Blacklight Acoustic Conspiracy's Chris Catero on Ozzy Osbourne and Iron Maiden

Blacklight Acoustic Conspiracy
Blacklight Acoustic Conspiracy Courtesy of the artist
The Valley of the Sun has its fair share of diamonds in the rough when it comes to local musicians. Sometimes they’re polished and placed on a pedestal, the “Arizona” tag tossed into their backstory as they tour the world. Other times they shine more brightly as a native gem, a beloved rock in the local scene’s foundation, evolving the musicscape with multiple projects and ideas.

Wouldn’t it be great if more artists fit into both of these categories?

Sometimes it happens by happenstance, like with the quintet Blacklight Acoustic Conspiracy, composed of five award-winning and revered Valley musicians and producers. The band came together last minute: Bassist Chris Catero needed musicians for a gig, so he called upon vocalist Kevin Schuhmacher and guitarist Michael Ennis; the former had tapped Catero a year earlier to be in an Ozzy tribute band. A few days later, they hit the stage and played acoustic versions of some of Ozzy and Black Sabbath’s most beloved songs. The inquiries about the show were so strong that Rebourne was born, an album of 11 acoustic renditions of Ozzy’s most iconic songs.

Rebourne has already been praised by some heavy hitters. Alan Niven (former manager, Guns N’ Roses, Great White) said that the band “revitalize the past with spanking acoustic versions of classics that sound and feel of this moment now.” 98 KUPD’s John Holmberg called the record “one of the most unique things I’ve heard in a long time.” Guitar god Marty Friedman states that it “retains just enough of the original spirit of ultra-classic tunes while adding a huge portion of their own style.” And Wild Mick Brown (drummer, Dokken, Lynch Mob) called Rebourne “beautifully fresh and tastefully done.”

This is no cover band, however. Singer Kevin Schuhmacher is a trained vocalist and stage actor who sang in the San Diego band Sanctions and is a nationally renowned Ozzy impersonator, fronting his own tribute I Don’t Know. Michael Ennis has played in various bands in the Phoenix area and was recruited by Schuhmacher and Catero for the Ozzy tribute. Bassist Chris Catero has worked with ex-Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman, Dokken’s Bourbon Ballet, Wardog, Razer, John Holmberg’s Undercover band, and partners with Alan Niven in his Stravinski Brothers production company. He also served as Krank Amps’ artist relations head, where he worked with Metallica, Tesla, and Queensryche, as well as many Phoenix and Arizona bands.

Phoenix New Times spoke with bassist Catero about surprising beginnings, his Bruce Dickinson moment, and his favorite things about the Valley music scene.

How did Blacklight Acoustic Conspiracy start as a cover band?
I had an acoustic gig booked in Scottsdale that some of the guys had to back out of on short notice. I suggested that maybe I could ask the guys from the Ozzy tribute, I Don’t Know, that I also play in to throw together a quick acoustic set two days before the gig. The big thing is that Ozzy really has never done anything all-acoustic, so Mike and I just figured we’d make up some weird acoustic versions of some of the tunes from the I Don't Know set. When we started spit-balling ideas, we were coming up with some really interesting stuff, and when Kevin came over the next night to see how he would sing over the new arrangements, there was a feeling that, wow, these versions are pretty cool. So we show up at Rockbar the next night and initially got a really strange reaction from the crowd. Kevin leaned over to me after the third song and said “I think these people hate us” and I said, “actually I think they’re just listening to us!” It was weird, totally silent by bar standards. By the fifth song we had people singing along and the crowd was really reacting. After the gig, we had a ton of people asking us when we were playing again, and if we had an album of the tunes. Of course, the light bulb went off for all of us and shortly after we decided to form the group, as we knew we could do the same thing to all sorts of killer rock tunes we loved from all sorts of artists. It was birth of this “let’s have some fun with this!” band.

What is on the horizon for touring and local shows?
We’ll mostly spend the last couple months of this year ramping up for early 2019. We’ll be doing some videos, working on production elements for the show, and developing and recording some new material. And of course, getting dates booked. The band has a different kind of booking ability in that we can play more traditional “rock” shows but also different types of events, being an acoustic act with a kind of chill vibe, which is part of what I love about this band. It has more dynamics than a normal rock gig but can still feel very heavy.

What can we expect in terms of original music?
Original music is really more of what I’m used to from an artist and producer standpoint, and again the recording of Rebourne actually felt like an original album with all that went into it. Everyone in the band writes, and we already have some killer ideas kicking about. Music today has entered a quirky time, where covers/familiar things are heavily used to break new bands, like say Bad Wolves with “Zombie” or Greta Van Fleet essentially nicking Zeppelin’s entire sound. In a weird way, today is almost retro '50s, where everything was singles and all of the hits were someone else’s songs. So our “let’s have some fun being creative” band has somewhat surprisingly found legs, pretty much out of the gate with music media and musician friends really digging how familiar yet different the songs sound. We like the idea of doing different EPs of original music and then entire EPs of other bands' tunes acoustically twisted, like what we did with Rebourne. I recorded and produced the album at my home studio so as a band we can just constantly be recording and releasing music as we go pretty easily. That’s a really liberating thing.

What is one of your craziest stories from the road?
I will say one of my more favorite memories was the very first time I ever played in Europe. It was the Bang Your Head festival in Germany when I was with Wardog. The label had arranged for Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden to sit in with us, as he was going to be at the festival doing promos for a solo album he had out. I’m a massive Iron Maiden fan — so it’s a huge understatement to say I was more than thrilled to have him onstage with us. We did “Flight Of Icarus” and I still remember the crowd doing that famous European chant of “Maiden! Maiden!” after I got to announce him to the stage. Still get chills with that one.

What is your favorite thing about the Valley music scene?
I’ve been playing in the Valley for a very long time, and I’ve seen it at its worst and best. Today, the one thing I do dig a lot is for the most part there’s a very cool community of people, musicians, and fans alike, that are all friendly together and come out to all sorts of shows regardless of style. In a day and age where lots of people surf YouTube to see bands, it’s nice to know there’s still a fair amount of people who want to see live music.
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Lauren Wise has worked as a rock/heavy metal journalist for 15 years. She contributes to Noisey and LA Weekly, edits books, and drinks whiskey.
Contact: Lauren Wise