An Interview with
'Keith St. John'
Lead Vocalist of 'Burning Rain' & formerly 'Montrose' as well as the Organiser of the
'Ronnie Montrose Remembered' Show
Interviewed by Glenn Milligan
early January, 2019
Glenn: A big hi to you Keith, how are things going right now... busy as hell no doubt right?
Keith: TRUTH BE TOLD BRUTHA!!
Glenn: You've finally got around to recording a brand new 'Burning Rain' album.. number four in fact... can you tell us how long it took to record & where it was recorded and what it will be released on label-wise?
Keith: This record was recorded in just under a year's time over various spaced out sessions at both Doug’s studio and mine focusing on specific songs we were working on at the time. Each track evolved in it's own time from being a songwriter demo session into an album worthy version. Doug recorded the music on the first demo versions at his place. Most of the vocals were done at my place with the exception of a couple scats I did at his place that did actually wind up on record. The live drums were cut to our demo tracks locally in L.A. It will be released on March 22nd on Frontiers Music SRL.
Glenn: What's the title and where the idea came from, not forgetting the cover idea(s)?
Keith: 'Face The Music' is the album title. After the lyrics to the song 'Face The Music' were written, D.A. and I both agreed that it had a great great ring for an album title as well. We hadn’t yet been searching for a album title so when it hit us that was that! It was a quick and easy decision really that we both agreed on and never looked back. The cover of the record depicts a scene involving a great ship in stormy waters and a peaceful but ominous siren-like girl seated in the rocks. The implication could be that the girl's music she puts forth may have tragic effects on the destiny of the ship and its passengers.
One could interpret having to "stand up and face the music" in a few different ways. One way would perhaps be to correct one's karma before having to be subjected to being a passenger on that ship. Another thought might be that whatever greater force is behind her power could possibly be defeated if you really stand up to it. There's more ways you could think about it, but I don't want to be the one to tell the viewers how to see it. There's another track on the record called 'Lorelei' that's very much related to our mythical cover.
Glenn: What songs stand out majorly to you that you are particularly proud of on the album?
Keith: I'm having a pretty decent love a fair with mostly all the songs, but off the top of my head, some of my personal fave's are 'Lorelei', 'Beautiful Road', 'Midnight Train', 'Shelter', and 'Nasty Hustle'.
Glenn: What would you say were the various high and even low points in the studio?
Keith: Can’t say I felt any low points at all in the studio Andrew. When you’ve been working together as long as Doug and I have, you get accustomed to each others rhythms so basically neither of us really push each others buttons in the wrong directions and if we’re not vibin’ on something we just toss it quickly cause we know there’s 10 more ideas right around the corner.
One of the high points for me was when Doug played me a track he had fashioned up (which became 'Hideaway') which I didn’t want to hear too much before doing my scat to it (my usual method)…and then he left the room for couple minutes…and in that time I jammed to the track with whatever 'auto-lyrics' flowed out and all I can tell ya from there is that most of that first experimental take is on the finalized Album track. Pretty cool yeah?
Glenn: Yeah totally. Were any particular songs harder to put together when it came to the studio and if so for what exact reasons?
Keith: I thought 'Since I’m Lovin' You' took us through a few wrestling matches (writing-wise) that might have ironed themselves out more quickly if we had been doing the initial demo of it with the full band. It’s got an ominous groove and some really dramatic changes that I think took us an extra minute to sort out while working the initial demo to some virtual drums. Once we had the real drums behind us I feel that my own worries on that song pretty much cleared up.
Glenn: Are you planning to tour the new record and if so, what will the live line-up be and what logistics have you had to overcome in order to make it happen?
Keith: Yes, we are planning to do more touring on this record than any of the three past records. The band is myself Doug Aldrich, Blas Elias, and Brad Lang. That will be the touring line-up! We will work around each other’s schedules to make things happen. One or more of us may have to make some compromises depending on when dates are offered, but isn’t that how life works in general?
Glenn: Yeah it is. What can we expect to see in the set list? Will it feature many cuts from the new album? Any cover numbers planned at all... care to spill any beans?
Keith: Doug asked me the other day about covers. My personal thoughts about that subject are as follows…if you can make a ‘cover’ sound like it’s part of your own sound as a band and it really resonates in a way that the original did not capture, then it’s worth doing. We haven’t fully designed the setlist yet, but I expect that we will play more cuts from the new record than any of the others at this point. Doug and I are currently planning an acoustic mini promotional tour where we will have to refashion the songs in a way to really resonate in that environment. You can definitely catch the full band at the 'Frontiers Rock Festival' in Milan in April!
Glenn: You recently took the fronting part for Kingdom Come, what were your thoughts when you asked to do this especially when you are standing in the shows of the epically voiced Lenny Wolfe?
Keith: Yes kudos to Lenny for singing a great album! That being said, when I listened to the material I knew my own style would work well with those songs. For me, that’s the only way I will consider a gig like that singing someone else’s music. I love James, Danny, JB, and Rick. They’re a great group of guys and we get along well on and off the road. That’s always a MAJOR plus when you basically have to live with each other 24/7 on the road.
Lenny’s bother came to the very first gig we played up in Seattle, and after the show he was giving me hugs all night, so apart from already being accepted by the band I also really felt a deeper level of acceptance right from the first night because of that!
Glenn: Was this tour a one-off or is more planned for the tour or maybe even a live album or brand new studio album....
Keith: While there is no talk of an official new record for this line-up, there are plans for more touring together. We will be at the Monsters of Rock official pre-party down in Miami in February with 'Black N Blue' and my good friend, Jeff Scott Soto, and we will be on the M3 festival in May for sure with Whitesnake, Warrant, LA Guns, and Autograph on the same day with us.
Glenn: What songs did you personally find the most challenging and why or did your larynx take to them like a duck to water?
Keith: Bahaha!! OK! OK! What I would say for this one is that there’s no particular song that I felt was harder, but since 95% of the material on those first two records is in a specifically higher register, it was important for me to have a good set order that would warm up my voice and cool it down properly night after night in order to keep the endurance up for a 30 day tour with very little rest.
Glenn: How much learning, rehearsing and general preparation was put into perfecting being the lead vocalist of Kingdom Come?
Keith: Well…I feel it’s a good rule of thumb to realize that art is never perfection, and it’s always changing and evolving. With something so human and constantly changing as a voice, I think it is key for a singer to understand the physical limits or unexpected magic of the day that is happening and with enough experience be able to artfully work with what’s on the table so to speak.
I highly respect Robert Plant who is a great master of expression in the moment, and understands how to make 'the song fit him' instead of making himself a slave to how it was once sung. I find his ever evolving interpretations brilliant and mesmerizing. Of course for Kingdom Come, there’s only so far I can personalize things and keep the audience happily engaged…but if I couldn’t branch out on my own somewhat, it wouldn’t be an interest for me at all.
As things turned out, with maybe 5 rehearsals with the band, we were all good to go, and from all the feedback that I’ve heard, audiences were extremely pleased by what they heard
Glenn: What was the overall reaction from the crowd since they were seeing a different lead singer? Did they take much warming to get them on board or was it an instant positive connection with them?
Keith: They seemed 100% “IN” straight from the get go at every show we’ve done so far! Thanks everyone and look forward to seeing you all again soon!!!
Glenn: Any particular memorable live moments during the tour?
Keith: The Arcada Theatre in Chicago was a wonderful place to play. It’s old and huge but well maintained and has a very cool vintage feel with artistic photos of Sinatra and the rat pack in the downstairs dressing rooms which are next to the kitchen where the cooks prepared the most delicious Italian food for us.
We also played with Zebra in Poughkeepsie, NY at The Chance which was killer for me cause Zebra were small town 'Heroes of Hard Rock' back on Long Island where I grew up. Then there are dozens of really strong heartfelt audience sing-a-longs when I would break a section down and put my own thing into it that lifted me up with them in all the right ways!!!
Glenn: Do you ever get any free time these days and if so, how do you like to spend it particularly?
Keith: NO FREE TIME. Lol! Actually, last time I had free time I visited the Great Wall of China back in April! That was a gas man!
Glenn: You are have placed together another 'Ronnie Montrose Remembered' night – how long on average does it take to place such an event together?
Keith: 3 Months on average, once you get the date locked down. SHHHHHHH ! (Trade Secret)
Glenn: Do have any particular favourite moments of the night that you always look forward to with regard to both watching other performers do their thing and being up there yourself?
Keith: I love watching ALL the performers. For some reason Ronnie Montrose’s music inspires such warmth and community in everyone. I think for many of the players, it’s some roots rock they grew up on and something just takes over and transports them back to some youthful zone while they’re performing to the adoring crowd that’s also being transported! In a way it’s like seeing some fully exposed soft white underbelly’s poke out of everyone with Montrose music as an ethereal catalyst to their musical souls!
I personally also look forward to singing certain songs that bring back my feelings and my soul-locked memories from so many times that Ronnie and I performed them across the country over the years. In my minds eye, when I’m there singing those songs again, I see and feel a giant batch of killer memories bro.
Glenn: Who would you say are you most proud of adding to the bill this year, either who have been part of RMR in the past or brand new to the show and for what reasons?
Keith: I’m so glad to have George Lynch this year! OK story…many many years before Ronnie passed. I was asked to host a ‘Guitar Players Ball’ at the Observatory which was then called the ‘Galaxy'. George was one of the scheduled players and I had some experience at that point playing with George having done some live touring stints singing with Lynch Mob.
When the agent who put the talent together asked me if I had anyone else for the bill that I’d like to invite, I of course said let me see if I can get Ronnie down here for it. So Ronnie signed on to do this big guitar players ball show and I found out from George that they had never once crossed paths and had not ever met. I was tickled for sure to be the one to first introduce these two major west coast icons to one another (and it was just the 3 of us alone in an upstairs private room at the venue).
I heard some great stories that night and I got to sing with both of them that night in tandem sets. Since then I’ve written with both of them, recorded a George Lynch solo record with George, as well as played many more live gigs with Lynch Mob including Loud Park at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo. That Arena is exactly twice the capacity of Staples center. The only two shows I played that were bigger than that one were with Ronnie.
George had once told me he sang in his fist band back in school days and used to sing 'Space Station #5'. He had conflicts on the prior years that prevented him from making it and I’m so glad he finally can make it work cause this may be the last year I’m doing this!!
Glenn: What were the main reasons why you chose the 'Anaheim Event Center' as opposed to 'The Yost Theater' like previous years to host RMR?
Keith: The Yost was a nice venue for the general audience but there is absolutely ZERO backstage there. So with 50 artists and their wives, and our VIP’s there is literally no where to go!! The backstage was cramped as hell and impossible to deal with…if I ever do a show there again I will figure out a different vibe for backstage….maybe pull up a tour bus or a giant motorhome and park it at the back door?????
I also dig the fact that the M3 Live Anaheim Event Center is 2 Blocks from the Hilton where EVERYONE hangs out at during the NAMM CONVENTION, so people could walk over if they want! We’ve never been this close, so I’m hoping it’s a big win for fans that are 'NAMM-Goers'.
Glenn: Aside from RMR, what other things do you like about the NAMM period and why?
Keith: There are certain friends, musicians, and music biz people that no matter what happens during the year, I know even if we don’t see each other I will definitely see them at NAMM! It’s also a place where we’re not generally working as hard as we are when out on tour and we can actually slow down and talk to each other instead of just rushing by with a quick ‘Hey!’ at the airport. Lol!
Also, I do like to meander around to the different shows my buds are playing at too if I have any 'off' nights to meander on these days lol.
Glenn: Anything else you'd like to add that we've not covered yet in the interview?
Keith: I’m looking forward to Ronnie’s Wife, Leighsa Montrose joining us this year in helping to present the Guitar Player Magazine’s 'Rock The Nation' award in Ronnie’s name to a young national recipient who will then get to play guitar onstage alongside of some of these great stars and jam with the best!
I’m also very happy that Eddie Trunk decided to come out and help me host this illustrious event again. Eddie really adds a lot to the vibe on stage and he really knows the ropes in handling multiple artists with a large crowd! What also works really cool is that Eddie comes in with the 'crowds' point of view and knows the ins and outs of what the fans know about each player while I don’t really know any of that but I know a bunch of personal stuff and all the little facts about how they’re related to Ronnie’s legacy and their little-known personal experience with Ronnie...
So we seem to compliment each other pretty well!! On a final note, I’d like to thank all the fans and Montrose friends for having me and embracing me the way they did all these years and for making me feel as special and welcome as I do to taking this journey together!!
Glenn: A big thanks for the conversation Keith. See you at 'Ronnie Montrose Remembered' on 25th January 2019 @ The Anaheim Event Center. Looking forward to it!
Keith: SEE YOU THERE GLENN!! BRING YOUR BAD MOTOR SCOOTER WITH YA!!!