Ken Rose Interview/ Hero Jr. Origins Story + New Single/Music Video

 

For every band, there’s an origin story. There are many unknown twists and turns that lead its members to each other. Some are childhood friends, some met by coincidence, some answered a classified ad, and some just call it fate. With this being said, we at Mayhem Music Magazine start asking artists how they joined their bands.

 

One of the bands that we’ve become a fan of is Hero Jr. We’ve been following the band as they continue to build their status in the classic rock genre. With a rock style in the vein of 70’s artists like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, together with Nirvana, Soundgarden, Grunge and Punk , they still carve a new path by making rock that is relevant and needed.

With the upcoming release of their new track & video entitled “Deep End Price Tag”, this was the perfect time to talk with Hero Jr. lead guitarist Ken Rose to get more on the path that brought him to join the band and how Hero Jr.’s creative process works. Here’s what he had to say….

 

Where is the band based?

We’re all based in Indianapolis. That’s where our studio is.

 

You’ve made a living as a musician, writer, and a producer. I know you have a unique story on how you ended up becoming part of Hero Jr. as well as the formation of the current Hero Jr. line up.

I was in New York working with Tony Carey (Planet P/Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow). The drummer playing on that record was Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp/Melissa Etheridge/John Fogerty). Kenny and I became friends on those sessions and he said “you’re doing these records in New York and you’re spending all this money on hotels and recording costs. Why don’t you stay at my house in Bloomington, Indiana and I’ll get you a great deal at Mike Wanchic’s ( Mellenkamp’s guitarist) studio, Echopark, and you can save a ton of money.”

On one of those trips to work in Bloomington, way before Hero Jr., I met an 18 year old singer named Evan (Haughey – singer/ rhythm guitarist for Hero Jr.) who had moved to Bloomington from Michigan. Evan’s band had won a contest with MCA Records two years earlier and he was encouraged by Paul Mahern, John Mellencamp’s engineer to relocate. He was working with Evan and suggested I work with them on Evan’s forthcoming solo album. I would say this was about fourteen years ago, and six years before I joined Hero Jr.

I was in Bloomington to work on a project and spent a day writing with Evan to see how we got along. We ended up writing a couple songs and decided it would be cool to do something together the next time I came back to America.

On my next trip to Bloomington, Evan had already started a batch of new songs that we fine tuned and finished together. The next day we recorded a five song EP. It was very spontaneous and we recorded the whole thing totally live in a bedroom with Evan singing in the hallway. It was a special EP, a little more indie-rock than Hero Jr., but the creative bond Evan and I were forming was tight and those sessions were one of my favorite creative experiences.

I went home, at the time it was in Munich, Germany, and I remember telling my (ex) wife that I had met this dude and I think we have great chemistry. It was the real deal but I couldn’t drop everything and leave because my music publisher was more interested in me writing for other artists than in me joining a band!

About a year later Evan moved to Indianapolis and his brother came down from Michigan to play drums with him. Dave (DuBrava- bassist from Binghamton, NY) moved to Indy following work and school opportunities. Dave and Evan met at an open mic night and, together they formed the first incarnation of Hero Jr. They made an EP and I didn’t even realize until later that a couple of songs from our first ‘test writing’ session were recorded. They toured their asses off and had an impeccable work ethic, something that always left a positive impression on me.

Ever since Evan and I finished the first EP years earlier he would call a couple times a year and say “come on let’s do a band”. I always said no because I had a publishing contract and I loved living in Europe. I told Evan I was totally supportive of him loved what he was doing but I couldn’t leave my situation. At that time I moved, had a studio in London and I couldn’t leave to be in a band. I knew we had this vibe but I had no desire to come back to America.

 

 

A year later when it was time for Evan and the band to make their second album we decided the next best thing to being there was trying our creativity over SKYPE. Evan and the band were in the studio in Bloomington with Paul and I were in my studio in London. It was pretty insane but we wrote 10 songs together and I added some long distance guitar and production from London. That Hero Jr. incarnation included Dave, Matthew (Evan’s brother) and Evan as a three piece band. It was really amazing how we did that record on SKYPE but it didn’t have a live vibe, which is what we were all into. It was a good try though. During that time Evan, the band, and I spoke regularly while they were on tour and the record was being mixed in Bloomington. During these calls it was clear the band and I wanted the record to sound more raw than it was. I remember doing all this work with Evan’s vocals and tape delays and getting the mixes back and it all sounded digital and kind of slick. It was a crazy time and little did we know that we were all bonding despite our long distance separation. There were some cool songs from that record but it was obvious to all of us that the band needed to record in the same room together.

So Hero Jr. is out there touring as a three piece and I am following their journey from London. I thought these guys are doing it right, taking every show, often touring in two cars to accommodate the gear and the band. Real rock and roll… like all of our heroes from the 60s and 70s. Those guys were killing it. And they would die for it! This tour was supporting the long distance album we made and Hero Jr. was planning a release event in Indianapolis. Of course, Evan would call and say I had to come out and my response was always the same. I’m not leaving Europe! I was such a Euro-snob! And I was in the middle of growing a label, I had a studio, a girlfriend, and was stubbornly fixed on the European life.

And then, all in a very short time period, my label partner experienced financial difficulties which ended up dissolving the label, I split up with my girlfriend, and the property owners of my studio (the Buena Vista Social Club’s record label) decided to get out of the studio business and sell. When we tried to work out a plan to keep the space it didn’t happen. Boom. The three most stable things my life were gone. That’s when Evan called again and asked “don’t you want to come and play with us at our cd release?” This time I couldn’t say no. It was as if the Universe was having it no other way.

It’s always emotional when I think of that trip. It was June 2012 and Dave came and picked me up at the airport in Indy. It was the first time we met in person and we went straight to the studio in Bloomington to borrow an amp. I didn’t bring any gear over because I was just coming over for a week.

During the previous years that I had come to work in Bloomington I never once spent time, outside of the airport, in Indy. After my nine hour flight and a two hour round trip to grab an amp I finally got back to Indy and the band was plugged in and ready to play. Again…WORK ETHIC! We played through the album and I knew the set in three days. It was like we’d been together forever and it was already better than the album when we rehearsed. The show was sold out. Hero Jr. was a scrappy band that was organized to military precision and got the job done. I was so impressed and it was a magical time. They’d already built up a following and it was like an instant family for me. Their fans were so hospitable with their welcome. The show was killer and it had ‘that thing’. The funniest part of that night was when it was time for the encore and I had run out of songs that I knew because we had played the whole album. I didn’t know any of the other songs so I stayed side stage. Halfway through the first encore song I was standing next to one of their really good friends and looked at her and said “I know this. I fucking wrote it with Evan (it was one from our very first batch together). We all had a good laugh afterwards. In true rock tradition, and without a thought to what I was doing, I dropped everything, decided to give it a try and we went on to play over eight hundred shows in the next seven years, paying dues, sleeping on floors, and developing ourselves into a tight band and family. It was crazy but was the best time ever and the best choice I ever made.

How could I not do this. I still can’t believe I stayed but at the time, and looking back, Hero Jr. could not fail. Every inner voice I had told me this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I always wanted to be in this kind of a band. A real rock band that put the music before anything else. Whether the audience was ten people (there were a lot of those) or a thousand we played every show as if it was our last. There are no guarantees in this business but I knew in my heart that if we got one good shot we could deliver and move up the food chain.

It’s almost eight years and we are still moving. Evan and I continue to grow as a songwriting team. We unanimously feel that if we keep doing this something good is going to happen. Year after year, the gigs got better, and we started getting offers to open for a few bigger artists.

About three years in we lost our drummer. Evan’s brother Matthew wanted more stability in his life, which we totally didn’t have! We were surviving week to week and I went from earning a decent living in London to sleeping on the floor in Indy. I loved it because it was my dream and all my heroes did it that way. My friends thought I was insane. Mathew left to start a family in Las Vegas and we needed a drummer. It ended up being Devon Ashly, the dude that played on Evan’s first EP in Bloomington. He was recovering from open heart surgery at a very young age. I think our tour or die ethic was contagious and Devon hit the road with us. Part of his recovery was on the road with us and there was even one show in Chicago where we had to stop so he could catch his breath. Devon is a killer drummer but wasn’t the right guy for the band. His role was vital because, even though it wasn’t the magic fit for us, we continued to play shows and grow. When Devon left we decided we needed another ‘lifer’ because that’s what Hero Jr. is all about.

Then we met Ryan (Keyes). When we were looking for drummers we remembered this guy in a band that played with us in Minnesota, and one of Ryan’s band mates at the time told him we were looking for a drummer. It was very cool of him to do that and Ryan picked up and moved down here with his girlfriend. Thank God…another ‘die for it’ dude! That was almost three years ago. All the other shit that happened before needed to happen for Ryan to find us. I think he is the drummer we always wanted in the driver’s seat and Hero Jr. feels right with his input and friendship.

It’s like we have all been guided here to do this despite the odds and our fans say they feel it when we are on stage. I grew up in Los Angeles. I lived in Europe half my life. I’ve worked all over with different artists and I’m now sitting here in Indianapolis in a rock band…and that’s just my take on the story. Evan grew up in Michigan and he ended up here. Dave is from New York, and Ryan is from Minnesota. None of us have a reason to be here at all. I love our stories. I live in the same house where I first came to rehearse and sleep on the floor. It’s where we are recording our new album. It’s where Evan lived for years, watching the neighborhood transform from undesirable to fashionable. This is where Hero Jr. started, long before I joined the band. There is a history between us that is as important as the music.

So has the band continued to book so many shows?

Last year we didn’t play a lot of shows and, after non stop touring, we were like, let’s just go with the flow and see what happens. We have learned to let things be and not force our path in Hero Jr…. not an easy task for a band with such an intense work ethic but it does feel like someone or thing is watching out for us. Instead of the touring we wrote the new album, rehearsed and learned new songs, and played a couple shows to test the results. Now we’re in the middle of recording the album, all live, in our studio. No overdubs. We wrote all the songs in a week and let them grow for almost a year. This is the most time we have ever spent letting the songs grow and it’s been worth it. If we are not on the road we get together three times a week to play.

 

How much did the new material stay to its original concept after playing them live for so long?

Evan and I wrote everything on acoustic guitar first. Very old school, as we believe that the song comes first and when you write loud rock songs on acoustic guitars it’s very obvious what will and won’t work. Some of the songs are exactly the same and some have gone through tweaks. The main thing after we write is that it’s our job as a band to discover where the songs want to take us and to be true to ourselves as people and as musicians. Once the songs are introduced to the band everyone works as a unit to find the right pockets, dynamics and flow. We all can feel when things do not work and we just dig in until it works. In the end it’s all about showcasing the songs and vocals and concentrate on leaving space for that. I’ll knock on wood when I say we get along amazingly well as we create because it’s a refreshingly selfless process, and looking back on the last year we have accomplished a lot together. We all have such diverse influences but the common denominator in our variety lays in the fact that we all love bands that have killer songs AND could deliver live and exciting shows.

The bands that influence us are successful because they have a vibe and they do not write formula songs. The classic rock bands always took the songwriting to the next level because they incorporated the live performance into the actual song somehow. It’s just an aspect of creating and performing that makes us happy. It’s the combination of four people being honest and being exactly who they are. It’s the brotherhood of traveling, getting on stage and playing because its’ all you want to do…and that cannot be bought or manufactured! It still amazes me how we all came together to make this journey.

 

We end our talk with guitarist Ken Rose and bring you Hero Jr.’s new single/video for ‘Deep End Price Tag’ released today

For more on the band, check out these links:

    Website / Facebook / Instagram / Twitter/ YouTube / Apple Music / Spotify

 

 

 

 

About The Author

I've been a part of music industry as a concert photographer for over thirty years. At an early age I hit the road shooting for Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Dio, Quiet Riot, Ted Nugent, Twisted Sister, just to name a few. My love for music has never wavered. I started Mayhem Music Magazine as an outlet to share both established and new artists with others who truly love music.

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