Tim Yasui – Spiders & Snakes & Rock ‘n’ Roll…OH MY!

By Jeb Wright

The Sunset Strip in the 1980s was an amazing time to be in a band.  It was truly the era of ‘money for nothin’ and chicks for free.’  The booze flowed, the smoked rolled and the music was loud. 

Many famous bands began there…we are talking bands like Quiet Riot and Motley Crue.  Of course a few years before Van Halen were cutting their teeth at the many famous venues in the area.  Not everyone, however, made it big.  In fact, even many who should have made it didn’t, the most infamous of these bands was called London.  From the ashes of London came a band called SPIDERS & SNAKES.  While they are not as known as the likes of Great White or Motley Crue, they are, in their own way, just as legendary and iconic…and still around today. 

Record company executive Tim Yasui is also the drummer of SPIDERS & SNAKES, who recently released their latest album Year of the Snake.  Tim took time to discuss the new album, the history of the band and what it was like to be part of one of the wildest times in hard rock history!

Jeb: You’re a busy man!  From drummer extraordinaire in the band SPIDERS & SNAKES to being a Vice President at Cleopatra Records… all these duties must keep you hopping!  How do you do it all, Tim?

Tim: It’s a labor of love, Jeb. When I finished my Master’s Degree at UCONN back in the late ‘80s, I had a simple two-tiered goal: To move to Hollywood to work in the record industry and to play drums in a Hollywood Rock band, something I’ve been able to accomplish and sustain for 26 years now, so dreams do come true. God Bless America!

Jeb:  Okay, before I even get into the whole VP of a label thingy, let’s talk about your band.  You are in what may be the most underground of underground successful bands of all time.  The band is called SPIDERS & SNAKES.  Tell me, first-off, how the band LONDON, which gave like half the hair metal bands that became famous their start, was the band that also gave your band their start.

Tim: I met Lizzie Grey and joined the band LONDON as their 13th drummer, back in 1988. At the time, LONDON had just finished filming the Penelope Spheeris movie Decline of Western Civilization: The Metal Years and I went into the recording studio to lay down hi-hat, ride cymbal and crash cymbal parts over a pre-programmed drum machine for their third studio album entitled Love Games, which was never released.

Lizzie Grey ultimately left the band, which he had founded with Nikki Sixx at the end of the ‘70s to form Ultra Pop, and I stayed behind with Nadir D’Priest, Brian West and Sean Lewis to continue as LONDON. We soon signed a deal with Noise Records – but without Lizzie attached. The album eventually came out under the band name “D’Priest” at the suggestion of the record label nearly two years later in 1990. By then, I had joined back up with Lizzie in his band ULTRA POP who had already released two successful albums in the time that it took for the D’Priest album to come out in the U.S.

A few months after I joined ULTRA POP, Lizzie suggested we change the name of the band to SPIDERS & SNAKES, after the old Jim Stafford tune, and a lyric line in the David Bowie song “Suffragette City" and we promptly went in the recording studio in 1991 to release our first album Arachnomania, which went on to chart in the UK and Japan.

Twenty-five years later, here we are, releasing our ninth studio album called Year of The Snake, which was literally written and recorded during the Chinese Year of the Snake.

Jeb:  How did you survive just coming out to The Strip all on your own?

Tim: When I arrived in Hollywood in 1987, all I had to my name was a Toyota Camry, a Pearl Drum set, and about $20,000 grand in student loan debt. I immediately met some local guys, including Sean Lewis, who went on to replace Lizzie in LONDON.

Sean put me in a recording studio session right off the bat as percussionist in a demo he was recording with Mark Free, the singer of King Kobra. That led to Sean and me trying to start our own band with guitarist Steve Lacy of Kim Carnes fame. Sean and I quickly became good buddies, we are still good friends to this day, but when that didn’t work out, Sean was recruited by Brian West to join LONDON, who also needed a drummer. Next thing I knew, Sean, Brian and I were all living together in a rented house in Reseda, California where we would record at night after I got home from my day job at Metal Blade Records where I had landed a job as the National Director of Promotions. When LONDON signed to Noise Records from Germany, I had a tough career decision to make and ultimately left my killer job at Metal Blade Records to, um, try to become a rock star!

Jeb: For those of us who were not there, was it really as fricking crazy as they say?  You know, the sex, drugs and rock and roll and Penelope Spheeris type stuff…

Tim: Just watch that film – it was EXACTLY like that – and I am grateful that I survived and am still here 25+ years later doing what I dreamed of doing as a college kid.

Jeb:  I am going to talk more about the past, but for now, let’s move to the present.  SPIDERS & SNAKES latest is called Year of the Snake.  Tell me why put out another album now… it’s been a few years since the last one, correct?

Tim:   SPIDERS & SNAKES, like many other bands has seen band members come and go, but Lizzie and I kept the flame alive simply because we both enjoy the same music and we make music that we like – plain and simple. Our last album Melodrama came out in 2008 on the Corporate Punishment label, which has since folded. I only have one copy of that album myself, as the inventory was scrapped by E1, the distributor at that time.

Lizzie and I had been writing songs all along and experimented with re-working even some older LONDON songs like “Don’t Step Outta Line,” which opens the album. I had an out–of-body experience in Kawasaki City, Japan two years ago that I simply had to write a song about, it was THAT over the top!

Imagine getting “Kidnapped” by two attractive, talented and fun-loving punk rock Japanese gals and getting taken to a heavy metal bar way outside of Tokyo on the Subways, only to walk into that club and literally see a shrine dedicated to the bands LONDON, ULTRA POP and SPIDERS & SNAKES – all bands that I’ve been in with Lizzie Grey. My face was on the TV screen in that bar, as they were playing the HOLLYWOOD ROCKS! documentary film that SPIDERS & SNAKES appeared in, as well as LONDON. Some fans even stopped by our table, asking for my autograph.

The next night, I was sitting in a rock bar in Shinjuku and a music video by Steel Panther came on and the Japanese patrons went nuts. I think it was the video for the song “Asian Hookers” and I couldn’t believe even the Japanese gals were singing along with the racist lyrics. Sitting there I thought to myself, “I need to write a Hair Metal anthem based on Kawasaki City” and a week later I presented the song to my band members, who were on board. It was that song “Kawasaki City” that sort of jump-started/motivated us to keep writing.  True story – I made a music video for that track, and the Japanese gals – in a band called DIRTRUCKS filmed footage in Kawasaki City at that same club that inspired the song!

Jeb:  This time out, the band has many lead vocalists.  How did that come about and what do you think it brings to the album as a whole?

Tim: Great question and that is the very first time SPIDERS & SNAKES has used that formula. It is mostly because as a band we’ve grown together and everyone in this current line-up has their own unique vocal style that works. Sometimes to keep everyone happy, you gotta let them put in their two cents and not just tell them what to play. By sharing lead vocals and songs it feels more like a team effort and, besides, they’re all great songs, in my humble opinion.

Lizzie started letting me sing lead vocals going back to the Hollywood Ghosts album and then again on Melodrama so this is the third SPIDERS & SNAKES album that I’ve sung lead vocals on.

Jeb:  I am going to try and guess some of your influences…  Tell me if I am correct and who I leave out.  I hear a lot of Mott the Hoople.  I hear early Alice Cooper.  I hear some type of Lemmy era Hawkwind, and maybe some harder stuff… a tad of Bon Scott era AC/DC.

Tim: You’re dead-on, except for Hawkwind.  I would add bands like Sweet, T. Rex, KISS, New York Dolls and for me personally – Led Zeppelin.

Jeb:   You have been playing a lot ‘live’ over the past few years.  I thought live music, especially rock and roll, was dead.

Tim:  Whoever told you that my friend is not living in the U.S.A.! In the age of digital the only thing “real” seems to be ‘live’ rock and roll – you never get the same performance twice, sort of the “Anti-Digital” reproduction.

If the performance is strong enough and resonates with the audience, then they walk away slightly changed as a person from when they first walked into the venue. A memory of that performance could linger for years. Am I right? I still remember the last time I saw Joey Ramone in New York City – will never forget the energy, the excitement in his performance and how it made me feel that special night. I’m sure you have similar experiences you could share.

Jeb:  You have some famous guests on this sucker.  Tell me about working with Billy Sherwood… I know you guys do a lot together with your day-gig…

Tim: Billy has become a personal friend whom I’ve been honored to spend a good deal of time with. He came from a professional musician’s family, his father was a legend, and I’ve learned so much about production and song-crafting just by being in the loop on his projects from beginning to end. He’s a multi-instrumentalist who not just performed on our song “The Digital Church” he made it BETTER! He’s a perfectionist and was a perfect choice for probably the only “Prog” song that SPIDERS & SNAKES have ever recorded.

Jeb:  Tell me about working with Betsy Weiss.

Tim: I’ve known Betsy and her band BITCH since 1988 when I was assigned her album Betsy to promote at Metal Blade Records. Her mom, Lois, was her manager and we got along great, and that led to LONDON actually doing some small mini-tours of California in ’88 with BITCH. I was able to go on the road, help Betsy set up her in-store appearances in towns like Fresno, California as the Promotions director of Metal Blade Records and my band got to open the show for Bitch later that night – a win-win!

Twenty-some years later, I asked Betsy to join SPIDERS & SNAKES onstage to sing songs with Lizzie like “Ballroom Blitz” and it became sort of a regular thing. She has known Lizzie since the late ‘70s Starwood days when LONDON was all the rage and they have a real cool on-stage chemistry that is not always so easily accomplished in Hollywood.

When I got the idea to record our version of the Angel classic “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” I wasn’t satisfied with the arrangement and, then, a light bulb went off in my head. I thought, why not make this sort of a Meatloaf “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” duet, and sing it with Betsy?” We changed the lyrics just a little to make it more genre-accurate and we are excited how this song came out – better than expected! I also invited her to sing back-up vocals on my song “Kawasaki City” so in that song, where you hear the ultimate high metal screams – that’s my gal Betsy!

Jeb:  You have a man with a lot of musical talent joining you on “Kawasaki” in Ryo Okumoto.  Tell our readers about this dude.

Tim: I met Ryo Okumoto only one year ago thru a mutual Japanese friend. I belong to a Methodist Church in Los Angeles and every year we hold a musical fund-raiser to raise money for the homeless population in Southern California, and because the Church has an amazing Japanese-American history, my focus was on hiring Japanese-American metal and rock bands for this 2013 concert event that we called Music Feeds The Soul.

Ryo emailed me from Tokyo volunteering for the event since he agreed it was for a good cause, and he showed up with the bassist from the Tonight Show and the drummer from the Jacksons, yes, THAT Jackson family, and gave an incredible 3-piece Jazz fusion set that still has our congregation buzzing.

After I tracked the song “Kawasaki City” I thought that it would be cool to have a real Japanese native perform on this track so I asked Ryo and he graciously accepted my invitation. A real cool dude, and a family man, who has since joined ASIA featuring Jon Payne and I am so happy for him.

Jeb:  Who else do you have on this album that you want to brag about?

Tim: I invited my buddy Angelo Moore from FISHBONE, who has performed on albums with us before, and is one of the best Rock and Roll sax players that I have ever heard in my life. He also did a couple tracks for Cleopatra Records where he literally played ALL the instruments in addition to his skillful voice. Angelo is a “one take” artist and his first take is spontaneous and adds so much color and tone to our songs – I can’t praise him enough and his mother is a sweetheart – such a kind soul!

Jeb:  I gotta mention “Don’t Step Outta Line.”  Dude…that’s some fun stuff!  I even detect some Motown horns, ha-ha!

Tim: Those “horns” are Angelo Moore from FISHBONE on sax. He really took that song to the next level, and was a song that I actually played cymbals/percussion on in that 1988 LONDON demo that I spoke about earlier

Jeb: I love what Mr. Lizzie Grey states:  “We’re simply not has-beens since we never officially became mainstream.” 

Tim: That’s a line that Lizzie and I have been using since 1988!

Jeb:  Why didn’t you all ‘make it famous’ as the other bands on the scene? 

Tim: It’s only 2014 – we’re not dead yet.

Jeb:  You were famous for some fun ‘live’ shows.  What was your coolest live stuff you have used on stage, and do you still put a lot of stock into the stage show?

Tim:  Lizzie Grey is a master performer. Just look at all the old LONDON videos on YouTube and you’ll see the evolution in the stage props. When SPIDERS & SNAKES did our first show in 1990-1991 we used the old gun-powder loaded flash pots that Lizzie built with Izzy Stradlin back in the ‘80s. We almost burned down a few stages between L.A. and N.Y. over the years, but since then we’ve toned down quite a bit, especially since the Great White disaster back in Rhode Island.

Coolest? Maybe 6 strippers on stage with chrome outfits and a laser-gun wielding bassist named Leigh Lawson, who sadly passed away during the filming of our 2001 music video for the song “Elvis’s TV”.

Jeb: I heard you all even got on MTV.  Is that true?

Tim: Waaay back in the early ‘90s when we were signed to RKD Records…..MTV actually played music videos back then!

Jeb:  How did you meet Lizzie Grey, and what was your first impression?

Tim:  I met him at a backyard barbecue that I hosted at my place in Reseda in 1988. That was when I wanted to join the band LONDON and Brian West, who was living with me, invited Lizzie up to chat. We met again at Sean’s apartment, but by the time I said “yes” Lizzie had already bailed LONDON to form Ultra Pop.

I remember Lizzie from the LONDON Don’t Cry Wolf album cover because he sort of looked like Marc Bolan from T. Rex.  If I remember that 1988 brief conversation, it was something like “Hey Lizzie – I’m joining your band LONDON.” And Lizzie replied, “That’s cool – I'm leaving the band!” He had already written the music for the first ULTRA POP album by then, and had already begun the tracking sessions.

Jeb:  When people buy your music or, better yet, come to your shows, what is it you want them to walk away with?

Tim: A smile on their face!

Jeb: Okay, tell me about your day job as the VP of Cleopatra Records…  That is kind of a legendary label, man.  What’s the story?

Tim: That’s an entirely separate interview my friend, but let’s just say I think this was meant to be. I just started my 16th year here.

When I met the founder, Brian Perera, he came to see SPIDERS & SNAKES open for Bret Michaels at the Roxy on New Year’s eve, 1998. I had just mailed Brian at Cleopatra a single that SPIDERS & SNAKES had recorded of our remake of “Public Enemy #1” and Brian left a phone message for Lizzie on my home answering machine, offering us a spot on the Cleopatra Tribute to Motley Crue.

When Brian came up to our dressing room after the show, he told me “You should come work for me at Cleopatra”. I remember telling him that I already had a job, that I was five years into a good gig at Century Media Records, again, I have a thing for metal, and that’s when he said “OK, then what about if I sign your band?”  That was the icing on the cake–I left my job at Century Media and haven’t looked back since!

Jeb:  What is up with Cleo?  Any good classic hard rocking stuff coming out?

Tim: We’ll do this in another interview–too much to cover, but please keep an eye out at www.cleopatrarecords.com. The sky is the limit and we have a great team in place and yes, Classic Hard Rock and metal are very much a part of our future.

We just started a motion Picture company and have one feature film already in production that is the sequel to the Devil’s Carnival film directed by the dude who made the SAW film franchise so successful. We’re also releasing books and are looking into other media opportunities–so onwards and upwards!

Jeb:  What about SPIDERS & SNAKES?  What can we expect from you all in the near future?

Tim: Just finished editing our music video for my song “Kawasaki City” that was directed by Scott Gawlik at Crazy Cow Productions, who has produced and directed videos for GREEN DAY, SMASHING PUMPKINS and is an amazing talent right here in Hollywood. The bulk of the footage was filmed on location in Kawasaki City, Japan and the live footage is from a recent performance at the world famous Whisky A Go Go on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood.

Jeb: Last one: I want the funniest story you can share about your band’s career.  Whatever you want… does not have to be dirty or mean-spirited...  Just something that happened that you will never forget. 

Tim: Wow, buddy that is hard one, but under the category of “Never forget” might be a show back in the day in Las Vegas, Nevada, where we–are you ready for this–actually followed a live Shetland Pony act at a Casino!

It was one of those trained horses who would tap their hoofs to answer the questions posed to them by their attractive female trainer. The horse act ended on time, right before our show began, but not before pooping all over the stage! That was during our sci-fi Astro Pop album tour, and we were all dressed up in silver, metallic space outfits with high Kiss-like platform boots and to this day, I can still see my band-members cautiously looking at the floor to make sure they didn’t step in the horse manure–all while hot strippers were dancing on stage with us and our bassist was shooting his “Glitter Gun” out at the audience. Only in Las Vegas, man, only in Las Vegas!

Jeb:  Do you still have half-naked girls on stage with you when you play live? 

Tim: Maybe, we’ll save that for our 25th Anniversary show at the Whisky A Go Go on the Sunset Strip on Thursday, December 18th, 2014. Now that I’m a father and happy husband and since my wife and daughter will be there, I’d better make sure that they’re indeed partially clothed!

Thanks Jeb, and thank you Classic Rock Revisited for your support and love of Rock n Roll music.