Interview: Jake E. Lee discusses the new Red Dragon Cartel album, ‘Patina’
Photo courtes Freeman Productions and used with permission

With a career that spans more than three decades and includes work with Ozzy and Badlands, guitarist Jake E. Lee and Red Dragon Cartel’s new album, Patina ranks as one of the his finest and returns Lee to the bluesy, hard rock sound of his Badlands days with cleverly inspired songwriting and Lee’s unmistakable guitar wizardry.

Produced by Lee and bassist Anthony Esposito, Patina also reunites Lee with Max Norman (mixer), who worked with Lee on Ozzy’s Bark at The Moon as well as with Esposito on the debut Lynch Mob album, Wicked Sensation.

Red Dragon Cartel is Jake E Lee (guitars), Darren James Smith (vocals), Anthony Esposito (bass) and Phil Varone (drums).

AXS recently caught up with Jake E. Lee to talk about the new Red Dragon Cartel album and more in this exclusive interview.

AXS: How does the new Red Dragon Cartel album, Patina, compare to the first album?

Jake E Lee: On the first record nothing was ever recorded with more than one person in the room, which was a little alien to me. This new record is more old-school and was done the same way as when I was in Badlands, or even when I was with Ozzy. The band would get together and I would present ideas and riffs and we would work on them together. The process makes it sound more like a band. It’s more honest and organic and more presentable live. We could only do about half of the first record live because of the way it was recorded. For this new record, we’ll probably be able to do almost every song on it. It really hits you harder when it’s live and these songs, in particular, are going to hit hard in a live setting.

AXS: What was the songwriting process like? What inspires you when you write and create?

JEL: I always have a huge stockpile of ideas but for this album I wanted it to be fresh. The songs on this record are just the band getting in the room; jamming and coming up with something. Sometimes inspiration can come from whatever I've been listening to that day, like “Havana.” I'd been listening all day to a certain band and a song that had a great riff. When the band got together that day we started out by just jamming on it. Afterwards, I sat there thinking, “Man, I wish I could come up with something that cool.” That’s when Anthony looked at me and said, "Well, why don't you?" So, I played around, gave it a twist and then we started working on it.

AXS: What can you tell me about the song, “Crooked Man?”

JEL: The title was inspired by the riff. It’s a very crooked riff that’s not in 4/4 time. I was having trouble sleeping and wrote that riff at like eight in the morning. It was “ugly” but in a really cool way. I love the dichotomy and juxtaposition of ugly and pretty; loud and soft. For me, the process is about throwing things in that you might not expect. Something that makes it different. Every song on this record is different and has its own special place.

AXS: How about the track, “The Luxury of Breathing?”

JEL: When you’re working on a riff or chord progression with no lyrics, you need to have something to call it, and that song was originally entitled “Fuzzy Bunny” because of the pedal I was using for the main riff [laughs]. If there’s one riff that sounds very Badlands, it's probably that one. I play slide and there’s even some harmonica and a little guiro on it. 

AXS: What was it like getting to work with Max Norman again?

JEL: It was great. I hadn't seen Max in about twenty-five years. Anthony had kept in touch with him because Max produced and engineered the first Lynch Mob album, which was Anthony’s first professional record, as well as Bark At The Moon, which was mine. We were in the studio one day and Anthony was talking on the phone. Then he looked at me and said: "Hey, do you want to talk to Max?" I remember Max was very curious about what we were up to. He thought the songs were great and later asked if he could be a part of it. He did a great job. It was fate that we'd all work together.

AXS: What are Red Dragon Cartel’s tour plans for 2019?

JEL: We’ve confirmed a tour that starts in late February in the southwestern U.S. and then we'll be going to Japan for a week. We’re also working on a European tour after that and then another round of U.S. dates. These new songs lend themselves to being played live and I’m looking forward to playing them as well as a few songs from the first record, and maybe even a few Badlands songs as well. 

AXS: This year marks the 35th anniversary of Ozzy’s album, Bark At The Moon. When you look back at that time now with so much perspective what thoughts come to mind?

JEL: I was in L.A. and had just quit the band I was in and couldn’t find another band I was interested in playing with. I was a loose cannon, just wandering around and not knowing where I was going to go. Then I got the Ozzy gig and it was amazing. I went from playing clubs in L.A. to playing arenas and going around the world. It was fairy tale like. Someone recently asked me if there was anything I haven’t done that I wish I could still accomplish as an artist and I said there was nothing. I’ve had an amazing career and the fact that it started with Ozzy is a punctuation mark.

AXS: Of all the highlights of your career is there anything you’d consider the most memorable?

JEL: Specifically, it would be the US festival. I was the new kid and hadn’t even recorded anything with Ozzy. It was also the first time we were playing on the West Coast and I knew every guitar player was going to see if I was worth a shit. I remember there were 300,000 people there and when I first walked out, it was a sea of people. Then I hit a few little chords on my guitar, just to make sure my gear was working, and you could feel the power of the stage rumble and rattle. It was amazing.

AXS: What satisfies you the most about the new Red Dragon Cartel album, Patina?

JEL: I honestly didn’t know if I had another album in me. Anthony was the one who pushed and brought the band to his studio. Every song came after that and we wound up making a record. It felt really good. As I’ve said earlier, these songs at live volume will show you just how strong they are. So, I’m looking forward to playing these songs live. One of the reasons this album took a while is that we never wanted to settle for "Yeah, that's good enough." We worked hard on every song to make it as special and interesting as possible.