You will most likely remember the Massachusetts band Extreme from their massive acoustic hits “More Than Words” and “Hole Hearted.” Both of those top 5 songs came from Extreme’s breakthrough album “Pornograffitti.” To mark the 25th anniversary of that landmark disc, the band hit the road for a worldwide tour.
Missed it? Don’t worry, now you can see one of those show on the band’s new DVD/CD combo “Pornograffitti Live 25/Metal Meltdown.” It captures them rocking out and includes a cool documentary about the band.
I spoke with singer Gary Cherone about the band’s wild ride, those two massive hits and, yes, even about his brief time as the lead singer of Van Halen.
Question: Are you still a resident of New England?
Answer: Yeah. I’m north of Boston in Peabody as we speak. We just got back from a run of South Korea and Japan.
I live here because of family. And probably familiarity. I’m a four-season guy. It doesn’t seem natural to not have winter. We’ve toured Hawaii in the winter, but it doesn’t seem right.
Coming home to New England weather is always good. Most of the time. [laughs]
Q: Except when that snowstorm hit?
A: Maybe I’m a three-season guy. Shoveling snow off the walkway, I always go gangbusters when I start thinking, “This is gonna be a good workout.” Then halfway there I think, “I’m too old for this s***.”
Q: Extreme has been doing it since the 1980s. What keep the three-fourths of the original line up together?
A: We’re all pretty close. Even the ex-member, Paul Geary, the original drummer. It’s family. Its second nature now.
We’ve split up over the years, but it was never over a bad thing. It was more that [guitarist] Nuno [Bettencourt] wanted to do something or me finding myself in Van Halen. (I don’t know how the hell that happened.)
We were always in contact with each other. The music keeps us together. We love to perform together. At this point we’re too old to break up.
Q: How did it happen that you ended up lead singer of Van Halen?
A: I don’t know if it was the stars aligned or I was at the right place at the right time. Our manager was also managing Van Halen. I got a tryout. I flew to L.A. thinking to myself, “I’m gonna spend the weekend singing Van Halen songs with the band. Then coming back home to Boston with a great Van Halen story to tell.” That’s how I approached it.
I remember on the flight, Nuno saying, “Why not you? Go for it.” I didn’t have any expectations.
By the second day me and Eddie [Van Halen] hit it off and wrote “Without You,” the first track on the record (“Van Halen 3”). I was then asked to join the band.
Q: Why do you think it didn’t work?
A: Looking back, if I was to do it all over again, I would have liked to tour with the band before I made the record. I think the record had some good songs on it but fell a little short production-wise.
But they treated me great. It ran its course. The record didn’t live up to expectations. We were starting to write the second record and things got a little dysfunctional.
Q: “Pornograffitti” is 25 years old. What do you remember about recording it?
A: The first record we did was delayed a year due to record company politics. Because of that delay, we were in the clubs playing in Boston at the time, and we were writing “Pornograffitti.” When the first record finally came out, we did a tour of the U.S to support it, and we were doing “Pornograffitti” songs.
We were more excited about the new material than the first record because we had kind of grown past it. By the time we went in to record it, we were a better band. We had hashed out those songs on the road.
Also, that year we found our identity.
Q: Did you know “More Than Words” was going to be a hit?
A: We looked at as just another song. I remember Nuno and I writing it. We thought it was a good one. But it was just a track. It wasn’t like we said, “Let’s put the ballad on.” And “More Than Words” came out in the era of power ballads. But it wasn’t truly a power ballad.
I think it was the combination of it being an anomaly. Stripped down with guitar and two vocals. The video being in black and white. That was unique at that time. All that made the song explode.
Looking back, I think, “Would we be celebrating the 25th anniversary of a rock record if that song didn’t explode?” I wonder.
Q: Because that song was so huge, was there pressure to write another “More Than Words”?
A: Whenever there is success, the record company wants to repeat that. I don’t blame them.
The pressure came during the third record. “More Than Words” was then followed by “Hole Hearted,” which is another acoustic tune. Those two songs set the course for many people to misinterpret the band. We fought that.
It was frustrating, but who’s gonna complain? We had two top 5 records in a span of eight months.
Q: What is the new DVD like?
A: The DVD is a documentation of the “Pornograffitti 25” tour. It started off as a concert DVD. My favorite thing about the DVD are the documentary parts.
There is a moment with me and Nuno sitting on the porch of the house I grew up in where we wrote the songs. Some of the things the special guests on it, Brian May and Steven Tyler said blew us away. To have our heroes acknowledge the band was what I love most about it.
Q: What’s next for Extreme?
A: The focus is to get some new music out next year, and then make a run around the world again.
CD/DVD combo “Pornograffitti Live 25/Metal Meltdown” is now available.