Two years ago, en route from Arizona to a show in San Diego, Adrenaline Mob tweeted a grim photo of a broken down van stopped along a barren stretch of highway. With ticket in hand, I phoned the club, which insisted that the show would go on and although I regarded that promise with grumpy skepticism, I drove down and waited. Meanwhile, the band — unwilling to accept an almost certain cancellation — secured roadside assistance and pulled out all of the stops in order to make the show. Just before one a.m., Adrenaline Mob took the stage and rather than run through a pared-down menu of hits for a weary crowd, they delivered both barrels of a horn-throwing, two-hour set that left everybody thoroughly sated, the delay completely forgotten.
Adrenaline Mob weren’t so lucky this past spring. Packaged into a stadium tour with Avenged Sevenfold and Hellyeah, Adrenaline Mob’s van crashed on the way to a show in Quebec City, totaling the vehicle and destroying all of their equipment. Miraculously, the band and crew escaped significant injury, but their tour was over. More than a financial or logistical setback, the absence of injury had somewhat obscured the fact that the accident was very much a near-death experience, prompting the musicians to retreat into a period of normalcy and reflection before plotting their next move. In the ensuing months, little was heard from their camp, other than a personnel change — Erik Leonhardt replaced original bassist John Moyer. Twisted Sister drummer A.J. Pero had taken over timekeeping duties from Mike Portnoy in December, 2013.
At long last, next month sees the release of the band’s newest studio album, Dearly Departed (Century Media). The album’s nine tracks include a speed limit-dusting clutch of covers (including a smoking rendition of The Devil Went Down To Georgia), an unreleased track from the Men of Honor sessions, three acoustic renditions of songs from both Omertà and Men of Honor and an edited version of Dearly Departed.
I caught up with founder and vocalist Russell Allen to look back at 2014, to discuss the personnel changes and to find out what’s next for Adrenaline Mob.
Joe: How deeply did the accident this spring affect the band?
Russell: When you get home and see the family, you realize that you take a lot of risks when you step out onto the ol’ highway to live out your rock and roll fantasy.* We were definitely lucky that nobody got seriously injured and we all took a step back. We weren’t rushing to get back out there, that’s for sure. We were trying to get some opportunities with radio shows but we weren’t able to get anything going. I’m not going to point any fingers, but some of the songs that the folks were trying to push for radio weren’t what we would have selected for mainstream commercial rock radio. We’ve got a “Never say die” attitude, so after the holidays we figured it was time to rebound and give it a go and let people know the band was still around. We’re alive and we’ve overcome our obstacles and I feel that we’ve got a really strong release.
Considering that Adrenaline Mob had previously released a covers album, what was the goal for Dearly Departed?
We wanted to let people know we were still committed and the new release is a statement that we want to keep this going. The covers thing is something that we enjoy doing. Some of the covers are obviously very unique for our band, (laughs) and we have a lot of fun tweaking songs that you’ve probably heard before and making them our own. We didn’t want to do a complete covers thing though because we didn’t want to let go of some of the Men of Honor stuff. We had Whatever Gets You Through The Night and I really wanted to have a different version of Dearly Departed out there that could be a single, because I always felt that that was the song. Even when we were out with Avenged Sevenfold, that was the song that got the mosh pit started and that was the song that everybody reacted to. It was mind-blowing. I always figured they’d go for the heavier songs, but that was the one. It has a strong melodic hook, not just in the singing but in the music as well. We wanted go get songs like All On The Line on there because that song never got heard on the air. I re-performed it because it’s a close personal song for me. I wrote that when I was dealing with a lot of issues with my family, especially with my daughter, who has autism. It was very severe at that time and we were all going through a lot and I decided to sing it again to do it differently from all the over-produced stuff. That’s a really good song. We just wanted to show people that this wasn’t some flash-in-the-pan, wannabe supergroup. I put my heart and soul into this stuff and so does Mike Orlando. Now we’ve got two great guys in the band that understand what we’re trying to achieve here and they’re on board fully. So I’m excited about this.
Well the thought is to play this out and get at least some touring the US out of this and just get people excited about this band. I mean, we’ve played one show so far with this lineup and it was major. Erik is one of those guys who really digs in, plays fingerstyle and is just a bad-ass as a bass player. We’ve got a bad-ass drummer back there who’s never really been heard outside of Twisted Sister. He’s got chops up the wazoo. He’s just a monster drummer. I’ve got a bad-ass rhythm section. If there was one word that could describe this band, that was something that Mike Orlando and I agreed upon in the very beginning, was that this band had to be bad-ass. Now I’ve got a bad-ass rhythm section that matches the band’s attitude.
Taking over for Mike Portnoy, A.J. has an unusually bright spotlight on him. With him in the band, how does the dynamic differ from the Portnoy years?
The dynamic with him is better in some ways… it’s all better, I’ve got to be honest. A.J. is the kind of guy who you just love to be on tour with. Let’s put it this way, he’s been around forever, he’s played bigger shows than anybody that’s ever been in our band. Twisted Sister was a huge, huge act and they still play headlining festivals in Europe, so hundreds of thousands of people, still. At the end of our shows, do you know what he’s doing? He’s helping the local crews load the trailer. That’s A.J. Pero. He’s that dude. He’s a crew guy. I have two guys in the band like that. There’s no rock star shit with him, he’s a man’s man, he’s a hard-working guy and I’ve got nothing but respect for him. He brings that sort of attitude on the road. So nothing really gets to him. Nothing gets him down that he’s such a rock in so many ways. He’s my enforcer — he makes it happen. I’ve learned a lot from him and he teaches me to be patient, which is not always easy in this life and especially in this business. He’s a tough son of a bitch. I wouldn’t mess with him, but he’s a sweetheart of a guy and we have a lot of laughs. All in all, he’s an amazing asset and amazing addition.
So what are the touring plans for this year?
Right now I’m taking the gang down to South America and we’re doing a little run in Brazil with my friends Nocturnal, which is a band that I produced last year. I’m excited to take them down there and show them the sights. We’re going to go to a few places they haven’t been to before, like Rio de Janeiro, Florianopolis and these other spots in Brazil that are just beautiful. And the fans down there are awesome, so we’re hoping to open up a larger South American market with Argentina and Chile, but this is the first step. Then we’re hoping that this album gains momentum. We’re booking some US dates for March and April and we’ll see where it goes. I’m wide open all the way to the fall, so we’ll see what happens. We’ve had our share of black clouds over our head and I’m really hoping for some blue skies with this one.
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*In a recent article that I published at Men’s Health, I discussed several studies that established that musicians die, on average, twenty-five years less than non-musicians. One third of musician deaths are travel-related.