Click, Click, Boom: Saliva Blows Up

Grammy Award recipients are often slagged for not being current enough, not relevant to today's music scene. But that's not always the case. While Saliva hasn't yet taken home one of those little bronzed Grammy Victrola statues, they have fully benefited from Grammy recognition, and at a very early and meaningful point in their career. The band was a finalist in the 1997 Grammy Showcase sponsored by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which helped them gain the attention of the industry, leading to a cut on the "Dracula 2000" soundtrack, and eventually a label deal with Universal Records - the planet's largest record label.

Of course you know the story from there: The band released Every Six Seconds in 2001, scored airplay with "Your Disease" and "Click Click Boom," and, now on Def Jam Records, have dropped their follow-up, Back Into Your System.

Saliva guitarist and Memphis native Chris DaBaldo took time out during the band's recent stop on their headlining Jagermeister Tour to speak with about songwriting, Memphis and its bluesy roots, and how to best watch "The Wizard of Oz" when listening to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. When I think of Memphis, hard rock and metal aren't the first things that come to my mind. Artists such as Elvis, Carl Perkins, Al Green, Booker T, B.B. King, Otis Redding come to mind - certainly more of a R&B flavor than a rock vibe. What was the music scene like for you prior to hitting it with Saliva? 

Chris DaBaldo: What was it like before I played in Saliva? Yeah, I mean you and Josey played together in a band called Blackbone prior to all this so there was obviously some type of rock scene in the area. Did that set the foundation for what would become Saliva?

DaBaldo: There always has been. Memphis is a very eclectic mix of all styles of music. You don't have to live there to feel it. Step off the bus or the plane or whatever and with your bags still in your hands you can just feel it in the air. Memphis, since its part of the Bible Belt - it's down south and so close to Nashville, which we all know is country music territory - we always get a bad rap, not that we don't like country music because Josey has a big country music background. Yeah, his folks were rooted in country?

DaBaldo: Yeah, right. But we respect it too! I've noticed over the years that Memphis gets tagged with, 'Oh, isn't Memphis country music territory?' And we're always saying, 'NO! You're thinking of Nashville.' Again, I always thought of Memphis as an R&B kind of thing. Otis Redding, W. C. Handy....

DaBaldo: Yeah exactly, more blues-based: B.B. King, Sun Records, Elvis - the list goes on and on and on. Right.

DaBaldo: We all know that blues was the starting mixture and the ingredients were rock 'n' roll. So it's known as the home to rock 'n' roll. I guess there's a lot of truth to that. I mean, when you speak of cities like Austin, you can't throw your hat on the ground without bumping into some killer music club. And they've got everything from folk to thrash and everything in between. Is Memphis like that on a smaller scale?

DaBaldo: Yeah, it's got a huge rock scene. It's just that, well, there's more talent in players than there is industry. You understand what I'm saying? Yeah, I get it.

DaBaldo: You go to New York or L.A. and there's industry everywhere. But it's too much. It kind of becomes a vacuum there. And in Memphis there's a ton of players but no one there to nurture them and say, 'Hey Bud, I want to help you out.' You know? 'I got a studio. I know you can't afford the time. I know you work a day job in a warehouse driving a forklift.' That's what I did all my life. There's no one there to say that and assist the process. No one to say, 'I want to help y'all out. I'll wave some of the fees. I just believe in your band and I want to get your music out there.' There just isn't a whole lot of that. It's interesting that San Diego, Seattle, L.A. - lots of cities have had their musical day, so to speak. Is that coming for Memphis? Will that time come?

DaBaldo: I think it already has or at least it has started. With Saliva and Breaking Point, which is on Windup Records, and Full Devil Jacket as well. And there's Primer 55 as well. There's four major label bands that I can spit out right now that all come from that area. There's actually a few more than that. There's a group - I think they're called Pog - that just got a huge signing. Evanescence is just down the street. They're from Little Rock (Arkansas). And there are just really good Christian rock bands. I want to mention a band called Skillet. I'm really proud of those people. They've been banging number one slots in their respective categories. Still doing what they're doing and they're gaining ground. I don't think anyone gives Christian rock the respect that it really warrants. It's a huge market but for some reason, no one really perceives that. Maybe because it isn't considered mainstream or maybe because only a few bands cut from that cloth have been able to crossover.

DaBaldo: Well, the world is secular. It's a secular world we live in. Without touching too much on religion, the second you say that you're a Christian or a Christian band, no matter how good you are, you're automatically going to be lumped into a category on a shelf over here [Editors note: DaBaldo emphasizes with his hands.]. Here's your people, you belong over here. You really need to be strong to be able to break out of that. I mean U2 did that really early on. They figured a way to get out of it. 

DaBaldo: Yeah, remember that? Stryper was probably one of the only '80s hair bands to get away with it. They stuck to their guns and hit pay dirt. I think Jars of Clay has done really well too.

DaBaldo: Jars of Clay is a Christian band. P.O.D. has some stuff going on in that direction. I really don't know how much they're into it but even if they mention it a little bit, that's good enough for me. It's a shame that it has to be that way. I agree. The industry has become so fixated with the need to label everything. It's gotta be Nu-Metal, Trip-hop...

DaBaldo: Well they have to package it and then market it and sell it. That's true. That must be frustrating from an artistic standpoint.

DaBaldo: Everything is run by the almighty dollar. I can sit here and talk about it all day but that's the reality of it. I filled out the application and - it's just like when you're working at the fast food place - and you realize that you don't wanna be there. Well guess what? You filled out the application. You signed on. Your new CD, Back Into Your System, picks up right where Every Six Seconds left off: great songwriting, powerful guitar riffs. I found it more melodic than Six Seconds - stronger hooks with choruses that stuck with me long after listening. Was there a conscious effort in the songwriting process to be more hook-driven or was Bob Marlette more of an influence there?

DaBaldo: I think it was more the evolution of the band. We intended to do that to some degree but then again we try not to take ourselves so seriously that we miss the forest through the trees. So of course, Bob Marlette had a big part in that. We consider him the sixth member of Saliva. We just have such a great relationship and always have. He knows what I'm thinking and I know what he's thinking and we're both going there before either of us makes a move. That chemistry has to be so important between the producer and the band.

DaBaldo: Totally, totally. But I think we meant to do it that way and we knew that the sophomore jinx was out there but we really didn't think too much about it. You know it's always out there floating around but we just didn't think about it. Not in an arrogant, cocky sort of way, we just knew that it would be so counter-productive if we sat around worrying about something like that. Not to get off topic but did Bob have any great Black Sabbath stories from doing the Reunion album (back in '98)?

DaBaldo: Yeah, he had a few. Not that I'm gonna share (laughing). (laughs) Must be good ones. Bob has a great legacy both as a player and a producer.

DaBaldo: Yeah and he's good guy as well. He's good friends with (Tony) Iommi. Iommi comes over to his home studio and we got to meet him. Did you? That must have been pretty cool.

DaBaldo: Ozzy does too! They'll do voiceovers or dubs or record some stuff. Where's Bob based? 

DaBaldo: He's right outside of L.A. Did you do any tracking up there?

DaBaldo: The first album we did. The first album we did vocals there. We did guitars there and we did drums and bass at A&M studios. Well, my favorite on the new record is "Raise Up."

DaBaldo: (laughs lightly) Thank you. There's a good bit of diversity on this record and at first listen that kind of strikes you. From 'Back into your System,' 'Raise Up' to something like 'Famous Monsters' - they're all coming from a different creative point.

DaBaldo: Thank you. Well, I guess that's what we do. Like "Raise Up," "Pride" and "Your Disease," stuff like that, that's bouncy. That's me. That's my style. That's what I bring to the Saliva table. I had to battle my own demons and producers about - you know they're always trying to get you to do this or we need to stay closer to this or that. I don't ever want to alienate our core audience. If you want to call it the kind of the glue of the songwriting, whatever. I've heard that before and I believe it. Is that just you and Josey or the whole band?

DaBaldo: Everybody in Saliva writes. We all have different means of how we write. There's no particular formula.

DaBaldo: There's many different formulas and that's all our songs are. They're mathematic formulas. It's algebra. But my specialty is "D" riffs. I'm known as the Riffmaster and Wayne Sweeney is known as the Leadman. That's what we do. Josey will spit out some heavy songs here and there but lately he's been leaning more towards things like "Famous Monsters" and songs like that. That's a side of him that I think he wanted to get out for many years. That's understandable and it's the right time for it as well. As long as I can roam about in my arena and do what I do and bring what I bring to the table, I'm cool with it. How are Josey's guitar chops?

DaBaldo: He's a lot better than he gives himself credit for. The way I look at it is if you pick up a guitar and you can voice your emotions and your direction through the instrument. You don't have to be the greatest guitar player. I'm not the greatest guitar player in the world. I write. I work hard at it. I write as much as I can. I write whatever pops off the top of my head. Do you use a lot of tunings?

DaBaldo: You know on this album, I'm not changing any tuning. Same tuning for the whole album?

DaBaldo: Yeah, same tuning: C-sharp. Yeah, not changing anything. Just dropped down a half-step from my normal "D." I've got about eight Les Pauls now. I'm strictly Gibson and strictly Mesa-Boogie. Saliva has been at it since '96, right?

DaBaldo: Yeah, that's about right. Do you think over that time you've improved your guitar playing skills considerably?

DaBaldo: I think I've become a much better songwriter, arrangement-wise, production-wise. I don't practice enough. I don't sit around and play. That might not be the right thing to say to the audience, but I don't. I probably should. I play onstage. But when I do pick up the guitar, volumes of riffs come out. And it can happen right when I pick up the guitar or when I'm tuning. Do you want to eventually go back to Memphis and do some production work with the local talent there? 

DaBaldo: If I have time, I'd love to. I would love to help out other bands and friends. I'd love to jump in and produce something. It's not rocket science, you know what I'm saying. But as far as being a great guitar player, there's kids out there that always come up to me and say, 'Dude, you're such a great player.' And it just blows me away. I mean I'm playing rhythm and I've got own style and I'm grateful that at a very early age, I learned that one of the most important things to being a musician is not about how many notes you can play or how much theory you know, but to develop your own style. Cause if you're copying someone you're just chasing the demon the whole time. You just have to learn to be yourself and be patient. How would you characterize the members of Saliva? I mean, who's the Eric Johnson fanatic; who's the closet Devo fan - that type of thing?

DaBaldo: Me and Wayne, we somehow ended up in the same parking lot. We can let each other loose. We both grew up on Randy Rhoads. Randy Rhoads is responsible for making me want to go out and buy a guitar and amp when I was 12 years old. Nikki Sixx and Ozzy Osbourne are the reasons that I wanted to be a rock star, the performer, the in-your-face rocker. And Wayne's the same way. Randy Rhoads for him too. Wayne is - I call him the wizard 'cause he can do absolutely anything. He can just do anything from slide to alternate tunings to full-on Yngwie shred. He does the whole nine yards. We're both self-taught but he knows how to do a thousand times more stuff than I do. I think that's why it works. I'll create a foundation riff and he'll paint all over it. That's very cool and you're both Randy Rhoads-heads. Interesting. Are you both big fans of guitar music?

DaBaldo: Well Wayne is way into the Eddie Van Halen thing. He has a whole list of guitarists I've never even heard of. Now Dave (Novotny, Saliva bassist), he is the darker side of the songwriting aspect of the band. And he's real quiet. He comes from a Pink Floyd meets Type O Negative sort of way. I love Pink Floyd. They're one of my favorite bands. Have you done the "Wizard of Oz" thing with Dark Side of the Moon?

DaBaldo: Yes I have (chuckling). Well, I'm glad to hear I wasn't the only one. 

DaBaldo: Yes I have and if you want, we can watch it right now. (laughing) It's like the trippiest thing. A friend of mine told me about it and I wouldn't have believed it, if I didn't watch it for myself. [Editor's note: Legend has it that Pink Floyd wrote and recorded Dark Side of the Moon as an underground soundtrack for the movie "The Wizard of Oz." The recording allegedly syncs up very well with the movie.]

DaBaldo: The important thing is making sure that when the lion roars the third time, that you start side one, right away. Right, because it syncs up pretty quick.

DaBaldo: It's totally true. It's like paint-by-numbers. Even when all the bells and alarm clocks go off - it just scares the s--t outta you. Then the witch goes whipping by. I'm convinced that Floyd had it all mapped out. It's too seamless. Well Dark Side of the Moon is one of my all time favorites.

DaBaldo: It's pretty amazing. The ending isn't as strong as side one but it's pretty cool. Well, I want to wish you the very best with the new record and we hope to catch up with you again, some time this summer.

DaBaldo: Well thanks. Stick around for the show. Will do. Thanks again.

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