Interview by Dave Reynolds, of Kerrang, for the Valentine 2016 reissue booklet
After the New York based melodic rock outfit Valentine had been persuaded to reunite in October 2007 for what turned out to be a truly triumphant appearance at the Firefest IV event in Nottingham, England, I asked the band (in a pre-show interview for use in the subsequent commemorative DVD/CD package) whether getting a major record deal had, uh, screwed their career up? It was my very first question and took them very much by surprise.
“We’ve had our share of ups and downs,” responded guitarist Adam Holland diplomatically, “but we’ve weathered the storm.”
Firefest had given Valentine a second bite at the cherry. Not only had it enabled the quintet to finally appear on foreign shores, it also highlighted the love and support European fans had for the band and, up until that point, its sole album.
The final piece of the jigsaw in the formation of the group had come in the form of vocalist Hugo, who joined keyboard player Craig Pullman and the founding trio of the aforementioned Mr. Holland, bassist Gerard Zappa and drummer Neil Christopher with the intention, as Holland puts it today of: “creating a band that had that big arena rock sound possessed by Boston, Foreigner, Styx and Journey.”
The Journey reference is of particular note, as Hugo not only had the pipes to rival the Bay Area band’s legendary singer Steve Perry, but the New Yorker bore an uncanny physical resemblance to him as well. Yet it was never something that particularly hindered Valentine. Indeed, from a purely European perspective, the band actually appeared to be embraced more because of it, especially because by that point Perry and Journey had long gone their – if you’ll pardon the obvious pun - separate ways.
Yet what had been the catalyst for wanting to become musicians in the first place? So far as Adam Holland is concerned it was: “hearing songs that inspired me and saying ‘I want to do that’. Then a burning desire sets in and you just HAVE to do THAT!”
Adam (who had first picked up the guitar as an 11 year old), Gerard and Neil had first met in High School and had been playing in other bands together prior to forming Valentine in 1984. Craig Pullman and Hugo, it transpired, were all a part of the Long Island music scene. “Through friends and other musicians, we all gravitated together through our love of the same type of music,” remarks Adam.
Having primarily played a little around the New York area at first, the quintet actually ventured to Los Angeles for a short period.
“That move west really changed our attitudes and woke us up,” reflects Holland. “It was so beneficial and a real turning point for the band. We saw what the groups were doing on the Sunset Strip - the look, vibe, attitude. We realized we could focus on that more effectively if we were on our home turf. Once we returned home it all came together. Besides continuing to write songs, we also focused on the look and vibe of the band.”
Upon Valentine’s return to the east coast, things began to slowly, but surely, come together rather nicely.
“In 1986 we rehearsed at a studio called Nino’s where Joan Jett, Stray Cats and Twisted Sister also rehearsed,” reveals Adam. “The first people to ever have interest in Valentine were Jay Jay French and Mark Mendoza from Twisted Sister. Gratitude to them big time! We actually started working on a production deal and had hired a lawyer to work on a contract. That was when Scott Bernstein said ‘before you sign anything…..’ and promptly took our demo to SBK Management.
“Actually I grew up with Scott,” continues the guitarist. “His family was friendly with music business heavyweights Steve Lieber, Charles Koppelman and Marty Bandier. At a young age, Scott started working at Lieber & Krebs Management. Later on, Scott worked for SBK Management for Arma Andon and introduced the band to him. Arma loved the group and signed us to a management deal. Then Scott and Arma brought in Louis Levin. Louis also managed producer Neil Kernon at the time, and the entire package came together.”
As Louis also managed one Michael Bolton, he was a man – alongside music business veteran Andon - who had the connections with the CBS owned Columbia Records imprint, so a deal to sign Valentine to the label happened fairly swiftly. Ironically, Adam and Gerard used to intern at Columbia. Did they encounter anyone they worked for back then who subsequently became involved in the band once Valentine had signed?
“Yes. Louis!” Holland laughs. “We already knew him but we would see him all of the time up at Columbia. It was great! We did favors for him. Once we were signed to Columbia and we're up at the label, there were many who would say ... didn’t you used to intern here? It was a great time in our lives.”
Valentine had been signed to Columbia by John Mervos, an A&R man with a keen ear for good hard rock bands. He had previously signed Britny Fox and would subsequently add Heaven’s Edge to the label and held a huge amount of belief in the groups he dealt with. Had Mrvos suggested using Neil Kernon to produce the subsequent album?
“Actually, it was because Louis managed Neil Kernon. We were huge fans of Neil, especially the Dokken and Queensryche records he’d produced. Louis got Neil involved before we were even signed. He loved the band and we loved what he did. Neil produced our demos that got us signed. So, Mrvos wanted to retain the entire package that Louis had initially put together.”
Valentine were signed to Columbia in April 1988, but only began to start work on the album in November that year, as the band patiently waited for Kernon to finish up working on another project. Was there any pressure put on them to go elsewhere in order to get the record done sooner?
“No, not that I recall.”
Although the drums were recorded at Power Station, the rest of the album was captured at Kampo Cultural Center. “It was a full blown top of the line recording studio in Greenwich Village NYC,” offers Holland on the facility. Neil liked the studio. The price was great and the neighborhood was phenomenal in Greenwich Village. The price also allowed us more time, and therefore the freedom to be more creative. It was a great place to record.”
Had any of the material been 'road tested' prior to recording?
“Yes, most of it had been played live. Most of the material was written before the album was recorded. We wrote a lot during the demo phase working with Neil Kernon as well.”
The album took five months to complete. Recorded in a tremendous atmosphere, the band were joined by then Strangeways vocalist Terry Brock and Preview frontman Jon Fiore who both supplied backing vocals and Valentine went along with some of Neil Kernon’s more, uh, creative ideas...the sounds of wild animals and orgasmic female groaning on ‘Too Much Is Never Enough’ and the clearly drunken rendition of ‘Ten Green Bottles’....
“We definitely had fun in the studio, that’s for sure,” laughs Adam. “Those were very silly, fun times. Neil brought in Brock, Fiore and also Ebn (Ned "Ebn" Liben of 80s synth pop duo Ebn Ozn). We became very good friends with Terry Brock and Ebn in particular. There was a bit of a setback when Neil hurt his back before we began mixing. We did have to wait over 6 weeks for him. That part was frustrating.”
More frustrating was the fact that, with the album completed, Columbia promptly sat on the record.
“That was down to CRCP,” notes Adam. “Constant Record Company Politics!”
Looking back, do you think that due to the political stuff going on it meant Columbia never were going to release the album? Did it have anything to do with John Mrvos having left the company?
“Yes, there were a lot of political things going on. The same stuff happened when we were at Giant and RCA later on too. Once a new president came in at Columbia many bands and staff were let go. Unfortunately, we were part of that sweep.”
Holland is unable to recall exactly when the band learnt they had been dropped, but they collectively had every confidence that they would bounce back and get another deal. And, as luck would have it, around the same time Valentine discovered they no longer had the Columbia deal, John Mrvos had pitched up at the newly launched Giant label, a company put together by Warner Brothers and management heavyweight/erstwhile MCA label head Irving Azoff. Describing the signing to the new label as “a very natural process”, Adam adds: “We will be forever grateful to John Mrvos for his unwavering belief in the band.”
Without a doubt they also had Louis Levin to thank as well. While Columbia’s incoming new president Donnie Ienner appeared to be on a mission to purge hard rock from its doors, his relationship with Levin, who still also managed Michael Bolton on the label’s roster, may have gone some way in the band being allowed to take the record with them to wherever they might end up.
The original release date for the album with their new label was to have been January 1990. It was no doubt to the band’s immense relief that February 14th 1990 had never been marked down as a tentative release date for the record either, for in a ‘Kerrang!’ interview later that year, Adam told me that the Valentine handle was a “double-edged sword, rather like Cinderella. We want to play down the usual interpretation of the name. We certainly don’t intend coming out wearing red with hearts on everything! The name means one thing, but the band means another”.
Finally released in October 1990, Valentine’s debut record was nothing short of fantastic. I remarked in a feature published in issue #315 of Kerrang! that ‘Valentine’ brought to mind the awesome, yet ill-fated debut album from Aviator, with the added bonus of being given a really heavy, hard rock sheen along the lines of Dokken’s ‘Under Lock And Key’ album; both of which Neil Kernon had also produced.
A solid mixture of up-tempo hard rock (opener ‘Runnin’ On Luck Again’, the raucous ‘Too Much Is Never Enough’ and uplifting ‘No Way’), majestic pomp rock (‘Where Are You Now’ and the Spys-like ‘Once In A Lifetime’) and masterfully delivered balladry (the critically acclaimed ‘Never Said It Was Gonna Be Easy’, ‘Tears In The Night’ and the Journey-esque ‘You’ll Always Have Me’), the record gained hugely positive reviews from the music press of the day. It seemed only a matter of time before Valentine would be sharing the limelight with the likes of Bon Jovi, Europe and management stablemate Michael Bolton across the globe.
“We’re definitely into some heavy stuff,” remarked Holland in that aforementioned ‘Kerrang!’ interview back in 1990. “But that can mean anything from Van Halen and Aerosmith to Journey and Led Zeppelin. We’re actually going for a more modern sound. We don’t want to sound like another band. One of the best assets Valentine has is that there are five writers who all have different influences – ranging from Elton John to Metallica – and styles of writing that all go to mesh the Valentine sound.”
While the music was top notch, the packaging of the album was a little mystifying though. Was the artwork used for the album the original design conceived while at Columbia?
“No, it was all done over at Giant,” responds Adam. “We did do a photo shoot for Columbia and did have a meeting or two on album cover concepts, but nothing really materialized from those meetings.”
The artwork was very conceptual. Do you think it went over a lot of heads?
“Er, yes," the guitarist chuckles. “There is a definite concept to it, but if any of us could remember what it is ……..that’s another story! I think the concept was about a hotel that was haunted by a beautiful ghost. The book, candle and flowers are all memories of past lovers…..I vaguely recall it being something along those lines.”
Once released the European press – particularly UK rock magazine ‘Kerrang!’ - reacted very, very positively. As did the band’s biggest champion in the form of ‘Metal Edge’ editor Gerri Miller in the States, but what about sales in the US?
“The record was well received in the United States, although granted, not as strongly as in Europe. Even with the limited label support we did have very good press in America and a video on MTV. People knew who we were.”
The video, incidentally, was for ‘No Way’ and depicted the band playing in an empty warehouse and an over keen female fan/stalker - played by then much in demand actress Ally Sheedy (‘Bad Boys’, ‘WarGames’, ‘The Breakfast Club’, ‘St. Elmos Fire’) attempting to get past security at the door. Did Adam think the album got a fair crack of the whip promotion wise though?
“Sadly, no,” he sighs before adding:”We should have gone to Europe at that time for sure. Label politics just didn't allow it at that point though.. That was very frustrating for us.”
When did it become apparent that luck was against the band and a different approach was necessary?
“It wasn’t any one particular point. The label move and the change in musical times made it all clear. The 90s sound came roaring in and everything changed.”
Despite rumors to the contrary, a second Valentine album was never recorded, but the quintet had started working on songs for the originally intended follow up to the debut. However, there was one further offering from the band while still signed to Giant when Valentine’s ‘Keep The Faith’ was used on the soundtrack to the movie ‘Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead’ (starring ‘Married With Children’ star Christina Applegate).
However, by 1992 the Giant deal was in tatters. Still having a huge amount of confidence in their own abilities, Valentine would eventually sign to RCA. However, it would result in a change of band name....
“Our producer Richie Zito, an amazing producer, super talented musician and fantastic person by the way, who signed us to his label at RCA, was the one who first brought it up,” states Adam on the subject. “He is another wonderful believer in the band who we will also forever be grateful to. Rick Aliberti at RCA was also a major supporter and believer. The band and sound had evolved. For the first time, we were writing with outside writers and exploring a more classic rock sound. It was a rebirth for all of us.
“We had also brought in a new drummer, Tom Maio (Neil Christopher having left the band right after the recording due to what was described at the time as ‘musical differences’. Again, it was a rebirth in a new musical era. And somehow it just wasn't Valentine. That name didn't seem to fit anymore. During that period we were out in L.A. with Richie and Rob Jacobs recording and writing. Personally, I feel that time out in L.A. was one of the best periods for the band. We were allowed to explore and be creative while working with some of the most talented people in the industry. I will always cherish that time.”
Indeed, the Open Skyz album allowed the band to further their horizons, but they were a band out of time. The album, simply titled ‘Open Skyz’, was released in 1993. Despite the fact that the single ‘Every Day Of My Life’ reached #25 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Chart in February 1994, (and the band toured the US with Mr Big and evened open for childhood heroes KISS), melodic rock really wasn’t cutting it anymore in the big, bad world. Adam and cohorts didn’t wear plaid and stare at their shoes. The group split up, with Hugo venturing forward with a solo career that was particularly embraced by fans of his previous work with Valentine and Open Skyz in Europe. However, he continued to work on and off with his former bandmates on one project or another; significantly with the Journey tribute band Evolution that was managed by Gerard and featured Adam.
Moving forward nearly twenty years since the debut album’s release, Valentine now with the very amiable Mike Morales on drums (another member of Evolution) reunited for Firefest IV in 2007. This glorious comeback and a follow up appearance in 2008 (that led to the recording of the self-released ‘Soul Salvation’ album in 2009), surely gave Adam and the band a feeling of vindication that the group had it spot on the first time around, and it was only record company politics that had prevented the first record from being far more successful that got in the way?
“YES! Well said!” the guitarist exclaims. “As I have mentioned, we are very proud of the Open Skyz record and era, and do not want to dismiss that. However, it does seem that we will always be Valentine. The later appreciation for Valentine was in fact vindicating and so satisfying. The response we received at our first Firefest performance was emotional and overwhelming. It was extremely satisfying for all of us. Making the ‘Soul Salvation’ record was great as well. The reviews were fantastic. Then, ‘Classic Rock’ Magazine online, voted ‘Never Said It Was Going to Be Easy’ the #1 best ballad you probably never heard. How cool is that? And now the re-release of the first Valentine album, It is all fantastic vindication.”
Valentine’s last live appearance occurred at the Lokerse Festival, in Lokeren Belgium in August 2009, where they were joined by old buddy Terry Brock.. While Hugo has once again turned towards his solo career (notably recording an album for Frontiers in 2008 entitled ‘The Dream’ with ex Le Mans/The Storm/Two Fires guitarist Josh Ramos), the trio of Adam, Gerard and Craig are now playing with ex Tall Stories/Tyketto/Journey vocalist Steve Augeri in the Steve Augeri Band. Augeri was an old friend, Tall Stories and Open Skyz having toured together in the States opening for Mr Big back in 1994.
“Steve is truly a fantastic singer, showman and most of all, a wonderful person,” remarks Adam. “There is not a gig that goes by that we don't quietly look at each other and silently say to each other…Thank You - for all that we have done, all that we have been through, and the fact we are still able to do this. Another big thank you to our phenomenal team of supporters through the years: Scott Bernstein, Steve Hoffman, Arma Andon, Louis Levin, Neil Kernon, Jon Mrvos, Kim Kaiman, Gerri Miller, Richie Zito, Rob Jacobs, Rick Aliberti, Robin Godfrey-Cass, Dave Reynolds and Derek Oliver.”
I feel that the final words must go to Gerard Zappa, who told me back at Firefest IV in 2007: “Our chemistry, the way we write and with Hugo’s God given talent as a vocalist, together its music for people to really hear.”