LAST IN LINE – Vin ‘N’ Viv Bring Us “A Wall Of Riffs”
February 20, 2019, a year ago
Certainly running with the strongest pack of super-group classic hard rock bands making some of their best music now is Last In Line.
Debuting with Heavy Crown in 2016, the band—currently Andrew Freeman on vocals, Viv Campbell on guitar, Phil Soussan on bass and Vinny Appice on drums—are now back with II, and if the communal methodology of the band remains the same, the sound has evolved into something daring, atmospheric even tribal if not still grounded in classic metal.
“Well first of all we’ve got a different bass player obviously with Jimmy’s passing,” begins Black Sabbath and Dio legend Vinny Appice, referring to fallen member Jimmy Bain of Dio and Rainbow fame. “We’ve got a good friend and family member, Phil Soussan, who comes from the same school of rock, right? We first did gigs with Phil and it was great, so yeah, we got really comfortable playing together. I played with Phil many more times, before that. And so with this album we went in as we did with Jimmy and just jammed around and had ideas and had a couple of riffs here and there and we created and built all these songs and wrote them together. So I think with this album, we’re a bit more focused on our sound since we were able to do the first Heavy Crown album, and we’ve establish what the band is going to sound like. And so it’s in the same vein as Heavy Crown, but the songs are maybe a bit more, let’s say complicated in different parts and with the different ideas we tried.”
Also serving as connective tissue to the debut is the clean yet bold production job put onto the guys by Dokken great Jeff Pilson. “Well, we kind of did it together,” qualifies Vin. “There were a lot of schedules to deal with between us and everybody in our band. And then Jeff was busy too, so we kind of went about it the same way. It’s actually the same set of drums and same amps. We used everything that was used on Heavy Crown. We probably took care of more of the songs in the writing process where they were finished—only like two or three of them might have been skeletons of songs. So basically we produced it together. We just went about doing it the same way we did Heavy Crown with the exception of Andy did a bunch of his vocals at his house, where he was more comfortable doing them. He lives in Vegas, and we’re in LA, so he was more comfortable with his setup at home and being able to experiment and write what he wants to sing there rather than doing them all at Jeff’s house. But yeah, the production sounds great, fantastic. It’s another great sounding record sonically. And the mixer, Chris Collier, he makes it all come alive; he’s a great mixer/tech guy.”
Indeed II is a gleaming machine sonically, all the better to make these open architecture songs shine. First impression of the record is that it’s brave and creative, mapping very much the same transition Jake E. Lee has made from the first Red Dragon Cartel to the next. I also hear a similarity to the unsung and under-rated When You See the Sun album from The Jason Bonham Band.
Vinny appreciates the sentiment, but he draws a blank on The Jason Bonham Band, which of course is no surprise! Assessing the overall style, Appice figures, “I hear choruses and I hear hooks but not particularly lyrics, which is good because that’s somebody else’s job in the band. I like to pay attention to the structure of the song and the tempos. Maybe we should change, maybe we should do an odd bar here, build it up here. But I don’t listen to lyrics. I didn’t hear them even with Ronnie, even though I’ve played those songs a million times. I couldn’t recite the lyrics for you because I hear all the other side of it and then I let everybody else take care of their jobs.”
It’s a rare drummer that brings a distinct persona to a band, but Vinny Appice is surely a percussionist in that camp. Sometimes he almost sneaks stuff in, as in the long slow fade to closing track “The Light.”
“Yeah, on a couple of them there is some stuff at the end,” chuckles Appice. “I’m playing all over the place. And a lot of people are like, ‘Why do you do that? You start a fill and it carries over into the next part.’ I also like that ‘Year Of The Gun’ has the snare drum just pumping along. And then on ‘Landslide,’ we did this thing where I did a fill from the small toms down to the large toms, and then overdubbed the same fill from large toms to small, just cross-faded it, which gives ot a lot of power and energy. So that’s a cool thing we did on the record, which we first did on ‘Straight Through the Heart’ on the first Dio record. I get asked about that song a lot, because it goes left to right. Small tom to large tom and then it goes backwards the same way. Two sets of drums and then we cross-faded it. That’s why a lot of people can’t figure out what the hell I’m playing there.”
Viv, on the other hand, likes to lay back in the arrangement. “Even though there are a lot of guitars on it, actually, he likes to just play what we wrote and then he’ll come up with a part here and there,” explains Vinny. “He doesn’t like to over-embellish because of doing it live with one guitar. Sometimes you hear a song live and it’s like, well, where’s that other part? Although obviously you can put a lot of stuff on keyboards. But we hardly use any keyboards on this album. Just one part I think has keyboards and is an intro. So, you know, we kind of would like to keep it more just a wall of riffs with some embellishment here and there.”
But there must have been mixed emotions doing the record without Jimmy, deceased January 23rd, 2016. With Ronnie gone too, that’s half of the band that made The Last In Line that is no longer with us. As for the surviving half? Well, they are also half of the band called The Last In Line.
“Jimmy was Jimmy, you know?” reflects Appice. “I think he was always Jimmy. There were times when he went in and did some rehab and then came out for a while and then slipped again. But he was always there musically. It was no problem. Musically it was great. He had ideas and he played. There were times when he first came over with Vivian in Dio and we were rehearsing at Sound City Studios in LA. You know, we’re playing and then all of a sudden Jimmy lays down in front of my drums, on the drum riser, playing because he’s been up late; I don’t know. I’d go, ‘Hey Ronnie, is he okay, man?’ I didn’t know him back then. He goes, ‘Oh yeah, don’t worry about it. He’s fine. He’s fine.’ Jimmy lived the way Jimmy lived all the way to the end. But it was never a problem musically; musically he was always there. Sometimes we couldn’t find him, but he was always there.”