On a Friday night in the music hub of Asbury Park, legendary comedian Jim Breuer commandeered the stage of The Wonder Bar like a heavy metal freight train as he channeled the spirit of his iconic heroes Brian Johnson, Rob Halford, and Ozzy Osbourne.
Throughout his career, the Saturday Night Live legend has always worn his metal influences on his sleeve, his AC/DC and Metallica impersonations are modern folklore amongst rock listeners.
In 2016, Jim Breuer turned his rock ‘n’ roll dreams into reality when he released a full-length album called Songs From The Garage. He is the frontman for a heavy metal band called Jim Breuer and The Loud & Rowdy that combines his virtuoso comedic talents with his passion for ‘80s inspired hard rock.
Before the band started playing, Jim’s standup routine kicked off this performance on the highest possible note. Simply put, the audience was “Thunderstruck” by his tear worthy storytelling, which served as the perfect gateway into one of his signature tracks “Old School.” Once the opening riff blasted from the amplifiers, the crowd was completely loosened up and ready to rock as they chanted “EY!” at a volume reminiscent of AC/DC’s “TNT.”
In an exclusive interview with Pop-Break, I sat down with Jim Breuer for an in-depth conversation about the recording process for Songs From The Garage as well as his upcoming residency in Las Vegas for The Loud & Rowdy.
This is pretty unique because we are talking post show. Since nobody has seen the full show yet, how do you test the barometers and determine what works best?
Nobody has seen this yet so I test it when I’m out there; I have an idea for certain areas. We did a little stunt and test performance in Chester where I live and they loved more of the comedy. They were also older. We did a show in Philly last night and they wanted more of the music. It was a lot louder. They accepted the whole thing here tonight. It will be a trial and error all the way up until Las Vegas when we launch this show next year with a full flown production.
Until then, just like standup, I really don’t know what they are into. That’s why I like being able to do this. With music, you have your setlist and you are stuck with it. Here, I could go out and be like, “You know what, I think we’re going to lose them with this song so I’m going to drop it and tell a story. Let’s bring them back and lead them into the next song.” I did that a couple times tonight and it’s pretty cool to be able to do that.
What have been the most eye opening challenges in transitioning from a standup comedian to lead vocalist?
The biggest challenge is trying to take care of my health. With standup, I could go up there as sick as a dog. I have been sick for two weeks – coughing and trying to get my lungs clear. I really can’t do anything; everything relies on my voice. If I can’t sing, I’m screwed and the whole band is screwed. With the energy, what I am noticing, it’s a little harder to prepare for the music because again, I don’t know how to ride the wave of energy. With standup, I know. With the music, are we going to lose them here? Is this too heavy for them? Is this too light? Should I hit them harder here? When I figure that out, I will be ready to take over the world!
In terms of the full-fledged production, what can audiences expect once the show debuts in Las Vegas?
I cannot wait. It starts off in a garage setting. When you come to the show, you’re going to see a video of me and realize that I’m home alone. I’m going to come out and say “Hey in 1985, this is where my life was at.” It’s going to look like everything that was going on in 1985; you will see pictures of Ozzy, Cheryl Tiegs, an eighties Chevy Nova, and what my bedroom looked like. Once I’m done and tell my story about Sears and the metal stuff, the screen goes to black.
Afterwards, I’m in the corner and the fantasy comes to life. The fantasy is the band. I put on my headphones and totally different gear and you see how I am a completely different human for this song. When the song is over, I’m over here talking on the couch and I’m talking about another time in life that will lead into “Raising Teenage Girls.” It’s almost like a one-man theatrical metal show. That’s the best way to describe it.
It’s like a conceptual album or performance – like Tommy.
Believe it or not, I never saw Tommy! It’s sad but I’m going to have to check it out.
Maybe like Operation Mindcrime?
I loved Operation Mindcrime! That was freaking awesome. I always wanted that to be a movie. I cannot wait for that to be a movie. And I always believed a lot of it (Laughs). Hmm, I feel like something is going on there (Laughs). It is very well written.
Thus far, which songs do you feel have resonated with audiences the most? Your last song “Thrash” really went over and ended the show on a high note.
I’m learning that each time we perform; everyone likes something a little different. I noticed how the general consensus is “Raising Teenage Girls.” Women love it and parents love it. But I also noticed how songs like “The Unexplained” tonight, that one is more musical and the heavier fans were going, “I like that song.” I like “Old School” a lot but I actually don’t know what they’re resonating with yet. I know “Thrash” is working. I’m noticing more and more how people are more intrigued by “Unexplained” and “Wannabe,” which I like.
You had Rob Caggiano from Volbeat and Anthrax produce your record. He is a phenomenal lead guitarist. What aspects of his songwriting and production skills impressed you the most?
Honestly, if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this. He not only was such a great producer but he taught me everything. It was like I received lessons about becoming a rocker and studio musician. He would talk to me for hours about what I needed to do and how I am going to have to sing this or write better and be more clever. He talked to me a lot about writing. He made me rewrite so many songs and I’m not going to lie, I wanted to kill him (laughs).
I never worked so hard in my life. I’m telling you, he is a godsend. He was the greatest. I’ve been working on this for twenty-years in my head. I’ve tried to put together the right pieces for the last five or six years, really since 2010. I am so blessed that I found Rob because he is technically the one who launched this. Hands down, without Rob Caggiano, none of this would exist. He is brilliant on a level that nobody could ever understand. It’s really amazing.
When you met Rob, did you feel like you could finally bring this idea to life?
Not only when I met him, he came to see me at one of my shows and I instantly got him. He’s from the Bronx and I grew up with a bunch of friends like him. Once he saw the show and once we started collaborating – the way he plays, he said, “I have no clue what I’m getting into.” I said, “I don’t either.” We put 100 percent trust into each other. I’m not sure if anyone put 100% trust into him. And I know they didn’t because I could see how creative he would get.
He would be like, “I changed everything.” I would go, “What?” And he would say, “Trust me, it’s going to be good.” I would listen to it and be like, “Oh my god! This is a whole new level.” I honestly wanted to go heavier and darker. He steered me away from that and said, “The fans aren’t ready for that.” “Raising Teenage Daughters” was originally very dark and crunchy. He was like, “Bro, you need the soccer moms. You could always go in that direction and broaden it. Right now, just introduce the fans to what you’re doing.” Thank God I trusted him.
In terms of recruiting the band, you had to start from scratch, right?
What have your bandmates taught you about being a musician?
The cool thing is now that we really all know each other and trust each other – we already started writing for the next album. Before, I’ve had Joe and Mike since day one. But again, I have to mention, not until Rob – Rob taught me how to write and how to gel and who to write with. Now we’re really ready to take off. Allison has added a whole new dimension – Eric too. We’ve really become a unit. The minute we became a real unit, now we are really ready to keep going and going and going.
Beyond Las Vegas, will you be touring behind this record throughout 2017?
Oh definitely, yeah! What I really wanted was all the festivals because the festivals give you massive exposure. If I can’t get into any of the festivals and I’m not sure if they understand what we’re doing, which is fine. After Vegas, we will tour and maybe do more shows around here. The key is to get a residency in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, or Boston. Maybe we could play for a whole week or every Friday night at a certain place with the entire production. We will do little runs. If we can’t get into the festivals, I will work my way around the festivals. I will lean into it or muscle my way into it as a standup comedian or something. I plan on touring behind this. By 2018, we will be a massive force to reckon with.
Having so many friends in the music industry, what were some of the best pieces of advice that you were given outside of Rob Caggiano?
I heard a lot from James Hetfield. James doesn’t really give you advice. We’re friends and he was a big mentor in this without even knowing it. He was talking about a band that opened for them in Europe and they were a comedy routine. I said, “You know, I love them but I always wanted them to make real music because they are such great musicians.” He said, “It’s weird what fear does to you. Why not just try to make real music? Who cares? If people don’t like it, they don’t like it and you still have your own thing.” That little moment and he doesn’t realize it, he pumped me up with so much confidence. I was like, “Yeah, what am I afraid of?” Everyone knows that I love metal. If it fails, I will have an hour and a half to talk about making a shitty record.
Brian Johnson was another one. He would tell me repeatedly, “Jim, you should really try singing. You have amazing vocal chords.” And I would go, “Na.” He would respond, “No, I’m dead serious my son (Jim nails the Brian Johnson imitation).” Those two, without knowing it, gave me the confidence that I really needed.
There was one more guy – Danko Jones. He was a huge inspiration. He did a podcast with me and said, “Why don’t you try real songs?” I said, “I’m scared.” And he said, “What are you scared of?” He was another guy that got under me. Technically, Danko Jones was the first guy to push me.
Having the creative freedom to pursue your musical ambitions, how did you narrow down your influences and find your sound?
Well, I found my voice. I know my voice in comedy and now I know my voice in music. I stay within the realms; it’s family and deep thinking – on my behalf of deep thinking. I’m anti-pop culture and anti-Hollywood. Keep life simple and talk to one another. Friends and family: having a small unit and sticking with each other. Everyone could relate to that. That’s my power alley. That is the way I will be writing my music and that is the way that I always do my standup.
Jim Breuer performs two sets at The Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, NJ tonight (Friday February 24) as a part of the WRAT 20th Anniversary Concert Series. Click here for tickets.