Meet the talented young band opening Motley Crue’s ‘Stadium Tour,’ cowrote with Taylor Hawkins
Categories: NewsPublished On: April 8th, 20222063 words
By Matt Wake | email@example.com
Derek Day is a frontman who’s hard to ignore. A gene-splice of The Darkness catsuit-extrovert Justin Hawkins and Jack White’s analog catharsis.
Good thing, because impressing crowds who’ve never heard of you and are there to rage to “Dr. Feelgood,” “Photograph,” “Talk Dirty To Me” and “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” … Well, it isn’t a gig for the meek. This summer, Day and his Los Angeles band Classless Act will be the support act on the highly anticipated “Stadium Tour” featuring Motley Crue, Def Leppard, Poison and Joan Jett.
Unlike those ‘80s rock legends, Classless Act don’t have a setlist crammed with greatest hits. They do have bona fide hard-rock chops though and a strong upcoming debut album to draw from. Classless Act also have that critical ingredient no amount of pyro and production can replace. Youth. The band’s five members range in ages from 20 to 26. In addition to Day, the band features bassist Franco Gravante, guitarists Dane Pieper and Griffin Tucker and drummer Chuck McKissock.
“I think we really just want to make an impact,” Day says of Classless Act’s approach to live shows. “And we really want to express the urgency. Show you that we’re here to say something and say it as big as we can.”
All-the-young-dudes verve is evident in the music video for Classless Act’s debut single “Give It To Me.” It’s a classic, performance-style vid with the band rocking out in front of a plain white background while Day goes mad on the mic and screams like he’s auditioning for Skid Row. Les Pauls, Marshall amps, long hair, a scarf and some shirtlessness are involved. In other words, just as rising rockers should do it. Especially on a come-hither anthem like “Give It To Me,” cowritten with former Buckcherry guitarist Keith Nelson, who knows a thing or two about making sleaze-rock that connects.
Classless Act has prior experience going onstage before bigtime acts. And not just warming the crowd up but winning them over. In 2018, the band gained early buzz opening a hometown show for Guns N’ Roses guitar legend Slash’s solo band at the Hollywood Palladium. As a solo artist, Day has been a support act for household names, including ‘70s star Ted Nugent and “Cult of Personality” rockers Living Colour.
Asked about the do’s and don’t’s of opening shows for rock icons, Day says, “Be extremely grateful and show it. You’re always on time – in fact an hour early is just on time. They’re giving you an opportunity of a lifetime, whether you’re going to blow up the next morning or you’re still going to be working for another 10 years following your dream.”
Day then paraphrases a quote he says he’s heard from Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins, “My job is to play music. I have zero complaints.” The weekend prior to our interview, the rock world was shattered by the tragic and surprising death of Hawkins at a Bogota, Columbia hotel during Foo Fighters’ since-cancelled South American tour.
A while back, Classless Act got the chance to cowrite and demo a song with Taylor Hawkins. The Foos drummer arrived at the session, which took place at his L.A.-area home studio, straight from an epic mountain-bike ride, wearing a hydration pack on his back. “He took his shirt off and had on his board shorts,” Day recalls, describing Hawkins’ frequent onstage look. “It was like, ‘Yeah that’s Taylor Hawkins.’”
Hawkins invited Classless Act into his house and “introduced us to his daughter and his dogs,” Day recalls. Then, the musicians retreated out back to the pool house Hawkins converted into a rock & roller clubhouse, where they got to work. And working quickly. “We got great sounds in five seconds,” Day says.
Classless Act’s sessions with Hawkins yielded an “anthemic yet really alternative” song with the working title “If You Can.” Day says, “It has this big classic-rock thing but also kind of futuristic and crazy delays and stuff. And Taylor was really big on having a groove.” The band was trying to come up with a chorus for a song and then Hawkins hit on an idea and sang it to them. “It’s like, ‘Yep, that’s the chorus,’” Day says. He sums up Classless Act’s experience with the beloved Hawkins: “He had the soul of child and the mind of a wizard. He was just a genius.”
Because there’s still work to be done on the song, that Taylor Hawkins collabo isn’t on Classless Act’s debut album. But the band worked with significant record-making talent on their album, due later this year. There’s already a release date and title for the Classless Act’s LP, but the band’s management isn’t laying down those cards publicly just yet.
The band worked with producer Bob Rock, who’s helmed huge-sounding/huge-selling classics including Metallica’s “Black Album,” Motley Crue’s “Dr. Feelgood” and The Cult’s “Sonic Temple.” “He’s big on hooks,” Day says of working with Rock. “He was just saying, ‘Let’s try to get to the hook a little quicker.’ And even, ‘Let’s try to add a new hook inside the hook.’ And he really knows how to build a wall of sound and make it colorful.” Bassist Franco Gravante recalls Rock pulling out “old school production tricks that I’ve never seen before.” The producer also regaled them with war-stories like “mixing ‘The Black Album’ for a week straight with no sleep,” Gravante says. And how Rock’s son appears onscreen in Metallica’s famous “Enter Sandman” music video.
Rock produced several Classless Act tracks, including a song that calls to mind a Sunset Strip version of “Stairway to Heaven.” It will likely be a rock-radio hit upon its release. But as with the album appellation, there are some Classless Act song titles management asked me to not publish in this story, and this is one of them. Adding to album’s anthemic vibes, The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins contributed a hot guitar solo to Classless Act’s latest single, the snarling “This Is For You.” Justin Hawkins also cowrote one of the debut LP’s best tracks, “Time To Bleed,” a cyborg of “You Could Be Mine” aggression and “Pyromania” chorus-candy.
In addition to Bob Rock, Classless Act also worked with studio wizards Michael Beinhorn – known for vintage alt-rock like Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Mother’s Milk” LP, Soundgarden’s “Superunknown” and Hole’s “Celebrity Skin” – and Joe Chicarelli – who helped craft 2000s notables like The White Stripes’ “Icky Thump” album and The Shins’ “Wincing the Night Away.” The infusion of outside talent from rock hitmakers from at least three different decades helps Classless Act’s debut keep from being carbon-dated to 1988, 1998 or 2008. Instead, the record sounds like a pinch of all of ‘em.
Gravante describes his band’s sound as “natural” and “genuine.” The bassist adds, “It’s not like we said, ‘Oh, let’s mix classic-rock and alternative.’ We just do what we like.” Day says Classless Act are, “lucky enough to have a team and a label to help us do what we want to do. ‘Yeah, make sure it’s in one lane, but do your own thing to it and, make sure you love it.’”
Classless Act’s record label is Better Noise Music, formerly known as Eleven Seven and founded by Allen Kovac, a music-biz Master of the Universe best known for U-turning Motley Crue from ‘90s scrapheap to touring stadiums for the first time in their five-decade career.
Classless Act’s management includes Rick Canny, whose connections have played a key role in the booster rockets attached to Classless Act. Canny has repped bold font names liked Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, Hole frontwoman Courtney Love and Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro and bands like The Darkness and Velvet Revolver.
In the years since Classless Act formed about 2016, there have been some lineup changes. For a while, the band’s drummer was London Hudson, the talented son of GN’R/Velvet Revolver guitarist Slash. London’s mom Pearla Hudson called Canny on the phone and told him he needed to come see her son’s band. (It’s worth nothing that although London Hudson is no longer in Classless Act, he, Pearla and Slash are all thanked in the liner notes for the debut LP.)
Before committing further, Canny checked with some people who’d seen Classless Act live. “The general consensus was that Derek is a star,” Canny tells me via email. (And Day really is a fresh jolt, drawing from disparate sources such as shredder Steve Vai, bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan and glam-rocker Marc Bolan.) Canny went to go see a Classless Act show at Whisky a Go Go, the storied West Hollywood club that’s been a proving ground for future-gods from The Doors and Led Zeppelin to Motley and GN’R.
Watching Classless Act at the Whisky, Canny could see, “The songs were starting to come together at the time, but there was real promise in what I was hearing. And I had always wanted to start with a rock band at ground zero and break them. Allen Kovac wanted to sign the band based on the demos, sight unseen. He knew what I knew … That rock was not dead, it was only wounded.” Canny was also stoked for a chance to work with Kovac.
Some of the members of Classless Act, who’d been in different L.A. bands, initially connected via social media. “It’s kind of like the new-school Recycler,” Day says, referring to the local Los Angeles classified ads publication. Bands that have found members through The Recycler include Metallica, GN’R and the Crue. Classless Act took their name from a news headline they’d seen regarding a certain former U.S. president. “It had a cool ring to it,” Day says.
Bob Rock, a friend of Canny’s, listened to Classless Act’s demos and hit it off with the band after meeting with them. After initial plans to record in Canada didn’t work out, they decided to cut in L.A., where Tommy Lee has a lavish studio at his home called The Atrium, where Rock and Motley had recorded the new songs for “The Dirt” biopic soundtrack. The Crue drummer would saunter into the studio during the Classless Act sessions, sip espressos, listen to the mixes and hang.
For a couple of years, the pandemic kept pushing back the album’s completion and release. While it feels weird to say COVID has worked to the advantage of any musician, the additional time gave Classless Act a chance to cowrite new songs for the project with Justin Hawkins and Keith Nelson. And by the time Motley Crue’s “Stadium Tour” was rescheduled, Tommy Lee was “pretty familiar” with the band, Canny says.
When I connect with Day and Gravante via video chat for this article, they’re in Houston, on Classless Act’s current tour opening for bluesy modern-rock band Dorothy. That trek ends late May. “The Stadium Tour” launches June 16 at Truist Park, home of World Series baseball champions the Atlanta Braves and continues through Sept. 9 at Allegiant Stadium, where the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders play.
“The Stadium Tour” was originally planned for summer 2020. Since it’s been pushed back because of COVID twice, Classless Act have been trying their best to not get too amped yet. “Up until like last month, I still didn’t believe it,” Gravante says. Opening stadium shows for Motley Crue is a full-circle moment for Day, who covered early Crue songs like “Live Wire” in his first garage band in sixth grade.
Growing up in Argentina, the first ever concert Gravante ever saw was AC/DC in Buenos Aires, during the “Back in Black” legends’ 2009 three-night stand at River Plate Stadium. The concerts were later released as part of a live album and home video. “People were jumping up and down, moving the whole stadium,” Gravante recalls. And this summer, he and Classless Act will get their chance to move whole stadiums too.