Buckcherry's Sweet Success

Drinking and drugging with crazy bitches sounds like more fun than the law will allow, but playing in a red-hot rock band is not always an all-you-can eat orgy.

"I think people realize there's a lot more to this band than just fucking and partying," says Buckcherry guitarist Keith Nelson.

That revelation, surrendered by a man whose hits include the cocaine anthem, "Lit Up," and the self-explanatory, "Too Drunk," is due in no small part to Buckcherry's ubiquitous 2007 power apology, "Sorry." Crowding the world's bird population for space on the airwaves, the heartfelt "Sorry" could be heard tick-tocking in grocery stores, amusement parks and shopping malls. Along with the lap-dancing, "Crazy Bitch," and the twang-bang boogie of "Next 2 You," Buckcherry's big-time ballad helped turn the band's comeback album, 15, into a million-selling smash.

"The success of '15' was really shocking," says Nelson, who along with jumping jack singer Josh Todd brought the L.A. raunch-n-rollers back from the dustbin in 2006 with newcomers Stevie D. on guitar, Jimmy Ashhurst on bass and Xavier Muriel on drums.

"Beyond the sale of 30,000 records you always think 'Wow, I can't believe this is happening. When we were putting that record together, we never thought it would go where it went. The success of that record has given us a lot of confidence in what we do."

While "Sorry" is not Buckcherry's first ballad (see "For the Movies" from the 1999 self-titled debut or "You" and the hidden track "Open My Eyes" from the underrated 2001 album Time Bomb), it is perhaps indicative of a songwriting maturity that now lends equal time to pop influences such as Prince and Elton John as well as screamers like AC/DC and Guns N'Roses.

With new album Black Butterfly, Buckcherry strikes its most even balance to date. Bangers like "Rescue Me," "Fallout," and "Imminent Bail Out" weave recklessly between the prom-rocker "Dreams," the pleading "Don't Go Away" and the summertime sway of "Cream."

Sensitivity notwithstanding, Buckcherry's inner Beavis is still ready to party as evidenced by lead single, "Too Drunk." Among rock geeks, the song's title begs curious comparisons to the Dead Kennedys' 1981 rant about falling down the stairs and being unable to, heh heh, perform. So, has DK singer Jello Biafra threatened to pop the Cherries?

"No, we haven't heard from him," Nelson laughs. "It's funny because that song kind of evolved in a number of ways. I think they're obviously two very different songs, and if anything, ours is a tip of the hat to pioneers of punk rock."

Nelson recently phoned "from somewhere outside Detroit" while watching his beloved hometown Pittsburgh Steelers beat up the Cincinnati Bengals. - David Glessner

Rocks Off: When I met you ten years ago, you had a gnarly broken nose from hitting yourself in the face with your guitar.

Nelson: That was merely a flesh wound, my friend (laughs). This is full-contact rock-n-roll and when you're in the moment, those kinds of things can sometimes happen. It didn't help my modeling career, but then I really didn't have one to begin with.

Did you get to hang with Motley Crue while touring as part of Cruefest last year?

I spent a lot of time with [Crue guitarist] Mick Mars. I made a point to see him a couple times a week. He doesn't get around that much and some days he feels better than others, but I always found his dressing room and we'd get together and talk about guitars and guns and cars and whatever the fuck. I found Mick to be a true gem of a man and an incredible guitar player. I think he's so underrated and so overshadowed by the Tommy Lee sex tapes and the Vince Neil reality show and the fire and explosions and the bass player [rumored to be] dying. He's a fucking great guitar player. He's a huge Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix fan, and once you talk to him and then listen to what he's doing, it all makes sense. He's a metal guitar player, but there are a lot of ghosts around what he's doing. I got a whole new appreciation for Mick Mars.

On Black Butterfly you once again play the role of producer alongside hit maker Marti Frederiksen (Aerosmith). Does being a member of the band and also serving as producer bring tension to the studio? Do you and Josh butt heads over a song's direction or do you simply work with what he gives you?

Anything that could be construed as a minor argument - and I want to stress the word "minor" - would probably be centered around [the creative process], but having Marti as a third party takes away a lot of pressure. I think the relationship between Josh and myself is very delicate, but it's something we've worked really hard at and it's in a really good place and has been since we got back together. I don't want to screw with that. I have my opinions and Josh has his, and then Marti is there for the tiebreaker.

Buckcherry was left for dead after 2001's Time Bomb album and then you reformed and basically released 15 on your own dime. When Atlantic Records wanted to join in on the success of 15 and now Black Butterfly, were you insistent on certain contractual conditions based on lessons learned in the past?

We certainly insisted on a better artist royalty (laughs). With Black Butterfly, I found myself being a producer of a record without having to really answer to anybody except our manager. That's what I wanted. I wanted to be left alone to make the record I thought we needed to make. If 15 would have flopped, I'm sure everyone would have had an opinion that we needed to hear. The success of 15 opened the door for us to make the record we wanted to make.

What songs on the new album were the most challenging or rewarding to nail down?

The most challenging by far was a song called "Cream." That song started off as two different songs, then evolved, got forgotten and then was left for dead. I kept hearing something bigger than what we had, so we'd re-address it. Some of us would be unenthusiastic about it while others would be very enthusiastic. That was one where we had to be willing to go down some roads and experiment. In the end, I think it came out great.

When Buckcherry disbanded following Time Bomb, you and Josh were in an early version of what would become Velvet Revolver with Slash and Duff from Guns N'Roses. Do you still talk to those guys after being dismissed?

You know, I spoke to Slash a few times when they recently began looking for a new vocalist [following VR's well-documented split with troubled Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland]. I knew a few people that were interested in that gig and they were really great singers, so I took the opportunity to reach out and let them know there were some guys that were interested. I ran into Slash and Duff around that time and they were very cordial. There's certainly no hard feelings on our end and I didn't get the impression there is any on their end. We actually shared the bill with Velvet Revolver at a couple of festival shows over the last year and everything was cool. If it's gonna be awkward for anybody, it might be for awkward for them, but all of us have other things to worry about, so it's all good.

How do you balance your home life with such a demanding touring cycle?

I try to maintain some normalcy in my life by getting back home very often. Every two weeks I'm back at home even if it's just for a day to recharge and take care of family business. That way, you never really get completely unplugged. I've done tours where I've been gone for 13 months and you really start to feel like you're lost at sea. So, I never really get unplugged from the road and I never get unplugged from home. It's a lot of back and forth. It's a lot of 6 a.m. flights after going to bed at 3 a.m. and it's a lot of getting off an airplane and jumping on stage. That's just what we do.

As a major AC/DC fan, what do you think of the new album Black Ice?

It rips! I got it the day it came out. They have a song that's almost a ballad (laughs). There's a few bands out there that could shit on vinyl and I'd buy it and think it was great. I'm an AC/DC fan and I ain't going nowhere.

Buckcherry plays Warehouse Live on Friday, Dec. 5.