Interview: Patt Fontaine, XYZ


Unless you're one of those people who picks up on every American rock album, it's likely you may have missed out on XYZ's self-titled debut. Released through Enigma Records in 1989 it was a low-key affair which failed to create any real shockwaves outside of the US. The music press were quick to pick up on the DOKKEN connection, as the man himself produced the album, and it's fair to say that some of his influence seemed to have rubbed off on the band's choice of material, and Terry Ilous’'s voice! But despite the glaring similarities, XYZ’s first attempt wasn't a bad one by any means, with such songs as Maggie and the melancholy What Keeps Me Loving You hinting at better things to come.

September now sees the release of XYZ's second album Hungry on Capitol Records. A release which demonstrates a far more original direction for the Los Angeles based four-piece.

Bass guitarist Patt Fontaine has a deep drawl tinged with a native French accent which makes him sound not dissimilar to Tom Waits! On the telephone from the band's record company office in Los Angeles he explained XYZ's new approach.

"When we went into the studio to record Hungry, we wanted to use the place like a stage," Patt reveals. "We wanted to create that live atmosphere which is most appropriate to our style of music. If there's a difference between this new album and the first one it’s that Hungry is a more honest record."

It's also one that sounds considerably less like DOKKEN than the debut!

Patt's adamant that XYZ never set out to imitate anybody:

"We laid ourselves open to comparison by having Don produce the record and also our singer Terry Ilous’s style is very similar to Don's. You have to realise that recording that first album is a tricky step for any young band," Pat admits. "It was a good experience but ultimately we didn’t have the freedom we would have liked. As a new band we were being guided by the record company and to a certain extent Don. For Hungry we had much more control over our destiny."

This time XYZ opted for the producing skills of George Tutko who seems to have encouraged the group to break out and pursue their own direction.

"We wanted George for the first album," explains the bass player, "but Enigma felt that he wasn't well known enough! He's worked with LITA FORD, OZZY OSBOURNE, and the QUIREBOYS, and we liked his style of producing. Initially we started work with Neil Kernan (MICHAEL BOLTON, FM) and although he was great guy to out socializing with, in the studio it didn't really come together, so George became involved."

There's a recurrent 'good time' theme running throughout the lyrics on Hungry, well represented by songs such as Face Down In The Gutter and Don’t Say No. It's standard hard rock subject matter, but obviously close to the band's heart.

Patt explains: "A lot of American rock bands sing about going out on a Saturday night and having a good time. But with us it’s true! Every song on the album is based on a real life experience. It’s all completely honest. For example, the song Face Down In The Gutter was inspired by a time when we were all at a party and a girl came up to our singer Terry and said, 'Excuse me, but isn't that your drummer (Paul Monroe) lying in the gutter?' People can argue that it's clichéd and that bands have been singing about this stuff for ages, but at least we’re not pretending to be something that we’re not. There's nothing pretentious about XYZ. We’re just four ordinary guys having a good time."

Reassuringly, Capitol Records have chosen to release the aforementioned Face Down In The Gutter as the first single, a brave move considering that many record companies immediately go for the ballad when releasing Hard Rock singles.

"We really pushed for that track," Patt insists. "It's likely that the ballad When I Find Love will come out as a second single, but we were determined not to let that come out first. Face Down In The Gutter is far more representative of what XYZ is all about."

Also included on Hungry is a re-working of the old FREE chestnut Fire and Water. Jumping on the Paul Rodgers bandwagon or an honest tribute?

Patt laughs: "We're fans of his, you know! What happened was Terry brought the album into the studio and we just decided to record our version. It was very spontaneous, and we were happy with the way it sounded so it made it onto the album. Obviously a band like FREE were a big influence on every rock band, including us, but personally I try to listen to all types of music. Otherwise you just end up with tunnel vision. Over here in LA we have stations playing everything from heavy metal to country and western, so I'll just flick through the dial and soak it all up!"

Following the release of the first XYZ album, the band embarked on support tours to the likes of ALICE COOPER, TED NUGENT, and ENUFF Z' NUFF, but didn't make it over to Europe and Britain in particular.

Patt's hoping to change all that: "It all depends on how well the album does," he confesses. "We're heading out around the States with LA GUNS and OZZY OSBOURNE and hopefully we’ll be able to play Britain next year. At the moment we just want to concentrate on the album and make sure it gets heard by as many people as possible…Believe me Hungry is what we are!"

Mark Blake
Riff Raff
October 1991
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