Within America’s storied lineage of tastemaking DJs, Eddie Trunk stands alone.
Sure, there were pioneers like Alan Freed in the 50s and the gravelly-voiced Wolfman Jack in the 60s and 70s, whose spirited promotion of African-American R&B indelibly shaped America’s mainstream music appetite for decades to follow. Casey Kasem enjoyed an uncontested reign over America’s Top 40 pop charts for nearly twenty years, stretching deep into the late-80s, but in the trenches of hard rock and heavy metal, no other disc jockey boasts the longevity or the sway of Eddie Trunk.
Now entering his fourth decade of slinging metal to the masses, Eddie set the cornerstone of his legacy with a niche radio show in the early-80s that celebrated the decade’s burgeoning metal scene–now regarded as a Golden Era in heavy metal. Over thirty years later, Eddie still hosts that show, Eddie Trunk Rocks, on New York’s Q104.3, as well as a weekly live music and interview show on SiriusXM. These days however, he is best known for his on-camera job as host of VH1 Classic’s That Metal Show—the centerpiece of VH1 Classic’s original programming and a bona fide new institution in music television. Hosted by Eddie and comedians Jim Florentine and Don Jamieson, TMS just kicked off its thirteenth season, slightly tweaking their blend of guests to include personalities from outside the strictures of metal; the new season, filmed from New York City this year, will include interviews with hard rock legends like Ace Frehley, Peter Criss and Lida Ford, as well as members of iconic metal merchants such as Anthrax, Megadeth and more contemporary acts like Lamb of God and Avenged Sevenfold.
Against the backdrop of Motley Crüe’s recent announcement that they were calling it a day, we sat down with Eddie to ask him what other legendary groups should consider hanging it up and which ones should keep going. We also discussed the upcoming guest appearance with Ted Nugent, and to what extent it is possible to separate a musician’s creative output from their public persona.
This season is number lucky thirteen for That Metal Show– what have you got in store?
We’ve had three episodes already and this weekend we’ve got Ted Nugent on for the full hour. The biggest difference is that for the first time ever, we’re doing the episodes on a weekly basis. We used to fly out to L.A. and do two shows a day, which VH1 would then roll them out over the course of a couple of months. Now we’re taping every Tuesday night and people are seeing them that Saturday, so they’re very fresh to air. The other big difference is that we’re doing it in New York City, where we started.
How about the format? Same framework as past seasons?
Well, we introduced a lot of new features into the show and the show is more spontaneous this season as well; sometimes we don’t know we’re going to do something until an hour before we do it, so it’s a totally different way of working than we have in the past, and we’re having a lot of fun. Also, the last few seasons have been eight episodes, but because we’re saving a little money on travel this season, we’re going to be doing twelve episodes. We’ll be taping straight through the end of March.
The last time that we spoke, you had begun pushing the show’s boundaries past pure metal, into other areas like rock and alternative. What’s the plan for this season?
The big thing is that we’re now really all over the map. At its core, the show is still a classic rock, hard rock and metal show but there’s a lot of variation going on now. We have this segment that we call “Metal Modem” where we have the artists in via Skype and we talk to them for a few minutes. In those segments we’ve had Amon Amarth, Halestorm and Ben from Dillinger Escape Plan–artists who we wouldn’t necessarily have sitting on the set with us the whole time because they might be a little bit newer or outside of the world that the channel focuses on, but we’re able to give these artists a platform and that’s been a good thing.
What sort of non-metal guests might we expect this season?
We’ve got this one thing that just came together where we do a full-on classic rock episode where we’re going to have Leslie West (Mountain) and we’re going to have Mick Jones from Foreigner. In this week’s show, we have Alter Bridge, and we also have a guy by the name of Matt Nathanson, who is not a metal artist at all—he’s a singer/songwriter whose connection is that he’s a huge metal fan and we found out about him because he performed on Jay Leno wearing a That Metal Show t-shirt. So he got on our radar and VH1 Classic approached us and asked if we’d have this guy on because even though he doesn’t play metal, he’s such a fan of it and of the show that it would be fun to do, so we’re spreading out for sure and taking some chances. We’re even having some non-musicians on, like Morgan Spurlock and some comedians who are fans of the music.
I know that this is always a popular question for you, but with each season you seem to scratch a few names off, so who’s left on your hit list of guests you’d love to have on That Metal Show but who haven’t appeared yet? Who’s your top five?
Wow. So many. Well, Eddie Van Halen would be one. I only interviewed him once, around the time of Van Halen III, and it was on the radio, and I’d love to really get into an in-depth discussion with him. Of course, we ask every season and they pass every season because he doesn’t want to do press. Another guy that’s heavily-requested is James Hetfield. He’s come up to me personally and said that he loves the show and he watches it and he feels that it’s important, but he’s not personally that comfortable about doing a TV interview. We’ve had Lars (Ulrich) on twice and we’ve had Kirk Hammett on, and he kind of leaves it to those guys to do that sort of stuff for the band. We’d love to have Ozzy, but Sharon (Osbourne, his wife and manager), won’t let him do it. We’d love to have Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley from KISS, but they won’t do it because they don’t like me or us or things that we say, so instead of coming on and debating and discussing it with us, they just choose not to come on. Those are the top guys.
You’ve got Ted Nugent this season. He’s certainly mastered the craft of dropping attention-grabbing comments but do you think that he’s still relevant as a musician?
Well, I think so, in the sense that I think that his music still holds up incredibly well. I wrote about this in my new book, which has a whole chapter devoted to Ted. People have almost forgotten the musician he is; he’s a tremendous guitar player and he’s a tremendous performer. His music from the 70s—”Stranglehold,” “Cat Scratch Fever” and all of those—that stuff still holds up incredibly well, at least to me. He has become known for so much besides the music these days that whatever his stance is on politics, guns or hunting, I think that people forget and almost now look at him as a musician in a secondary way. For me it’s not like that.
But do you think it’s realistically possible for people to now look at his music independently of his political persona?
I do not agree with every position that Ted Nugent has, but I love outspoken people and I love people who aren’t afraid to give their opinion when asked and even if I don’t agree with them, I respect their willingness to do that, because it’s very rare. As soon as [Ted Nugent’s appearance was] announced, the stuff started pouring in online and in my Twitter feed, with some people saying, “How can you have that guy on?” and other saying they were thrilled to have him on. But one thing that most people said was that because this is on That Metal Show, they wanted the conversation to be about music, and I can tell you now that we’ve shot it, that it is. It’s 95% about music and it’s something that I really wanted to do and he couldn’t have been more happy to talk music with us. Listen, it’s not going to change anything; if people hate Ted Nugent, they’re still gonna hate Ted Nugent (laughing) and people who love Nugent will still love him. I fall somewhere in the middle. I love his music and I’m split on some of his positions, but we kept it to music and it was a lot of fun and man, does that guy have some energy for sixty-five years old…
For this season’s debut, your guests included Jason Hook from Five Finger Death Punch and M. Shadows, from Avenged Sevenfold. Those two groups seem to have risen above pretty vocal detractors, both critical and online, and they’re now getting some legitimate mainstream momentum. Of those two bands, which one do you think has a better chance of reaching the prominence of a band like Metallica?
That’s tough to say… It seems to me that Avenged is probably a little further along on that path. I think they have a longer history, they have a larger fan base at this point—they’re already an arena headliner—and I’d say that they are a little bit more headed in that direction. The other thing that Avenged Sevenfold has done to go in that direction with their new album is to actually go in a more Metallica/Guns N’ Roses kind of riff and hook-based direction. Throughout their history, they’ve gone in a lot of different directions with their records and M. said on the show that that will likely continue; they might move towards a more extreme sound and he might go back to screaming more. Avenged Sevenfold was a band that I had heard about for a long time, where people said they could be the next great metal band, and they could be the next Metallica. I never heard it, honestly, until this record and then when I heard the hooks I thought, “OK, now I see where that talk is coming from.” Of course, the knock on them is that they’ve actually borrowed from those bands, directly, and it’s a little too close for comfort. But both bands have had top-selling number one records, and that’s rare in rock and metal these days and as a rock fan, that’s nice to see and it’s something I’m rooting for.
Going in the other direction, with the news of Motley Crüe’s farewell tour, one might wonder what other legendary acts would do well to hang it up. So I’m going to throw a couple at you and ask you to opine whether they should keep going or give it up. Let’s start with AC/DC.
Well, they’re not doing anything. (laughing) They haven’t done anything for a couple of years and I think they’re probably bigger now than they’ve ever been in their history, by not doing anything.
But do you think they have anything relevant to say anymore? From the perspective of new music?
Yeah. Yes, I think AC/DC transcends everything, and I think that if AC/DC makes a great record, it will certainly be played and embraced more so than any heritage hard rock band. They’re probably the biggest band in the world in that genre. One of the big problems I see in music these days is over-exposure and over-touring. It makes shows much less special when you can see an artist three times in a year. Every band is on the road way too much, they’re way too accessible and it takes away from the mystique of seeing a band live. So if a band can afford to stay off the road and out of the spotlight, I think it helps them immeasurably when they come back because there’s more of a demand and if people can only see one show, then hell, that’s the show they’re going to go see. I think that AC/DC is the kind of band where they’ll come back, they’ve got a shot with new music and they’ll probably play stadiums anywhere in the world.
What about Guns N’ Roses?
The current incarnation?
Well, I don’t think that you’re going to get any new music for awhile. I don’t think that Guns N’ Roses is really built on new music. Chinese Democracy was a grower for a lot of people; a lot of people kind of like that record now, but they’re not going to be a prolific band. There are too many moving parts; there are too many things to wind up to get everybody into the studio to make a record. I hope I’m wrong but I just don’t see that band making records on any sort of regular basis, if at all, again. I think that’s a band that’s more just trading off the name and the history and the frontman. It’s a band that’s a tremendous band—the musicians in that band are phenomenal.
So what happens to them from here?
To me it all falls on Axl’s shoulders. If Axl can still bring the energy and still sing, then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t do it. I have to say though, I don’t look at Guns N’ Roses, this version of the band, as “Guns N’ Roses.” I see it as what it is—a completely different beast. If people tell me they saw Guns N’ Roses, I say, “Well, were you at the Ritz on the Appetite tour, because that’s where you saw Guns N’ Roses.” My only criticism with the current Guns N’ Roses is that I think they should play shorter. I think that they play too long. Their shows are like three, three and a half hours every time, and I just think that any time any band gets past the two hour mark, it gets to be a little too long. I’d rather have a concise, hour and forty-five minute or two hour set than a three hour set filled with a bunch of guitar solos and stuff because I think that drains the energy. Listen, if they do make a record again, because it’s going to have the name “Guns N’ Roses” on it, there’s going to be an interest in it. Whether it transcends the first two weeks of sales or not, like with every other rock act, is another question.
What about Def Leppard?
Again, certainly still viable as a live act. Joe (Elliott, Def Leppard singer) will be the first to tell you that he does his best with those vocals, which are way up there and sometimes hard for him to reach, but I saw the Hysteria concert film from Vegas and I was really impressed. I thought he did better than I’d heard him do in a long time singing that stuff. So live, they’re certainly viable but let’s be honest, it’s about the history and it’s about Pyromania and Hysteria when they play live. My favorite Def Leppard album is High and Dry. I’m not saying that they have to go back to that level but something less produced and more hard rock, in-your-face than the more lavish and heavily-produced stuff they’ve been trying to do.
But honestly Joe, the truth of the matter is that whether it’s relevant and viable and whether it has a fighting chance at radio or sales is anyone’s guess. I don’t know if we’ll ever see any of these bands break through again with a legitimate hit song. It’s really depressing when you think about it, because they’ve made really great music, but everybody carries on about first week sales. All of these artists are going to have great first week sales, but where are they in week eight? Where are they in week ten? That’s the real question. Most of them are off the charts or sinking quickly because there’s no sustaining support, so any band with name value is going to have a great week or two in the charts. People went crazy about Sabbath scoring a number one record, and I was happy as well, but let’s be honest, where was that record five or six weeks later?
One last question—of all the up-and-coming acts, what’s the best album you’ve heard in recent memory?
Well, the band that comes right off the top of my head is a band from Texas called Scorpion Child. I recommended them a couple weeks ago on the show. Very big riff-based hard rock and great vocals, and those are the things I really like.