Ready For The Haunt: A Conversation with Lizzy Borden

After a lengthy hiatus from the studio, theatrical rockers Lizzy Borden returned to the national spotlight recently with the release of their first album in 11 years, “My Midnight Things,” on Metal Blade Records, produced by vocalist and founder Lizzy Borden with long-time bandmate and drummer Joey Scott. The album was mixed by Greg Fidelman (Metallica, Black Sabbath, Adele, U2) and mastered by Tom Baker (David Bowie, Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, Tom Petty).

ListenIowa caught up with Borden to discuss the new album, the band’s revolving door of musicians, and the long lost days of the groupie.

It’s been 11 years since your last full-length album. Where have you been?
Well, I’ve been touring, and after the collapse of the music industry, it didn’t make sense to continue with the old way of doing things, with album deals and the way we recorded albums. That all had to change, and there was no system in place. It would have been a waste of time to make records and just throw them out there and hope they found and audience. Now Metal Blade has found a really good system, and Brian Slagel (Metal Blade founder) talked me into going back in and recording more albums, and this is the first one.

Even though Slagel signed you guys early on in the 80s as well, and there was some familiarity there this time around, did you have any trepidation about getting back in the studio due to the status of the music industry and lack of record sales these days?
Even though I was touring the world and play in South Korea and Russia, and we had a lot of fun, I really did miss that. There’s nothing like when you start recording an album. It’s a real thing.

“My Midnight Things” is classic Lizzy Borden, and you don’t seem to have lost a step vocally, which is a big part of the band’s signature overall sound. What’s been the secret to maintaining your singing chops all these years?
I’ve actually been working on it. I started out singing very high and was able to hit those highs again just out of muscle memory. But the lows took me awhile to work on. From the “Master of Disguise” album on, I was trying to develop that low end, so it took awhile. I’ve always wanted characters in my voice, not just harmonies so it sounds different.

Have you always been someone who honed on in the vocal performance?
I’ve been all over the map. When I was really young, I wanted to be a guitar player. Then I heard Ian Gillian sing “Child In Time,” and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, so I did my best to learn how to do that, much to the dismay of my neighbors. (laughs) I’ve always been a lead singer. I’m actually more uncomfortable when I have to play guitar. When I first started the band, I actually played the guitar for the first half of the set, but it just got to the point where I wanted to hire a guitar player. I feel more comfortable singing.

Talk about “Long May They Haunt Us,” from the new album. You must have spent a lot of time in makeup for the video.
Definitely. I think I must have spent maybe nine hours in there. It was excruciating, but it gave the look we were going for. It gave the song the dimension that it needed, which is good, because to me, that’s the most meaningful song. I have lots of people who have passed away in my life, including two guitar players who were great friends of mine. So I wanted to write a song about that, but I wanted it to be an anthem and celebrate the fact that you wake up every morning and you think about these people, and they sort of haunt you. But you don’t want that sort of haunt to ever go away. That was the thing behind the song — you always want to be celebrating those people.

The choruses to your songs always seem to have the big hooks in them, and a prime example would be the title track, “My Midnight Things.”
I grew up on songs that hooked you in right away. That writing style was always a part of what I wanted to do, no matter if it was hard rock or heavy metal or pop or whatever. I want to have those hooks. But those hooks are hard to find anymore. Everything you think of has already been done before, so you gotta try to dig down deep and find something. Some bands don’t even bother anymore, but for me, it’s mandatory.

Will you be touring behind the album?
Yes, we will, but right now I don’t even have a band assembled. (laughs)

When you do get to that point, would you rather do the clubs and have your full production, or go out on an arena tour, play for some bigger crowds, but have your show cut down considerably?
I don’t mind either way. Our show is always theatrical. We’ve played shows in Europe where our whole stage show didn’t make it to the gig. I still went out there, and it was still a theatrical show. I don’t need it; it’s just a bonus. I’ve opened for some bigger acts in which they told us we couldn’t have our full theatrics, and I’m fine with that because I’m going to be theatrical anyway. We’ll see what happens. If there’s a great slot that will put me in front of more people, I’m going to take it, but I do love headlining as well. I usually put two or three shows together anyway. We have an opening slot, a support slot, and a headlining show ready, just in case something comes down the pike.

The only member of Lizzy Borden that has been consistent all these years is your drummer, Joey Scott. What is it about you and Joey’s musical relationship that has allowed you two to work together more than 30 years now?
His style is what holds the albums together. He’s an old-school drummer. His influences are from the 70s and earlier, and he is really in tune with what I want. I really don’t have to tell him much. His style works with anything new, too.

It probably helps to have at least one familiar face there, too, considering the other slots in the band have been revolving doors.
Yeah, Joey’s been there from the beginning. Early on when I was auditioning for bands, I just got sick of it, and I told him I was going to be creating my own. I asked him if he wanted to be a part of it, and he said yes, so I put out an ad looking for a theatrical bass and guitar player, and it went from there. He and I always stick with the same game plan.

Were there any bands that you auditioned for that ended up going anywhere, or were already popular at the time?
Yeah, there were two or three, but I don’t I want to mention any names. We’ll just say it was interesting. (laughs)

Lizzy Borden was right on the cusp of getting to the next level in popularity, but never really seemed to get there. Why do you think that was?
In the 80s, it was much like the movie industry. If you watch the movie “The Player,” you’ll know what I’m talking about. A bunch of people didn’t have a clue about what they were doing, and I was on an independent label and competing with bands that were multi-platinum all over the world. I wasn’t looked at in a different way. If I was on a billboard next to someone else, it didn’t matter that they spent $2 million on marketing, and we spent $20,000, if that. There was no separation. Any time it came to a major tour, it was always a favor for the support acts. It was never a case of working your way to the top. Someone could put out a record, and the next day someone would pull a favor and get that band on the bill. They would literally have no audience, but it didn’t matter — they’d get the slot. That’s just the way it worked.

Was covering “Born To Be Wild” for the “Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years” soundtrack your idea?
That was mine. It was an odd thing. We had this manager for about a year who was managing Steppenwolf at the time, and he introduced me to John Kay (Steppenwolf vocalist), and he came to one of the shows, came up on stage, and we played it. I think that was the first time we’d ever played that song. We’d just put out “Visual Lies” right around that time, too, and the director, Penelope Spheeris, actually filmed the whole show. She had “Me Against The World” in the movie originally, but she ended up cutting it out because it wasn’t a “hit” yet. And she got Steven Tyler and Joe Perry and Ozzy in, so our part of the movie got cut down, too. Even though “Me Against The World” went on to be No. 1 on college radio and all that stuff, at that time, it hadn’t gotten there yet.

You’ve probably gotten a lot of compliments over the years for the “Love You To Pieces” album cover. For some reason, a woman in lingerie always seems to go over well. (laughs)
(laughs) Yeah, I knew that cover was going to get the reaction that it did. We had a weekend to shoot it and the first one we’d ever shot. Most people at that time were going for the real “metal” covers, but I’ve never been one to try to keep up with the Joneses. I didn’t want to go with the obvious, and that’s why having me in the background was so subtle. I’ve had people tell me they’ve played that album 1,000 times and have never noticed me in the mirror. (laughs)

Women have been a part of your stage show, too. You’ve never been shy about having attractive women be a part of the Lizzy Borden experience.
(laughs) Yeah, I think it’s fun. Anything that I like, I like to put it on the stage — and that’s one of the many things I like. (laughs) Early on, I was into a lot of horror movies and splatter flicks and all that stuff that was big at the time. Whatever the show requires, I’ll put on stage.

Has your ability to put on the stage show that you want changed any as the years have gone by, especially with people becoming more politically correct? Putting a woman in black lingerie in a box and acting like you’re killing her probably goes over differently now than it did then.
Really the only big problem we’ve ever had was when we put out the “Love Is A Crime” video (from 1989’s “Master of Disguise” album). Zack Snyder, who ended up directing “Justice League” and “Superman” and became one of the biggest directors in the world. But he was a 19-year-old kid fresh out of film school when he directed that video. It wasn’t over the top in any way, but there was a woman running MTV at the time, and she banned my video because she decided she wasn’t going to have any females in male videos anymore. She ended up getting fired. She was so blinded with her thoughts that she didn’t even bother to look at the quality of what was a well-directed video. I mean, the guy is world famous now.

Speaking of women, Roger Daltrey of The Who was quoted recently as having said that he didn’t feel that sexual harassment exists in the music industry. You know as well as anyone about the 80s debauchery, we’ll call it, and what went on behind the scenes. Does that reconcile with what Daltrey said?
There was a world — which is gone now, by the way — in which there was a mutual thing going on, where there were these women called “groupies.” And these groupies were waiting for us when we drove up on our tour bus, and they couldn’t wait to get on our bus. They knew what they were in for — they were the ones pushing the issue. That was a mutual response with strangers. We had a mutual fun party with girls in this country and around the world. That doesn’t happen anymore. Most of these younger bands, they’re backstage playing video games and eating pizza. It’s a different world. That mutual thing is virtually non-existent right now. There were literally hundreds (of women) in each city, and we were all on the same page and knew exactly what was going on. There wasn’t sexual harassment going on in any way, and if there was, it was on us. (laughs).

What’s your opinion of Ghost, another pseudo-theatrical group that’s gaining some traction right now.
I love them. One of my favorite bands on the planet is Blue Oyster Cult, and I hear that in their music. I always like bands that are influenced by bands that I like. All my favorite bands are from the 70s, so when I heard Ghost, I gravitated to that right away. I love the writing style. It’s very similar to the way I think, because it’s very similar to bands in the 70s.

When you look at White Zombie and Slipknot and Marilyn Manson, who each have varying amounts of theatrics, do you wonder why that couldn’t have been you guys?
You know, you can’t cry about that stuff. I’ve looked at bands and didn’t think they were going to last two seconds and they ended up being huge. But most of them did what I thought they would do because most of the industry was run by people who thought they knew what they were doing, and they used their power to make it happen. They were partially responsible for the collapse of the music industry by pushing bands that were not ready, and they pushed a lot of bands that were good but were only good for one record. But mostly, they pushed bands that simply didn’t deserve it, they collapsed, and no one heard from them again.