New Jersey’s Trixter and New York’s Danger Danger were two of the late 80s most potent yet unheralded heavy rock bands. Their riff-driven, high octane melodies were the stuff of hair metal heaven. Had the birth of grunge music not decimated the melodic metal genre at the beginning of the 90s, both bands might have become household names alongside the likes of Def Leppard, Whitesnake and Bon Jovi. Fast-forward a quarter century, and Trixter guitarist Steve Brown conspires with Danger Danger frontman Ted Poley to create Tokyo Motor Fist. Drawn into the hard rocking fray with them are bassist Greg Smith (Ted Nugent, Alice Cooper) and drummer Chuck Burgi (Rainbow, Billy Joel, Blue Oyser Cult). While the term super-group is too often thrown around, the pedigree of these four musicians is undeniable. This week, the band’s energetic self-titled debut is out on Frontiers Records. On President’s Day AXS caught up with Steve Brown to discuss Tokyo Motor Fist, his time with Def Leppard, and when fans might expect another Trixter record.
AXS: Congrats on the Tokyo Motor Fist debut. Tell us a bit about how this all came together.
Steve Brown: “It came together through Frontiers records. My good friend Serafino reached out about a year-and-a-half ago and said, ‘Steve, would you like to make a record with Ted?’ Of course. I’ve known Ted pretty much all my life. It was a no-brainer. He asked me, who else could you get to play, and I immediately thought of my neighbor—my good friend Chuck Burgi on drums. Chuck is Billy Joel’s drummer, and he’s played in Rainbow, played in Hall and Oates, and played in the first half of the first Bon Jovi record…just incredible—perfect for this style of music. And Greg Smith on bass guitar: He’s Ted Nugent’s bass player. He’s played with Alice Cooper and Rainbow, and the list goes on and on. So it was kind of a perfect all-star thing. The cool thing is that we’ve all been friends for probably over 30 years, so we know each other. It’s not like four guys who have never met trying to put together a project. So the comfort factor was there. The fondness we have for each other…and it really shows in the music.”
AXS: Did you have a specific goal in mind when you put this together in terms of the music and direction, or was it just, let’s just get in there and start writing and see what happens?
SB: “When the project came to me, I certainly had a goal in mind which was to give the fans and ourselves everything you’d expect; the Trixter--Danger Danger sound, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Van Halen…That classic, melodic rock sound. Yet also take it to another level of giving people things they wouldn’t expect. So Tokyo Motor Fist has its own identity. It’s not just a, if you will, a Trixter meets Danger Danger crossover. That would have been too easy. I think when fans listen to the whole album, you’re gonna hear that, cause there are elements on this CD that people wouldn’t expect from the four of us. So I wrote all the songs and presented them to the guys, and I told each of the guys that I wanted them to do one thing; ‘I want you to put your own identity into each of these songs.’ And Ted, Greg and Chuck did that in a tremendous way, and just really made this Tokyo Motor Fist album unique. The band has its own sound which I couldn’t be prouder of.”
AXS: Ted Poley has one of the most distinctive voices in rock, and it sort of makes almost every track sound like a Danger Danger song. Was that a concern at all that this would not be seen as its own entity?
SB: “Ted of course has a very distinct voice, and his success with Danger Danger and on the melodic rock scene…You know, Danger Danger, and me playing with those guys, I can honestly say they’re an extremely underrated band. Danger Danger should have been as big or bigger than Trixter ever was. Bruno [Ravel] and Steve [West] wrote some incredible songs. Some of the best of that style of music. So Ted’s voice…I wasn’t worried about it. That’s the reason we got the opportunity to make this record: me being in Trixter, him being in Danger Danger, and Chuck and Greg’s resume…But I knew I had tricks up my sleeve, no pun intended, to make sure that you weren’t getting the typical Danger Danger part two. I wasn’t going to write “Bang Bang” or “Naughty Naughty” part two. I knew that would be the cheap way out. So I had some songs that I think show a completely different side, especially of Ted’s vocals. Take a track like this dark, eerie ballad on the CD called ‘Don’t Let Me Go.’ I don’t think I’ve ever heard Ted sing a song like that. So that’s a great thing. Then you put on a song like ‘Put Me to Shame,’ which is one of the heavier tracks on the CD that has like that old school Def Leppard vibe, and Ted’s screaming his balls out…. You know there are different elements on this CD and those are the things that I think are the coolest.”
AXS: Most people don’t realize this because they think of you as a guitar player, but you didn’t get the gig in Def Leppard because of your guitar skills, but rather your vocal abilities, correct?
SB: “That’s exactly the case. That’s the most important thing. Def Leppard doesn’t sample any of their background vocals and they have a very unique way of doing it. When I was in the band doing the shows; Phil, Sav, and myself would do the main part of the chorus and then Joe would jump in and do the answers lines. Like in ‘Photograph’ we would all do the backgrounds; [sings] ‘Photograph…,’ and then Joe would do the [sings] ‘I don’t want your…’. They have a very unique way of doing it, and it’s all live. That was the prerequisite, and luckily Phil and Joe were huge fans of the 40ft Ringo CD that I’d done years ago, and they knew that I had the pipes to do that. And even though I’m not British—I can sing that Mutt Lange style of vocals perfectly and cover all of Vivian’s parts, and that’s what I did. I remember Joe telling me before the first show that we did out in Vegas in the fall of 2014, he goes; [mimics Joe Elliott] “I don’t care what you play on your guitar, just make sure you get all those vocals.’ That’s a huge compliment, and I nailed everything. I’ve done nine shows with those guys so far, and I think there’ll be more to come.”
You can check out the full interview with Steve Brown in the video above, and check out the video for “Picking up the Pieces” below.