Gary Cherone: Sometimes It Hurts to Smile!

By Carol Anne Szel
Photos by Marc Lacatell

“I’m proud of this band, it’s my mistress.  I’m married to Extreme, but I’m having an affair with Hurtsmile!”

Hurtsmile is the brainchild of singer/songwriter Gary Cherone, and they just released their second cd “Retrogrenade.”  Former frontman in both Extreme and Van Halen, Gary Cherone brought along into the mix his brother Mark on guitar, bassist Joe Pessia, and drummer Dana Spellman into their debut and self titled Hurtsmile album and this time around as well with “Retrogrenade.” 

Cherone’s music has always been rooted in his broad range of influences, and with Extreme he gained world-wide success with their number one hit “More Than Words” which introduced Gary’s musical prowess to music fans everywhere then and with its popularity still today.

I had the chance to catch up with the charismatic singer/songwriter just after the album dropped and shortly before Cherone got set to go back in the studio with Extreme to write some new tunes.  And here’s how it went.

Carol Anne Szel:  First, let me congratulate you and Extreme for your successful couple of months of shows!

Gary Cherone:  Thank you. We just got off a two month tour of Europe and Asia.  And we played “Pornographitti” and the catalog.  And the audiences were great.  There’s a little bit of a renaissance for Extreme, so we’re excited.

CAS:  Tell me about this new record.

GC: Yeah, for those who don’t know, this is Hurtsmile’s second record.  It’s a good rock and roll record, it’s a fun record to listen to and I don’t think you’ll get tired of it.

This record is a lot more fun, it came together quicker.  We still had to jump through some hurdles as far as scheduling me with Extreme.  Mark and I, we have the advantage of being brothers so we’ve always spoken the same language musically. This was a lot of fun; I think this record is a better record.  I don’t know why, whether the songs are hookier… or it just feels like the natural progression of the band.

CAS:  What is it like having your brother in the band?

GC: Oh, it’s great.  I’d say that out of the four brothers I have, well there’s some brother’s I just couldn’t be in a band with.  We’ll leave it at that!  But Mark is great; I’ve always loved what he’s done with his bands over the years.

As far as songwriting, with anybody you write with there are a little dis-similarities.  Whether it was me and Nuno or the stuff I did in Van Halen, there are similarities when you collaborate.  But it’s who you write with that brings out different elements of your writing.  And visa versa.

So when Mark and I write it brings out some of that stuff we grew up on, hence the title “Retrogrenade.”  It obviously had some of the known influences.

With Extreme it was Van Halen and Queen and Aerosmith and Zeppelin.  Writing with Mark I hear some Cheap Trick, some Stones stuff.  It’s again, who you write with. 

CAS:  We’ve been friends 25 years now Gary, and I know you have a huge variety of musical influences. 

GC: It’s funny, hard rock and my history… it was always there with Extreme, that great rock pop that we grew up on.  Obviously it all stems from the Beatles, whether it comes through Cheap Trick or any of the other influences that you have. 

And it’s all subliminal. You don’t go into the rehearsal space and say ‘hey, I want to write a song that’s influenced by this or that,’ you see it after the fact. 

CAS: Tell me about your new single, “Hello, I Must Be Going” because I’m a huge Groucho Marx fan!

GC: That was definitely a Cherone household big fans of the Marx Brothers!  And I love Groucho.  I mean you have five Cherone brothers and there were five Marx Brothers! 

I gravitated towards Harpo.  When I was younger I was a little quiet.  In school, yeah.  Mark was more of the Chico.  But the connection with “Hello I Must Be Going,” obviously the lyrics were an adaptation of the song Groucho sang in “Animal Crackers.”  I just took the lyrics and I wrote that song just messing around on the guitar, and the melody came and I was just playing with the lyrics. I had that song in my head for the last 40 years, the original one.  So musically it’s all Hurtsmile, and lyrically I just paraphrased it and made it fit the music.  But it’s just inspired by Groucho.

CAS: What’s your favorite song on the record?

GC: Mark wrote a song on the end of the record called “Goodbye.”  And it’s kind of like a little bit of Eagles in it.  Just a real touching lyric that Mark wrote.  And I think the chorus is pretty strong. 

CAS:  Are you going to tour with Hurtsmile?

GC: We’re going to have to do a little more touring next year with this record.  Pat Badger’s putting out a record, a solo record, and we’re planning on doing some Hurtsmile/Badger gigs together which will be fun.

CAS:  And are you writing with Extreme now?

GC:  Yeah.  We’ve been writing.  You know Nuno’s on the West Coast, he’s back and forth in Rhianna.  We’ve been out there a few times.  I’ve been out there a few times in LA.   But  out on the road we messed around and now the thing with Extreme is we’ve got to get in the same room.  So that’s the plan in November.  So we’ll have some new material to play when we go out at the top of the year with Extreme on the Pornographitti tour. 

CAS:  What do you think about when you hear Extreme’s mega-hit “More Than Words” which is still all over on the radio?

GC: I’ll tell you, it never gets old.  And I hear it in a supermarket, or in the dentist’s office.  Yeah, it makes me smile.

Looking back on it, it was the vehicle that brought Extreme to another level.  Before that, where the band would have gone, you don’t know how big the band would have been.  Because ‘”More Than Words” became bigger than the band. I think there were two things that brought the band to another level.  Obviously “More Than Words” and visually the Freddy Mercury Tribute Concert that had such a wide audience that it really put the band on a different level as far as being known.  And that turned the people on to the other music. 

When we were in the eye of the storm back in the day, there was a frustrating period for the band because we were more than “More Than Words.”  So there was a little bit of a misconception of the band.  Which was frustrating when it came to touring.  Back then we thought it was a blessing and a curse but at this point you look back on it and you go well, the band wouldn’t have arrived where it is without it.

CAS:  Do you talk to the guys in Van Halen at all?

GC:  I keep in touch with Michael, but I haven’t been in touch with Eddie and Alex. They’re more inner-circle guys.  But Michael and Sammy, believe it or not, we just played with them up in Canada.  So we were hanging out and having a good laugh.