Robert Mason of Warrant Talks Guitar Hero, CDs, and Scottsdale Girls

Sometimes an interview just doesn't turn out the way you think it's going to. I figured Robert Mason, frontman of late-'80s/early-'90s sleaze rockers Warrant for the past three years, would come across as egotistical, delusional, and washed-up. I mean, Mason fronted a band called Big Cock -- which doesn't exactly conjure up a visage of humility -- and has sung for Lynch Mob, the ever-rotating cast of characters centered around former Dokken guitarist George Lynch, placing him firmly withing the swirling nexus of L.A. douche-baggery.

But Mason was darn nice, polite, and even mildly apologetic about the tongue-in-cheek aspects of his old band (specifically their tune, "Scottsdale Girls," about the kind of gals you're likely to see stumbling around outside Myst). And though it seems unlikely that Warrant's new disc, Rockaholic, is going to return the band to "Cherry Pie" status, Mason seemed genuinely excited about the new record and unabashedly enthusiastic about music.

Read on, as Mason discusses Guitar Hero, the future of the music industry, and why Scottsdale girls don't ask too many questions.

UOTS: You are an Arizona native, correct?

RM: Well, I'm a New York City native. I moved out in here for a band in 91, called Lynch Mob.

UOTS: With George Lynch, from Dokken.

RM: When George and Mick (Brown) were in Dokken they moved out here, and it became an Arizona band by default. Both Anthony (Esposito) and I came out from the New York Metro area, and relocated here.

UOTS: What do you like about Arizona?

RM: The fact that I never have to shovel snow or cut the grass. Ever again. In my life.

UOTS: That's certainly worth something. So, while we are on the topic of Arizona, I wanted to ask about the song "Scottsdale Girls," that you recorded with your band, Big Cock. Was that written about our Scottsdale girls?

RM: Well, if you know anything about B.C. at all, you know that it's extremely tongue-in-cheek.

We don't believe in double entendre -- we actually cover all the bases: single, triple, and quadruple entendre. So we lived here, Dave (Henzerling) and I decided to make that song a glowing tribute and a parody at the same time. It was all in good fun, but it wouldn't be a B.C. song if it didn't push the envelope a little bit.

What's really funny about that is that I've [heard] that played at clubs, in Scottsdale, and despite the lyrics, well - I don't find anything [about it] too offensive, but then again, I sang it, so there you go.

UOTS: I was curious what kind of reaction it's garnered. Have you had Scottsdale girls come up and either complain or tell you they really like the song?

RM: Usually Scottsdale girls won't go as far as to ask to have anything explained to them.

UOTS: (Laughs)

RM: As long as you are buying them something, I think they are okay with that.

UOTS: Alright. Well, that's going to be the head quote right there.

RM: (Laughs) Oh c'mon man, this is a Warrant interview, Jesus!

UOTS: Fair enough. How long have you been playing with Warrant?

RM: (Still laughing) Let's see. God . . . Labor Day it will be three years. 

UOTS: Have you guys been working on new material at all or have you been focusing mostly on going out and playing the hits?

RM: Funny you should ask. There's a record that's just done now, [there's] a brand new Warrant record due out in May. We really took our time, and, through a couple years of doing fly dates, we kinda said, well, the band works, we're all doing it for the right reasons, we're all really happy on stage. It's great playing this legacy of music, and the fans love it, so why not [write some new songs] -- but we were careful about it. We didn't just throw a record together.

We test marketed a couple of these songs live last summer, just springing them on the audiences. "Hey this is something you've never heard before," and by the end of the song, everyone is singing along, or buying into it. So we figured we should put the record out.

UOTS: Were you a Warrant fan before you joined the band, or were these guys more contemporaries of yours?

RM: It was a little of both. I was a Warrant fan, and Warrant took Lynch Mob out on their arena tour in 92-93. 

UOTS: So you know the guys.

RM: Yeah, we all [got to know each other]. I was the opening act for Warrant years ago. So, we have been friends since '91-92 when I was making that Lynch Mob record. It was a really natural, organic thing. We ran into each other at soundcheck, and they said, even then, that they were having trouble keeping the original five guys together.

When four-fifths of the band is working out, and one-fifth of the band isn't, it's a sad thing for me to realize, because I was a fan, like you said. But, we started talking, and exploring the possibility. We once they realized that they wanted to keep going, in spite of firing on four out of five cylinders, they called me up, and we talked about it, and um, it seemed like a good fit.

We are all around the same age, roughly, we have a lot of the same influences musically. And everyone brings their own personality to this thing. I am a pretty close fit, and fans seem to have embraced that.

UOTS: Did you feel a lot of pressure with the new material? To live up to the hit songs the band had scored?

RM: We're just musicians. I'm just a songwriter/singer in a rock band. I was writing songs for this record, and personally, did I feel like they had to fit into an old school Warrant mode? To a degree, but I don't really think you write songs like that.

The fact that we are all from the same headspace, it kind of worked out that way. Some of these songs sound like a bit of a departure, but there are tracks on this new CD that we played live in the rehearsal room, and they came together through pre-production and shit, for the year prior or so to this record, and they sound like Warrant songs to us.

It's just me singing. My voice is a little different than the original singer, but it's just a thing were you go on, and you write songs. I turned over things I had written, and say, do your thing, play it the Warrant way, and they could do nothing else, and I would ask nothing else. So, is that the long way of answering yes? (laughs) I didn't feel pressure, or intimidation, but there was a certain responsibility.

UOTS: I would say that's probably the case with almost any band putting out a new record. You want to make something good.

RM: And also, the guys in the band, they aren't the same guys they were in the early 90s, there are still elements of the old school vibe that will satisfy fans of those songs, but we're not trying to reinvent the wheel, or make it some sort of modern rock thing, but you can't help it, you get older and write more songs and the world changes and you reflect that.

UOTS: What are some of the new things you mention? The departures? What is unique to this Warrant record?

RM: Well, technology has taken a leap. We're still plugging old school guitars into old school amps, but I think it's more about the attitude that everyone grows up a little bit. The old school Warrant attitude is about everyone living out on the street on the Sunset Strip, and that sort of behavior isn't what you are like when you're 40. So like I said, everyone grows up, but the spirit is still there, you get together and play those old songs, and it still feels like that. So we brought some elements from the old songs to the new record, that are just, it's a good time.

Warrant, for me, is always about a little male bravado, a little rock star ego. Though, I'm hardly a rock star. I'm a guy who plays in a band. Tell you what: Keith Richards is a rock star. David Bowie is a rock star. I'm a not a rock star. That's a ridiculous word to me, a ridiculous two words. There are rock stars. Am I one of them? Nah.

On stage I give my all, and you leave some sweat and a little blood on stage, you never know. You do the best you can, and we are five guys who want to do this and are so thankful to do this for a living. And people appreciate it. And that fans, just give the energy back. You're trying to push all over your energy on to them, and they give it all back.

UOTS: About those audiences, did "Cherry Pie" being included on Guitar Hero bring in a younger element?

RM: Absolutely. That's one of those technological advances I was talking about. When "Cherry Pie" came out, you know what video games were like in the early '90s. Thanks to Guitar Hero and Rock Band and games like that, we have a new legion of fans, not only do we have older fans bringing their kids and nieces and nephews to the shows, but the demographic is so wide now, because you've got kids rediscovering those songs through video games. [There's] teens, just showing up on their own, cause they want to hear "Uncle Tom's Cabin." That's one of those 'puts a big ass smile on your face' moments.

People that lived through it the first time, people who are completely nostalgic and have all these memories, and then you've got these young people, that are coming out for a lot of the same reasons, living through it the first time. I talk to kids at meet and greets, and they are like, I play your songs, and I'm like, 'oh, you're in a band?' and they are like no, on Guitar Hero or Rock Band, and I give them a hard time. I say, "That's not playing the songs, pick up a guitar."

UOTS: In the early '90s, when Warrant had a lot of their big hits, the radio was really instrumental in breaking new singles. Now, radio doesn't break a lot of new singles from bands like Warrant.

Guitar Hero did things like that, but now the company that makes Guitar Hero isn't going to make it anymore. Do you ever try to imagine what's next for the music industry? Could you ever have imagined in the early 90s that video games would make hits?

RM: If we had a crystal ball, would we do things differently? Damn right. Everybody would. In every aspect, but yeah, I get what you are saying. It's gone through so many leaps, and made so many changes. I don't think anyone could have predicted any of this, any songwriter or musician. If you did, I'm sure you're wildly successful.

I just embrace all of it. Just to know that digital downloads have completely usurped CDs sales. People say CDs are dead, in some ways, they are, but we still sell them at our shows.

The packaging for our new CD, Rockaholic, we were thinking tongue-in-cheek. We figured, if you are going to have an addiction that's ours, that describes who we are.

We realized through the artwork and that packaging that this- you know, like "before the dawn of history," you know, from Spinal Tap, do you remember those big black CDs that you had to sit on a record player?

UOTS: I still know people who buy vinyl. I personally do.

RM: Well, there's collectors, and I have a bunch too. But it's so easy to go on iTunes, or get a song on your phone, and that's what you see when you look at the artwork. You view it on an iPod or a smart phone stream. But there's something great about the people, whatever medium you remember, LPs, CDs, dare I say cassettes, where you physically hold something in your hand and you can look at the liner notes.

We wrote specific liner notes that are specific to the CD, that are interesting to read, and are fun to look at in the fold out. So we are hoping that there are people who buy the physical product. If you download it digitally, good for you. But I am a big fan of - but I say this is a lot at our show, get the damn iPod phones about of your ears, get off the couch, and come see a real live rock band play for you. Too few people experience that these days.

UOTS: So much of the music industry is focused on immediate gratification, but there's nothing as immediate as seeing a live band.

RM: That is correct. And you can enjoy that moment. You can enjoy listening to your favorite Ke$ha song in your car, driving to work in the morning, but you have to get in the car, and see [a live band.] It's visceral, and in the moment, and sometimes I feel like that's too real for people.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jason P. Woodbury is a music and pop-culture writer based in Phoenix. He is a regular contributor to the music blog Aquarium Drunkard and co-host of the Transmissions podcast.