CLASSLESS ACT – An Unlikely Story
There was a time in the Los Angeles music scene when the formula was simple. First, you would find three or four other guys who could play. You would most likely start by playing some covers, perhaps in local bars or backyard parties. If you became good enough to garner a bit of a following, you would seek gigs at the Hollywood clubs. You would plaster your flyers on every telephone pole, blank wall or utility box in sight. On show night you would use more Aqua Net than a 1960’s diner waitress with a beehive. If things went well, your following grew and you might catch the attention of an A&R man from one of the major labels. If they came to see you play and were impressed, you would be signed to the label. From there, it was off to limos, video shoots, mega-tours, groupies, excessive partying and the inevitable implosion of your band. It’s a likely story, repeated countless times, want proof, just watch any episode of Behind The Music.
For numerous reasons, we can all be thankful it is not the 1980’s any longer. Although the story of Los Angeles-based Classless Act is still in the first few chapters, their story is anything but likely. If you started in chapter one, you’d find that how this particular convergence of musicians formed. Classless Act has been around for several years. There had been several members who have come and gone. Even London Hudson, son of the legendary Slash from Guns N’ Roses played drums in the band for a time. However as vocalist Derek Day explains, the way the current lineup formed was, “It was a modern-day newspaper ad. It was all through social media, Dane (Pieper) hit me up through Facebook.” Bassist Franco Gravante had reached out to the band through Instagram. Day continues, “Franco was in the band before me. We found Chuck (McKissock, the band’s drummer) at a punk show.”
Being the longest tenured member, rhythm guitarist Dane Pieper offers his views on the way the band came together, “The way I see the formation of the band, is almost like the process of how music has been evolving, how things have gone from recording with analog to using Pro Tools. Then there’s streaming and how that has changed the platform. Our band came together in a very 21st-century way.” With Gravante coming from Argentina, and lead guitarist Griffin Tucker coming from Texas, these guys are truly a global conglomeration. So all of you hopeful rock stars, if you can’t find the people with whom you want to play, perhaps cast a bit of a broader net. Pieper summarizes their formation, “As far as the band formation went, it was pretty much just accumulating members and having the lineup evolve over time. We just kept getting better and better and we evolved into the point where we are right now.”
In the digital age, there are so many ways for someone, talented or not, to get their art out into the ether and in front of people all over the world. I think most people would agree that there are some “artists” who should not have the world wide platform. But for the ones who truly have talent, it can be a way to not only entertain and inspire yourself, but according to Day, can lead to opportunities, “I was following Dane for about a year and a half before I ever met him. A friend of mine told me to follow him, and that maybe I could be in a band with him. I was like, ‘No Way, he’s too good’.” With four members securely in the fold, there was one missing ingredient, a lead guitarist. Day adds, “We hit up Griffin (Tucker, lead guitarist) through TikTok, so it was through this crazy sort of social media friendship, admiration thing.”
They knew they would like to have Tucker in the band, but as Day remembers, “Please, he lives in Dallas and we were in L.A., so that’d be sick if he were in our band, but we didn’t think he’d be up for it. But lo and behold, here we are hanging out and doing a tour together.” You might think that getting Tucker to uproot himself from Texas to join a group in Southern California was quite a task. Day jokes, “There were a lot of roofies!” One gets the sense talking with both Pieper and Day, they like to joke and have fun, but back to the subject at hand, “The way we all were approached, was just, ‘Hey, you want to give it a shot?’ You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.” They asked him, “You want to fly out and just see what it feels like? He’s an adventurous dude, and he was like, ‘Yeah, sure,’ he likes to travel so he came out and we became friends. He kept flying out and eventually, he got a place out here in L.A.”
Lineup solidified, but the unlikeliness of this story is just getting started. In case you haven’t been paying attention, these young men were tapped as the opening act for the vaunted Stadium Tour, sharing the stage with co-headliners Motley Crue and Def Leppard, as well as 1980’s icons Poison and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. With their debut full length album, Welcome To The Show on better Noise Music, set for release on Friday, June 24th, Classless Act already has two songs with high profile guest musicians. The first of those is their signature tune, Classless Act, which features Motley Crue’s Vince Neil delivering the vocals for the second verse. According to Day, this is how that collaboration came about, “Once we got on the Stadium Tour, I think that’s when we were put in Vince Neil’s sights. We had this theme song, it’s our namesake song, and it always felt kind of like Motley in a way. We reached out to him saying that it would help us immensely if you sang on this track. But it will also help the song sound like it should sound. Vince just said, ‘Heck yeah, let’s do it!’”
The other track featuring a notable guest performer is This Is For You. The second track on the record is underscored by a guitar solo from Justin Hawkins of The Darkness. Day recalls, “It was the same with Justin as it was with Vince. We had this song that we really couldn’t finish. We must have done ten demos for it. Our management has connections and creativity and they suggested we reach out to Justin, he might add that secret little spice.” One of the things that becomes abundantly clear about at least Day and Pieper, is that these are two very enthusiastic, grateful and humble young men. Their enthusiasm shows through in their interactions throughout the conversation. Day recounts how the conversation with Hawkins went, “he was like, ‘Yeah sure, you guys are good lads. Let’s do it.’ So it was just an ask and ye shall receive kind of thing.”
Leading up to their album release, the group also has four videos that have been circulating the video streaming platforms for some time now. The video for Give It To Me is a retro-inspired throwback to the heyday of MTV. It features the band in the same space, but magically changing wardrobe while miming the performance of the tune. The other three for Classless Act, This Is For You and Time To Bleed make up a sort of visual anthology. Pieper details the genesis of the videos, “The concept for the videos was pretty much a group thing. Like a lot of things in the music business, it was based off a deadline or a time crunch. With a lot of great things on the horizon, we needed to create some awesome videos, but we also had a relatively short budget in both money and time. It needed to be something we all agreed on and something that would catch the eye.”
Classless Act is already starting to establish themselves as a brand and part of that branding is the continuity of the three videos. They established that the budgetary constraints would necessitate a frugal and efficient shooting location and schedule. The band found all the inspiration they needed in one location according to Pieper, “Thankfully, we found a place close by that had four or five different sets. Based around that, we all created a storyline for the videos. They all revolve around the main character, Farley, who just has terrible luck and finds himself in all these situations, like going to jail and eventually discovers he is in a Groundhog Day scenario.” The reference to the Bill Murray movie, in which Murray finds himself reliving the same day over and over. “Also if you pay attention to the subtitles, there’s some Easter eggs we wanted to sneak in, references to TV shows and movies we all like.” Necessity being the mother of invention, Pieper also sums up the need to do them on a budget, and using what was available this way, “More than anything, it was making the most of the situation. Being a new band, we don’t have unlimited funds like some other bands do. So I think that just only helps the creative juices get flowing more.”
The unlikelihood of the Classless Act story is far from over. If you have ever seen the movie Almost Famous, which depicts a fictional version of Cameron Crowe as a 15 year old on assignment for Rolling Stone touring with an equally fictional band, Stillwater. There is a scene in which the band is presented with their very first band t-shirts. The shirt has the entire band on the front, but the guitarist is pictured more prominently and larger than the rest of the group. The singer takes issue with this, and a vicious argument ensues. This is probably another likely story in rock history. But the Classless Act story again is not like those. The five of them have come together and put ego and personal aspiration aside in order to accomplish something that is larger than any of them could have accomplished alone.
Each of the individual members of Classless Act have talents and skills that transcend their particular role in the band according to Day. “It’s a weird thing, I never stopped playing guitar. Right before this interview I was just jamming and keeping the chops up. But I felt like I met these iconic characters who are now members of Classless Act. Everyone in this band, I just admire them and I think they’re all just icons. I thought, well, this is a good opportunity for me to really learn how to sing, use my diaphragm, understand what that is and become something like the people I respect, like Freddie Mercury, Axl Rose or Robert Plant.” Rock front men are somewhat known for having a bit of bravado and arrogance, but Day seems to have shed those qualities, if he ever possessed them at all. “I get to become this thing that gets to run around the stage and communicate with the audience even more. I’ll let these guys, in who I put my full faith, I trust in their fingers and hands, and their feel [do their job]. They got it!”
Another impression you get from both Pieper and Day is a huge sense of humility and gratitude. This is evidenced by how Day speaks of his band mates, “In L.A., guitar players aren’t a dime a dozen, they’re more like a nickel a hundred. There are so many guitar players. But I love these guys’ style. They’ve got good groove and they’re great songwriters. Dane is an incredible lead guitar player. Franco, who plays bass, is an incredible piano player, singer and songwriter. Our drummer Chuck is a great guitar player and singer and songwriter as well.” This collective attitude of group before self is summed up by Day this way, “Let’s put these things aside for a second, and become this amazing Power Ranger, Megatron to defeat the evil aliens in our space. There’s only one way to do it. We all have to become one piece. Of course, we’ll experiment.” He jokingly posits, “We’re going to be the first band to make 100 million albums.” When asked if he said that with his pinky at his lips, he responds, ” Yes, and I am also petting a naked cat.”
Pieper has a bit of a different take on the philosophy of success coming through the surrender of self, “Our band is like a team. We don’t have any ball hogs on the team. Everyone could take the ball and drop 80 points, but we’re here to win as a group. So, we’re going to use everyone’s skills and abilities and combine them together to make the Megazord.” Day chimes in, “Megazord?” To which Pieper responds, “Megazord, which is a Power Ranger.” That’s right folks, two Power Ranger references in the same interview. Day adds this, “We take our music very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously. So the ego thing, we’ve all been in a million bands before. We get it. Ego makes good music for sure, but you have to channel that into more peaceful places.”
Probably the biggest opportunity is coming from holding down the opening slot for The Stadium Tour, which got underway on June 16th. Together they have participated in one national tour. They hit the road with Dorothy and fellow So Cal band, Joyous Wolf in the spring. That tour playing mostly clubs and small theaters is quite a contrast to playing in stadiums. As a band they have some hopes and goals for this chance to be at the big dance. Pieper shares, “We really pride ourselves on being a live band. We just want to come out guns blazing. Being the first band, we just want to surprise people because many of them will probably not have heard of us. We’re prepared to take the stage and blow minds. We’re ready to do that every single night and beyond. This tour gives us the best opportunity for that.” For Day, it’s a simpler sentiment, “We have huge hopes. We just want to get on to everyone’s radar. This is our introduction to the world. That’s why it’s called Welcome To The Show.”
Rarely does a new band get to work with a legendary producer. Historically, the groups who have, worked with that person before they were a legend. So just how does a group of five guys who met over the internet get to have two tracks on their debut produced by one such person? Day says, “Our label, Better Noise, were just awesome. They found Bob Rock for us. It all started with The Rock! So he has recorded everyone from Metallica to Bon Jovi to Michael Buble, and of course Motley Crue. Bob said, ‘Let’s go to Tommy Lee’s place to record your album.’ So we were recording and Tommy would walk downstairs every now and then and peek through, maybe air drum for a second and walk up the stairs. So Tommy was one of the first people to hear our finished material, just out of curiosity.” Because of that familiarity when their management reached out to Motley Crue’s management, Motley Crue was willing to take a chance to put them on the tour. “They didn’t have to do that. They already had an amazing lineup in place. But they gave us a chance because they believe in rock n’ roll.”
No man or band is an island. There are typically many players behind the scenes who make something like this go. Pieper could not agree more, “We have a very strong team behind us. We’re very blessed because everyone working with us has a strong track record with bands. The label has a bunch of amazing bands on their roster. The fact that they are all taking the risk of investing money and more than anything, time and effort and emotion into a new band, just shows the faith they have in us. We trust them with our lives and livelihood.” Day echoes Pieper’s sentiments, “We have a really creative management team too. In addition to the strong team, we have to thank our band members. All we want to do is work, we want to go do this.” Pieper believes that there is another element to their future success, “I think the core of it is teamwork and trust. This is a brand new landscape for us, so we’re trusting everyone who has experience and taking the advice. I think the sky is the limit.”
Heading out on the road with four veteran bands whose members are in their late 50’s and early 60’s, when the average age of your band is barely above legal drinking age is an incredibly unique experience. This fact is not lost on Day, “No one gets to experience this sort of thing. Even just to have this experience once and I think we all realize that. We’ve all tried and it’s hard to get a label on your side. It’s hard to convince people just to even see or smell a little bit of your potential. Somehow this thing is working and we’re just happy to be tall enough to jump on this ride.”
For a band with a name like Classless Act, you probably won’t find two more classy people in the music industry. Since birds of a feather flock together, one could surmise that the other three members of this act are equally as humble and grateful. For Pieper it can all be summed up this way, “A huge thing [is] that we all can’t be grateful enough for is a strong family support system behind us. All of our families put their faith in us and were willing to invest time, effort and money into us. For Griffin to drop everything and move to California and Franco to move to a completely different continent. There has been a lot of sacrifice.” Day concurs and offers a similar thought, “We have very strong families, and we just can’t be grateful enough for them.”
The summer of 2022 is poised to be a very exciting time for Derek Day, Dane Pieper, Chuck McKissock, Griffin Tucker and Franco Gravante. It seemed appropriate to list their names for the reader. Some who read this interview will no doubt be familiar with the names, but some will most certainly not. Fate can be a fickle mistress. There are no guarantees in this life. And the great things bursting forth currently, carry with them no assurances that this list of five names will attain the recognition level of Nikki Sixx, Joe Elliott, Brett Michaels or Joan Jett. But this has after all been an unlikely story. If work ethic, enthusiasm, musicianship and good fortune have anything to say about it, there is a likely chance that they just might be.