AVM – InterviewBy William Simpson • Apr 2nd, 2012 • Category: Artist Interviews
Interview by William Simpson
If you have not heard AVM you better get out and catch a show. They are a modern symphonic rock band from Chicago that will remind you of your favorite classic rock band but they are anything but a classic rock band. They have a fresh new sound and a new album entitled “A Matter of Time” that will be released later this month. Their lead single off the new album is a cover of the Joe South song “Hush”. This band is going places, check them out on the web at www.avmband.com or on facebook, facebook.com/AVMBand. StageShottz Magazine got the chance to sit down with band leader Robert Mackey to discuss the new album as well as life in general.
StageShottz Magazine: AVM has been around for over a decade, and you can really hear the Journey influence in your music, but for people that have not heard of AVM, can you tell me a little about the band?
Robert Mackey: Well, AVM actually began as a recording project. I got together with some really fine musicians in the Chicago area. In order for me to play live, I needed a band, so we put together a band for showcases for the industry and we wound up clicking really well. The original name of the band was called Avenue Max, like Avenue meaning a chosen pathway and Max meaning to the greatest degree. We actually released a record under that name; the nickname of the band back then was AVM. Management people I was working with passed along the CD and showed it to people and said “Before you listen to it please tell me what kind of music you think a band called Avenue Max plays.” The response was everything but a rock band. They thought Avenue Max stood for smooth jazz or maybe a blues band but nobody said rock, so we decided to change out name and we did what a lot of rock band do in the industry and that’s shorten our name to initials like REM stands for the obvious and there’s Stone Temple Pilots, STP, and Electric Light Orchestra, ELO. So we shortened the name officially to AVM and trademarked it. Then we released this album, the newest album, well were just about ready to release it on April 28th and the album is called “A Matter of Time”. That’s how the band got formed originally as a recording project and then it just kind of became a band. We have been through various incarnations of the band but most of the players have been with the band for over 10 years. And the wonderful thing about playing together for over 10 years or even longer with some of the guys is that you really get a feel for each other. We are a live preforming band. A lot of project that are coming out today are studio projects, they are manufactured in the studio, they are done by producers, and then they can barely play live. But we are a live band first and foremost. One of the things we are going to be doing is setting up a tour for the summer and fall of this year throughout the Midwestern and eastern part of the country. We are picking up a lot of airplay on our first single of the album right now and we are all excited about that.
SSM: When did you realize that music was the career for you?
RM: When I was a little boy my grandfather took me to a place in Chicago called Maxwell Street, its kind of famous around the country. It was basically like a giant street fair where merchants would sell their wares and entertainers would just kind of perform right there in the street. I was a little boy and we saw these gospel bands that had obviously come up to Chicago from the south to perform on Maxwell Street. I was watching a guy one day and I didn’t know his name at the time but he had this really strange square looking guitar, turned out to be Bo Diddley. He was playing that highly rhythmic vibe and here I was this young kid just staring and I had never been exposed to this. I had been exposed to like Lawrence Welk when I was a kid. So that was quite a culture shock for me and I was hooked after that, I just knew what I wanted to be. So I took piano lessons as a young guy and that led to guitar lessons and over the years I just developed a multi-instrument mentality to be able to play drums and bass and guitar and all the essential instruments of a rock band to facilitate recording my songs instead of me just being a singer or just play one instrument.
SSM: You mentioned April 28th is when your new album “A Matter of Time” is released. The first single off the album is a cover of the old Joe South hit “Hush” which was made famous by Deep Purple. Tell me about your decision to record that song.
RM: Well, I have always loved that song, “Hush.” I knew that Joe South had written it because I was a fan of his music. A lot of people I talked to on the street, they think Deep Purple wrote it. Knowing that Joe South wrote it and he wrote other great songs that were so legendary hit like “Rose Garden” and “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” made famous by Elvis and of course his own songs that he released. I was a huge fan of him because he didn’t fit the mold of anything. He was solely responsible for the country soul sound. It was so unique, his style, his approach and his lyrics were actually very insightful. So I was always a huge fan of Joe. So what I did was I reached out to his management and they were nice enough to call me back right away and I was very shocked when they did and they said yeah that’s a cool idea. A lot of people don’t realize it but when you go to do a cover of a song there’s two ways to approach it about getting permission. One is that you can not ask the person who wrote the song or maybe they are not even alive anymore and you file paperwork and you get what is called the compulsory license. You pay this fee and, you stamp here, you sign here, flat royalty rates or whatever. It’s kind of a cold detached thing. The other way is if you can actually get in touch with the person if they are still alive and just ask them. So I got Joe on the phone, he called me back. I was so excited, I came into my studio the next morning and I heard on the voicemail, “This is Joe South and I’m calling for Robert Mackey,” I had goose bumps. I couldn’t believe it. I called him back and he was just such a gentleman. He gave me his permission and said, “You have my blessing, you go for it, you do it and do a good job and let me hear it.” So we spent probably two weeks pounding out a whole new vibe, a whole new beat, a polyrhythmic beat for “Hush”. Not easy to do because the first thing you want to do is try to do it like Deep Purple did, but we were looking to make a whole completely different version. I have always loved Deep Purple’s version and so do millions of people but it’s hard to compete with that so it’s better to come out with a whole new version. Joe was particularly excited about it because obviously as the writer of the song but he was also looking to bring it into the new millennium, so to speak. A lot of people don’t realize but that song was done like 38 years ago. We wanted to have the Hammond B Organ featured in it kind of like in honor of Deep Purple. We got a good beat going, good vibe going, we kept the lyrics pretty much intact but we changed our approach to it. We had a brand new guitar solo and a whole new kick ass modern vibe. We finished the song and we flew down to Atlanta, Joe lives up in a northern Atlanta suburb, he’s quite retired now. We went into the studio and we presented it to him. He heard it for the first time and when it was all done his manager ask him, “Well what do you think, Joe?” He was real quiet for a couple of minutes then he looked up and said, “You know what, I like it. I really like it, nice job Robert.” It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I was floating on air. We flew back to Chicago and my wife was picking us up and I got a phone call from Joe’s manager and he said, “Hey, Joe really likes that version and if you would like for him to play a little bit on it, he’s up for that.” I thought we were going to drive off the highway. So we got him back in the studio down there and it’s really cool what happened here, his original version, the Joe South version of “Hush”, he opens it up with this guitar riff. So what he did is he recreated that guitar riff of his version and recorded that little 5-8 second thing and we digitally brought that up here to Chicago and edited it into the song. So the guitar intro you hear at the beginning of the song is actually the man himself, its Joe South playing that riff. We just love it and I’m one of the few people who can actually say that in 2012 Joe South played the intro to my remake of his song “Hush.” We videotaped him doing it and he gave us his permission to use it and in the first 5 or 8 seconds of our music video you can see him in the studio picking that lick off. The song came out great, we played it for some radio people and they liked it a lot. Right now it’s out to about 50 different radio markets around the country and growing. We are very excited about what’s going on with that and I’m proud to say that Joe South, the man, the legend, played on my song or his song, our new version of it. I think it’s doing a lot of great things to break the ice to help people get to know about AVM. Obviously we have our own songs and we feel very strongly about those songs as well and I think a lot of the audience will as well but it’s nice to have an ice breaker and the response has been very nice.
Another thing happened is we went out to breakfast with Joe and I ask Joe, “Hey Joe, Could I interview you? You’re kind of a reclusive guy.” And he said, “Sure Robert.” So we went back down to Atlanta with a film crew and he granted us an interview. I think we prepared like 20 or 25 questions and we just let the camera roll. We got a great interview, man. Forty-five minutes of just one on one, myself and Joe just asking questions back and forth. He was telling us about his life and career and some of the inspirations that he had. When we finished the interview his manager says to me, “You know what you got here right? Joe hasn’t done a TV interview in over 20 years.” I was amazed and just gave Joe a big hug. We have that interview taped and we are going to be releasing bits and pieces of it out to magazines and media and the news and stuff like that. A lot of these country legend guys are getting older and they are retired and they are just not in the news anymore and no one talks about these guys or all their massive accomplishments anymore. Everybody is looking at the new bands. I wanted to make sure by doing a remake of “Hush” that it brought attention to Joe South’s music once again. I think we accomplished that.
SSM: Along with Joe South playing on the album, you had another major artist, Jim Peterik of Survivor fame, co-write the title track with you. How did that collaboration come about?
RM: You are talking about the song, “A Matter of Time”. Jim Peterik is a Chicago music legend, treasure, whatever you want to call it. I don’t think you could say enough good things about him. I reached out to him, we are not close friends but we are good music buddies. Just like any other songwriter I had some writer block with this song and I called up Jim and he was kind enough to say “Hey lets go to breakfast and we’ll sit down for a bit and see if we can get this thing working again for you.” We sat down and I played guitar and he played piano and I showed him the song, we let the tape recorder roll. We changed the verses and the choruses around. We went back and forth and changed a few lyrics here and there and when it was all said and done we were both smiling and we had a great version of the song. I felt great because I didn’t have writers block after that any more. It turned out so well that we decided to make the song the title track of the album, “A Matter of Time.” You can definitely hear Jim’s influence in the song. I was just thrilled to work with him; he is just another Grammy award winning guy. A lot of people know Jim for his song writing, he has written legendary songs just everything from when he was in the Ides of March; remember the song “Vehicle” to “Eye of the Tiger” from the Rocky movies. He’s also written with other bands down in Nashville like 38 Special, “Hold on Loosely.” So here is another international guy that I was fortunate enough to hook up with. It’s just another very special thing that’s part of this record.
SSM: So is there a song on the album that touches your heart and mind more than the others?
RM: Well, there a song on the album called “Time Slips Away” and it’s a ballad. When you listen to the song, listen to the lyrics, it may seem to be about a boy/girl relationship or a husband/wife kind of thing where you told me this, I told you that, you didn’t listen. I told you so. Actually the song is about the difficult relationship that I had my whole life with my dad. It’s a very special song to me because I was finally able to put into words and musical feeling about how I felt about my relationship with my dad. It was only until we were much much older and his health was failing that I was able to finally talk to him about certain things we were never able to talk about and unfortunately so much time had slipped away from our lives with each other that we both kinda felt bad about that. So, I wrote this song about that.
One of the things we did with the new record is we have a DVD to it and part of the DVD features will be short 30 second things like I just told you about, behind the songs. So people will be able to check that out on the new CD and bonus DVD.
SSM: If you could sit down with anyone and just pick their brains, who would it be and why?
RM: One of the people I would love to sit down and talk to and talk songwriting with or jam with is Elton John. Because he has gone through so many things in his career, so many different things, from ballads to co-writing to surviving the Media and being willing to stand up for his own personal beliefs and he is still here, he is still standing, you know. The other person I would have to say would be John Lennon if I could but he’s not here with us anymore.
SSM: Is there anything else you would like the fans to know about AVM?
RM: Well just that we make music for the people that appreciate the music and that AVM is a modern rock band. Our music is fresh, when they really listen to it, it’s fresh modern rock music, and we call it modern symphonic rock. The reason that we came up with modern symphonic rock is that most rock bands don’t have orchestral strings or string overpasses that go really nicely with the rock music and I think it adds a lot of feeling to the music especially with the ballads and that type of stuff. It also separates us from a lot of bands live because live we use MIDI Orchestra. Our keyboardist, Scott, is an amazing keyboard player. I personally think he is right up there with Keith Emerson. He’s able to create strings sections that sound like you are playing with a live orchestra. So that gives us a unique sound. It’s very different from what you are used to hearing out there right now for rock bands. It will remind some people of their favorite classic rock bands. I think some people may make the mistake of thinking we are a new classic rock band but we are not. We are a modern rock band, our music sounds fresh it does not sound dated. It will remind a lot of people of some of their favorite classic rock bands but it doesn’t sounds like those bands. It kind of evokes memories of your favorite classic rock past. I think that a lot of people that are fans of classic rock music and want to hear a new band like that are really going to attach themselves to what we are doing with our music because they can relate to it.