For the best part of three decades, Hollywood has been infested with skinny young guys with low-slung guitars cranking out brazen rock & roll. Peaking with Guns N’ Roses‘ late-’80s explosion, the popularity of this most primal of genres has waxed and waned, but it‘s never gone away. Commercial success, however, has been elusive for bands of this ilk over recent years.
Once in a while, there are whispers of its return under some new flag (“glitter rock,” “T-shirt rock”), but few of its current proponents have been able to drag themselves free of the club scene. One notable exception is Buckcherry, who’ve done it not by breaking with tradition but by conforming to it very, very well.
What has separated Buckcherry from the hairy hordes and pushed them on to major-label stardom? “We got our early attention from live shows,” explains charismatic vocalist Josh Todd, “the way all bands used to do it. I‘d like to think that it starts from the songs and performance. That’s really what we‘re all about. But we also have very different musical tastes within the band, and I think that chemistry is what gives us a little twist.”
He’s too modest to mention it himself, but having a true front man in the classic sense of the word hasn‘t hurt the band, either. Todd is the onstage offspring of Jagger, Tyler and Iggy, his strutting, arch-backed delivery both entrancing and endearing. “I have a very strange style of dancing,” he confides. “It’s ridiculous — I‘m painfully white!”
A surf kid from Orange County, Todd was instantly converted to band life the first time he picked up a microphone. “I didn’t really like my voice that much,” he says, “but I liked writing songs, I liked writing lyrics.” That and a Ramones concert turned his teenage head, and soon he was off to L.A. in search of kindred spirits.
By the time Todd and guitarist Keith Nelson formed Buckcherry (initially called Sparrow) in 1995, they‘d both been through their share of disappointments in the music business. Disillusioned with trying to please everyone, they were ready to make music “for ourselves and nobody else.” From the opening riff of their 1999 eponymous debut, you knew they meant it. The much-censored single “Lit Up,” as addictive as its powdery subject matter, combined with constant touring, propelled their first record close to platinum status in the U.S. and brought Buckcherry a sizable global following. At a time when good-time rock & roll was far from chic, they proved yet again that raucous guitars and solid songs always hit the spot.
Through a robust single-mindedness, rare esprit de corps and deep love of what they do, Buckcherry have survived the rigors of a notoriously fickle industry with their integrity intact, and returned with a new disc, Time Bomb, that not only retains their signature sound but subtly embellishes it. Despite lacking the obvious radio hit of their debut, this latest offering is overall a more consistent and colorful collection, while still displaying jagged teeth cut on endless road miles.
Though just off a flight from Japan, part of the promotional whirlwind around Time Bomb, Todd is visibly enthusiastic about his vocation: “I always gravitated toward loud guitars, because they brought out some shit that was going on inside of me.” Creating music is effortless for Buckcherry, he says; after 15 months of worldwide touring behind their debut, they took just two days off before reconvening to craft the songs that became Time Bomb, a process that had begun on the road. Far from suffering writer’s block, the band soon had 35 songs from which to pick 12 for the album. After exploring a few unfamiliar avenues during the demo stage, they eventually settled on a coherent collection of tunes that would demonstrate diversity and dynamics without compromising their core appeal.
Apart from the priceless live experience (“the best market research,” attests Todd), Time Bomb also benefits from the fresh creative input of producer John Travis (Kid Rock, Monster Magnet) and accomplished guitarist Yogi, who joined Buckcherry after their debut release. Of Travis, Todd says, “He was very detailed and excited about our music, and gave us constructive criticism, which we like. I don‘t know why else you’d want a producer — either produce it yourself, or have someone who‘s going to kick you in the ass!”
Having pulled off their unfashionable debut with pride and panache, Todd and his bandmates are thrilled to be releasing Time Bomb into a more favorable rock climate. “We’re really excited. Things are starting to change, you can feel it.” With Buckcherry as an admirable barometer, we‘ll see.