grew up on.  That, to me, would be cool.  I'm gonna call up Brian May (from Queen) after I get off the phone with you. (Laughs)
RMS:  Before you go, could you leave a message to our readers here at
GC:  To all the Extreme fans out there, hope you dig the music.  There will be more music to come from both bands, and we're looking forward to getting out there and playing.  Hopefully we'll see you there, and we appreciate the loyalty throughout the years!

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