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Interview: Chip Z’Nuff of Enuff Z’Nuff on new album, Clowns Lounge

Illinois-based Enuff Z’Nuff was perhaps one of the more underrated successes of the glam metal era. Founded in 1984 by Chip Z’Nuff (bass/vocals) and Donnie Vie (vocals/guitar), the two Blue Island musicians honed a tremendous and indelible bond. Having half a decade of touring already under their belt catalyzed their career progression. And by 1989, the newly-formed quartet (adding lead guitarist Derek Frigo and drummer Vikki Foxx) released their eponymous major label debut. Subsequently, the band demonstrated upstanding critical and commercial merit for chart toppers “Fly High Michelle” and “New Thing”.

That their sound came during alternative rock’s burgeoning was, surprisingly, of little detriment. In fact, the band’s starkly rooted powerpop identity had earned them props from a diverse artist range, including veteran rockers Aerosmith and then-newcomers The Tuesdays. Such longstanding impact is what keeps Enuff Z’Nuff burning, through various albums, lineup changes, and excesses alike.

Come December 2nd, the band will release Clowns Lounge, a compilation of newly tweaked pre-album demos. Included is a new single, “Dog on a Bone,” the video of which premiered last week.

In preparation for the release, I had the pleasure of speaking to principle member Chip Z’Nuff. His manner was warm, with a forthright—at best, personable—sincerity. During our interview, we delved into such topics as the band’s formative years, the making of the new album, and the collaborative chemistry with late Warrant front man Jani Lane (guest vocalist on “The Devil of Shakespeare”). Chip’s most notable gesture, though, is his assuming lead vocal duties on behalf of Donnie Vie, who took time off from the band in 2013. Ultimately, Enuff Z’Nuff is flourishing today through utmost dedicated fan support.

ME: To start off, I want to bring it back to when you first formed Enuff Z’Nuff. You guys originally aimed to be a powerpop act. How did that identity initially develop?

Chip: I lived in a little place in Blue Island, Illinois. It was on [Prairie Street], right off of Western Avenue, in a small town near the south side of Chicago. Donnie and I had a four track recorder and we would record songs all through the day and night. Just Donnie, myself, and a drum machine was basically what it was.

We knew we were a rock band but had pop overtones. We weren’t listening to what was happening at the time, which was Guns N’ Roses, Whitesnake, Poison, and Motley Crue. Nothing wrong with those bands, and we have nothing but respect for those guys. But our influences were pretty much on the other side of the world—bands like Zeppelin, Queen, Beatles, Mott the Hoople, Squeeze, Bowie, and the Who. Those were our main influences, and we were making songs we felt best represented who we were as a two piece at the time.

Once we came up with some great songs, we were able to put a band together. Two friends we’d found; Vikki Foxx, and management found us Derek Frigo. That was the template everyone knows as Enuff Z’Nuff. We eventually got signed to Atco/Atlantic Records through a guy named Derek Shulman, who used to be the singer of a band called Gentle Giant. He started working A&R through PolyGram Records, signed Cinderella and Bon Jovi, and discovered Enuff Z’nuff. He let us do our record from the demos that he heard at my house. We had Derek see the band at rehearsal; he loved what he heard and took a chance on us.

Basically, our mission was to make great music. We didn’t know what we were, but we liked to refer to ourselves as glitter rock—which was known then as hair metal or glam metal. But we were never really a glam metal band; just more like a flamboyant pop band.

ME: So your sound took on a life of its own once you signed in the late 80s, but you were still able to incorporate a lot of the influences that you’d had initially, right?

Chip: That’s correct. And I think we did a fairly good job of that. We always probably wore our influences on our sleeves and weren’t afraid to talk about them. We were from the school of, “You show me a band without influences, I’ll show you a band without a record deal.” But we certainly didn’t want to come on top from our contemporaries, like the bands I’d just mentioned before. Maybe we definitely had some influences from Cheap Trick. We always loved Robin Zander’s voice and thought Rick Nielsen was a terrific songwriter, but there’s only one Cheap Trick.

There were a few bands coming out that should’ve had more of a chance, most notably, Jellyfish. They’re a terrific band. But when they didn’t hit a homerun over at MTV, one of the program directors there— a guy named Rick Krim—believed in the sound of Enuff Z’Nuff and what we were trying to do. We struck up a good friendship with them, and I think he was the one who helped channel it—to help break Enuff Z’Nuff and give us a chance.

Back in the day, we came out just a little too late. People say if we came out in ’86 or ’87, we might’ve been a lot bigger. But the fact of the matter is we came out in 1989. Because of MTV, it gave us significant airplay, and we’d reached millions of people every single day. Those songs we’d put out, “New Thing” and “Fly High Michelle” were hit songs on TV, and that helped propel a career that has lasted me up ‘til today.

ME: Let’s talk about Clowns Lounge, the compilation of songs that you recently went and reworked. As I understand, were a lot of these from the sessions of the first album?

Chip: It was [actually] before the first album. In the early days, we’d get in the studio and we’d start at two o’ clock in the morning. We couldn’t get in any earlier. Where we recorded, in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, was a place called Royal Recorders, which is no longer a recording studio. I think Al Jourgensen from Ministry bought all the equipment and took it with him to Texas. But it was a great studio back then. It was out of the way so you couldn’t get in too much trouble. Adrian Belew and the Bears were there, King Crimson, Frank Zappa—he was in the studio recording a lot. Janes Addiction was mixing Nothing’s Shocking up there, and a plethora of other bands were recording.

So I think the only time we could start was around one or two o’ clock in the morning, and the only things that kept us awake were cocaine and booze. We had false starts and burned the candle at both ends trying to record these songs—live in the studio, by the way, with very minimal overdubs. It was wash, rinse, repeat. Record all night until next morning, get out of there—next night, same thing again. That’s how we did all these recordings.

None of this stuff was shopped to Atco Records; we just held onto it. And I was smart, or lucky enough—intuitive enough—to hold on to all these master tapes. I’d brought them back with me where I’d lived, and just let them sit there. When it came time to do another record, Derek Shulman asked me if we had any other material with Donnie singing on it, knowing that Donnie wasn’t touring with the band at the time. And I said, “Yeah, I do! Let me send you some stuff.”

So I went back in the studio and then left him three songs. The next day he said, “Hey, we love it! Let’s do a deal.” I was very lucky. Those guys my age don’t get record deals; they want new, young, fresh talent, which is understandable. But Enuff Z’Nuff has always been a very prolific band. We’ve got a ton of material. Any of the great bands who are out there—I don’t care who you listen to; Aerosmith, Green Day, Cheap Trick—they put together all these ideas and have a brand new record all of the sudden. With Enuff Z’Nuff, yes, these songs were recorded a long time ago, but we still had to go back and finish them. Now they’re ready to go for our friends and fans to listen to. It’s a great, solid, glitter rock record. It showcases the best of how Enuff Z’Nuff was then, and how we are today.

ME: One of the songs that stood out to me was “Rockabye Dreamland,” and I’d thought of it as being intertwined with “Fly High Michelle.” Besides having a similar structure, it reminds me of the music video, which has a very dreamlike aesthetic to it. Or is that relationship more or less coincidental?

Chip: It’s more of a coincidence, that’s all. I mean let’s face it. You hear a Zeppelin or a Queen song, and you can easily say “This sounds like Zeppelin, or “This sounds like Queen”. Their influence is all over the place. But with “Fly High Michelle,” I suppose the similarity is that it’s in the key of A, and “Rockabye Dreamland” is in the key of A as well. Some of the melody lines or harmonies may have similarities. But it’s Enuff Z’Nuff; that’s why it sounds similar—it’s the same band!

ME: Another track was “The Devil of Shakespeare”, which has Jani Lane from Warrant. What kind of memories do you have working on this song, and just knowing him as a person?

Chip: Man, I have some great memories with him. Donnie and I would go see Warrant back in ’88 before we actually had a deal. About ’88 and ’89, they went through Chicago and played gigs, and I think we opened a couple shows with them. We certainly hit it off very well. We’d get back at the end of these shows, and there’d be like 15 chicks on the bus. Jani and I would be sitting at a table with Donnie either having a cocktail or smoking a joint, just talking about stuff that we love. We weren’t selling millions of records yet, but he believed in the band. He’d always said “You’ve got something here. You have your own unique sound. I really love what you’re doing,” and we told him we really admired him as well.

Then everybody went on with their lives, and then, years late, we’d just keep running into each other on tour. We’d follow around Guns N’ Roses and Skid Row playing shared arenas with Nelson. Then we’d see Jani playing great big places as well, and we just developed a great friendship.

Around 2004, I was asked to write a song for the book called “The Devil of Shakespeare.” We’d decided that we were going to get Robin Zander to sing on the track, and his management company wouldn’t let him do it. They said he wasn’t available. Maybe he didn’t like the money we’d offered him. Obviously, back then, to get a guy like Robin to sing on your song, it would cost you quite a bit of money. But Robin was a friend of ours, and we thought he’d do it for a sum in advance. Our next choice was Jani Lane; Jani said, “I’d love to do it.” He flew out to Chicago and got to the studio about midnight. He came in, gave me a big hug, and said, “Man, this is so great!” We had Ron Flynt from 20/20 on the record, Billy “Dior” [McCarthy] from D’Molls playing drums. And he says, “Chip, I don’t want to take the ‘Jani Lane’ approach; I want to sing it how Bowie would.” I was producing the track, so I said, “Yeah, sing it any way you want to, buddy.” Because the producer’s job is to bring out the best performance of the individual and make them feel comfortable. He got in the studio, lit up a cigarette, and sang the song twice—that was it. He nailed it, and we were happy about it.

My next step was, “Who can I get to play lead guitar,” and who else but JY, the balls of Styx. You know, Miss America (laughs)! He’s not only a great musician, but he’s turned out to be a great friend of mine as well. And he was getting ready to come on down—didn’t ask for a penny, by the way. He just came down, played guitar, and spent an hour or two in the studio with me, and we all had a great time. But we didn’t do anything with the track; it just sat there.

Then Jani passed away [in 2011], and we didn’t feel it was time to put it out until Frontiers came and said, “Hey, you guys want to put out a record with us?” We decided it would be a nice piece to add on, because, between Jani Lane and JY, those guys collectively sold about 50 million records. It would only help out with the perception of the record and the band. It made total sense. I’d talked to Donnie about it and Donnie said, “Yeah, I understand what you’re trying to do. Why don’t you include that song on the record?” and it seems to be our favorite. People love the track!

It’s nice for any of his family to hear Jani on one of his last sessions in the studio, and for the Warrant fans to hear that as well. And how cool is it to have Styx and Warrant on an Enuff Z’Nuff album, with 20/20 and D’Molls? It’s a pretty cool thing and something I’m real proud of.

ME: From what I gather, the transition going back to those early recordings was a relatively straightforward process?

Chip: It pretty much was. When we recorded the songs, it was 1-2-3-4—everybody playing together. It’s essentially an archival live record by Enuff Z’Nuff, with very, very minimal overdubs. We tried some things at one type of studio—added things; didn’t subtract anything.

But the biggest challenge, for me, was to do what’s right and master it. Usually, mastering takes a day or two, and that took the greatest master in the business, Bob Ludwig. He’s terrific, you know? But in 48 hours, he’s still mastering. We took two weeks at it because Frontiers, the major label, wanted to make sure we got the best. The fidelity of the recordings really pushed me hard. With trial and error, we worked it out, and I think sonically it’s a really strong record. I couldn’t ask for a better guy to work with. And I [also] had Chris Shepard from Chicago Recording Company work on the record as well. He’s responsible for Smashing Pumpkins, Flaming Lips, KMFDM, and Elvis Costello. So we got big leaguers to suss out all the imperfections on the record and turn it into what you hear now, which is Clowns Lounge.

ME: Now as I understand, Donnie left for rehab in 2013 and since then, you’ve stepped up as lead vocalist. What is it about Donnie that resonates with you, both as a musician and as a friend?

Chip: Well the answer is pretty clear. I love the guy. I think he’ll go down as one of the greatest singers of our generation. He loves his craft. One thing we’d never wavered on was the songs. We were focused beyond belief and wanted great records. We never put anything out that was half-assed. The guy plays all these instruments, he sings his ass off, and he’s a great writer.

I’ve worked with the guys in Journey, the Pumpkins—Billy Corgan is terrific, Guns N’ Roses—great musicians that I’ve played, written and recorded with. And I’ve got to say, [Donnie]’s one of the top cats I’ve ever been around because his focus never wavered. It was more important to get the song than anything else. We don’t care who drove the bus, we just wanted to get to the picnic.

When he left, it was definitely devastating to me, because he’s irreplaceable. And where bands like Journey, Styx, Foreigner or Stone Temple Pilots had to go out and find different singers somewhere else, I just thought the next best inclusion would be to get out in front and sing the songs. So when people come up and see us live, they’d say “Oh, there’s Chip,” you know?

Our car always has a front and a back seat, and Donnie and I were always in front. We wrote the songs, produced the records, and had nobody helping us out with stuff except the engineers or co-producers. It was pretty much us—writing, recording, and performing—and that’s how it’s been from day one. He believed in a dream that I had, and I believed the dream that he had, which was to make a great band with killer songs that were timeless. I think we’ve nailed that, and we have nothing really to prove.

We’re just doing this right now because we love what we have, and what we’ve had. Our legacy is important to us and that’s why we put this record out there. It wasn’t about the money, because there’s not enough for us, okay? If somebody out there, like a movie or soundtrack director hears it in says, “You know what? I really like what you guys are doing, and this will be on a soundtrack or commercial,” that’s the only way we’ll see a significant amount of revenue. For any band that’s out there now, your best bet is to make a good record and tour. Hopefully, someone will see you and want to help you. We’ve always been the underdogs, and hopefully, someone out there is going to say, “Wow, these guys are still out there kicking ass. I want to help them; that’s it.

This record is an abandon ship or a gunshot wound. We’ve taken a beating throughout our career, but we’ve never given up. We’ve always had positive attitudes. If I were given a quarter every time someone came up to me and said, “Hey, I was going through tough times and your songs helped soothe the pain”, I’d be a multi-millionaire.

ME: Your songs surely helped me. I’m a big fan myself. I love all your music, man. In those recent live performances with you singing lead, you’re keeping the flame going—you’ve got it! And there’s no stopping you, so I appreciate it.

Chip: I appreciate that too, bro. And as guys like you know, I’ve dedicated my whole life to Enuff Z’Nuff. I’ve toured with Adler’s Appetite for years, and I love those guys. I love playing with Steven [Adler]. He’s a great brother of mine, but one of the reasons I did that was because he was one of the guys in Guns N’ Roses. I figured if I did that, people would look at us and go, “Well if he’s good enough to play in Guns N’ Roses then [Enuff Z’Nuff] must be pretty good. And Steven helped me reach a lot of people that might not have believed in Enuff Z’Nuff from taking me out on tours around the country.

But I’ve always been with Enuff Z’Nuff from day one. I’ve never stopped, never took breaks, and never quit the band. I kept it going when Donnie took breaks in 2009. I kept the flame going with Johnny Monaco fronting the band. In 2013 when Donnie left, Johnny fronted again. Then earlier this year, Monaco said that he couldn’t do it anymore. He had a medical condition, trigger finger, and couldn’t play. And he didn’t say he wanted to sing the songs, so I took it as he wasn’t interested anymore. I had to either keep this going or that was the end of it.

So it was always fitting that I had a chance to get in front of the microphone. Donnie said to me, “Go out and play with Enuff Z’Nuff, but why don’t you sing the songs? You co-wrote them with me, you made the record with me, you produced these songs—you should sing them.” And I took the chance. I didn’t know if I could do it, but I put together a great band. In rehearsal, we felt confident to not take it out on the street. And I’d listen to the people. If the people said, “No, it’s not happening,” I would stop. I promise you. But there was nothing but a great response from fans and critics alike.

We’d just played the KISS Kruise, with Kiss, King’s X, Skid Row, Aerosmith, Magnetico—all great bands. And Doc McGhee, at the end of the show, said to me, “Hey, Chip, why didn’t you do this 10 years ago?” That was a confidence builder for me. I didn’t want to let anybody down because I’m just following in the footsteps of who I consider one of the greatest singers of our generation. But I’m not ready to retire—I want to play! I want to do these songs. I want to give these fans a great time and bring back memories from a long time ago. With a lot of these Enuff Z’Nuff songs, people want to re-experience when they fell in love or got high, or anything significant that happened. That’s what I’m here for, and it’s therapeutic for me as well. I like to be out there playing, and touring around the country.

Rick Nielsen said to me one day, “Chip, we’re not all built to do what we do for a living. But if you are, then just go out there and do it.” And that’s what I’m doing.

ME: Is the door open for Donnie if he plans to return?

Chip: It’s always been open. I’m not going to bet against it because you just never know. Life takes funny little turns, and you take things a day at a time. He’s gotten better with health issues and seems to be in a good place right now. But I think he doesn’t owe anybody anything right now. He’s dedicated more than half his life going out, playing with Enuff Z’Nuff, touring, and writing songs. And right now I don’t think he’s ready to get back out there and get in a van like we just did. But if he came to me and said “I’m healthy, I feel good, and I want to do this again,” then of course! How can I say no to the guy who helped mastermind this band with me, and put out every single record? Without him, I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now, as he wouldn’t be where he’s at without me. Together, we’re both super strong, and that’s the power of the band.

But I just do a day at a time. And if there’s ever a time when he wants to come back into the fold, the door is always open for him. He’s never been fired from the band. He left on his own terms, and that’s it.

ME: Anything else you’d like to say to your fans?

Chip: We’re getting ready to go out on tour. Next year, I leave January 17th. Grandpa used to say to me, “Son, careful what you wish for.” I wished that these opportunities happened years ago when Donnie was singing the songs and was still healthy. But now, here we are going into 2017. We’ve got a brand new record, Clowns Lounge, a tour with Ace Frehley for two months, and a month and a half tour over in Europe. Then the Rock Never Stops tour, that’s going to be huge. There are so many wonderful opportunities that I’m taking advantage of it. And I bet people will be plenty surprised when they hear Clowns Lounge. It’s a great glitter rock record with pop overtones, a great energy to it.

And to all the fans out there, I can’t thank you enough. Without the fans, none of these bands are successful. I can’t thank everybody enough for being so supportive of Enuff Z’Nuff. I wish everyone a great holiday season. Please, check out our YouTube channel, check out enuffznuff.com. On Sirius XM they play our stuff all the time. Get a chance to come see us live in concert and judge for yourself. I wish you all a very prosperous and happy New Year.

Enuff Z’Nuff Socials:
Official Website|Twitter|YouTube

Pre-order Clowns Lounge

“Dog on a Bone” music video:

About Jake Kussmaul

I come from a family who is passionate about all things music. I learned to sing at an early age, and by 13, had my very own Fender Strat guitar. I tried my hardest at learning all that I could. Because I was born with cerebral palsy, I had to teach myself an adaptive playing style. I learned to write and record my own music, despite these difficulties. In college, I started making great use of my writing abilities by reviewing music, as well as copy editing. I guess it's best to stick with what you know, while welcoming a fair challenge at the same time.

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