BLACK LACE – Interview 1985
AT THE beginning of the decade a female-fronted rock band was still quite a rare entity and still a considerable novelty. Since then the atmosphere has changed of course, and no more so than in North America, possibly due to the impact women’s lib had on the American way of thinking, if not directly on the American way of life. It’s not just femininity that’s begun to surface in America, but Metal has been a growing force too in its more stricter definition, a gritty reaction to some of the more homogenised forms of radio-oriented rock that have always held sway across the Atlantic. Traditionally female vocalists have been found in slightly more cultured veins of rock, but recently Metal and the maidens have been drawn closer together, and from out of the growing crowd Blacklace have emerged as particularly strong contenders thanks to their sturdy musical bombast and the vocal power of MaryAnn Scandiffio.
They haven’t found it easy to generate business interest in their homeland, with record companies traditionally lagging behind rather than daring to advance into unproven territory, and instead were drawn to the formerly tawdry but slowly improving Belgian label Mausoleum who put out Blacklace’s debut ‘demo album’ ‘Unlaced’ last year. They were rewarded with sufficient positive interest to invest in bringing the band into Britain to record their recent follow-up ‘Get It While It’s Hot’, following up with the band’s first live dates this side of the Atlantic.
As yet they’ve enjoyed relatively little publicity, an unfortunate omission on our part that has finally been put right as the second album rolls out of the pressing plant and into the shops. But without the publicity will anyone recall who they are and buy that record? Is the band strong enough to stand on their own merits? Read on and maybe fork out to find out…
“THREE YEARS ago I got together With Anthony and Carlo (the Fragnito brothers, who play bass and guitar respectively), who were from the same neighbourhood as myself,” Mary Ann explained,
“Their band had broken up at the same tune as my own I had always admired their musicianship, and It was a great opportunity to start something with them. We had a different drummer with us then, and added Steve (Werner) about three months down the line.”
Since then the band have been doing their best to keep themselves in the forefront of the New York Metal scene and have succeeded in establishing themselves as one of the premier outfits in the city. Their success has meant the opportunity to open for a number of major acts, including an invitation from Twisted Sister to join them on their temporary breakaway earlier this year from them special guest slot on the Maiden tour whilst Bruce And The Boys played at the Radio City Music Hall in N.Y. with Queensryche.
Despite their local success they have yet to be picked up by a US label however, and as with so many other US Metal bands over the last couple of years they have found a willing record label – in this case Mausoleum – and an enthusiastic audience waiting in Europe.
It seems a little strange for the band not to have their records released in some form or another in the US, with the result that the only access American kids have to the albums is on import. But to be fair it’s perhaps unsurprising that no US label has adopted the band so far, with their fairly basic, but admittedly tuneful, HM sounding a little too overpowering for safety but not sleazy enough to qualify for a deal alongside the likes of Twisted Sister and Motley Crue. The appeal is much more European, as was also the case with Anvil, although it’s fairly characteristic of the New York Metal scene in which the band are inevitably steeped.
“A lot of those tracks on that first album actually dated back to our first recordings together. We got the deal with Mausoleum at a tune when we already had a number of tracks on tape that were two years old by then songs like ‘Hots for You’, On The Attack’ and ‘Devil In Disguise’ – which had already been done with no thoughts of putting them on an album. Given the deal we took some of our old favourites and then recorded a few new songs and if you listen you can hear the difference, especially in the l vocals. We felt it was the best way to get the record out quickly and within the budget
“I think for a first album, considering how it was pieced together, I’m pretty pleased with it. Every band would like to go back and change things on every album, not just their first, but I think the band played excellently. I’d like to have redone some of the vocals, to have been able to take a little time to get used to the idea of being in a studio to actually make an album, which was a pressure that I hadn’t experienced before. In the end it wasn’t the heaviest album of the year but it sure wasn’t the wimpiest either. It showed that the band had potential and it’s earned us the backing to make our first real album – this one’s all new songs, no old demo sessions, and it sounds great. We’ve got a great producer in Phil Chilton, and things are really coming together well. We’re real excited about it.”
JUST TO get a personal gripe out of the way I had to query what happened to the band’s best song (so far) ‘I Want Out’, which never got transplanted from demo to album first time around and with the policy of all-new songs isn’t getting a look-in this time around either. You know how journalists can be so obscure and picky…
“It’s funny, you’re one of the very few people to have picked that song out as a favourite – most people go for ‘On The Attack’. We had so many potential songs for that debut album and it was a hard decision which ones to include; we tried to go for what we felt were the most upbeat and lively numbers.”
Whilst a shade unusual to have the bassist turning out most of the band’s material it hasn’t done Manowar or Motley Crue a great deal of harm, and MaryAnn’s perfectly happy to give Anthony Fragnito the freedom to write virtually everything, right down to the lyrics. So how come you don’t write the words you have to sing, Mary Ann?
“It’s no problem for me to sing Anthony’s words; I’ve not really developed yet as a lyricist or a songwriter so I don’t mind. When it’s time for me to do something I have to try very hard, it doesn’t come easily so far, and I’m my own worst critic so I won’t just turn out a set of lyrics for the sake of it.” Of course with any band aiming to survive and thrive the physical presentation can be as crucial as the music itself, and yours truly has to admit to a certain tiredness with the clichéd leather and chains and razor-slashed chic that’s currently characterising so much of US HM. it’s a look that Blacklace leaned heavily upon on the sleeve of their debut album but fortunately seem to be growing out of now.
“We’ve gone through so many changes in image-like, the photo Kerrang! ran with the review of our first album was actually from a different era. We make all our own clothes, financially we don’t have much choice, and when we made the album we felt that the cover -as well as the music, of course – would be a way to get people to buy it. You might be sick of that look because you’re in the forefront of the business checking out hundreds of acts, but that’s not necessarily the same for the kids, and it was a good opportunity at the time to put ourselves over.
“Since then we’ve lost a few chains and a few studded belts, and we’re tryin to use a little more lace – it’s our name, after all – and a little glamour. Personally we’d rather look attractive than ugly or offensive, so that’s the whole idea behind our appearance now. Blacklace as a name is both masculine – black – and feminine – lace and we could probably wear each other’s clothes from time to time! We all wear a little makeup, we all tease out hair up…
“You should see our New York crowds, you wouldn’t believe the way people dress go to a Metal club at night, it’s like they’re going on stage. You’ll see more chains and more belts and more razor- slashed chic than you would onstage, it’s unbelievable! The guys – they wear more make-up than the girls, their hair’s longer than the girls’, their heels are higher than the girls!, In New York that’s the way people dress to go out, let alone to be in a band.”
HMMM SEEMS very similar to what Great White were saying about the Los Angeles scene last year in these very pages. But whilst the crowds may be the same – or at least have the same problem – their scene in New York hasn’t achieved the same importance to US rock today as that in LA.
It’s true – for example Twisted Sister have been kicking around New York for years and they’re just making it now, whilst bands like Motley Crüe and Ratt like – have got there in two years.
“Here we are, a New York band who had to get a Belgian record deal to get started! It’s not as if we don’t know the doors to knock on in New York.
“But the scene is really contracting quite dramatically in New York, clubs are closing down all the time. If you’re a Metal band and can’t sell out Madison Square Garden, which has 15-20,000 seats, the only other choice really is L’Amours, of which there are two venues (are in Brooklyn and the other in Queens) and both will take about 2,000, and if your album’s doing well you may have to play two or three nights, It’s a shame but that’s the way it’s going right now, there aren’t the alternative venues.
“It doesn’t help that they’re raising the drinking age, and it looks like New York City is going to get hit with a 21 minimum age law, and where’s your audience then? The police hassle you too much, come in and check the place out, if people don’t have proof of age on them the club gets into trouble – so they’re closing down left, right and centre. But whatever’s left we’ll play it – us and everybody else.
“Bands are actually pretty friendly in New York though, despite the fight for gigs. It’s not too competitive. Like with Manowar we opened for them in Ploughkeepsie a couple of years ago, met up and socialised after the show and I found out that Ross The Boss was from our neighbourhood, the Bronx, and we became friends. A couple of months down the line his schedule opened up and he was keen to produce us so that’s how the production came about (on part of the first album). We socialise whenever he’s around now; I have him over to dinner about once a month; we’re pretty good friends. The band have helped us out a lot, turned us on to some of their business contacts for example, and maybe we’ll go on tour with them.”
It turns out in fact that Blacklace were very nearly guests on Manowar’s European trek late last year – basically somebody else got their foot in the door first. “We were second in line but it’s worked out better this way” – and the band couldn’t resist the chance to fit in a few dates after the recording of the new album. But why did they spend all the money involved in coming over here In the first place?
“If anything it worked out cheaper to record here than in New York, you get a lot of pounds for your dollar these days of course, and with the price of New York studios up to $200 an hour it’s worked out cheaper to fly us over, feed us and accommodate us – as well as paying the recording costs – than doing the album back home!”