‘Confessions’ of a complex man: Buckcherry singer opens up about childhood, religion and the band’s new album
By Steve Wildsmith (email@example.com)
Mention the band Buckcherry, and the initial impression is one of hedonistic ’80s glam-rock sleaze: Skinny, tattooed rockers who landed a hit with the song “Crazy Bitch.”
There’s good reason for that. Singer Josh Todd came out of that scene, fronting the group Slamhound in the early 1990s, after bands like Motley Crue and Guns N’ Roses gave the world an inside glimpse into the sex-and-drugs underbelly that the music personified. But impressions can be misleading, and dismissing Buckcherry as just another cock rock throwback does Todd and his bandmates an injustice.
Buckcherry’s 2006 comeback album “15,” for example, contains the personal song “Sorry,” which Todd wrote as an apology to his wife for marital difficulties and the stress his occupation put on their marriage. “Black Butterfly,” released in 2008, included two songs (“Rescue Me” and “A Child Called ‘It’”) inspired by writer David Pelzer, whose autobiography details his brutal childhood abuse at the hands of an alcoholic mother.
For “Confessions,” the new Buckcherry album released this week, Todd gets even more serious with his lyrical subject matter, diving into his childhood, his days of excess and his own shortcomings. Titled “Confessions,” it’s based on the seven deadly sins, Todd told The Daily Times this week, and coincides with an autobiographical film that’s in the works.
“(Guitarist) Keith (Nelson) and I have always thrown around the idea about doing something around the seven deadly sins, and at first, we thought about doing an EP — seven songs, seven scenes,” Todd said. “But the time came to do another LP, and at the time I was writing for the record, I was also finishing up a script based on my own life. (Guitarist) Stevie (Dacanay) kind of challenged me to write a story that goes with the record and coincides with the record, so I just decided to condense my life story into a 30-minute short film.
“The idea was that the record would be the soundtrack to the film, and the theme is the seven deadly sins. It’s a very, very personal record for me, especially songs like ‘Pride’ and ‘Sloth.’ I’ve struggled with moderation my whole life, and I think sins are timeless and interesting because everybody struggles with them at some point — some of us a lot more than others.
“But at the end of the day, I wanted a record that no matter what people go in thinking it’s about, they can just put it on, and it’s a great rock ‘n’ roll record,” he added.
Todd grew up in Southern California, and when he was a child, his father committed suicide. It had a profound impact on Todd’s outlook, and he addresses it in the song “Sloth,” sung from the perspective of a pleading man-child still trying to come to terms with the trauma, all these years later.
“It kind of set the stage for a lot of things in my life, a lot of the things I’ve experienced,” he said. “I had a colorful childhood being raised by a single mother, but I grew up in Southern California, so I was this surfer/skateboarder kid, and then in the summer, she would send me and my sister off to our grandfather’s house in this very small wheat-farming town in Oklahoma.
“From a very early age, I was working for my grandfather, dealing with cattle and driving John Deere tractors and wheat trucks — the whole country life. Then I would go back to Southern California and be this surfer/skateboarder kid. I think it gave me a really good understanding for America and how it all works. When I travel around, I have a firm grasp on the country and on city life, and it really enhanced my storytelling later on when I started writing lyrics.”
Summers with his grandfather was also the catalyst that ignited Todd’s fascination with sin and religion, he added.
“My grandfather taught Bible school, and he would make me go to church every Sunday when I was in the country,” he said. “I never went to church when I was home, and I don’t believe in organized religion, but I remember from the earliest moment I could start comprehending things waking up on Sunday mornings. I would start having a debate with my grandfather about the Bible, about who wrote it, about why people live their lives through this thing. I didn’t understand, and my grandfather and I would get into these long, long discussions about these things.”
Back in Southern California, Todd got involved in the Southern California glam-rock scene, meeting Nelson through the pair’s mutual tattoo artist. Around the same time, Todd got sober, which may surprise some fans who feel as if Buckcherry’s music is the perfect soundtrack for overindulging. They won’t get a lecture from Todd.
“I lived really fast, really young,” he said. “I started getting loaded when I was 13, and I stopped when I was 23. I had such a clear perspective on the guy I was before I got sober. I see a lot of people (messed) up every night at Buckcherry shows, and there was a point in time when that really worked for me. There was beauty in that when it’s working, it’s fantastic, and we like to celebrate that.
“But it’s not good for me, personally. I just take it way too far. I don’t ever want to stop, and that’s my problem. Now, I’m into positive addictions — how much more I can learn, how much more I can accomplish.”
Accomplishments came quickly in the band’s early days. Rounded out by a former drummer and bass player, they signed to Dreamworks Records and released a self-titled debut in 1999. The album peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart, sent a few singles to the top of the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and got the band on opening slots for Lenny Kravitz and AC/DC. The 2001 sophomore effort “Time Bomb,” however, was considered a commercial disappointment, and the band splintered in 2002.
Three years later, however, Nelson and Todd put together a new version of Buckcherry with Dacanay, Jimmy Ashhurst and Xavier Muriel. The album “15” was more successful than either of the band’s previous two studio efforts, and songs like “15,” “Sorry,” “Next 2 You” and “Everything” showcased a band refocused and ready to rock. “Black Butterfly” and the 2010 album “All Night Long” both debuted in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 200 albums chart, and Buckcherry has toured with all sorts of rock royalty in the years since, from KISS to Motley Crue to Kid Rock, with whom the guys come to East Tennessee next week.
“We’ve been long-time acquaintances of his since our first record,” Todd said of the Detroit-based rap-rocker. “We met him way back in the day at the Sapphire Supper Club, this tiny little club in Florida. I remember he was in an RV, doing his thing with his entourage. That’s the cool thing about him — he’s always stayed true to what he does and who he is.”
The same can be said of Buckcherry. After embracing a label’s vision of them as rock ‘n’ roll bad boys for “Time Bomb,” Todd and Nelson returned to the driver’s seat for the band’s resurrection. Overcoming such adversity makes any accomplishment a point of pride, but when a band is still going as strong as Buckcherry is, it’s even better.
“I’m really grateful for it all,” he said. “Me and this band have worked so damn hard for it. Every setback has only made us stronger. We’ve learned from it, and it’s taken us to a whole new level. We pulled off something in rock music that no one’s done, as far as our hiatus and getting back together and selling a million copies of a record when no one’s selling rock records.
“I’m proud that I’m in this band. I always wanted to be in one band for my whole career, to make a whole catalog of music — to make my mark, to make a sound. And it feels like we’re doing that.”