Enuff Z’Nuff is in the spotlight lately, between the announcement of their upcoming album plus the release of the first single off of it, and the active touring of the lineup now fronted by founder Chip Z’Nuff. One of the most recent stops along their tour was at The Backstage Pass in Ronkonkoma, NY, and I had the chance to sit down with Chip after the show to talk about the latest with Enuff Z’Nuff, as well as some of his side projects and bands, and his work as a Producer.
So Chip, you just finished a show here at the Backstage Pass in Ronkonkoma, and it’s not often that Enuff Z’Nuff comes out this way to New York, especially Long Island, so welcome! How are you doing tonight?
Thank you, I’m very grateful to be here and still playing shows in New York after 27 years. We started coming out here to New York in…I think it was 1989. My first show out here was at the Cat Club – a guy named Tommy Gunn was the promoter – it was great, jam-packed, we were opening for Mr. Big. Right after that I met Howard Stern, he brought us on his show, and it’s been great ever since. New York has been one of the biggest cities in North America for Enuff Z’Nuff, I’ve always loved playing out here. SiriusXM is out here, Hair Nation and Ozzy’s Boneyard and they play Enuff Z’Nuff all the time, so it’s only fair that we come through here and pay respect to all our brothers and sisters who have followed the band and supported us for the last 20 or 30 years.
Very nice, and it’s cool for us to have you out here as well. With Enuff Z’Nuff, you’ve been very busy touring all year, you had couple of big festivals, M3, Hair Nation, you even went to Guam, and then the latest news is the new album Clowns Lounge, so there’s lots going on with you guys lately.
Well, there’s a resurgence in rock ‘n’ roll, it’s been going on for a year, maybe two years, with all bands, not just Enuff Z’Nuff. A lot of bands are getting the chance to put records out and play to large audiences, and we’re just grateful to be one of the bands that gets picked for these big festivals. There’s so many choices for so many promoters out there, and I’m just grateful that after all these years, we get to put records out and get a chance to play and tour and turn people on to our music. And it’s not easy. The average life expectancy of any band is four, five, maybe six years, so for Enuff Z’Nuff to be going on our 32nd year – I put this band together in 1984 – is really a miracle. I owe it to the fans because without the fans who have turned into our brothers and sisters, you wouldn’t know who we were. That’s why we come out, we play any shows we can. You know, we’re in Ronkonkoma tonight, played to 150 people. But last week, we played to 20,000 people. We treat every gig like it’s the last gig and there’s a huge audience out there, never mail it in, we come out there and work really hard every night to give a good show.
That’s really great. Now, I do want to talk to you about the new album, Clowns Lounge. What I’ve heard about the album is that these are songs that were written in the 80’s, but you’ve taken them and reworked and recorded them, why was it that you decided to record and release these songs now?
Well, without trying to sound immodest, Donnie and I were very profound when it came to writing material…very prolific, I should say, writing songs in the old days. And a lot of it got pushed to the wayside because we were just writing so much material, and we were lucky enough to have a studio to record them all, and some of the songs just fell through the cracks. But for one reason or another I’ve saved everything that I had, and when Frontiers Records approached us about doing an album, it was our old President Derek Shulman, who used to run Atco Atlantic Records, he was the catalyst here, he came to us and said, “I’d like to get a record from you guys. I know Donnie’s not touring with the band right now, but if you have any material with Donnie singing on it – and you, of course – I’m very interested in it”. I sent him a three-song demo, the label loved it, and then I was painstakingly going through the catalog of material, there was so much stuff to listen to. After about two months of going through all the songs, I picked what I thought was the strongest twelve songs, all recorded on two-inch tape, all analog, and then I went in the studio and started tweaking things. I couldn’t subtract, I could only add because a lot of stuff I was working off DAT tapes, and it’s an archival record. It’s Enuff Z’Nuff songs that were unreleased, some of the demos that slipped through the cracks and some people got to hear them, but for the most part, no one’s heard these songs like this, ever. I went in studio for maybe about…six to eight weeks over at Chicago Recording Company and Stonecutter Studio in Chicago with a guy named Chris Steinmetz – who works with Ozzy Osbourne, Styx, Cheap Trick – and of course, my studio in Blue Island, Illinois. Just tweaking and going through the songs, really nitpicking, I just wanted to make it as strong as possible, because on every Enuff Z’Nuff album, Donnie and I wanted to give the best songs, and we wanted fidelity-wise to stand up to all the other records that are out there, we’re always competing with ourselves. And I think we came up with a real nice album, twelve songs, a rock solid record and it’s full of piss and vinegar, there’s a lot of energy there, it feels real good. I know we have better songs, in the future we can put out some other stuff, but these were the strongest for the moment that we had, and it’s a chance to showcase the band as it was in the past and how we are today.
Well, I’m definitely looking forward to hearing all this. It’s pretty recently that you’ve taken over lead vocals live in the band, but in terms of the new album, are you also handling some vocals for that as well?
Well, on every single Enuff Z’Nuff album, I’ve sang on it with Donnie. Donnie sang most of the lead vocals, I feel that he’s one of the premiere singers of my generation, he’s second to none. Guys like Steven Tyler from Aerosmith, Robin Zander from Cheap Trick – the greatest singers have always said how much they love our band and how much they love his pipes. The guy can turn a melody line as good as anybody. But I sing on all those records as well, and for a lot of our records, we took the Queen approach where other members would sing the songs, most notably myself. I’d sing a song or two on every single record, lead vocals. Most of the stuff was harmonies because no one can compete against my brother’s voice, his beautiful pipes. Now that he’s not singing, I took the template from Genesis – when Peter Gabriel left the band, Phil Collins took over for lead vocal duties – and that’s what I’m doing here in Enuff Z’Nuff. Donnie Vie has never been fired, never kicked out of Enuff Z’Nuff. He left the band because he was disillusioned by the business and he’s dealt with some health issues. But he’s getting better right now, he’s going to do another solo record, from what I hear. But I’ve got his blessing, he told me “I want you to sing these songs, Chip, you wrote them with me. You should be the lead singer on these songs, the name of the band’s Enuff Z’Nuff, and you’re the namesake of the band – go out and sing ‘em!” And if only I’d known years ago that I could do the job, I probably would have done that instead of taking some of the different roads I’ve taken through our career. I’m not downplaying anything we’ve done in the past, some of the different versions of the band have been strong, when we were a three-piece, it was great. But I really enjoy it like this, four-piece, focusing on the early records. You know, first album was gold, second album went gold, Animals with Human Intelligence sold hundreds of thousands of records, I want to focus on the records people went out and bought. And then once we lock in, and the audience starts remembering the old songs and seeing the shows, then I’ll go back in the catalog and start putting other songs in the set. But right now, this is a rock solid set, I’ve got a great band. I’ve got my old guitar player Tory Stoffregen, who plays in a band called New Black 7, touring with us, he’s in the band right now. I have Tony Fennell, former singer of Ultravox, playing guitar and singing with us. So, those are two lead singers there, just terrific. And then I have Dusty Hill from ZZ Top’s nephew, Daniel Hill, playing drums. I think it’s a strong band, I think every single night we come out and bring it, and people seem to be very impressed with it. The fans speak, they speak very loudly, the shows have been very well-attended, and I see nothing but great things in the future for us.
Yeah, that’s definitely one thing I’ve noticed the past couple of times I’ve seen you guys – you are doing an excellent job with the lead vocals, and there’s also some very strong harmonies and quality vocals in the backup vocals as well, so it’s great. Also, you mentioned going from a three-piece for a while there to a four-piece, that’s cool that you’ve got the two guitar sound happening now, because Enuff Z’nuff wasn’t always a two-guitar band.
No, but there’s two guitars on the records, there was always a rhythm guitar, lead guitar, and color parts, and there’s a lot that was missing when we were a three-piece. I still like the stripped down version of it, when we were a three-piece during that era, that band was strong. No tapes, no sequences, no guys hiding backstage, we would just plug in and play and sing. But I think it fills up the sound a little bit more having two guitars, counter guitar parts, and the extra voice, that extra instrument is so important. So now you got three singers up there to cover all the harmonies on the record. You got the two guitars, so the color parts that Donnie would play on the record are covered as well. So I think that we’re in a good position now with these songs and the way the band is set up.
Another thing I wanted to ask you about is, aside from Enuff Z’Nuff, there’s a band you’ve been involved with called Zen From Mars, could you talk a bit about that?
Yeah, I got together with a couple of guys – Stephen, the singer from Kik Tracee, Drew, the guitar player from Bang Tango, along with one of the guys from a band called Flip, and the drummer from Fear Factory. We all got together, started making a record, and it was just for fun, then it started turning into something real special. We recorded the whole album, 11 or 12 songs, and then I just heard recently that Stephen, might be the new singer in Stone Temple Pilots, I know they’re looking at him, he’s auditioned for the band, so that would be great. As far as the record, we’ve shot a couple of videos – I’m not sure if it’s going to come out at one time or, how the music business is now, bands put one songs out at a time, no one’s really discussed that with me – but we have Andy Wallis mixing the record and he’s terrific, he did Faith No More. It’s a great band, I’d love to see it go out and do some shows, but now it’s at the beginning stages, we’ll do the record first and see where it takes us after that. I also did another record with a band called ZAP, which is Ike Willis from Frank Zappa’s band, and a guy named Sean McKee, who plays with Jon Anderson from Yes. We just put one song out, one single, it’s called ZAP and I think people should really go check that out, any fans of Frank Zappa will love it because it’s very complicated music, really eclectic – it’s rock and it’s alternative, it’s a real potpourri of great musicianship and I think people will be pleasantly surprised to hear that record as well.
Cool, I’ll have to go check it out myself. Something else I just wanted to bring up quickly – Green Denim, that’s a band whose music I actually just happened to come across recently and I was looking through the liner notes, and saw your name as Producer. It’s interesting to me that they’re a rock n roll band getting their start in the Chicago music scene, kind of like Enuff Z’Nuff at the start there.
Well, I think that Green Denim, people will be pleasantly surprised that that band’s kind of a Punk/Pop band, with shades of rock n roll as well. Jesse Camp who used to be a DJ at MTV is playing in the band as well, he sang and played guitar, wrote a few of their songs. It’s a nice little thing, I’m hoping they can get a chance to take off and find a tour, because it’s a real strong rock record – or punk record, whatever you want to call it. It’s hard to pinpoint because there’s so many peaks and valleys in that band. But they came to me and asked me if I would produce the record, I did it at my studio, and I think it’s really strong, I’d like to see the guys get a chance to find a tour and maybe go out there and support the record and bring some more people. If anyone out there wants to hear a good rock record with some punk overtones – GreenDenim.com to get all your information there. There’s so many bands I’ve worked with in the past year and a half hoping to get a chance to get out there and work. We’re at a time and day and age now in the music business where there’s too much product, not enough demand. But the cream always rises to the top, and the good stuff – people will eventually hear it. For any of the bands that are out there working: it’s not just about playing live shows, it’s about hustling and finding someone that can help you. You’ve got to brand your music nowadays, a movie, a soundtrack, a TV show, a commercial, all those things can help you. And for anybody out there who’s working hard, I commend them, because this is a tough business.
That it is. You brought up one more thing I want to talk to you about, and that’s producing bands – when did you get involved in the production side of music?
I’ve been producing albums since 1988, ’89 actually. I co-produced every single Enuff Z’Nuff album that’s out right now, so I’ve made all our records. And then, I used to work with the guys in Journey, I produced them in a group called Cyclops Blues Band, and members of Sly and The Family Stone, Steve Miller band…I’ve worked with a lot of different really good guys, and I’ve had the chance to record with, you know, Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, Cheap Trick, Styx…I never really put this stuff out there, I talk about it, but I don’t put it on the website or anything, or brag about it. But those are grateful moments that nobody can take away from me. I’ve also written songs with Twista, Kanye West, Malik Yusef, I did a couple songs on the record “Good Morning Goodnight” on Kanye’s label, and I think I’ve mixed it up pretty good. I’d like people to know that I’m a six-trick pony, that I can do Pop, New Wave, Alternative, Rock, Hip-Hop – whatever it is, I like to play with them all. But my heart and my love is in Enuff Z’Nuff and the music I write with that band.
That’s amazing, those are some little-known facts about you Chip, very cool stuff to learn there. But as you said, your heart’s in Enuff Z’Nuff so coming back to Enuff Z’Nuff now and to sort of wrap things up here, why don’t you just give an idea of what’s coming up in the near future?
Our new record Clowns Lounge comes out on December 2nd, we embark on a tour starting on January 14th with Ace Frehley from Kiss, all through January and February and then I go to South America with Ace, and then either May or June, I think it’s called the “Rock Never Stops” tour. The agency tells me once the record hits, plan on being on the road into next year. So I’m hoping that the band, with the good Lord’s blessing, we stay healthy, we go out there and we can play all year and really support the new Clowns Lounge record. If you want to get it, you can check it out on iTunes, you can pre-order it right now. I want all the fans to check out this record, it’s the last record that I have featuring the original band and our band as it is right now.
Thanks for your time, Chip.
Thanks for talking to me, and for all the fans that are reading this, I wish you all well, may the best thing that happened to you last year be the worst thing that happens to you this year.
Check out my review of the show at The Backstage Pass here.