By JAY KENNEY
New England is a four-piece rock band from Boston, Mass. The lineup includes John Fannon (guitar and vocals), Hirsh Gardner (drums and vocals), Gary Shea (bass), and Jimmy Waldo (keyboards and vocals). The band released their self-titled debut album, New England, on Infinity/MCA Records in 1979. It was produced by Mike Stone and Paul Stanley of KISS and contained the Top 40 single “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya.” After touring throughout most of 1979, they released their second album Explorer Suite in 1980 and their third album Waking Wild in 1981. The band also spent a lot of time on the road, touring with bands such as AC/DC, Journey, Kiss, Rush, among others. They eventually broke up due to a lack of support from their record label. While the band reunited for a few short sets since then, New England is reuniting for their first full length concert since 1983 at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Mass., on August 15, 2014. We recently caught up with the band during rehearsals for this show in Boston. We’re very grateful that every band member answered all of our questions and we look forward to catching the show on August 15th. For tickets, click HERE.
Limelight Magazine (LM): New England is performing its first full length show since 1983 with all four original members at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, MA, on August 15. How did this reunion concert come about?
John Fannon: Although this will be our first full headline show in over 30 years, we did a charity event last year playing about six songs and it was like we were frozen in time. Rocking like it was 1979! We knew we had to play more and here we are.
Hirsch Gardner: We’ve done a couple of shows over the years, usually just a short set of some of our most popular tunes. We had such a great time playing together and hanging out that we thought a full show would be great for us and the fans.
Gary Shea: We had played a few benefit shows over the past few years the most recent one being last summer at The Cafe Royal. We decided it was time to have fun playing more than the occasional gig.
Jimmy Waldo: We have actually been playing every year since 2005 in Boston, but not a full show.
LM: Did you ever expect to perform again with all four original members?
John Fannon: Yes, I always knew we would. It took a long time traveling down many individual, artistic paths but we have come full circle and are having a great time hanging out together and most important playing music!
Hirsch Gardner: Yeah…it was inevitable. Not only do we love playing together but the comments from the fans on the social media sites were inspiring.
Gary Shea: There has never been talk of performing with anyone else. It would never be the same. We are lucky that we all are very involved in the music business live as well as in the studio.
Jimmy Waldo: Yes, we have always been good friends and worked on each other’s projects. It was always in our minds to get together and start playing again.
LM: This past week you’ve been rehearsing in Boston. How have rehearsals been going?
John Fannon: Rehearsals were great. We could feel that same energy we always had. Playing these songs I think we all felt, “wow we were pretty dam good!”
Hirsch Gardner: Once we stopped laughing, joking and horsing around, rehearsals went great. It takes a lot of work to get some of that muscle memory back in shape, and just getting in shape physically is a challenge. New England is a very powerful and intense musical endeavor.
Gary Shea: Again this is not our first get together, that was back in 2005. The rehearsals went very well and this concert is the first time we will be headlining again and doing our whole show and we are very excited about that.
Jimmy Waldo: These rehearsals have gone great. We’ve had a blast playing songs from all three albums. The chemistry we’ve always had was there.
LM: What can fans expect from New England at this show?
John Fannon: Everything they remember and more. Playing live, New England has always sounded just like the “record” coming through a giant stereo.
Hirsch Gardner: Like I said, it is very powerful and intense. We play the same now as we did back in the day. This ain’t no mamby pamby cover band and we ain’t taking any prisoners.
Gary Shea: We are going to perform some material that was recorded on our albums but never done live in concert. It`s going to be a blast for us musically and hopefully our fans will really enjoy it. Also, it’s a very audience friendly venue where we will all be up close and in person. No bad seats or sound.
Jimmy Waldo: A lot of energy. The songs we have picked for this show are really rockin’ and we will be doing some totally acoustic songs as well.
LM: Is this a one-off show or is there a possibility of additional tour dates in the future?
John Fannon: There will definitely be more dates coming. We are committed to playing new and old music together into the future and beyond!
Hirsch Gardner: We’ll play as opportunities arise.
Gary Shea: We have been back together for a few years and logistics are now prevailing that allow us to play together much more than before. We are very excited about that. We hope to get around the country again, as well as Europe and Japan where we also have fans.
Jimmy Waldo: We will be doing more shows as well as some European and Japanese shows.
LM: Has there been any consideration yet to recording new music?
John Fannon: Yes we are working on some new material and will be playing a new song at the show.
Hirsch Gardner: We have and hope to release some by the time we gig.
Gary Shea: Yes, we have been working on new music over the years and may do a new tune live. Playing a new song live before recording it always hones the arrangement and content.
Jimmy Waldo: Yes, we have been working on new material for the last year or so. We all have studios which makes it very easy to collaborate on new material.
New England’s self-titled debut album
LM: Your debut album, New England, contained the Top 40 single “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya,” which is the song most people associate with the band. What was it like for the band having success right from the start?
John Fannon: It was a dream come true…I remember our caravan of truck, cars and tour bus driving to one of our first headline shows in Denver and “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya” came on the radio. We all stopped on the side of the road, got out and were dancing in the streets. It was such an awesome feeling. We knew “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya” was playing all around the world and there it was in real life!
Hirsch Gardner: Dream come true. Touring with the likes of ACDC, Journey, Rush, Cheap Trick, Kiss and headlining venues like Santa Monica Civic, The Fox Theater in Atlanta. It couldn’t have been more fun.
Gary Shea: Ha! This band was together for 10 years under a few different names, playing all over the Northeast, Canada and the Midwest. There was no overnight success. We actually broke up in 1975 and reformed in recording only mode for three years to get a record deal. That`s when we had six major label presidents and managers coming to our studio in Braintree, Mass. It was then that we chose to call ourselves New England, for musical influences and knowing that if any band around here dared to use that name the had better be damn good. It was very exciting to tour all the arenas in North America and be accepted as a peer to many of the great bands of the time. Very rewarding and humbling. We also made some amazing fans over the years that are coming across the country to this show.
Jimmy Waldo: It was amazing. We grew into it very quickly with all the touring we did following that record. Our first 20 or 30 shows were all headline shows in 2,000 to 4,000 seaters.
LM: That album was produced by Mike Stone (Queen, Asia) and Paul Stanley of KISS. What was it like working with both producers?
John Fannon: It was awesome! Mike was recommended to us by Brian May and we all loved how the Queen records sounded so we obviously said “bring him on” and he did not disappoint. Mike was not only an incredible engineer, but also a wonderful person to be around. We became great friends. Paul Stanley brought star power and confidence to the project. Even though our music was 99 percent developed and arranged going into the recording sessions, his input and presence was invaluable! Paul also gave us a taste of celebrity status just hanging out with him in L.A., NYC, and London. It was a magical time for the band.
Hirsch Gardner: Mike was a genius at the board. The sound of our first two albums still stands up with some of the best productions today. Paul was also great to work with.
Gary Shea: It was very inspirational to have a team with major experience recording and a successful track record making heavy rock music. We had other offers but we chose Mike and Paul for their commitment and love of our music. We had a great time recording in L.A. New York, and London. When the album came out, it was very rewarding after so much sweat, tribulations, vision, and hard work to see it do well for us.
Jimmy Waldo: Mike was an amazing engineer who had done some of the best bands on the planet. Paul came from a more musical place as a writer and performer.
LM: Does anyone in the band still keep in touch with Paul Stanley?
John Fannon: No, we don’t. I wish we could.
Hirsch Gardner: I stayed in touch with the KISS guys after New England for a short while. Jimmy, Gary and I put together a band with Vinnie Vincent when Gene (Simmons) suggested we get together with him. Other than that there has been no contact.
Gary Shea: Over the years we have seen each other on and off. I last saw Paul last summer in Detroit on the Kiss/Motley Crue tour. We share the pride in knowing we all did a great job together and made some enduring music.
Jimmy Waldo: Not really.
New England’s second album Explorer Suite
LM: When bands have success right out of the gate, there’s usually pressure from the record label to create another hit single. How much pressure was placed on the band when you recorded your sophomore effort, Explorer Suite?
John Fannon: I wouldn’t say we felt any pressure. I think the timing was a bit sudden and surprising because we were having so much success touring. Once we were home we just continued to do what we loved to do. Create new music. I will say with great regrets, I don’t think the record or management company knew what they had with Explorer Suite. It went right over their heads and yet this is still critically acclaimed as one of the best classic albums of all time. Kind of bitter sweet.
Hirsch Gardner: Well if there was pressure from the record company there was as much amongst the band but not pressure in a negative way. We wanted a hit single and worked very hard to achieve that.
Gary Shea: Every band is faced with the second album pressure. We were lucky in that we had a lot of material plus new songs we were working on at that time. Of course the label wants success again, we all do. Our problem was never the music. It was the roller coaster of the music business itself.
Jimmy Waldo: Elektra wasn’t as involved in the process as much as we would have liked. They really liked and accepted the record that we delivered and decided on “Explorer Suite” as a single, based on Queen’s success with “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
New England’s third album Waking Wild
LM: Your third album, Walking Wild, was produced by another big name musician, Todd Rundgren, who stripped the layered production of the first two albums. Was this a conscious effort by him and the band to go in a “leaner” direction or did it just evolve during the recording process?
John Fannon: That was a conscious effort of Todd’s. He had a very different style of production and sound. He did have some great musical ideas and direction for the songs especially vocal harmonies and string parts. We made this record in two weeks. Pretty amazing! I remember him telling me, “This is a great record. Don’t let Elektra F. it up.”
Hirsch Gardner: We had always loved Todd’s production and songwriting skills so I think that is what brought us to him. The album reflects all of that: his production style, songwriting and arrangements.
Gary Shea: We hired Todd because we were all big Nazz fans and having a very musical producer really appealed to us. There was no leaner decision, it was just how that music at that time needed to be built. There are still big vocal parts and strings bit like you say, it was just the evolution of the recording. That whole album by the way was written in two weeks at Todd`s Utopia Warehouse and recorded and mixed in under two weeks at his home studio in Woodstock. We are very proud of our achievement in pulling that off. The band had been playing together every day, all day, for over six years at that point and we were very tight musically.
Jimmy Waldo: I think it was a bit of both. We did a few songs, which had a more layered production on that record, which Todd really liked. But we also did songs like “Holdin’ Out on Me” and “Be My Dirty Dream,” which were basic rock and roll. They just didn’t need as much of a heavy layered approach as our first two records.
LM: Sadly, New England didn’t get much label support after your debut album. How much of an influence did that have on the band’s breakup at the time?
John Fannon: I think it had everything to do with the breakup.
Hirsch Gardner: By the end of the third album and tour we had played together since 1973. I think we were all pretty beat at that point.
Gary Shea: It was a huge factor. On both the second and third albums that were released on Elektra Records, the label picked singles that were not what we had envisioned. We chose “Conversation” on our second album for a single, but they said they wanted to showcase our musicality with “Explorer Suite.” Along with Todd on our third album, Walking Wild, we chose “Don`t Ever Let Me Go” which also featured Todd playing a guitar solo harmony with John. They chose “DDT” instead and a lot of female radio people didn`t like the humor and refused to play it.
Jimmy Waldo: We couldn’t continue making records and touring without a label’s financial support, so we decided to all pursue other projects. We didn’t stop working together because of personal issues – we had no way to make records or tour anymore. In those days there was no Protools, or high quality home recording. It was very expensive to make a record.
LM: Out of three albums you recorded, which one is your personal favorite?
John Fannon: Although I love all three albums, Explorer Suite is my personal favorite. My goal was to write songs that would give each of us even more space to showcase our creativity and diversity as musicians. I think we got there.
Hirsch Gardner: All of them. I still marvel over the playing, songwriting, sound of those albums. I’m a pretty big fan of New England!!!
Gary Shea: I like all three for many various reasons, whether it’s the song, the parts I played, or what was happening at the time. They are all great little stories and we gave them all our love and attention.
Jimmy Waldo: That’s a tough question. I really like all three for different reasons. All the songs on all three were really good. As a keyboard player, each album brought new challenges for me, which I loved.
LM: For anyone out there who is on the fence about coming to the show on August 15, what’s the number one reason why they should attend this show?
John Fannon: Rehearsals have been ROCKIN’. We still have that same powerful melodic sound and energy wrapped around great songs that has always been New England, and we are looking forward to debuting a new song! Come join us on August 15 at the Regent Theater in Arlington, Mass., strap on your seat belt and get ready for AN HISTORIC NIGHT OF POWER ROCK!!!
Hirsch Gardner: Who’s on the fence?!?!?! Give me there name and address!!!!!!
Gary Shea: Come down and see a real rock band that can play and sing its ass off melodically without sounding wimpy. No auto tune, no pre-recorded backing tracks, just four guys that have devoted their lives for that two hour moment in the limelight. We won`t disappoint.
Jimmy Waldo: We are a great band, that has great songs, and plays them live with lots of energy. We all love playing together and it shows. It’s a great show with lots of dynamics.