Thursday, September 15, 2022

Livin' Out Loud: Interview with STAYCE ROBERTS of THE BRAVE


The Brave has returned, quickly following up on our 2021 Album of the Year, Evie’s Little Garden, with the band’s latest effort, Gravedigger!  In anticipation of this release, Stayce Roberts, the singer, guitar player, and chief songwriter for the band, was gracious enough to spend a LOT of time with me answering questions about the band, the albums, and just about anything related to The Brave!  Grab your favorite beverage and snack and settle in, as Stayce takes us on an awesome ride, Living Out Loud!


PRR:  Stayce, first, I want to thank you for taking time to chat with me.  I have been a fan of the band since…well, since forever, so this is awesome for me!

Stayce:  Thanks, Arttie.

PRR:  So, I guess the fair question to start with is when and how did The Brave start?  Who was your original line-up?

Stayce:  Our original line-up consisted of myself, James Salters, Randy Roberts, my kid brother, Freddie Tierra, and Malcolm Paris.  Malcolm and I started the band after arriving in California from Texas.  We knew we wanted to be a Christian rock band, and after a few line-up changes, we settled on the five people I just mentioned.  The band was originally called FAXX, but once we got signed by John and Dino Elefante, they asked us to change the name to The Brave because they weren’t sold on our band name.

PRR:  Would that be FAXX, as in “Facts”, like the facts about God and faith?  Just reading into the name. (Laughs)

Stayce:  Absolutely!  To us, Scripture is facts!

Styace on the far right
FAXX: Dave Smutny, James Salters, Randy Roberts, Malcolm Paris, Stayce Roberts

PRR: Well, aren’t I insightful! (Laughter)  Can you tell me about the decision to be a Christian band right out of the gate?

Stayce:  Well, I grew up on bands like Journey, and their message was always positive.  But I got saved in 1987 and decided that I want to use my musical abilities to sing about Christ.  I was always a songwriter and throughout the history of The Brave I used my ability to write to do just that.  As far as why we decided to become a Christian band, Malcolm and I were…and are…best friends, so we just had a talk one day and decided that’s what we wanted to do.  Then we heard Stryper and there was no turning back!  They had that kind of impact on us.

PRR:  I’m glad you touched on Stryper, as that is really a part of where I was going next.  Was there any awareness on your part, or Malcolm’s part, about a Christian hard rock or metal scene at the time, or was it just this Yellow and Black Attack of a band that grabbed you?

Stayce:  There was no scene, as far as we knew, but we were aware of bands like Bloodgood and Petra, although nobody hit us like Stryper did.  I don’t think it was the Yellow and Black Attack that fired us up, so much; it was when Soldiers Under Command dropped that our jaws did, as well! (Laughs)  That

was Stryper at their best, at that point in time, until, of course, To Hell With The Devil dropped.

PRR:  That’s where I was hooked, actually, with Soldiers… I RAPIDLY found anything with Stryper’s name on it afterward…

Stayce:  Same here…

PRR:  Did you grow up with music?  Obviously, both you and your brother were musicians in a band, so was there a musical history in your family?

Stayce:  My first influence and introduction to music was my mom.  She would play albums by the Eagles, Beatles, Wings, ELO, Credence, and Elvis, and I was a sponge.  I was immediately hooked with how song structures were put together.  But, I had an uncle who played guitar who taught me how to play the instrument and there was no looking back.  I was probably 13 or 14 at the time.  He was the only musician in the family, but Malcolm’s parents were both musicians, so we sort of cut our teeth at the same time in the early 80s.  Then, of course, MTV came out and exposed us to all other sorts of music.

PRR:  What part of Texas did you and Malcolm come from?  Or should I say “y’all”? (Laughs)

Stayce: (Laughs) Either way works!  We were from a town called Canadian in the panhandle, close to Amarillo.

PRR: So you graduated high school, loaded up the vehicles, and headed for California?

Stayce:  Exactly, in that order.

PRR:  That had to be quite a leap of faith!

Stayce: It was, but it didn’t feel like it at the time.  We were bound and determined to get to California to play music.  This was about 1985, in mid-July.

PRR:  So how long were you in California before you started saying, “Hey, let’s get going with this band thing”?

Stayce:  About six months.  It took about three years to finally put together the right line-up, but once we had our singer, we knew we would be a formidable band.  Around that time, I would say 1988 or 1989, Guardian arrived on the scene and we were huge fans.  As fate would have it, we played a few shows with them, and as the 90s came along, we would find ourselves playing alongside Holy Soldier, Guardian, and other great bands. 

We knew that we wanted to be a part of Pakaderm Records, but we had no idea how we would get there.  As fate would have it, John Elefante came to our hometown to check out another band that we were playing with and saw us.  His A&R department called us about a week later and they followed us for about a year before signing us in 1991.

PRR:  Did the band they came to see materialize into anything anywhere?

Stayce:  Not that I’m aware of.

PRR:  Right place, right time for you, then.

Stayce:  Well, yes.  We had always closed our show with five part harmonies on “Carry On My Wayward Son” by Kansas, and John liked our version. (Editor’s note: John Elefante was the lead vocalist for Kansas from 1981-1984)  The band we opened up for knew what a big fan of Kansas I was, so they introduced me to John, and he and I formed a friendship that took us through Battle Cries and Trust.

PRR:  So you got signed to Pakaderm right out of the box with the line-up that we are familiar with on Battle Cries, correct?

Stayce:  Yes.

PRR:  That had to be a pretty incredible experience to go from relatively…or maybe completely…unknown to signing with what was rapidly becoming the big name in the Christian hard rock community…

Stayce:  Absolutely!  Any Christian rock band that existed at that time wanted to be one of the two or three bands a year that John and Dino signed.  After John saw us, he would always ask bands he was involved with if they saw anybody good at the shows that they played.  Everyone that would come back to Pakaderm would always tell them about this band called FAXX.  But, I think it was when their main engineer, JR McNeely, whom we still work with today, and Tony Palacios from Guardian came back and made the case that they needed to sign us to a record deal.  So, they sent Ron Gollner, their A&R guy at the time, to see us, I think it was at the Roxy…it could’ve been the Whiskey…to see us live.  He loved us!  So, Pakaderm set up a showcase in Orange County that we came and played.  It was just us, Ron, and two Italians by the name of Elefante. (Laughs) It was like auditioning for the Godfather because they didn’t say one word until the end.

PRR: (laughter)

Stayce:  I think we played five or six songs, and then we spent some time talking with them.  Two weeks later, they came out to our hometown and took us to dinner and said they wanted to do this. A week later we had a record deal.

PRR:  By this time, the label had already released albums from Halo and X-Sinner, two bands I also really like, and of course, the revamped Guardian had put out Fire And Love, which I absolutely love.  There were a couple of compilations, also.  Was there any sort of community to Pakaderm?  I always, probably naïvely, envisioned there was some sort of Christian rock social scene.

Stayce:  There absolutely was, but for us it was mainly between us, Guardian, Fear Not, and Michael Sweet, as well as John and Dino.

PRR:  Interesting that you mention Michael Sweet as he was not ever on Pakaderm.  Additionally, he is considered by many to be…well…rather anti-social…

Stayce:  Well, it’s true that he wasn’t on their stable of artists, but they (the Elefantes) always had people in their studios that weren’t on their label, like Bride and Carmen.  I had met Michael at the NAM show a year before we got signed, along with Oz Fox, and Tony from Guardian.  When we came off the road from Battle Cries and I showed up at the studio, the only two people there were JR McNeely and Michael Sweet.  We became fast friends.

Michael was anything but antisocial.  I never knew that version of him.  He was humble, kind, and funny as all get out, and we hung out quite a bit.  He was very good to my brother and I.  He would call me at home just to chat.

PRR:  For the record, I have only met Michael and Oz one time, as I booked them for a festival I put together here in central Nebraska a few years back, SkullFest.  Both were polite and friendly

to me.  I just know Michael has garnered that reputation from some in the media…

Stayce:  That’s interesting; I have never experienced that.  He and Oz were both some of the coolest guys we ever met.  In fact, Oz almost became the lead singer for The Brave after James left.  Michael encouraged it, as did John and Dino, and we took a meeting with him, but the timing wasn’t right.

PRR:  Was there a sense of camaraderie amongst the handful of Christian bands on the scene?  Us against them, or maybe even us against the darkness around us?

Stayce:  Well, there was before and after grunge kicked in, so yeah, I would say so.  One of the coolest things about that time is that it was kind of like a fraternity, of sorts.  When you played with someonee the first time, you always remembered them when your paths crossed again.  I think your choice of words, “handful”, is accurate; there was only a select group of us that were in that arena.  But it was all good; we were all friendly to each other and supportive. 

We weren’t really there for any other reason than servitude, I think.  I saw a lot of us down there to feed the homeless, minister to them.  But, when we played, yeah, it was really us against the forces of darkness.  Whenever we prayed on the Strip, it was prayer against that darkness that was staring us all in the face.

PRR:  Were any of the bands ever led to do altar calls or any kind of ministering from the stage?

Stayce:  Well, most of what we did ministry-wise on the Strip was actually ON THE STRIP. There weren’t any altar calls in the clubs because of time constraints; remember, when you were booked, you were booked with a grip of other bands, and the stage crews had their marching orders—30 minutes for FAXX, 30 minutes for Surrender, etc.

I remember we played a food ministry down in the grips of Hollywood, and there were several of us bands there.  All we were trying to do was minister to the homeless.  It was so cool! (Laughs)

PRR:  So help me out…we had you, as FAXX, Guardian with Jamie, Love Life/Fear Not…who else?  Stryper was long gone by then.  Was Holy Soldier still playing the Strip at all?  Any other, lesser-known bands such as Surrender?

Stayce:  Holy Soldier wasn’t playing the Strip as much, as they had already signed with Myrrh and

were also involved with Word/A&M, so they had secular distribution and had graduated from the scene.  They had played quite a bit around LA prior to that, though. We did a couple of shows with them, and we would still play with them at festivals.  They were great live.

As to other bands, umm, not really any that come to mind.  The scene was us, Guardian, and a few local bands, like Love Life, who later became Fear Not…probably the same story with their name as us!  (Laughs)  And, yeah, Surrender was another band that was one of my favorites.

And yeah, Stryper had already went national/international by then, and actually, by the time we came back from the Battle Cries tour, Michael had already left the band to do solo stuff.

PRR:  What about other Pakaderm bands, like Halo or X-Sinner?

Stayce:  Never met any of them.  We started right after Guardian, and Fear Not came right after us.

PRR:  I don’t know that I have heard anything by Surrender.  I’ve heard OF them, however…

Stayce:  Well, I believe Jamie Wollam, who played on our Trust record and some other Pakaderm stuff, played with them.  That’s probably why I dug them.  Jamie was a monster drummer.  Still is.  He’s now the drummer for Tears For Fears.

My brother and I actually convinced Michael Sweet to try him out for his solo band, and he got the gig!

PRR:  Not gonna lie, I’ve always had a soft spot for Tears For Fears, especially Songs From The Big Chair…

Stayce:  Yeah, they knew how to write songs.  James is a perfect fit for them.

PRR:  Surely people became aware of who you were and what you stood for, so did you start to see regulars in the crowd?

Stayce:  Oh, sure!  Our band was starting to make a little noise and we were starting to see people who were coming just to see us!  I guess that is what we all wish for.  You know, honestly, the band we always ended up playing with was Guardian.  They were awesome to us.  Tony was the best, both as a player and a person.

PRR:  Did you ever get any pushback or flak from the crowds?

Stayce:  The crowds were awesome, but the word got around about what kind of bands were playing, and we all had fan bases that would follow us.  Ours wasn’t huge at first, but word was starting to get around that we had a lot of talent in the band. 

I can’t think of one time where we got any kind of flak from the crowds.  Plus, many times we were within friendly fire from the headliners! (Laughs)  Also, most of the club managers were very receptive to us!

PRR:  Meaning they were open to your message?

Stayce:  Maybe not the message, although they respected it.  They let the music guide them through the message.  More than anything, I think bands like ours got respect from going into a dark place and proclaiming Christ.

PRR:  Like Sacred Warrior sings, “We minister by night!”

Stayce:  That’s a great example, and a killer tune!

You know, I can’t stress this enough.  Our message was first, at all times, but what made us stand out is the players at positions; we had all the bases covered from the beginning: a killer lead singer with charisma, I mean, James was killer back then.  His voice matched my songs to perfection.  Plus, the whole band could sing, so our harmonies were spot on.  The musicianship…we didn’t lack in any department.  We knew we were competent, and so did everyone we played with.  But, we were cool guys so we didn’t give the wrong impression.  We just stayed humble and hoped for the best.

PRR:  You mentioned being “discovered” at the Roxy; did you play any of the other clubs on the Sunset Strip? Did you ever hit the Whiskey or Gazzarri’s or any of the others?

Stayce:  We played them all for the most part, at least the big ones that everyone has heard of.  We played Gazzarri’s, the Whiskey, the Troubadour, the Roxy…they were the basic layout of the entire LA scene.  And, to their credit, none of them shied away from the Christian bands; all they cared about was if you were good and could fill the place up and sell tickets, which didn’t seem to be a problem for us.

But, just because the managers were cool when you played in the Roxy or the Whiskey, because we were very much alive, spiritually, you could literally feel the forces of darkness just slithering all over that city in the clubs.  It didn’t scare you—it empowered you because you knew you were protected in the spiritual realm.  We could literally feel when God was there on stage with us.  James was fearless, too.  He could sense it and would just go for the throat of the oppression.  The devil had his claws in pretty deep in that scene, but all it did was make the Light shine brighter.  I get chills thinking about it.

PRR:  Were you playing all originals at that point, or were you mixing in the occasional cover tune that new audience members might know?  I know Bloodgood used to mix in songs like “Jesus Is Just Alright” and songs like that.

Stayce:  We only covered two songs that I can remember—Kansas’ “Carry On My Wayward Son” and King’s X “Dogman”.  95% was always original.  You’ve actually heard some of them…”Run To You”, “Alive”, which we just released off the new album, “I’ve Always Wondered” from Evie’s…and then most of the Battle Cries stuff, “Waiting”, “Just A Man”, “Big World”, although we did change that one quite a bit…

PRR:  Did you get to know any of the MTV hair metal heroes from the scene?

Stayce:  Oh, totally!  Rikki Rockett from Poison was very close to my brother and I—Randy more so than me.  I knew Oz and Michael, so that was cool.  Tony Palacios, from Guardian, but those were all in the Christian realm. 

Tony was great…a great friend to me back then.  I actually own the green Ibanez that he gave me from the Fire And Love album cover.

I knew Carmine Appice, who was a neighbor and a business relationship, as I owned a music store.  I had many acquaintances from the secular world, like the drummer from the Scorpions.  By the time we got signed, MTV was about to go grunge, so that ship had almost sunk.

PRR:  We’ve talked about the darkness and evil being palpable on the Strip.  Was your message of love and hope and faith ever just blatantly mocked by people in the crowds?  I know you said most club managers were cool with you…

Stayce:  Never.  Yeah, that was the thing.  I think, to be honest, most of the people that were regulars on the Strip knew in their hearts that there had to be more than what they were experiencing.  And, even though maybe at the time they didn’t admit it, their hearts were receptive to the message.  So, they would applaud when a band like ours would come out and kill it with a true message.  But silently, they were being more affected than anyone…but the and God knew. 

We were shown nothing but love and respect on the Strip.  Make no mistake, any band had to be good, so you did have to with them over first.  But, after that, they were into you.

PRR:  No bad blood with any bands?

Stayce:  Never.  Even secular bands respected you if you were good.

PRR:  There have been stories of bands who played the “Christian card” to get noticed and/or signed.  I’m assuming you were never really confronted with this type of thing from other bands.  It doesn’t make much sense to me… 

 Stayce:  I can’t say that I ever saw that, but you have to remember…at that time, bands were looking for a gimmick to draw labels’ attention.  WASP did weird stuff, although I hear Blackie is a believer now.  Poison brought their A-game, just to be outrageous, and it worked!  But I never saw anyone using Jesus as the gimmick.  By and large, we did it because somehow He changed our lives and we happened to be musicians.  Bands like Guardian and Stryper showed us all how to do it the right way, so the die was cast.

PRR:  So, you get discovered on the Strip, and pretty soon Battle Cries is being recorded and released with these big name producers.  Were you intimidated at all?  What was that experience like?

Stayce:  I wasn’t intimidated in any way, shape, or form.  John and Dino put you at ease relatively quickly.  Before the record began, I spent a couple of days at John’s house, fleshing out the songs that we had written, working to get them up to the Pakaderm standards.  So, John put me at ease really quickly as a songwriter.  And, he was very kind and encouraging to a young kid who looked up to him so much.

As far as recording, after the drums and bass were laid down, I spent quite a bit of time cutting tracks for the guitars and had a blast with Dino. 

They were both great, regardless of the reputation as big time producers.  Those are some of the best times I ever had.

PRR:  Was there any kind of pressure to have a specific sound?  Pakaderm is known for having very slick, very polished records.

Stayce:  Well, even though they had a sound, it was really more of the way that they recorded.  They didn’t mix Battle Cries, although they produced it.  It was actually mixed by Neil Kernon who had mixed Operation: Mindcrime by Queensryche, and Dokken’s Under Lock and Key.  What John and Dino did was bring out the best version of their artists.

PRR:  What about lyrically and spiritually?  Was there any guidance or directive to be “more Christian” or “less evangelical” as examples?

Stayce:  Not at all.  They already knew what they needed to know about their artists by the time they decided to sign them.  They would get to know you first to decide whether or not you were a good fit for the label, but once the decision was made, you were sharing meals, having great conversation, and really, just fellowshipping.  They were great people, and still are today.  And, even though they were both songwriters, they were both very receptive to anything we brought in.

PRR:  Were you aware of the Mastedon project at all?  Were you involved in any way?

Stayce:  I wasn’t involved because I was brand new to the scene, but I loved that stuff, mainly because of John’s voice.  We actually performed “Run To The Water” with John and Tony Palacios at one of our concerts in Dallas, Texas.

PRR: Alright, Battle Cries is in the can and being sent to my hungry hands in the middle of Nebraska.  Was there any touring going on at the time?

Stayce:  Yes.  There were two legs of the tour.  Overall, we toured through 32 states in three months in support of the album, and it was riding the charts most of the year.

PRR:  Who were you touring with?

Stayce:  We played with everyone from Amy Grant to White Heart to Steven Curtis Chapman.  We also played a lot of festivals.  Nobody was talking with us, but we played.

We did do quite a bit of shows with Bride on their Snakes In The Playground tour.  You try following
that! (Laughs)  They were nothing short of amazing.  I mean, we weren’t slouches, but vocalist Dale Thompson was an absolute beast at the time!  Bride could not have been kinder to us.

PRR:  Yeah, Dale’s screams on Live To Die are something to behold!

Stayce:  Outside of Geoff Tate from Queensryche, Dale is the best singer, by far, that I’ve ever seen live.

PRR:  I love Bride’s Live To Die/Silence Is Madness/Snakes In The Playground/Kinetic Faith run of albums immensely.  I enjoy pretty much everything up to Fistful of Bees, to be honest.  They kind of lost me there, although they bounced back and their last few records have been great.

Stayce:  There will never be another moment like 1992 and “Psychedelic Super Jesus”.

PRR:  What were the touring conditions like on that first tour?  You always hear stories of four or five guys crammed in a Volkswagen Beetle, eating baloney sandwiches…

Stayce:  Well, in our case, I bought a Ford Econoline van with an 18-foot Topline trailer, so that was our mode of transport.  It was actually pretty cozy.  We had enough room for the band and our soundman at the time, Steve Swanner.

Like most Christian rock bands, there was zero tour support, so we did it all on our own.  We were like the birds of the sky that Jesus refers to—our Heavenly Father fed us.  (Laughter)

PRR:  Did you ever receive any pushback on the road from church leaders or hyper-religious activists?  Did you ever run into any of the “Metal=Satan” crowd?

Stayce:  Never.  I think that’s the beauty of most music is that it does more to unite people than divide.  We did have an atheist come to a show, and we all had pretty good conversation with him.  He was a cool dude, just misguided, and the mere fact that he was asking us questions was cool.  The Word says that God will draw all men unto Himself by His Spirit.  Dude is probably a preacher now! (Laughter)

PRR: (Laughter)  Speaking of preachers, did you have any pastoral guidance or spiritual advisory at the time?

Stayce:  Absolutely.  We were attending Calvary Chapel in the Antelope Vallen and Bible study with our pastor at the time, John Snoderly.

PRR:  How would you compare playing on the road with playing in the clubs?

Stayce:  Clubs were cool because they were only 1 or 2 nights, but I LOVED playing on the road because one, you could see the country, which was awesome, and two, you got to meet new fans at every stop.  In the clubs, bands usually brought their own crowds, especially because we had to pay to play, which means that you were given “X” amount of tickets to sell in order to play.  If you sold them, they’d ask you back.  If not…take care!

Playing a different venue every day or so was killer!  A couple in particular that I remember were the King’s Place…can’t remember where…and The New Union in Minneapolis.  Great places to play.

PRR:  Were these mostly Christian venues?  Did you ever get into nightclubs or bars outside of LA?

Stayce:  No, just mainly in LA.  Remember, we were only around for two years before we got signed.  So, the clubs were certainly not Christian, but on the road, yes, 99 percent of the venues were.

PRR:  Did you ever feel pulled to minister in the darker areas of society while on the road?  I’ve talked to some guys who, while appreciative of all opportunities to play, felt like they were “preaching to the choir” in the churches, Christian clubs, and youth group halls.

Stayce:  Not really.  Trust me, it wasn’t just the saved at our shows.  Good music appeals to everyone.  When we played a festival with Loverboy or Foreigner, we were getting their crowds, too.  Remember, we’re still a band.  And, we did it for the love of the Lord.  But we believed God sent all who we could affect in a positive way.  Plus, we shared or faith everywhere we went.

PRR:  Good stuff, to be sure!  So, you tour the album, it does well for you, you get ready to work on album number two…and then you switch lead singers!  I’ll be honest, when I bought Trust, I was shocked to hear the change in style and the new vocalist, but I loved it immediately!

Stayce:  Well, remember, when we came back home from the road in 1992, it was like the entire music scene had changed and moved to Seattle.

PRR:  True…

Stayce:  So, yes, we lost our singer, but even if he had stayed, we could not have made Battle Cries II.  Our music was no longer en vogue.

PRR:  Was there any specific reason James decided to leave?  Was he wanting to stay in that same style and you were realizing the music scene was shifting?

Stayce:  Well, he didn’t decide to leave, we asked him to leave because it was no longer a fit.  We weren’t having fun anymore.  Malcolm left shortly after that.  So, we were down to three people: myself, my brother, Randy, and Freddy.

PRR:  Now, I’m going to be honest with you; there were some rumors of a…theological shift…within the band that led to James leaving.  I think a lot of this speculation came from his Faith Nation project being pretty passive in its spiritual approach, as opposed to what you were doing with The Brave…

Stayce:  I wouldn’t say that.  I can honestly say that looking back, I would not have changed any of ourdecisions.  Freddie was 25, Randy was 21, and I was 26.  James was 37, so he was just from a different era than we were.  Spiritually, we did not feel at easy any longer, so we knew we had to make a change. 

He made a great record with Faith Nation.  Obviously, any band that was lucky enough to have James singing in it was gonna sound pretty good.  I remember Todd, the guitar player, was an excellent player, also.  James was a great guy and a killer singer, but he was no longer a fit in my band. 

Malcolm, on the other hand, left on good terms. He was newly married and wanted to pursue an IT education.  That’s what he does today, and he’s very good at it, as well as still playing bass for the band again.

PRR:  Was it a daunting task to move forward with Trust then?  You had to feel like you were headed into new territory to at least some degree.

Stayce:  Not at all, really.  We were excited once Randy started singing.  I was pretty clear on how, musically, decades work, and the public is always going to want something new about every ten years, and it was time for a change.  We could not have had another decade of 80s music.

PRR:  To pick up on that point, we all know that grunge and alternative rock seemingly too control of the hard music scene almost overnight, but was it that quick to those of you in the scene?  Were the bands aware of how quickly the scene was changing at first, or did they have to awaken to it?  What was the feeling on the Strip?

Stayce:  The scene didn’t really change bands…bands changed what they were playing.  No so much in the Christian realm, but in secular, for sure.  Overnight, glam bands were wearing flannels.  We only wore them because we liked the look! (Laughs)

PRR:  Why do you think the Christian scene didn’t adopt the grunge style and sound as much?  Sure, there were a few Christian grunge bands, but not a lot in comparison.  It was always surprising to me that there weren’t more, as the Christian scene is always accused of copycatting anyway…

Stayce:  Well, initially, the music wasn’t very attractive and there was no way bands like Petra or White Heart could move in that arena.  Bands like Fear Not were already playing those types of darker riffs, so they were one of the exceptions…they came along at the right time.  Still one of my faves…

I immediately dropped my E string to D and played the riff to “Dirty Water”.  I didn’t have to adjust too much because to me, a song is a song.

PRR:  As ridiculous as it may sound, did you have people accusing you of selling out on Trust?  To me, it’s dirty and bluesy, and maybe even a bit darker, but it’s not full-on grunge or anything…

Stayce:  Nah, but I understand that, and as fans, they have that right.  They weren’t real happy that James was gone, and that’s still true for some fans.  But, I’d agree with your assessment.  Once James left, we kept playing shows but we only did it acoustically.  We had originally called John and Dino to tell them that we wanted Randy to sing, but they weren’t sold on it.  So, even though I had cut all the basic tracks in the fall of ’92, six months came and went without a singer, so we were at a standstill.  We had even talked to Oz Fox, who has a great voice, and he really loved our material, but the timing wasn’t right for him.  So, eventually Pakaderm relented and invited Randy down and he got all the tracks in about a week.  He sang it cold turkey, as he had never sung for a band before.  I couldn’t have been prouder of him.

PRR:  Having Oz would have been interesting, though!

Stayce:  Totally.  Oz was a great guy.  It would’ve been very cool.

PRR:  I have to say, however, I can’t hear Oz’s voice on “Can’t Let The Devil Win” or “Dirty Water” or “The River”.  Your brother nailed those songs…he nailed the whole record, really.  I love it!

Stayce:  Randy was every bit as good as James, but influenced more by modern, for the time, singers.  James’ influences were Deep Purple and Three Dog Night.  Randy was more Ray Gillen and Oni Logan.

PRR:  Were the Elefantes on board with the changes?  There really isn’t a lot of this styled music in their catalog that I can think of…

Stayce:  Well, remember, it wasn’t just new territory for us.  It was new to all of us!  Dino was totally on board, and John knew we wanted to get a little harder like Guardian had just done.  Also remember, we had been playing with Bride.  How could that not influence us?

PRR:  In all honesty, while I love Battle Cries, I have always thought Trust was a better album.

Stayce:  Well, for us, what saved us was that it was easy to write a grunge tune.  The only thing was we weren’t angry sounding, nor did we sound like other bands, I think.  It was a cool time in one sense because for the first time ever, there were other writers learning the craft in the band, so it wasn’t just my tunes.  Although, it is now! (Laughs)  You do make an interesting point, though, in that some people only discovered us on Trust.  There were some that didn’t follow us from Battle Cries to Trust.  But, there’s a whole group of fans that stand by us no matter what and we love them for that!

PRR: Lyrically, I love the approach of Trust.  Can you speak to that a bit?

Stayce:  “Trust”, the song, was what we wanted the whole album to be based on.  The whole idea was a little church out in the middle of a nowhere, with a tornado coming at it, standing strong in the face of destruction.  WE had just come off the road, and at one point, we had stopped at a gas station in the Appalachian Mountains during a snowstorm.  Off in the distance was a little white church, and it looked totally peaceful in the midst of a snowstorm.  That really struck a chord with us, and we decided right then and there that Trust is what we wanted the album to be called.  Pakaderm loved it, and we ran with it.  Myself, my brother, and Freddie were at a coffee shop and they showed me the riff to the song, because they were just starting to write on their own.  I wrote the lyrics on a napkin exactly the way you hear them on the record.

PRR:  Was it somewhat representative of the band at the time, also?  Hanging onto faith in yourself and the band’s mission in the face of the coming storm of the musical scene?

Stayce:  Totally.  We also had songs that were dealing with some of the corruption in the church, like “Dirty Water” and “Don’t”.  I thought lyrically we dealt with that head on.

PRR:  Agreed.  As I said, I really love this record and have played it a lot more than I have played Battle Cries…and I played the snot out of Battle Cries!  I even played it on my college radio station…where I also snuck some Trust songs on, also. 

Stayce:  Well, you know there are tons of people that only like Battle Cries, and they there’s a whole other faction of people that only like Trust.  Most people like both of them for something.  Some people only like James, which I totally get, and some people only like my brother.  But that’s the beauty of music, that it’s subjective and it can mean something different to everyone.

PRR:  So, after Trust is released, and after the band has gone through its shakeup, you get rocked even further when Pakaderm packs up the tent and moves to Nashville, correct?

Stayce:  You have that right.  I remember I knew it was coming to an end while I’m tracking a guitar and some dude is drilling rivets out of one of the consoles.  We actually had a five album deal with Pakaderm, but the only way to satisfy the remainder of the contract was to move to Nashville.  Guardian was all about it.  I wasn’t.  I had a company back then, and didn’t want to pull up roots from here.

PRR:  Were the Elefantes understanding of your situation?

Stayce:  Of course.  Those dudes were awesome!  I really wish we could’ve carried on, but they were building the Sound Kitchen, so their focus, I think, had changed.  I just felt “more power to them”.  They deserved success.  Plus, they created the situation by moving! (Laughter)  But, it was a beautiful relationship while it lasted.

PRR:  So, was there any, “Okay, God…now what?” or was it obvious that chapter of The Brave was closed with the Pakaderm move, the band upheaval, and the explosion of grunge?

Stayce:  Yeah, I didn’t like where music was headed.  Because of my age, I had enjoyed years of everyone from the Beatles and Elvis, to the 70s bands like Van Halen, Foreigner, Journey, Fleetwood Mac, and the Eagles, followed by an explosion of talent in the 80s after Eddie Van Halen and Randy Rhodes ushered in the kind of guitar playing that I was loving.  Then, all of a sudden, songs, solos, vocals, ang basically talented musicians were not wanted or needed.  Music got ugly to me for the most part, and there were only a few shining moments like Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, and a few others that I was able to enjoy.  Gone were the song bands, the guitar players, the bands with great singers…it just wasn’t fun anymore.  Basically, I hated grunge.  Now, that’s not to say that there weren’t a lot of talented players like Ty Tabor or Jerry Cantrell, but I’m referencing what was now important to labels.  I remember hearing a record guy telling Vito Bratta that he needed to play “less good”.  What is that?  How do you do that? 

So, yes, I felt the door to The Brave had closed for a season.  I never thought I’d ever play another Brave note…

PRR:  I’m okay with some of it.  I’ve always loved Alice In Chains, and Pearl Jam’s first few records, but those bands still played solos.  I like the band Live, also, but they aren’t really grunge…

Stayce:  Yeah, Alice (in Chains) is great. Did not like Pearl Jam, though.  But, Chris Cornell was a revelation.  Maybe one of the best ever!

PRR:  Great talent!

Stayce:  But I agree with you, there were a few exceptions. 

PRR:  So, The Brave is done…for now.  What does a guy like you do?

Stayce:  I went to Nashville and got a publishing deal! (Laughs)  I went with a couple of friends of mine, including J.R. McNeely.  I played on a couple of albums for a pop group called All-4-One, did a little studio stuff, but honestly, at some point, I just shut down musically.  I played in a country band called Smalltown who was pretty close to getting signed, but then my brother died.

PRR:  Wait.  You played for a boy band? (Laughs)

Stayce: (Laughs)  Well, they weren’t really a boy band, but yes, I did.  They were all friends of mine; still are today. 

PRR:  Was that just studio stuff, or did you tour?

Stayce:  Just studio.  They also cut two or three of my songs.  Songs that I wrote with one of the members of the band, one of my best friends, Tony Borowiak.  I say “Band” but they were actually a “group”.  Great guys.

PRR:  After the Elefantes moved to Nashville, did you move also, then?

Stayce:  No, I never moved.  I was always in the Antelope Valley in a town called Lancaster, and I stayed there until 2009, at which point I moved to Mammoth Mountain, a ski resort town.  I still live in California! (Laughs)

PRR:  Did you have any thought of reviving The Brave at the time?

Stayce:  No, not at all.  I didn’t revive any ideas of The Brave until 2013.  Even then, I was originally going to just do a tribute to my brother, Randy…an all acoustic thing…but it turned into the Rise project.

PRR:  I will be 100% honest that I lost track of The Brave until Rise was actually released, so I was unaware of Randy’s death until later.

Stayce:  It was a life-changer for me.  He was my kid brother and we couldn’t have been better friends. 

PRR:  I have twin younger brothers and I couldn’t imagine losing one of them…

Stayce:  Randy died of a couple of things, but I’ll just leave it at heart failure. The first person to stand up and speak from the front row at the funeral service was Rikki Rockett.  He couldn’t have been classier.  He was also the first person to reach out to me after Randy passed.  Sweet guy.

PRR:  Can you speak to how your faith helped you during this time?  Did you struggle with questions of faith at the time?

Stayce:  No, I’ve never struggled with my faith – it carries you at times like that.  It was heartbreaking, and it almost killed me, no doubt.  But, God has reasons for what He does.  It was just Randy’s time, I guess.  I’ll see him again.

I heard an interview with George Ochoa the other day on my friend, Joel Walker’s, podcast, and he said something to the effect that we are just humans—there’s no way we can ever comprehend why God does the things that He does because, well, He’s God.  That really hit home with me.  Totally a great way to say it.

PRR:  As a Christian, myself, I understand what you’re saying.  We have to accept we can never know the reason why things happen, but that the Lord does know, and we have to trust His wisdom.  This is why it’s called faith.

Stayce:  Bingo.  Fear Not has a killer tune called “Carry Me”, and that’s what it reminds me of.

PRR:  I’m personally amazed at how Les Carlsen has remained so…calm…maybe even joyous…following Michael Bloodgood’s passing.

Stayce:  Yeah, me too.  What a tragedy for the living.  But Michael is in glory now!  Les said something really sweet to the effect of, “My brother is now facing the promise that we’ve sang about all these years.”  I thought that was great.

PRR:  How did you approach the idea of moving forward with the band that you and your brother, and Malcolm, had started?

Stayce:  Well, it was always my band, really.  Remember, Malcolm left, so at that point, it was just me and my brother and Fred.  Then John joined us briefly.  But being the principle songwriter, I knew I was in a unique position.  Rise was not the album I would have liked to release, but at least it got me thinking that there was potential again.  When the idea of Evie’s… I already had written the tune, and Freddy and I were rekindling tur relationship after having not seen each other for a long time.  I was sending him demos with me singing, and unbeknownst to me, he was in turn sending them to John in Nashville.  John plays drums for Trace Adkins, by the way.  Anyway, John thought it was my brother singing, although he knew Randy was already in Heaven.  When he found out it was me, he couldn’t believe it. (Laughs)  Malcolm and I have always remained close, best friends, so with a little arm twisting, I agreed to approach a new version of The Brave.  Fred was going to be in it, too, but once again, he had other issues in life that pulled him out of it.

PRR:  You mentioned Rise started off as a tribute to Randy.  How did it expand from there?

Stayce:  Well, a friend of mine, and his wife, were always close with me, and she was a singer.  One of my favorites, actually.  So, we started talking about maybe doing a Brave record.  That being said, it just wasn’t a good fit.  People couldn’t embrace a female lead singer after having had guys like James

and Randy sort of frame our legacy at the time.

I didn’t have the budget or the studio to do it, and, in hindsight, I really shouldn’t have released it because we’ve always had a high level of quality, I think.  What changed for ELG is that I had my studio back.  Game changer!  So, anyway, for Rise we decided to cover 7 Brave tunes and I’d write 5 new ones, which is what we did.  And I love the new songs, so you’ll probably hear them done right soon.

PRR:  That was the one complaint a lot of people had, it seems; the female lead vocals.  It threw me at first, also.  Maybe if it had been all new songs, but it was hard for people to hear a female voice covering the songs everyone knew previously.

Stayce:  Remember, Journey and Foreigner had both done that to sort of introduce new singers into the fold, so we tried it.  Didn’t work.  But, I love Amanda and I thought she killed it.  But, I do understand.  Singing for The Brave ain’t an easy gig! (Laughs)

PRR:  But you make it sound so easy on Evie’s Little Garden!  I remember when I first heard it.  I was in California, actually, on vacation with my family, and I had downloaded the review copy onto my phone and was bluetoothing it through my Durango’s stereo.  All four of us, me, my wife, and both sons, were instantly in love!  We repeated the title song half a dozen times before even moving on to the next song!

Stayce:  That’s cool, and thank you!  Well…it wasn’t hard for me (the singing), but I was aware of the shoes I was stepping into.  It’s all John and Freddy’s fault! (Laughs)  I did know that I had the songs, so it made it a bit easier for me to find out who I was as a singer.  And, I certainly knew how good John and Malcolm are, so that also gave me confidence to step into the role.

You know, I will always say it’s very weird for me to be the singer.  I was, and am, such a huge fan of James Salters’ and Randy’s voices—they were amazing to me.  But the songs that I wrote were my melodies, so it sort of feels like coming home.  And I get to shred on guitar whenever I want! (Laugh)

PRR:  So, The Brave made a comeback, of sorts, with Rise, which I know took a lot of people by surprise.  But there was no way people were ready for what was about to show up with Evie’s Little Garden!

Stayce:  (Laughs)  I would have to agree!

PRR:  That is a monster of an album, my friend!  I was blown away…not exaggerating.  It was actually my album of the year here on PositiveRockReview.

Stayce:  Wow.  Thanks, man. I appreciate that, as I’m sure John and Malcolm do, as well. 

For me, that was the best one up to that point, although it was certainly Battle Cries that put us on the map.   The reception totally took us by surprise.  We have a pretty big following overseas, evidently…we keep running out of product! (Laughs)

PRR:  Good problem to have!

Stayce:  Right?  You know, with streaming being what it is, it isn’t lucrative, but it blows our minds how many countries listen to us—from Germany to the UK, to Ukraine, to Japan, Australia…amazing fans. 

You know, we were never as big as Bride or Guardian, two of our favorite bands, by the way, because we weren’t around long enough.  But I think Evie’s… was filling a hole in the market place for melodic, AOR Christian music.  There aren’t a lot of bands out there in this style of music.

PRR:  I know this is a broad question, but can you kind of walk me through how Evie’s Little Garden came about?  For those living under a rock who may have missed the album, you take a natural step forward from a lot of the Trust-era stuff, mixing in a lot of the more melodic, big guitar/arena drum sound of Battle Cries, and just…wow…it’s an incredible record!

Stayce:  Well, initially, I was just showing some of my demos to Freddy, as we had reconnected after some time. He loved my voice, which I really didn’t get.  I also didn’t know that he was showing some people the demos behind the scenes.  That’s how John got involved—Freddy was sending my demos to John, but wouldn’t tell him who was singing.  John thought they were demos of my brother.  I think Freddy sent them to J.R., too.  Anyway, John flipped and reached out to me, and we all decided that we didn’t think we should be done with The Brave.

So, one by one, and pretty quickly, I started putting the songs together and got Malcolm involved.  This would’ve been around September of 2020, and the album was finished and mixed by, I would say Spring of 2021, and released in July on my daughter’s birthday.  And the order that the songs appear on the album are the order we recorded them in.  I think I had two songs from 30 years ago, before we got signed, “Run To You” and “I’ve Always Wondered”, and I think I had recently written “Evie’s Little Garden”, “Elevate Me”, and “We’re Not In Kansas Anymore”, but the rest of the album I wrote pretty quickly. 

At some point, Freddy dropped out, so it was just the three of us, and that has carried us pretty strongly.

PRR:  I knew it came out in late July, as we were in California on my son’s birthday, and as I mentioned earlier, I got my digital review copy while in Santa Barbara.

Stayce:  Nice!  I was in Ventura when it came out!

PRR:  I think some of the strongest songs weren’t even released as singles.  How does that process work for an independent artist?  Do you pick the singles yourself?

Stayce: Yes, one of us will pick it, very diplomatic, and none of us care which one is picked because we love them all.  Plus, we all have the same influences and pretty much favor the ones that we think the public would enjoy.  But, I get what you’re saying; there are some that weren’t released that would’ve done well, I think.

PRR:  So I want to ask about three, maybe four, songs specifically.  First, “Evie’s Little Garden” is obviously about Eden and the Fall of Man, but you put such a clever spin on it.  How did that song evolve?

Stayce:  I just always thought it could be more relatable to the kids these days.  I mean, God invented music, the devil is an imposter—God owns all things good, so here’s how it works for me…I never labor over songs.  For whatever reason, God very early on revealed the DNA of how to dissect a song to me, and I had the best teachers to learn from—the Beatles, Credence, The Eagles, Journey, Def Leppard, Foreigner, and then later Chris Cornell, Jeff Lynne from ELO—just the greatest writers, anywhere.  Anyway, for me, it was a fraternity I knew I had to be a part of and emulate, so that’s how I learned the craft.  But, once I did, songs just come to me.  I’ll sit down and hit a riff I’ve never played, and immediately I’ll have a chorus or a verse.  It happens very fast, and “Evie’s…” was like that for me.  I sat down and out of nowhere, the melody, the lyrics, it was all there.  I knew as soon as I had the title it had to be about Original Sin.  So, in about 10-20 minutes I had the entire tune.

PRR:  Wow!  That’s amazing!  Tell me about one of my favorites of the album tracks, “I’ve Always Wondered”.  It asks a really powerful, and I think for a lot of the world now, a very timely question: what if Christ hadn’t died for our sins?

Stayce:  Another 20 minute tune, and the riff came first.  Our band, when it was Faxx, had some really strong tunes, and this was one of them.  As soon as I had the ruff, I just blurted out, “I come from the badlands…” and the song just kind of wrote itself.  We were pretty into Queensryche early on, and I loved that band.  I think I was in that ‘Ryche zone when I wrote it, but I knew immediately I had a strong chorus, and the band back then was five part harmonies—we were a polished vocal group, to be sure.  The chorus live would blow you away—very powerful.  It blew me away.  Not all choruses translate as strong when recorded as they do live.  This song did.  “Evie’s…” was like that, too.

PRR:  I’d love to hear an old version of this song.  I just love it.  If I can pick your brain a bit, have you recently thought about the question you pose in that song?  What if there had never been Jesus?

Stayce:  All the time.  Just because I write the song fast, that’s just the bones of the tune.  Lyrically, I let the Lord lay it on me.  That’s where the lyrics come from.  And, I think we’ve all wondered, “What is there if not the Cross?”  And I always tell people, Jesus was the man.  Not a coward at all—the bravest of men.  He stared death in the face for us, for free.  What a gift.

PRR:  I just think it’s such a powerful message and delivered with such conviction.  I love hearing the passion in songs like that.  For me, “Your Love Gives” by Barren Cross is another song like that.  It has actually brought me to tears before…

Stayce:  Oh, that’s a great one!  I love Mike’s voice.  We played with them at the Country Club.  He’s just a massive singer.

PRR:  And that song was just a bonus track on State Of Control!  What’s with that?!  (Laughter)

Stayce:  (Laughs)  You just never know.  

PRR:  Where in the world did “Creep” come from?

Stayce:  (Laughter)  I get asked this a lot!  Well, musically, like I said, I’ve always loved Queensryche and Geoff Tate.  So, this one day I get this riff and, I mean, it all just came to me at once.  I thought of the title, “Creep”, and it sang so well.  That was one of the tricks I learned from John Elefante—if it sings good, it is good.  So, sometimes I just get titles or lyrics or a riff, and I have to ask God, “Where do we go from here?”  This is one of those songs.  So, immediately, I had the idea of a demon who once had a hold on someone’s soul, and I had the idea that this person finally sought for God’s protection.  So, the beginning intro is a dialogue between a head demon and his minion, asking “Where is your charge?”  The other demon answers, “He has Protection,” and he’s then charged to get that soul back.  It fit like a glove to the music.  So, I wrote the lyrics in about ten minutes, and it said everything I felt it needed to say about spiritual warfare.

PRR:  Sometimes when I play it in my head, I put Alice Cooper’s voice on it, especially on the chorus part… (Laughs)

Stayce:  Don’t I wish! (Laughs)  I love Alice, who by the way, is a full-tilt great person and a Christian.  That song certainly threw our fans for a loop…in a good way!

PRR:  I think, stylistically, “Creep” would have fit Alice’s Last Temptation of Alice album nicely…

Stayce: TOTALLY!  It would be one of my life’s greatest honors.  Long live Alice!

PRR:  The last song I wanted to throw at you as one that I absolutely love is “We’re Not In Kansas Anymore”.  Such a great song!

Stayce:  One of my favorites that I’ve ever written, and I love to play and sing it.

PRR:  Another ten-minute masterpiece?

Stayce:  Man, I don’t mean this arrogantly at all, it’s just the way it works for me for whatever reason.  So, yes indeed.  It may have even been a five-minute song.  See, the way it works, God opens a little door and I go RUNNING through! (Laughs)  I’ve never labored over a song, partly because of my early years studying song structure, but more importantly, letting the song tell me what it needs.  I absolutely love that song, though.  It had a “Can’t Let The Devil Win” vibe right out of the gate, but the lyrics were truly inspired very quickly for me.

PRR:  So, Evie’s… drops and it is seemingly adored by everyone!  I don’t know that I’ve read a single negative review of the record.  Did you feel validated by that?  Relieved, maybe?  Or did you know that you had something super special:

Stayce:  Well, you know, I don’t think about that stuff as far as the songs go.  First off, we have great fans, but people are going to either love you or hate you.  I’ve been around long enough to know good music, so I wasn’t anxious in any way about Evie’s…, mainly because I knew John and Malcolm’s level of musicianship.  And, of course, I knew that I had some cool songs.  The real test for me was that I was stepping into some huge shoes as far as singing for The Brave goes.

PRR:  And you really shine, my friend.  Truly impressive…

Stayce:  James is still one of my favorite singers on the planet.  We may not do Sunday brunch, but I’ll be the first to tell you what a great vocalist he was and probably still is.  We just don’t live in the same town anymore, you know?  But he could call me up today and ask me to produce him or let him sing on something, and I would absolutely do it—no bad blood from me.  And Randy?  What can I say about him?  He was an absolute beast.  He is also among my favorite all-time singers.  And then came Amanda Z—a stellar singer in my opinion.  It was a mighty shadow cast for me to walk in, but I was cool with it if John and Malcolm were.  The cool thing s all three of the singers before me are so good, so I understand the responsibility of doing justice to the position of singing for The Brave.

I think it turned out good.  I think what I didin’t realize is that all of these singers wieht God-given talent, were singing my songs, and my melodies, so I really didn’t have to stretch much to do it myself.

PRR:  Which leads up to the big news…the Gravedigger is unleashed upon us!  As I mentioned to you before, I think it takes everything that was great about Evie’s Little Garden and takes it up a notch.  And that includes your vocals!  You do some serious work here,  Some screams…you nearly give Dale Thompson of Bride a run on a couple of tunes.  (Laughs)  Look out, Michael Sweet!(Laughter)

Stayce: (Laughter)  Well, first off, I will NEVER give Dale a run for his money.  That guy is an enigma of a singer.  I’ve personally stood in front of the stage and watched him command an audience like nobody in rock history could ever do—just a giant of a singer!  And Michael, well, nobody can touch him, either.  He’s a master tactician of working an audience and delivering the goods.  Two of my absolute favorite singers that I’ve ever had the pleasure to know or emulate.  And they have both been an incredible influence on me musically, as well as the people they are.  Two of my favorite people I’ve ever met, without hesitation, and I’m better for it.  But as a singer, I’m not in either of their leagues at all.  I have stood on the side of the stage to watch both of these guys just destroy on all levels.  So, thank you very much for even mentioning me in the same breath.  I’m flattered!

With the albums, Evie’s… was me finding my way, and Gravedigger is just the next chapter of my
development.  I am way more comfortable in the roll now.  But, I love Gravedigger and everything within its walls.

PRR:  Your sense of melody in your songwriting is remarkable throughout the record.

Stayce:  Thank you, Arttie.  I appreciate that.  The melody and phrasing has always been there, but it’s always been for someone else to sing.  I guess it’s my turn.

PRR:  So we’ve touched on it a bit, but from a songwriting standpoint, in general, how do you work?  Are you a melody first writer?  Lyrics first?  Maybe the chorus?

Stayce:  I can’t say that I’m one way or the other, really.  I take it as it comes, and for me, that’s how songwriting is.  Although I learned the craft, the inspiration comes from somewhere else.  For example, with “Gravedigger”, I just liked the title, and sat down on the couch one day and just started singing, “Nobody knows where the Gravedigger goes…”.  A second goes by and then, “Boots on a shovel, kicking bodies in a hole…”.  I just immediately heard the song unfold in my head.  Sometimes that’s how it works.

But, then on “BraveNation”, I already had the chorus but no verses.  So, I sat down at my keyboards and started banging out these chords, and the melody and lyrics just started flowing.  As I’ve said, I never spend a lot of time, because for whatever reason, it just seems to flow more often than not. 

I’d say generally, choruses come quick to me once I have the title or a lyric idea.  As for the entire song?  I fill in the blanks…verse, pre-chorus, or bridge…as I am arranging and recording the song.  I always tell the guys that I never feel like I am creating or writing the tunes—I feel more like I am receiving them.  But, I don’t have to go through a process in so much as I just have to sit down at my system and start recording.  Totally not something that I have to work at, although over the years, I have definitely worked enough to get my songwriting chops in line.

PRR:  So, let’s talk about Gravedigger for a minute.  Were there things on Evie’s Little Garden that you thought you wanted to improve upon with the new record?  Or is each album it’s own thing and you just leave the past in the past?

Stayce:  Great question!  I don’t think that we really had Evie’s… as anything but a benchmark, much like Trust and Battle Cries were prior to Evie’s… or Rise.  The three of us really didn’t think there were things to improve upon, but we did talk about maintaining that same level of diversity, which is important to us as fans of other bands. 

The truth is, the other guys never know what’s coming next, and they love that.  It always keeps things fresh.  I mean, we don’ tjust keep spitting out another “Dirty Water” after another “Dirty Water”, and I think the fans appreciate that, as well as us as musicians.  It allows the three of us to stretch, so to speak.

Evie’s was great the way it developed, but we didn’t really have a plan. (Laughs) Same with Gravedigger, but what we did have now was sort of a road map of what we could accomplish musically, lyrically, and spiritually.  We also were riding high on the reception that Evie’s… got.  But, rather than feel any pressure, we just let it feed our inspiration.  But, you do make a great point with letting each album be its own thing—I think we will always do that.

PRR:  On the flip side of moving forward, you mentioned you always dig through your older stuff, as well.  Didn’t you mention that “Alive” was an old Faxx song?  How did that resurface 30+ years later and fit in so well?

Stayce:  Yeah, I think at the start of each project I dig through the vault a bit…and there is plenty to dig through there! (Laughter)  I might run through the back catalog to see if there are any hidden gems in there, I guess.

“Alive” was always a favorite of ours, but I only wanted to do it if we could do the song justice.  Sometimes that doesn’t work, but it usually seems to.  I knew after we recorded that intro that we had to do it. 

PRR:  Are there other older tracks that you’ve snuck in on us that maybe we didn’t know about?

Stayce:  Let’s see…”I’ve Always Wondered”, “Run To You”, “Alive”…actually, “Creep” was an older one, as well.  And I had the bones for “If I Told You” previously.  Sometimes I’ll come up with something and shelve it until I’m in the head space to dust it off.  But, things change when you get people like Malcolm and John involved.  We have a synergy that I’ve never had with anyone else except Fred and my brother.  When the songs are taking shape, I’ll already know what my melodies will most likely be for all parts of a song.  But, once I hear what John and Malcolm add to it, the guitar parts really start developing because I feed off of them.  Like Dracula.  (Laughter)

PRR:  (Laughter)  Well, I am totally in love with Gravedigger, and it’s only been out a short time.  It’s so hard to narrow things down, but outside of the title track and “Alive”, let’s talk about a few of my favorites.  Tell me about the feel good anthem of the year so far, “Bad Day”.

Stayce:  THANK YOU!!!  I thought only I thought that!  I love that song!  It was the second or third tune I wrote for this record, but it was a case of stumbling over the main riff, and I just started vamping a bit and my verse was born. 

Music has a way of telling you what it needs.  What I mean by that, and I am sure most other songwriters feel this to some degree, is that when I have a chorus or a verse all I have to do is sing it a couple times to see where it leads, and poof!  There it is!  “Bad Day” was certainly like that.  I had the riff, which was kind of a 90’s-ish type of feel, and the melody just popped out.  The words were exactly what you hear now for the most part, and I just wrote down what my little brain heard.  I loved the idea of how many times we set foot in God’s creation, and there that old devil sits, just waiting to make us feel unworthy or unloved.  I just thought, “well, how about we flip the script?”  That’s why in the song I told him, “”I’ve got an angel to the left of me and one on the right, and if you keep it up you can meet them both tonight!”

PRR:  Love that line!  I seriously told my son, “this might be your Dad’s new theme song!”  Can’t let anyone, Satan, or even your own self, ruin your day.  We all tend to dwell on the negative too much and we let those negative thoughts win far too often.

Stayce:  There it is.  The thing Jesus wanted all to know was that we are indeed worthy of love, compassion, kindness, and forgiveness.   Don’t let anyone take that away from you, especially the enemy.

PRR:  The next one is, well, the next one on the CD, “BraveNation”.  That song is pretty powerful in its stance.

Stayce:  That’s the old Brave anthem type of tune, but the verses got a little moody and dark, hence what I said earlier, “Music told me what it wanted…”.  When I hit those chords I knew the message needed to have a somber, serious buildup of where the world is right now.  Evil is alive and well, and we are the ones who have to fight that through faith.  Each chorus is a set-up with a rallying cry—Verse 1: “The enemy is at the gate, so let them hear this sound…sing it!” Verse 2: “The time has come to raise our voice, we know who wears the crown…sing it!”  And, yes, I might have those backwards. (Laughter)

PRR:  I was just thinking about that… (Laughs)

Stayce:  I just pictured all of us on the field of battle when He returns, taking it all back…

PRR:  Not to get too political here, but the song does spark some of that line of thought, at least for me.  To me, I think too many people are looking to the wrong leaders for answers on questions that shouldn’t be hard to answer.  Everybody is fighting for the wrong things, and like you said, when the final battle comes, He’s going to set everything straight that we have managed to mess up.

Stayce:  Well, that is an absolute truth.  The Bible says that in the end times, that which is good will be considered evil, and that which is bad will be considered good.  We are there.  Jesus is the real life Rocky.  Bring it on!

PRR:  Yeah, but from Rocky II.  He gets the win in that one! (Laughter)

Stayce:  (Laughs)  My wife was a little worried about those lyrics because she didn’t know if it would be too political.  I told her that maybe I was one of the people God intended to use to talk about it.  I’m
not waiting on the signs of the times at this point; I’m waiting on the trumpet to sound!

PRR:  Can you believe my wife hates the Rocky series?

Stayce:  What?!  Take that back!  (Laughs)  It’s like Tombstone…I watch it every time I can!

PRR:  Oh, she LOVES Tombstone!

Stayce:  Well, she’s obviously a genius! (Laughs)

PRR: Two songs seem to kind of play off the Gravedigger theme.  One is definitely a top three or four song for me, and that is “Ghosts”, which is just a great, great song…

Stayce:  One of my faces, as well!  So, here’s how that happened.  I’m driving to work, and the title, “Ghosts”, drops into my head.  So, I did what I always do—I started singing it and immediately heard the keyboard riff, and I knew I had one.  I hit record on my phone and sang what became the bones of the chorus.  I didn’t have the verses yet, but I trust my instincts enough at this point to know that as soon as I sat down that weekend to record the verses would be there, waiting…and they were!  What I wasn’t really prepared for was the cool breakdown after the second chorus where it goes into an almost Queen-type of bridge.  There are a couple of half-diminished chords in there that felt a little Chris Cornell-ish, but, like I always say, the song wanted what the song wanted.

You are right about the related songs, though.  There is a common thread of mortality in this album.  Me and the guys did talk that through, and we wanted to focus a bit on that theme, lyrically, so I did.  “Gravedigger”, “The Undertaker”, “AfterLife”…mortality was certainly a focus…

PRR:  Yep, and “The Undertaker” is the other one I was going to mention. 

Stayce:  Yes, a favorite for me…

PRR:  My son was waiting for the pro wrestler’s entrance thee to start the song! (Laughs)

Stayce: (Laughter) Love it!  You know, John Elefante taught me a very important lesson 30 years ago about lyrics and I’m sure he still feels the same way. “If it sings good, it is good.”  I stand by that.  When you hear “The Undertaker”, you already know how it should sing.  Same with “Gravedigger”,  or “Evie’s Little Garden”…

PRR:  Were you surprised at all by how quickly you were able to turn around after Evie’s…?  I mean, a year between albums is pretty much unheard of now, unlike when KISS was putting out an album…or two…per year in the 1970s…

Stayce:  No, not at all.  I play with two brilliant musicians, and these boys wanted tunes.  We could probably knock out two albums per year if we had the budget.  But, we are also aware of the danger in saturating the marketplace with a brand.  After the Christmas album is done in a few months, we will probably pump the brakes for a second to recharge.  And trust me; you do have to do that after putting out a project, just to get perspective and wait for new ideas.

What I’d love to do is produce other bands, because my creative spigot just keeps on going, even when I don’t want it too, like at three in the morning! (Laughs)  I hear a lot of bands out there that could be great if they just had some quality songs.  I think I could help in that capacity.  I think I would be well suited for what John and Dino did so many years ago because, like them, I can hear the end result before it’s happened.

PRR:  Did I just hear the words “Christmas album”?  Does that make this more of your Halloween record?  At least thematically? (Laughs)

Stayce:  Actually, there is a funny story there, as we actually are going to be on a Halloween album!  Roxx Records asked for permission to put “Gravedigger” on a Halloween-themed Christian rock album they are putting out.  We resoundingly said yes!

PRR:  Roxx is great!

Stayce:  Bill’s a great guy, yeah, and I love working with him when an opportunity arises. I love what he has done for this type of music.

PRR:  Did you know Bill and I put out a two-disc tribute to Deliverance a few years ago? 

Stayce:  I did, in fact!

PRR:  So, in all the years The Brave has been around, who were some of the bigger secular bands you have played with over the years?

Stayce:  Loverboy…Foreigner…those guys are probably the biggest.

PRR:  I’m a huge Foreigner/Lou Gramm fan!

Stayce:  Absolutely.  I love both Foreigner and Loverboy, and bands like that…Night Ranger, Journey, Styx…  That’s how I learned to write songs…

PRR:  God bless Mike Reno’s headband! (Laughs) 

Stayce:  (Laughs) And his stretch pants!  But the guy always sounds killer!  I love singers like that—Lou Gramm, John Elefante, Steve Perry, Mike Reno…all the greats.

PRR:  What about on the Strip?  Ever play with any of the big MTV bands?

Stayce:  Not on the Strip, no.  The Christian bands were always grouped together on Christian nights, along with our peers.  But like I said, I knew a lot of those guys…

PRR:  With all of these festivals brining back the 80s bands…I know Barren Cross just reformed for ImmortalFest with Whitecross, Les Carlsen, Daniel Band, Saint, Fear Not…some of those bands…Sacred Warrior…are there plans for The Brave to try to get in front of people?

Stayce:  Not unless we can do it the right way.  We’d all love to do it, but we would need additional help.  Mainly, vocally, I can’t do it all—I need some background peeps to help Malcolm and me nail it.  Would we do it?  Yes, yes, yes!  And the best part of it, we are actually better live! 

We love to rehearse, but we’re in different states at the moment, so I would need time with the guys to get it right.  But, what we do have that is kind of rare, is a deep catalog.  Who knows what tunes we might pull out of a hat.  And there WILL be a new album next year, probably around October or November.   But imagine a set list like this…  “The River” “All Together Now”, “We’re Not In Kansas Anymore”, “I’ve Always Wondered”, “If That Ain’t Love”, “Trust”, “Dirty Water”, “Creep”, “The Undertaker”, “Gravedigger”…the list goes on and on.

PRR:  A lot of bands, such as KISS, have been heavily criticized for using vocal tracks.  On the flip side, Motley Crue is being criticized because Vince can’t sing all of the songs correctly.  Is there a happy medium, or is 100% live the only honest way to do it?

Stayce:  I see no problem with tracks if you have to use them, but the band still has to deliver the goods.  My vocals have to be on, the harmonies have to be right, the band needs to play their instruments.  But, like the intro to “Evie’s…”, some of those sound effects, the keyboard parts, you, as a fan, paid good money to see an show an you should get one with all the bells and whistles.  When you see a movie, Superman can’t really fly, and Batman isn’t really able to soar up a building with a Bat cable, but it’s what’s needed to entertain people sometimes.  As long as you do it right, no problem here.  Skillet uses them, Metallica uses them…tons of bands do.  But, I’ll tell you what, you WILL be entertained as a result.  But, if the lead singer is using tracks, that’s useless.

PRR:  Years ago, Intense Records put out their “Intense Live” series, which was their bands doing live, in-studio recordings of classic tracks and covers.  Would you consider doing that with The Brave?  I’d buy it…

Stayce:  Well, we only like to do what challenges us.  No challenge, no interest.  Like, on our next album, what is it going to be?  Well, I’ll tell you, it will be the best that we’ve got in that moment!  We are a song band, nothing else.  We like to push ourselves to play stuff that isn’t easy, but we still make it work for the song.  And more than anything, we want you, the listener, to enjoy it along with us.


Whew!  There you have it folks!  You wanted information about The Brave, and you got it!  Much, much thanks to Stayce Roberts for being such a GREAT interview, for taking the time out of multiple days to chat with me, and for answering anything I threw at him!  Believe it or not, this isn't everything we talked about!  Maybe we'll get to more later.  In the meantime, I can't encourage you enough to get out there and order your copy of Gravedigger now, as well as any music from The Brave that you may have missed over the years!  And check back soon for our review of Gravedigger right here!


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