Interview with Ratt: Reinfesting The Strip

Considering that party hearty “cement pirates” Ratt were among the ruling class of the Sunset Strip back in the mid- to late 1980s, it seems unlikely that as they hit middle age that they could effectively recapture the spirit of that time, particularly given that it has been 11 years since they recorded and released an album (1999’s Ratt) and that some of the members have been fathers for longer. But conventional wisdom be damned, the newest Ratt studio release, Infestation, is actually a rock solid record that features some tasty licks, plenty of attitude and invokes their early days—circa the Ratt EP and their 1984 monster hit debut album, Out Of The Cellar—along with the heavier slant of Detonator, the 1990 album that was their last before a nine-year recording hiatus that included four years apart.

It seems that a retroactive recipe helped them serve up the winning platter. Frontman Stephen Pearcy coyly states that during the incubation of Infestation, “We were living it 24/7. It was like being back in the cellar, living together 24 hours a day, hiding in your own hole and coming out to take care of business. There’s a lot of blood and guts and tears and happiness and joy and rock ‘n’ roll. That’s why the record is about as real as it gets. It actually gave me the feeling of being back in ‘84 or ‘85.”

The singer also took his musical cues from that era as well. “I tried to be as basic as possible—what I term nursery rhyme-ish, just the simpler the better,” explains Pearcy. “That’s how the earlier stuff was. There wasn’t much to it—it was just, here it is. I think the record fits nicely between Cellar and Invasion [Of Your Privacy]. We did what we had to do.”

Their producer, Michael “Elvis” Baskette of Chevelle and Incubus fame, also played a hand in how the album turned out, particularly in terms of its sonic schematics. “It was really an advantage that Michael was a guitarist before he got into producing,” declares guitarist Warren DeMartini. “It was really good to have someone coming from a six-string point of view behind the desk, and he was a big fan of the period. It was a lucky thing for Ratt because he was able to do an amalgamation of what was really exciting about those early ‘80s recordings and blending it with something contemporary.”

Infestation presents different faces of the band— sleazy, old school Ratt ‘N Roll (“Eat Me Up Alive,” “Lost Weekend”), melodic and romantic older Ratt (“Best Of Me,” “Take Me Home”) and reflective Ratt (“Garden Of Eden,” about heroin). Baskette, a long-time fan who was eight when Out Of The Cellar came out, urged the band to play to the strengths that made their early material classic, and he even co-wrote one of the tracks on the album. The three veteran Ratt rockers—Pearcy, DeMartini and drummer Bobby Blotzer—were joined by long-time bassist Robbie Crane and former Quiet Riot axeman Carlos Cavazo, a peer from that same era who meshed well with DeMartini during their recent tour and recording sessions.

“There was nothing to work out, it just kind of fell together,” DeMartini says of collaborating with Cavazo. “If somebody had an idea for something, they would go for that and it would work out. On the double lead stuff, I would put something down and Carlos would work out the harmony to it. On a couple of tracks we actually convinced the engineers to mic up two rigs so we could cut the double leads at the same time, which was really cool. We did that on ‘Take A Big Bite’. It was a fun record to make with Carlos. He was in the room when I was laying down my guitar parts and vice versa.”

To celebrate the release of Infestation, Ratt played the Key Club on April 20. Originally the location of famous rock club Gazarri’s, it was where Mickey Ratt (as the band was first known) cut their teeth and opened many shows for Motley Crue. “It’s the old stomping grounds, there’s a lot of spirit there,” proclaims Pearcy. “It’s our first record [in over 10 years]. Let’s go back to basics. It would’ve been kind of pretentious to go to the Whiskey and do it, even though we became the house band there back in the day, so we saw fit to unleash Infestation in the Key Club, which is literally Gazzari’s. It’s nice because the label [Roadrunner] put up a huge billboard for us, and it’s our first billboard on Sunset in a while. We’re very happy with the label, from the video to the billboard to letting us do we wanted with the record. It’s more than you can ask.”

Ratt is one of the groups that lived the high life back in the day before technology put band members (ironically) in compromising positions. When one looks at the younger rock bands today, they have to cope with cell phones, digital cameras and Internet sites intruding upon their backstage life. The bad boys just can’t be so bad anymore. “There’s no way in hell,” confirms Pearcy, who these days is a proud father. “There were such advantages and disadvantages to where back in the day you had to write shit down to get busted for it, or wait for the Polaroid to develop.” These days groups like Ratt have a no cell phone and camera policy on the bus for all privacy matters, not just sexual. “We have some people who tape the light and still try to get away with it and stash it carefully,” reports Pearcy. “It’s messed up. You can’t trust anybody.”

When asked what he thinks about the Sunset Strip today, Pearcy replies, “I think it’s very mundane. There’s not much going down. The scene that was happening in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s will never be re-created. The Sunset Strip had nothing to offer in the ‘90s. Time tells a lot because it separates a strong from the week and the good and the bad, and sustaining power. What a few of us had when the ‘80s were brand new was this thing that we created. We didn’t know what we were doing, the Mötleys and Ratts and Quiet Riot or whoever. We didn’t know what was going on. Then in came the copycats, and that’s what put it down. But then 1999 and the 2000s came around, and people wondered what happened to that danger, color and excitement. It was still there, they just put it aside for a while. People said, ‘Hey guys, welcome back.’ Welcome back? Are you a retard? We didn’t go anywhere. We just went through our personal defaults and imploded for a while.”

DeMartini does not share Pearcy’s view about the state of the Strip, believing that it is starting to regain some of the magic from its heyday. “It’s comin’ back, man,” the guitarist asserts. “It really feels similar to the old days, but it’s a little smarter.”

When it comes to the fact that Ratt is still rocking after all of these years, long after other peers burned out and broke up, DeMartini acknowledges the special position they are in. “That’s the really magical thing about this art form called rock ‘n’ roll,” he says. “You plug in the guitar, the lights go out and you hear the crowd, and it stays as exciting as it did at my first gigs in high school. I think we’re very lucky to still be doing it.”

Infestation is available this week.