Rock of Ages from the Band Perspective

by Shawna Ortega

If you've ever felt wistful for glam metal, let Rock of Ages be your fix. Along with the laughs you'll have gawking at the fashion Armageddon that was the '80s, you can bounce along to the songs that shaped a decade. Although the movie was just released as Tom Cruise's exercise in vocals, the stage production actually premiered in 2005 and it shows no sign of wearing out yet.

On the road with the production is "the band," the 5-member group without whom there would be no music. While the actors get breaks between scenes in which they don't appear, the band plays on. And on. In what is arguably the toughest on-stage job in the show, they have to be conscious of every nuance that takes place in front of them, because it is their responsibility to keep things flowing and to maintain the aural ambience of a live '80s concert. After all, if the band tanks, it's all a cappella. And we can't think of a single '80s metal band that released a single a cappella single.

So we decided to grill band bassist Andy Gerold, a multi-faceted and madly talented musician and songwriter who finds himself not only participating in the joyous ridiculousness that is Rock of Ages, but reveling in it at every step.
Shawna Hansen Ortega (Songfacts): Let's talk first about Rock of Ages." I've been to a lot of live shows and musicals, and always there's some sort of an orchestra pit in front of the stage. But with Rock of Ages," there's only five of you, and you're on stage the whole time.

Andy Gerold: Yeah. The whole thing takes place in this whiskey-type-bar-from-Los Angeles feel. It's like the rock scene and the whiskey kind of mix together. And most of the time it takes place in that sort of setting. So we're the band in the background. We play on stage and we interact with the actors and we react to what's going on. So we're part of the thing.

Songfacts: So you need to get on your acting talent, as well. I didn't realize that. Do you have any speaking lines?

Andy: I think I say two things, one word type things that I scream out over top of everyone. But they're not actual lines that were written for me.

Songfacts: Were you responsible for creating a look for yourself for this show?

Andy: Not really. I mean, our keyboard player has to wear a wig. They have wardrobe stuff for us. And I wear the pants that they have for me, they're basically just black pants with these little patches on them. But I actually wear the shirts that I brought, black cut off sleeve shirts that I've been wearing, playing in every single band I've ever played in.

Songfacts: It's "the look." Since you play multiple instruments, do you guys ever switch out?

Andy: No. It's a lot to memorize. I guess we could do it for one song, but it would be kind of a pain in the ass.

Songfacts: Give me a quick rundown of a typical day in the show; what is Andy's life like going through a typical day in the show?

Andy: Oh my god. That's the most boring thing ever. (Laughing) I literally get up, I go to the gym for a couple of hours, I come back, eat, take a shower, I go play, and then I come back to the hotel. Every. Single. Day. And then occasionally we'll all go out and have a drink.

Songfacts: And prepping for the show every night, do you guys have to do any sort of warmup?

Andy: No. I get there maybe 10 or 15 minutes before we play and change real fast, then get up on stage. Because, I mean, we're in Chicago for the whole summer. But normally on the tour we're pretty much in a city for like a week. So the first day that we get there and the first show that we play, we do go in early, a couple of hours early, and we do a sound check and we get all that done. But that's for the whole week. So every other day we don't have to do that. We can just show up and play. And for example, here (in Chicago), the venue is literally a block away. So I just walk over there maybe 15 minutes before the show, get dressed real fast and play.

Songfacts: And then are you personally going to continue on with the show after Chicago?

Andy: Yeah. I signed on until next May, I think.

Songfacts: When you sign on, do all the other band members also sign on or are you playing with different people a lot?

Andy: Everyone's signed on. Our music director, who is also our keyboard player, I think he is going to do something else, but I'm not sure what he's doing. Actually, I guess he stays the music director, but we are getting a new keyboard player.

Songfacts: How does that change the dynamic? Is it weird for you to get used to somebody else?

Andy: Actually, we haven't had someone new yet. So I don't know. But in a couple of weeks he's going to do Dreamgirls for three weeks, so we are getting a sub while he does that. So that will be interesting. Because the keyboard player, he's also the conductor. So he does a lot of stuff during the show that no one would ever even notice. Like he's firing off the click track and he's counting us in and playing keyboard at the same time. So he's doing a lot. That's probably the toughest gig.

Songfacts: I would imagine that when you're playing, for example with Marilyn Manson, and it's a concert where anything can happen, and now you're playing in a show where there are scripted lines and scripted things that happen, I would think that that would be a rough, much harder job. Is it?

Andy: Not really. It's weird. It was really hard at first, because of the memorization of the entire show as opposed to memorizing 15 songs, like 15 Manson songs, which are super easy to memorize. These songs, we're all playing a little more than 30 songs. It's not really the songs - you can't just sit down and listen to the record of these songs and play them. Because, first of all, they're all in different keys, and second of all, they sometimes will change keys in the middle of the song and go into a different song, like a medley. So these compositions are really what you learn.

Once you learn that and you memorize it and you're comfortable with it, now it's basically just you go through the motions. So the only thing really different is that it's just longer. But pretty much every show for Rock of Ages is different. I mean, people deliver their lines differently, things happen.

Songfacts: Yeah, you've got to be on your toes all the time, I guess.

Andy: With this thing, you definitely have to be on your toes. Because shit definitely goes wrong and you just have to keep going. We haven't had to stop yet. But I heard that back in the day they had to stop a couple of times for technical difficulty. We haven't had to stop yet.

Songfacts: Have you had to change anything up on the fly because something went awry?

Andy: Yeah, for sure. Most of the songs are played to a click track. It's a computer, so sometimes it just gets messed up. It will fire the wrong song and so you either keep playing or you wait until the conductor counts you off, or sometimes even the drummer will start clicking his hat and keep going. For example, one of our people actually got hurt a few weeks ago and we had to have a sub come in. So he sings things differently, and sometimes they get off. And I think our show he actually kind of got off. So basically, I kept going, everyone else stopped to follow him. When I heard everyone else do that, then I stopped and got back on track. The audience probably would never notice the difference, but obviously we all know.

Songfacts: I was at a musical one time, Jesus Christ Superstar, and they had to take out a whole entire song because somebody got sick or something. But the orchestra kicked in and started doing the song at the appropriate time anyway. And the guy that was playing Jesus (Ted Neeley) holds his hands up and he kind of makes this motion and he's like, Okay, stop. And it was really bizarre. I'm really familiar with that one, and so I knew what was happening. So nothing like that, no weird stories like that have happened since you've been with Rock of Ages?

Andy: No. But I like when little things like that happen, because it's different and it makes the show kind of fun.

Songfacts: Really? I would think that would just be nerve wracking.

Andy: It's kind of funny when stuff goes wrong. I mean, as long as it doesn't change the show.

Songfacts: It's like a 2 1/2 hour concert every night for you, isn't it?

Andy: Yeah. We play for maybe an hour or so and then there's a 15-20 minute intermission, and we play for another hour. I think it's a little over an hour each set.

Songfacts: Is that 7 days a week?

Andy: It's Tuesday through Sunday, and then we do two shows Saturday and two shows on Sunday. So I think eight shows a week, and then we have Monday off.
Having accompanied Marilyn Manson around the world as bassist on tour in 2009, Gerold released his own album in 2012: Picking Up the Pieces, a collection of songs co-written and recorded with his My Darling Murder vocalist Jared Woosley.
Songfacts: Let's cover some other territory here. You've got a new release out with another member of your band My Darling Murder. Talk to me about that.

Andy: Well, the release that just came out with me and Jared is not a My Darling Murder release. Because, basically, what happened is me and Jared started writing a long time ago. So a publisher that I've been working with for a few years wanted to release some of the songs that we were doing, and in order to do that, we had to sign a deal with his record label, Ferver. And so we didn't want to use the name My Darling Murder in case we wanted to do a deal with someone else that is a bigger type of thing. This is only like a smaller thing, just for the publisher.

So I asked our drummer (Elias Mallin), "What songs do you want to keep for My Darling Murder and what songs can me and Jared just use on our own? Because me and Jared basically wrote all of them anyway. So he picked a handful of songs that he wanted to keep for My Darling Murder, and then me and Jared picked I think 11 or 12 songs just to release on our own. So it's technically not My Darling Murder, although it is me and Jared from the band.

Songfacts: Do you plan to tour behind it?

Andy: No. It's like a soft release to get the songs out there. The publisher that I work for, he uses them for TV and movies and stuff like that. So we're trying to get those placed in television or movies. That's what we signed the deal for - what they do is they'll put our records together and they'll release that record, so you can buy online as a digital copy. And then they also release to the television studios, if they want to use the songs for anything. And that way we can get the songs out there. The whole publishing thing of getting songs placed is something that takes a really long time. I think I released my first record with him in 2007, and it took almost a year before any of those songs got used. And they're still getting used. It's a slow process, but it lasts a long time. Just going to keep throwing stuff out there.

Songfacts: Behind the songwriting process for this, what do you primarily contribute?

Andy: I'll basically write the song musically and then Jared will come in and jot some ideas down for vocal. And then we'll just go through vocally, we'll just bounce ideas off each other. Usually he'll come up with an idea of what the song's about and then as far as melody and that, we'll go from there. He'll usually come up with something literally right on the spot, instead of him taking a couple of songs home or something. We'll just sit down and I'll play him a song and then he'll instantly start coming up with something right off the top of his head.

Songfacts: So as a bassist/guitarist, then, when you guys are writing, does it matter to you what the song is about, or are you just pretty much focused on the music? I'm trying to figure out how you, as the person coming up with the music rather than the words, if it matters what the song is about as to what sort of music, what kind of mood or whatever that you put behind it.

Andy: Yeah. I mean, when I first started doing music in bands and stuff like that, I would usually be the one who wrote the music and then vocally the singer would come in. And I used to not care about what the song was about; all I cared about was the melody. And our first singer in My Darling Murder had some songs that we'd record, and he would just randomly make stuff up. We would just try to give a good performance of whatever it was, and it wouldn't make any sense, and I didn't really care.

But for this, when I started working with Jared it was a little different. Jared actually does write songs about things. And so I made it a point to, when he would write a line or something and I would read it, I'd ask him, I'd be like, Hey, what does this mean? What does this mean, this song? And so I would make sure that every line did mean something. But he's actually really good at telling a story.

Songfacts: So obviously it does mean something to you so then you can put the appropriate feeling behind it.

Andy: Oh yeah. Absolutely. At this point, I feel like the telling of the story is the most important thing.

Songfacts: Tell me about one of the songs that you particularly like.

Andy: Well, one of my favorites is actually the first track "Work Sets You Free." Jared has a crazy obsession with World War II and the Holocaust and all that stuff. And that song is basically about the concentration camps that they sent all the Jews to. When the Jews would arrive to Auschwitz or whatever, on the gate outside of the place, it would say "Work Sets You Free" on the gate. So basically they're telling them to come here and you do your work and you behave, and the idea is you'll get out. Which was obviously a complete and total lie.

So that song, if you really dig into the lyrics, it's pretty brutal. It talks about when they're in the gas chambers and people are screaming and stuff like that. It was cool doing the song, because he really loves all that stuff as far as the history of it. And every single World War II documentary there is, he's seen.

Songfacts: Do you have any idea what drives that obsession?

Andy: I have no idea. It's like anything else that someone gets behind. He really gets into it.

The song, "Low," that's kind of a cool song. The inspiration for the song came from a story a long time ago, and I'm not sure from what war it was, actually, but basically the story was that one of the ships sank and all the sailors were stuck in the ocean. And obviously they were all hurt and wounded. They were all in this circle, huddling together, and the blood attracted the sharks. The sharks just started picking off these sailors one by one, and this one dude had to sit there and watch all his buddies get sucked under by these sharks and killed. That was the inspiration for that song. And there are like other little meanings.

"Train." I think it was his uncle who committed suicide by stepping onto train tracks and getting hit by a train. So, you can dig pretty deep into the lyrics and they're all pretty dark.

"The Stoning" kind of speaks for itself. It's basically about over in the Middle East where they still stone people for crimes. And it's basically about a mother who gets stoned in front of her kids.

Songfacts: I just can't imagine playing these live or even in the studio, these songs are so wrenching. And the cover artwork is interesting. What can you tell me about that?

Andy: Ferver Records actually did the artwork. And they came up with the title, as well.

Songfacts: Does "Picking Up the Pieces" have anything to do with the actual album?

Andy: I think that might be a lyric somewhere, but I'm not sure. Some of these songs we wrote three years ago or something. I mean, some of these are actually literally the first songs me and Jared ever wrote together.

Songfacts: Oh, so some of them date back, then. Well, the title makes sense, I mean, if you guys are taking songs from before and putting them together, putting together the pieces, so I get that.

Andy: Yeah. But I love the artwork that they did.

Songfacts: I'm looking at it right now. It's mesmerizing, but I wouldn't want to stare at it too long. (Laughing) Tell me what happened with the release on June 12 (2012).

Andy: Well, the distribution got completely screwed up. The release date wasn't really the release date, because it wasn't coming up under the name (Andy Gerold Feat. Jared Woosley). You had to dig for it. And one of my friends actually found it and she sent me the link. Normally you should be able to type in my name and it comes up. So they're still trying to fix it. I just talked to my publisher yesterday and they told him, "This has never happened before." And I'm like, "Oh, awesome."

We talked with Andy on June 19, 2012.

For more on My Darling Murder, have a look at their Facebook page

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