Hirsh Gardner – ‘My Brain Needs A Holiday’
The eternally, not to mention impressively, lion-maned drummer Hirsh Gardner should really need no introduction to fans of melodic rock. Born in Toronto, Canada and taking his early influences from the leg
endary drummer Gene Krupa added to British Invasion bands such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Animals, the great man attended the infamous Berklee College of Music and found himself in the early 70’s playing in a band with fellow Berklee student Steve Grimm, John Marcelli and Peter Stahl before the former opted to relocate to Milwaukee and formed Bad Boy with Marcelli. Hirsh then teamed up with keyboard player Jimmy Waldo in Fatback, the band ultimately morphing into Target (or, on occasion, they were also known as Jack) which then, over time, became New England. Gardner recorded three albums with the Boston based pomp rock gods between 1979 and 1981. He then spent a brief period in the ranks of the hard rock band Warrior alongside New England colleagues Gary Shea (bass) and the aforementioned Jimmy Waldo before guitarist Vinnie ‘Vincent’ Cusano’s defection to KISS derailed the group. Hirsh has forged a solid reputation as a producer (8084, Shyboy, Vice, Mass) based in the Boston area ever since.
Of course, Gardner released a very impressive solo album, ‘Wasteland For Broken Hearts’ in 2002 and New England have had several reunion outings along the way, the most recent of which led to the excellent ‘Live At The Regent Theater’ album earlier in 2017. The ever busy Hirsh is now devoting his time to reigniting his solo career with the release of a brand new album, ‘My Brain Needs A Holiday’. Yet were things planned that way? Was it always the intention that Hirsh’s second solo record would follow the New England release?
“No, not at all, it just happened to work out that way,” he laughs. “I was in the middle of recording my album when I had to start mixing the New England live record, so I actually put my album on hold while I finished that.”
In days of old, there seemed to be something of a stigma surrounding drummers making solo records. Albums by Keith Moon, Ringo Starr, Ginger Baker, Peter Criss, Roger Taylor and Bill Ward hardly set the world aflame or, indeed, received much critical acclaim (mind you, has anyone heard that Keith Moon album ‘Two Sides Of The Moon’????), yet thanks to the likes of Don Henley, Phil Collins and Dave Grohl (and let’s not forget that the late Jani Lane of Warrant originally began his musical career as a drummer) public and critical perception about drummers going the solo route has changed. Still, Hirsh’s brilliant ‘Wasteland...’ album most certainly surprised many, as the great man stepped out from his drum kit to take centre stage.
“Well firstly, thank you for the compliment that ‘Wasteland For Broken Hearts’ was a brilliant recording. For me it's really inspirational when I see somebody like Phil Collins - who is an amazing drummer with an incredible voice - and the same with Don Henley and a number of other drummers that are multi-instrumentalist and vocalists. I really look at myself as a musician first and not necessarily just the drummer. Having access to my recording studios and having been a record producer for so many years just affords me the ability to continually compose music and express myself in many ways. Guys like Phil Collins and Dave Grohl do inspire me, as we're all cut from the same cloth.”
What had Hirsh learnt from his experiences on ‘Wasteland For Broken Hearts’?
“That’s a great question! I think that I started that first solo album just to prove to myself that I could do it. It was a monumental challenge to be the songwriter, be the drummer, the guitar player, be the lead singer, be the background vocalist, but at the same time I used it as a learning experience. So knowing that you can succeed at putting 10 or 12 songs together was just a fantastic experience and quite honestly I should have done several other solo albums in between ‘Wasteland...’ and ‘My Brain...’, but I just got busy doing other projects.”
‘My Brain Needs A Holiday’ had a lengthy gestation, but once Gardner was running with it things took off...
“I'm always writing song ideas and lyrical ideas, so I don't think that there was a moment in time when I said okay I'm going to do an album now,” responds Hirsh. “I had probably four, five or six concrete song ideas that were in various stages of completion. Things started to come together once I started piling tracks on and got some amazing support from people like Jimmy Waldo and guitarist Joe Feloni, who's done some fantastic work on my albums and also joins me in my live solo show. And when Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal (ex Guns N’ Roses guitarist) agreed to play on the record at that point I decided, okay I've got to get this thing released. But you know it's really scary, at least for me, to make that decision and cross the line to put myself out there. Once it all started to come together though I really put the pedal to the metal and worked very hard at getting all of these songs completed.”
In addition to ‘Bumblefoot’, there are plenty of other interesting names that were involved on ‘My Brain...’, such as the aforementioned Jimmy Waldo and also Jon Butcher. However, as a huge Starz fan, personally it’s Richie Ranno’s name that stands out above them all. How did Hirsh get him involved?
“Well my partner at (US label) GB Music, Gary Borress, was very friendly with Richie and reconnected Richie and I many years after we were both at Aucoin Management. Bill Aucoin managed Starz, KISS and New England and I knew of Richie but had never met him personally. Through Gary we finally became friends. I sent Richie the track ‘If You Need To Talk’ and what he sent back just absolutely blew my mind. He really is a lifer when it comes to his music and a consummate professional.
“In total the album took about one year to record, “Hirsh continues. “Many of the song ideas had been around for a lot longer than that. As I said previously, I'm constantly coming up with ideas and just dropping them into a recording session. Some of the ideas have been around for quite a long time, like ‘Love Is’ and ‘If You Need To Talk’. I know those may have been written three, four or five years ago. I probably rediscovered them in the many song ideas that I have in different recording sessions.”
The initial Escape Music release of ‘My Brain Needs A Holiday’ finds it paired with a newly remastered version of ‘Wasteland For Broken Hearts’.
“That was absolutely brilliant,” enthuses Gardner. “I would like to thank Khalil Turk at Escape for coming up with the idea. I think it's fantastic that fans and friends will have another opportunity to listen to the tracks on the ‘Wasteland...’ album and also have the brand new record.
“It's funny,” he adds. “I haven't listened to ‘Wasteland...’ for a few years and as I was remastering it for the Escape Music special edition it brought back some great memories of the people that helped me record the album and the emotions that I felt at that time. Those are some proud moments!”
Even as the album was being prepared for release and these notes were being written, ever active guy that he is, Hirsh was already out on the road doing a good deal of ground work in support of ‘My Brain...’
“Joe Feloni, my guitar player, who recorded many of the guitar tracks on ‘My Brain Needs A Holiday’, joins me on stage for my solo act. So, it's just him and I. I love the idea of just getting up there with the two of us and playing some of these heavy rock songs in an acoustic type format. Joe has a pretty complex guitar rig, so when we need to rock out and have that Les Paul through a Marshall sound we do that as well!”
Far from it being on the backburner for Hirsh, he is still very much involved with the mothership, as New England also have some performances scheduled on the east coast and in L.A., yet Gardner is still hopeful that he can finally get over to the UK at some point in the future either with New England or as a solo artist.
“I would absolutely love to perform the songs on ‘My Brain...’ and ‘Wasteland..’ in the UK at some point in the future,” he responds to my question on the subject, before acknowledging just how lengthy the break between ‘Wasteland...’ and ‘My Brain...’ has been. Surely we won’t have to wait another fifteen years before the next Hirsh Gardner solo record see’s the light of day??!
“It’s funny you should bring that up,” he laughs, “but I've just put aside about six or eight brand new song ideas that I am starting to work on right now. My hope is that I will release a third solo album within one year.”
Having made a mental note to check back with Hirsh in a year’s time to discover if he’s been able to stick to such a plan, I’ll leave the man himself to sum up his impressive career thus far.
“I'm most proud of the fans and friends that have joined the New England Nation over the last 30 or 40 years. The e-mails and comments that I read are extremely heart warming. To know that New England's music and my solo albums have so positively affected people's lives makes me very, very proud. So for that I would very much like to thank all of my friends and fans for being there, hanging in there and listening to our music for so many years.”
If you loved the New England albums, and if you loved ‘Wasteland...’, then I know you’ll love ‘My Brain...’ too. Over to you Hirsh....turn it up loud!