“Hair metal” never really went away. True, the opening chords to Smells Like Teen Spirit signaled a retreat and hibernation for a fair amount of years, but much like the apocalyptic story of the cockroach surviving a nuclear war, the genre hung tough. Today bands like Poison, Warrant, Ratt, L.A. Guns and a host of others continue to soldier on (albeit with court battles and revolving band members) while revivalists such as Steel Panther carry the torch forward.
Listening to Under My Skin, the debut EP from Tempt, is an exercise in pure ‘80’s hard rock fun. Produced by Michael Wagener, who practically wrote the book on hair metal (Dokken, Great White, Poison, W.A.S.P., Skid Row, and a huge list of others) it’s great songs, great vocal choruses and great guitars. However, scratch the surface and the surprises begin.
Tempt at the core are not old dudes with thinning hair and big paunches looking silly in Spandex trying to recreate old memories. Rather, they are two 19-years olds: Vocalist Zach Allan and guitarist Harrison Marcello. Joined by bassist Zach Gross and drummer Jimmi Kane, the band has an amazing talent and feel for music whose roots were born decades before they were.
Another surprise comes when Marcello comes on the line for a phone interview. Not a buoyant greeting such as “Hey dude!” or anything of the sort. Instead he is articulate and poised beyond his tender years. Later on in the interview, one is not shocked to hear he is attending the Boston Conservatory to study classical music composition. “I go to school at the Boston Conservatory, and I’m studying classical composition. I always tell people that ‘80’s rock got me into all kinds of music. I started getting into music theory and started listening to classical music, and I enjoy composing classical music on the side, it’s fun.”
So at an age where many of his peers might be listening to alternative or electronic dance music or hip hop, just how did Marcello get into the type of stuff he’s playing?
“My parents have always been super into exposing me to all different types of music. Since I was little, even when we were in car rides they would always make CD’s. Never anything involving too much ‘80’s metal, but I think when I was 11 or 12 we were in the car and I was listening to the Boneyard channel and Round and Round [Ratt] came on and it freaked my out. It wasn’t like anything I had ever heard before. I had just started playing guitar so hearing that awesome guitar and that kind of cool melodic sound really inspired me. My dad turned me on to George Lynch, and I started listening to Def Leppard and that was kind of the beginning of that. My mom was actually a bassist in a band called Fiona, so she was in that whole scene too and it turned out she had shared a rehearsal space with Ratt at one point. My exposure to that kind of music came late in terms of stuff I was listening to, but as soon as I heard it that’s all I’ve been listening to ever since.”
Even detractors of hard rock and metal have to admit that the music spawned some pretty impressive guitar players, and Marcello definitely has the chops to fit right in. Asked about his musical education, he replies “I kind of went back and forth. I started out being taught and had lessons for a little over a year, and then I stopped and was just figuring out stuff by ear and tabs on the internet, and then it was almost a point where after a year or two of doing that I was ‘OK, I’m almost at the next level I could be at’ so I wanted someone to show me the ropes to get there. It was something I couldn’t do by myself. So I started taking lessons again, and I started taking classical guitar lessons, which really helped improve my technique. I think it’s good to go back and forth so you can find your own voice, yet learn to play the instrument quote-unquote properly.”
The birth of the band came rather recently, as bands go. Instead of slogging along for years and knocking on countless doors trying to get a deal…well, let Marcello tell the story.
“Zach was working with Jack Ponti, who did a lot of songwriting in the ‘80’s. Jack actually did some tracks on early Bon Jovi records, and he and Zach were working together and had cut a couple of songs and Zach was really looking for a guitar player because he had a band before and it didn’t really work. He actually found me on my YouTube channel. He contacted me, we met up and jammed a couple of times and threw around ideas and we both agreed that we liked each other enough to really work on writing songs, so we spent the latter half of 2012 just writing nonstop. So that’s how we got together. He already knew Jimmi, and we had played together at his rehearsal space and it was awesome. Zac Gross is actually my cousin, and he’s totally into this kind of stuff, and we had these songs and recorded them and started playing in May of 2013. So it’s been about a year.”
“Zach and I work really hard, we’re the core writers. Either I’ll write a song and show it to him, or vice versa, or the traditional way where I’ll have a riff, he’ll have a riff and we’ll put them together. We work on the lyrics together, we work on the melody together, it’s a pretty even 50/50 process, and then we’ll bring it in and Jimmi and Zac will add things. Jimmi adds a lot because he’s just a sick drummer so he gives us good ideas. So far it’s been working out for us.”
So how did a couple of young kids with big aspirations get hooked up with the legendary Michael Wagener? Given Marcello’s education and methodical approach, the answer makes perfect sense. “Me and Zach did a lot of work finding out what the scene was like in terms of the state of rock music, especially more melodic rock like we’re trying to do, and we found this band called Station who had just done their EP and had it mixed by Michael. So we sent him some demos and rough recordings and he loved the stuff. He’s been super helpful—you heard the stuff, it sounds awesome. Yeah, we just sent him an email, sent him some tracks and he really liked it, so we worked long distance with him, but hopefully we’re gonna try to record some new songs with him actually in the studio. “
One of the wonders of modern technology is that bands today can do with computers and the Internet that bands in the ‘80’s could only dream of. Back then it was putting cassette demo tapes and 8 X 10 photos in the mail; today it’s emailing tracks and electronic press kits.
“We had already recorded the tracks at a studio called Guilford Sound in Vermont; it’s a really, really nice studio in a very pleasant area of southern Vermont. Once we got everything together we sent him the stems and stuff, and I sent him my guitar tracks. I had recorded clean tracks of my guitar so he could re-amp them in the studio, and it was actually a very smooth process, it was actually like we were in the same room working with him. He mixed everything, got some awesome new sounds for us, we were sending tracks back and forth…it was really fun. It was super easy, worked out pretty well, I think. He’s all the way down in Nashville and we were sending him stuff, and you wouldn’t know it was done that way. It sounds like we recorded everything in the same room with him.”
Harrison is a superb guitar player, but one of the most impressive things is what he doesn’t play on the six-string. In other words, no ten-minute guitar solos, no hyper-fast technical exercises on the fretboard. “I think a big part of those ‘80’s bands is you have a lot of really good guitar players who are shredders, but you listen to Dokken records it’s not always George Lynch or Reb Beach or whoever going crazy. There’s definitely a development that happens with a really good guitar solo where you’re taking ideas from the chorus and verses, developing thematic ideas, creating something that has an art to it. I think that’s a broader lesson I’ve learned from listening to that type of music. One of my favorite guitar players is Kee Marcello from Europe. I really like his playing. It’s melodic and simple, and you throw in the shredding occasionally and create that tension and release and it pays off more than just 24/7 ripping.”
“When we rehearse, we all work on our harmonies together, we all sing, we’ve been working a lot and it’s all starting to come together. I think the level of musicianship is really high…Zach’s an awesome singer, Jimmi’s a great drummer, and the other Zac is a great bass player. I go to school in Boston, and over the course of the year it’s been a little tough to get together and rehearse, but recently we’re been able to rehearse a lot, and I think everything’s starting to come together and we’re starting to understand each other on a deeper level when we’re playing.”
Marcello is careful to point out that while Tempt definitely has the flavor of vintage hard rock, they’re not trying to just parrot what was done 25 years ago (has it really been that long?) “It’s not like we’re trying to do the exact same thing. It definitely sounds more modern, I think we’re trying to expand on that aspect and that philosophy of ‘why can’t rock be popular, and why can’t rock tunes have a catchy hook to them?’ I think Joe Elliot said of the Hysteria album ‘Why can’t a rock band have seven hit singles on a record?’ A lot of people my age don’t know anything about that music, so when they hear our band they’re really into it. When it comes to a catchy song it doesn’t matter if it’s electric guitar or keyboards, they’re gonna enjoy it. I think there’s a huge potential for this melodic rock to come back. All my friends have loved it so far, for us it’s weird, but a lot of kids haven’t heard an awesome guitar solo before, an awesome arena rock song, so it’s new to them, it doesn’t seem necessarily dated.”
By the time you are reading this, Tempt will have played their biggest gig to date, the Rocklahoma festival. “Rocklahoma is going to be huge. We’re all super excited about it. Just being out there and not even playing would be fun! I’m excited to play on the same stage as a lot of other awesome bands.”
So there’s one final question that has to be asked, that MUST be asked. Yup…the snakes. Marcello lets out a big laugh. “Yeah…we were doing a photo shoot because we wanted to get something out there for Rocklahoma, and we thought ‘Oh, what can we do that would be cool to do in the photo shoot?’ Just to make it stand out, so it wasn’t like every other band photo shoot where they’re all just standing around. One idea was birds, the other was…I can’t even remember what the other idea was. The snake kind of stuck. ‘We can get snakes to come to our photo shoot, how awesome would that be!’ So that was kind of a random fun thing. And then after the fact we thought ‘Oh, the snake makes sense for Tempt, because it’s like Adam and Eve, that whole thing, so it kinda worked. But originally it was just a random thing we threw out there.”
Tempt will be working their four-song EP Under My Skin in the coming months, but that’s just a tease. When the full LP is released in the fall, there will be some real hard-hitting gems on it. Advance tracks are for “ears only” so no secrets can be divulged, but let’s just say the boys and Mr. Wagener have definitely hit the mark. The album promises to be a blast from the past—and the present.