Interview: James Williamson and the Pink Hearts vocalist Frank Meyer talks new album, upcoming shows
Courtesy of Leopard Lady Records

It’s an exciting time for fans of the Stooges, the much-beloved band that is considered one of the most influential bands of all time. Stooges guitarist James Williamson has a new band called James Williamson and the Pink Hearts that features singer Frank Meyer (The Streetwalkin’ Cheetahs) and singer and violinist Petra Haden (The Decemberists, the Haden Triplets) and the band has a new album called Behind the Shade set to drop on June 22.

Fans in California will be among the first to have a chance to hear the new music live as James Williamson and the Pink Hearts will perform June 29 in Los Angeles at the El Rey Theatre (Click here for tickets) and June 30 in San Francisco at the Great American Music Hall (Click here for tickets.) Besides showcasing Behind the Shade, the band will also play a selection of Stooges classics.

We had a chance to chat by email with Meyer, and he told us about writing the lyrics for the album, about the inspiration for lead cut “Riot on the Strip,” and considering that Behind the Shade will be released on vinyl, some of the rare records that he has in his personal collection. His commentary below is given exclusively to AXS.com.

AXS: Were you inspired by a particular incident when you wrote the lyrics for the Behind the Shade cut “Riot on the Strip”?

Frank Meyer: “Riot on the Strip” is about the downfall of the L.A. music scene. Los Angeles music had a massive impact on me. I grew up in L.A. and the Hollywood music scene, so I both love and loathe it. As a teen, some of my earliest live shows were at the Troubadour, the Roxy, Whiskey and Scream seeing Jane’s Addiction, Guns N’ Roses, Fishbone and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Being exposed to all that at such an early age was a HUGE influence on me. But I have also seen the negative side to success for many great artists. I’ve seen them blow up, burn out and fade away. I’ve seen them ripped-off and having to spend decades paying back debts to major labels that acted like banks and gangsters. I’ve seen beautiful music come out of nowhere only to be carbon-copied to death to the point that you eventually despise it. In the song, the kids get sick of being taken advantage of so they react by rioting in the streets against the corporate rock businessmen that have commercialized and marginalized the music scene. The "Riot on the Strip" video, directed by Amy D'Allessandro Stolz, captures that rage, as you see Petra Haden and myself as homeless rock ‘n’ rollers begging for change on the Strip with a “will work for music” sign. Seemed appropriate to the theme of the song.

AXS: Did you struggle a little when James asked you to write some songs for Petra to sing lead on?

FM: There was never a struggle to write anything on this album. James constantly provided me with fantastic riffs and music with which to work, so it was easy to write lyrics and sing cool melodies to it all. Once he brought Petra Haden into the mix, I knew the sky was the limit and we could do anything. It allowed me to step even further outside of my comfort zone and write beyond what I even knew I could do as a singer. “Destiny Now” was one of the first songs James and I worked on. He had already written it with Paul Nelson Kimball, but I sang on the demo version, which kind of breathed life into it. We agreed it would be a perfect match for Petra and that kind of sent us down that path. James also suggested we have her sing this Alejandro Escovedo song, “I Died A Little Today.” Originally, I had it all worked out to sing a harmony part and make it more of a duet, but when she sang it, it was so haunting, so moody, and so perfect, that I said, “Hell no, I ain’t singing on that. It doesn’t need me now!” Then we wrote “Pink Hearts across the Sky” with Petra in mind. It had this Stones-y country-rock vibe, and that was a style I hadn’t really heard her do. Then she added violin and my heart just soared. I get shivers when I hear that song. She just killed it. There’s an animated lyric video by Emily Hubley ("Hedwig & the Angry Inch," "Danny Says") coming out soon that is just magical. It really brings the song to life in a way I never imagined.

AXS: Behind the Shade will be available on vinyl. Do you like to listen to music on vinyl, and do you have a substantial collection? Your most cherished pieces?

FM: I’m super excited that Behind the Shade will be on vinyl. I love vinyl. Always have. I have a huge record collection, though not as big as it should be. In the early 2000s, when CDs were all the rage and it was the beginning of digital music, I was briefly convinced vinyl was passé and I sold a big part of my collection. I kept all the rare stuff, bootlegs, and personal favorites, but got rid of a ton of cool stuff like Led Zeppelin, the Who and the Kinks that I soon came to regret. Never again. I’ve built the collection back up though. I have tons of rare Stooges, MC5, Dictators, Dead Boys, the Rolling Stones, Zappa, New York Dolls, and Jeff Beck. I have all the Shel Silverstein music and spoken word albums, Carole King’s first band The City, the soundtrack to every John Carpenter movie, the original Leathür Records version of Mötley Crüe’s Too Fast for Love, and tons of Hanoi Rocks bootlegs. I still have my original Mr. Bill flexi-disc. I recently found the soundtrack to the early ‘80s teenage rebellion flick Over the Edge, but gave it to Petra because she loves that movie even more than I do. But my prized possession is the soundtrack to the ‘80s T&A raft race romp comedy Up The Creek because it starred both Otter and Flounder from "Animal House" and features the worst/best Cheap Trick song ever, the title track.

AXS: The band is about to begin rehearsals for upcoming shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco in late June and fans will probably expect a couple of Stooges covers in your live set; if Stooges songs do find their way into the show, which ones would you most like to sing? 

FM: For the tour, we are doing the new album Behind the Shade, plus songs from Raw PowerKill City and some of the unreleased Stooges stuff from ‘73/’74 that James re-did on his album Re-Licked. I am a huge Stooges fan. I even wrote liner notes for Bomp!’s Iguana Chronicles series many years ago. So I am really familiar with James’ entire catalogue. I wanted to do songs like “Head On,” “Scene of the Crime” and “Open Up and Bleed” alongside the classics “Search and Destroy” and “I Got a Right,” and new ones like “Miss Misery,” “You Send Me Down,” and “Judith Christ.” I think Stooges fans will be stoked because James still rips on that stuff, and Petra and I can sing the hell out of that stuff. No one has heard Petra rock this hard since her ‘90s band That Dog. People are gonna trip.

AXS: What does the band have planned for after those California shows? Considering what James, Petra and yourself might already have cooking as individuals this summer, are there any plans in the works for any live dates beyond the west coast?

FM: Right now this band is my top priority. I am all about the Pink Hearts, baby! I am really proud of this music and this band. We have more tour dates coming and I’m ready to go out and kill it. Really excited about our new music, and for fans to get to hear how 'on fire' James’ guitar playing is these days. This project really inspired him and he’s just slaying on that thing, man. The band also includes keyboardist Gregg Foreman of Cat Power and Delta 72; drummer Michael Urbano of Paul Westerberg, John Hiatt and Smash Mouth, and our GRAMMY-winning producer/engineer Jason Carmer on bass. All pros. All Iggy and the Stooges fans. It’s gonna be sick.

Follow James Williamson & the Pink Hearts here