It seems to surprise bassist PJ Farley how his band Trixter is closing in on respectability in terms of earning great reviews from both critical and fan circles with their latest album NEW AUDIO MACHINE on Frontiers Records. It’s a solid affair, filled with much of the same hooks and effervescence that made their self-titled debut a gold record and put their videos on heavy rotation on MTV (you know, that channel that used to play music from bands before youtube existed). The band is enjoying another run of fun with a summer package tour headlined by Warrant and Firehouse in addition to the festival circuit. They’ll be playing the big ROCK’N THE VALLEY festival here in Illinois July 14. The guys may have recorded their best album yet or at least one that stands head and shoulders with their classic 1990 affair and I talked with bassist PJ Farley about that and much more. Read on….
Legendary Rock Interviews: You guys have a new album out, appropriately called NEW AUDIO MACHINE which of course means a new tour, by now you have to have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t in terms of the setlist right?
P.J. Farley: Yeah, we have a pretty good idea of what needs to be there at this point. The shows are mostly with Warrant and Firehouse but there have been some headline things in Jersey and some other shows with different bands. The setlist really depends on what particular show we’re doing and how long we’re getting. We’ve been so busy with getting the record out and doing the promo stuff that it’s kind of a relief to get out there again and just play.
LRI:: I think it’s great that you’re back together and running it up the flagpole again. Trixter is slightly underrated in the grand scheme of things and people sometimes even tend to forget just how strong some of the songwriting was on your earlier albums or how big the buzz was around you guys. This lineup is also one of the few lineups that is out there with all original members right?
P.J.: Yes, we are the original four and thank you very much for that. This is something that just kind of sprung up on us. The reunion wasn’t really in the back of our minds all these years because we all really went and did other things when we split up. It sounds crazy but there was a long time there that we were all doing other things personally or musically but here we are (laughs).
LRI: The new album is just cutting edge enough sonically and production wise to sound like it was made today but clearly has an appeal to anyone who liked your debut back in 1990. Was that kind of the point all along?
P.J.: Yeah, we weren’t afraid of sounding “dated” or anything we just wanted to make the best album we could possibly make. I think we weren’t consciously trying to do something different in the albums that followed the debut but we were more or less just growing. It was an organic change but I think we were just naturally leaning towards maybe an edgier feel. This time around we definitely had zero pressure because we decided to get back together and started making the record before we even had a deal. We just got together and made a record and the deal came after so it was a pretty different situation this time out. We really didn’t have anyone dictating or breathing down our neck, we just made our music. NEW AUDIO MACHINE is getting really good reviews from both fans and critics which is really weird. I think for the first time in our careers we’re actually getting good record reviews. Usually we just get shitty ones so I don’t know what to think (laughs)
LRI: I think it is really strong and “Tattoos and Misery” is one of your best songs ever. There is a certain carefree, innocent vibe to the first record and this latest album kind of harkens back to that.
PJ: Well, there’s a couple songs on NEW AUDIO MACHINE that were supposed to be on the first record actually….Physical Attraction was a staple in our set back in the days before we got signed. That song was written and played before I was even in Trixter and dates back well before we recorded the first album. That’s how far back that one goes but there are others as well that are very much in line with that old school style including an old Skid Row song that Snake and Rachel wrote called “Walk With a Stranger” that they gave to us back when they got signed. They wanted us to do it and we did, we were playing that every night but for whatever reason the producer of the first record didn’t wanna put it on the album. It was probably a publishing thing (laughs) but that’s what the background is on that song.
watch the 2012 TRIXTER video for the excellent track , Tattoos and Misery
LRI: So all these years have gone by without a release from you guys. How much communication or how close were you guys during those years that Trixter was on hiatus?
PJ: Well Pete went and did his own thing and Steve Brown (guitarist) and I just kept working together because the moment Trixter ended we started a band called Throwin Rocks and then that band morphed into a band called 40-foot Ringo which then morphed a couple more times until at one point I had to leave the band because I was in a band called RA who were just about to start touring for our second record. Steve and I still had played together pretty consistently and even those brief stretches that we weren’t forming bands together we would still end up playing together locally. Our drummer Gus moved to Phoenix and just kind of disappeared from us all for years and then popped up one day and was right back in the circle.
LRI: Was it difficult to go and do different things with Steve and basically resist the whole reunion concept once the nostalgia hair metal fires started burning?
PJ: We would definitely hear it from people who’d be like “Dude, are you gonna get back out there and play with Trixter?” It was suddenly cool again to admit you liked the hard rock bands and all the package tours started. The Poison and Motley tours started and Rock Never Stops and things like that would lead to people asking again, “When are you guys gonna get back together?” and I’d hear it and it would always be in the back of my mind that there wasn’t really a demand for us to get back out there. I guess I always thought it could happen but it would have to be the right place, the right time. The fact that there’s a popular avenue to play our stuff like VH1 Classic or Sirius Satellite really helped a lot.
LRI: You mentioned Skid Row who are from that same Jersey scene you originated from and who were playing many of the same venues. Did you guys play shows together a lot back in the Matt Fallon days?
PJ: Yeah, we knew those guys from that whole Jersey area and Matt was actually the singer back when Trixter was starting to play shows with Skids. They knew us at least a couple of years before they were ever signed.
LRI: The band started getting courted by record labels and things really started happening around the same time you joined on bass. Was that kind of a whirlwind experience for you as a young guy?
PJ: Yeah, definitely, whirlwind is a good term looking back in hindsight but back then being the little punk that I was, all I could think about was how bad I wanted it to happen. The fact that it happened as I was dreaming it was all kind of surreal you know (laughs). I was like want it, get it, live it and then next thing I knew we were out with the Scorpions and KISS and it was just a dream come true.
LRI: Even though you were on MCA Records you still somehow managed to get a Gold album and major MTV exposure. I guess MTV, Radio and Gerri Miller/Metal Edge had as much to do with it as your label? Most people think of MCA as Music Cemetery of America but you must have gotten some sort of push.
PJ: Oh I don’t really think so (laughs). I think it did well in spite of being on MCA because all those other factors helped us way more than the label did. We had good people around us and we had a good, honest story. We were a fun, young, good-looking band to people like Gerri and it was really our story that propelled us more than anything. People were sort of drawn to us and I don’t think MCA was prepared for what followed because really weird things would happen. Things that indicate your label isn’t doing it’s end like we were out on tour and had a number one video on MTV for weeks and we’d hear from people that the record wasn’t even being stocked in stores. It’s like “Hello??? Earth to MCA, you’re dropping the ball”. Like you said, we went Gold but had they positioned it right with retailers that thing would have broke a million. Kids were going to the store and not finding the album. The horror stories you’ve heard from other bands about MCA are all true and then some.
LRI: A lot of bands with a pin-up image would have gone with a traditional photo of the guys on the debut album but you guys stayed true to your KISS influence and had the comic book layout and the big bright logo. Was that another thing that might have helped the record stand out from the sea of releases back then?
PJ: Maybe. It definitely popped and we being KISS fans were fine with the comic book association of course. They actually made real comic books based on the album cover and they were promotional items. Thing is….We never really intended to play to the pin-up image, we were aware that we were young, good looking kids but we weren’t looking to exploit it to the point that it detracted from the music. I’m really not sure if that cover helped or hurt, it got attention but given that we were so young and here we were with the bright colors and appearing animated in a comic book it was easy to brand us as some new, kiddie-rock band or find a reason to dismiss us.
LRI: Cheap Trick also had a promotional comic book out for their 1990 album BUSTED. I have both somewhere….
PJ: (Laughs) Yeah they absolutely did. We actually ran into Rick Nielsen and were like “Hi, we’re in a band called Trixter and our album just came out and we’re really big fans” and Rick was just like “Oh yeah? Trixter eh? Nice idea for the comic book” (laughs).
LRI: When “Give It To Me Good” spent five weeks on Dial MTV a lot of people could relate not only to the catchiness of the song but also the fact that you guys looked vaguely normal as compared to say Pretty Boy Floyd or Roxy Blue…Was that something that you guys were adamant about getting across?
PJ: Oh absolutely, 100%. We were not about to let anyone primp us or tell us what to wear or how to look, Say whatever you want about us or our music but we had our attitude and it was firmly rooted in New Jersey. You weren’t about to see quite the same thing out of a band from our neighborhood like us or Skids. Even Bon Jovi. Jon might have gotten into some hairspray and spandex but he would still kick your ass if need be. We never lost that Jersey attitude. Our director really got what we were about and we could tell that from the first time we read the treatment for the video. We knew we weren’t gonna be pulled aside on set and forced into some hairspray, makeup and glam outfits. We would’ve had to kill somebody (laughs).
LRI: So now the fun begins and you’ll be touring until the weather turns to shit. You’re doing lots of fun summertime shows and outdoor venues including the ROCK’N THE VALLEY one here in the Rockford, Il area July 14 which is gonna be fun. Is it just as much fun as it was 22 years ago?
PJ: Totally. It’s just like a big family reunion. We’re getting to play with our old friends in Skid Row and Warrant and hopefully meet a few new ones. It is never a bad thing to be on the road playing to happy people in the summertime. It’s the best. We’ve got a great mix of old and new songs and we’re all digging it every single night we get up there, it’s not something we take for granted. We want you to have as much fun as we’re having, which is a lot.