Rock TV Host Eddie Trunk: "There's No Mystique or Surprises" in Music Anymore

Forget being left out of the Grammys; you rarely hear about anything in those heavy metal and hard rock in the news, unless someone passes away or gets arrested for something ridiculous.

But it doesn't really faze metal and rock fans that much. We don't really care about whose dating whom, or who is in a fashion feud. It's all about the meat of the matter -- debates over the five best guitarists of all time, or the story behind the new record, or a collection of memories from musicians that pays homage to the 10th anniversary of Dimebag Darrell's death. And it's that type of content we get from programs like VH1's That Metal Show, a sort of Tonight Show for hard rock and heavy metal enthusiasts.

That Metal Show kicked off its 14th season in late February, and it's never been more focused on such a wide variety of music. Four episodes in as of March 14, artists like Geddy Lee (Rush), John Petrucci (Dream Theater), Marky Ramone, and others have already been on the show.

Diversity is the name of the game, and other recently confirmed guests include Kerry King (Slayer), Zakk Wylde (Black Label Society), Ace Frehley (KISS), Frankie Banali (Quiet Riot, W.A.S.P.), Michael Schenker (Scorpions, UFO), Max Cavalera (Soulfly), and many more.

Hosted by Eddie Trunk, Jim Florentine and Don Jamieson, the acclaimed show went through some vast changes last season; the show moved from Los Angeles to New York City, and instead of all episodes being taped all within a week, it changed to one taping each Tuesday night. This season has brought even more, with a new broadcast time, a "Fan Top 5" segment, and a variety of musical guests that ranges from a focus on jazz to classic rock to death metal.

The show standards remain the same, with such segments as the "Top 5 Throwdown," "Metal Modem," "Put it On the Table," and, of course, the favorite "Stump The Trunk," where fans try to quiz host Eddie Trunk on facts he may or may not know.

For more than 30 years Eddie Trunk has been pouring his blood, sweat and tears into the music industry. He's created a career out of his passion for music, and his dedication has made him one of the most knowledgeable personalities in hard rock and heavy metal.

It all started as a New Jersey high schooler, where he wrote record reviews for school extra credit. He started working in broadcasting in 1983, when he convinced his favorite local radio station to let him produce a heavy metal/hard rock specialty show, one of the first of its kind. It was 2002 when Trunk began working in television as a host on VH1 Classic's Hanging With, which led to the creation of That Metal Show. The show premiered in November 2008, and it's not only the longest running program in the station's history -- it's the only hard rock/heavy metal oriented show on cable TV. That Metal Show has been visited by some of the biggest names in the genres including Van Halen, Metallica, Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Pantera, Kiss, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Pearl Jam, Guns N' Roses, Queensrÿche, Heart, and many more.

Trunk's original 1983 radio show still exists to this day as Eddie Trunk Rocks, out of New York City, and is syndicated nationally. Trunk also hosts a weekly live music, talk and interview show called Eddie Trunk Live, or "Trunk Nation," on Sirius XM (channel 39).

Up on the Sun talked with Eddie Trunk, two minutes fresh off the phone booking Metallica for That Metal Show, about the upcoming biggest highlight of the season, social media's affect on the music industry, and his most anticipated albums of 2015.

This 14th season of That Metal Show has been pretty exciting so far, especially with all of the diversity. While I know you were most excited about Geddy Lee, whose debut on the show are you most pumped for?

Hmmm... it's hard to, um... it's hard to pinpoint any one thing. But actually, as of just a few seconds ago, I think we pretty much can say that we're done with locking in Kirk Hammett from Metallica to come back on. That's an interesting story because the last time we had Kirk on, was when we had the Scorpions original guitar player, Uli Jon Roth, on the show. And Kirk and I bonded over the fact that we love stuff like that. He's a huge UFO fan, as am I.

After we did that show a few years, Kirk said that it would be amazing to do a show like that again, with [former UFO guitarist] Michael Schenker on. And I was just like, maybe we can make that happen. So somehow it looks like the stars aligning, and it's something I've been working on right up until the second I'm now talking to you, and it looks like we're going to have a show coming up, probably next month, where we'll have Kirk Hammett from Metallica and one of his heroes, Michael Schenker, on together. That's about 99 percent at this point, but if that happens that will certainly be one of the highlights.

That's awesome! I know you had mentioned that there's a huge guest that hadn't been announced yet, so is that what you were referring to?

It will certainly be one of them. You know Lauren, the way things are working this season, it's similar to last season. We don't by design we don't announce the guests in advance for every single show, because we don't have them all locked in. We're taping weekly, so as opposed to how we used to do the show when we were in L.A. we would do 10 shows in the course of five days, two shows per day, so we had to have everything rock solid locked down. But that's not how we do it anymore. We're going to be taping into May at this point.

So, as a result, shows booked out towards the end of April and early May are not fully formed yet since things are always changing. We'll get a call that an artist is in town and is available to do some press, so do we have anything available. Which is exactly what happened with Joe Elliot with Def Leppard on our debut. That came in at the very last second, so he was also one of those big names we teased. So we don't how every show is going to play out. It's kinda a fun way of doing it. We have a structure and an outline, but we never know what will pop up.

And on the other side of the coin, just as many times we'll have a cancellation. We had Blackie Lawless booked for our finale, and he unfortunately had to cancel because he has to get a procedure done on his back. So it's always a revolving door and it's hard to nail down "this is happening and this is not happening."

So, do you truly love or hate "Stump The Trunk"?

Ummmmm. That's; man, that's a two-edged question. Well, listen: it's great to be known for something. It's funny. I guess it would be like asking a band if they love or hate a hit record that they might be tired of playing. Laughter. It's a blessing for sure, because it's great to be known for something so much like that. It's become crazy; even internationally when I travel people will come running up to me needing to "stump the trunk." I do a live feed show, both on my own and also with Don and Jim, in clubs and stuff around the country. When we do that show, the majority of people there are pouncing ready to do "stump the trunk" because we do live trivia at the end of the show. It's funny to me, because I don't think I know it all at any stretch. But I do know more than the average person, because I've been doing this my whole life; it's what I do. So I get that people find it fun and get into it.

So it is a blessing, as long as everyone doesn't take it too seriously and understand that it's a bit. The thing I always want to stress is that I'm the last guy in the world to run around and say I know it all. And while it's fun when I get it right, what's most fun for me is when I get it wrong, because I'm learning. Being in this business over 30 years, it's always good to learn.

I'm sure it keeps you on your toes.

Yeah, it's a lot of pressure when we do it on TV. As silly as it sounds, that's a big moment for some of those people. When they come up to that microphone and ask that question, some people are like, 'I've been waiting to do this!' and I feel like I'm going to disappoint them. It's a strange dynamic and a strange thing to be known for, but I'll take it.

Well, and you've worked in just about every aspect of the music industry over those three decades. You left Megaforce back in 1990, and so much has changed with label/artist relations since then. How do you view the industry differently now than you did in the '90s, and in the '80s?

Well it's so much smaller now. There's so many fewer labels, fewer employees, fewer department, ad labels ... and things are so different. I mean, a lot of times bands don't even have labels, and management controls everything. Sometimes artists don't even have management, and they manage themselves! Um, you have to stay on top of that end of it, to navigate all of it. As a producer on the show as well, a big part of what I do is the behind-the-scenes stuff, like I said before, just hanging up with Kirk Hammett and working with his management. Behind the scenes work is a ton. And I'm lucky I've got those relationships and can navigate that, because it's really tough now to keep up with what these guys are doing. A lot of these people who work with these artists are independent, they're outside contractors. So they are hired to work in August and you may be dealing with publicists or a marketing person for six months and then you call them and they don't handle that person anymore. It's constantly changing.

And unfortunately, there's so little money out there now. I was kinda joking with someone yesterday, because I'm still a big fan of CDs. That's still my favorite way to get music and listen to music. Someone at the taping yesterday was talking to me about a band's album, and so I said please bring a CD, don't give me a file download. That's how I need to digest it. And they handed me a burned CD in a white sleeve with nothing on it. Laughs. It struck me that it's so absurd that it's, um, difficult... you know, I'm a guy with a few radio shows, but it's actually difficult for me in 2015 to get a real CD! I said, it's almost comical. If this were the '80s you guys would be sending a private plane to deliver 500 copies of a CD. And now you can't even get a real CD; they are burning them on computers and handing over an unlabeled disc. It's very sad, actually.

It's so crazy. I totally agree. And bands should be prepared to provide that medium as well, and many don't have the available materials they need to even promote themselves.

It's ridiculous. I mean, people say to me all the time, they wonder why the industry is sort of going down, and I mean, I understand that everybody needs to save money and budgets aren't what they used to be. But there are some basic things that you should be able to deliver to people who are out there to help sell and promote the music. I don't know where it's all headed, but it's definitely something where you have to be on your toes and pound away to get the simplest things.

So then what 2015 albums are you most looking forward to?

Hm. Well, there's a few out already that I absolutely love and they've come out already. One is, the new album from Black Star Riders, which used to be Thin Lizzy. Their second record just came out called The Killer Instinct, which is an early candidate for my album of the year.

Nice, yeah you guys will have Damon Johnson on your show. He captivates an audience.

Yes! And I love this new album that just came out last week; called Motor Sister. Scott Ian from Anthrax is in it. It's this very '70s old-school hard rock record. I love this band called Farmikos that features former Ozzy guitarist Joe Holmes. And I'm looking forward to Mark Tremonti's new record because I love the first one. He'll be coming on That Metal Show so I'm looking forward to that. I hope John Sykes puts out his record finally. He's a friend and I'm a huge fan. He put out some teasers last year but it's been quiet ever since.

I also hear [Iron] Maiden is close to having a record done, or was going to put out a record, before Bruce got sick. So obviously that would be exciting. And the new Def Leppard album! They are all saying that it's very different from Def Leppard. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing, but it will be interesting to find out.

You've talked about focusing on a third book possibly this summer, possibly a memoir. I own a publishing company, and also focus on promoting musicians who self-publish their books, like John Densmore and Carla Harvey. So I'm curious -- what are some of your all-time favorite musician biographies or memoirs?

Actually, time is my biggest issue. Um, in the end of the media I'm in, where everyone is coming to promote something like a book -- there are SO many books out there. Reading a book is so time-consuming. It's not like listening to music where you can have it in the background; you have to be very focused. So I find that it's hard to find that time to read. The only time I find to read is on planes, which is often, but I also find I need to keep up on things with magazines. Again, I'm old-school, I prefer physical, real magazines and newspapers. I'm staring at a screen so much for work purposes, that I like what comes with turning the computer off and turning the page of a magazine. That means work is done. So, I have a flight tomorrow, and literally have like 15 magazines in my bag for that.

However, the last one I read that I really loved was Joe Perry's. I'm a huge Aerosmith fan, and I did the book launch with Joe for work. I loved his voice in it, the stories and the balance. We had Marky Ramone [premiered this past Saturday], and I'm about quarter of the way through his new book. Most of the books I've read I really like, and I don't need to be a huge fan of the artist in order to like them. It's just finding the time. Even Alex Skolnick, a friend who self-published his book recently, I haven't had a chance to read that.

That's why with my two other books out, they are hybrids of photos and text. You can read for five minutes and it isn't a transitional thing. Like you don't have to read the pages in order. It's a different format than an autobiography. However, with that being said, one day I will do a more comprehensive autobiography book. After 30 years I've only scratched the surface with what I can share from my experiences.

It's good you still like reading in those formats; that's always great to hear. I'm the same way with physical books and magazines. And it can be so easy to get behind on reading materials! There's a lot of content out there now, just like the saturation of music.

You know, my local newspaper here in New Jersey now is up to $1.50 per day to purchase. For the daily edition. I was just so floored by that because I remember when it was just a quarter or whatever! It really bummed me out because it makes it harder to justify getting something in physical format. Again though, I like turning things off. When I'm going to read anything, the best time is at 8 or 9 at night.

Speaking on technology and constant information provided on screens, how do you think social media affects the mystique of music? Like do you think Arthur Brown, Sabbath and Alice Cooper would still be the icons they are if there had been a YouTube and Twitter when they were starting out?

That's really tough to say. And I honestly don't know. But I do miss some of the mystique of music in bands. I do think that is something we've really lost. And there are still bands from the '70s that sort of keep that mystique up a little bit -- like AC/DC for example. They are very, very stealth in the way they do things! You never know what's coming or what they're going to do. They actually just recently launched an official Twitter, which is obviously run by someone not in the band. And then there's Van Halen, who is very cagey about what they do. And Iron Maiden is never gonna tell you what they're gonna do until the last second they have to and every single thing is in line. So there are bands that are able to control and manage the information that gets out about them. And I think that's cool.

But I don't know if we would still look at some of those bands and feel like they still had the same aura about them in social media was around when they started. But I think there's a "right" balance that can be struck, where fans can get information but the band isn't too open where there's no mystique or surprises. I think the biggest key is to find that balance. I know for myself, personally, handling Twitter is what I do most. I'd say about 95 percent is stuff about music and what I'm doing in my world, and maybe 5 percent is personal, which is extremely rare.

You're a big supporter of the Ronnie James Dio Cancer fund. Wendy Dio asked you to host some of the fifth anniversary events this May, so can you elaborate on some of the activities you'll be involved in?

Wendy reached out to me for us to discuss in t he next week or two actually, so I don't have an exact idea of what I'm going to be doing specifically. But basically I'm there as she needs me. I had the incredible honor of hosting Ronnie's memorial service five years ago when he passed away. So I know there will be a similar event to mark five years at his burial site which is open to the public. That will be a major event. I know there's a bowling event and a motorcycle rally; three days and three events. But I'm basically there to help as she needs me, whether it's interviews, hosting, meet and greet, helping with the raffle... whatever help she needs. The Dio Cancer Fund is a wonderful cause and I'm thankful to be a part of it again.

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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