An Interview with Simon Daniels of Autograph

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By the time he was 23 years old, Simon Daniels was already an established musician in his native Brazil.

Determined to achieve international success, however, Daniels flocked to Los Angeles in 1985 in hopes of capitalizing on a booming music scene.

Within months, Daniels met acclaimed producer Kim Fowley and began to integrate himself into the culture. When he wasn’t networking, Daniels would bullishly peruse the ad section looking for an opportunity. 

One day, he stumbled on a manager looking for a singer for a band called Agent X. Daniels eventually forged a relationship with guitarist Billy D’Vette, establishing the band’s newfound foundation. With Fowley backing the group, Agent X produced the six-song album Rock ‘N’ Roll Angels in 1987.

After a brief taste of success, Daniels remained intent on carving out a sustainable career in music. He quickly found his footing with Jailhouse, a band many believed to be the next L.A. Hard Rock act poised for stardom. 

The group headlined notable L.A. venues such as The Country Club and The Roxy and produced a live album in 1989 entitled Alive In A Mad World.

Though the band ultimately splintered and the musical landscape shifted in favor of a new sound, the multi-faceted Daniels continued to flex his creative muscles throughout the 90s.

As fate would have it, it was an opportunity to reunite Jailhouse at the Monsters of Rock Cruise in 2013 that inadvertently led him to his next endeavor. 

Looking to reinvent their sound, another band from yesteryear, Autograph, was searching for a singer to modernize the lineup. Daniels, whose vision aligned with that of original members Randy Rand and Steve Lynch, solidified the revitalized incarnation. Seven years and two albums later, Autograph has shown no signs of slowing down.

I recently sat down with the Autograph frontman to discuss his musical journey.

Andrew:
Simon, you spent the first 23 years of your life living in Brazil. What exactly prompted you to move to L.A.? Was there a specific draw or opportunity?

Simon:
A little bit of a combination because I was pretty much done there with the music industry. I knew that there was not much there that I could do, and I wanted to be an international artist. I knew pretty much right away if you made in here – from New York or from L.A. – it’s kind of one big shot because the whole world, in terms of Rock music, follows everything that comes out of it. And I had a friend of mine who was spending some time here. He said, “You wanna come down here and spend six months with me?” I said, “Yeah.” Three months later, I’d already met [producer] Kim Fowley. It was very fast; when I got here, I got in with the scene immediately. I just got to know everybody, all the clubs, and everything, because I came here and I had two albums under my belt. Even though it was not from here, the people were pretty impressed because it was incredibly difficult to get a record deal here in that era. I don’t know; things just fell into place. I knew right away, after the 2-3 months that I was here, that everything was getting better and better.

Andrew:
Unlike many artists, your introduction to the Los Angeles music scene doesn’t sound like a fish-out-of-the-water experience. You seemed to forge relationships right away.

Simon:
I didn’t know anybody. When I came here, it was the similarity of taste and lifestyle that I already knew—the American way of life. Once again, we’re talking about 1985 in the world, so it was a completely different time period. You could be much more of an artist here; you could dress how you wanted; you could write what you wanted. It was a lot of freedom, wherein these other places, it was very conformed. You had to conform to certain trends and whatever. Compared to where I came from, you know – and people would talk to everybody on the street. That’s not something that happens in the rest of the world, where you can just introduce yourself to somebody anywhere. You just don’t do that in certain places; that’s bizarre.

I didn’t know anybody, but I came here and felt very much connected and at home. And, of course, that probably translated in my energy to the people I met. There was no resistance, and I just kept molding myself and molding myself and absorbing. It really identified with what I wanted to do; I wanted to play in bands; I wanted to play in front of Rock audiences; I wanted to be in a place where record labels were.

Andrew:
How soon after arriving in Los Angeles did you form Agent X with Billy [D’Vette], and what was the band’s blueprint?

Simon:
I got here at the end of ’85. At the beginning of ’86, I remember the first show that I saw was King Kobra with Carmine [Appice], doing a countdown for New Year’s Eve at the Country Club here in Reseda. That was like two months after I was here. Then I called some ads, I found a manager – a guy that was looking for a singer for a band called Agent X. I just volunteered myself; he didn’t want to see me, but I said I had two albums and then he did want to see me. Then I went over to his office and he was very supportive; he became my manager for like four years. He managed that band; Billy was like a second formation of the band. That’s when he said, “Look, there’s this guy Kim Fowley, he’s doing demos, he’s getting bands record deals. He likes the band a lot.” So, from there on, we finished, I think, the EP and it got a lot of interest.

Andrew:
What was it like working with a producer of Kim’s stature, whose lengthy resume included The Runaways and KISS?

Simon:
It was a very interesting first experience. Nothing was ever like that afterward. Kim was a person who didn’t play any instruments and who didn’t sing; he was not a musician, unlike most producers. He knew how to get something out of you. He understood what the audience wants; he’d push buttons and pinch nerves, but in a bad way, necessarily. He was a very crazy guy; very creative, crazy guy; So, it was a good way to break me into the scene, because after I had Kim, I never had a producer as insane as he was. So, I’m like, “If this is how crazy it can get, I can handle this easily,” because everybody that I worked with afterward was pretty down to earth. It was great; he always spoke in metaphors and you had to really click in to understand how the guy was. He was basically out of this world, but in his own way, I identified with him.

When he worked with me in the studio for vocals, he got the best out of me. And not by telling me what notes to sing or anything technical, more in terms of giving these visual scenarios; almost like an actor that’s living the lyrics and exposing emotions. I was able to really capitalize on the emotions. It was great working with him; he was not the typical producer. Sometimes he was late; he called me many times at one o’clock in the morning; one of those guys, but it was an incredible experience. Then that ran its course and I moved on.

Andrew:
How did you transition to Jailhouse and connect with Matt, Dave, and Amir?

Simon:
Well, there was a first formation of the band. So, it was Agent X with this manager, and this manager told me he met a guy who was very talented named Michael Raphael from San Francisco. So, he hooked me up with him, and we pretty much hit it off and started writing some stuff. The style was more something I liked; the guys from Agent X were just doing music for, to a certain degree, a hobby. They were going to school; they had jobs. They were doing it, but not so easy. And they were not really. It was a good way to play some clubs and get to know people. But when I met [Michael], he was a real writer, so we decided, “Let’s do a four-piece band.” He gets a couple of guys, and the manager was backing us up, so it just kind of went toward that direction. So, we did that for about a year. We played at the Whisky, and Dave Alford of Rough Cutt was there. He came to me after the show, “We’re looking for a singer,” this and that. The next day, I was at Wendy Dio’s office, but we ended up not using her and continuing with this manager that I had. Then Matt [Thorne] and Amir [Derakh] became very good friends, and so that was the story of the merger between Rough Cutt and Jailhouse.

Andrew:
You arrived in Los Angeles at the height of the music scene in 1985. If you could, set the scene for me, what was the Sunset Strip like in those days?

Simon:
Well, it was my home for many years. Throughout the whole 80s, that’s all I did all the time; go there, promote, visit record labels, and go to these places and play. I played all those clubs a million times. The first time I played the Roxy was opening for The Knack, so that was a cool thing. When the Rough Cutt guys got in the band, they had a little more leverage, because they had a new album. Even though they didn’t have a hit or anything locally, it was considered to a certain standard. So, immediately, we started playing the Country Club and headlining because of the buzz. It was incredible; you’d just go to a place where you can park your car and walk up and down the street. There’s all these clubs and all these bands, and magazines, reporters, and girls. The support for the bands was incredible and people were so enthusiastic. The record labels were always around, so there was always a reason to play, because you could be seen by somebody. It was everything that you could imagine from a guy that’s coming from Brazil could ever dream. I was sure that was not happening anywhere else in the world.

Andrew:
Jailhouse released a live album in 1989 called Alive In A Mad World. How did the opportunity present itself and what do you recall from the recording process?

Simon:
We were starting to shop the band once Matt, Amir, and David were in the band. We started playing a lot and labels started getting interested. We decided, “Let’s take it a notch up and do an EP.” Restless Records, which was, and the time part of Enigma Records – which was part of Capitol Records at the time – they came and said, “Why don’t we go do a live EP?” So, we decided to do it at the Roxy and donate some of the funds to teenage runaways – I don’t remember the name exactly – but we did something to help and be productive. Some of the songs, the lyrics were more than just the typical Rock N’ Roll, because [Michael] liked to write things that were a little deeper. We went to the Roxy, and Riki Rachtman from Headbanger’s Ball is the one introducing us on the album. So, we had all the guys from Faster Pussycat, LA Guns, Guns N’ Roses – everybody was around. If you got into that scene, you got to meet everybody right away; Billy Idol, Vince Neil, and all those guys. When the Strip would close at 1:30-2:00 in the morning, everybody would go and party in the Hollywood Hills. It was very much fun. As you know, in that era, there was not economic and political – there were other problems – but not what it is right now. People were striving financially.

So, we did the EP at the Roxy; we fixed some things in the studio, put it out, sort of independently through Restless, then we got a deal with Enigma Records. Then we went through the whole pre-production of the album. Then like a month before we’re supposed to start recording, I went to the Palladium and ran into Robert Sweet from Stryper. He said, “The label just filed Chapter 11.” And I said, “What!?” He said, “Yeah, Capitol let Enigma go. So, they’re just going to keep Poison, keep us, and a couple of others.” So, we were without a home at that point, and then each member of the band started moving in a different direction, and we were done. But we played a lot, and we toured; we played Canada; we were gonna go to Japan, but we didn’t go for a stupid reason. In terms of being in California and local, we actually did a whole tour of the United States, a club tour. But that thing ran its course, too, because at the beginning of ’90 or ’91, when Grunge started, you had to move on.

Andrew:
The ’90s are often regarded as a volatile time for musicians of your era. How did you manage to navigate the altered musical landscape?

Simon:
I found in myself what I liked about it, and I changed my name, cut my hair, and reinvented myself. I dug inside of me for a little more substance in music. Went to the store, bought a keyboard, bought drums, bought a bass. I’m a guitar player, too, so I’m always playing guitar. At that time, I started getting into Stone Temple Pilots, and I started getting into Alice In Chains. I didn’t rebel like most 80s rockers. I never liked bands liked Pearl Jam; the real sloppy, whining kind of thing I never liked. Even though I respect Nirvana tremendously, I never wanted to be that. Other bands, like Stone Temple Pilots, Alice In Chains – even the girl singers at the time I really liked, like Alanis Morissette – I started getting into that kind of stuff, and then I formed a band called Flood. We got with this producer, Bob Marlette, who ended up doing a lot of stuff, and we were signed to Interscope Records. We had this incredible album and we were signed from ’93-’98, and the record was remastered, this and that. Then two weeks before the record was supposed to come out, an executive decided that – we were signed by the guy that signed No Doubt, so we thought we had pretty good clout with him – but there was a superior guy who one day went to Interscope about a month before the record was supposed to come out. He said, “Look, I want to drop all of the bands I personally didn’t sign. Otherwise, I’m gonna go to Hollywood Records.” And there was a big scandal there.

So, they paid us some money to compensate for it and gave us the masters, and it was an album that we owned the rights to, but once you’re on the label for 4-5 years and the label lets you go, for whatever reason they let you go – we tried to get other labels to do it – but at that point, once again, you start having conflicts with members of the band. Half the band wanted to go full-on Grunge, and I started going more to the Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails vibe; I wanted to be more flashy; I wanted to deliver something a little more not so down-to-earth. More of a goth direction than the flannel shirt, I-am-a-bum-in-the-street kind of thing.

All this was confusing because that’s when I got into Prince. I always liked Prince, but I became obsessed with Prince for some reason in that era. He played all the instruments on his album, and he sang everything, and he did everything. I was very fascinated with the independence. I was getting tired of relying on band members. I was kind of getting fed up, always having to run everything through other people. I always had a natural ability to play other instruments, so I just locked myself inside of my apartment for a year. I went from instrument to instrument and taught myself and jammed. I started writing like crazy and really going into my emotions. The more I did it, the more I found out that I have it.

So, even though I was in Flood and waiting for a record to be released, in the back of my mind, I knew that anything could happen; nothing is guaranteed. They promised us at Interscope, “You guys are going to be so sick of touring. You guys are gonna do this. You guys are gonna do that.” We had a tour with White Zombie booked two weeks before they dropped us, so I was right. They were asking me in the band, “Why do you play drums? Why are you listening to Prince?” And I said, “Because I just want to improve my skills.” They said, “Our record is gonna come out!” I said, “Guys, I don’t want to jinx anything, but if I’m gonna be a musician, I better be the best thing I can be.” I can only count on myself, really. And then exactly what I was trying to defend myself against happened. That’s when I went and recorded an album called Human Being, which I played everything; the same thing that Prince did. I even put it on the album; produced, arranged, performed, written by Simon Daniels. It was an effort that I did on an 8-track digital machine; there were no pro tools or anything. I had a guy who had a digital 8-track at home, and he said, “I’ll go and record you.” So, I went there and pretty much played everything.

At that point, that was 1999 or around 2000; I created a band and did a lot of solo stuff. I pretty much did that until I got some guys that I started liking better, then I changed the name of the band so everybody would feel included, instead of the Simon Daniels Band. We called it First-Round Knockout. It was 1RKO, the initials.

Andrew:
Once Autograph decided to reform, I understand that it was your relationship with former drummer Keni Richards that prompted the audition?

Simon:
He became my friend for three months until he just lost his mind. When it was 2013, the guy who does the Monsters of Rock Cruise, Larry, was Jailhouse’s tour manager; he worked for Wendy Dio years before, and he started being successful with these cruises. He said, “Hey, you wanna do a Jailhouse reunion?” I said, “Yeah, sure. Why not?” So, we got together; Amir didn’t want to do it, so he didn’t go. We just did it as a four-piece; I played guitar. It was very much fun. Like two months later, there was a guy that called me and said, “There’s a band that’s kind of looking to reform, but they wanna reform as a newfound and stuff. I think that you would be perfect for them.” I said, “Who?” And he said, “Autograph.” I said, “Oh, okay. Cool. I always liked that band.” He said, “This guy Keni Richards is gonna call you.” So, we talked on the phone every day about everything. We even did a little writing. He was super excited. Then he hooked me up with Randy Rand, and we really hit it off well and became good friends. Randy lives in Marina Del Ray, which is close to my house, and Keni was living in Joshua Tree. Keni was involved with drugs. The first week or two that we talked on the phone, he was very coherent, but he started not making any sense.

There was no audition. I told them, “I’m not gonna be getting in this band to replace the original singer and just be like him. If that’s what you guys want, then I’m not the guy.” They said, “No, no, we wanna do something that’s not exactly what he was. Something more modern; something heavier.” I said, “Well, that’s exactly what I would propose. If you guys have the same mindset, then that’s cool.” I did some writing with Steve Lynch on the phone before I even met him in person. The thing was that Steve came to L.A. from Seattle, and we went to rehearse, and Keni was not emotionally, physically, or mentally well to perform before he passed.

Then I said, “Well, I have a guy. I don’t know if he’s going to fit into this, but I will talk to him.” I knew it was going to work out well because [Marc Wieland] was very professional – he was a recording engineer — knew music, super serious. [Marc] had a great drumming style, too; he hit the drums really hard and was different. And I already knew him from the past. I brought him to one rehearsal with Randy – Steve was not even there. After ten minutes, Randy said, “I love this guy.” We called Steve, and Randy said, “He’s in.” That’s how fast things went down. Since then, everybody hit it off, and we became a unit; we became a machine. Things like, for instance, England – which the original Autograph never went – we went there. People were just like scratching their heads like, “What is that gonna be like?” We blew the audience out of the water; we got a standing ovation; I have it all on video. It took its course, and of course, there was resistance from hardcore Autograph fans because they are attached to memories and attached to original members. They don’t realize that these people don’t sound or even look anything like they what they used to. The perspective of the audience is very different from the perspective of being in the band and from being in the business.

We had people saying, “How could you do this? Keni is the original!” Then Keni passed away. And Steve Isham, he was already dead, too. That’s two guys in the band. And Steve Plunkett, basically, he didn’t want to do it. He literally just handed a logo straight to Randy. He said, “Here’s the logo, here’s the papers, you guys go ahead and have fun.” But he didn’t know that we were gonna do well. Later on down the line, he was like, “Wait; I thought you guys were only gonna do a couple of shows?” Once again, we go with the flow. The flow was, we were sounding great, people were liking it, and the new material was doing really well. If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t have been No. 21 on the Billboard for the Classic Rock sales, which we were. We wouldn’t have had three singles in the top-20 in 2015; very difficult to do that in that era. So, I feel very proud of what we did. I never wanted to just take a nostalgic band from the past and just look – even though that was very convenient for our booker. But then you’re stuck in that limit, and we wanted to grab new fans.

I told them, “I like the vocals, I like the harmonies, I like the hooks. Let’s just modernize this more.” What I did was I played a lot of the keyboard parts on guitar, so the arrangements were there. But when you play the same arrangement on guitar, it sounds a lot deeper and a lot harder. On “Blondes and Black Cars,” – we just did all guitar. I knew that people were gonna like it, because we know that when you take something and make it heavier, people are gonna like it. The problem is if you make it lighter, especially in that era. We kept the melody and everything, but the essence of the song was harder. Really, the hardcore fans were shocked that we had the guts to go our own way. Like I said, at the end of the day, you gotta do what is the best that you can do. And I didn’t want to be restricted to just being something like this. It just worked.

Andrew:
How was the new configuration of the band initially received at festivals?

Simon:
Incredibly well. I had people going there, and after the show, they said, “I came here to hate you. And I’m disappointed in myself because now I like you.” I’m not kidding; I did hear that two or three times. The first time we played M3, which was in 2014, and I came on stage, and people had their arms cross. Then we just ripped them a new one because that’s what we do. Marc is a monster on drums, and I’m all about performance. Randy is a great performer, and Steve was that guitar God kind of thing. The music spoke for itself. I asked people, “When you watched us the first five minutes, did you miss the original singer?” They would say, “Oh, you forget about him after 30 seconds after we saw you guys.” It’s a real treat to hear this because we have to earn the audience show by show because this is a situation where we have to prove ourselves every show that this thing was worth it, to go the direction we were going. The only way you’re gonna conquer it is by playing live, of course. You can’t play as many shows or reach as many people as a hit like “Turn Up the Radio” did because, in their time, they sold millions of records. Records aren’t being promoted anymore, and record companies are not existing anymore. You have to do it with real labor — go play for 1,000 people here, go play for 5,000 people at this festival. Then the word gets out, and you build it like this. A lot of resistance, I couldn’t say, but there was resistance in the beginning. And there are still people who don’t like it. I’ll tell you this; if you like Rock ‘N’ Roll, you’re gonna like it. If you’re married to your attachment and memory of what that meant to you when you were 13 years old and heard it for the first time when you were gonna kiss that specific girl in school, that’s up to the person. But what are we supposed to do? We want to make new music.

Image credit: Vicki D

Andrew:
You may have alluded to this earlier, but in your almost seven years of touring with the band, is there a specific memory that stands out?

Simon:
The England one was incredible. Literally, before the show, people were like, “What is it gonna be like?” And it was just unbelievable. After we finished the last song, people just went berserk; it was pretty obvious. Then all the English magazines wanted to do interviews with us afterward and Classic Rock magazines – they all jumped in the wagon. It’s just one of those fairytale stories where you say, “Life is really unfair, but if you do what you’re supposed to do, and it’s good, and people get it, then it prevails.”

Andrew:
You’ve been in the band for seven years, which is longer than the original singer. How do you view the viability and success of this version?

Simon:
I’m very happy with the success of this version. The way we look at it, everybody’s important, all the way from the original guys to what this is. Everybody’s part of the little legacy. But what this is right now is its own animal; it’s self-made. We put out an album of all original songs in 2017 with Get Off Your Ass, and records were sold. David Ellefson [formally of Megadeth] is the owner of the label, and he was super, super impressed. The first two batches of albums sold in a matter of days. We already had an EP, too, that we put out independently from Europe. I have to say that we made some good decisions and everybody in the band is super personal and friendly. We like people and talk to the fans. It’s easy to like us. There were so many great moments. For me, I’m just looking ahead. Jimi Bell, the new guitar player, he’s friends with Steve Lynch. And Steve is a big fan of his. We didn’t want to see Steve leave, but if he left, ya know. I talked to my booker, and I said, “What are we gonna do here? We only have one original member of the band here.” He said, “No, no, you’re already pretty much established as the singer of Autograph at this point.” It’s not like Autograph was like Van Halen, where there was a David Lee Roth. The singer of Autograph was the singer of Autograph, but it’s not a Vince Neil or David Lee Roth. In my case, I actually have a lot of people that like this version better.

What I did was, be upfront with them from the beginning. I said, “I want to dig up the legacy and the old fans, but I want to grab new fans. I wanna modernize this thing.” They were like, “Totally, man.” Once again, much to my surprise, Keni was the one who didn’t want the keyboard player. Then Steve didn’t want it either. Then Randy didn’t want it. I’m like, “You know what? I don’t need a keyboard player!” I’m more into guitar bands like AC/DC, Ratt, Def Leppard. I mean, I love Journey, and I love Foreigner, but I’m more towards KISS, more towards these hard-rocking Rock ‘N’ Roll bands.

Andrew:
What’s ahead for you and the band in the coming months?

Simon:
Everything. I don’t really look back too much unless I’m doing an interview like this. I live very much in the moment. Our latest single, “Souls on Fire,” is doing really well. Basically, we’re gonna continue playing; we have like 20 shows booked right now before November. They’re all over the place.

Interested in leaning more about Autograph? Check out the video below:

Dig this article? Check out the full archives of Shredful Compositions, by Andrew DiCecco, here: https://vinylwritermusic.com/shredful-compositions-archives/

About Post Author

Andrew DiCecco

Predominantly known for his NFL coverage, Andrew DiCecco is a Pennsylvania-based journalist with a profound passion for Rock music and its illustrious history. What initially began as a childhood hobby collecting CDs eventually evolved into a full-blown absorption into the world of Rock and Roll. An aspiring rock historian, Andrew seeks out every autobiography and documentary on Rock artists imaginable to further his knowledge to go along with a growing collection of vintage albums and magazines. Andrew’s musical preferences include, but are not limited to, Def Leppard, Van Halen, AC/DC, Guns N Roses, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Scorpions, Foreigner, and Journey. An innate appreciation for guitar heroes, Andrew cites Vito Bratta, Eddie Van Halen, John Sykes, George Lynch, Dave Meniketti, and Neal Schon as some of his personal favorite players. Andrew is also a regular listener to SiriusXM’s <i>Trunk Nation</i> with Eddie Trunk, his primary source of inspiration.
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