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SoulMonster

2013.06.27 - Interview with Richard in STL Beacon

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2013.06.27 - Interview with Richard in STL Beacon

Post by Soulmonster on Thu Jun 27, 2013 1:12 am

Encore: Richard Fortus and Pale Divine reunite again
By Thomas Crone, special to the Beacon
6:40 am on Thu, 06.27.13


Forgive the slight back-patting, but months before The Fortune Teller opened on Cherokee Street, I predicted that the bar would become a hub for the neighborhood, a night-extending destination for both the hyper-local residents and plenty of visitors from outside its growing corner of the City. And so it’s gone, with streetside tables filled nightly, often by painters, musicians, creatives of all stripes.

About a week back, a man named Richard Fortus was eyeballed at one of those tables, joined by a small group of friends. An internationally in-demand guitarist and arranger, Fortus has spent the past two decades crafting his own rock’n’roll fantasy, as a session and touring guitarist, and as a permanent, longstanding member of Guns n’ Roses, a gig that’s just one of many projects.

In a private moment, he admits that his high-profile gigs over the years, plus a long run as a member of the locally famous Pale Divine, make his face known around town. On this night, though, the script was rewritten, to unintentionally hilarious effect.

Three young men, obviously impacted by earlier drinks, walked into The Fortune Teller. Whether they quickly downed shots, or were simply shown the door, they were out of the room as quickly as they were in, spilling onto Cherokee with a strange look about them.

Within seconds, they made an announcement: They were going to perform standup comedy. Right there and then. The trio’s nominal leader decided that his gags were going to include Fortus, specifically his tattoos, of which there are many. The jokes fell flat. Painfully so. Even their buzz couldn’t give them the nerve to keep going, and they drifted away to mild applause, with Fortus among those clapping.

Rehearsing earlier this week with Pale Divine, Fortus sits outside the group’s Utopia Studios practice room. Opening up about his life, he says that he’s tasted fame, sure, and he’s aware of how traveling with world-famous acts can change environments.

“That’s why I never pay attention to how people treat me, as much as how they treat people around me,” he says. “That’s when you get to know someone’s true personality.”

He then tells a story about Bob Dylan reflecting on his own fame, how he changes the mood of any room he enters. “Thank God, I’m not Bob Dylan,” he says.

But he is Richard Fortus. And right about now, that’s a pretty good thing to be.

A reunion years in the making

When Richard Fortus and Michael Schaerer were teenagers, students at the City’s Visual and Performing Arts High School, they augmented their daylong music lessons by forming a band, based in both hard rock and the Anglo pop sounds of the mid-late ‘80s. Recruiting hard-hitting drummer Greg Miller, The Eyes began a real ascent, ultimately becoming of the top club draws in St. Louis, during a particularly rich time for local, original music. The band’s classic lineup would be finalized with the addition of bassist Dan Angenend Jr.

Though they gigged all over, The Eyes became synonymous with the clubs on Laclede’s Landing, their shows at Kennedy’s, in particular, more “event”-like than your average local gig. Parlaying the group’s strong regional success into a deal with Atlantic Records, the group was redubbed Pale Divine. As that, they released one album, “Straight to Goodbye,” before issues with the label and soft sales derailed their career.

Fortus was off the train before it stopped completely, as he lit away to New York to join the Psychedelic Furs, a band that took Pale Divine (now with well-regarded guitarist Lliam Christy) on the road.

“Going to New York,” he says, “thrust me into this scene. I was instantly given a certain amount of credibility because of the notoriety of the band I was joining. Because I was coming in to join the Furs, I had cachet to be in the whole art scene, the circle they ran in. I’m meeting musicians, directors, models, photographers, artists, it all was all there. I was a kid, and a sponge. I kept my mouth shut and learned and listened. And I kept getting asked to play with so many great people that I grew up admiring. My heroes. It was a constant state of amazement to me. I’m playing with Mick Jagger, Tom Tom Club, Billy Idol. It’s like ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this.’ You step back and think, ‘How did this happen?’”

Over the years, Fortus has been recruited play with everyone from hard-rock pioneers Thin Lizzy to German singer Nena to international popstar Rihanna. And a discussion about bands that unsuccessfully recruited him leads to a funny moment at Utopia, a lounge filled with high-hanging band posters. He ticks off names of some groups that he’s turned down, “Alice Cooper. Bowie. That was one that really hurt. Iggy Pop was another one that really hurt. Those are two gigs I would have liked. Nine Inch Nails is another; Trent (Reznor) even released for a second that I was joining, but he was doing that to stir up shit with Axl (Rose).”

Seeing the posters, his memory is jogged and points up continuing the list.

“Ministry’s approached me,” he says. “The Mission UK, too, but I might still do some things with them. Ian (Astbury of The Cult), I have played with, a number of times. Does this sound arrogant? It doesn’t? Now, Jimi Hendrix, he never calls me.”

Asked what groups he’s involved with now, “Officially, I guess I’m in the Dead Daisies and Guns n’ Roses,” he says, pausing just a beat. “And Pale Divine.”
A weekend at the Pageant

On Saturday night, Pale Divine will headline The Pageant, with support from one of their favorite groups from the day, The Finns, aka The Finns Brothers. (I’ll be onstage DJ-ing, gratis, before and between sets by both groups.) While rehearsing at Utopia, it’s obvious that the group has effortlessly slid back into their roles as friends, needling one another and commiserating in equal measure.

“Bands are so much like relationships,” Angenend says. “Within the band, we were just talking about this, how cool it all is now. There are no resentments. There’s no baloney. It’s all just so easy.”

As Schearer rolls into rehearsal, dripping wet from an outrageously heavy summer rainstorm, Fortus wryly notes that Schaerer’s now the first member to grab gear for tear-down, unprecedented in the old days.

“I can say it in front of him,” Fortus cracks. “Here’s a guy who would never load out equipment, ever. It’s as unbelievable as it welcome. It’s weird to be at this new point in our history.”

And history’s exactly what the group will be doling out this Saturday. Asked to assess the group’s originals, many of them now a quarter-century old, Fortus views them with a mix of skepticism and joy.

“Some of the songs, I’m like ‘This is crap, what we were thinking?’” he says. “On other ones, it’s ‘This is a great song, why wasn’t this band huge?’ There’re moments of both. But that’s art, in general. … The later Pale stuff, some of the demos ... the recordings aren’t so good, they’re just rough demos. But ‘Together Alone,’ ‘My Only You,’ ‘Love Song,’ ‘Island,” all are really strong songs. They far exceed what we did on ‘Straight to Goodbye,’ though I think ‘Straight to Goodbye’ and ‘Sorrow’ are great songs. Lyrically, there are some embarrassing moments, for both Michael and me. But I can hear us finding our way, song structure-wise, harmonically. I can see that we were growing. My own playing was sometimes ... not juvenile, but a little undeveloped. Ambitious, but not quite restrained enough.”

Fortus sings the praises of The Pageant as a venue, which he feels is the perfect room for the band, at this point in their life together. Adding the people is the only ingredient that’s a variable. But the past two performances suggest that a big crowd will find their way to The Loop for the gig.

“The first one was amazing,” he recalls. “I really remember talking to Michael beforehand and saying, ‘do you think anyone cares? Does anyone remember?’ He said, ‘totally.’ But to see a sold-out house, everyone singing along, that really hit me hard. That was overwhelming. It’s so cool to think that you’ve impacted lives like that. I hear from people on my website and on Facebook, about what the songs meant to them. It’s interesting. That stuff was important to me, that time affected me. But it’s different when you’re onstage, performing and playing. You’re going for that place where you’re lost in yourself. You’re there, but your memories aren’t the same.”

This Saturday, all parties involved get another ride in the wayback machine. After hearing the band during rehearsal, here’s another prediction: they’ll be ready to do their part, with both humility and swagger to spare.
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Re: 2013.06.27 - Interview with Richard in STL Beacon

Post by puddledumpling on Sat Jun 29, 2013 3:32 pm

I too would have enjoyed hearing Richard tour and/or record with Bowie.
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