n speaking with Canadian glam/punk rock veteran TED AXE, you get the sense that the Great White North is just a little too quiet for the guy. In the late seventies, it was he and his band THE ACTION that got the punk music movement going in Canada with some rather sensational headlines in the Ottawa newspapers and the release a balls-to-the-wall EP which contained their clarion single TV's ON THE BLINK. Yes sir, "Canada's First Punk Rock Band" knew how to get the press going and the band quickly found themselves touring their homeland and the States alongside such punk rock legends as THE STRANGLERS and THE RAMONES. When all of this was going down, rock n roll was only twenty something years old so no one was thinking about maintaining a legacy or even working their way into some "hall of fame" nonsense. THE ACTION became inactive after one year but AXE took his razor tongued antics elsewhere. He's stalked the stage of London and Los Angeles and then formed the band SISTER HYDE in Seattle. Now, he has just released his new solo album SEX HORROR VIOLENCE - a twelve-song opus that celebrates the man's punk rock spirit and those glam flourishes of his that he hasn't been able to shake since he first heard ZIGGY STARDUST in a record store years and years ago. ROCKWIRED had a chance to speak with TED AXE regarding his new album. Here is how the interview went.
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Your album SEX HORROR VIOLENCE is quite the listen. Now that it's out there for people to get a listen to, how do you feel about the finished work?
I like it. It's a new direction for me - that sparse territory of seventies sex drugs and rock n roll. It's more glam but it's a different kind of glam. I think I'd call it alt-glam. It's really been a departure for me and it's great to see it take off. Before, I was doing this sort of eighties glam rock for about ten years. It started when I formed a band in Seattle called SISTER HYDE and migrated it to Toronto, but it wasn't a sound that I was really proud of. It didn't represent me. I'm not a party animal type of guy. I'm way more dark. I'm more mature now and it's not about about that obvious sex thing that I was mining for years and years. All of that stuff having to do with groupies and backstage sex and all of the mythological stuff that doesn't really happen. You know what I mean? So yeah, It's great to see the album take off. I feel that it's a representation of my honest emotions. I'm fascinated by the duality of people and the JECKYL AND HYDE aspect of the human brain. These songs are about that kind of duality.
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You worked with producer ROB SANZO in putting this album together. Describe what it was like working with him.
ROB SANZO did some work with SUM 41. He worked on their first big glam hit. He also worked with DEE DEE RAMONE when he did his solo album. He's also got some connections to a band here in Canada called DANKO JONES. He's worked with a lot of people. Working with him was great. He was on the same page as me and we could cross reference BOWIE and T-REX and get the guitar sounds that we wanted. He was the first guy I worked with that hasn't been a tyrant. Most famous producers tend to not call the band up for the mix.
And have their been any reactions to the album that have surprised you or that you didn't see coming?
The encouraging aspect is the amount of airplay that it's getting around the world. The reaction has been totally positive. I knew that every song had something, but to hear peole say they liked every song has been really gratifiying to me. So many albums these days have one good song and the rest is filler so I'm happy to hear that peole are enjoying it. That is what success is to me.
When I think of a punk scene, I always go back to New York of the 1970s. Some may go back to the U.K. in 1976 or maybe they will look to LA. Maybe it's because I'm an American, but you never think of a punk scene coming out of Canada. As part of the band THE ACTION you were at the forefront of punk in Canada in the seventies. Describe what that scene was like.
It was something different. People weren't really ready for it. I remember the headlines saying 'Look Out Ottawa! Here Comes Punk!' We kind of let the press know about it. We were a struggling band doing covers and doing some RAMONES stuff as well as some original songs that were influenced by guys like that. We still had the long hair because we were coming out of the glam rock-era of the seventies. I went to England at that time and brought back a bunch material. This was during the outbreak of punk in London back in 1976. So I came back to Canada and said "Let's do something here! We're punks anyway! Might as well make something out of it!" So I kind of let the press know about us. THE ACTION became Ottawa's first punk band and some say Canada's first punk band becasue it was so early . I remember one guy coming out to see us wearing a plaid shirt like he had just come in from having shot a bunch of deer or something. He was with a friend of his and while we were on stage I could hear them saying "What are we supposed to do?" and the other one saying "Uh, throw you're beer on them!" They took their pitcher of beer and doused me with it. That was the attitude. People didn't know what to do. One day we filled our practice space up with garbage and invited every news outlet in town to come down . They waded through the garbage and razor blades, non-toxic blood and the groupies and they all wrote about it and we were on the 6 o'clock news as Ottawa's first punk band and they all ran with it. The notoriety gave us a chance to tour with THE RAMONES so that was pretty cool.
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And in touring with THE RAMONES, what was the reaction to you guys in the States?
In the U.S., the reaction was warmer. It was way more accepting. Canada is a little behind the U.S. so the U.S. was more accepting, especially in places like Detroit. On FACEBOOK, I see that you're from Silver Spring, Maryland. Right?
Yes I am.
I grew up in D.C. for five years.
Wow, what did your parents do?
My dad was a Canadian diplomat and we lived in the D.C. area during the time of the Civil Rights movement. As a family, we would travel down south and I was perturbed by all of the indifference to racial equality. Washington was pretty cool for a kid at that time.
So at what point did rock music come into the picture for you?
My dad was always reading the newspaper and wore a suit around the house. He eventually became the ambassador to Mexico. When we moved to Mexico City, it was sex, drugs and rock n roll down there. I had actually started playing with a Mexican band and I started getting into trouble. The RCMP - which is like the Canadian FBI - advised my father to get me out of the country. I was escorted out of the country in a limousine and driven to the airport. There was this whole top secret file on me informing my dad that I was playing rock n roll, taking drugs and that for the sake of his repuation, he needed to get out of the country and he did. That was when music started taking a hold of me. My parents wanted me to get into art but instead I rebelled. I wanted to be MICK JAGGER but my parents thought that the number of people wanting to be JAGGER were a dime a dozen and that I shouldn't be doing that. But when you're parents say "don't", you end up doing it anyway.
And how did your status as the son of a diplomat go over with journalists in Canada?
There were people who found that out. I was interviewed in a mansion-like house in a posh area of Ottawa and the journalist went with the angle of 'How can you be a punk if your father is a diplomat.' Sometimes, it's even more pronounced. Its like THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER. You want to be what you're not. You have the arrogance of a rich kid but you're also a snotty little punk.
In speaking with you and listening to your album, it's hard not hear the obvious BOWIE and MARC BOLAN influences.
Yeah, I remember hearing the ZIGGY STARDUST album for the first time in a record store and going 'what the hell is this?' It was defintiely an interesting sound for back then. Everybody had long hair and he had that orange spikey hair. A lot of it had to do with the look of it. You had these artists who were sonically and visually interesting like BOWIE, T-REX and THE NEW YORK DOLLS. As a matter of fact, SYL SYLVAIN of the NEW YORK DOLLS produced a demo for me once when I lived in LA. Glam bands were huge for me. I'm more of an outrageous performer myself and have always worn makeup from the beginning right through the punk thing. A little eyliner never hurt. I think it's kind of a lost art. There aren't that many people who can pull it off. If you can pull it off, go ahead and do it. I've been known to be a cross dresser onstage as well. I've even played a few pride festivals in Seattle when I was living down there.
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So with all of the hell that was raised about THE ACTION, how long did that ride last with the band?
It was very brief. Our moment in the sun before self-destruction was probably about a year. We just self-destructed like any punk band would. It was a brief ride but it was intense. If I could remember any of it. It's a bit of blur now.
It's fascinating to hear about punk taking hold in Canada. You never hear about the scene up there down here.
Hearing you say that - I never thought of it before but of course that's true. There was a huge punk scene up here. You had CRASH AND BURN in Toronto and the VILE TONES. There were a bunch of punk bands up here in Canada. There was also another one called TEENAGE HEAD, but all of this was lost on the U.S. At that time, to be played in the U.S. you had to go gold in Canada. Unless you had a U.S. record deal and were being distributed in the States, you probably weren't heard about. It would've taken consistent touring in the States to make a name. There was no internet then. Although now, THe LP that THE ACTION put out is a now a collectors item and could go for three or four-hundred dollars. It's rare and hard to find. THE ACTION reformed in 2009 and we did some shows but the traits that you hated in other members of the band were magnified with age. They didn't get any better.
Of course not. What they don't tell us is that we get worse when we get older.
I had been living in Los Angeles for about twenty years and then lived in Seattle for nine years. I was lucky to be out of Canada for that long. It was a privilege. Not many people get a green card. I've always been an expatriate of Canada. I've always lived somewhere else if I could help it. The winters here are crap with months and months of freezing weather. Spring and summer can get kindof humid. It's somewhat of a dead place as opposed to some of the American cities and London. When MADONNA advertised for dancers she advertised in New York, not Toronto.
I met her in Los Angeles. It wasn't a good meeting.
Oh God! Tell me about it.
She was doing the music video for the song DEEPER AND DEEPER. She was shooting it in this parking lot of a theater that I was doing the sound for. My younger brother was working there also and he came and told me that MADONNA was in the parking like. I was lke "Sure she is!" Sure enough she was. They were shooting her driving a car - this yellow Mercedes. I approached her with my demo cassette going "here's my stuff!" She just wasn't liking that at all. She was like "How dare you appraoch me like that?" She was into real muscular guys and I wasn't. THen I oculd hear her complaining tot he director "When are we leaving? I'm feeling sick to my stomach!" That was my experience meeting MADONNA. She did have good advice for her dancers back in the nineties. She told them to grab life by the balls and never let go. That has some value I think. I guess she always did do that.
(Laughs) Sounds about right to me!
I've met JAGGER before as well and JAGGER's eyes and MADONNA's have that saem steely look. Like they're somewhat pissed off all the time.
Back to your album, what songs off of the album have you the most excited to get people to hear and why?
It's been interesting. I kind of put it out therr and the some market research. People seem to like hte osng GET OUT REHAB. It's got this defintie head banging beat. As soon as you hear it you can't stop moving. I was surprised aboutthat one. I think all of the songs are good. Some of the sound like they are sung by a different singer becasue I'm a bit of an actor. ...REHAB is kind of IGGY-esque and FEMME FATALE is very BOWIE-esque. Then you have this one song called TILL DEATH DO US PART which is a satire on marriage. It's quite dark. So those three songs have me excited.
And talk about the roll out for the album. Is there a series of shows coming up and and if so are there any dates that have you particularly excited?
At the moment, I'm forming a new band and checking out people. We've got some dates set for the future. We've got some shows scheduled for Toronto in the Summer. These days I'm affording myself the luxury of not doing the band thing and focusing on the business end of things. For years and years, all I did was play live. Recently I've dropped the guitar and have started fronting more. At the moment I'm looking for the right guitarist - my "Glimmer Twin" and I also want to get s much radio play as I canbecasue it affords you a wider audience than gigging. Naturally, I'm a performer and I need to perform onstage so the performer in me needs to reconcile with the business part of things. Who knows how that will go down in the social media age.
And with SEX HORROR VIOLENCE, what is the big idea? What would you like for people to come away with after they've heard it?
I think SEX HORROR VIOLENCE is indicative of the times that we're living in now. The stuff that is addresed on this album is very pertinent to today. This album is my life and anyone who listens to it will be able to see my life through this album. For me, success to me is loving what you do and being able to do it. Now the challenge is to get other people to hear it and come away with their own thoguhts and interpretations. That is what I'm after at the moment.
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