Saturday, 18 February 2012

Joe Silva Interview

Joe's latest single - available now on I-Tunes (USA)
Joe Silva has toured extensively with The Alarm as singer and drummer of The Threats and recently wowed this years Gathering with a solo acoustic set. We catch up with Joe as he readies his new eagerly anticipated solo album which is being produced by drumming legend Anton Fig. His latest single "Blue" is available now in the U.S. via I-Tunes and a European release featuring a duet with Mike Peters is also in the pipeline.

You started your musical career as a drummer, what was it that attracted you to the drums?
Growing up with 3 older sisters that each had record collections, I was exposed to music for as long as I can remember. I recall receiving a toy drum for my third Christmas. I played it all night under the Christmas tree to the new 45rpm records that my sisters had received. When I was in elementary school, the middle-school band visited our class and performed a concert. The band included a girl playing a full drum-set. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. When I was old enough to try out for that same band, there was an evening when all of the band hopefuls met in the school's auditorium to sign up for various instruments. The band leader made an announcement that there were too many students that had signed up for the drums, and that we should consider alternate instruments. My father turned to me and asked if I wanted to choose the saxophone or something else. I kept staring straight ahead while praying in my head for one of the drum spots and answered "It's drums or nothing." I pulled the lucky straw and haven't stopped the pursuit of my musical dreams ever since!

You started The Threats when you were only 14, how hard was it finding gigs at such a young age?
Three of us attended school together, which is how the band formed. We would get rides into school one hour before other students would arrive. The school's music teacher instructed the janitor to let us into the building and allow us to utilize the music room and equipment. As teachers would arrive, several would come in to listen  to a song or two. By the 8th-grade, we were playing our school dances. Before we entered 9th-grade, a band member's 26-year-old uncle joined the band as a guitarist and acted as our booking agent. Somehow we were allowed to play weekly in nightclubs all over New England, USA, before even entering high-school.

The Threats in the 80's
Did being a vocalist that was also a drummer hinder The Threats or make them stand out? - Very few bands have this combination.
I think that it did both...It was a blessing and a curse for The Threats. I absolutely LOVE drumming...the emotion & energy that can be channelled through drums is like no other feeling for me. In a way, I find that the utilization of all four limbs doing different movements, but culminating as one work really centres me in both a physical & spiritual way. When I can then add in an original lyric and deliver it melodically with my voice dancing within and around the drums, then my soul soars through & past the exosphere! I believe that audiences clung onto that energy, allowing The Threats to quickly win-over audiences that we had previously never played to before. We were lucky enough to have played on tour dates with many international artists (Joan Jett, The Alarm, Missing Persons, etc.), and as an opening act, the band only had 40 minutes to earn the respect of the audience. I still LOVE that challenge! In that sense, being a high-energy drummer AND lead-singer was a blessing...The curse seemed to be related to the record companies in New York, and when a label was interested they would contact my entertainment lawyer and say that they'd like to see the band again, but with the drummer out toward the front of the stage as just a singer. I would always say "But the crowds love the fact that I am doing both, and I love doing both, so NO!" Eventually, when The Threats were still without a major label deal, I began to question if I did the right thing. A bit of self-validation came to me one night when I met Billy Joel's drummer, Liberty DeVitto, who spoke of how a drummer and the singer need to be connected at the hip. I thought to myself, being drummer AND lead-singer not only connects things at the hip, but also the heart & soul...It was confirmed right there that I did the right thing for me and the music, even if the fact that I was a lead-singer AND drummer may have limited our commercial acceptance within the industry.

How did you find the regional success that "Dream About You" gave you?
Radio was always an important medium for The Threats. Our first single was called "Dream Girl", which was monumental in bringing our young band to the forefront of the regional music scene in the early 80's. I was drumming and singing back up, and wrote the song with Dean Landry, who was the lead singer. There was a buzz going around about "these kids" playing about on the scene, which had people attending our shows. We didn't want to be known as some novelty, but rather a group that would continue to evolve. We were playing at the top original music venue, 'The Living Room', which hosted great bands almost every night (Billy Idol, Ramones, Extreme, Todd Rundgren, etc.) and soon the owner, Randy Hein, saw something in us and included us on the 1983 album release of the top 13 bands in New England, titled 'The Living Room...A Compilation'...we recorded "Dream Girl" for the record, which was released when we were 16 years old. Before long, we were receiving airplay on the radio, being photographed for radio station calendars, and opening for big name groups.
The summer after graduating high school, Dean left the band and joined the Marines. I took over as lead-singer of the band. It took a year or two, once Dean left, for me to find my place as a lead-singer. I worked my butt off at it, and eventually brought the band into the studio to work with Hirsch Gardner producing a few new songs. Hirsch was significant, as my first major concert was KISS, I think I was 10 years old. The opening act was called New England, and what I first noticed about them was the drummer with all the hair behind the monstrous set of drums. It was Hirsch...the first arena drummer I ever saw now producing my band. I decided to record "Dream About You", that I had co-written with Dean. Most folks think that it is a love song about a girl, but it is actually a song that is sung to God. Soon after recording it, we were receiving airplay in more cities, giving more interviews, and playing on more T.V. shows. The song's acceptance gave me stronger confidence as a lead-singer.

When did you first hear The Alarm and what attracted you to them?
I was doing a sound-check at The Living Room venue, and the sound guy was telling me about a group that he just saw in Boston called The Alarm, that just rocked the house with acoustic guitars. He said that we had a similar look & style. Soon after, I heard their song "The Stand" on the radio and fell in love with it. When the video hit MTV, my band was like "Wow...They stick their hair up too!"...You see Dean's mother was a hairdresser, and she went to a seminar and came back with all kinds of new hair designs from England. She experimented on the band, as we were searching a look. We gravitated to it, and took a lot of abuse from other kids at school. Most of the few thousand students that attended our high school looked & dressed the same. We stood-out instantly with our hair on end, ripped jeans and Ramones jackets. The Alarm came into America's living rooms and gave validity to what the young Threats were doing.
 What I LOVED about The Alarm was the power of their music - both sonically & spiritually. Their anthemic melodies & lyrics sang directly to my soul, my virtues, my dreams...prayers...hopes...One song after the next one built the soundtrack to my later teens, Dean's brother had a great '73 Mustard Yellow Ford Mustang. After rehearsals, we would pack into that car and cruise the streets of our slumber town to listen to a cassette of The Alarm's "Declaration" album over & over...

How significant was "Unsafe Building" to you when you were trying to get a deal for The Threats?
"Unsafe Building" was a song that was hitting me during a time that I was contemplating a move to Los Angeles. I was travelling to L.A. a few times each year, and recognised the magnitude of the music industry out there. I was convinced that I'd get a record deal if I played similar shows in the L.A. market to the ones I played in New England. The others in the band wouldn't move, so I eventually decided to declare myself and the band an unsafe building, and decided to rebuild it into something new out west. I took all of the songs I wrote and drove across the U.S. to reside in California and work the L.A. music industry. Unfortunately, I didn't have much money so I spent all my time trying to make ends meet, and absolutely no time making music. I learned several valuable lessons along the way, wrote some new songs during the experience, and eventually made my way back to the East Coast and re-assembled The Threats.

Was the American market very regional in the '80's and is it still like that now with the impact of the internet and the decline of commercial radio?
The radio market WAS very regional in a sense...There were some very large stations, such as WBCN in Boston, that would mix local music in with regular rotation, bringing many bands up to the next several levels. College stations broke bands like U2, The Alarm and R.E.M., bringing a larger audience to the local bands that were also coming up through college radio. Even though the Internet may give more bands a venue, the listening market is now very fragmented. I did like the fact that if you were on the radio many people were listening to you at the same time. There weren't that many alternative options. I also liked the fact that, because there were limited positions of airplay-time, versus today, it meant that the band worked really hard to pass the competition to get on that radio station. Today, everyone can have an online radio station, playing anything good OR bad...I prefer the past in that regard. We would literally sweat though our clothes during rehearsals EVERY night to get airplay status. I'm not sure there are many folks doing music today that understand the concept of "paying the dues".

How did you get to support The Alarm on 3 tours in the States?
The Alarm and The Threats
I recall seeing The Alarm in concert in the late 80's at The University of Rhode Island. They were such a tight band, musically and through friendship, which was apparent through watching them interact onstage. I wanted desperately to meet Mike, and just make him aware of my band, with hopes of opening for my hero some day. We were already opening for so many big bands that it was just something that I needed to for my FAVOURITE band. During their last song, I told the people that I went to the show with that I would meet them at the car, then proceeded to leave the venue and try to locate the backstage door. The building was larger than I had anticipated, with other wings built on various sides of the gymnasium that housed the concert. After searching for the backstage door for nearly an hour, I returned to the car (one of the last left in the parking lot) in defeat... A few years passed and The Alarm were playing at a nearby arena supporting Pat Benetar. My guitarist and I bought a ticket to the show, and knowing the venue, we meandered our way backstage after The Alarm performed. We ended up getting sent back into the crowd as we ran into Pat Benetar's bodyguard before running into Mike Peters. Another defeat!...Finally, Mike came to play acoustically at 'The Living Room' in the 90's. I ended up singing harmony on a song that night, and meeting him for the first time. He invited me to the show the next night at Aerosmith's former nightclub in Boston called Mama Kin's. I gave him a CD of The Threats that night, and made it a point to stay in touch. We played our first show with The Alarm in 2001, and forged a lasting respect & friendship.

How was it hearing Mike Peters dedicate "Unsafe Building" to you at these gigs?
I was completely blown away when he did that at the first gig that we performed together. The song itself meant so much to me, but to have it delivered, with respect, by my musical hero that wrote it was a life-achievement for me. The sad irony of that event is that the venue was a place called The Station, which burned to the ground two years later during a Great White concert. 97 music fans died in the fire that night, 3 more died over the next few months, and another 100+ were maimed by the flames.Quite the unsafe building. I wrote the song "97 Angels" two days after the fire, which was used on a CD by various recording artists to benefit the victims' families.

How hard a decision was it to record a solo album after so many years in the band?
I was ready for it. It had been 24 years with The Threats, and I had written several songs over the years that were too mellow, or simply too different of a style for The Threats to play. I was contemplating incessantly about which direction I should go with the music, and eventually I came to the conclusion that I'd be a solo artist, and believe that this solo approach is the right way for me today, and moving forward. I have many more options now.

Joe recording at the legendary Sun Studio

Why did you choose to record at the legendary Sun Studio?
It wasn't originally on my radar, but I was taking a tour of the hallowed studio and something hit me that I absolutely NEEDED to give birth to several of my songs there. I recorded 17 tracks at Sun, but took with me 1,700 memories of the experience.

Was it daunting recording at such an historic location?
Recording at Sun was invigorating, yet strangely familiar at the same time. It was as if I had already spent a lot of time there. Some extremely surreal events occurred throughout my week recording at Sun Studio. There are too many unbelievable events that I experienced while in Memphis, that I encourage your readers to eventually visit my website and read my BIO, which includes many of those happenings. It is well worth a read. 

How did Anton Fig get involved in the project?
Joe with producer, friend and hero Anton Fig
I was already friends with Will Lee, the legendary bassist from 'The Late Show with David Letterman', and he had invited me to a show that he was playing at The Bitter End in New York City. Luckily for me, Anton Fig was playing drums at the show, and he agreed to listen to my Sun Studio tracks to see if there was a song that he'd be willing to play drums on. He agrred to play on my song "Break The Chair", and a few weeks later I received a call from Anton. He spoke about not being able to get my songs out of his head, and we agreed that he would produce the project from there. At that point in time, I realized that I had won the musical lottery!

He has quite a CV (many rock fans probably know him best from his work with Ace Frehley) how did it feel to have another drummer involved in your work?
Normally, if I wanted drum work done I would do it myself. The songs that I recorded at Sun were to be a complete departure from my years with The Threats, and I intended on it being an acoustic record...simply guitar, piano & drums at all. That being said, Anton Fig had been a hero of mine since I was a kid. Not only did he play on all of Ace Frehley's records, he also played as a ghost drummer on KISS records when Peter Criss wasn't cutting it anymore ("Dynasty" / "Unmasked"), and also played on a hundred other hit records by Bob Dylan, BB King, Mick Jagger, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Joe Satriani, Billy Squire, Warren Zevon, Joe Bonamassa, etc...I could only hope that he might want to play drums on a single track but when he picked up the whole project, my future opened wide.

Quite a few of the musicians on the album are from the 'Letterman Band' was the decison to include such a diverse group Anton's idea?
Yes...when Anton took on the project, I told him that he had full artistic rights to produce the songs as he hears them. Lucky for me, he hears them with some of the best players in the world playing on them. Not only are several members of The Late Show with David Letterman's band playing on the tracks, but also musicians from Levon Helm's band, Paul Simon's band, Peter Wolf's band, Garland Jeffrey's band, The Saturday Night Live Band...Anton picks and chooses the musicians based on the style of the song. In addition to me singing on every song, I play either acoustic guitar, piano, drums or all of the above on each composition. To know that I've collectively, been able to make such a broad body of music with all of these great and legendary players, I am overcome with gratefulness. The ability to make a record like this is the most that ANY musician could ever hope for. To top it off with my musical hero becoming my producer, fan, and that is a major summit in my life and goals.

 Who would you say your main influences are?
I have SO many influences. Mike Peters of The Alarm was quite-likely my biggest influence. When I recieved my first "real" drum from the school band the first thing I played to were my sister's "Red" and "Blue" albums by The Beatles. When we started playing nightclubs, we didn't have enough original songs to play all night, so we would play a set of Beatles & Rolling Stones music every night. I also love James Taylor, Jim Croce, Cheap Trick, KISS was my first concert and major influence, and before KISS would be Neil Diamond. My mother had an old beat-up Chevy with an 8-track player in it. She loved to go to the beach, which was an hour away from home. We had two 8-track tapes to our name. One was The Guess Who, and we would crank "American Woman" on the way to the beach, while the other was Neil Diamond, which Mom would play on the way back to mellow everyone out. While my sisters drifted off to sleep, I swam through the words and melodies. I believe that I became a songwriter as a result of those drives home from the beach. I also love Joe Strummer of The Clash and Ray Davies of The Kinks...As a matter of fact, I was playing a 'Story-Teller's' concert at a venue on Hollywood Boulevard in L.A. back in November, and I ended my show with The Kinks song "Celluloid Heroes", one of my all-time favourites. Ironically, Ray Davies just released a record of him singing some of his past songs as duets with other singers. The second song on the record is "Celluloid Heores" that Ray performs with Jon Bon Jovi. My producer, Anton Fig, is the drummer on the record. I would love to have a conversation with Ray some day, and sing an acoustic version of that song with him.

Joe Silva
A lot of your songs seem to be autobiographical, is it hard to be so open as a songwriter?
Well, being autobiographical makes it easier for me to write the songs, considering that the sentiment is true and real, which gives me the ability to know when the feeling of the song matches that which resides in the soul. What can get odd is realizing that others are being let in to my most intimate feelings.

Have you any plans to return to the UK to promote the album?
Absolutely. I look forward to returning and building a larger following there. I would love to play some of the larger festivals that happen in the U.K. (hint, if anyone has an in for me, I'm all ears!), and I look forward to a push on radio there.

How challenging is it for an artist trying to tour in the current economic climate?
It is very tough, not only because fuel prices are higher and most other costs have risen (hotels, food, and the promotion efforts that need to back it all), but musicians, typically, have less money coming in from music sales today because of piracy. The cost of touring is why I am currently telling musical stories around the world in an acoustic manner at first. In a way, I believe that the core of the song comes out when presented acoustically. It is good that folks connect with the core. Once more people catch onto my music, I will be able to perform in larger venues and bring larger bands.

How have you found being a solo artist without the band to play off?
It is a different world, but I do like the new challenge. I absolutely LOVE getting the energy out with The Threats, and I am not ruling out some spot reunions in the future, but for now I am where I need to be. I did write the songs for The Threats, so the process hasn't changed all that much for me.

Does it feel odd being on stage behind a guitar rather than sitting behind the drums?
Yes. I guess that one can say that there is a bit of protection behind the drums, and not much protection behind an acoustic guitar. I do feel vunerable in that way, but also in that the acoustic is not my first instrument. Drums were, and I am most confident behind a set of drums (above everything else I do in life). The acoustic for me is a simple bed of chords on which to lay my lyrics and vocal melodies. I present my songs in quite a barren nature, so aside from being physically exposed, I am also sonically exposed, which makes me work all that much harder toward the goal of writing great songs.
Live at The Gathering 2012

How have you found The Alarm fans have taken to you over the years?
Alarm fans are among the best in the world. We were all cut from the same cloth...all gravitating toward a music that gives hope and healing. If Alarm fans write music, it very-well may sound like mine, and vice-versa. What I LOVE about Alarm fans is that they are very personable, and many have remained friends with me over the years...

How did you enjoy this years Gathering?
I absolutely loved the weekend...The Alarm, The Fans, The Setting...the new friends that I've made is what I take back, to The States and what lasts over the course of time.

What are your stand out memories of the weekend at Prestatyn, care to share any stories?
Experiencing Wales with my wife, Kim, was a plus. The first time I went to Wales was G11 and I made the journey alone. I was extremely happy that Kim could join me at this Gathering that I would play at. We had a very fun afternoon when we happened upon a pub in town on Saturday. A bunch of guys from Dublin had gathered and were playing acoustic and singing around several tables. Kim and I sat off to the side while they carried on brilliantly. We noticed they were wearing Gathering wristbands. I got up to use the men's room, and Kim got up to tell the Dubliners that I was playing at The Gathering that night.The one that was playing guitar came into the men's room to meet me and to bring me back to the group to play some music, which I did. I know that I needed to leave the pub to prepare for the concert, but did stay for one more pint as the folks from Dublin were too fun to leave...more new friends! Of course, both Alarm shows were stand-out memories for me...every time!

Why do you think Mike Peters has been a constant advocate for you and your music?
I have told him many times that I can't believe how consistently nice and supportive he is to me. I am not sure why he supports me like he does. I do hope that he truly likes my music. I'd like to think that he sees my genuine love for the music and respect for all. I've also told Mike that he is to me what John Lennon was to him...For me, earning Mike's respect is achieving one of my highest musical dreams.

How do you view the challenges of being a solo artist in this day and age?
Too much fragmentation. People can get their music from SO many outlets that it is difficult to know which to target for airplay. It is also difficult to understand which mediums advertising dollars should be allocated to, again due to fragmentation. Piracy is the biggest challenge. It is hard to eat and survive if we don't get paid for our recordings. Another challenge is the playing field getting cluttered by folks who may not even be musicians, but rather put together some musical sound-bites on a computer and release them as a song.

Have download sites such as I-Tunes helped in distributing music internationally or are the returns they pay an artist too low?
I'm not sure yet, but I'll be able to get back to you soon. We just released my first single ("Blue") on I-Tunes. I believe that I-Tunes pays more than the cut a major record company would give the artist.

Tom Robinson put his albums out for free download in protest at the returns I-Tunes paid, what are your views on this?
I couldn't afford to do that. Too much money and effort has gone into the recording of this record, and I believe that there is a lot of value in the product. People will find a song that will touch them and will somehow help them in their life... I hear that from folks at every show. There is a high value in that. Again I'm
not aware of the details of Tom Robinson's protest, so I can't comment in detail.

What are the best ways fans can support you?
Simply spreading the word around about me...downloading the single, and if they like it, to play it for and recommend me to their friends...Sign up for my mailing list at

What can we expect next from you?
More exposure of my songs, and a tour.

What is the one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask you...and what would your answer be?
There would be two questions.....
Question #1:
If you could play drums with anyone, who would you play for?
I would love to play for Paul McCartney. I would also love to play with The Alarm, if Smiley (who is great!) couldn't make a gig or two, I'd love to be fill-in drummer (I'd sing all of the harmonies as well!)

Question #2:
What is the most important thing that you could say to your fans?
Believe in a spiritual being. Experiences become exponentially larger and more rich.

Any last words?
Thank you SO much to everyone who has supported me in the past, and to everyone who has recently lent me their ears and time. I hope that our musical relationship evolves into friendship. Thank you Rob & Joff for this interview and allowing me the pleasure of speaking to your audience...

BUY Joe's single "Blue" via I-Tunes (USA) here 

Visit Joe's Website HERE

                                                   Joe Silva live at The Gathering 20


  1. Absolutely brilliant, what an Gent Joe Silva is. Loved that interview lads. Keep 'em coming.

  2. cheers doug a few more in pipeline will keep you posted mate please feel free to spread the word and joe silva to friends and sites,