Casual fans most likely know Extreme from their acoustic-driven soft rock hit “More Than Words” that came out in the early ‘90s, but the truth is that these guys know how to shred. Vocalist Gary Cherone and guitarist Nuno Bettencourt have always been the nucleus for the Boston band’s blend of funk, metal and glam with longtime bassist Pat Badger and the more recent drummer Kevin Figueiredo anchoring the rhythms. This is evident in the last album Six that came out back in June, which has gotten a ton of acclaim since its release. As part of a massive “Thicker Than Blood Tour” in support of the record, Extreme are going to be electrifying the Great Cedar Showroom at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Ledyard on January 26th. New York City rock icons Living Colour are going to be opening up the evening at 8pm.
Bettencourt and I had a talk ahead of the show about the making of Six, getting a lot of attention for a riff he did on one of the singles off of the album, handling the production side of things and looking forward to coming back to New England.
RD: Six is Extreme’s first album in 15 years, so what was the experience like for you guys getting back into the studio after such a long time?
NB: It was fun, but the truth is that we didn’t get together after 15 years even though it seems that way. We’ve been recording and we’ve been writing, we recorded between 30 and 35 songs over the last 15 years or so. We were hoping to make an album and make it something worthwhile to be excited about, but as we were doing it, we could have put it out and made some money and done a tour. We could have done all that, but we’re bad businessmen. We have to actually have to love what we release, unfortunately.
It wasn’t until 2018 and 2019 when we started jumping on a few songs like “Rise,” “Save Me” and “The Mask” and we realized that we were on to something that was exciting. Then you get to that point where you can’t wait to share and then it becomes fun and you get excited about what you’re doing, so it was a great experience. I think when you listen to the album, you can hear whether a band is all in or if they’re passionate or if they’re having fun, which I’m hoping everybody is getting out of listening to Six.
RD: That’s what I got when I listened to it so I totally get what you mean. “Rise” got a lot of attention after it was initially released in March with Justin Hawkins from The Darkness and Rick Beato reacting to and analyzing your guitar solo on it. What are your feelings when other musicians dissect the music you’re a part of in this manner? Do you take anything from it or do you not let it affect you?
NB: There’s two answers to that. One is of course it’s exciting when your peers or your heroes are hitting you up and texting you or people like Rick Beato who everyone admires and respects. Even Justin Hawkins who has a great podcast that he does on Youtube, he’s very intelligent, he’s smart, he’s funny and I’ve always admired him as well. When you have your heroes and people like Wolfgang Van Halen bringing your playing up, it’s exciting and fun. Does it matter? I think it’s more like a great little pat on the back saying “You’ve done good, kid.”
If you let it go to your head like, “Oh my God, I’m great! They all think I’m great!” you have to know what you do and you have to be grounded before you even do something like that. I’ve always known what I’m able to play, what I’m not able to play, what my limitations are, what I’m proud of and what my strengths are and it doesn’t change that at all. When you record a solo like the one I did for “Rise,” it’s just another solo on the album. You don’t get all anxious to share it specifically while thinking it’s going to be the solo of the year, nobody ever thinks that. If they do, power to them for having that kind of insight, but for me I think you have to really love it for yourself and be as selfish and self-serving as possible.
You almost have to be an egomaniac in the studio and you have to go for blood while blowing everybody’s doors off just out of your own passion. It’s not the Olympics where you’re going to get rated a score or whatever. If “Rise” came out and that video didn’t come out and the same solo is there but maybe nobody really heard it, would it still be the solo of the year? Technically, I would think so if people actually rated it that way. The way the business works is akin to where if a tree falls in the woods and nobody hears it, then it would probably be another song that has the solo of the year. That’s when you gotta be happy with it yourself because regardless if that song got the reaction it did or not, I still have to look at that solo like I did when we released it and I was excited to share it, that is the important part.
RD: That’s a very cool perspective to have. You’ve either produced or co-produced the majority of Extreme’s albums, so how do you approach this side of making a record? Do you find yourself making any adjustments in terms of getting into a different mindset?
NB: It’s something I’ve always done since I was a kid, even before I knew what I was doing. I didn’t know what a producer was when I was in my early teens, but I was always obsessed with the recording side of things and making sure the performance was great. It wasn’t until we started working on the first Extreme album and we had a producer where I thought it was weird because he was doing everything I had been doing and I realized that’s what producing was. Some musicians are just musicians, which is great, or they’re session players and they come in to record what they have to record and they go home because their job is done. I was that guy who never left the studio and I always wanted to make sure that every hi-hat pattern, every drum sound came out great, but I didn’t know that’s what producing is.
I just thought that was what you did, that’s what everybody did. It was nothing new for me, it wasn’t something that I had to learn or I had to put on a different hat as a guitar player. For me, the vision of it is everything. Whenever I write a song or create something, it’s like giving birth to a child but I already know what I want that child to look like, sound like and feel like. You still have to go through that painful process of delivering that baby, that’s the hard part.
I’ve always known what I wanted it to look like at the end. When I was a kid looking at Led Zeppelin records and reading that it was produced by Jimmy Page, I never knew what that exactly meant. I just thought that it meant he was a control freak like I am (laughs), he had to have his fingers on everything, but that’s essentially what it is.
RD: Outside of guitar, you also play drums, piano and keyboards while writing brass and orchestration arrangements. Do you consider the guitar to be your first love when it comes to instruments and everything else that you play came afterwards or did you play a different instrument at first before you picked up the six-string?
NB: Drums were everything in the beginning for me, it was always drums. I was always attracted to rhythm, something about the pocket, tempo and feel had taught me pretty quickly that if there’s a bad drummer then there’s a bad band. I don’t care how good the guitarist, bassist or whoever else is, if you have a drummer then they’re the spine and the meter of the band. Drums are so damn important so I was always super attracted to it and then that taught me a lot about guitar and playing guitar. I also played bass and I wouldn’t call myself a pianist or a keyboardist, but I’ve played them enough to write a few songs. Drums are still my first, first love, it’s right up there with guitar but I had to move to guitar because it’s one of those things where you had to compose songs, melody and everything else.
I’m still pretty obsessed with drums. Any chance I get to jam with someone, they always want me to play guitar and I say, “No, I want to play drums.” It bums them out, but it’s one of my favorite instruments to play.
RD: Who are some of your all-time favorite drummers?
NB: To me, I think the greatest rock drummer of all-time is John Bonham. It’s hard to hit the drums and have it be recognizable of who you are, but drummers like Bonham have that. Stewart Copeland from The Police, Neil Peart from Rush and Phil Rudd from AC/DC also have that. Somebody said to me, “How can you like Phil Rudd who plays a straight 4/4 groove and then like Neil Peart, who sounds like he plays everything all at once, at the same time?” It’s because there’s a skill set and there’s an art.
It’s really difficult to do what Phil Rudd does, it’s just a backbeat but it’s this feel in the pocket that makes these guys so iconic. Bonham wasn’t a jazz-crazy overplaying drummer, but when you hear him play on those Zeppelin songs you know it’s him and you know that he’s the one who affects that band. It’s one of the reasons why the band folded when he died because they knew a big part of the chemistry was gone.
RD: All those drummers you just mentioned also have their own signature technique that can’t be replicated.
NB: Yeah, absolutely.
RD: I know you currently live out in California, but what are your thoughts on coming back to New England to play this upcoming show at Foxwoods? Also, do you have any other projects outside of Extreme that you’d like to share?
NB: I don’t think there’s anywhere in the United States that I get more excited to perform in and I know the rest of the band feels that way, it’s home. When I come back to New England, I get to see family, friends and fans while feeling full of pride to get back and play. It’s obviously great to play around the world, we just did a run of shows in Australia, Japan, Europe and the United Kingdom, but you can never play New England enough. It’s less of a gig and it’s more like a party, it’s always more of a celebratory thing when we come back. As far as other projects, outside of just focusing on Extreme I started this company called Atlantis Entertainment years ago and we have some great artists coming out who we’ve been developing and producing.
We have this artist named Gabriela, we have another great artist named Owenn and we have all these different projects going on, including some TV projects that we’ve been building. We have a lot of stuff going on but really right now the focus outside of that are shows and touring with Extreme. It’s also about smelling the flowers if you will of how incredible, shocking and beautiful the response to Six has been. It’s an uppercut that I wasn’t expecting and the band wasn’t expecting, so every gig we do now is a little bit of a celebration. We’re so lucky to be alive, doing what we’re doing and still having fans that are showing up, a lot of young fans.
Every night after the first three or four songs, I always ask the crowd “Who’s seeing Extreme for the first time?” and I get overwhelmed. I figure we’d get at least 20% of the hands going up, but there’s been some places where it’s been like 50, 60 or 70% of hands going up and seeing a younger audience in the crowd as well. We don’t care if it’s younger or older, but it’s great to see that there’s some new up and coming fans in their 20s and teens that are either discovering Extreme off of the new album. That whole thing of us having a contribution to hopefully keeping rock & roll alive and well. There are so many great bands out there doing it and that’s all the hope is.
When: Jan. 26, 2024 at 8 p.m.
Where: Great Cedar Showroom at Foxwoods Resort Casino, 39 Norwich Westerly Rd., Mashantucket, CT 06355
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of the Connecticut Examiner, he also writes for DigBoston, The Aquarian Weekly, The Providence Journal, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.