INTERVIEW: Face Dancer [Part 2] (Sep 2003)
Part 2 of the Face Dancer series with Billy Trainor.
We continue the second installment of the Face Dancer interview with Billy Trainor, as a prelude to their reunion gig this weekend 13th September.. happy reading..
FACE DANCER INTERVIEW - PART TWO
INTERVIEW WITH BILLY TRAINOR
COMPILED BY: RICHARD BALDWYN
EDITED BY: Gdazegod
After a few years cementing their reputation as one of the hardest working bands on the Washington DC/Baltimore circuit, Face Dancer landed a deal with Capitol Records, home of such acts as the Bob Seger Band, Steve Miller Band, Starz, Grand Funk Railroad and 70's solo era Sammy Hagar. Obviously, the label had a roster of stars, but I asked Billy what was it like for Face Dancer, being part of the Capitol stable. 'To tell you the truth, I think our stall was in the part of the stable they didn't clean' says Billy jokingly. 'Believe it or not, it wasn't great. Capitol didn't have the slightest idea of what to do with a heavier rock band, despite their forays. They did not have a clue. The only thing they did know was they didn't want to spend any money. They were very, very conservative and didn't really make us feel too welcome. I remember we played a showcase for all the Capitol executives at the Whisky in LA. We opened up with 'Gang Bang' and I thought those stuffy assed suits were going to freak. If you busted that one out today they'd be jumping up and down throwing money at you, you'd be the next big thing! Guess we were a little ahead of our time eh?'
Can you remember much about recording 'This World'. I think you guys ventured out to LA to do that one didn't you? 'Yeah we did, I think we spent a day in every studio in LA! We moved from studio to studio constantly. I don't know why, but that's what happened. I remember we did the drum tracks on a loading dock on a movie soundstage studio. One of the more interesting things we did from a technology point of view was sync up 2 x 24 track machines. 'This World' was one of the first albums released using that technology. The idea behind this was to improve the audio quality of the drum tracks. In those days when you do many overdubs the magnetic surface of the tape was worn off by the tape machine heads. Being that the tape was losing particles, sound frequencies were missing as well. So the idea was to hook up 2 tape machines record the drum tracks on one of them, bounce them down to 2 tracks on the other machine and complete the record from that set of tapes. When it was time to mix down you sync up the 2 machines again and bust out the original drum track tapes that weren't dragged across the record heads a million times, therefore a fresher drum sound. Another interesting thing that happened was we ended up at the Record Plant for a few days. We were booked in there at night and Van Halen was recording their first record in the same studio during the day. I don't remember running into them, it's not like we'd know who the hell they were anyway! We were just 2 unknown bands recording their first albums in the same studio.'
As many of the readers of this site will know, there is some classic material on 'This World'. I'm still staggered that no-one has bothered to pick up on it for a re-release, until now that is, and that's directly from the FD guys themselves. Tracks like 'Red Shoes', 'Time Bomb', 'Cry Baby' and two of my favorites 'Change' and 'If I Could Kiss You'.. all still hit a nerve even to this day. Billy elaborates on those songs, and the reluctance of Capitol to 'play ball' for a re-release of 'This World'. 'Yeah, songs like that just don't wear out over time, it's really incredible and such a tribute to Scott, Carey and Jeff for writing them. And it's not like we didn't try to get Capitol to release the tapes. They were totally uncooperative. So at this point it really doesn't matter. I just want to get the music in the hands of the people who want it. They are the ones that have kept this thing going. I really don't need a very large infrastructure to make it happen. I will tell you that I've just heard the live version of 'Time Bomb' for the first time.. I was really blown away. Carey sounds absolutely incredible. Finally the real Face Dancer captured live.. Gee, it only took us 25 odd years to get around to it! But now folks will be able to hear the band the way it was supposed to be heard!'
Tell us about the sophomore album 'About Face' Billy. An interesting (no doubt you would say 'strange') time for the band. It resulted in the departure of Carey Kress and David Utter, and the arrival of keyboardist and vocalist Mike Milsap. 'Well this is where the 'Behind the Music' folks should step in!' says Billy with a hint of sarcasm. 'Remember when I told you Capitol didn't know what the hell to do with us? Well this was their solution! You might be able to tell from my tone that this was not my favorite FD period. I won't sugar coat it for you.. It wasn't. In fact it was probably one of the biggest mistakes I ever made, but what the hell.. everyone has gotta have a least one, right? Let me break it down for you..'
Billy continues: 'For some reason never revealed to me, Capitol wanted to dump us after the first record. I don't know if this came from our management trying to push one guy in front of another guy or whether Capitol told our management they were going to drop the band if we didn't make a change. Considering that 'This World' went to 35 on the American charts, that was a pretty strong showing for an American rock band. First album, with no support from the record label. I didn't understand why Capitol wanted to pull the plug. It was made very apparent to us that someone over there wanted a change in direction for the band and insisted that Carey and David go. Jeff and I were approached with the idea by our management, it was fairly straight forward. For us to stay with Capitol, Kress and Utter would have to go. Now I really didn't care so much about Utter's departure. He was and continues to be, difficult. In fact, not to belabor the point, but the only 'non-negotiable' that the FD members have this time around was that he would not now, or ever be, a part of Face Dancer again.'
'My apologies for the detour.. now back to the story.. At this point I will say again, that this was not only my biggest mistake, but one I am truly ashamed of, I agreed to fire Carey and stay with the band, knowing full well I'm ditching one of my best friends and if this little venture succeeded I would be relegated to being a backup musician. Geeze what a dick I was! Probably not what you expected to hear when you asked the question huh??!! But that's the way it went down.'
With Kress and Utter gone, it heralded the arrival of little known keyboardist and singer Mike Milsap. Having Mike in the band as a recognised keyboard player may have taken a bit of the focal aspect away from a dedicated lead singer, particularly when Carey was there. Billy offers his opinion on it. 'I thought Milsap was a good kid and had a great voice, but I really never got to know him and I've never seen him since. Not much of a relationship there huh? I don't mean to come off cold here, but in my mind Face Dancer was a loud and raucous bar band. With Michael around I felt the band had lost it's way. It certainly wasn't his fault as he was a very talented guy.'
It seems to me that 1980's 'About Face' had a slightly less quirky/off the wall approach than the debut and was perhaps more 'radio friendly'. Billy suggests that if there was a plan at the time (i.e to become more commercial), then that was it, and ironically enough, it wasn't due to the arrival of Milsap, nor any perceived influence he may have had on precedings. 'From my point of view he really didn't have an influence' says Billy. 'Scott and Carey were always the driving force in the band. Without Carey there, it was all Scott.'
For this album, the band ventured over to England to record it with a chap called Alan Winstanley. That must have been an exciting time. A foreign country (yes, even those who live in the UK even call it foreign!!) Apart from recording, it was an opportunity to soak up the new environment, meet new people, and enjoy new experiences, despite the pressures going on within the band. Billy recalls those days, the good unfortunately mixed in with the not so good. 'Other than the internal band drama it was very exciting' he says. 'We recorded at Air Studios in London. George Martin was in there with Cheap Trick. I was a Ludwig Drum endorser at the time so I knew Bun E. from my work with Ludwig. George popped in our studio and liked the snare drum sound and asked if he could borrow the drum, I said sure, so it looks like I've got equipment more famous than me! Another big time thrill was running into Paul McCartney. He was overdubbing some vocals on one of the Princess Trust shows and we were able to meet Paul and Linda. We actually spent quite a while together. Even though it was a pretty exciting time I had a feeling we were in pretty big trouble. Winstanley really didn't know what to do with us and wasn't providing the leadership in the studio I thought we needed. So I knew we were pretty close to the end.'
The band continued on despite the internal pressures. Billy continues: 'We really didn't stop until sometime in 1982 or 1983. Once we were finally released from Capitol, Michael and Jeff left. Jeff went on to play with a Savoy Brown incarnation and I don't know what happened to Michael. Scott and I went back and got ourselves straight and got Carey back in the band and we enlisted an awesome guitar player named Timi Tanner and one of the original FD members from the progressive days, a guy called David Long on keyboards. We went back to the bars with a vengeance trying to recapture the Face Dancer magic, but unfortunately our time had passed and somewhere in 1982 or 1983 we let it go.'
PART THREE TO BE CONTINUED AT THE END OF THE WEEK.. 'MIDNITE RAID', FACE DANCER'S CONNECTION TO BARRY BRANDT AND THE POMP BAND ANGEL, AND OF COURSE.. THE DETAILS OF THE REUNION GIG!!
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