Avion takes flight…
An interview with former Tories frontman, Steve Bertrand
If former Tories front man Steve Bertrand learned anything in the two years since the band broke up, it•s that he•s not really cut out for the solo life, and that moment of clarity came to him in the most unlikely of places – on stage at the LA Rosebowl.
Bertrand takes up the story. •I played the Rosebowl at a benefit show put on by Rod Stewart•s son. It was half time of an LA Galaxy soccer game, it was the biggest crowd I•ve played to, something like 30,000 people, but it made me realise how much I wanted a band, as I was out there with just my acoustic. I guess I realised there and then I am more of a Dave Grohl than a John Mayer!•
But forming another band was not part of the grand plan when Bertrand split amicably from band-mates JJ Farris and James Dupree after two critically acclaimed albums in 2002. Instead, Bertrand locked himself away for a few months writing tunes that would appear on an independently-issued EP, Joyride, a record he hoped would precede a fruitful solo career.
But although the liberation of writing with no restrictions was appealing, Bertrand realised that something was missing.
•I wrote 21 songs after the Tories broke up and I did a lot of solo acoustic shows working the songs,• the Vermont native explains. •But like I said, I really missed the element of being in a group. I was ready to make creative solo decisions and to stretch myself as a player when the Tories came to an end, but when I sort of hit a wall musically, I had to get people in to play with me, even though I knew what I wanted my music to sound like.•
The result of that decision is the band Avion and a self-titled album due to hit stores this spring through a joint venture with Image Entertainment and Bertrand•s own media company, The Console.
But although the pull was great, Bertrand resisted the temptation to reunite with Farris and Dupree for another shot with the Tories and instead enlisted the services of four unknown, hungry and most of all talented, musicians for his new band project.
•I love James and JJ, they are great friends. We were a great band, and it was hard not to ask them to play on every song, but they are on parts of the record so you•ll hear elements of the Tories in the sound.
•But some people say Avion sounds like the next generation of the Tories, and right now, with this band I am more fulfilled musically than ever. It•s like starting over.•
Those players who Steve auditioned to fulfil his musical vision are Jamie Wollam on drums, Josh Dunahoo on guitar, Ben Hazlett on guitar and keyboards and Joey Clement on bass, and it•s a line-up he couldn•t be happier with.
•The guys are young, relative unknowns and independent but they have great ability and a zeal. It•s a nice dynamic,• Bertrand says. •Jamie Wollam recently did session work for Hillary Duff, and he•s a great drummer.•
He continues, •I had a real sense of what I wanted when I auditioned players, and there was a temptation to go with successful, established musician friends but in the final analysis I opted to go with the passion, feel and enthusiasm of the guys.”
Bertrand chose the name Avion for the project, and the band set to work recording his highly melodic, contemporary pop-rock material at the Record Plant in Hollywood in conjunction with producer Stuart Brawley. New songs such as •Starting Over• and •Trinidad and DC-10• were tracked, as well as new versions of •Loved•, •Bulletproof Glow• and the soon-to-be-released first single, •Seven Days Without You•.
•I’m going with •Seven Days Without You• for the single as modern rock is so heavy these days and I can•t compete with that. I wanted to go the other way – Top 40, Adult Contemporary. It•s a song that will get people interested in the album.•
And in these times of albums being all filler and no killer, Avion is a record from which Bertrand could have pulled one of eight or nine songs for the first single, such is the overall level of quality. From storming rockers like •Perfect From Now On• to the mid-paced melody of •The Best Is Yet To Come• and the delicate beauty of piano ballad •Love Is Here Again•, the album is a broad canvas, something Steve wholeheartedly agrees with.
•Oh, yeah, there•s so many different flavours on the record and it•s pretty wide in terms of style. I mean, who wants to hear the same song ten times? I grew up with the Cars and Cheap Trick, who gave you a slow song, then a heavy one. That•s missing from records now, but I•m proud of this record. Every single song is a good, solid song.•
The album was completed in June 2003, with the help of a few of Bertrand•s high-profile buddies • Rami Jaffee of the Wallflowers on B-3, Sergio Andrade of Lifehouse and Matt Bissonette of The Ringo Starr Band on bass • who all contributed their guest spots in-between regular band commitments.
•Rami was on the Wallflowers tour and we had a hard time hooking up,• recalls Bertrand. •So I sent him the Pro-tools files and he was going to record his parts in between soundcheck, but eventually we ended up hooking up over at his place. I just took my hard drive up and he didn•t have to move his organ!•
With the album finished, Bertrand shopped it to labels, and opted to go with the deal laid out by Image Entertainment that allowed him to release the album in tandem with his own recently founded media company, The Console. Steve admits it•s not the traditional route bands go down when releasing their music, but he is daring to be innovative.
•Most record companies have been around for years, and are failing. Image have had a very profitable year and they also see the bigger picture with my music,• he reveals. •With the deal I have an imprint deal to re-release both of the old Tories records through Console, a company I set up with my business partner, Chris Dickinson. It•s a great arrangement. The company head loved my stuff with the Tories and has given me a big opportunity with Avion.
•I•m a control freak and I didn•t want people making decisions for me that I•d never meet. If there•s a huge corporate machine behind you that•s great, but more often than not you hear the horror stories at major labels. Too many bands drop through the cracks. But the possibilities with Image are endless. It•s an exciting time.•
With Steve and the rest of the band shortly due to shoot a video for •Seven Days Without You• with acclaimed director Tom Gatsoulis, and Avion•s debut album due to be released on March 23rd, Steve•s decision to abandon a burgeoning solo career in favour of forming a new band looks to have paid dividends.
•The record was a labour of love, and having written most of the songs on an acoustic, you don•t hear the finished version until you play it with the five right guys,• he says. •You hear the power of the song with the right band, and when we rehearsed for the first time, that•s what happened. That•s when I remembered why I make music.•
Avion is released on March 23rd via Image Entertainment and The Console.