We caught up with frontman Chris Babbitt and found the singer in typically fine form – on the back of a brilliant 2010 which included support slots with Kiss and Airbourne and a main stage Download set.
rushonrock: Looking back can you believe that less than 12 months ago you were opening up for Kiss in arenas across the country?
Chris Babbitt: Even now it never seems real! But that kind of opportunity is what we’ve always been shooting for. We’re making progress. The whole thing was surreal though. It was just unbelievable. It was the most fun you could imagine.
rushonrock: So did you hang out with Gene and the boys?
CB: I guess the catering was so good on the UK stretch that they didn’t use their own chef and so we did see them quite a bit during the UK dates. They were just so professional and so was their crew. To get to know a crew that works on something of that magnitude is a thrill in itself. We learnt how the guys worked as a team and how they created the synergy you need to make a massive arena tour like that work. Kiss had the respect of their crew and vice versa. But it’s like any job – if you don’t like your boss you don’t work hard. Kiss know that.
rushonrock: What were the highlights of 2010 – a breakthrough year for you?
CB: Well Download was just incredible. That was an enormous highlight. The fact that we got to open the main stage at an event like that was just mind-blowing. We’re just a baby band. But we got on the Airbourne tour and then we got Kiss and suddenly we were at Download! We had such a killer stretch all at once. That hat-trick of opportunities has given us the chance to head out on our own small headline tour of the UK because a few people saw us last year. If we’d booked this tour without playing to all of those people then no-one would have shown up – fact. On this tour we’re hoping to play to some of our own fans and maybe find a few new converts along the way. On the Airbourne tour we got used to playing to older fans and metal heads and most of them were men and over 35. Who knows – we might some girls at our own gigs…
rushonrock: What’s the single most important lesson you learned last year?
CB: Respect the tour manager! Mind your manners. And be careful what you say – you never know what might offend people. I know that’s three lessons but they’re all linked. I thought I was cracking a few funny jokes over in Germany. But some friends of the tour manager on the Airbourne tour did not take kindly to some of my comments. I made a Cold War joke but I don’t think they really understood what I said…So when we’re overseas I suppose I need to tone down the dialogue a little. But the German crowds are generally very hard to win over. In the UK if you’re doing a good job the fans will give you credit for that but it’s a tough gig in front of German crowds. That’s what I learnt.
rushonrock: So you’re looking forward to this month’s UK dates then?
CB: I suppose I am happy to be somewhere where the people understand English. I understand making a derogatory comment or two might offend someone but the UK crowds get what I’m doing and it makes the shows fun for me. I’m not just rambling like a dick. There’s a reason I’m saying what I’m saying even if it’s just for some kind of reaction. I’ve always been able to connect with an audience and that’s what I love about being on stage. In the UK where it’s easier for Taking Dawn to connect is that the music we play is appreciated because of the history of rock in Britain. Nobody doesn’t get what the music means – even if it’s not their favourite music in the world.
rushonrock: So even in America does rock lack true appreciation?
CB: In a lot of cases. When we got the gig supporting Kiss people back home were saying Kiss were a bunch of assholes and that they should get their hair out of their faces. But I blame the parents! I like Ted Nugent as much as I like Lady Gaga. I just love music. But a lot of people don’t get it. Gene Simmons came in and busted my balls when we were out on tour – he was holding a magazine where I’d been quoted saying I like Lady GaGa as much as I like Iron Maiden!
rushonrock: Most UK fans will never have seen you play a headline show so what can we expect now you’re no longer the support act?
CB: These are the first headline shows that we’ve ever done in our entire career. But for me it’s just another chapter. When I stepped out in front of 100,000 people last summer I didn’t approach it any differently to when we played in front of seven people on the Hellyeah tour. I was really looking forward to what we were going to do with the show but now we have a new drummer and so I suppose we’ll have to be a little less ambitious. He wasn’t familiar with the material so we’ve been training him in the ways of Taking Dawn and that’s taken up a lot of time. We just didn’t get to focus as much on the show. Had we not needed to get everything right musically there might have been time to introduce other elements. I don’t think I’ll be able to realise the vision of my idea of the perfect Taking Dawn show on this tour. But considering this is our first time out as headliners I’m very pleased with the show we are bringing over. We’re spending a lot of money just getting over to the UK but as far as the stage show goes there’s just us and whatever the venue has for us to jump off! It won’t be so much about the production as the performance but I still think we’ve progressed leaps and bounds from the last time we were in the country. And I’m excited that some people will be thee for us – I’m hoping there’ll be a few fans out there who can sing the words to the songs which is something that hasn’t happened before.
rushonrock: One criticism of the band last year was that live you didn’t sound anything like you did on your polished Roadrunner debut…
CB: The record was very polished. In fact it was so crisp that I thought it sounded a bit mechanical. It almost sounded too perfect. But the biggest problem we had on the Airbourne tour was that we had terrible gear. Part of me wanted to say that we shouldn’t sound like the record – we should sound live. But then I know people have certain expectations when they hear your album. On the Airbourne tour we just had to fashion a show around the equipment we had. Now we have gear that is better for us and it’s the stuff we managed to get hold of in time for the Kiss tour. But even with Kiss we only had five or 10 minutes to soundcheck. This time we’ve got the right gear but there’s only the band to set it all up. We don’t even have a sound guy and we’re relying on the house sound guy – they know what their venues sound like but they don’t necessarily know what we sound like. It’s going to be hit and miss but because we sounded like a pile of shit on the Airbourne tour it’s going to be better than people remember!
rushonrock: Are there any plans for UK festival shows in 2011?
CB: I don’t think so. The summer is when we’re planning to record the new record so that could take us out of the equation. We want to build on the momentum of last year’s live shows but we do need to get another record done.