By JESSICA A. BOTELHO
While the Boston-based rock band Extreme is in-between touring and recording, lead vocalist Gary Cherone has been busy with his latest venture Hurtsmile. The singer, who also fronted Van Halen for three years during the late 1990s, said he is pleased he finally has the opportunity to collaborate with his brother, Mark Cherone, the guitarist for his new band.
“The project actually started in 2007, just before Extreme reunited,” Gary said. “It was a long time coming. Mark and I always talked about it over the years but never wrote together. I’ve always been a fan of his guitar playing and when we found ourselves in the same area, we wrote some music. We didn’t know it would turn into a full band, so we made some of the music available on the Internet.”
The following year, Extreme released Saudades de Rock, their fifth studio album. They went on tour in 2009, so Hurtsmile was put on hold. But, after Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt joined R&B recoding artist Rihanna on tour last year, Gary thought it was the perfect chance to pursue the project.
He and Mark recruited bassist Joe Pessia, an alumnus of Bettencourt’s band, DramaGods, as well as the guitarist for the Boston-based band, Tantric. Dana Spellman, who was once a student of Extreme’s former drummer and current Dream Theater drummer, Mike Mangini, handles drum duties.
“The time was right so Mark and I decided to pitch a record,” Gary said. “It was such an easy process. Mark and I came up with initial ideas for songs with lyrics and music and presented it to the band. Then, everyone threw in their two cents. I’m really inspired by the people I play and write with.”
The band’s self-titled debut album was recorded at Gary’s Massachusetts home and released shortly after in the United States on February 15th via the Italian-based Frontiers Record label. Pessia co-produced the album with Gary.
“He also engineered the whole thing,” Gary said of Pessia. “He has an objective opinion of the songs outside of what Mark and I think. And Spellman has an incredible memory. We can throw him three or four ideas and he remembers all the arrangements that we forget. He plays like a Manic and he’s always up for anything. You could say that about a lot of drummers but he brings a lot of passion to it. Recording with these guys was a lot of fun.”
Of the 12-tracks, Gary said “Stillborn,” “Just War Theory,” and “Love Thy Neighbor,” are among his favorites to sing at shows. He feels other songs are tougher to do live.
“I like the trilogy at the end of the album, ‘Slave’ and ‘Beyond The Garden/Kicking The Goads,’ but those are harder to perform,” he said. “It really depends on the environment you’re in.”
He said their brief tour of Japan earlier this summer helped them develop and fine-tune their music, as they performed eight shows in ten days for the tsunami and earthquake fund, Rock n’ Relief.
Additionally, Hurtsmile played a few gigs in the East Coast this summer and made a stop at Showcase Live in Foxboro, which is not too far from Gary’s hometown of Malden.
“It’s always good to play home,” Gary said. “They are always special shows.”
He said Boston gigs also tend to feel a bit nerve-wracking for him, as he lost his voice during a Van Halen show at what is now the Comcast Center in Mansfield in 1998. He sometimes feels unsettled prior to performing as a result.
“That show comes up in my mind every time I play in Boston,” he said. “The reason I lost my voice was because I didn’t have my game face on. I wasn’t prepared that night. The tour was successful and the fans were great but there were a few groups of loyal Sammy fans and Dave fans that sometimes got in my head when I was up there on stage.”
Nevertheless, he enjoyed his time with Van Halen and is proud of 3, the album he wrote and recorded with them. “Josephina” and “A Year to the Day” are two songs he enjoys most.
“Those three years with Van Halen were awesome,” Gary said. “They were great to work with. A lot of people think he has a crazy persona but Eddie Van Halen is very sweet and generous. He’s one of those guys who puts a guitar on and you can’t keep up with him because he’s a genius. The ideas just keep flowing out of him. Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen were great to me, too. We had a lot of fun doing that record and being on the road.”
When asked what he thought about Mangini taking over on drums for Mike Portnoy in the progressive rock band Dream Theater, Gary said Mangini is certainly capable. In fact, he described Mangini and Portnoy as two of the “best drummers on the planet.”
He also said Mangini is in a position he can parallel to his experience with Van Halen.
“I know what he’s getting into,” said Gary. “There are a lot of loyal fans that are going to hate him just for replacing Portnoy. But, it’s the perfect band for him because they are progressive and Mangini can bring some craziness to it. He’s one of a kind.”
Currently, Hurtsmile is working on new material. In 2012, Gary plans on picking up with the members of Extreme, including Bettencourt, bassist Pat Badger, and drummer Kevin Figueiredo. The band last performed in 2009 at the House of Blues in Boston.
“Right now, Nuno and I are writing material separately but we’ll get together when he finishes up with Rihanna and we’ll write for the next record,” he said. “We’re hoping to get music out before we tour but you’ll probably see us before you hear new material.”
Before the interview ended, Gary cleared up a humorous misunderstanding that was documented about his athletic aspirations. During a question and answer segment he had with a reporter when Extreme debuted, a reporter asked him what he wanted to do for a living when he was a child and he said he hoped to be a professional basketball player but a knee injury derailed his dreams. He didn’t think the reporter took him seriously.
“It was a joke but it’s been following me my whole career,” he said. “When you’re a kid, you want to be a sports hero but we both laughed during the interview because I’m not very tall.”