If you wanted to spend your birthday jamming cover tunes with your musician buddies, chances are the ensuing sonic soiree wouldn’t make the evening news.
That’s not the case when you’re Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian.
The steady-wristed rhythm guitarist behind metal anthems “I Am the Law,” “Antisocial,” and “Caught in a Mosh” (and rap-rock staples “Bring the Noise” and “I’m the Man”) told his wife (Meat Loaf daughter) Pearl Aday he just wanted to hang out with Mother Superior singer Jim Wilson for his 50th birthday. Maybe they could plug in their guitars and play some of that band’s songs. Ian had always loved those guys—even when late ‘90s and early ‘00s albums Heavy Soul Experience, Kaleidoscope, and Sin went overlook by mainstream audiences.
While most rock enthusiasts are familiar with Wilson and his Mother Superior mates from their tenure as Henry Rollins’ backing band (Get Some Go Again, Nice), Ian was well-versed in the group’s dynamic catalog—and on a first-name basis with Wilson, thanks to his singing spouse, Pearl, who’d swapped vocals with the Superior front man before.
Calls were put in to drummer John Tempesta (The Cult, Exodus) and bassist Joey Vera (Armored Saint, Fate’s Warning) to round out the lineup for Ian’s half-century heavy metal hootenanny. The epic jam session that transpired over the Christmas holidays (Ian’s birthday falls on New Year’s Eve) was so energetic and inspired that Ian and Wilson decided to run through the playlist again with producer Jay Ruston (Anthrax, Steel Panther)—who recorded everything.
The result is Motor Sister’s debut, Ride, out March 20, 2015 on Metal Blade Records.
Named for one of the dozen Mother Superior songs covered on the album, Motor Sister is less a conventional “super group” than a collaborative of classic-rock loving pals who just happened to be talented enough to revisit (and refresh) Wilson’s oeuvre with high-energy spontaneity and firepower.
Handpicked by Ian, the songs on Ride draw from several Mother Superior releases. But most—like leadoff “A-Hole,” the feisty “Fork in the Road,” and Smithereens-like “Get That Girl” hail from 2005’s Moanin’.
Not that the source discs matter. Rendering the songs anew over the course of mere days, Motor Sister puts its own stamp on the mix, giving the twelve tunes an aural uniformity whose tandem-guitar attack (Ian and Wilson) recalls AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, and Iron Maiden. Wilson’s pipes sound better than ever, wailing on “This Song Reminds Me of You,” “Fool Around,” and “Head Hanging Low” whilst conjuring serrated guitar riffs, wah-wah swells, and searing solos. Pearl lends her solid background vocals to the funky “Doghouse” and Zeppelinesque “Pretty in the Morning,” creating indelible harmonies with Wilson as Tempesta and Vera bang and thrum their eruptive rhythms.
Make no mistake, however; Motor Sister are more akin to Judas Priest and KISS in their promulgation of greasy, gritty groove rock than they are to Ian’s Anthrax—widely regarded as one of the “Big Four” thrash acts (with Metallica, Slayer, and Megadeth). There are blues-based progressions aplenty, big-beat breakdowns on the bridges, suspenseful seventh chords, and trebly guitar trills and prickly pick-slides. Wilson’s got the lungs of a veteran soul singer, imbuing his brokenhearted / “cloudy memory” verses with convincing R&B fury.
So don’t go in expecting Among the Living, Part II just because Ian’s on board.
Like a good friend (and faithful fan), Scott’s job is to make the songs come alive with his recognizable right-handed guitar picking, bolstering Wilson’s own axe and vocals. It’s apparent Ian had a lot of fun on his fiftieth, and Ride makes the case that he’s as capable a rock rhythmist as he is a metal maven.
We wager the album will top the list of hard rock releases in 2015—no small feat for a calendar year that will see new studio albums from a bevy of other all-star groups and side projects (Black Star Riders, Revolution Saints, Aristocrats, etc.).
Motor Sister celebrated the release of Ride with a February 12 concert at Saint Vitus in New York City. Other shows have since been added for the West Coast in March.
We checked in with Wilson by phone less than week after the Big Apple gig; the Mother Superior founder sounded like he was still on an adrenaline high. Locquacious (in a good way) and excited, Wilson didn’t need much prompting when it came to talking about his new band.
EXAMINER: Hello, Jim! Is now an okay time to talk?
JIM WILSON: It’s perfect! They had me booked for interviews all day long, and my last one never called. So I had a half hour break. I’m feeling pretty good!
EXAMINER: Their loss!
JIM WILSON: Yeah!
EXAMINER: Well, obviously we’re calling to talk Motor Sister and the new album, Ride. We know Scott kind of pulled everyone together for a jam on his birthday, but can you give the full story for those unawares?
JIM WILSON: Well, I guess I should say first and foremost that Scott and his wife Pearl were friends of the band Mother Superior for a long time. They’d come to see us play, not only at the local L.A. shows we’d do, but also anytime we were anywhere near each other on the road. They’d show up in Denver, Colorado or wherever and it’d be like, “Scott and Pearl are here!” So he was always a fan, and he’d play the music for his friends. And Joey Vera—the bass player for Motor Sister—he also was involved. He mixed a lot of original Mother Superior tracks and mastered the last couple CDs we did. So he was a fan of the band as well. So we’d known each other for a long time. The original band hadn’t played together since, oh, 2008 was the time we played together, in Europe. So it had been a while. But I’d played music with Scott, and especially his wife, Pearl. We’ve written a lot of songs together, and whenever we hang out at Scott’s place, we’d play guitars, whether it’s playing a Thin Lizzy song together, or him asking, “How’d that one Mother Superior song go?”
So when Pearl came to him asking what he wanted for his birthday, he’d been listening to those old albums. And he said, “I’d just like to get together and play with Jim and play some of these songs and have a good time.” And he knew Joey was a big fan, and he knew John Tempesta—the drummer, he was the only one I didn’t know beforehand—Scott knew he was a big fan as well. So he knew we’d have them as well. So of course they came to his birthday party, which is conveniently on New Year’s Eve. So we were all in town; none of us were off on the Vegas circuit or anything. And Scott picked the twelve songs off the top of his head. He regretted missing a few afterwards, but he figured twelve was enough to learn as far as just friends just getting together to play. And even if we all knew the songs in our heads or by ear, it didn’t mean we would all get together and know how to play ‘em!
So we were all listening to the music and we were going to get together for this party, and by the time we all got there, we were psyched to play ‘em all. I kept hearing from John Tempesta, “I can’t wait to play this stuff!” So I knew it was gonna be like, “Wow! Will I be able to keep up?” So I was rehearsing at home, and Scott and I got together one time at his place to play guitar parts together. We went over ‘em one time. Then the band played, and there were a few people in the room from the first day, and there was just this massive sound. Every Mother Superior album has two guitars on every track, but that was me overdubbing the second guitar. So whenever we played live, there was only the one guitar. So that’s something different for this band, to have two guitars. It’s more of a treatment.
One of the reasons Mother Superior was a trio was because we could never find a compatible second guitar player at that time in L.A. And we tried; the original intention was to have another guitar player. One guy passed out on the couch during rehearsal, having too much of a good time! That actually was one of the first times we played as a trio. We kept jamming. But it sounded good like that. The original band…we were kind of growing up together, so we were really friends who were playing together. It wasn’t because we’d all done anything. We were just all guys who each knew how to play something. “Why don’t we just jam?” That kind of thing. And me always having dreams of being a songwriter in the classic sense of the old Phil Spector days—which are way long gone—we’d jam a KISS song or something, and it’d be like, “Hey, check out this riff! What would you play if I did this?” So that was where I was coming from. We’re all fans of that kind of music in Motor Sister.
Last Thursday after our show in New York, Metal Blade had this dinner for us at this fancy restaurant downtown, and Scott had this play list. And it’s really no surprise that it had Aerosmith and Thin Lizzy and the Clash and Cheap Trick. So we’re all coming from that same place. It’s not anything dated; it’s just that those are the bands that influenced people who play instruments, and still influence them, the same as if the Beatles influence people today as if they were still together.
EXAMINER: Listening to the album—and knowing you play all the leads—I’m going to venture that Scott is mixed stereo left and you’re on the right.
JIM WILSON: That’s it. Scott’s on the left and I’m on the right. I keep forgetting to tell people that! I keep forgetting, because it’s such an obvious thing for me when I listen to it, having done it. But I realize then that most people don’t know that. But yeah! And when I do my solos, sometimes I’m more centered when my solo comes up. But it’s mostly AC/DC style, with Scott on the left and me on the right.
EXAMINER: I expected big guitar riffs and killer tones when checking out the album, but I should say I was really impressed by your voice, too.
JIM WILSON: Thank you very much! Again, I said that we hadn’t played Mother Superior in a long time, but I’ve been busy. I stay on top of music, and I play with a lot of different people. One of them is producer Daniel Lanois [U2, Bob Dylan], who also does his own music. I’m on the road with him at least 40% of the year, because he loves to play live, and we’re always traveling together. I sing a lot with him. And he’s taught me a lot about singing. When Mother Superior was young, I didn’t have…I was just singing because I liked singing. I didn’t have any kind of training. But through the years I learned how to keep up my voice, learned how to be on the road. It’s still hard. I don’t know what it’s like in Cleveland right now, but New York was freezing….
EXAMINER: It’s like, five degrees.
JIM WILSON: Yeah! And I get paranoid, because you stay in a hotel, and your room is cold. So you turn your heater on, and you wake up in the morning and your throat is all dry. As a singer, that’s the one thing you don’t want to happen. So my wife came to the big show, but I was alone with Scott for press. And at night I’d just turn the heater off and jump under the bed covers and go to bed like that, trying to keep my voice in shape. Because that’s always on my mind. But again, thank you! We were supposed to sing six songs each day, Pearl and I—but we ended up singing all twelve songs in one day. We did all the vocals in one day.
EXAMINER: That’s amazing. I mean, knowing what it takes to record vocals, and to them properly. And how taxing doing multiple takes of multiple songs can be. Your voice is powerful and consistent across the tracks.
JIM WILSON: And also, again, it’s just the vibe of singing with Pearl. It’s really easy, and we can nail the harmonies really fast. It was almost like a concert performance in a way, in that the more I sang…. On a good night, not every night, but on a good night your voice is supposed to get better with each song and open up more and more. If you’re doing it properly, and if you have the right monitor on stage, you can go on forever! But if there’s a slight something…. If anything’s off, like feedback or something that throws you off, or if your health is only up to like 80%, your voice might get weaker as it goes. But that day with me and her, we were just ready to do it. The songs just kept coming out, so Jay was like, “Let’s go!” They aren’t in the same order on the record that we recorded them, but I think like on the eighth song [producer] Jay [Ruston] opened a bottle of whiskey, and we finished the night off getting more aggressive! Like, “Devil Wind” was definitely the last one we sang, and it’s the last song on the record.
EXAMINER: Did you have to approach “Devil Wind” a little differently, with the acoustic guitars on that particular track?
JIM WILSON: Yeah. We did. But we did ‘em…. All the music was recorded in two days, and we did the acoustic guitars at the end of the second day. So it was all finished in the same quick spirit of the thing. We did record it with me playing my Stratocaster—which, when I use the clean pickups has this cool Fender Stratocaster sound—so it did start for me with that, playing live.
EXAMINER: It’s an effective closer. In fact, the sequence of the whole disc is really effective.
JIM WILSON: One again, Scott put it together. He did the track listing as well.
EXAMINER: You can hear the party vibe running throughout the songs—not that anyone’s slacking off. At the end of “Get that Girl” someone yells, “Yeah!” And it sounds like they’re yelling into the guitar pickups.
JIM WILSON: That’s Scott! Yes, he is yelling in the pickups. You’re the first one to mention that.
EXAMINER: Yeah. It didn’t sound like a microphone. I figured it was the pickups.
JIM WILSON: He picked his guitar up and yelled at it, and we all cracked up when he did it.
EXAMINER: So Motor Sister has played New York, and you’ve got West Coast dates lined up for San Francisco and Hollywood. When can Ohio expect to see you guys in concert?
JIM WILSON: The schedule’s already getting packed up. We’re all busy doing all kinds of things. Fortunately, Anthrax is going out in April and May—at the same time I’m booked with Daniel Lanois. So that worked out, because now neither one of us is to blame for not being available [laughs]! So as soon as we all get back from that, we’re all looking at how the June schedule will look. It’s pretty wide open right now. Joey Vera has a new Armored Saint record coming out that he’s been working on. And when that’s finished, he’s got a few summer festival things throughout the summer. But it’s nothing that takes up too much time, so we can work around that. They wanted us to do some major cities, like Chicago and Philadelphia, and Cleveland of course. And there’s a push for a bunch of Michigan shows. Not only Detroit, but some other ones, too, because it’s the Motor City, and they want that Motor Sister vibe! We want to get really good by playing some small rock and roll bars in some places that would really appreciate it. So that’s been talked about. We’re looking at festivals in the summer time. Scott’s been talking about how Uproar might be a possibility for us. And we’re all looking forward to like, going to Japan. Metal Blade is a worldwide label, so they have offices everywhere, including Canada. All these places we’d love to go. I’ve been taking calls from the U.K. all morning, and they’re like, “When are you coming to the U.K?” But yeah, getting out and playing sounds like a great idea!
View the Motor Sister Ride featurette: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=J6hj1e6CFvM
EXAMINER: It might be too soon to ask, but will the band be following up with another studio album? And if so, will there be more Mother Superior tunes, or will you gradually work in some originals?
JIM WILSON: We’re definitely going to start writing originals together. We’ve already talked about it. I’ve been sitting on this…. The record’s been done for over six months, I mean—mixed and done—but you have to wait for the record label’s schedule. At first it was going to come out in like, October or November of 2014, and you get all excited—but you still can’t talk about it! Then you go to the big record company dinner in September, and they’re like, “It’s probably not a good idea to put the album out with all the greatest hits stuff coming out for Christmas, so we’ll put it out in 2015.” So as a songwriter, in my mind, I kind of have been listening to the record.
And it’s also coming out on vinyl; I was the one to approve the vinyl testing, which was exciting to have this double-vinyl. So I’ve been listening to all the music. And I was like, “If we do another record, I’d better come up with some killer rock riffs!” I’ve got some good ones that have been sticking. I always save ‘em all, but the good ones shine. I’ve been talking with Scott about it. Hopefully this week—we just got back from New York—we’re doing two videos for the album tomorrow. They’re just performance videos. Really cool rehearsal studio stuff. This place called Swing House where we’ll be filming. And on Wednesday I have interviews as well, but then I leave with Daniel. So I want to put some of these riffs down so that Scott and Pearl and Joey can listen for their favorites. But yeah, on the other side of the question, Scott does have a list of other Mother Superior songs he wants to record, even if it’s just for fun. At the show the other night we did “Rolling Boy Blues,” from the Sin album. Scott was like, “Why didn’t we record that one?” But again, it all was just a fun party and it was fun for people to hear the music again. And it’s great for me to share it with people who are having a good time with it.
EXAMINER: Before I let you go I wanted to ask about one of your cool cover songs: I love the Mother Superior version of The Beatles’ “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” and how you work “Baby’s in Black” into the end of the tune. How’d that come about?
JIM WILSON: [Laughs] That’s right! We were on a French label at the time called Fargo, and we were asked to be on a Motorhead tribute album and a Beatles tribute album. And we thought, “Sure!” So we had a studio to ourselves for one day, and we had to record these two songs for these tribute albums. And we asked Henry Rollins about the Motorhead song, and he chose that one; I can’t remember which one we did [ed. note: It was “Bomber”]. So the Motorhead album [St. Valentine’s Day Massacre] eventually came out, but we spent a lot more time on the Beatles song—and that tribute record never came out! Later on, Fargo came looking for some songs for this EP we did, called Grande. They asked if we had any songs in the vault for the compilation. We had two songs we hadn’t released yet, and we had that Beatles song, so we stuck that on there. The song is obviously close to us, because our name came from the lyrics, the “Mother Superior jumped the gun” part. So there’s that reference. I forget why we threw “Baby’s in Black” in there….
EXAMINER: Maybe the high notes. John ends with that really high “gun.”
JIM WILSON: Yeah, yeah! The high note, and just to throw a little surprise in there. The Beatles “White Album” is probably my favorite Beatles album. I mean, every Beatles album is my favorite for one reason or another—but that White Album really does have the best of everything!
EXAMINER: Well, thanks so much for talking with us, Jim! We love Ride, and look forward to seeing you guys live sometime soon!
JIM WILSON: Awesome, thanks! I was just in Cleveland not too long ago with Daniel. I love the town, and can’t wait to get back soon!