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Kerby's Exclusive Interview With Vocalist Jani Lane

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Monday, April 4, 2005 @ 0:00 AM


Back Down To One: Kerby's Cand

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Everyone knows Warrant killed metal!

Right?

Although that’s a popular perception, it’s not really accurate. I mean… hmm, well it sort of is, but let’s face it—they had a lot of help in that arena. Truth be told, you have to admit that Jani and the boys actually managed to record some songs that still sound more than respectable even today. On the other hand, there were other bands such as my favorite whipping boys Steelheart, Firehouse and Trixter who have always had way more to feel guilty about than Warrant ever did. Let’s not forget one of metal’s other low points either which came when Danger Danger emerged on the scene and proceeded to stink up the joint with less than articulate and more than redundant hit singles such as “Naughty, Naughty” and “Bang, Bang”---hell, all listening to those songs during the late eighties ever made me do was want to take a “shit, shit.” For whatever reason though, Warrant always seems to receive a disproportionate amount of blame for the disintegration of a form of music that was already suffering from a variety of credibility issues that could never have been tied to just one band. In fact, if Jani Lane is to be blamed for anything, it might just be that he is guilty of writing more than a few tunes that truly managed to capture the supposed “carefree disposability” of those times musically—as a reward for that, his band enjoyed much success during that period, but in many ways have been vilified ever since.

As for the legacy left behind by Jani Lane, there has been a string of abrupt tour endings, exits from Warrant, and rumors circulating about Lane that have run the gamut from accounts of Jani working in a kitchen to pay his bills to the lead singer suffering from the plague of uncontrollable drug addiction. Separating the fact from the fiction can often be heady business, yet his responses to many questions seem to suggest a level of clarity regarding his current situation that many in the industry simply don’t possess. Lane appears to lucidly understand that at this point his work is largely viewed as a nostalgia act, and that being the case, he expresses a willingness to please the fans by simply playing what they want to hear. If that means performing “Cherry Pie” or “Down Boys” at every gig he ever does until the day he dies, the vocalist seems comfortable with that. When Jani discusses the period of time that signified the end of prominence for both he and his band, the specific details and self-deprecating way he presents his recollections seem to suggest a certain amount of veracity that makes him that much more credible.

Although Jani is no longer the lead singer of Warrant, he has continued to remain active with his solo career and has recently lent his talents to the new Rush tribute record entitled Subdivisions. To many, this probably appears to be an incongruous pairing, but as Jani explains here, he has always been a fan, and in the end, next to talent, that is probably the most important variable when producing a tribute record. Lane-era Warrant is also featured on the recently released VH-1 Metal Mania Stripped disc as it includes an acoustic version of “I Saw Red.” Even though Jani is still looking to be active and create music on his own, he still doesn’t rule out a Warrant reunion at some point—maybe that’s appropriate since being in the business as long has he has can’t help but teach a person to never say never about anything.

KNAC.COM: Did it initially seem like kind of an odd twist of fate for you to find yourself on a Rush tribute album?
LANE: I can’t say it was expected. I’ve been asked to do a lot of tribute projects, and most of the time it would be for bands that I would expect. Doing the Rush thing was cool and all, but it doesn’t really have anything to do with Warrant.

KNAC.COM: How odd do you think it would be for people to see your name on a project celebrating a band whose musicianship is so widely respected when Warrant has generally ended up being considered the antithesis to that legacy in many ways?
LANE: Yeah, I think many people would find this pairing a little strange. I was asked to do it though, and my roots have always been as a drummer. I’ve been doing it since I was six.

KNAC.COM: Around the time you were going by the name “Mitch Dynamite”?
LANE: Yeah. Exactly. I played some drums on the Warrant stuff; I also played Rush covers all over the place. I constantly play drums, and I have always admired Neil Pert. “Progressive rock” to me is such a loaded term though because a lot of it can become a little self-indulgent, but Neil always managed to capture my imagination--I loved his lyrics. I’m a reader, and I appreciate the words that he uses and what they represent.

KNAC.COM: I had once read a quote attributed to you that basically said that if grunge should be applauded for anything, it should be that it helped bring back an era of more intelligent lyrics. How do you juxtapose that with what you did with Warrant? Can you reconcile the two?
LANE: You know, I don’t mind a well-crafted pop song. I loved The Beatles and The Cars. I just love well-crafted pop songs. When you’re in the mood for it though, there is nothing wrong with shifting to intelligent rock. At the time when I first came to L.A., I thought I could sort of mix those two worlds. I thought maybe I could create some good pop songs that had some intelligence. It didn’t take any time though to get caught up in the machine, and before I knew it, I was given a formula that I had to work with. Once you have one record that sounds a certain way, the other records have to also follow suit.

KNAC.COM: Do you think sometimes that Warrant gets too much of the blame for what happened to metal when there were probably literally thousands of bands that would have died to do what you did, even if it included choreographed dancing in videos or sporting matching outfits?
LANE: Sure. There are a ton of musicians out there who have had that negative attitude about us and pointed their fingers, but I guarantee you that they have pictures by their bed in the lower third drawer of their dresser with them in striped spandex, headbands and permed hair while playing a Flying V. Their problem was that they just didn’t get signed. Face it though--they were basically trying to get signed just like everyone else, and they would have taken the ride just like anyone else. Believe me, when they say they would have done it differently, they would have ended up getting caught up in the machine the same way we did. Make no mistake—it is a machine. In a situation like that, you don’t have a lot of power over what you do. Once you break that precedent, then the phone calls stop getting answered. It’s unfortunate.

KNAC.COM: Do you think a lot of your control issues or your feeling of a certain degree of helplessness stemmed from your age?
LANE: Really, you don’t know what you’re doing at twenty-four. When that kind of stuff is being thrown at you, it’s just unbelievable. When you’re twenty-four and you have four executives and the entire panel from your publishing company and all of their attorneys there, and they are all pushing contracts at you saying, “Sign this or you’ll probably never get another shot again,” what do you do? You sign it. I signed it and turned around and popped a bottle of champagne. In hindsight, I think that probably the most fortunate thing for me about all of this is that we had enough success during that period that people either loved us or hated us, and I think that in the end we will be considered a “classic rock” band. That’s fine--we’ll take the ride with all the other bands from that time like the Cinderellas or the Poisons or whatever. I hope to at least go along on the ride.

KNAC.COM: Was it strange touring in 2002 or whatever as part of a package deal?
LANE: Well, I tell ya--the part that makes it weird is touring with people who don’t have the right perspective.

KNAC.COM: Meaning…
LANE: Take 2001, 2002 or 20003—pick your year. I won’t name any names, and there are some cool people out there who are my friends, and I love them to death. The problem though is that there are also some people out there who I don’t get along with who hate me. That’s ok, but the problem is that some of these people also lack perspective. They’re out there still trying to rebuild or relive their careers. They have no f’ing perspective, and they don’t realize that this is basically a nostalgia tour.

KNAC.COM: Do you mean that inundating the audience with tons of new material is sort of inappropriate for a package tour featuring ‘80s bands?
LANE: They’re even still putting on the same outfits in some cases. There was a time when I got yelled at for getting a mohawk, but at least it was my hair. I’m not pointing a finger at anyone else because believe me, I’m going bald. My point is just that in general there are certain people out there involved in these situations with no perspective. Then there are the majority, though, who are my friends and who are like, “We’re out here, and we get to tour again and play the songs that people enjoyed.” If we can throw in a song or two that we enjoy playing to shake things up a bit, that’s cool, but let’s not announce that “This is going to be our next hit.” That kind of stuff drives me nuts. If I went to see The Cars or whatever and they played fifty percent new material, I’d want my money back. People can write new material—there is nothing wrong with that, but when it comes to a show, people want to hear what they enjoy.

KNAC.COM: Is there a point when it comes to touring when you just get truly disgusted with it all? I mean, was one of those times in Phoenix when Dokken came on stage while you guys were jamming an extended version of “Tush”?
LANE: Yeah, I mean… Yeah. I could give you an hour-long answer for that… [Laughs]

KNAC.COM: I’ve heard a bunch of it from Don [Dokken] already [Laughs]--I was just sort of curious as to how a person tries to handle a situation like that professionally.
LANE: Basically, you just walk away. I get asked all the time about why I left Warrant. The thing is, I didn’t leave Warrant. We just weren’t seeing eye to eye about some business matters and how things were being handled. I ended up just getting replaced without even knowing I had been replaced. I like Jaime St. James. He is a nice guy, and I’ve known him for years. I hope he does well in the band. In the future, if ever there was ever an opportunity for Warrant to go out and do a proper tour with the proper mindset, I would consider it. It would be fun. The whole Dokken incident was like, “Oh no, you’re cutting five minutes into my set time and this could really hurt my career.” That stuff kinda blows me away. You really do have to walk away from those types of things at some point. I mean, if the crowd wants us off the stage, then we need to leave, but if they are enjoying what we’re doing, I don’t see where it’s that big of a deal. Now, if Don wants to jump onstage and grab a microphone, then shit, that’s cool—he can probably sing it better than me. [Laughs]

KNAC.COM: Was it true that back in ‘93 that you guys left a tour with Poison over a dispute about dressing room space?
LANE: That’s not accurate. I like Bobby [Dall], but I don’t really know Rikki [Rockett] from Adam. C.C. [DeVille] and I have always been great friends, and I think he’s a pleasure to be around. Bret [Michaels] and I though have never seen eye to eye because there was always this competition thing going on. It got to the point where it was ridiculous even then. We went ahead and toured with them again in 2000 or 2001. There was still some of this going on then as well. Bobby was always really nice to me, and I would talk to C.C. every once in awhile, but there was still this business where, “You have to be out of here at this and this a time.” Then there was always this stuff about, “Our chicks wear these types of passes.”

KNAC.COM: That really happens to this day? I have heard that recently, and it may have even come from Don that there were still disputes over “territory” and who was branded with what pass.
LANE: I don’t care how somebody runs their backstage because I think it’s all over the top and weird. There are a lot of bands like that to this day—absolutely. That is where it just gets ridiculous. It’s a nostalgia tour… you know?

KNAC.COM: Is it kind of like going back to your ten-year high school reunion and having everyone act in exactly the same way?
LANE: Yeah, it’s like the quarterback still thinks he’s the coolest guy in class when in fact, he isn’t. Maybe one of those nerdier guys is a CEO now. That happens a lot in this genre where bands were big for a time. Some people just need to realize they need to take a step back and take a look at the situation. Maybe that would even lead to putting together tours that the actual fans would dig instead of trotting out the same rehashed tours because someone can’t get along with someone because he screwed his chick in 1994. It’s outrageous.

KNAC.COM: Do you think you have this perspective because you have had to deal with such a huge amount of negativity?
LANE: I don’t know because I think there are a lot of guys who have the right perspective. [Pause] I could get myself in a lot of trouble here. [Laughs] It just depends on who you talk to—I have a lot of friends out there in other bands who understand that at the end of the day, a show should be fun. It is what it is. Let’s not lose perspective of where we’re at though.

KNAC.COM: How important was the whole idea of credibility during the time of your first two records with Warrant? Did you even care? With the chicks and the money that were around during that period, were you even worried about that?
LANE: Believe it or not, I think people in that position are… you know, it’s because you have all that other stuff. At that point, you aren’t worried about what you have as much as you’re worried about what you don’t have. At the end of the day though, you sort of do go, “Yeah, I’ve got all this, but no one is respecting me.” That truly is the one thing that does bother you, but you don’t have a clue how to fix it. It’s like it’s completely out of control and running down the hill. You have no idea how to change it. All you can do is maybe go to a magazine or MTV and say, “But dude, I can really play.” That’s all you can do in your defense, and that gets laughed off in most circles. It really is frustrating.

KNAC.COM: Does it make it that much harder when there were so many sort of bad bands coming out of the same geographic region at that time? It seems like not only does Warrant get blamed for its own sins, but that you also get blamed for the shortcomings of an entire group.
LANE: It was like the movement in Seattle. At the beginning, there was some very groundbreaking stuff to come out of there. Then, the industry took over and turned it into a machine. Pretty soon, you could go anywhere and hear a band with that type of sound, and it was as normal as getting a cup of coffee. All of a sudden there were eighteen million bands that sounded like Nirvana. Now, I just look for the odd band that I can put on and listen to and that I think is cool. I do listen to different bands for different reasons though. I might listen to one song or two from a particular record. For example, I just listen to Jet mostly for the production--I like that raw, New York sound. I don’t think the songs are incredibly original though.

KNAC.COM: The iPod commercial is seriously annoying, too.
LANE: Yeah, it does kind of take some of the mystique out of it. I guess U2 can get away with it though, because who cares? They’ve already proven themselves at this point. They can do whatever they want now. I’m also listening to The Killers right now, and I think it’s pretty interesting. There are a few things here and there that I pick out and see that they are taking a different approach. The material I listen to doesn’t have to be over the top heavy or light. I’m always going to be a huge fan of Tool. I have friends who laugh at me every time I say that too and they go, “Yeah, but you’re from Warrant.” I’m also a big fan of how Josh Freese from A Perfect Circle plays drums.

KNAC.COM: Many people look at Tool as being similar to Rush in that the music requires a technical proficiency that many don’t possess.
LANE: What’s amazing is that they are doing it with technology that Rush could have never dreamed of having. I’d like to see go Tool go back and do that with what Rush had to work with back then. I think they could do that, but I also believe that people need to understand that Rush didn’t have that much to work with, and that is part of the reason why they’re so respected right now. Here were three guys who were probably holed up in a room in Canada with a twenty four-track machine and they managed to pull this stuff off. Imagine, they didn’t even have Bob Rock for a year or all of the technology that we do today.

KNAC.COM: Do you feel like you were ever given the opportunity to really concentrate on your music when you were in Warrant? Was there always a million different directions that you felt that you were being pulled in?
LANE: Not for a second. I would always say that music was the last part of anything. When we were done with the second record, it was going to be called “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The single was done, and I loved it. The second release was going to be “Mr. Rainmaker.” I was afraid that after the first record when they released “Heaven” that we were going to be labeled as a “ballad band.” They released three ballads in a row. When we were set to release “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “Mr. Rainmaker,” I thought we might get back on track and be viewed in more of a Think Lizzy-type of vein. That’s when the record company put the breaks on the record and said they wouldn’t release the album until we gave them a single. We literally had to break down until I wrote “Cherry Pie.” We went back to the studio to rerecord, and the next thing happened was that the record was called Cherry Pie. Before I knew it, I was doing cherry pie eating contests and the video, and… there goes your career.

KNAC.COM: Were you cognizant of being overexposed at the time or was there just so much going on that you felt it would last forever anyway?
LANE: I don’t think I was aware of the extent or the impact of the backlash. I always thought that somehow, somewhere down the line that I was going to be forgiven. I thought, ”I will find a musical way around this. I will release just the right song that would make people think, ‘This guy really has his shit together.’” It just doesn’t happen that way.

KNAC.COM: Is that even possible? Could you ever write a song that powerful?
LANE: I don’t think so. Me personally, I think it’s just like when you first meet a girl, you get one chance. That is all you get… I’m talking as far as a hit goes. If you don’t have a hit, you can spend the rest of your life changing with each song, and it doesn’t matter. The second you have anything that explodes though, that becomes who you are. That is who you will be for the rest of your life. Take Oukast—they are never going to release a Stevie Wonder song and have it taken seriously. It is pretty rare when people are able to reinvent themselves from genre to genre. A lot of times people want to say, “Well look at Tom Petty.” Well, Tom Petty pretty much continued to play the same type of music. He just came back in fashion. I don’t know if someone is going to stop playing “Cherry Pie” and start playing “Blackbird” or Eric Clapton-type music and say that they completely accept me as a different type of artist. I think your own crowd--if you know how to approach them--will embrace a solo album. That doesn’t mean they want to hear an hour of it live though.

KNAC.COM: I know Geoff Tate was going through the same type of issues a couple of years ago when the solo record he released was just so different from normal Queensryche fare. What do you do live in that situation?
LANE: I think that when you go out to play live, you have to play your hits or you are going to have to coffee shop it and play very small venues and be very honest with the people about what they are going to hear before they show up. You can’t just say, “It’s gonna be me—come out and see me.” People have to understand that you are going to be playing something completely new, and if you want to hear it, come out. It can’t cost a lot either. The musician has to make it very personal for the people. I think if that approach is taken, there probably won’t be nearly as many people who are pissed off.

KNAC.COM: In order for a person to agree to that type of approach, they would have to check their egos at the door.
LANE: Yep. I realize that’s nearly impossible for some people, but I think there are others who can do it. For example, I’ve always admired Tom Keifer [of Cinderella], and I could picture him showing up with a guitar and playing some songs and just having people into checking them out. I can’t see all guys doing that. It definitely depends on the person.

KNAC.COM: Everyone has heard the story where after the recording of Dog Eat Dog, you guys went back to your record office, and everything had changed. The Warrant posters were down and grunge was in—how hard was that to cope with at the time? Did you understand the full meaning of what it all meant?
LANE: Yeah, it was like there were posters for whatever new album we had out, and it was like Warrant was sort of the flagship, so to speak. Then one day, the decor changed and all of that was gone. Even the office girl that we knew had been replaced. The gigantic picture behind the president’s desk had changed too—it was Alice In Chains. The writing at that point was literally on the wall.

KNAC.COM: Were you in any way prepared for that?
LANE: …I dunno. I kinda felt it coming after “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and we were hearing “Even Flow” on the radio a lot on the radio out here. Some stations that were noted for their metal even started playing music that was sort of out of their regular rotation, so yeah, you know, times were changing. I didn’t think it would be that drastic though. I especially didn’t think those bands were going to find it so cool to bash us. Like Alice and Chains--here was a band that we took out on tour, and they were really nice to us, and I would even get there early every night to watch them because they were so great live. Then, every article I read, we just got fuckin’ bashed by them. I never knew if they really hated us or they were just saying all that stuff to be cool with the people in Seattle. Was it half and half? What was it?

KNAC.COM: Do you find it even more interesting that the a great deal of the bands involved in the whole alternative scene were essentially metal bands who just eschewed the normal trappings and how bands were being packaged?
LANE: Yeah, all those bands from Soundgarden to Alice in Chains were metal. You can change the style and whatever you name it, but they were all metal bands. At the time though, it was just cool to hate not only us but the entire form of music. It made for a good story. The media wanted to talk about it, and it became their rallying cry. After awhile, it became everyone’s rallying cry. It was like everyone had something to agree on: “The eighties suck!” It was sort of like when disco went out. Everyone had Saturday Night Fever in their record collection, but “disco sucked.” Unfortunately, at that time, we were just on the bad end of it.

KNAC.COM: Was it hard to be you during that period?
LANE: It was hard to be anybody in an eighties band. You didn’t know what to do because if you tried to cut your hair or change your sound, you got it even worse. It was like you’re damned if you do, or you’re damned if you don’t. It was very tough.

KNAC.COM: Can you explain the process of being a rock star with all of the perks and then having them taken away so suddenly?
LANE: Yeah, they shut it down.

KNAC.COM: Is there any way to express the magnitude of that process?
LANE: You know, I admire Poison because they went away for a time. They didn’t do anything or make any mistakes. They only came back when it was smart to come back out. I thought that was a great move. Other bands were out there pounding it and trying, but that just ended up being brutal. I think Warrant could be a little bit guilty of that.

KNAC.COM: In the end though, aren’t those bands just guilty of trying too hard and believing that the solid work ethic will pay off?
LANE: Yeah, I guess you could say that in some cases it could be considered working hard, but in others it could also be considered a refusal to face reality. I think most of the guys out there in general are good guys. I just think there are a few out there though who haven’t let go and haven’t embraced where these bands really are in the new millennium. It is 2005 now, and maybe if people realize where they’re at and the barriers are broken down, maybe you’ll see some really good tours. I’m talking about some kind of monster VH-1 style classic rock show that I would really pay to go see. I think people are tired of paying twenty bucks to stand around on a muddy speedway seeing a half ass show. What I think they would like to do is go to the Meadowlands and see four or five of the premier bands from that genre come out and really do a great show and play their hits and play them well.

KNAC.COM: Do you think that the kids today are missing that type of scene? Back in the day it was sort of like you were identified by the name of the band on your shirt. It doesn’t seem like the youth of today have that sense of community.
LANE: Like you say, there really isn’t that rallying cry or rallying band. It’s not like, “This is our band, and this is what they stand for.” It is really fragmented. It is more like, “I really like this one song.”

KNAC.COM: How much of that has to do with the fact that many simply download one song at a time versus buying whole records?
LANE: Downloading has a lot to do with it, but that topic almost requires another entire interview in itself. In my opinion it has hurt the core of music so much in that you used to have to go out and buy the artist. I’m not talking about the money aspect, but you used to have to go out and really invest in the artist. Now, you don’t have to really do anything. All you have to do is download that song you heard today. You don’t have to know anything about the musician, and you don’t even have to care.

KNAC.COM: The one part about obtaining anything that easily is that a person tends to not care so much when it goes away.
LANE: There is no investment there whatsoever.

KNAC.COM: You also don’t tend to see albums viewed in terms of being a collective anymore. It is mostly just discussed in terms of bits and pieces.
LANE: Downloading has hurt a lot, but it is here to stay.

KNAC.COM: Let me ask you about a couple of issues and give you a chance to respond to them. What exactly happened with the recent Bad Boys of Metal Tour (Kevin Dubrow, Steven Adler)? Was that situation just blown out of proportion? There was all kinds of speculation as to why you left.
LANE: It was just uncomfortable.

KNAC.COM: So you just weren’t having a good time?
LANE: It was uncomfortable for me, and it was uncomfortable for many of the people. I made the decision that I thought was best for me. For me, it wasn’t a big enough deal to jump up and down about. It was just like it was uncomfortable and things weren’t going right.

KNAC.COM: In your mind it was better to leave at that point rather than to have it degenerate into something worse?
LANE: It would have turned into a fiasco. I’m still playing with Alex Grossi from the Bad Boys of Metal Tour, but he is also in Quiet Riot. He is officially their guitarist, but we’re still friends, and I’m still friends with a lot of guys from that tour. That just became an uncomfortable situation for me. It just wasn’t going the way that I perceived that it would. I just felt that it was time to fish or cut bait, and I decided that cutting bait was what I was going to do.

KNAC.COM: There aren’t many interviews with you available on the net, yet there have been many times you have been named by people in this situation or that situation and many time it is in sort of a negative light. How tempting has it ever been for you to lash back out at your detractors?
LANE: Most of the time I think it is just better when people keep their mouths shut.

KNAC.COM: Can you ever win in a situation like that? On one hand you may get a certain amount of satisfaction from decimating someone else, but on the other, don’t you run the risk of being labeled as a malcontent yourself?
LANE: It seems like to me that whenever someone comes out like that, they either have an axe to grind or some type of hidden agenda. It never comes out that the person just wanted to express their individual opinion. For the few people I don’t get along with in the genre—they really are few and far between—I have too many other friends who might get offended if I were to just go off.

KNAC.COM: Like friends you have who are in other bands with those individuals?
LANE: Exactly. It’s like, why do I want to hurt them just to say something about one person.

KNAC.COM: It does seem though that those who begin their careers being controversial in the press have a difficult time ever breaking the cycle.
LANE: Right.

KNAC.COM: Can you also say something regarding the article in Spin several years ago that reported that you were down on your luck and working in a kitchen at a bar in Ohio?
LANE: Oh yeah, Billy Morris, my guitar player owns a nightclub called the Hi Fi Club up in Cleveland. He was doing a grand opening of his club, so I and a friend of mine who was a chef, opened up the kitchen on New Year’s Eve. We must have cooked dinner for 200 people. A bunch of people showed up, but what it turned into was that now I was now cooking in Billy’s kitchen.

KNAC.COM: Yeah, it did make you sort of sound as if you were destitute or something.
LANE: All that happened was that I cooked dinner with a friend of mine that’s a chef.

KNAC.COM: Did you find that funny?
LANE: It was funny on one hand, but it is also kind of typical.

KNAC.COM: Would there have been any shame though if it were true? I mean, people have to work, right?
LANE: If I wanted to be a chef, I’d be a chef. I actually like to cook. I don’t know what the shame would be, but I guess in some people’s eyes it would be falling from grace. It’s like people have a morbid fascination with it. It’s like reality TV. Look, this guy was huge, but now he’s flipping burgers. That’s just the way some people are, and you’re not going to change it.


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