w/Josh Todd

Dylan Sonderman
​On September 13, 2015, Buckcherry performed a headlining show at The Agora Ballroom in Cleveland. After guest-list issues, and having to park several blocks away in a darkened lot behind a crumbling abandoned warehouse, I finally squeezed through the masses of fans to stand beside the stage, waiting for the show to begin. The band’s current tour, with support from Saving Abel, focuses on promoting Buckcherry’s newest LP, Rock’n’Roll (released August 21, 2015).  A week or two prior to the show, I spoke to frontman and founding member Josh Todd on the phone about the new record and the state of the band.

I asked him about the decision to call the album Rock’n’Roll and about the common cries of ‘Rock is dead!’ that keep buzzing from the mouths of media outlets, critics, and publications.

“Every record we put out, people tell us that, and we’ve just kept doing our thing,” Todd replied. Indeed, the band is coming up on 20 years of existence and has stayed consistent the entire time. After Todd and lead guitarist Keith Nelson met in California in 1996, the two began writing music together on a four-track. After writing a certain song, (which never ended up being released), Todd and Nelson felt a special kind of chemistry and fully committed to the band.

From that time, the band’s sound has stayed true to itself, throughout lineup changes, hiatuses, critical successes and stumbles. Compared to 2013’s Confessions, which Todd described as an “emotional” and “time-consuming” record cycle, complete with a three-year tour, Rock’n’Roll reaffirms the Buckcherry thousands of fans already know and love. From lead single “Bring It on Back” to the ode to the female rear end in “Tight Pants”, listeners get what they come for.

But, there are a few welcome surprises. “Tight Pants” features a three-piece brass section, adding an old-school funk element to the song. “That was Keith’s idea,” said Todd, also mentioning James Brown as a major influence for the song. “Rain’s Falling” is another song that caught me off guard. A stripped-down blues ballad with clean guitars; Todd named it one of his all-time favorite Buckcherry songs.
The album was self-released on the band’s own label, F-Bomb records.

“We’re so much better when we call the shots,” said Todd of the move to do the album themselves. I felt like this move was of a very punk-ethos and it made me respect the band more for it.

Along that thread, avoiding major label pressures, and also the label’s not-so-PC name, I brought up how it seems that everything’s become so passive, non-threatening, and painstakingly politically correct in our culture. And there’s always such outcry, this feigned outrage and distress, if someone violates that tender equilibrium. Certainly, the band’s lyrical content, often focusing on drugs and sex with heavy doses of profanity, has ruffled a few feathers. I mentioned that it felt like Buckcherry did a good job of keeping their identity and not bending to mainstream pressure.

“It’s tragic, what’s happening with all of the political correctness,” Todd responded. “It’s not fun anymore, especially in rock music, it’s very tame. You get these rock bands on major labels, which are corporate-owned by guys that went to college and try to make songs to fit radio format instead of encouraging uniqueness, fighting to find identity, that’s what’s cool.”

When asked for any final comment or message to his fans in the Cleveland area, Todd responded, “Go out and get our new record, Rock-N-Roll, you’re gonna love it, and then come out and see us at the show.”

Back at the packed venue, though I was excited to see how the band would sound live, I wondered if I personally still believed in the power of straightforward, no-frills rock music. Even though that kind of music resonates on some level with me, it’s been so deeply ostracized by much of the American pop culture lately that I’d almost started to lose hope for the medium’s return. I expected the show to help me decide one way or the other.

But, I have to admit, I was in a cynical mood.

Local openers Devilstrip started the show. The Akron-based power trio rocked hard and definitely earned me as a fan with tight grooves and creative songwriting. My icy skepticism thawed a tad after their set. Next was Bad Remedy, a heavily Avenged Sevenfold-influenced band of young guys (at least one with the tell-tale Xs on his hands, marking him as under 21), complete with harmonizing guitars. For some reason though, the venue cut their set short. Afterward, Saving Abel came out and put on an excellent show. Their singer, Scotty Austin, made a point to stop between songs and tell the crowd: “Music is the last true magic in this world.” Sound corny? Not to me. That sentiment is right in line with my beliefs about the art form. Music really affects people, beyond what logic or reason can easily dictate. At that point, I was scoring my night as follows: Rock and roll: 1 Cynicism: 0.

Before Buckcherry took the stage, I was questioned by a concerned-looking man about when the band would come on, because it was “getting late” and it was a school night for his daughter. Daughter? Sure enough, a high school girl was standing next to him, along with someone who was presumably his wife and the girl’s mother.  I wondered at this prissy concern for the rules and order. It seemed a bit out of place for the situation, as all of the bands so far had declared that tonight was an “all-out fucking party.” HE ought to know the score, as he boasted about having seen the band “tons of times”.

Buckcherry came out. The crowd went bonkers. They opened with the song that put them on the map, 1999’s “Lit Up”, probably the most fun and memorable of the 4,322 cocaine ballads that came out that year. The mom and dad duo sang along with reckless abandon.

The band’s set was loud, tight, direct, and…well, rockin’. They played five songs off of Rock’n’Roll, including “Bring It On Back”, “Rain’s Falling”, and “Tight Pants”.

During “Tight Pants”, I noticed dozens of moms (or mom-like women) singing along with great enthusiasm. If they minded being objectified by that song, I sure couldn’t tell. Also notable was a young lady in the front row wearing a shirt that read “I’m not a crazy bitch” who barely batted an eyebrow during any portion of any bands set and, as far as I could see, didn’t smile once. Not even during the fan-favorite Buckcherry song which her shirt referenced. Speaking of “Crazy Bitch”, during that song (which closed out the set before the encore), I noticed the mom and dad feebly covering their daughter’s ears while belting along to the vulgar chorus of the song. As if an inch of flesh would stop her from hearing the sound of the huge amplifiers and booming vocals, not to mention the entire crowd chanting along. Or remove the image of another woman, not his wife, dressed in leather and well past 50, furiously twerking on her overweight father from her obviously horrified young mind.

For his part, Josh Todd, at 45 years old, leapt and danced about the stage with way more energy than men half his age who had been where he was earlier in the night. His voice sounded just like it does on the records, and he even played a little tambourine. Guitarists Keith Nelson and Stevie D. both belted out bluesy solos and driving riffs the whole night through, and backing vocals and drummer Xavier Muriel and bassist Kelly LeMieux laid down solid rhythm for the whole affair, shaking the floors and rocking the fuck out of everyone present.

The band even stuck around to sign CDs and meet the fans afterward, which is not so common for bands with platinum records under their belts. And that’s what it’s really all about, to me. Expressing yourself through the music, getting in there and interacting with the fans, making connections and memories that resonate for everyone involved. Of course, I was silly to think rock needed to return. It’s never left. It’s just spending less time in the limelight and more time out there at shows kicking ass. So, thanks Buckcherry for just being you.