The Apocalypse Blues Revue are back with their new album, The Shape Of Blues To Come, released July 20th 2018 via Provogue/Mascot Label Group.
Following 2016s self-titled debut, Godsmack’s Shannon Larkin (Drums) and Tony Rombola (Guitar) return with some more bone-shaking blues with Brian Carpenter (Bass) and the shamanistic frontman Ray “Rafer John” Cerbone.
There is a healthy dose of psychedelia that infuses the record, filtered through the blues of Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, and Billy F. Gibbons, and guitarist Tony Rombola runs the gamut from earthy comping to explosive shards of metallic but no less bluesy slide guitar on “We Are One.” Rombola’s riffing, writing, and soloing is a beautiful blend of chops and taste. This is a great guitar record, and Rombola displays a lifetime of woodshedding, listening, learning, and his playing is a thrill from beginning to end. Another important piece of the puzzle here is the rhythm section of Larkin and bassist Brian Carpenter—Carpenter’s huge, gritty tones are a perfect complement to the dynamic drum work, and together they have the feel and sound of a classic blues rock engine room.
Six years in, and it feels like The Apocalypse Blues Revue is just getting started….
The Apocalypse Blues Revue is quite a departure from Godsmack, as a side project its quite unusual to see such a U-turn, was that a conscious decision?
It was a more a natural than conscious decision to do the blues. After 10 years writing and performing with Tony in Godsmack, I had no idea he shared my love of that genre until one day we were just jamming and I had started a blues jam…which ended with me being blown away by his playing and then consciously starting the project. The initial thought was that the world needed to hear Tony play like this, then morphed into the idea that with our tap on the vein of modern rock with Smack fans, perhaps we could turn younger folks onto the blues. It wasn’t long after that when I found Brian and Rafer and it all began to feel like something special, a mission.
Did you have a clear idea of what The Apocalypse Blues Revue was going to sound like from the outset or did it evolve as you guys worked together?
After that jam and the idea to start the band, we immediately started writing songs. Tony and I loved the same artists and already knew each other musically, so the songs started coming together very quickly. We wanted to keep it as traditional as possible, but infusing our other influences into it couldn’t be helped, which we soon realized, and so we ended up not being as traditional blues as the original thoughts on what our sound ended up being. Again, it was a natural progression that we let the universe dictate to us, and we believe the blues are about intent and feeling, and so we are a blues band, and we will continue to evolve…as a blues band.
What was the first track you guys laid down together, did this set the stall for what was to follow?
The very first track we wrote was “Hell To Pay” which was the first song released publicly for this new record. It didn’t go on the first record because I’m all about making a record that’s a body of work, and sequencing is very important to me; I’m glad we waited because it fits perfectly on the new record.
I can’t imagine there was such a thing with this album, but describe a “Typical” writing session for The Shape Of Blues To Come.
We write like this: Tony plays guitar all day, everyday. He has a recorder, so when a riff comes up when he’s jamming, he records it. Once the riffs starts to pile up (which they do!) he gives me his recorder and I sift through and pick out what I feel are the best riffs. Then I go to my lyrics (notebooks and notebooks full of them) and 9 times out of 10 I find lyrics that fit his riffs. Then I’ll arrange the skeleton until some semblance of the song starts to shine through, and try to write a big bridge or middle 8th that can make it more uniquely ours. Most of my preparation for the structure happens in my head, so when Tony comes in to help me complete the song and demo it, there’s not a lot of guessing left and the songs go down pretty quick. After writing together for 16 years, Tony can read my mind at this point making for some uncanny moments of WOW! That’s a song!! Thank god he trusts me, as a lot of my ideas sound insane initially, but end up working out for us.
The rulebook was clearly thrown out the window on this project, do you feel you found the right balance on the album between your Rock / Metal Influences and the Blues?
Yes, I feel we’ve achieved a definite balance. But it wasn’t us. When we write, we are trying to write the blues. Every time. It’s our intent. So when our rock influences sneak through, now we let them. In the beginning we fought it, wanting so desperately to be accepted as a blues band for our genuine love of the genre, but in the end, we can only be ourselves and keep our focus on the intent, our mission, and the importance of spreading the blues to younger generations. We figure if they (young rock fans) get turned on to The Apocalypse and like us, then maybe they’ll start discovering all the past greats from SRV all the way back to the Delta greats.
You have talked about coming into the Blues later in life, when did that happen and what sparked your interest and made you create a project like The Apocalypse Blues Revue?
I was turned on to the blues by a guy named Terry Carter. Him and I started our very first band together that ended up being a 12-year adventure. His older brother turned us on to so many artists when we were very young (pre-teens!). Johnny Winter spoke to me initially (much more so than Robert Johnson, Howlin Wolf, etc who I ended up falling for later) and The Blues Brothers really made me fall in love with the genre. Matt Guitar Murphy!! We would be doing these 10-hour van rides and Terry would school me on all the blues.
Where and when did you lay down the new album?
We went back to The Vibe Recordings in Fort Myers where we did the first record. SSL console, little, punchy drum room, great engineers, open minds, and all around positive environment. We all live close to the studio also, so we could go home to our own beds at night.
Do you think your choice of Producer also helped influence and shape the sound of the album to keep it alternative from your typical Blues recording?
In picking Dave Fortman to co-produce this record with me, I wish he could’ve been in that role on the first one too (which he only mixed). This time we got to fly Dave in for a few days of pre-production and some time to get out of our reality minds and into different altered states to formulate what the end production would sound like. We listened to all of our favorite mixes and records and would literally strive to achieve certain tones from our favorites, and we agreed on every idea. Together, we watched epiphanies become realities, and the key to that this time was not only having Forty there to help produce, but having him mic and record us as well, which helped in the end overall details. For instance, a small example is the sound and placement of the hi-hats. That seemingly small component makes a big difference in the feel of our new record. Dave was instrumental in so many pieces coming together to complete the puzzle in my brain.
Did you record the tracks live in the studio?
All rhythm tracks and vocals were recorded live in one day. 13 songs, 9 of which make up the new record. In scheduling this one, I tried a different thing. We had one week to do it, so day one we recorded nothing, and spent the whole day micing, getting sounds, setting the atmosphere, and getting our headphone mixes as perfect as we could. I wanted us all in the room together and tracking so it felt live in the studio, with dynamics being the key. So the gates and compression on the drums were nearly non-existent, and no click tracks or samples were employed.Day two, we tracked 13 songs, vocals and all, live.Days 3-7 we picked a few songs a day to check and fix any weirdness with the bass and vocals and fix any mistakes there, then layered the guitars, did some percussion, and got it all done with no pressure. Our motto: it should be fun and easy; all the pain and hard stuff is worked in long before we record.
Do you have any particular favourite tracks from the new album?
My personal favorites are “We Are One” and “What A Way To Go”. I love the slow, slow blues. But I must say, we are not a singles oriented band, and again, these 9 songs were picked out of the 13 for the sequence, the body of work, working together as one cohesive journey through valleys and peaks, and ending in complete chaos. We created something from nothing, found our balance and then destroyed it with everything that was left at the end. To us, that is the blues.
Do you feel ‘The Shape Of Blues To Come’ shows the bands growth from your original debut back in 2016?
I feel there is an obvious evolution from the debut to this second offering. Rafer has really come into his own, showing more personality and emoting the lyrics more convincingly; Tony just keeps playing and playing constantly, getter better and better; having Fortman co-produce with me taught us so much on so many different levels and brought out all the blood, sweat, and tears (literally) from within us, dragging on to tape. I feel my lyrics are refining themselves from the initial lyrical concept on the first record…so yes, coupled with all the above plus the touring and shows we’ve done in the last couple years, I feel we have definitely grown by leaps and bounds, and our four wills have become one. This is no “side project”. This is another band that will continue to exist as long as I’m still walking.
How do you see The Apocalypse Blues Revue evolving in the coming years?
The future evolution of the band will be dictated by the universe. We will just continue the mission to help spread the genre; we’ll continue to write songs; we’ll play as much as possible, and we’ll let whatever will be, be. But we WILL be in it.
What if anything, would you like to add to the mix for The Apocalypse Blues Revue to remain on the edge and individual moving forward?
We have spoken through dreams of someday having enough success to add some musicians to the band. A second guitar, keys, back up singers, horns??? These are all future possibilities, but first we have to prove that just the four of us and our playing and songs can move people.
What’s next for The Apocalypse Blues Revue?
Next is playing showsto support “The Shape Of Blues To Come”, starting with some Florida shows in September, as well as shows in California supporting the great Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band near the end of that month. We will get in as many shows as we can around our obligations to support Godsmack’s new record, and when that cycle ends, we’ll do it all again.
Many thanks to Tony for chatting with us about this exciting project: You can check out our review below.
The Apocalypse Blues Revue
(Tony Rombola/Shannon Larkin of Godsmack)
Released: The Shape Of Blues To Come
Provogue/Mascot Label Group
20 July 2018
Watch the lyric video for ‘Hell To Pay’