An Interview with Jacob Bunton – Lead Singer for Adler

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Everyone remembers the first time they heard Guns and Roses “Appetite for Destruction.”  Where they were, what they were doing, and how the album changed the way we thought of music, and how we looked at the artists that created it.  Steven Adler was the man behind the drum kit for Guns and Roses for many years until his demons caught up with him.  Now, 27 years later, Steven has emerged with a new band and a new album rightfully called “Back from the Dead.”  This album picks up where Appetite left off, and in my opinion, is everything that “Chinese Democracy” should have been and wasn’t.

Maine Music News had the opportunity to chat with Jacob Bunton, lead singer and co-writer for Adler, on Thursday, April 18th.  During the 45 minute chat, which felt like two old friends getting to sit down and talk about the music they loved, we talked about their latest album, what it is like working with Steven, and much more.

MMN – Are you calling from your home tonight?

Bunton – Yes, I am back in Birmingham Alabama right now so all is good. All I do is travel so it feels good to be home from time to time.

MMN – You guys just got back from a few days in Tokyo. How did that trip go?

Bunton – It was amazing. None of us other than Steven had ever been to Japan. It was a very short trip. We went over with Duff McKagan. Since we were over there for 3 days, the rest of us decided we would not sleep, and we would just go train hop and go explore the country. We did that and explored everything. Met some amazing people, ran into some awesome shops, ate some amazing food, played a couple of great shows, and headed back home. What an amazing way to experience Japan for the first time. Duff was real helpful as he knew all the cool places to go as he obviously had been over there so many times.

MMN – How was it getting to play with Duff?

Bunton – When I was a kid, I grew up listening to Guns and Roses, being one of my favorite bands of all time. “Appetite for Destruction” has always been my favorite record. To be up on stage with Steven and Duff to play a couple of Guns and Roses tunes was very surreal. It was one of those moments where you are pinching yourself going “wow.” The best way I can compare it is that movie “Rockstar” with Marky Mark. That’s what it felt like singing for your favorite band.

MMN – Can you talk about how the current line-up for Adler came together?

Bunton – I was really close friends with Jani Lane, the former lead singer for Warrant. When he passed away, they had his memorial at the Key Club out in Hollywood. I was in town with a producer friend of mine named Jay Ruston, and he was friends with Steven and Lonny Paul. He told me that Steven and Lonny were tired of doing the Adler’s Appetite thing. They were basically doing Guns and Roses cover songs for the fans that wanted to see Steven. He decided to do a new project, and they had been looking for a new singer and thought that I would be perfect. Lonny happened to be at the memorial that night and Jay introduced me. Lonny and I hit it off. The next day he and Steven came to my hotel, and we sat around and talked about music forever. We talked about bands that we grew up on, bands that we loved. We really hit it off.

So we started exchanging song ideas through email. I flew out there, and I ended up loving what they did, and they loved what I did, and it just kind of happened. The next thing you know a couple of months after we met, January of last year, we went into the studio with Jeff Pilson and started making the record. The record was done by May, and then it was released in November via New Ocean Media.

The first single, “The One That You Hated” came out last April before the record was even completed. That came about when Steven was going to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Guns and Roses. He was concerned that everyone was familiar with what Slash is doing now. Axl did his record “Chinese Democracy.” Izzy had done the Ju Ju Hounds. Duff McKagan has done Loaded, and he was concerned that he was the only one that has not done anything since “Appetite for Destruction.” He said, “Before I am inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame I want to get a song out there so people can see what I am up to and what this new project is about.” So one night we were at the studio, Slash was there, and we were just hanging. He was listening to some of the songs and when we got to playing him the rough mix of “The One That You Hated,” his face lit up and he goes “Man that is it, that is an awesome song, that’s your single.” So we figured if Slash thinks it’s cool, then it’s cool, let’s release that one.

I cannot forget to mention our bass player, Johnny Martin. The way that we found him was he was on tour with another band, and after we were finished with the record, we needed a player. Johnny and Lonny had been friends for a long time. Lonny was having a party over at his house, Johnny came over, and Steven was there, those two met. Johnny took Lonny’s bass off the wall, and just started playing Rush tunes and Iron Maiden songs and stuff like that. Steven said, “Wow man this guy is incredible, do you want to play with us?” So, those guys started rehearsing with Johnny, and then I flew out for our first rehearsals and met him and just thought the world of him. What an incredible bass player and what an incredible talent and asset to this band and to our project. Johnny is a member of Adler, and he is just an awesome dude.

MMN – Can you talk about what it is like getting to work with Steven?

Bunton – Steven is very driven, he is one of the sweetest guys you will ever meet, and he is really nice and always has been. He is always hugging everybody. He is always about the fans. If a fan approaches him, he always gives them a big hug. He will sign anything you want him to.

Now, working with him, as soon as he gets behind the drum kit, he is undoubtedly that drummer that was on “Appetite for Destruction.” He has that certain swing and swagger, and he is an amazing player. No matter what tune you are playing, it does not matter if you are playing “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC or “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” by Elton John or you could be playing a Foo Fighters song, you are going to know it’s Steven Adler playing on the drums. He just has that sound. He is as solid as they come and he has a great work ethic. He has many demons and has struggled with them over the years, but like anybody that is an addict and has been through the process, you take it a day at a time, and you just try to put one foot in front of the other and do the best you can. As of right now, he is in good shape, and we are about to go out on tour this summer. We are doing all of the US in June and July, and in September we are going to Europe, and in October we are going to South America. So, all is good.

MMN – You mentioned Jeff Pilson (Dokken and Foreigner) produced the album, what was it like working with Jeff?

Bunton – That was cool as well because growing up, once again, I was a big Dokken fan. This whole project has been very surreal to me. Jeff is one of the most talented people that I have ever met in my life. He is a great producer, engineer, great player, great songwriter, and he has a great voice. He is kind of like the jack of all trades. There is nothing the guy can’t do musically. He definitely brought out the absolute best in this project. It was such an amazing experience getting to work with the guy.

MMN – Slash and John 5 also played on this album. Can you talk about what it was like working with them?

Bunton – When we were in the studio, when Slash was playing, it was just one of those moments where you have chill bumps. You can feel the love in the room between him and Steven. Those two have been best friends since middle school. They were in bands together before Guns and Roses, and then of course Guns and Roses, and are still best friends to this day. It’s really cool to get to see that when you are hanging around, to you it’s like “wow, that’s Slash and Steven Adler,” but to them they are just two best friends. Sometimes they talk about music, and sometimes they talk about family stuff, and sometimes they talk about things that happened when they were kids, the way that best friends do.

As far as John 5 goes, he is an incredible player, an incredible shredder. The name of the song he played on was “Good to be Bad.” We wanted him on that song because it had a creepy vibe and that guy is the king of doing stuff like that. Whether it was with Marilyn Manson or with Rob Zombie, he just knows how to get what I call the creepy vibe. He walked in and nailed it first take. Same deal with the solo. There is actually a video up on our YouTube page of him doing the solo and that was the first take. We ended up doing one more take where he did the exact same thing just so we had two. It was incredible. A lot of people think that he uses tons of effects, but that can’t be further from the truth. His pedal board is so small, all he has is a yellow distortion pedal, a blue chorus pedal, a tuner, and Wah pedal. That’s it. The weird watery effect that he makes is just every knob on that blue chorus pedal turned all the way up. He is just a great player.

MMN – As a singer, writer, and guitar player, who are your influences?

Bunton – As far as guitar goes, Steve Vai is my all-time favorite player. He has influenced me more than anyone has. As far as vocally, a lot of the bands from that era influence me, obviously Axl Rose from Guns and Roses, Michael Sweet from Stryper, Tom Keifer from Cinderella, Sebastian Bach from Skid Row, and Steve Perry from Journey. All those guys I thought were just absolutely incredible. Then as far as song writing goes, my biggest influences are Mutt Lange, one of my favorite song writers and arguably the biggest record producer of all time. He is my favorite songwriter, and Diane Warren, she is an amazing song writer, too. I have influences all over the place. My favorite drummer was the second drummer for Kiss, Eric Carr. Most people say that their favorite era of Kiss was the 70’s. They always talk about the 70’s Kiss lineup. My favorite line up of Kiss was Paul, Gene, Eric Carr, and Bruce Kulich. I freaking love that line up. I thought that stuff was so amazing. He has always been my favorite drummer. I feel bad that I am never going to get to meet him, I hate that.

MMN – Can you talk about the writing process for this album? Is it just my imagination or do the songs tend to tell Steven’s story?

Bunton – Ya, they were totally put together to tell Steven’s story. Lonny and I wrote the record. Some songs I wrote, some Lonny wrote, some we wrote together. They were definitely to tell a story of a man that had it all, lost it all, and is trying to dig his way back out. We had so many songs written for the record, a lot of demos, and ultimately it was Steven’s decision as to what made it on the record. He kind of A & R’d the record if you will. We would play him some songs, some I really wanted on the record, that didn’t make it because Steven wasn’t feeling them at the time. At the end of the day, I think he did a great job picking the songs. They are cohesive, they tell a story, and there is definitely a theme to the album.

Like I said after Jani’s memorial, after I came back to Birmingham, Lonny started sending me ideas, I started sending him ideas, and so we wrote a lot of it just through email, just going back and forth. One thing that we said at the very beginning is that we are going to put egos aside, if there is something that can be done to make the song better, everybody has to be open to suggestions. You can’t get too precious with ideas, you can’t hold on to something and be stubborn and be like this is a great song, and I’m not changing it. And it worked out well. There were things that I didn’t want to change and that Lonny didn’t want to change, but in the end it did really help the songs.

We did that for a while and then I came out to LA and the first song that Lonny and I actually sat down in the same room and wrote together was “The One That You Hated”, which was the first single and video. It took us literally 10 minutes to write the song. It was so easy. When I came in I already had the verses written and already had the music written. I just did not have the chorus written. I did not know what the melody was going to be on the chorus or what the chorus was going to say. I was singing through the lyrics, and he was listening to the words, what it was about, and when it got to the chorus, he just started singing “I’m the one that you hated.” I was like “dude, that’s it!” Literally, the song was written in 10 minutes. We recorded it at Lonny’s little demo studio, and the next day we were at Jeff’s recording the song.

So from there we would collaborate more in person once the studio sessions began, once I was there. Then there were two songs on the record, “Back from the Dead” and “Another Version of the Truth” that Jeff Pilson actually co-wrote with us as well. That was a lot of fun, and we did that actually at his studio. Again, we brought in what we thought was the finished song from Lonny’s demo studio, and Jeff asked “do you mind if we do this or do that?” We were like “dude, that makes it a lot better.” So the next thing you know it was a collaborative effort on those couple of songs. That’s pretty much how the whole song writing process went.

MMN – I have to ask, the song “Your Diamonds” has anyone said this song reminds them of Journey’s “Anytime”?

Bunton – We were at the studio and Steven said, “Can you play piano?” And I was like “ya, of course,” I started out playing piano, it was my first instrument. He goes, “Man, I want a song that sounds like Journey meets Elton John meets Queen. One of those piano songs. I want it totally 70’s sounding.” So, I was like “Ok” and went back that night and wrote the song. We were listening to different Journey songs and different Elton John songs that he liked.  You are actually the first that has ever caught that out of all the reviews and critiques and everyone else that has heard the record. You are a true music fan there to catch that, good ear.

MMN – Does the concept of writing albums with a story to tell still work in today’s digital world where fans can just download one or two songs?

Bunton – It depends on what you are writing it for. If you are writing it for yourself, and it is something that you want to do, something that makes you happy that you hope people will embrace and that people will pick up, that is one thing. Lonny and I went into this with no expectations at all. Actually we didn’t think anybody would like the record. Anything that any member of Guns and Roses does everyone always compares it to “Appetite for Destruction,” and they tear it apart. You can ask the guys that play with Duff, the guys that play with Slash, you can ask Bumblefoot the new guy from Guns and Roses, great guy, great player. But when you play with Guns and Roses all anybody does is tear you down because you are not Slash, you are not Axl, you are not the original guys. I get it. I totally get that. Lonny and I went into it going you know what, people are probably going tear us apart anyway, let’s just make a record that we are proud of. Let us not worry about album sales, let us not worry about radio, let’s not worry about anything other than we are making a record with one of the guys that we were hanging on our walls when we were kids. Let us just have fun and do it because we want to and no other reason.

Steven on the other hand, it was very important to him for the fans to accept it. It was the first full record that he has played on since “Appetite for Destruction.” He was very hard on himself in the studio. He had a lot more pressure than we did because Lonny and I, we had nothing to lose. We are just dudes playing with him. However, everyone was viewing this as Steven’s comeback. When the record came out all of a sudden critiques started giving it 4 and 5 star reviews and magazines that went up to 10 stars would give it 8 and 9 star reviews. Everyone from Rolling Stone to Kerrang to everyone in between, you name it, I have never found a bad review of the record, everybody really loves it. So obviously we are blown away and humbled by the whole thing.

The one thing that Steven does not realize he just remembers the way that things were. He still remembers MTV. He still remembers albums selling millions of copies and people buying the whole record for the collection. With him, it’s a little bit different because I think he wants people to buy the whole thing.

I think more than ever we are a throw away culture where people are not necessarily fans of bands like they used to be. They are more fans of songs. That is why you can have an artist like Carly Rae Jepson who has a single called “Call Me Maybe” sell six or seven million singles and yet she can walk through a mall and nobody knows who she is because there are not Carly Rae Jepson fans. They are fans of the song “Call Me Maybe.” Many people are not able to follow that up. And of course growing up in the era of MTV and all the magazines when music dominated, pre internet era, it was all about having a favorite band. For instance, if Poison was your favorite band, and you loved “Look What the Cat Dragged In,” you didn’t need to hear “Nothing But a Good Time” in order to go buy the record because you were already a fan. You are going to go buy that record the day it comes out because you are a fan of that band. That does not happen very often anymore with newer bands.

The main thing as far as the downloads, we made the record for ourselves. It’s harder now to expect everybody to buy a record that has a certain theme to it, you just have to hope that there are certain songs they latch on to if your goal is to sell records. Like I said, going into it, our goal was just to have fun and make the best record we could.

MMN – I think you did. I honestly think this album is what “Chinese Democracy” should have been when it was released.

Bunton – Those are huge words. I appreciate that more than you realize, brother, that is so nice. Thank you!

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MMN – Let’s talk about the song “The One That You Hated.” This was your first single. Is this one that you play live?

Bunton – Ya, we actually play the entire record live. The fans really like that song and they like “Good to be Bad.” It’s been really interesting at all the shows we have played. Everybody already has the record so they are familiar with everything.

One thing that we said from the very beginning – we are not Guns and Roses. This is not an Adler’s Appetite show where you are just going to hear Guns and Roses songs. It’s an Adler show, so you are going to hear Adler and very little Guns and Roses. We make sure everybody knows that going into it. We tell all the promoters that, we let everybody know that, so there is no confusion. Of course for the encore we come out and play a couple Guns and Roses songs.

MMN – What can we expect from a live Adler show?

Bunton – Expect a big rock and roll show. Expect to leave all your problems at the door when you walk in. We are not a political band. We are not Rage Against the Machine. We are not anybody like that. We don’t stand up on stage and bitch about politics for an hour. There is enough of that shit on your TV. There is enough of that on your Facebook wall and everything else. Our goal is for everybody to put all the bullshit behind them and come and have a good time and deliver a good solid arena rock show. It is definitely a club level show but we bring an arena rock show to a club. It’s just about forgetting all the crap in the world and embracing the now. Because ultimately that is what it’s about man, living a happy life, a good life.

MMN – So, if I say the words Ghost Machine what comes to mind?

Bunton – Badass guitars man, badass guitars. They are building me a guitar right now. It will be done in the next week or so, and I can’t wait. I got a chance to play several models on the Monsters of Rock Cruise that just happened. Scott Dalhover from Dangerous Toys – its his company. Holy Shit his guitars are amazing. Obviously the guy has played guitar forever and knows what he is doing. These guitars are superior guitars, they are absolutely amazing. I fell in love with the guitar he had on the cruise that I was playing. I can’t wait to get mine. Hopefully it will be here in the next week or two.

MMN – You are still doing double duty fronting Lynam too right?

Bunton – Yep, fronting for Lynam and fronting for Adler.

MMN – How hard is it juggling working with both bands?

Bunton – Man, it’s not because I love it so much. You know how they say “If you do what you love, you never work a day in your life?” Do not get me wrong, it is definitely a lot of hard work, but I love it so much. I could not imagine doing anything else. With Lynam, we have been together for a long time and those guys are my brothers we are so close. When Adler goes on tour, Lynam comes along as the road crew so we are always together. When we are not doing Adler shows, we are doing Lynam shows. In Lynam, we have a tremendous fan base from obviously being together for years, having the record on Universal, having a record on Megaforce, and having the charting singles at radio. It’s a lot of fun to do both. It’s a lot of fun for the Lynam fans to discover Adler and a lot of fun for Guns and Roses fans to discover Lynam. It’s a really cool equation.

In addition to that, I went on the Monsters of Rock Cruise. That is where I met Scott from Dangerous Toys. I went specifically on the cruise to see Dangerous Toys, Cinderella, Stryper, and Y&T. I love all those bands.

So here is a fun story from the cruise. Tom Keifer was sick with pneumonia, and he ended up not being able to get on the ship. Cinderella was headlining the cruise and 30 minutes before they went on I was walking back on the ship when I noticed Fred Courey motioning to me backstage. He was like “dude, where have you been?” I was like, “what do you mean where have I been, I was walking on the island just hanging out. What’s up?” He said, “dude, Tom didn’t make the ship, he is sick and you are singing. Here is the set list, and we are opening up with Gypsy Road.” I just started laughing until I realized he was serious. Then I was like “ok, when is this supposed to take place?” Fred says, “We go on in 30 minutes!” I started going through lyrics in my head thinking this is nuts, but it’s going to be fun. I went back to my cabin and changed clothes. As soon as I walked back out I was thinking how Cinderella was one of my all-time favorite bands growing up and then thinking oh my god this is crazy, is this really about to happen? I handed Tom Keifer’s guitar tech my guitar so he could tune it. As he is tuning it Eddie Trunk is up on stage introducing the band. Tom Keifer’s guitar tech hands me my guitar back and says “good luck.” Jeff LeBar starts off on the intro to Gypsy Road and the band kicks in and I walk out and start singing. It didn’t even hit me until after the show when I realized “Holy Shit, I just fronted Cinderella!”

Now, the funniest part – Eddie Trunk said that after he introduced the band he walked out and stood next to the Tesla guys and their wives. He said Brian Wheat’s wife was standing next to him. She goes “Oh my god, Tom hasn’t aged a bit, he looks so young.” Eddie was trying to explain to her “that’s not Tom,” but it was so loud she could not hear him. She kept saying it over and over. That was another one of my more surreal moments for sure.

MMN – Jacob, I think that about covers it. Thank you so much for the interview and I hope to be able make it down to the Worcester Mass gig on July 14th.

Bunton – Thank you and I will see you in July.

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