You’ve heard of Jason Bonham, son of the Led Zeppelin drummer John ‘Bonzo’ Bonham plus his sterling work with the bands Bonham, Black Country Communion and other collaborations; you’ve heard of Glenn Hughes who was in Deep Purple, Trapeze, Black Country Communion and has an impressive solo catalog too amongst a plethora of other collaborations; but have you heard of Andrew Watt?
The three of these individuals have assembled with ambitions and positive energy to create a unit, a band we know as California Breed. Their self-titled debut album is a definite highlight from the list of rock releases that have been unleashed this year including such highlights as All Falls Down, Midnight Oil and Sweet Tea amongst many others.
“As someone that wrote this album, kind of secretively with Jason and Andrew; I knew from the moment I started to write this; The Grey and Sweet Tea, when I wrote these songs I wasn’t thinking about Black Country. These were brand new songs, I was thinking – I’m back being a rocker,” Hughes starts by sharing how the album took shape musically. “So when I came back to playing hard rock music with Black Country, when Black Country broke up people would have probably thought ‘maybe Glenn’s going to go back to playing the funky black American stuff.’ No. When I came back with Black Country as a rock artist, everybody in the industry as well as the fans and musicians went oh my god, thank god we’ve been waiting for you.”
The charismatic front-man moves the story forward. “When I formed California Breed with Jason we made a very clear decision we were going to make a rock n’ roll album, an organic rock n’ roll album – no keyboards. So we went about trying to find the right guitar player, and then Julian Lennon introduced me to Andrew.” Watt is the fresh new talent brought onboard to provide not only a guitar for the California Breed album, but also to participate in the song-writing process and to add vocals as well. At the age of 23, he really has been quite a discovery, and if you were to give the self-titled album a spin, you’ll witness how effortlessly he fits in with both Hughes and Bonham.
Hughes explains the situation regarding this young guitar player. “Andrew sent me some rock tracks that he’d been writing, ‘cos Andrew’s 23 right; I’m thinking he’s 23, what can he possibly know about for all intents and purposes is classic rock? But he sent me three songs. I heard in the three songs a great songwriter, a great right-handed guitar player; I’m talking right-handed guitar players Keith Richards, Pete Townsend, Angus Young. We don’t normally talk about right hands, but Keith Richards and Angus Young and Townsend – it’s the right hand. So when I heard Andrew’s right hand and I heard this voice, I’m going – well Jason and I have been looking for something like this!”
Hughes retains a serious and energetic tone, sounding hyped on what has been achieved on the album and with the chemistry the three members have showcased. “So you know, I said no keyboards and let’s keep this away from Black Country Communion. Black Country Communion still lives and breathes in my heart.” Expressing himself with urgency, Hughes moves this thread of thought forward. “So when I formed California Breed I said fuck Black Country part two with Slash or Zakk; these are my good friends you know. So I said I want to start all over again. So, I didn’t tell anybody – what do I think about California Breed? I think it’s a very vital, exciting, new, arena rock band!”
Noting the remarkable results from this union of creative minds, and how both Hughes and Bonham had been presented with an opportunity of a fresh new talent in the form of Watt, it felt appropriate to enquire about his outlook on fate. “I’ve taken some left turns and some right turns in my life and I’ve ended up in hell, but of late just say the smell, the feel, the taste; was it a certain hour of the day; is it fuckin’ magic, mumbo jumbo, I don’t know what it is; but you can call it fate.” After acknowledging the huge part that Julian Lennon played in bringing this band together, he continued. “I am now protective of Jason and Andrew. I am the guy carrying the flag and I really love this band. But because I carry the flag people like to take a shot at me or people will think that I’m great, or people will think that I’m like, whatever they think; I don’t give a fuck! All I care about is me writing a song, recording it and giving it back to the fans. That’s real artistry.”
Hughes is fired up by the principle of art and integrity at this junction of the conversation. “I know my friend Jimmy Page, his artistry is so important to certain people – Townsend it’s all about the fuckin’ art! I’ve been very blessed and fortunate to have lived a life where I’ve always put music first. Ten years ago when I was making kind of funky albums, people said – what the fuck is he doing? He’s doing what he wants to do. Look at Robert Plant 25 years ago he wanted to play fuckin’ mountain music. You know it’s like, I don’t do things for money, I do things because it makes me sleep good at night.”
Waxing lyrical about philosophy reveals some insightful thoughts from Hughes. “When I was 23 I had fuckin’ no wisdom. I was very deep in cocaine. I had no fuckin’ wisdom, I had no spiritual power – I had no guru-isms, I had no yoga technique breathing. I didn’t know about warming my voice up, all I knew about was how long can I stay awake. I can’t be like my friend Lemmy, I can’t do that. I can’t keep up with Lemmy. I have to get clean and sober.” The rhythm of expression continues. “I have zero expectations! If I think this album is going to sell 25 million copies and if it doesn’t then I’m going to be like, in trouble. Expectations are resentments under construction.”
As if to reiterate his outlook, Hughes extends his explanation. “I know if I suit up and show up, I wake up in the morning and clean my teeth, go into the studio write another great song or a song I think is appropriate for today’s rock; I mean I write adolescent songs like Sweet Tea or I’ll write a deep song like Breathe. You know it’s like there are three generations of musicians here. I write songs for me hoping that globally rock fans will enjoy.”
The conversation moves on to the producer. Dave Cobb produced albums for Rival Sons and thanks to his studio in Nashville, has helped shaped some excellent music. Hughes explains how they were in talks with Cobb at least nine months prior to their collaboration. “He didn’t trick me. I played The Grey; we started with The Grey, and then I went into the studio and then Dave said to me – this is great. Do you have any lyrics? I said I do; do you have a melody? I said I do; do this for me. I want Jason to track and Andrew to track. Dave said ‘I want you to go in the vocal booth and I want you to sing every song then I want you to overdub the bass later.’ So two days later I overdubbed the bass; took me about three hours. The next morning I went to the studio alone to sing and said I’m now ready to sing. He said what?! I recorded everything you sang. He said now I’m going to play you the album. What he played me is what you hear! You hear every cry, scream laugh, giggle; even the inaudible words that you can’t figure out.”
Hughes exclaims how novel he found the process and how exciting it felt when they heard the results. “I don’t know what Rival Sons say about Dave Cobb, he’s a family member to them. Dave Cobb is the greatest new rock producer of our time; he’s the George Martin of this decade, he’s like Robert ‘Mutt’ Lange of this era. He’s the man. I said to him – Cobb, you have any fear working with me? He said nope! Then I said – you can drive the car!”
When asked whether he had any favorite tracks on this self-titled album, the frontman responded “This is not a cliché; every song is a mini movie to me. You need to know this, I don’t write about dwarves and goblins and weasels and fuckin’ ferrets, I don’t write about Tolkien, I don’t write about the weird wood, I don’t write about King Arthur; I write about the shit that goes on between me and you, our parents, our brothers, our sisters, our friends; I celebrate love, life, death, hatred, lust, anger, greed, envy, sloth; I sing about everything that makes you uncomfortable but also make you feel loved.”
Conviction runs like a flowing river through the heart of Hughes when he speaks each and every syllable. There is no room for misunderstanding – the intentions of California Breed are to rock hard and rock true; to aspire to be the greatest rock band that Hughes has had the pleasure of working with during this truly impressive career. He doesn’t so much talk to you, but engage with you genuinely due to his soul being injected by pure passion for his art. This is an individual who has given most of his lifetime to his love of music, starting out during the sixties with Finders Keepers before moving on to Trapeze in 1969. Hughes wasn’t interested on dwelling on the past; he was resolute about what needs to be done now.
In one musical guise or another, he has soaked up as much experience as someone could manage within his field of expertise, and by living in the moment Hughes remains current and edgy. The legendary frontman admits he doesn’t read comments, but finds interest in reviews and various other reading materials regarding his musical output. Keeping his head down, he lives his life the way he feels is best, listening to his instincts and his heart. The globe needs to look out, as California Breed mean business and have the music to back it up.
Hughes shares his attitude and observation which clarifies where he stands on his path in music. “If you’re a real musician that’s been given a gift to freely give back to the audience, it’s like if this was a job to me then I wouldn’t be doing it.” The message he shares is loud and clear, California Breed mean serious business because this is what they love to do, and they’re burning more than just the Midnight Oil, they will be on the road soon to rock your town!