Über Röck Gaz

Über Röck Gaz

It was an old college friend, Fraser, who first put me onto Über Röck. “A friend of mine runs a website,” he told me, “they might be interested in reviewing your book.” I checked out the site, liked what I saw and got in touch. In the event, Über Röck published the first review of Words and Music, and, to my immense relief, it was a positive one. They’ve got good taste, those Über Röck böyz!

Since then I’ve remained a regular visitor to the Über Röck site. Are you worried about the grip the major labels seem to have on the content and opinons of your usual rock magazine? Want no bullshit news, reviews and interviews?  Want to discover new bands who’ll blow your balls off?  (I’m talking to the ladiez too.) Well, check out Über Röck for yourself. You’re unlikely to be disappointed.

I caught up with Über Röck Gaz, one half of the driving force behind the Über Röck website/brand/lifestyle (delete as applicable). He’s been “fighting the forces of musical mediocrity” for a while now. I wanted to find out more.

Hi Gaz, tell us about Über Röck. When did it begin? How did it begin? Why did it begin?
Myself and my hetero-life-partner Johnny H launched Über Röck at the end of August 2009 after finally deciding to do something that we had threatened to do for some time – start our own website covering all the rock genres and sub-genres. We’d both been writing for the Glitzine website and, enjoyable as it was, we felt limited by what we could cover genre-wise. There’s only so many times a week you can review an average Swedish band with bad Nikki Sixx hair. Also, we felt that the site wasn’t really taking advantage of the social media explosion and that we could do, well, bigger and better I guess. The final straw came when a live review I had written got pulled after complaints from the venue – a more ridiculous thing I had never heard – so we went for broke … and here we are!

How popular is the site now? I remember seeing a Facebook post about some huge monthly page view total.
Y’know, we’re never gonna be the biggest website out there, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be the coolest. We’ve tried to be honest when it comes to the amount of readers and hits that the site gets nowadays, basically because we want people to realise that you can do this kind of thing without pandering to the masses, or kissing PR arses, or charging bands to appear in your publication. Uber Rock best webzine awardIn 2012 the site had just under twelve and a half million hits which we were more than pleased with. To go from nothing to that in just over three years without bending over for acceptance is pretty special on my watch. 2013 looks to be even bigger too: in January we got 7,000 more readers than the previous biggest month so, yeah, things are more than ticking over. If I was in a generic rock band I would obviously insert the hilarious “world domination” line here. I’m not.

How many writers/reviewers are involved in the Über Röck team now?
There’s over 25 writing for us at the minute. There is a core of reviewers who do the bulk of the writing on the site, then there’s a host of people who contribute monthly blogs, interviews, photographs and the like. All doing it for the love of it too, it has to be noted. Legends, one and all. We’ve assembled a team that’d take on anyone – we’re a gang, we know our stuff, we’re not afraid to say something is rubbish, we’re not going to give someone a good review in return for a freebie. Like the B-52s said, “Tell it like it t-i-s.”

How and when did you get involved?
Personally, I kick-started the site into life. Myself and John had talked about a dream rock website and, after being so annoyed at the live review debacle I mentioned earlier, I pushed for us to get, as a man named Gary Gene once said, the wheels in motion. I left Glitzine and started planning the new site, while John stayed to soften the blow for a time with his curious prose. Everything that was on the site when we launched was done without any industry contacts – every interview was as a result of a message that we’d sent to a musician personally, every review as a result of a record or gig ticket we’d bought. This is why I don’t fear the PR companies and the managers and the record labels, I guess – you can do this without them … as we’ve proved. I also named the site. John’s idea for a name was The Heavy Metal Garage. Yes, I know …

What sort of things do you do, and how much of a time commitment is it?
It’s like having another full time job and not getting paid for it! I read recently about how a website the size of ours should have three full time staff – me and John do it all around our full time day jobs. We have tech support from a nerdtastic pair of brothers going under the ProsBros moniker but everything outside of the actual writing of the reviews (though we also contribute to the writing ourselves) is done by our fair, and exhausted, hand. We edit, upload, photoshop, email, design merch, send out both digital and physical promos, send out merch orders, sand the floor, paint the fence and, occasionally, sleep.

I’ve got to say, I’ve been a rock fan for a long time now and usually think I’m reasonably informed about the rock scene, but Über Röck continually features bands that are new to me. Do you intentionally seek out the obscure?
That, my friend, is possibly the greatest compliment you could give us! We don’t intentionally seek it out, it’s simply where we operate – under the radar … and we’ve always been like it. We try to give as much coverage to the independent bands as the big bands – same column inches, same treatment. Music is music is music – it’s as simple as that. Music outsiders is how you can describe us best. Industry outsiders too! Proper mavericks!

I’ve written a couple of pieces recently about the devotion of fans and artists to ‘the cause’ – driven by love of rock music to do whatever they can to keep the scene alive. Does Über Röck have a sense of mission?
Without question, pride ourselves on it too. We’ve always tried to get the point across that people don’t have to give up – whatever age, whatever wage, whatever situation they find themselves in, they should still be able to smother themselves in the music they love. We point people in the direction of cool venues, great new bands, essential albums, and we do it for one simple reason – we can do it, so can you.

“Fighting the forces of musical mediocrity” and “telling it like it is” – does that give you any problems with bands’ PR people?
Gaz-GardenOh yeah, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I pay a PR company their going rate they’ll try to convince everyone that my music is the greatest thing since sliced bread … even if it is utter shite. Their opinions are bought – ours aren’t. We do this for a love of the music, not the filthy lucre. It’s not just the PR people that complain either, there’ll be band members crying like schoolgirls because we gave their rubbish album a review deserving of its quality. If I put my writing out there for everyone to read I appreciate that some will not like it. Shame these ‘rock stars’ can’t accept the same when it comes to their music.

Serious rock fans are incredibly loyal? Why do you think this is, and why do you think rock music has such enduring appeal? 
It’s primal, it almost becomes an element, a lifeforce. Sounds corny, but put a killer riff in the ears of a clued-in rock fan and watch them come to life. For many, myself included, it is a lifestyle choice too, almost like X-ing yourself from society like the so-called Manson Family did. While I’d urge against anyone carving the letter X into their forehead, I completely endorse the idea of people dressing however they want, and flipping the bird to anyone who doesn’t get it. The mainstream media is so corrupt that counter culture swells with each ridiculous headline.

You must have had contact with quite a few artists by now. Have all your experiences been good ones? (They do say “Never meet your heroes”!) 
I’m a full-on nerd, autograph and memorabilia collector, so I’d been meeting band members way before Über Röck was born of the jackal. The arseholes – and they are legion – used to get to me, but then I just focused on getting my stuff signed and getting out of Dodge. Some people who you think will be great are morons, some who you think will be difficult are salt of the earth good guys and gals. As for heroes, two of the people who I had posters of on my bedroom wall when I was a kid turned out to be the nicest guys ever – take a bow Messrs Cooper and Monroe. Joe Elliot refusing to throw the horns as it was ‘too metal’ was disappointing – he lost my respect quicker than he lost his voice.

So, in your experience, what should you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
Try this next time, trust me. Tell them that they owe you a tenner for a shit album of theirs that you bought – that sorts the men out from the boys! The ones that laugh are the keepers, the ones who unleash the fury deserve to be playing to the 30 people who’ve just turned up to see them in that crappy club.

What makes a rock gig special?
Watching a band on the top of their game and hitting top speed is like bottling lightning – they are the gigs that you never forget. Discovering an awesome new band is special, though difficult when you’re a totally clued-in Über Röcker! Sometimes it’s just the people that you’re with, sometimes just a song that takes you back to another time. Oh yeah, and merch. Loads of merch.

Your first ever gig?
This might explain everything, might be the reasoning behind this curious mix of sarcasm and rock that I have made my own. My first gig was Bad News.

The most memorable gig/s you’ve been to?
Oh, a nice, easy question! Guns N’ Roses on that fateful day at Monsters Of Rock in 1988 – we didn’t know that people had died, though it wasn’t hard to comprehend when we found out later that night. Scary as hell, but possibly the most memorable moment of my gig-going. That was lightning bottled right there. And piss. The KISS reunion at Donington in 1996 was incredible too – seeing Ace and Peter in the make-up, I’d never actually seen Peter Criss live up until that point, was mind blowing. Pretty much every gig in Newport’s TJ’s was memorable, I saw some of my favourite bands there – Redd Kross, Amen, The Wildhearts, Turbonegro, Gluecifer, Misfits, Quireboys, Joe Strummer just several weeks before he died, to name but a few – and it breaks my heart a little to think that the venue is no more. More recently Butch Walker slayed me, and Vintage Trouble in Abertillery was like a religious experience. The one gig I always go back to though, and I’ve seen pretty much every band that I’ve always wanted to see, was Horse (London) supported by The Almighty in Bogiez in Cardiff. That show just pushed all my buttons and I can’t think of a more enjoyable gig. Not even when I saw Christian rockers Barren Cross.

First rock album you bought?
The first rock album that I bought was Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police. I was nine when it was released and I had seperate posters of each band member that I pulled out of my older sister’s Look-In magazine stuck up on my wall. Then, several months later, I sold my soul to El Diablo himself when I saw the cover of Iron Maiden’s just released Killers. Messrs Copeland, Summers and Sumner were quickly replaced by Eddie … who was quickly replaced by men who looked like women.

Three albums that have really rocked your world?
Another easy question, thanks! Y’know, I’ve gone past that stage where I feel the need to list obscure records to make me sound cooler-than-thou; here are three albums that I’m not ashamed to say that I loved, handily split into one per important music-loving decade!

KISS Alive II album coverFor the ’70s I’d have to choose KISS Alive II. Unmasked was the current album (which I still love to this day) when I first got into KISS and seeking out the band’s incredible back catalogue at that point is probably the most magical time I’ve ever experienced musically. Alive II just had that WOW factor before you’d even put needle to record; the photo of Gene Simmons on the cover, the gatefold image of the stageshow, the ‘Evolution Of Kiss’ booklet, the tattoo transfers – most influential album of all time for many reasons. If KISS had split up after doing the Alive/Worldwide reunion tour with Ace and Peter they would still be my favourite band of all-time: they didn’t, so they’re not.

Dogs D'amour - In the Dynamite Jet SaloonFor the ’80s I’d pick In The Dynamite Jet Saloon by The Dogs D’Amour. Talk about albums that change everything, the way you dress and the music you listen to. Actually, the Dogs in the Square Club in Cardiff should really have been in my most memorable gigs answer earlier. I am forever grateful to this era of the Dogs, and the Survival Records single releases by the Quireboys from around the same time, for saving me from a lifetime of big hair and power ballads. I dabbled, I can’t lie, but salvation came in the form of Hellfire, Brimstone and the Preacher, the Kilburn Kick and the Texas Drawl.

Earth Vs The WildheartsFor the ’90s I go for Earth Vs The Wildhearts. I was gutted when Ginger got kicked out of the Quireboys and the rumours of his new band featuring members of Soho Roses, Tattooed Love Boys and Tobruk raised more than a few eyebrows, I can tell you. The Mondo Akimbo-a-Go-Go EP was awesome and when I first saw the band open for the Manic Street Preachers (damn, another absentee from that memorable gigs answer!), when they were touring debut album Generation Terrorists, I was blown away. Only the Tattooed Love Boy remained alongside Ginger, of course. Earth Vs … promised to be incredible and, upon release, I was stunned to find it was even better! Not one poor track, with riffs that punch you in the gut and hooks that pull you back for more. If I was forced to keep just one album from my collection it would be this one. The Earth Vs… anniversary shows later this year will be epic

A band or artist who has stayed with you over time?
This is another tough one. You spoke of rock fan loyalty earlier but I, controversially to some, feel no sense of loyalty to bands who continue to disappoint. Whether it be KISS becoming an evil corporation or the Manics forgetting to “fuck queen and country” as they accepted their Brit Awards, I am realistic enough to know when a relationship is all over bar the fighting. I spoke of Iron Maiden being my first metal album earlier but everything outside of the first two albums is the aural equivalent of watching paint dry to me. Tyla introducing his missus on the angle grinder to the Dogs D’Amour live show means that they’re out, the Quireboys kicking out Ginger and Coze and polishing their grubby barroom charm rules them out also. There is one lady, however, who has stuck with me from a young age who I can find no fault with – Joan Jett. I’d be lying if I said I’d been into The Runaways when they were at the top of their game: I, like many others I suspect, got into JJ when she released her version of the Arrows tune ‘I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll’. I was ten, she was hot, it was love, L-U-V. The best haircut in rock, the coolest woman in rock, Joan Jett has never let me down. When I finally saw JJ live I knew that everything else in life was a bonus.

Dylan or Morrison?
I take it you mean Jim rather than Van?! I’d take the Doors over Bob Dylan every day of the week in every way – musically, legacy-wise, infamy-wise, whatever. I actually visited Jim Morrison’s grave at the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. It was weirdly hypnotic, not emotional – it’s difficult to let yourself be at one with the spirit world when there’s a security guard stood four feet away – but almost like you were in the presence of greatness. Odd. Édith Piaf is also buried there – I’d take her over Dylan too.

You host the new Über Röck radio show on BRFM – can you tell us a bit about that? 
The Über Röck Radio Show is broadcast live every other Wednesday on our local FM station, BRfm, which can be found at 97.3fm in South Wales. The show streams live at the station’s website – http://www.brfm.co.uk – and you can also download or stream the show as a podcast.
I suggested that the station should have an Über Röck show – half-joking, I must add – and, the next day, I received an email about starting just that. My pitch was that the radio show be like Vic and Bob do a rock show and, yeah, I think we’ve pretty much lived up to that! We play what we like, say what we like, and the mission (if you choose to accept) is just to have a good time and listen to some top quality tunes – it’s as simple as that. It is like the old days when a bunch of us wound each other up and joked around, all to the backdrop of our favourite bands’ music. The website started like that but suddenly took on this life of its own – the radio show is us regressing, and having a great time doing it. Life has teeth and everyone needs to kick back once in a while – I do it every other week by making fun of rubbish music and playing some of the finest songs known to humanity.

Uber Rock Radio Show - DJ Gaz

Is there anything you’ve done with Über Röck of which you’re particularly proud?
Just that it exists is the proudest thing of all. We could have never bothered to get if off the ground, could have toed the line and compromised and let someone else do all the work. To fashion a site in our own image and to have it take off is the greatest achievement – to refuse to bow down to pressure from all manner of idiots and continue to do things on our terms makes me proud. And seeing someone wearing an Über Röck shirt is the biggest buzz ever, I love it! To think you can do something worthwhile, and then have tens of thousands of people agree, c’mon, that’s a keeper!

You’ve written a book too! Can you tell us about that?
The Loyalties Book - 'Til The Death of Rock and RollIn the summer of 2011 Rich Jones of The Loyalties approached John asking if any of us Über Röckers fancied taking on a writing project with the band’s singer, Tom Spencer. We’d known Rich since his days in the band Amen – Rich actually designed the current Über Röck logo and crest – and loved The Loyalties so I said I would do it.

Basically, Tom had written something that got turned into a script for a venture that never got off the ground. He wanted to use the idea – a murder mystery set on a US tour – and tie it in with the band’s then-unreleased second album, Til The Death Of Rock ‘n’ Roll. I basically adapted Tom’s original work and made it fit into a structure that worked in the confines of an album tie-in. I split the tale into thirteen chapters, one for each album track, and tried to give each chapter its own identity so that it could stand alone as a written piece, yet still be a part of the whole story – like a song and an album. I kept as much of Tom’s dialogue as possible and concentrated on making each chapter as dark as possible while still keeping the hilarity of life as a touring band. I think it works!

The book comes with the deluxe edition of the new album, the physical CD attached to the inner back cover of the signed and numbered softcover book. An e-book version is also available with the digital version of the album. It’s officially credited as ‘Tom Spencer with Gareth Tidey’ and, as you well know, having your name on the spine of a book in your collection is nice!

The Loyalties will be a new band to some people. What sort of music do they play, and why did you get involved with them in particular?
The Loyalties play an executive class form of music commonly known as punk ‘n’ roll. You could throw the term ‘Glunk’ at it and it would stick. Rich Jones plays guitar for Ginger Wildheart and was in Canadian punk legends The Black Halos, Amen when they were at their peak, The Dogs D’Amour, Sorry and the Sinatras and The Yo-Yo’s (their apostrophe disaster, not mine!), the latter alongside Tom Spencer. In fact it was the implosion of that band that spawned The Loyalties. The debut Loyalties album, 2008’s So Much For Soho should be in everyone’s record collection. A finer album of UK punk ‘n’ roll you will struggle to find. I got involved purely because I loved that first album and always thought Rich was cool. Amen famously played TJ’s on his birthday once and, prior to the gig, he sat with us talking about old school KISS. Rich, of course, cannot remember this. Yes, I pay homage to that night in the book … with subtlety, of course.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
I’d tell them to change the record, literally. That age-old phrase gets dug up by every press puppet when they’re looking to push a fashionable musical genre onto the weak-minded. You’d think they would know better by now. The world’s biggest pop stars have bonafide rockers making their live shows tick – take Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt being Rihanna’s touring guitarist for example – and even the dustiest old clowns at high-brow publications know that their safe, middle-England-approved plodding beige nonsense couldn’t exist without a drum or guitar. Rock music excels at being the outcast, and its numbers swell with every fibre of negative energy thrown at it. There will always be a violent reaction to the bland and boring – take hardcore kids rising out of a punk scene that they felt had let them down as a prime example – and it will never die, as proved by the historical document known as Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

Anything exciting coming up –gigs, festivals, new releases to which you’re particularly looking forward?
Where do I start?! The reunion of the classic line-up of The Dogs D’Amour, the Earth Vs The Wildhearts anniversary shows, the first Everclear UK tour in aeons, a new album from the reunited D Generation, Bulletfest, Hard and Heavy fest, Slugfest, new albums from Dirt Box Disco, The Smoking Hearts, Michael Monroe, the Stephen Pearcy autobiography, Star and Dagger UK tour, Enuff Z’Nuff UK tour, the Über Röck-endorsed UK tour from Goat Leaf and Zodiac N Black, oh yeah, and the Muse/Dizzee Rascal tour. One of those is a lie – guess which one!

What does the future hold for rock music and Über Röck?
For Über Röck the future will see the website getting bigger and bolder and the radio show get sillier and sillier. There’ll be new merch too (we’re merch whores!) including a recession-busting budget priced shirt that will shame every band or company charging £20 for exactly the same brand of shirt.

The future for rock? There will still be a million awful bands for every great one, still a million clueless frontmen to every cool one. Haircuts will still be more important to some than the music. Pledge and Kickstarter-style companies will be bought by record labels under select business names meaning that bands railing against the system will in fact be making money for ‘the enemy’. Stryper’s Robert Sweet will become Pope and deliver every blessing sideways. A PR person will send out a mass mail headed “Yes, I know this band is shit but I moved to London to live the dream and I can’t even afford to eat for the last week of every month – please help me by saying they are great.” Slave Raider will reform and headline Glastonbury. Reckless Love will still be awful.

Gaz and friends show off their Über Röck t-shirts

Gaz and friends show off their Über Röck t-shirts

CHEERS GAZ!

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