Picture a frontman on stage in a dark club. The air is hot and steamy due to the perpetually malfunctioning air conditioning, and the club smells vaguely of stale beer. The guy is wearing worn jeans, black T-shirt and headband, and he’s playing a beat-to-shit old Fender Telecaster with a lit cigarette jammed in the headstock. It’s plugged into a Marshall half stack, and the thunderous sound shakes the sweaty walls of the club. The entire vibe is the pure essence of rock n’ roll.
The above would be a fair description of Rob Carlyle, who is the kind of guy you’d love to hang out with if you were visiting his hometown of New York City. Shaggy long black hair and a sad-but-lovable facial expression, he’s the ultimate streetwise rocker with connections to the heaviest hitters in the business. Carlyle is the driving force behind The Compulsions, which have an album entitled Ferocious, due to be released November 13. Among the players on the record are former New York Dolls drummer, Brian Delaney, ex-Raging Slab bassist, Alec Morton, and guitarists Earl Slick and Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal. Slick worked with David Bowie and Thal has spent time in Guns N’ Roses, so while the phrase “all-star lineup” tends to be overused, in this case it’s entirely accurate.
Carlyle explains how he was able to enlist the help of Thal and Slick. “Bumblefoot came about…I had been working with Richard Fortus and Frank Ferrer from Guns N’ Roses and I had met Bumblefoot a couple of times very briefly. I don’t know if he even remembered me, but we did meet at a couple of Guns N’ Roses shows. It was still while I working with Frank that I reached out to Bumble just to say ‘Hey, I got some stuff that I think you’d be cool on, would you want to check it out and possibly come in and record with me?’ He knew I was working with Frank and Richard, and that made it a real easy introduction. That was around 2016 and I’d had a version of Shock Me [KISS cover] in the works and Fascination Street [Cure cover] and Revolution [Beatles] and so we worked on those and I put them out in 2016 as singles. I put one out every three or four months that year. He was just a real easy-going guy, obviously a world-class guitar player, and so I figured why not keep it going with him? So that’s how he wound up on this record.”
“With Earl, that was through Brian Delaney, who is also all over this album. (Note: Delaney plays drums on five tracks on Ferocious, Ferrer on the other five songs). Brian was in the Dolls, the reformed version of the New York Dolls and I was just looking to get another personality involved in what I was doing. I reached out to Brian because I knew that Earl had done some stuff with The Dolls as well. I figured that Brian would know how to get in touch with him, and sure enough he did. Earl was into it, he came down for a day and he worked on five songs with us. Three are on this album and there’s another two that will see the light of day, sometime hopefully soon. In fact, with the whole cast of characters that’s on this album, I have another album or two that I’ve got to look forward to. I have to say, its a real good feeling. I’m not lacking material, that’s for sure.”
Two songs on Ferocious are covers: Dead Flowers by the Rolling Stones and Dust N’ Bones by Guns N’ Roses. Both are highly reworked from the originals, as was the case in The Compulsions’ previous covers. Doing cover songs is obviously nothing new for a rock band, as it happens quite frequently. However, many bands play it safe by putting out covers that are very close to the original versions. Carlyle talks about why his philosophy on cover tunes varies from the norm. “The Compulsions have done covers before, and it’s always been a pretty drastic reinterpretation of the original. In the case of these two bands, the Stones and Guns N’ Roses, I think the motivation for those two songs was The Compulsions get compared to those two bands a lot, so I figured let’s just make the connection, let’s just spell it out to people, hit it right on the nose this time.”
“Both of them were challenges because a lot of people have covered Dead Flowers and it’s a well-loved song, so the challenge was to do something different that would…I’m not gonna say come close to the original, but at least try and come close to it. In the case of Dust N’ Bones, I don’t know if many people have covered that song. That song is kind of a cult favorite. It’s not one of the well-known ones, but I’ve always loved that song, the lyrics are just amazing. It’s about infidelity and the lyrics are creepy and mysterious, so I thought let’s just play that aspect up with the production.”
By the time Ferocious hits the streets in November, it will have been five years in the making. Five years of bits and pieces and fits and starts. Carlyle is a prolific songwriter who always has something on his plate. “Typically the way I do it is I’ll make demos with the producer. Me on acoustic guitar, him on bass and a drum machine just to make sure it’s a real song and its gonna work. Then I’ll sit with the demos for weeks sometimes and just try and get a sense of what instruments will be good on this. I can use a piano, or maybe there’s a sax solo. A lot of times you kind of have that feeling before you do the demo, but you get even more ideas when you’ve sat around listening to it fo a while.”
When he has enough material, Carlyle will gather up the players and go into the studio, because with recording time being expensive, it doesn’t make sense to go into a studio to do just one or two songs. Besides the ten on Ferocious, he has another 20 songs that were written and recorded throughout the five year period.
As to the songwriting process itself, Carlyle gives himself what he calls “assignments.” One of those self-assessed assignments was to write the fastest song possible, both in terms of speed and time. That assignment ended up as Dirtbag Blues, which manages to use the provocative words cocaine, blowjob, Motorhead, speed and rehab—all in the blazing span of 60 seconds. “A lot of times I’ll start with a title, and try to think of a title that sounds like a rock ’n roll title,” he explains. “ I’ve always had it in my mind to do a song titled Gimme, Gimme Gimme, and it just seemed that would go well with The Compulsions. Sounds like that would be a good combination of words. As the song came together and then it was done I was thinking Gimme, Gimme Gimme is a little bit obvious for a song title, and Dirtbag Blues just seemed to add another dimension to the lyrics. That was really it.”
There was also a little extra motivation to do that song, as Carlyle explains.
“When I first stated The Compulsions, a lot of people that knew me seemed to write it off that it was going to be some kind of Black Crowes knockoff band, because I do look a lot like Chris Robinson and I do love that kind of music. I knew that I could do more than Black Crowes style music. Yes, that’s a huge influence on what I do, and we do have some material that you could make that comparison, but the super shredding, punk rock style is exactly the opposite of what those guys do. Songs like Dirtbag Blues are kind of a rebellion against anyone who thought it was going to be another Black Crowes knockoff-type band. When I do the punk rock stuff it’s kind of a ‘fuck you’ to everyone who who gave me that grief.”
At the opposite end of the music spectrum is Man With No Name, a song which would be perfect for a Wild West movie soundtrack. When that idea is mentioned to Carlyle, he agrees enthusiastically. “I’ve had the idea for that kind of song for a long time, and the song has existed in early incarnations that were just not as good. I didn’t have the lyrics figured out yet, or the music. But I always wanted to write a song that was…I think a lot of songwriters want to write a Western outlaw-type song. Just about every band has that kind of song, and it’s always been another one of those assignments to myself. Of course, I love the Clint Eastwood ‘man with no name’ character from all those Westerns. So that’s what that came out of, this take no shit character. ‘You fuck with me and you’re gonna die.’ What’s interesting is the chorus, which is ‘shoot your way to freedom;’ that phrase I actually pulled from Naked Lunch by William Burroughs. I always thought it was a great phrase. I saw it in there and thought ‘I gotta use that.’”
As to when any of these songs might be heard live is anyone’s guess. Dark, jam-packed nightclubs make good opening lines in stories, but the reality is it ain’t happening today, it ain’t happening tomorrow, not next month, possibly not until a year from now. Until then, Carlyle has lots of songs in the bank to slowly release, and he says “These are awful times, and I’m as concerned as anyone out there. But you can’t give up. You gotta find a way, a reason to soldier on.”