An Interview with Ray West of Spread Eagle

All images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (official)

The retrospective reverence for the late 80s and early 90s hard rock era is undeniable. A wave of nostalgia and fervent love for the bands of the era is setting forth a sweeping forward motion not seen since that long past heyday, ushering in a new, and vibrant dawn, which is breaking open a reinvigorated era of hard rock.

Amongst the bands who are seeing a resurgence is Spread Eagle. Standing tall, screaming out front of NYC’s premier street metal outfit, is the jarringly humble, Ray West.

Dating back to its inception, and subsequent signing by MCA Records, Spread Eagle was touted as the east coast’s answer to Guns ‘N Roses. The band itself was composed of four street-tough, hard-knock-savvy guys who were just as liable to rip your throat out as they were to rock your heart out.

As for West, before joining an upstart trio from Boston, which was comprised of Rob DeLuca on bass, Paul DiBartolo on guitar, and Tommi Gallo on drums, West found his roots perpetually translated between Florida, and New York City, as he searched for a band to call his own.

Eventually, West’s nomadic ways led him to a chance meeting with guitar virtuoso, Paul DiBartolo, and in short order, DiBartolo called his old friends from Boston, DeLuca, and Gallo, and several late-night jam sessions later, the mighty Spread Eagle was born.

Things moved quickly for Spread Eagle, and before they knew it, they were on the road, touring on the backside of their first record, the riotous 1990 self-titled rager, which still holds true as one of the premier rock albums of any era, period.

As was common to the era, Spread Eagle was caught between a wave of hair metal bands, and an incoming groundswell of grunge bands, and the band’s label, MCA Records, simply did not know how to market a band with an edge like Spread Eagle, a band whose unwavering determination to make music their way, via their aesthetic, effectively left them knocking at the proverbial door of success.

While Spread Eagle was never able to garner the acclaim that many Sunset Strip bands did, still, to this day, the band’s fanbase is unwavering and devout as ever, and in the wake of the band’s 2010 reformation, Spread Eagle is going stronger than ever, and still led, of course, by the one and only, Ray West.

To West’s credit, he is a singer of true grit, integrity, and determination. His story, his ups and downs, and his success are a true tribute to a man who steadfastly pursued his dream, by any means required, and in doing so, has managed to cultivate a career based on respect, and dignity.

West’s lighthearted demeanor, which stands in stark contrast to his appreciation for the darker aspects of life, and only serves to shine the spotlight on one simple truth — Ray West and is one of the premier singers of his era, and is one who has been too long underexposed to the general public.

In a genre where many frontmen are cookie-cutter, are stagnating, or simply let their voices deteriorate due to misuse, Ray West is a man who never allowed himself to become complacent. Instead, West has come to understand his voice, his music, and his fans.

These are just a few of the things which make Ray West unique, along with his mighty, reach-for-the-sky vocal range, which has anchored city and era-defining classics such as “Broken City,” “Switchblade Serenade,” “Scratch Like a Cat,” “Revolution Maker,” and more recently, “Solitaire,” and “Gutter Rhymes for Valentines.”

While you may not know Ray West by his face, or by his name, one thing is certain, take one listen to the music of Spread Eagle, and you will know West by the scream.

West recently granted me a rare interview, where we cover the entirety of his career, both in and out of Spread Eagle.

Andrew:
Ray, that’s for digging in with me. Going back to the days before
your time in Spread Eagle, who were some of your earliest influences that first sparked your interest in music.

Ray:
Let me start by stating my mother turned me onto Motown, and my father turned me onto 70s rock. I am influenced by literally everything soulful voice Ive ever heard, whether it’s Motown, rock ‘n’ roll, or World music. I don’t have one particular voice I’ve ever emulated, but there are a few voices that I might have gotten in my head. As a kid, I loved Everything Motown, from The Jackson 5 to the Temptations, The Beatles, and everything Elvis. As I got a little older, I watched the late night Television show The Midnight Special, that show turned me onto all the great rock singers of the times, John Fogherty, Rod Stewart, Dan MaCafferty Steve Marriott, Burton Cummings, all three Bee Gees, Robin Zander. I also loved Bon Scott, Ozzy Osbourne, Brian Johnson, X, and especially Tina Turner’s voice, her intonation and vicious high energy delivery just blew me away. There are so many cool voices to play off of in history, but really, the bottom line is I’m a fan of everything and anything that moves me and makes me feel something. Those are the things that become an influence on me. Even things like great movie characters, and larger than life personalities, Rocky Balboa, Evel Kineival, etc. — that’s all an influence. Honestly, for me to give you every singer that influenced me, it would take me hours to list. It would amount to stack so high, it would block out the sun. [Laughs].

Andrew:
What were some of your early gigs where you first cut your teeth, so to speak?

Ray:
I first cut my teeth down here in Fort Lauderdale, FL, when I was a teen. My first gig was on an outdoor mobile stage attached to a semi-truck and it was at a county fair. My little local band was called “Equinox,” and we did a gig in front of all our friends in the neighborhood. So that was an awakening for me, and then, I had another “baby band,” as I like to call it, that was called “Diamond Needle.” We played a high school battle of the bands and any party that would have us. I actually did a few battles of the bands as a youngster in high school, and we actually won all of those. I don’t ever recall losing any battle of the bands, which is kind of cool, and made me very cocky. [Laughs].

After high school gigs, while most of my sane friends went to college, I graduated to the clubs. There was a place called Art Stocks Playpen, which was a rock club in downtown Fort Lauderdale, and there was a place called The Button South in Hollywood Fl, which had a decent-sized stage, big enough for national acts to come through, and best of all was The Button South used to be open until six in the morning. Down the road was The Treehouse Lounge, also open to 6 am, rock celebrities would come in and hang out when they were touring because Florida, as you know, is a place where bands like to start their tours, and they also finish their tours here. I remember Rob Halford, and Nicko McBrain hanging down there. So, that was our trinity — Art Stocks Playpen, Button South, and The Treehouse Lounge. As I said, The Treehouse Lounge and The Button South were open ’til six in the morning, so you’re talking about party central, you know, a cocaineesque existence. It was something else. [Laughs].

Andrew:
Spread Eagle more or less started with yourself, and Paul DiBartolo in NYC, right? How did you first meet Paul DiBartolo, and what were your first impressions?

Ray:
Paul and I were introduced to each other at a place called LoHo Studios. My band at the time was a fixture there because my manager owned the recording studio there. Anyway, Paul was introduced to me there via my manager, and his manager. They had gotten together and they thought it would be a cool thing for us to be introduced to each other. But the reason was that the band that I was in had lost its guitar player, because the guitar player had stolen a bunch of gear, and went out to LA to start a life in narcotics and fame. So Paul, coming from Boston, joined the band that I was in, and we started to have a good rapport. I thought Paul looked cool and had some swagger. Paul walked the walk, and he talked the talk — it was awesome. And from the first beer, we just got along.

Now, Paul really didn’t care for the members of the band that I was in, because he felt they were too fucked up to take seriously. For Paul, it was too many drugs, and style over substance. So, what happened was the guitarist who stole the gear and ran away to LA, came crawling back and wanted back into the band. For whatever reason, management thought it was a good idea for him and Paul to try and be in a two-guitar player band. Well, that lasted for two days. We rehearsed a couple of times, and Paul was just like, “This fucking sucks. I’m not being a part of this. This is bullshit.” So that’s when Paul decided to leave the band and have Tommi [Gallo], and Rob [DeLuca] come down from Boston. That’s the day Paul earned my complete respect!

All images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (official)

Andrew:
So, Tommy and Rob came down from Boston. From there, take me through the formation of Spread Eagle.

Ray:
Right, so, Tommi and Rob came down from Boston. I met them at LoHo Studios, and I was just blown away by their look because my hair is just crazy, but Rob has long blonde hair — he had the look, he had the abs, and of course, Tommy was the perfect hard rock drummer prototype. All three looked like rock stars, you know? So, I’m like, “Paul, Tommi, and Rob, they look like they belong in a band. This is perfect, man.” I was blown away by their organic rock image.

So, Rob, Tommi, and Paul started to do their demo, and my manager helped them by letting them use our studio, and my manager says to me, “Why don’t you go and help those guys put some vocals on so that they can go and find their singer?” But my lazy ass didn’t do it for days, and days, and days, and when I did hear the rhythm tracks they were putting together, I was pretty impressed, so I got my ass over there. [Laughs]. We started chiseling away at lyrics, I think Rob had written a few things, and then I went in and retooled lyrics to fit my vernacular, and the way that I phrase things, and we just started chipping away and making songs. By the time we got to maybe the second or third song, I think that’s when we found “Scratch Like A Cat.” I remember doing that scream at about four in the morning, and that was the song where everybody was like, “Yo, this sounds like a band. We need to do this, right? This sounds like something.” So, we’re all looking at each other, and we are all like, “It sounds cool,” and while we’re doing that, the guitar player in the other band happens to be walking by and hears it, and he’s obviously got a look on his face is like, “I guess you guys are gonna do this,” and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m gonna do this.”

Andrew:
Spread Eagle signed with MCA Records at a time when it hadn’t played its first official show yet and only had around six songs. Walk me through what sort of label attention Spread Eagle received, and ultimately, what led to Spread Eagle signing with MCA?

Ray:
So, for me, it was amazing. I went from showcasing in the drug-infested band I was in, to then being in a serious band where everybody was firing on all cylinders. There was no drama. The focus was on music 24/7. We lived and breathed NYC, and lived to write songs, get our drink on, and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! Basically, we lived most of our lives in our rehearsal studio, and because of the connections that our manager had, we didn’t have to go to the mountain, the mountain sorta came to us. What happened was the A&R people that heard the demo were like, “We need to come down and see these guys,” so they actually came into our rehearsal studio. We didn’t do any showcases at all, and we got signed, because someone came to the rehearsal room and was like, “Let’s take these guys.”

Bruce Dickinson (not Iron Maiden) from MCA, was the one that came in, and he won the Spread Eagle lottery. He said all the right things, you know, all the things that A&R guys are supposed to say to woo a band, and that was it. We just liked him right away. We thought he was cool. His attitude, his music sensibilities, and what he liked in bands. We felt like we could work with him, and that was that, and we got signed to MCA. The vibe with Bruce was, he came into our rehearsal room, and we sat him down at the back of the room, and we started the song on the other side of the room. So, when we tore into “Scratch Like A Cat,” we all ran across the room, and I put my mic about four or five inches from his face, and I was screaming into his face, and I think he I said something like, “That would either scare someone or make someone say, ‘I like these guys, they got some fucking attitude and swag.’”

Andrew:
What do you recall regarding Spread Eagles’ first official gig?

Ray:
The first official gig official was, believe it or not, the first day of the tour after recording our debut record. We had thrown a few tunes down in quick sets at some of the underground clubs, but the first real show with a crazed audience was in Portland, Oregon. The bus came to pick us up in downtown New York City on a street between B and C where the guys had their apartment, and we took a three-day, cross country trip, and wound up in Portland, Oregon. On the first day, for the first gig, after being cooped up for three days in a bus, I remember by the time we got off that bus, we were so overly amped, and straight-up crazy. Someone described us as a live band once as, “Like a bunch of caged monkeys at feeding time,” because we were just all over the place, we would just jump around everywhere, we were just wacky. We were a force…we were a real force to deal with, we all were. When you’ve got four guys moving in the same direction, at a very high speed, it’s just fireworks, and mayhem, all day son!

All images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (official)

Andrew:
Rob, Tommi, and Paul gave me tidbits regarding the sort of conditions Spread Eagle was living and rehearsing in during the band’s early days. Paint a picture of the scene for me.

Ray:
Our manager had owned one particular building in Alphabet City, so the band lived rent-free in a very rent-free-ish looking, rundown apartment on a street between B and C. A baseball bat was kept in the corner of the room, not only for protection but to kill the huge rats, so that was funny. It was a rundown, raggedy-ass apartment. The baseball bat by the stove had all the markings of how many rats we killed because we would hear rats at night when we were sleeping, and we would go out and smash them with the bat. When I would stay over there — I wouldn’t crash there all the time, because I was living with a girl, and doing the whole, “coddled singer” kind of thing, and I thought I was living the rockstar life — I would go there and be like, “Guys, man, you live so shitty.” I stayed there a bunch of nights though, and the living conditions were everything you think of — a very hungry band, living in a rundown apartment, eating bad food, or eating as cheap as they can. It was party central for us, and we had lots of parties where you had people in the stairwells and people on the balcony. It was definitely raw, very NYC, and cool as fuck.

Andrew:
Spread Eagle had a certain edge to it, and you were and are a huge part of that edge. I feel you embody that in your music. That said, take me through the writing, and recording of the band’s self-titled debut record.

Ray:
We only had so many tunes when we got signed, so we had to finish the second half of the record in the studio. In the beginning, we wrote it in our local studios, and our rehearsal rooms. We were there all the time, our job was to rehearse and write music. So, anywhere we were, Rob and I would always be trying to think lyrically, and Paul would do lyrics too, actually. Then, we would all get together and just hash out melodies, and the lyrics would come because of the natural progression of things. A lot of times, I would get a rhythm track given to me, and I would write to that. I would go home and play a song one thousand times a day, bouncing off the walls, hearing the same thing over and over again.

Spread Eagle was actually the last band to ever record at the Record Plant, and the vibe there was cool.  That was special, because the Record Plant set the tone for songs like “Dead of Winter,” and I think we finished “Broken City” there as well. Writing is all about getting the right idea at the right time, sometimes it hits you, so back then, you needed to have a pen and paper, so you could be ready to go. You also have to make sure everybody else is ready to rock. You know, “I got these lyrics and this melody, I wanted to come over and work on a riff,” … “Hey, I got some riffs, man. I wrote this really cool riff to go with whatever you got, come on over.” We were all accessible to each other all the time, so it was great.

Writing the first album there was special, there was a room in the Record Plant that had a big window, and it looked out over the city when I was tracking, and at night, that was what used to blow my mind. When you’re creating in the studio there’s the excitement that down the line your gonna have to turn these tunes into live pieces. In the studio you’re working on creating an idea together, as compared to when you write something in the rehearsal room live, and you go to record it. First, you demo it, then you record it for the big time, but the studio is art, ya feel me?

Andrew:
Circling back to the band’s attitude, living conditions, and street gang mentality, how do you feel that manifested in Spread Eagle’s music, and live shows in the early days?

Ray:
Because we were all living in New York City, we were all experiencing the New York vibe. Paul, Rob, and Tommi all adopted The City, and The City adopted them. I already had my New York clique of friends, who became part of our tribe as well. Everything that is The City becomes part of you, and you put that onto the tape when you record. I think because we were all living in New York City, and all sort of feeling the same vibe, we all had the same energy and were on the same page. We all drank from the same beer tap. All that energy and city life went onto the album.

All images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (official)

Andrew:
While Paul, Tommi, and Rob had a history together back in Boston, you were from NYC and had to integrate. How was it for you to navigate that situation early on? How much of a role did that play for both you personally, and on the band as a whole?

Ray:
Those guys had their Boston history, so sometimes, yes, I did feel like an outsider, especially when we were on the bus, and they were all talking about something from the Boston days. If someone who was a friend of theirs from Boston would show up, then it’d be all about that, the history they had there, but I was always very respectful of their history in Boston — they had a big band in Bang. They did well for themselves, but you know, they went to the next level, came to New York City, and they went on a bigger stage. As far as us all being together, we were all for one, we were all focused on the same thing. I  respected the fact that we were in a band together, and for the most part, the past was the past. We lived in the now, we were in the moment, and that’s very New York, to be in the moment, and experience that energy. We had so many bonding experiences together, that it wiped out a lot of past history. NYC was the place and time to be.

Andrew:
If you can, expand on your writing relationship with Rob DeLuca. Much is made about Paul’s contributions in the early days, but I want to shine the spotlight on you and Rob’s contributions, which were critical in their own right.

Ray:
Rob has always had a talent for fluid melody and lyrics, so when that meets my vocal style and my sense of lyrics and melody, we compliment each other very well. We are the guys that bring the picture to life. Rob and I met through music, but over the years we’ve built a solid foundation of friendship based on love, trust, and mutual respect. Let’s face it, Rob has worked with some of the greatest singers ever, for him to think of me as a suitable partner on stage is very humbling. That’s mutual respect.

Paul might have started the batter, but Rob and I turned it into a big ole cake, with tons of icing…who doesn’t love cake with tons of icing. [Laughs].

Andrew:
In the wake of the band’s debut, while Spread Eagle garnered cult status, especially on the east coast, major success eluded you. Walk me through the aftermath of your debut, and the challenges you all faced. Do you feel MCA supported the band properly? 

Ray:
No, MCA did not support us in the manner they should have. In the beginning, it was great. And in the beginning, they did, because they were laying out the money for the recording studio. We were flying around, going to LA, we were taking red eyes to places where everything’s free, where the drinks are free, the food is free, life is free. They pretty much let us run wild because they didn’t really care if we ran ourselves ragged, as long as we showed up when and where we needed to be. To them, it was like, “Man, these guys are crazy. Let Ray go piss and shit in the corner. Let him do what he wants, as long as he longs he sings his ass off.” [Laughs].

With MCA, we thought they went in with the best of intentions, and I think they did too, but in the end, they just didn’t know what to do with a band like us, they wanted something more cookie-cutter. Our A&R guy, Bruce, also signed Trixster sometime after us, and they were more marketable in that, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Lite” kinda way, and that’s where the money went. Bruce didn’t stand up for us, and I don’t know why. In the end, I just think MCA did not know what to do with a band like Spread. It’s all about timing, isn’t it? We were very hungry, they fed us, then they let us starve. Fuck MCA.

All images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (official)

Andrew:
I’ve personally noticed a trend from this era, say the late 80s to early 90s, where many east coast bands from NYC, Boston, Philly, and so forth, did not receive the same attention as the LA Strip bands did.

Ray:
LA is the center of the universe, when it comes to music, and heavy metal entertainment period. So, no matter where you’re from, even if you’re successful in your town, no matter what you do, you’re going to have to go to LA. So, that’s why LA has a lot of style over substance. When you’re a band, and you’re getting juice, and you’re getting hot, and you feel some heat, you have to go to LA, because for some reason, that is the center of the rock ‘n’ roll universe. It is the entertainment capital of the world. It’s where movies are made. It’s where the glamour is. It’s where “the dream” is. So, yeah, I would say the east coast bands didn’t get the same attention, and even if they did go out there, it was hard to top the California bands because they ruled Hollywood. We went out to LA, and when we gigged around locally there, it was obvious how much heavier a band like us was compared to a lot of what was popular there at the time. People would always comment, “Man, you guys are way heavy.” We couldn’t help it. We didn’t fit in with that world. To be honest, though, I loved LA — still do — LA took us in, and we had the time of our lives there. The clubs, the girls, the decadence — I loved it.

Andrew:
It took a full three years before Open to the Public was released, which signified a significant shift in Spread Eagle’s sound. While you were still hard, the razor’s edge mentality seemed to be gone and there also appeared to be some more alternative influences creeping in, as well as a certain melodic maturity. Expand on that for me.

Ray:
When you’re recording, if you don’t place yourself in a bubble, outside influences are always gonna creep in. Everything you absorb, whether it’s the music around you, the movies around you, or the city that you live in. We, obviously, were based in New York City, but now, we had some experience traveling, doing some crazier-than-life things, hanging out with different bands, and having different conversations about what we should do, but we all stuck to our guns. Paul was part of the production team on the second record, even the first, but Paul had more of a hand in producing that second record. Paul’s very musical, and he likes to orchestrate a lot of cool things, so we were left to our own devices. Still, management and the label were always whispering in our ears, “You need to write a hit,” which is funny because they should have released “Switchblade Serenade” on the regular, and put us in heavy rotation with the video, because, to me, that song was a hit. So, what’s hit, and what isn’t hit, is so fucked up.

When we started to record Open to the Public, we felt we were in a more mature place to write, we wanted to explore melody even more. We became a band so quickly, got signed quickly, and then, the first record was put together so fast, the energy was so quick, and we recorded it quickly. Then, we went on the road quickly. So, for the second record, we had more time to, what the words I’m lookin’ for…to overthink. So, that’s what happened, and overthinking is the sign of the devil, right? So, I would say that Open to the Public was overthought. It’s got some great songs on it, “King of the Dogs,” “ Devils Road,” to name a couple. Look, to me, it’s a great album, and I’m damn proud of it, but something is missing. It’s one of those things…it’s all about perspective, isn’t it?

Andrew:
I hear a progression from you vocally on Open to the Public. How did your approach change?

Ray:
From go, I actually had to learn to sing the first record live. I had to take voice lessons from the NYC voice teacher of the moment, Don Lawrence, and he would preach, “Ray, you have to control that power of yours,” because I used to push so hard, even at times when I didn’t need to. So, during the recording of Open to the Public, I became more aware of honing in on my natural tone, so to speak. I learned tonal awareness, and to sit back in the pocket more, so I became a better pocket singer. I transitioned from wild and untamed to just untamed. [Laughs]. I started to understand that I don’t have to be in high gear all the time, I just needed to learn to control the energy more. I’m still working on that.

All images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (official)

Andrew:
Another major change from the band was the departure of Tommi Gallo. What led to Tommi leaving? How important was he to Spreads sound and mentality? Do you feel Open to the Public suffered at all without him?

Ray:
Tommi Gallo was about attitude and swagger. Tommi was comical, man. He was a funny dude, with lots of attitude. If he wasn’t a drummer, he’d be a stand-up comedian or a great painter — actually, he is a great painter. Tommi just had that Tommy Lee-esq edge to him, and he was always the one to turn us on to something new. He turned me onto Rage Against the Machine. He was always looking for new things to fuck with. He was always listening to music and finding new bands, that was Tommi. Everybody else was just happy to be where they were at, and not really look outside too much. Tommi was the one who always had his head out the window, you know, “What’s that? What’s that? What’s that shiny thing?” [Laughs]. So, when we lost Tommi, we lost some swagger, we lost our sense of fun and our sense of humor. You know, we’ve had great drummers in this band, but Tommi was great for us at that time, and when Tommi left, a lot of the fun dried up,

Andrew:
Open to the Public, once again, was critically acclaimed and gained cult status, but did not hit commercially. Ultimately, what spoiled Spread Eagle’s fortunes?

Ray:
We were victims of the times and mismanagement. We thought we were changing and evolving into something heavier, and grunge had a heaviness to it. Grunge had very real lyrics, with a certain feeling to them, and we just got caught in the middle of the mix. We got caught between hard rock — Guns ‘N Roses, Skid Row — and the changing of the guard. And because we didn’t have MCA’s backing, or a particular song, or particular video in heavy rotation, we didn’t get to go to the flipside, like Skid Row, Guns ‘N Roses, and so many other edgier bands did.

The business was changing, grunge came in, and slapped everybody that wore spandex in the face, and if you weren’t in a grunge band, the labels weren’t interested. MCA did not know what to do with us. I got to meet Alice In Chains before they became an MTV success, and when I heard that music on the first Alice In Chains record, that blew my fuckin’ mind. I was like, “Oh, that shit, that’s heavy. That’s good.” I was always like, “Man, I wish we could hit like that.“

Andrew:
Spread Eagle’s first chapter came to a close in 1995. What types of challenges and hardships did the band experience which led to the fracture? Where was your head at around that time?

Ray:
Oh, I was totally knee-deep in drinking at my favorite bar and doing drugs with my so-called friends every night. And just thinking, and planning on living off the first record. I was, at that time, a young guy in New York City, and Spread Eagle, as a band, became a part of the fabric of New York City, but somewhere in there, I just lost interest, because it was just too easy, so I got bored. I got disillusioned by the business, and it left me with such a bad taste in my mouth. I recall at some point, Paul and I met at a bar, and we both talked about it, and we were just done. I remember riding home from our last tour, and the four of us were literally laying on top of our gear in the back of a moving truck, riding up the east coast for hours. We were burned out. I wanted out, and Paul wanted out, so, we ended it. We had shots and called it a day, and I staggered home as usual.

For me, I remember asking our manager sometime after to borrow twenty bucks, and he said, “No way, you’re a fuckin’ junkie, man. I’m not giving you twenty bucks.” See, I had developed a real taste for snorting heroin, and I thought because I wasn’t shooting it, I wasn’t an addict. To me, I was “Just snorting it,” and I just didn’t realize how far I’d gone down that rabbit hole. So, by 1995, I wanted out, and I needed a change. I needed to change my life. So, Paul and I got together, we talked about it, and that was it. I had heard they were trying to keep going without me, but that obviously didn’t happen.

Image credit: Denis Plantier

Andrew:
How did you write out the rest of the decade, into the early 2000s, and eventually, build yourself back up?

Ray:
Oh, man, in the late 90s, I wanted to reinvent myself. I did some off-Broadway, I did some standup comedy — I gotta tell ya I loved making people laugh. I wanted to get into the theater because I just don’t consider myself a singer, I think I’m more of an entertainer. I also put myself through cooking school. I went to restaurant school because I wanted to become a chef. The Food Network was booming, so I wanted to be like a rockstar chef. I thought that’d be the coolest thing, but I did not follow through on the rock and roll part of it. [Laughs]. I did go to work in a couple of restaurants in NYC, and I came to realize that if you’re going to be a chef in a restaurant, you’ve got to start when you’re really young because my back was broken every night from that place. It was really hard work. I went from Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll to Sex, Drugs, and Food Prep. [Laughs].

I spent that time traveling with friends of mine. I did a lot of cool things, but that’s really it — drugs, food, travel. That’s how I spent that time, and then, coming out of that, I finally hit a wall, and seven rehabs later, I started to come out of it. Around ’97 or ’98, Rik [DeLuca] and I had a band for a little while called “Girls of Porn,” and that was great. That was like it was like Rage Against the Machine but with a melodic singer. It was kind of like an Audioslave type of thing. But once again, it didn’t work out, because I was being flaky, going back n forth to Florida quite a bit, and doing some music down there. So, the late 90s, for me, was cooking school, drugs, comedy, theater, and then, resurrection.

Andrew:
So, you’ve known Rik for a long time, and of course, Rik knew Ziv. The current lineup of Spread Eagle seems to have captured that special magic the band had back in the 90s. Spread was always one part attitude, one part magic, and the rest was real deal tunes, and skill to back it up. How does the current lineup stack up against the original lineup?

Ray:
Yeah, I’ve known Rik for a long time. The current lineup stack-ups against Spread Eagles early energy amazingly. It is just as, if not more, intense than it was back in the day because Rik DeLuca is fresh, and his energy is amazing. Ziv [Shalev] has a very youthful presence, and great energy as well. So, our vibe is that we love each other as brothers should. There’s something about being together for a long period of time that builds trust, and respect. Not that we didn’t have that back in the day, but there were some times back then when we were just not into each other, as often as we should’ve been because that’s what real brothers are.

Riky is a great talent, Ziv is a great talent, and Rob is talent meets attention to detail. I feel their energy, and it charges us up, so I’m going to say that the new lineup is even at a higher level, musically. I mean everything that’s the 2.0 version is always better. I’ve known Rik forever, and for me, Rik DeLuca is the most undiscovered talent ever, he’s the most gifted, multi-talented drummer and musician I’ve ever known, and I want to make it so people can see him play. I want to tour and have Riky shine. When we got to go to London in 2017 — Rob, myself, Rik, and Ziv — that was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Of all the tours I’ve ever done, those were the greatest shows, of my life. Playing with those guys, in London, was just incredible.

Andrew:
What more can you tell us about the recording of Subway to the Stars? I know you had some old demos from the 90s, how many of those made it onto the new record?

Ray:
I can tell you it’s the easiest, most stress-free album I’ve ever been a part of making. Hey, I only threw my headphones against the wall ONE TIME, which is good for me, believe you me! Seriously though, it’s the first time I’ve ever been truly prepared to go into the studio. Rob and I worked together on phrasing and melodies, it was awesome and easy. It was a fuckin’ pleasure. ya feel me? Producer, Tommy Camuso, creates the best vibe to work in. There’s something about going to grab a coffee in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, that puts me at ease.

So, before I digress as usual, on Subway to the Stars, there is a song called ”Solitaire,” which has become my favorite Spread song ever. “Solitaire” was something Paul and I wrote after the majority of Open to the Public was finished, so it didn’t make it onto Open to the Public. Basically, the album already had two slow songs on it, and both MCA and our management did not want to have three. Of course, I was like, “Why not? Man, we can do what we want.” I probably should have fought harder for the song back then, but I was probably too busy getting buzzed to bitch and moan about it. So, when we got the chance to record Subway to the Stars and record it as we are now, we’re better now, and I can tell you with all honesty that I feel my vocal sound has changed for the better. I think my voice has matured in a good way, it’s evolved into something I actually like working with. Back in the day, I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing, but now, I think I dig my tone, and now I know how to use it. I don’t have to be so extreme. I don’t have to be at one-hundred miles an hour every time I go to sing something. I can just enjoy singing. I can just be me.

Andrew:
Unlike many vocalists of your era, you’ve managed to maintain your voice. What’s your secret, Ray? How would you compare the more mature Ray West to your younger self?

Ray:
Oh, that’s easy. The more mature Ray West understands and knows his limits. I think I’ve learned my voice. When I was first starting out, I was like a cat on helium in a meat grinder. [Laughs]. I was always having to be in this high falsetto scream, and just always going at a thousand miles an hour. Now, I just enjoy singing for singing sake. I enjoy the tone. This is why I love singers like Bono and Elton John, for the tonality. It’s effortless. On the first Spread record, I had this over-the-top, high-energy vocal, but now, it’s got intensity, but I have control of it. Now, I can control the intensity, but before I couldn’t. I’ve learned how to take care of my voice. I try not to talk too much like I’m doing right now. [Laughs]. And I warm up once in a while — twenty minutes a day of warm-up isn’t going to kill you — it’s only twenty minutes. I try to stay connected to my voice, so I sing to everything I possibly can. Whether it’s in the car, or even when I lived in New York City, I sang to everything. I was like a crazy person on the street singing songs up and down the block. Thank you for the kind words about my voice, it means a lot.

Andrew:
I’ve only ever heard one band defined as “NYC street metal,” and it’s Spread Eagle. I can’t picture anyone else embodying that. What does NYC street metal mean to Ray West, and Spread Eagle?

Ray:
New York City has a sound, a kind of vibration. I’m gonna sound poetic here, but it’s everything, man. When you land in New York City, no matter where you are, it takes your breath away. There’s a certain vibration that’s happening, and if you can catch that, it’s such a buzz. There’s nothing like the energy of New York City — nothing, man — so if you can catch that, and plug into that spike, you just go to another level of being. You feel it. You feel like you’re somewhere. It’s everywhere you look — the lights, the smells, the sounds — they just get you. So, NYC street metal, it’s everything. It’s the sound, you know, the sound of traffic on the bridge, it’s the sound of someone yelling out of a deli down the street, it’s the kids in the playground, playing and screaming, splashing water everywhere. New York City has a raw energy that you just have to be dialed into. And when I’m there, I feel it, it’s that significant. NYC street metal is all of us, it’s all the guys in the band, it’s all the fans, and we all need to come together to keep that vibe flowing as it does. I’ve tapped into the grittier side of life, I feel at home there, and for me, NYC street metal embodies that too.

Image credit: Keith Celentano

Andrew:
The new lineup of Spread is incredible and certainly pushing the band forward. This said, the original members also went through wars together. Are you still in touch with Tommi and Paul?

Ray:
I’m still in touch with Tommi via Facebook, we message each other. We message each other more than talk. I think I said to him, “I’m going to call you every Sunday from now on,” but of course, I flaked out on that, but we still keep in touch. It’s great. As you know, Paul changed his name and moved to India. I’m sure Paulie got hurt by the business enough that he just turned his back, and wanted to be somebody else. And sometimes, it’s good to do, you want to just go and be somebody else. And if you have the freedom to do that, why not? I love them both. I have great respect for them both. They’re the original members, and as you said, we went through a lot together.

Andrew:
Last one. I know you’re in the studio recording album number four. Is the band planning to hit the road? What’s next, Ray?

Ray:
Oh, of course, we’re gonna hit the road. The collective dream we all share is to make our music, and then, translate it live. Rob, Rik, and Ziv demo the material, and then, I take what I hear riff-wise, and just start doing a lot of lyrics, and Robbie does lyrics. These days, we do our music by committee, everybody has input in this band. It’s all treated very respectfully and fairly. And you know, Ziv he’s a cocky motherfucker when it comes to what he’s doing, he’s very opinionated. So, to me, if we do something, or if I do something, and Ziv likes it, I’m like, “Thank God.” You know, Riky’s the same way. I always want to make Rik proud. I want to make Ziv proud. I want to make Rob proud. We all want to do well for each other. We all want to see each other be happy doing this. If we’re not happy, then why are we doing this? There ain’t no money in it. That’s for sure.

All images courtesy of Spread Eagle Facebook (official)

Interested in learning more about the music of Spread Eagle? Hit the link below:

Be sure to check out the full catalog of VWMusic Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

With an immense passion for music, a disposition for writing, and an eagerness to teach and share both, Andrew decided to found VWMusic in 2019 as a freelance column under the column Idle Chatter. Over time, the column grew into a website that now features contributors who further the cause of sharing both a love of music and the art of journalism with the world through articles and interviews. While Andrew enjoys running the website, his real passion lies in teaching and facilitating others to do what they do best, and giving them the opportunity to explore their passions in the process. Some of Andrew’s favorite artists include KISS, Oasis, ACϟDC, Elvis Presley, Ace Frehley, The Rolling Stones, Rush, The Pretenders, Led Zeppelin, The Gaslight Anthem, Iron Maiden, John Lennon, The Melvins, Noel Gallagher, Regina Spektor, Rory Gallagher, The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Thin Lizzy, Elvis Costello, Van Halen, Neil Young, Blur, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and many more.
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