By Carol Anne Szel
With more than 10 million albums sold to date, and with one of the most popular songs to have ever ravaged radio stations, Extreme has had its share of success. Its epic tune “More Than Words” is a timeless classic that put this Boston-based band on the map.
With the release of the band’s 2009 “Saudades De Rock,” its first studio recording in over 13 years, and marking the current debut of Extreme’s new live CD/DVD release “Take Us Alive” on Frontiers Records, we sit down with singer/songwriter Gary Cherone to take us back to the Extreme journey from then to now.
Knowing the band since before its first self-titled debut release in 1989, there is a lot to catch up on with the band’s vocalist on his long and sometimes wonderfully twisting musical road.
“We were on and off for a few years,” Cherone says of Extreme. “And we just went off in 2005, 2006. Then we were being urged to finally reunite to do a record. We always had it in the back of our heads that we were gonna get together to do new music. We finally got together in 2007, put out a record, and we toured the last couple of years.”
Extreme, which is made up of Cherone on lead vocals, Nuno Bettencourt on guitar, Pat Badger on bass and Kevin Figueiredo on drums, was out on the 2008-2009 “Take Us Alive” world tour when members decided to do a live recording of their stage show. “We tried a few times in Europe and Japan to tape but those things fell through. So it was the last American tour that we had to get it right.”
Known for its highly charged and impassioned live shows from clubs back in their early days in Boston to playing huge concert halls in the early ’90s, Extreme was determined to capture its stage show to document the reunited band.
“It’s the band live,” Cherone says. “It spans our whole catalog. We made sure we do the old stuff with the new stuff. And we were so excited, because we felt the band was better than it ever was. So we released our first live video.”
After releasing five albums plus a greatest hit set, Grammy-nominated Extreme also had a No. 1 hit single, “More Than Words”— from their 1990 multi-platinum album “Extreme II: Pornograffitti,” which spent a number of weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, which was followed with their Top-5 hit “Hole Hearted.”
“Isn’t it amazing?” Gary reminisces about “More Than Words,” which launched the band onto worldwide radio and into America’s living rooms on MTV with the song’s accompanying video. Having spent about 18 hours on the set with the band, I remind Gary of the day they shot the video and the feeling that the song would be the band’s last chance at stardom. “That video shoot was right before the band exploded,” Cherone muses, “and you were one of the few people in the room!”
Recalling that time, Cherone declares, “Before the band made it almost seems like a lifetime ago. And we’ve all lived several lifetimes since then — you know, before the band exploded. I remember the band was together playing the clubs in Boston for years, putting out a record that sold about 300,000, but enough to get another record. Again, the stars align in the right place at the right time.” He continues to reveal that the band really was down in the dumps. “You know, the tour was over. And then the last, we were like ‘OK, we’ll do a couple of videos.’ And the company wanted to do a video.”
And, arguably living in an era today where music seems to be churned out quickly and often fades away just as fast, Cherone contends that artist development, that doesn’t happen anymore. “The record company did believe in us, and we had a couple of people that were behind us. So here we are, no tour, “More Than Words” comes out, it dominates all over the radio stations and explodes. So now we’re touring for the next few years behind Bon Jovi, ZZ Top, you know, we couldn’t get off the road. So be careful what you wish for! It was a run; we were on fire. We were exhausted, but we were living the dream.”
Indeed. Virtually growing up together and formulating their dream of starting a band in their hometown, Cherone explains that Extreme truly was a band of brothers. Over time, however, this closeness can take its toll, as it did with Extreme.
“The outside influences, the drugs, sleeping around, girlfriends, all that drama,” he tells of the band, which has traveled a somewhat rocky road from time to time. “We were brothers who were in small quarters. So like anybody starts to get on you. That’s not what broke up the band,” he adds.
Extreme took a sort of mutual hiatus for several years. And now, he explains, the band brought it to another level and broadened the spectrum of what Extreme was all about. “I think that’s when it opened up a new chapter for us,” he said.
By 1995, Extreme did another record, and the music industry was changing; it was going through its own purification. “Nuno wanted to do some solo stuff, and I wanted to keep the band together. We didn’t break up because we hated each other. We broke up because Nuno wanted to do some stuff.”
And that’s when Cherone got the call from Van Halen. With his charm and a wit that is contagious, Gary smiles and says, “Sometimes I don’t know how these things happen to me! I spent three years in Van Halen.”
He explains his journey into the world of Van Halen. “Our manager at the time was managing Van Halen. And I remember that summer, ’96, there was a commercial that was playing on MTV and they were playing the theme from ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’ and showing Van Halen with David Lee Roth.” He recalls, “I was thinking and said to our manager ‘Oh that’s great. Van Halen is getting back together. Maybe Extreme can tour with VH.’ Little did I know that less than a month later I got a call from my manager about trying out for the gig with VH! I didn’t believe him.”
Sent from Boston to Eddie Van Halen’s home in California to try out for the band, he admits, “I really thought I was going to spend the weekend there, sing a couple of VH songs and come home to put Extreme back together and be able to tell some stories about how I got to jam with the mighty Van Halen. Little did I know I’d be spending three years with them!”
“They were great; Eddie was on fire. He was just rejuvenated. We did a record. Looking back on it, we had thought there were some good songs. I think the production fell short. And that’s fine. You know the public wanted Dave. I get it. I get the criticism, and I dealt with it. But for me, those three years in Van Halen I wouldn’t trade for the world. When Van Halen went out on tour it was an even bigger level than Extreme, so I was like, ‘What are you kidding me? I’m in heaven.’ I look back; believe it or not, it’s been 10 years. Part of me every day I was in Van Halen was like, ‘Enjoy it while it lasts.’”
With our conversation turning back to the present, Cherone tells of the choices Extreme has made in keeping true to itself. “We did not want to do the reunion tour; we did not want to do the nostalgic tour with all the bands from the ’80s and ’90s,” he states adamantly. “We did not want to be locked in with nostalgia. We wanted it to be based on the music. And that’s what it always was with Extreme.”
Today, Extreme hopes to bring to light what made this critically acclaimed band so well loved: its live show.
“That’s why it’s exciting that we had a double CD come out. It’s finally capturing the band!” Cherone says.
And with the virtual departure of MTV videos, Gary laments, “To me, I don’t mind the demise of MTV at all, because it separates the boys from the men. This band is a performance band. With an MTV creation, they fall by the wayside. You don’t have these quick edits that look like you’re entertaining.”
Extreme was — and is still — an old-school band. “There’s no substitute for what we did with Extreme. Now it’s about playing the new music and giving the people what they want,” Cherone says.
His attitude, as always, is one of both practicality and passion. Of his success and Extreme, he admits it won’t last forever. “You know the ’80s experience didn’t last forever. You know we had a record come out, a CD and DVD. We have our moments of down and despair,” he says.
Showing his passion for music and his path, he says, “but as far as doing what you love to do, are you kidding me? This is the best job in the world.”
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