Let’s say you’ve always wanted to be a singer for a rock ‘n roll band. Where do you start? Late-night gigs in the neighborhood dive bar is the usual story. Steven Berez, however, did things a little differently. “First time I ever sang with a band was at the Viper Room on a Saturday night to a sold-out audience at 10:00 pm in November of 2009. True story. I think the audience liked it, although it was a disaster. There’s no way to go but up from there,” he laughs. And go up he did. By the time you are reading this, Berez and his band, Venrez, will have completed eight dates opening for Alice Cooper. From the Viper Room to opening for Alice Cooper in two-and-a-half years. Oh, and Berez is 57 years old. Talk about living life to the fullest!
The roots of Venrez (which takes its name from the last three letters of Berez’s first and last names) began in the summer of 2009. “I had a roommate was a musician, and he had an idea to build a Tiki Bar on this big sundeck at the apartment we were sharing. The guys we hired to do the construction work were out of work musicians, and some of them were pretty talented. The building sessions often turned into jam sessions, and the next thing I knew, we had a band.”
That band went through numerous personnel changes, and eventually settled into the current lineup: Berez on vocals, Jason Womack on guitar and vocals, Alex Kane on guitar, bass player Michael Bradford, and drummer Ed Davis. Womack is Berez’s wingman in that he co-writes all the songs and produces the band’s music.
“Jason makes it all easy, and fun. He’s an amazing human being. I don’t know if there’s any words to describe how I feel about him. Every so often, two people get together and write a lot of great stuff, and that’s what’s happened with us. In addition to writing great songs, we harmonize well together, not just in the studio, but live. To go out there night after night and do those kinds of harmonies like we do, it’s just automatic. Even when I can’t hear, if there’s a sound problem onstage, we’re so well-rehearsed, and we’ve worked together for almost three years now, we just know.”
Guitar, co-lead vocals on many of the songs, and producer. That’s a lot of weight on Womack’s shoulders. “He does a lot, and he does have a lot of pressure on him,” says Berez. “He’s created the Venrez sound. I hand him loads of lyrics, especially with the new album in pre-production, and he is under pressure to write songs, but he gets it done and he produces it, too. In fact, when I’m done with this interview, he’s waiting for me, and I’m going to go upstairs to our recording studio and I’m going to lay final vocals on a song. I think I’m blessed to be connected with him.”
“The original band had different people in it, and it went through a lot of changes before we got to where we are now. When I started the band, I had never written a song. I was singing lyrics that were written by somebody else. It became apparent to me after four or five months of doing it that I would never be a true artist or get where I wanted to go unless I started writing songs. I wrote my first song in January 2010, and it wasn’t easy, but it turned out that it was a natural thing for me. I’ve written a few hundred since. If I just sit down and think OK, I’m going to write a song, it doesn’t happen. There’s basically two ways we write now. The more prevalent way is I write they lyrics and give them to Jason. I wrote a lot of stuff about lessons learned during my life that I thought was important to share and teach to people. I may get a line, or even a word, and I’ll jot that down in my notebook and come back to it. But I never push it. Luckily, I seem to have a natural flow. Sometimes I’ll write three or four songs in a week, and then I won’t write for a few weeks. The other way we do it is the band, primarily Jason, will hand me music they wrote and I’ll write lyrics to the music, which I enjoy doing. I’ll get this feeling of what the music is saying, and I’ll write the words. I love doing that. But for the most part, I hand Jason lots of lyrics each week.”
Sometimes, when two artistic talents work so closely together, there are bound to be occasional conflicts over the usual “creative differences.” In fact, many a band has broken up over that. Berez says that surprisingly enough, it’s never happened. “He always writes the perfect music to my lyrics. He’d been looking for years and years for someone who could write lyrics to all the music he writes. We were meant to work with each other. It’s really magical. It’s something that doesn’t happen very often. The only time we ever argue is over sets. Sometimes I want to do a song that he doesn’t think should be in the set.”
To me, there are only four real legends of rock that still go out and perform…
Speaking of set lists, that brings us back to the Cooper tour. “I’m excited to tour, period,” says Berez. “To me, there are only four real legends of rock that still go out and perform: The Stones, David Bowie, Rod Stewart, and then Alice Cooper is one of them. To open for one of those legends, I can’t put into words how excited I am. We got real lucky. He had another band that was on the tour with him, and then added eight dates to the tour, and we got our music over to him and he really dug it and wanted us to be the opening band for him for those added shows.”
“The venues are all great, we’ll be playing before a lot of people, and I think our band compliments what Alice does. Our music has kind of a blend of 70’s beats and 90’s Alice In Chains type singing. It’s like something you think you’ve heard before, but you really haven’t. I think we could open for any band that’s been out there over the last 40 years. I’m really super excited about sharing a stage with Alice Cooper. It’s a dream come true for me.”
Steven Berez may have started writing songs and singing them much later in life than most musicians do, but the taste of success couldn’t be any sweeter.