THE BREAKDOWN ROOM - Rock. Writing. Redefined.

Gary Cherone Gets Cynical with Tribe of Judah


After enjoying widespread recognition while fronting Extreme, and again as the third voice of Van Halen, one might assume Gary Cherone is fairly content in his career as a vocalist in a guitar-oriented band.

Well, you know what they say about making assumptions.

Desiring a more inventive and experimental approach to creating music, the singer formed Tribe of Judah (ToJ) in 2001, and embraced a radically different song writing process. That change has allowed the heralded vocalist a musical evolution free from both fan and corporate expectation.

"ToJ was born out of the three years I spent with Van Halen," Cherone recalled. "I wanted a new canvas to write that wasn't based on guitar. Even though Eddie [Van Halen] and the guys were good with me, the preconceptions with what people wanted weighed heavily on my shoulders. Tribe of Judah takes that weight off."

Cherone explained that the songs comprising ToJ's debut album, Exit Elvis, were created more from keyboard melodies on top of an industrial-sounding bass groove, instead of building upon a traditional guitar melody. However, fans of Cherone's work in Extreme and Van Halen have nothing to fear -- the guitar is still present. It just isn't used exclusively to create a song.

"The main difference is that the writing is really uninhibited," the singer explained. "There are a lot of vocal effects that really stems from my jealousy of guitar players. I did little of that with Extreme. But if I wake up in the morning and it feels like a violin is called for, that's what it will be. It's a liberating feeling."

Although the sonic liberation that ToJ provides him is self-appealing, the front man is conscious of his past, and aware that it can both help and hinder Tribe of Judah as it looks to build a dedicated following.

"I come with baggage," Cherone admitted. "Radio is almost impossible to get on, because people say 'it's Gary Cherone, he's had his day with Van Halen and Extreme.'"

"But I wouldn't trade it," he added, referring to his years in both bands. "The past has given me the freedom to create new music."

Ironically, while Cherone emphasized how dissimilar Tribe of Judah's writing method is when compared with that of his previous efforts, the album still pays a noticeable tribute to his roots. Rockers such as "Left for Dead" and the record's first single, "Thanks for Nothing," portray an aggressive, recognizable sound, but it's the eclectic and diverse tracks, and the album's lyrical content, that the vocalist is most passionate about.

"The title track is a great example of our creative process," Cherone said. "It's a challenge to ourselves and our audience, having heavy guitar parts that blend into slower instruments. I've always been a fan of conceptual stuff, and I definitely flirted with it here."

That fascination with a concept record is illustrated with the cover art of Exit Elvis, which depicts Cherone contemplating suicide. While disturbing, it's a negative image the singer deliberately created to enhance an unsettling mood in the album's lyrics.

"Without a doubt, this is the heaviest lyrical record I've ever written," he boasted. "I've gotten older and a little more cynical. It questions whether man is the measure of all things."

While the topic is sure to be controversial, the singer stressed that he's not advocating suicide, just examining the motives that surround it.

"There is a theme running throughout the album, ranging from man's free will to the depth of God, and the critique of art," explained Cherone. "It asks the question whether suicide is a futile attempt at leaving your mark on society."

Tribe of Judah has already left it's own mark - at least in New England. After releasing a short demo EP in 2001, the band was rewarded with a victory in the "Best New Band" category at the 2002 Boston Music Awards. The recognition was a pleasant surprise to the group, considering it was based on such limited exposure. While the band is the brainchild of its singer, the cohesion between the other members solidified its chemistry, and brought Tribe of Judah the instant credibility that led to the award.

"I am the odd man out here," Cherone said, laughing. "We're all around the same age and like the same music, but Mike (Mangini, drums) and Steve (Ferlazzo, keyboards) played in Missing Persons together, Pat (Badger, bass) and Mike played in Extreme, and then Mike worked as a session guy with Leo (Mallace, guitar) in the studio. I was the new guy in the mix, to tell you the truth."

As with most new bands, the excitement caused by local success brings hunger, and Tribe of Judah is no exception. The group is anxious to tour, and is playing warm-up gigs in the Northeast United States until they land a support bill for a bigger act on a world tour.

"Ultimately, we'll jump on a major tour, but for now we'll continue doing one-off shows," Cherone revealed. "Until then, it's a goal of ours to just play venues as big as we can."

While the future sounds promising for Tribe of Judah, Cherone still looks back fondly on his days with Extreme. Discussing the reunion tours that many of that band's contemporaries take part in, the singer was adamant that Extreme would never officially reunite unless it was for a new album.

"Ever since we broke up, we've been offered a chance to go on those summer blockbuster tours," he said. "I don't want to slight any of those bands, but Extreme wanted to separate itself from that. We can't be a nostalgia act."

Regardless of past successes, Cherone maintained that Tribe of Judah is foremost in his thoughts, and looks forward to what lies ahead for the band.

"We have some hurdles to get over, particularly this fast food state of music," he said. "But this isn't a one-time listen. I welcome the challenge."

Editor's Note: This article was originally published in 2003. All photos courtesy of Tribe of Judah.

Copyright 2009, Brian Heaton. All Rights Reserved.