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Q&A: House of Lords’ James Christian

| June 9, 2020

One optimistic upside to our current coronavirus pandemic, wherever you happen to be in the world? You and your family are forced to shelter in place together. The downside? Err, you and your family are forced to shelter in place together. And House of Lords anchor James Christian admits that he’s learned some hard lessons the past three months while sequestered in his West Palm Beach retreat. He’s been in life-saving lockdown with his rock star wife, Robin Beck, and their Broadway-based daughter, Olivia Dei Cicchi (who uses her dad’s real surname) whom the couple hasn’t seen for the past two years due to her bustling touring schedule playing the innkeeper’s wife (and Cosette understudy) in the hit musical Les Miserables. So while it’s great to be reunited as a family, says the singer, 66, who just issued a great, eerily-prescient HOL barnstormer New World, New Eyes, mainly co-written with acclaimed producer/songwriter Mark Spiro (Cheap Trick, Heart, Lita Ford) there have been some heavy, often heated intergenerational discussions with 23-year-old Olivia. Especially after the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests over the brutal Minneapolis murder of George Floyd. 

“And there’s no getting around it,” sighs Christian. “Of course, like 99% of the country, we all feel that what happened to this man is just horrible, and it should never happen to anyone in this land. But on the other hand, with all the rioting and looting — stuff that has nothing to do with the death of the man — I just find it a little crazy out there right now.” Outside agitators bent on fomenting chaos, down to convenient piles of bricks left at protest sites, just perfect for throwing — he’s heard it all. “I’m a news junkie, so I know everything that’s going on and the people who are responsible for it — where the facts lead me, that’s where I like to go. But my daughter is in the mode of, she really wants to change the world. And I understand that because so did I when I was 23.” 

You’d think Christian would be on the same political page, judging by the earnest new House of Lords anthems like “Change (What’s It Gonna Take)” (“Listen up baby, hear that sound/ Sounds a lot like revolution going down”), “New World, New Eyes” (“Out of the ashes a new sun will rise”), “Better Off Broken” (“Pick up the pieces and just keep going”), and “We’re All That We’ve Got” (“It’s in the rolling waves, the winds of change, this uncertainty”). But he swears he’s no Nostradamus. The songs were all penned pre-pandemic, with no significant metaphorical axe to grind. “I’d love to take credit for having such vision,” he confesses. “But I know that there’s always a period in time when those words will ring true, and in this case, they did. But it just happened — I had that “New World” song, and then all of a sudden we’re dealing with a pandemic. But the two definitely relate to each other — in a world that you have to rebuild from the ground up, you definitely have to have a new vision.” He spoke about this and other strange coincidences last week.

IE: So what is this revolution your record predicts?

JAMES CHRISTIAN: I’m only basically talking about what it’s going to take to change; to change things in this world. There was an element to that lyric that had to do with junkies, people shooting up, people dying in the streets. So the ‘change’ is broader and has to do with a lot of different things. So you make it a more broad-spectrum, so pick from it what they want, rather than just zooming in on one particular thing.

IE: The feminine presence in “One More” could be Mother Nature, actually.

JC: Well, yes. Yes, you could think of it that way. But I wrote that with Mark Spiro, and what we were going for was the boy who was really in love with the girl, but he was on the outside looking in and watching one man abuse another woman, while he’s the one that’s truly in love with her. He wants to be able to rescue her, so it’s more of a knight-in-shining-armor kind of deal. But again, people can take from it what they want. And if you got that from it, that’s great. As long as the lyric is really saying something, and it’s not gibberish. 

IE: For years, I’ve had this cool House of Lords promo item sitting on a counter — a sword-in-the-stone metal letter opener, set in real stone.

JC: I have one of those in my house somewhere, too. I’m pretty sure it was done on the second album, the one with the phallic symbol on the cover (Sahara in 1990). So they sent that out as a promotion for “Can’t Find My Way Home,” and yes, they did spend a lot of money. But they got the return on their investment, because that was one of the most-requested songs on AOR radio, and for a few weeks held the #1 spot there. We didn’t get to the singles chart, but this was AOR radio and that’s what House of Lords was all about. So that letter opener really did its job. That was a great little promotional tool. I don’t think they make things like that anymore. 

IE: How have you seen the business change over the years?

JC: It’s really so different than I remember it. It’s way more advanced than what I’m used to, but I’m not involved in it that heavily. I do music now with a company called Frontiers Music in Europe, and they give me a budget to put out House of Lords records because there are fans out there who still want to hear House of Lords. So my little universe revolves around that group of people. But there are people who do things on my behalf, just because they want to — they’ve got fan pages on Facebook and stuff like that, and they really know how to employ that market. But now what happens is, anyone with a computer and a recorder can make an album, so there is so much music out there that doesn’t really deserve to be. But how can you stop it? Back when we started making records, you had to go through the process — write your songs, then go out there and play ‘em, then do showcases for labels. And if you didn’t get a label deal, you didn’t get a record out — there was no “Oh, I’ll make my own record!’ Nobody did that. We had to go the long way ‘round. Nowadays, it’s so much easier to get product out. But then again, you get a lot of crap out there in the process.

IE: Do you think maybe you tapped into some universal environmental zeitgeist by accident on New World, though? 

JC: You know, it’s possible that there was some train of universal thought that I tapped into. But sometimes I think I tap into things, and then I’ll look back at it a year later and go, “Nah, I didn’t.” You never know if you got something right, and I guess only the test of time will answer that question. I have records — like the first three House of Lords records — that I can listen to today, and I get it, totally. I’m not crazy about the production values, but the songwriting, the recording, the musicianship is everything that I wanted it to be in that time. But when things got away from the melodic rock that we were doing in the ‘90s, and the grunge era took over, it took away that mystique of what being in a band was like. Garage bands were suddenly the thing to be, and it took off from there. New rock idols came in, but they didn’t look like rock idols. They looked like normal people you saw walking down the street. But hey — it was a generational thing. It’s just the way things go. I was living at home with family as a kid, and I used to think, “Wow! They’re so OLD!” And now with where I am and where my daughter came from, we have a generation gap, even though we’re both in the music business. She grew up in my studio, and we recorded a lot of music while she was growing up. So she always listened to music. But she didn’t want to become a pop or rock singer — she wanted to be a Broadway singer. And once she got out of college, it took her basically four months before she got an offer from Phantom of the Opera, and then Les Miserables. And I thought to myself, “You didn’t even pay any dues yet!” I played clubs for nine years! And she was like, “Whaddaya mean, ‘dues’? I did what I had to do.” But I look at it like…she got lucky. But we’re all still here, doing what we love, and how many people can say that these days? Most people end up working a job they went to school for, and constantly complaining about it. So we might be complaining about what’s going on in the world, but we’re still doing something we love.

IE: But we do miss those rock idols. A definitive one was in House of Lords initially — Gregg Giuffria from Angel. Still, the greatest show I ever saw had Piper, with a young Billy Squier, opening, Starz in the middle, and — performing magic onstage with a hologram angel head, Angel! You can see where “Spinal Tap” nicked its ideas.

JC: Of course! We used to talk about that on the road all the time. In fact, Gregg was supposed to be IN that movie. But it was a different time back then. There were actually funds to be able to put on shows with pyrotechnics, and bands had a lot of tricks in their tool box back then. We all wanted to have flashpots. And we used to have guys who were not even technically inclined to build those fuckers put ‘em in little cans with some gunpowder and shoot them off. We were nuts!

IE: Did you ever toy with jumping off the ride?

JC: I did. I jumped off the radar screen for quite a few years, first when Olivia was born, because the music business had changed so much and gone to grunge. I tried singing one of those songs, and I suck at it. So I dropped out and opened up a health care recruiting business. I had enough capital to fund it, and it turned out to last me maybe nine or ten years until Obamacare hit. Which was a great thing for people who could afford it but bad for people like myself who were recruiters because they stopped using recruiters and started doing everything in-house. But just as that business failed, I was getting calls to do records again. The times had changed, and listeners wanted to hear what artists from the ‘80s and ‘90s were doing again. So Frontiers offered me a record deal, then tours, then Japan wanted me to go there. So all of a sudden I was back in demand again. 

IE: But now you have the skills to work that old recruiting gig from home.

JC: Absolutely. I could definitely go back into recruiting. But right now, at 66, everything in my life has slowed down to a point where I don’t care to do things like I used to because you’ve got to have the energy to do anything. And I don’t need energy to make music — it creates its own energy when I’m doing it, and when I’m at home, I don’t do a vocal unless I’m in my sweats. I’m not dressed up or anything — everything is low-key, and that’s the way I like it.

IE: On “Seinfeld,” Jerry once berated George for casual attire. He said, “Those sweatpants say you’ve just stopped trying.”

JC: You know what? That’s exactly true! Those sweatpants just made me stop trying! But at 66, you get really slow, and you don’t want to be upset, you don’t want to get stressed out. I’ve got high blood pressure now, and I’ve never had that before in my life! It really freaks me out!

-Tom Lanham

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