Sideburn: Aussie-style "pub rock" with a slice of Swiss
By Thom Copher
Rarely, in the thick trenches of rock and roll, do you find a band who wears its influences on its sleeve like a badge of honor. Cashing in on the
trend of the moment doesn't allow for that. Think back... the grunge movement swallowed up many a fine band, derailed even more, and ultimately
produced a vast wasteland which threatened to stifle real-rock radio. Switch to present day - what we are getting is a barrage of so-called nu-metal
bands who masquerade as descendents of great thrash and death metal. Their rough edges camouflage marginal talent rather than displaying true art
and innovative musicianship.
The older I get, the more I long for the pure honesty -- enter Sideburn, from
Lausanne, Vaud, Switzerland.
I first caught wind of Sideburn in a rather unusual way - the band contacted me via
MySpace. I'd never heard of 'em, but thought I'd give it a shot on my "friends" list.
Days went by and I had not even visited their site, but then I got a message which
caught my interest - they had uploaded a song from their upcoming Cherry Red
album, "Ghost of 1980," which was dedicated to AC/DC's legendary singer Bon
Scott. "O.K." I thought, "time to give these guys a listen."
It was one of the best decisions I've ever made!
I was greeted, upon logging on to Sideburn's site, with the driving guitars and forceful lyrics of "Gimme the Way" which is a rock anthem in the
truest sense. Hey, was this good ol' Aussie-style "pub rock" that I was hearing? As the tune played, I read the band's influences, which included
AC/DC along with fellow "pubbers" Rose Tattoo. Hot damn... I was onto something. I eagerly clicked on the "Ghost" track and was beside myself;
could this be the reincarnation of "Nightprowler" or possibly even "Let Me Put My Love Into You Babe"? These Sideburn dudes were SMOKIN'!
So, based on two songs which totally blew me way, I had to ask, "Where had Sideburn been hiding?" Well, Switzerland... duh! I recalled, too, that
the land of the holy cheese had also given us Krokus, who is but one of a very, very select few non-Aussie combos who pull off that pub rock
sound without sounding like a bad cover band. Must be something in the water of the Swiss alps!
By this point, I was mesmerized and had to find out all that I could about the band. I discovered that Sideburn not only had an impressive catalog;
they had also been around for over 20 years. The band's saga, as my research uncovered, also contained an odd twist: the unit started out under a
different name - Genocide. "Holy crap," thought I. It was time to get down to business. Hence, my journey into all things Sideburn had begun.
The Genocide Years
Vocalist Roland Pierrehumbert and rhythm guitarist Fred Gudit first circled the Genocide wagons in 1985... when hair was tall, spandex was tight,
and attitudes were high and mighty. The band was ambitious and definitely all heavy metal; after all, the moniker points to a tune from Judas
Priest's pivotal 1976 Sad Wings of Destiny album. The band's style most certainly fit the times: loud 'n proud and no holds barred. Roland and
Fred, with guitarist Oliver Perdizat, bassist J.D. Aeby, and drummer Patrick Aeby slaved the circuits for five long, hard years before the band's debut
EP, Roots in Rock, appeared. It was followed by the '92 release, Showtime. With these independent discs, Genocide began forging its name in
stone with sharp tunes and a good, old-fashioned work ethic.
Genocide's sound was unquestionably rooted in
Euro-metal with familiar foundations: "The Magic
Dust" displayed flairs of Priest's early gem
"Exciter" while "On the Road" echoed
transitional-period Accept (a la Restless and
Wild). Noteworthy, also, were "King Without a
Throne," "Born to Storm," and "Breaking the
Chains," all of which reflected a mish-mash of
halcyon-era metal. However, this was not the
mid-to-late 1980s and it appeared that Genocide,
mighty as it was, was in danger of becoming
another statistic by the usurpation brought on by
the grunge movement.
Change was on the horizon for the band. 1994
(Roland, J.D. and Fred kicking it live in '93.
Showtime was the band's second independent
release. It would be the last with the original
saw Genocide hooking up with major distribution, BMG Records, and in the following year it released Stranded. The album marked a bit of a
departure from the band's pure metal approach, branching off into a more traditional rock / boogie direction. The band's lineup also began to shift
with its sound. Oliver, whose guitar work was the main influence behind Genocide's metal sound, had departed prior to the recording of Stranded, as
had (bassist) J.D. Aeby. Their replacements, Stephane Monbaron on lead guitar and bass player J.J. Bozzy, seemed to be more suited to the band's
restructured sound. Stranded featured a guitar sound which focused more toward the power of the riff rather than the resonance of the melody;
Roland also began singing with a bit more grit in his voice. Stranded was propelled by a cover of Rose Tattoo's "Rock 'n' Roll Outlaw" which was
an obvious veer toward the timeless Australian pub rock sound. "Nostalgic Harmonies" and the album's title track further indicated that the band was
headed toward a more riff-dominant style. On the momentum of Stranded's raw power, Genocide embarked on a major tour with none other than
fellow Swiss giants, Krokus. Things were happening in a major way... but something, still, was missing.
(Armed with a new attitude, the band resufaced as Sideburn for the Sell
Your Soul (For Rock 'n' Roll) album.)
Sideburn is born
1997 saw the band come full-circle as it began to realize, as it were, its
true calling. Tired with trying to pinpoint its sound into the metal niche,
the boys in the band retooled into the pubber format which it was
obviously most suited for. The self-proclaimed "rebaptism" as Sideburn
saw the band's redirected approach, which resulted in the bare-knuckled
Sell Your Soul (Fro Rock 'n' Roll) album. Sideburn seemingly made no
apologies for the full-scale change. From the get-go, "Raise Your
Hands" paid homage to Rose Tattoo (cited by the band as its major
influence) with jack-hammer riffing and slide guitars abound. Other
Down-Under influences The Angels and, of course, AC/DC rang
prominent on rousers "Knockin' at the Wrong Door," "Under My Skin,"
"Voodoo Girl," and "Mr. Fat Cat" while echoes of pub rock's roots in
American blues slither underneath the booze-soaked exterior.
The name "Sideburn," in fact, is also admittedly rooted in rock tradition;
it stems from the facial adornment of none other than Elvis Presley and,
also, "because it sounded so rock and roll."
Relentless gigging, including a pinnacle supporting slot for KISS at Hallenstadion in Zurich, culminated with the semi-live EP Get That Way the
The metamorphosis further realized itself when J.J. (bass) and Patrick (drums) left Sideburn. In search of replacements who fully embraced the pub
rock style to which the band was headed, drummer Lionel Blanc and bassist Michel Demierre joined the ranks in 1999. Soon after, Stephane packed
up his guitar and the vacant slot was filled by David Pariat. The line up now solid (for a while), Sideburn embarked on its quest for pub-rock
(Michel Demierre and Lionel Blanc joined up in 1999.)
Following a brief hiatus where the realigned band tightened the screws a few turns,
Sideburn resurfaced in 2002 with Crocodile and later with Gasoline in 2004 (both on the
Point Music Label, distributed by Musikvertrieb). Swiss production guru Juerg Naegeli
(who helmed Showime) also re-enlisted for both discs. These releases continued to
exhibit the band's progressive dedication to the favored Aussie sound. However, as the
new material progressed, it wasn't a case of favoritism toward any particular Down
Under influence; the band members schooled themselves on the overall ambience of the
style. They understood that the groove and the energy could work in harmony and that
this simple equation was what separated successful pub rockers from the wannabees.
As a result, they were beginning to carve their own place within the genre rather than
fitting themselves into the pocket of any single sound
Over this period, the band's reputation as a tight, dedicated outfit both in the studio and
live led to an impressive list of supporting tour engagements. Sideburn opened for legends Def Leppard, Motorhead, Dio, Ted Nugent, Thin
Lizzy, and Doro... and even Meat Loaf. (I woulda loved to have seen one of those gigs!) There were, too, the road treks with soulmates Krokus
and Rose Tattoo.
Genocide to Sideburn, the same band. Obviously, Roland and Fred, along with J.D., Patrick, J.J., Oliver, and Stephane as Genocide and later
Michel, Lionel, David, and now Boris, as Sideburn, are proud of what they've accomplished. Rightfully they should be, too, because they've always
been on top of their game no matter which direction the band was headed in at any given time. Archives is one "best of" set which is never
predictable (especially for new converts such as myself) and certainly never bogs down as many retrospective collections tend to do.
And now... the future of rock
David Roades of Airbourne told me that pub rock is beginning to see a resurgence. My response is that it's about damn time. As a musician and a
fan, I think we are all getting weary of the trends and pre-packaging which the music industry has loaded up on over the past two decades. The
question here: Will pub rock join another rock-casualty statistic and become just another bloated beast in much the way that "hair metal" or grunge
and its post-invasion fallout did in eras gone by? I see no feasible way the possibility of that happening because the Aussie sound is too firmly rooted
in the traditions of rock and roll itself; it is the lifeblood from which all things have and ever will come.
With that in mind, we can all look forward to the release of Sideburn's Cherry Red. The band is now at the "perfectionist" stage in its career, and for
straight-forward rock that's a good thing. As I have said of AC/DC (as a reference point) for over 30 years, I liken any new offering of the pub
rock style to a McDonald's cheeseburger: you know what you're gonna get and if that's your taste, you're gonna like it. The availability of
pre-album-release tunes "Gimme the Way" and "Ghost of 1980" are what introduced me to the band and led me on a twenty-year journey down
amnesia lane. I can honestly say that I can appreciate what the band has done thus far in its career and anticipate - like a kid on Christmas Eve -
what's to come. If there is any justice in rock and roll, Sideburn's third decade should be as raucous as an Aussie (or Swiss) pub on a hot summer
***** ***** ***** (Click here for classic Sideburn and Genocide pics!!) ***** ***** *****
Sideburn's drummer, Lionel Blanc, has been a tremendous source for this Heavy Metal Hog exclusive. Below, he fields my questions which further
describe some of the underbelly of the great band which we now know as Sideburn.
Heavy Metal Hog: The band, even back as Genocide, has always been solid. What sparked the change in musical direction?
Lionel Blanc: Oliver Perdrizat (lead guitar through '94 and the Showtime album), was the more heavy-metal-oriented musician of the band. (His
replacement) Stephane Monbaron, who is a pure rocker, and the rest of the band decided to play some rock 'n' roll which ended up to be the album
Stranded . At this point, the musical switch was going on.
HMH: I hear traces of early Judas Priest, Accept, and other European / NWOBHM artists in the band's first few releases. Who would you consider
to be the influences during that period of the band'scareer? Also, who are your present-day influences?
LB: You definitely named the two main ones with Priest and Accept. Today, our influences include AC/DC, Rose Tattoo, Krokus, and a little bit of
Creedence Clearwater from Fred's side. Basic rythm and music, catchy chorus. A mix of rock'n'roll and some blues.
HMH: There must be a deep connection to Krokus. Can you talk about that a bit?
LB: You're totally right. Actually, Juerg Naegeli, our producer on on our three releases and (Genocide's) Showtime, was the original Krokus bass
player (until Metal Rendez-vous). Patrick Aeby (drums) and Bozzy (bass) left the band to create the ultimate AC/DC cover band, DC World, with
Marc Storace (Krokus)... nobody sings Bon Scott's songs better than Marc. This led to Patrick's joining and Marc's re-joining Krokus. We opened
for them few times. So, we certainly know them (Krokus) pretty well and they are all great persons.
HMH: Sideburn's style is described as "pub rock" which is usually associated with Australia. What are the genre's Swiss roots?
LB: Well, there are not really that many "pub rock" bands in Switzerland. I think that there is Krokus, us, and few others. But, there are a lot of
great heavy metal bands like Shakra, China, Crystal Ball, Pure Inc., and the main act, Gotthard, who play a more melodic hard rock. For such a
small country, we can be pretty proud of what's going on musically.
HMH: So many bands claim pub rock as an influential style, yet so few can play it with conviction. Why do you think this is... does a band have to
have it in their heart and soul? Why does Sideburn, a non-Aussie band, play it so masterfully?
LB: I think that most musicians listen to that kind of music when they start to play an instrument. It's funny to see today's young guitar players
who start to play Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" as their first song, which was the song to start with when I started to play drums 23 years
ago. Most of them think that it's easy to play because that's the kind of song that you can play, basically, right away. But there is something that is
hardly taught in school and that most people don't understand, and that is the groove! It's what makes the song swing. It took us years to
understand this "so-simple" music. We mix AC/DC's groove with the energy of Rose Tattoo to create our music. Now, when we create, we don't
think about it anymore... the compositions arrive naturally.
HMH: Cherry Red sounds slightly more polished as compared to the previous Sideburn stuff, some of which has a very gritty Rose Tattoo sound.
Was this the band's intent, and if so what were the factors behind the polish and more of an "anthem rock" sound?
LB: Soundwise, we were really happy of the result of Gasoline. So we decided (with Cherry Red) that we wanted to collaborate again with the
same team, except that we recorded the guitars ourselves. Our main thing is that we like the album to sound huge at a high volume (which was not
the case for the album Crocodile). When we started the mix for Cherry Red, the sound of the guitars was so big that we had to make the drum
sound bigger than the first mix. So, at the end everything was sounding big... and polished. Also, from the first feedback that we are getting from
journalists, it seems that the choruses of the new songs are catchier than ever, which seems to give that anthem-rock sound.
HMH: It seems, nowadays, that there is more of an awareness of the pub-rock sound. What do you think are factors that are contributing to this?
Also, do you think that rock fans are getting a little tired of trends and the over-exposure of bandswhich follow those trends - like the whole grunge
movement of the 1990s and today's fake-death-metal-wannabe bands? ("Grunt bands" as I call them. and I won't name anyone).
LB: It's difficult to say, but I think that most of the 70s fans start to re-discover their old music; as matter of fact, their kids are also listening to it,
too. The great thing about that pub rock music is that you can tap your feet to it, which is not the case for most metal music. It seems that people
are coming back to basics, so maybe for the first time in over 20 years of music, Sideburn is in the vibe.
HMH: Do you still perform Genocide songs live?
LB: Yes, we still play "Nostalgic Harmonies" from the Stranded album. We also play the Rose Tattoo cover "Rock'n'Roll Outlaw," which is on that
HMH: Have fans remained with the band over the course of the changes?
LB: Yes, there have been some, but most of our fans are Sideburn fans and not so much Sideburn and Genocide fans.
Lionel Blanc, you are off the Heavy Metal Hog hotseat! My many thanks to my rock and roll brother for his invaluable input to this feature and for
his enthusiasm and persistence for helping me toward its completion. Sideburn is a great bunch of guys and I suggest that you check out the new
album, Cherry Red, along with the band's extensive catalog. It's all good, all from the heart, and definitely all rock and roll!
Amidst this whirlwind of activity came one more change in personnel. David left the
fold in 2005 and Sideburn recruited the well-traveled axman simply known as Boris
(formerly of Varedero, Litfiga, King Size Band, The Titty Twisters, and Monkey 3,
the latter of which created quite a buzz in the instrumental-stoner-rock community).
Influenced by Hendrix, Zeppelin, Sabbath, and (of course) AC/DC, Boris seemed to
be the natural choice given his ecclectic past which had crossed paths previously
traveled by the band.
2005 also marked the 20th anniversary of the Sideburn/Genocide project. The band
celebrated the milestone with the career spanning anthology titled Archives. It's an
interesting study where listeners can witness the huge degree of evolution and
maturation which the band had undergone in its first two decades (15 as a recording
artist). Quite frankly, it's hard to believe that "The Price of Treason" (from Roots in
Rock) and "Gangster Lover" (from Gasoline) are, albeit the little name switch from
2005 saw David (l) leave the
band. Boris (r) soon joined up.
(Genocide Roots in Rock promo)