When Warrant takes the stage October 7 at Sunken Garden Theater for the first night of the South Texas Rock Fest, fans will notice a few differences from the last time they played San Antonio.
Including, one humongous life-altering change.
Robert Mason, who sang on the second (self-titled) Lynch Mob album in 1992, has been the voice of Warrant since 2008. The band released its first album with Mason, Rockaholic, in May (view the video for Life’s A Song here). That means Mason will be making his San Antonio debut on classics such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Down Boys and Cherry Pie.
His presence came about after a reunion with original singer and chief songwriter Jani Lane lasted for only a small handful of shows. But the short-term go-round with Lane was nothing compared to the jolt the metal community received last month — August 11 — when Lane was found dead in a California hotel room. He was 47.
Mason is backed by original Warrant mates Erik Turner and Joey Allen (guitars), Jerry Dixon (bass) and Steven Sweet (drums). Will that support transfer to the Sunken Garden Theater faithful?
Dixon, 44, phoned me last week from Los Angeles:
Q: When was the last time Warrant played San Antonio, and do you have any special memories?
A: I think the last time we were out that way was with Whitesnake at Sunken Gardens. It’s been awhile, yeah. I’m so bad with dates (laughs). Let’s just say it’s been a long time since I’ve rock and rolled. It seems like we’re always drinking out there.
Q: Robert has been on vocals for three years roughly, but the South Texas Rock Fest will be the first show in San Antonio since he joined. For those not too familiar with him, what can we expect?
A: He’s really, really good. He actually sounds more like the original stuff than the original stuff sounds, if that makes sense. He’s just got a true sense of how those songs go. He’s really powerful, and we’re stoked. He’s easy to work with and a great songwriter. Just close your eyes, and rock back to all the hits (laughs).
Q: You wrote or co-wrote nearly all the songs on Rockaholic. Do you have a favorite?
A: I kinda like the oddball songs like Tears in the City and Sunshine. Songs that are off the beaten path from a single. Also Life’s A Song, which is the first video and single. We’re pretty proud of it. It took us about three years to get it done. It’s a long process. Robert lives in Phoenix, so he’d have to fly out here and work in the studio or email back and forth. Just the getting together part of it, and the actual recording, took a couple months.
Q: Anytime an established band makes a change with its original singer — in rare instances, it’s a complete success like AC/DC or Van Halen. More often than not, it’s a disaster. Did you guys have any reservations, first when Jaime St. James joined, then when you went through another change with Robert?
A: Yeah, first of all, none of those choices were the band’s. It wasn’t us kicking anyone out or whatever. To be quite honest, it’s a big, giant pain in the ass. You basically take your career and start over. Everything you’ve done in the past is with the original guy — all the music, all the videos. It’s a nightmare. On the other hand, we’re not doing half-ass shows anymore or having singers wasted on stage. It got to be really embarrassing. Three years ago, we said, “That’s it. We’re done. We’re going to find the best guy for this band.” And almost like lightning when we said that, we ran into Robert. Honestly, this band, it’s never sounded this good — ever — I think. It really does sound like the old days. Anyone who saw us in the past in the last 12 years, they probably saw a half-ass show in my opinion. If they see us now, they’re going to get what they paid for. At the end of the day, people come to the show, we sign autographs at the merch table, and everyone goes home happy. Honestly, it’s not something we deal with a lot. Thank goodness (laughs).
Q: Likewise, when Joey and Steven were in the band originally, then left in the mid-’90s for a few years before rejoining several years ago — how much did it mean to have them back in the fold and pretty much making the band whole again?
A: You know, I never really thought about that until we got back in a room and played again together. I was really blown away by the cohesiveness that was really lacking. You can’t replace a person’s feel. After about 30 seconds of jamming with them, it was like, “Wow, there’s that sound!” And I didn’t realize it until that second. It’s more important than the singer, sometimes. Like, I’ll put on a Sebastian Bach record now, and that’s him singing, but it doesn’t sound like Skid Row. You know, people take the instruments part of it lightly.
Q: Jani’s passing hit the metal community hard and stunned a lot of people. When was the last time you had communicated with him?
A: 2008. We flew back to L.A., and he was out of his mind again. And we said, “That’s it.” That was that. We gave it the high school try and did about 10 shows. He just had a lot of demons. People watch “Celebrity Rehab” and see a Steven Adler-type person or some of those cats on there . . . It’s just a really difficult thing to go through.
Q: What part of Jani do you miss the most? Do you have a fondest memory or story you’d like to share?
A: I think overall I’m thankful to have had him in the band. I’m proud of the music we still have and the music we created back then. It’s really easy to take a song like Heaven or Cherry Pie for granted. What we did back then was magical, and that part of it I’ll always cherish.
Q: How do you think Jani should be remembered by those who only knew of his music?
A: Ohhh . . . do you want the honest answer or the bullshit answer?
I want the honest, whatever-you’d-like-to-say answer.
Let’s put it this way. It’s not easy dealing with anyone in that state of mind. It’s the closest thing to hell that I can imagine — for his family, daughter, fans, and for himself. It’s an utter living nightmare that that stuff brings to people. It’s a shame, man. But I don’t think it really kicked into him till about 12 years ago. He always held together before that. I guess we all mourn differently. I don’t want to cloud anyone’s memories whether they know him or don’t know him. Being close to the situation, you get mad — from canceling shows and making you lose your house, going bankrupt. But at the same time, you gotta step back and not take it personal. That’s what sex, drugs and rock and roll is all about. It’s not fun. Just the way it is.
Q: So they say that musicians should learn to play bass because every band needs a bass player. What made you want to start playing it, and which other bassists did you look up to the most?
A: Actually, I started playing bass for that very reason by default. We had one guy playing drums, another playing guitar, and they were like, “You’re playing bass.” “OK” (laughs). When I picked it up, I fell in love right there. I grew up with Geezer Butler, Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, John Entwistle. Mainly, I enjoyed the way Geezer Butler played. He didn’t overplay.
Q: So how do I get my hands on a bottle of Warrant Red wine? What does it taste like?
A: Ah, the famous Warrant wine, man! (laughs) You can purchase it at warrantrocks.com. We’re not allowed to sell alcohol, so that takes you to the wine maker. I’m not a wine person, but from what I’m told, it’s the second-biggest wine in the country in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Q: Before I let you go, I have a couple of social media questions from my readers, if you don’t mind.
Q: Nevy from Miami wants to know: Do you feel you failed Jani as a friend?
A: Absolutely not. If I failed, then his daughter failed, and all of his friends failed. I want people to know, too, that in 2008, we had a guy named Bob — not Bob Forrest from the rehab show that worked with Dr. Drew, but a different Bob — and we paid him and brought him on the road with us. You think back and say, “What else can you do?” But it’s true that someone has to want it. We would remind ourselves, “Why do we have this guy (Bob) with us?” Lane would sneak out of his room in the middle of the night and go to a bar, and dudes were like (to Bob), “Go get him! What are you doing?” And he’d say, “I’m not going to get him. He has to want it.” We thought he (Bob) was going to put him (Jani) in lockdown, but it doesn’t work like that. So I would say, failing? No. Is there more we could have done? Probably. Did we try? Yes.
Q: David from Iowa asks: Do you feel there’s a renewed demand for ’80s music?
A: Yeah, I do. The last two years, people have come back to the ’80s, you know, and it just shows where we have that enthusiasm. There’s not a lot of eras in music that bring you back to a time frame in your life that you relate to. And the ’80s and early ’90s had such an impact on people’s lives. The promoters saw that demand and started booking shows. We made it through the black years (laughs). The ’90s, we call them. We came out of the dark side. What we did was very viable and an important part of people’s lives.
- WHAT: South Texas Rock Fest
- WHO: (Day 1): Saxon, Warrant, Quiet Riot, and more. (Day 2): UFO, Dio Disciples, Lita Ford, Stephen Pearcy, Pretty Boy Floyd and more
- WHEN: Oct. 7-8
- WHERE: Sunken Garden Theater (3875 N. St. Mary’s)
- TICKETS: $35-$250; purchase and details here.
- MORE INFO: www.southtexasrockfest.com
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