Rock Sugar has done something new with something old and classic. They are taking hit pop music and blending it with riff driven metal anthems. Some call them mash-ups, others will call it a gimmick, and most will simply enjoy. Around the music industry other musicians are kicking themselves in the asses for not thinking of the idea first, and the guys in Rock Sugar will be the first to tell you the brilliance in their project is less about them than it is the timing and the concept. Pet rock or pop metal, it’s all about timing.
However, that humble acknowledgement does the band members themselves a disservice. The band, comprised of former, (well, on hiatus), Loud & Clear members, vocalist Jess Harnell (the man of a thousand voices), guitarist Chuck Duran, and drummer Alex Track, brought their full aresenal of talents to bear on this record.
The trio was doing their various projects, award-winning voice-over work, running a successful studio, etc., when Jess floated the concept by Chuck of mixing epic pop songs from the 80s with classic metal anthems of the period, and Rock Sugar was born. After the album was recorded, bassist Ken “Sugar” Cain was added to the mix.
The first offspring of this idea was “Don’t Stop the Sandman,” a mix of the Journey hit, “Don’t Stop Believin’” and Metallica’s trademark monster, “Enter Sandman.” Weird science meets Frankenstein, the musical. Like the old Reeses’ commercial; “You got AC/DC in my Madonna. You got Madonna in my AC/DC,” a new confection was brought to life. And damned if it’s not addictively tasty. One element that Rock Sugar displays both live and in the studio is a prowess for incredible vocal harmonies.
The guys have kept the project humorous by creating a back story for how they came to be, which you can read on their website, RockSugarBand.com. On the main page of the website you can see a video for the track “We Will Kickstart Your Rhapsody,” which manages to blend Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart” with Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” And yes, the mix works!
While they take the concept with a sense of humor, they could not be more serious about paying full tribute and respect to the creators of the songs they blend. While they see the glancing absurdity of Kiss being paired with Paula Abdul, they took great pains to make sure that all the songs worked well, and were not simply thrown together.
The band has created perhaps the best party album one could home for; 34 legendary hits, mixed together in 13 songs on one CD. As the guys say, “it’s music for people with A.D.D. — you get bored with one song, 45 seconds later you’re listening to something else.”
Their debut CD, Reimaginator, was selling like mad based almost entirely on the fan swell through word of mouth. A couple of DJ’s in Memphis, Tennessee got the buzz started, and now the band’s first video for “Don’t Stop the Sandman,” has over a million hits on YouTube alone. Their combined videos have more than 2.5 million hits. The band has already performed at Download, which is a prestigious feather in the cap for any band.
Now three year’s after the album’s release the band has been forced to stop selling the CD due to an ego maniacal singer who can’t cope with the idea that Harnell can mimic his voice perfectly. Said singer shall remain nameless, but anyone who knows about rock and roll egos can probably guess his name in two notes, and no he’s not a relative of mine. Because of this fans may be waiting a while for second album, but the guys have no shortage of ideas.
“Collectively, right now, between Jessie and myself we having enough material for maybe even two new Rock Sugar records,” offers Duran. The problem for the guys has been the availability of time. Harnell is an award-winning voice-over actor, and Duran, aside from running his own studio, is also co-host of the show, VO Buzz Weekly. with his lady-love, the lovely Stacy Aswad. “Our time is so scarce right now,” continues Duran, “that we haven’t had time to go into the studio. It takes a long time to craft these ideas into songs that people can listen to and be like ‘wow, that was brilliant.’ They don’t just fall into that. We craft them into that.”
“We have really high standards of what we want it to sound like and be like,” adds Harnell. “And if it can’t be that good and if it can’t be that good we don’t want to do it.”
Rock Sugar does spend an expansive amount of time creating what the industry likes to call “mash-ups”. While others might take the easy route, that’s not the Rock Sugar way. The guys want everything to be as dead on perfect as possible, and much of that comes down to the vocals. Many people who listen to the band cannot believe they aren’t using samples. So much so that more than a year after the album was out, one such artist took umbrage to what he thought was his vocals being sampled.
“I guess we did our job too well,” stated Harnell. “There was a singer who heard our stuff and actually thought we had sampled his voice, which we completely did not do in any way, shape, of form. We provided him and his attorney’s with evidence we didn’t sample his voice, but it’s an ongoing thing because he thinks it sounds to close to him. And there’s all this stuff going on legally that’s a big pain in the neck. And me and Chuck and Alex looked at each other, and we put so much time and effort into this, and our payback for doing it as well as we did, is that one of the people we were emulating won’t let us sell the record. So the idea of doing another record and putting all that work in — we want it to be awesome and we want it to be great. I mean part of the fun of Rock Sugar is that when you hear these things you’re like wait a minute, is that guy from Guns ‘N Roses, is that the guy from Def Leppard, is that the guy from whatever band it is, singing — and hopefully it takes you a minute to realize that it isn’t — we don’t want to go in there and half-ass those vocals. We want to nail them. And if it’s going to be a situation where we spend another two years making something, and get it out there a few months, and people are loving it, and buying it. Then we get a letter in the mail from whoever saying ‘you sound too much like me and I’m not going to let you sell this anymore.’ It’s just crazy. I’ve never heard of anything like this before, and I’ve been doing impressions my whole life. It’s a very strange situation.”
Despite this setback the guys insist there will be more Rock Sugar to come. Jess and Chuck also took time to talk about their paths to music and much, much more. You can listen to the full interview below.