JOHN DIVA & The Rockets of Love – Straight Outta Dusseldorf

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When was the last time a music video made you stomp your foot to the rhythm, shake your fist to the power chords and laugh, all simultaneously? When was the last time you saw a music video where the singer was wearing a Texas Rangers T-shirt while rocking out with a German team playing American football in a European soccer stadium? Fasten your seatbelts and watch God Made Radio. 

At first glance, John Diva & the Rockets of Love might be dismissed as a German version of Steel Panther. Similar to Panther, they’ve got the 80’s glam metal look and the flamboyant stage names (John Diva/vocals, Markus Coolman/drums, Snake Rocket and JJ Love/guitars, and Remmie Martin/bass). And to top it all, the thoroughly outrageous bio: “From a small, beaten-up T-top Camaro, I was talented enough to be able to accumulate several cars to park in the driveway of my Mulholland Drive party palace, including a yellow Lamborghini, a red Ferrari, a Porsche targa and for my moments of solace, solitude and reflection, a black V8 BMW 628csi with privacy glass. Those were crazy days and crazy nights!!! Let’s just put it this way, there were a lot of glass coffee tables in the party palace! I would also enjoy the pleasure of feminine energy on a non-monogamous and accelerated basis.”

But “where the rubber meets the road,” as the old expression goes, that comparison quickly ends with the music. Steel Panther’s songs are, as Diva puts it “an ongoing vagina joke.” The Big Easy, the new album by JD & The Rockets, is filled with songs about topics that everyone, not just rock stars, can relate to: Relationships. Challenging times. Sorrow and joy. So while Diva hears the Steel Panther comparison quite often, it doesn’t really bother him. “I totally agree with what you say because with this record it’s really obvious that we’re different. I don’t envy Steel Panther because they have created themselves a ghetto that is hard to get out of. You can’t over exaggerate again and again. For me, it’s nothing inspiring to be honest, and I kind of feel for those guys because they’ve created an image where they can’t move anymore. You don’t want to hear an acoustic love ballad by them.”

The inspiration for The Big Easy was rooted in the dark days of the pandemic, which hit musicians particularly hard. Like some, they could “work from home” but it was a stopgap measure. Livestream concerts, drive-in concerts, all were concepts that pleased neither musicians or fans. Diva admits that with the band’s first two albums he took the glam rock concept a bit too far, but the pandemic changed all that. “Our first two records, I loved to over exaggerate the alter ego, to write for John Diva, with songs like Lolita or Come Again or American Amadeus. I tried to over-live it. But now, with The Big Easy, it was written during difficult times. When our last tour was canceled, we really had very personal difficulties as a band. We didn’t know if we could ever go on tour again, whether the audience would come back, so we really tried to write songs that work on an acoustic guitar and share our personal experiences to everyone.”

“It’s an album of hope, I would say. I really am in a very good moment right now. Maybe that’s what it takes for a glam band to grow up a bit, because for me, there’s nothing more boring than grown up rock music. In that way, I never want to grow up, especially as a glam rocker. The topics, as you say, really touch people, touch myself, and I stand behind my lyrics. I’m feeling thankful and I’m thrilled with what’s coming up, and I know that it’s not a given.” 

So, who listens to glam rock in general, and JD & The Rockets in particular? Is it old, semi-bald rockers with long gray hair trying to relive their glory days? Young kids exploring a scene that peaked years before they were born? Diva says it’s a mix of everyone. “Obviously we have people in their 60’s, who have been there. We played Wacken [the Wacken Open Air music festival] really early, ten years ago, mostly doing cover songs. This is how we touched base with them. It’s how we always have a decent crowd of metalheads coming out. But then we have housewives from their 40’s to their 60’s who used to love Bon Jovi. And then there’s a younger generation that didn’t grow up with Appetite For Destruction, who might not even know it, but they get the sense of it. The energy. We are reaching out to a broader audience than I expected. I didn’t expect anything, to be honest. I was just thinking that we do this for fun for a couple of years.”

Diva is on the Zoom interview from Berlin, but he is completely fluent in English, and he is obviously familiar with American culture. When asked if he has spent much time in the United States, he explains how his travels in this country were an influence on his music career. “The first time I came to the States was with my father when I was 11. We rented a car in Greensboro, North Carolina, and drove all the way to South Dakota, Minneapolis, and back through the Great Lakes and Canada. It was a wild road trip.” Later, he was an exchange student in Beaver Creek, Ohio, in the early 90’s, which was the era when hair metal had its last gasp. “I was 15-16 years old, but I was digging American culture. In the summer of 1991, on the radio was Def Leppard and Nirvana at the same time, so anything was possible. Two years later, Winger was not possible,” he laughs. Although he has fond memories of being in the U.S., the band has no plans to tour here in the near future because of the high cost. “Without money or management that take you on, I think it’s far out of reach, to be honest, but obviously, it’s a dream.”

The flip side is that being based in Germany, most of Europe is easily accessible. “This summer looks very good, and we’re gonna go out on tour with our new songs, mostly in Germany and Switzerland, and then branch out over Europe. It’s a 20 show tour we’re doing and I’m really excited. Ticket sales are going well and it’s really starting to roll. People want to go back to shows.”

The band has a continuity that is admirable for rock bands, which have a habit of frequently changing members. The lineup has been together for ten years, with the exception of drummer Markus Coolman, who is a recent addition. All the members are in their late 40’s to early 50’s, and things like life are starting to intertwine with recording and touring. “We have two young fathers with really young kids. We could have broken up so many times. There’s a lot of conflicts in a band like this, as in every band, but not only have we survived, we really appreciate the fact that we are stronger at this very moment than we’ve ever been.”

So…circling back to that video. Was it as fun to shoot as it is to watch? Where did those cheerleaders come from? Who is the football team?

The back story is as fascinating as the video itself. The team is the Rhine Fire from the European League of Football, and they are based in Dusseldorf, Germany. The players and coaching staff are 98% German. John Diva has a good relationship with the team, and the cheerleaders actually come on tour with the band. “For the big shows, we’re gonna have them on stage. That’s a sweet deal because no band has that. The day of the shoot was a beautiful day, a summer day, and I was coming straight from the Swiss Alps. I felt great, with the perfect tan, and it was the first song to promote off the new album. We also have cooperation with a German rock station, so God Made Radio is the perfect fit for the station. With that video, let’s do it in a stadium, bring back stadium rock!”

Diva is a musical Renaissance man who listens to many genres. He loves jazz, and when he’s on the road, he’ll seek out jazz clubs. He listens to soul music and even electronic music will catch his ear. However, he always returns to the mothership. “With John Diva & The Rockets of Love, it’s rock, big time. So in the end, rock is in my heart and will always be.”

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