Last month, LA hard rock quintet Classless Act released their debut album Welcome To The Show, a twelve-song love letter to music from the 1970s and 1980s produced and mixed by Joe Chicarelli, Bob Rock, bassist Franco Gravante, and Keith Nelson. Earlier this year, Classless Act did a run of dates with Dorothy before jumping onto the opening slot for the current summer run of dates with Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, Poison, and Joan Jett. Get into the venue early to watch them rip through a showcase of material from their debut. They sound like a mixture of Mötley Crüe, Zeppelin, and GnR.
“The band has teeth, and they bite. Derek uses words and melody to blend up a cocktail of imagination and harmony with guts. The production kicks it up, loud and clear for all to hear; the band tears through numbers like it’s stage-time all the time. It’s rock n’ roll with soul.” Stephen Perkins, Jane’s Addiction
In this modern age of disposable electronic music where guitar riffs are almost non-existent, Classless Act has emerged to dominate your earholes, determined to put some furor back into the heavy rock genre. If Derek Day (vocals), Dane Pieper (guitar), Griffin Tucker (guitar), Franco Gravante (bass), and Chuck McKissock (drums) were born four decades ago, they likely would have been tearing up the LA strip with the members of Mötley Crüe and Poison. Instead, they get to share the stage with them in 2022 and learn from them.
Our heartfelt thanks to Derek and Franco for taking a healthy chunk out of their afternoon last week to field a few questions for V13 via phone. The audio is available here if you’d prefer to hear their answers in real time.
How are things going? You have been on tour for a month now. Has it been good?
Franco Gravante: “Yeah, everything is great. We are living a real dream. It’s kind of crazy. I was just checking my Instagram and (Def Leppard drummer) Rick Allen mentioned me in a comment. It’s like, ‘What’s going on, man?’ It’s weird.”
What is it about acts like Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard that appeal to young musicians like yourselves?
Gravante: “I think it’s that we grew up with their music. I think there’s a danger that you love with their music.”
Derek Day: “Yeah, absolutely. There’s a vibe; there’s a look; there’s a thing with them. I see younger kids, too, out in these stadium shows. I don’t know what it is. I think rock n’ roll is this thing that isn’t #1 anymore, but it was in their time. In the 1980s, it was #1. And now it’s like this cool cult thing. These guys know how to party, and I think everyone wants to know how to party. So these lyrics are instructions.”
Gravante: “Yeah, there’s a bunch of a younger crowd in the audience as well. I think rock is doing just fine. I don’t think it’s dead. New bands keep coming up because people like it. People like to have fun. That’s what it is.”
That’s good to hear. I keep hearing music like Harry Styles and Billie Eilish just taking over and being on everybody’s minds, and when I hear a good rock n’ roll band like yourselves, my ears perk up. Because to me, that’s real music. I’m older. So it’s nice to hear.
Gravante: “It’s kind of weird that a label bit on that also. We are very grateful for that. They are actually betting on us and rock n’ roll music again.”
Derek, this is a question for you. Your dad took you to see Deep Purple and Jethro Tull when you were young. Did you ever feel like you were being exposed to music that a lot of your friends weren’t necessarily into? Did you feel that you were maybe a little bit different compared to the because of that?
Day: “Absolutely. Yeah, all the time. I think I saw Jethro Tull when I was like 8 or something. Eight or 9. I remember every second of it. So yeah, elementary school and middle school, especially, I was really just kind of a loner. I found a couple of people that liked to play music, and we formed a little band and stuff. And then, in high school, I actually had to leave one high school because I was so depressed. Everyone was into friggin’ EDM or something. It was terrible, and I just couldn’t do it, so I left after ninth grade, and we found a music school for me to go to because I was literally despaired and depressed. But then I was happy. I found these other long-haired dudes that played music. Yeah, it was very lonely for a while there.”
Franco, could you talk a little bit about how you learned to play guitar? Are you self-taught?
Gravante: “I started at eight years old, if I remember correctly. Eight or 9, more or less. At first, I was self-taught, but then I had a teacher for a couple of months. It was mostly self-taught. Then, I changed to bass. And then I had a teacher for another two or three months. I did study music, though, in general. But that was when I was like 16 or something.”
Do you remember the first song that you learned how to play proficiently? Like the first cover song?
Gravante: “I remember the first song I played was ‘Happy Birthday’ The first song, though? I don’t remember. I think it was a Beatles song or something like that. I think it was a song called ‘Hope Of Deliverance’ by Paul McCartney. That’s the first time that I recorded myself and did some drums and made a tape of it.”
Can you tell me how you guys both met?
Gravante: “Social media, actually. We were starting to get this band together, and we saw one of the things that Derek was in.”
Day: “Yeah, I was in a band with this other guy, and he was a great guitar player, and I was the singer of his band. But then we went our separate ways, and he was with these Classless guys at a show at the Roxy. And he just joined their band and wrote some songs, and it didn’t work out with him either. So they looked through his Facebook and found me on Facebook.
Before me, Franco reached out to some of the band members via Instagram. We kind of got Griffin through TikTok. And Chuck was the only guy where we went to a show, and we plucked him from the bunch at a punk show, and he wanted to be in our band. Yeah, it was all social media. But there is some weird connection beforehand to some extent. There’s a person before a person that was in the band or something. Everyone is only 20 miles away or something. Except for Franco, who’s from Argentina.”
Gravante: “We’d meet up a couple of times a month.”
Wow. Again, I’m dating myself. I’m old, so it would have to be face to face for me to meet anybody. It just amazes me that you can put a connection together and get the chemistry together as a musician via TikTok and socials. It’s just wild.
Gravante: “It definitely happens when you get face to face to see what’s going on. That’s why we have had a couple of members; you want to see if things are going to work out, you know? You’ve got to meet them and everything.”
How about Dane, Griffin, and Chuck, did you get to meet them and jam with them before you decided that you were going to be a member? Or was it more spot-on where you just picked them and knew that it was going to work out?
Gravante: “We’d definitely do some auditions, right? But I think that you can tell right away if you gel with someone. Especially when it is music, you know? If you show up and don’t really know the songs, or you are just fooling around, that’s just not going to work. We work really hard in this band, and to come in with that attitude, you just know at that first rehearsal, especially with Griffin. The first song in, we were like, ‘Yeah. That will work.’”
I’m not a musician, but I have to assume it’s a hard thing to connect with an audience of 10,000 to 20,000 as an opening act. Especially when you haven’t got the physical product out yet. You’ve got an album that’s available for streaming, but I don’t think that you can buy the LP yet, right?
Gravante: “You can buy it. It will take a couple of weeks to get it into your hands, but you can order it already for sure.”
Ok. How have you found it being in front of large audiences on this tour and getting them to warm up to your material?
Gravante: “Um, I think that’s all Derek.”
Day: “You mean like warm-ups?”
No, I mean like walking out on stage, and there’s a good portion of the crowd already there, and they probably don’t know your material. How do you find that is working for you? Are you immediately connecting with them? Are you finding that they are warm to you after a couple of songs?
Day: “Oh, absolutely. Because it’s the whole gang. We can’t believe we are doing this. So with that mindset, we are just having the best time of our lives. We are jumping around, having fun, we are running around, and people feed off the physical energy they see there. And I’m running around, looking people right in the eyes, as much as I can at least, and jumping up and laying on the floor. All in 18 minutes, so people like a good time.
Eighteen minutes (laughs).”
Gravante: “Yeah. Not a minute more and not a minute less.”
It’s good to see that you are fitting in a headlining show at the Horseshoe in Toronto after you play the stadium.
Gravante: “Yes. That’s when we get to have even more fun because we get to play for one hour or one hour and 15 minutes or something. We can play the whole album. That’s great.”
That’s a classic venue, man. The Horseshoe has been around for ages. The Stones played there back in the day. So you’re going to have fun in there.
Gravante: “Nice, I can’t wait.”
How many of these one-off side shows are you able to do on this tour? Is this one of one? Are you able to do a few more of them?
Gravante: “I think we are just doing as much as we can actually. We are even trying to book more. Some places are playing the CD now, and we have a possibility of playing more there. We are just trying to play as much as we can.”
Day: “Yeah, we’ve got a show in Denver; we’ve got a show in Ottawa, where we do our own headlining show. I think there might be one more. But it’s hard because the routing on this tour has been pretty hectic. It’s a lot of planning. We’ve already had people reaching out to us, and we then don’t know if we can do that because we’d have to drive 14 hours.”
Can you talk a little bit about recording and releasing music through the pandemic? I’ve got to assume that you were trying to get together during a bunch of lockdowns and weirdness to get this album out.
Gravante: “Oh yeah, there were plenty of Zoom meetings for sure. But I think the pandemic kind of helped us in a way because we had a bunch of songs before, and we were supposed to release them, but then the pandemic happened, and then Bob Rock couldn’t come and finish the album. So we started writing more and more songs. We pretty much replaced the old ones with the ones that we wrote during the pandemic. That’s when we were writing all the time. Either by ourselves or with the band or just a few of us as co-writers. We were learning how to do it better and better, actually. So that’s kind of a good thing because we ended up with better songs than the ones than we had before.”
This is kind of a wide-open question; what have you guys learned over the past few months? Is there anything that sticks out in your mind you’ve picked up while you’ve been out on tour with these veteran bands?
Gravante: “It’s like a dream, man. It’s weird. You come off stage, and Joan Jett is just walking next to you. And it’s like, ‘what’s going on?’ It’s very hard to believe. We’ve definitely learned to be a better band. We learned that on our previous tour, looking at each other. Doing the best possible show even when things might go wrong, and to overcome bad situations. We also like traveling in the van together for ten or 14 hours, so we get to learn who we are and how we react and how we act, and I think that you can see that on stage actually, that this band is getting pretty solid. I think that is a great thing to learn. It’s really helping everything.”
Day: “Yeah, and I would say that experiencing this production crew, if something were to go wrong, through humidity or 150º F heat or unstoppable rain, they know how to fix it right away so that it feels like it never happened. So they are really good at troubleshooting. And then you also see live; Joan, Poison, Mötley, and Def need stadiums to perform. They can hold a stadium in the palm of their hands. And there are so many intangible things going on, I can’t really explain it, but learning just from viewing this is like one thing; there’s a whole new level of professionalism that’s there. Not to mention the kindness there that is off the charts.
You’d think with a production like this, they would be a bunch of dicks or something, but no, everyone is so nice. I think that is something I’ve learned. Ok, be a badass, but also be super kind and always consider what’s happening around you. Maybe people are going through something, and it’s a stressful job. That’s why kindness goes a long way. And it’s awesome. There’s a new level of levels to level up to (laughs).”
I would think that being out with bands like Joan Jett, Poison, Mötley, and Def Leppard would give you a front-row opportunity to see what longevity as a musician looks like. Do you see yourselves doing what you are doing in your mid-50s? Can you see yourselves transitioning into how these people are on stage?
Gravante: “I certainly hope so. Definitely.”
Day: “Yeah, one thing you can see with all of these bands is every member is having the time of their lives. Hell, they’d rather be doing nothing else. If they did want to be doing something else, they would. Doing this is actually really difficult. And this is really hot work, it’s a hot summer. It’s a lot of work, and it’s a lot of strict scheduling. So the fact that they are even out here, you can tell they really love it, and everyone in this band is just, ‘Oh my god, I love music. I love playing; I love singing; I love jumping and expressing myself with vocation.’
I think the key to longevity is just loving what you do. You see Tommy on the kit, and there was a point where he broke four ribs, and he had to have a drummer fill in for him. He doesn’t do that anymore; he’s playing the full show now. But when he stepped off-stage, he’d play along to every song with a cowbell just because he’s doing it for fun. You could see him backstage playing along until he could get back up again, and everyone is just having the time of their lives. Mick Mars is doing new things with his solos, and Def Leppard wrote new songs, and they are killing it. Same with Joan, new songs and singing her heart out. Poison, you can see that they’re having the MOST fun (laughs). This is clearly longevity being connected to love and passion, and fun.”
It’s common knowledge that all of these bands were pretty heavy into the drugs and the drink and women. And, not to say that there is anything right or wrong with that, but it came at a cost (laughs). Can you now see yourselves side-stepping that? I don’t even know if that’s the culture out there anymore. I certainly wouldn’t be too eager to party it up for 20 years and then wind up with a heart condition or whatever.
Gravante: “No, for sure. I think we all have the power to decide not to drink or whatever. On that last tour, when we were out with Dorothy, everyone was absolutely sober. Just because, you know, we don’t want to have any of that interfere with work. We are just stoked to be out. No one has a big problem with that, or partying or anything. We definitely party, but we also have to work and do music, and that’s what got us here.”
Day: “I would say the same goes to content. A lot of what was back then was written about certain crazy time. The lyrics certainly would be canceled today. These songs would be canceled. I think rock bands nowadays are doing stuff differently now too. The lifestyle thing? We work differently, and we write differently. Not on purpose; people think it’s a choice or whatever. No, it’s a new kind of a thing; there is something in the air. We are just writing about what our hearts desire.”
As I mentioned earlier, I like going to see live music where you are seeing a band performing—musicians who are not relying on a lot of technical tricks, and there’s not a lot of auto-tuning. I feel like you are going to witness something, and you are seeing real music played by real people. I hope that translates when you guys are onstage.
Gravante: “Yeah, we are a straight rock n’ roll band. We are two guitars, one bass, drums, and vocals. We just try and do our best and give it everything we have in every performance. Even if it’s a stadium or if it’s a bar playing for no one. We always play the same, with the same passion.”
Both of you can play guitar. How did that conversation happen, where you have four people who can competently play guitar, but were going to go with these two? Was there any discussion like that at the beginning of your band?
Gravante: “No, I just joined them to be the bass player. That’s what they were looking for. Actually, the five of us can play guitar. That’s just how we have been playing. Griffin and Dane are really good at it.”
Day: “Yeah, We realized that this band, not to sound cheesy, but we kind of have a mission. We’ve got to bring back the right group of people doing the right things at the right time. Everyone plays guitar that also keeps us in check a little bit. Everyone can play a little bit of something else. There’s a nice mutual respect there, it makes everyone more cool and more level-headed, and you put your trust in people when they say something.
I just feel like we are the Power Rangers, and everyone has a spot to make a leg or a head to become this crazy awesome robot to defeat the giant space alien. There’s a structure and a purpose to that structure. If we are right here and in the right place, we could really do this. We could really win this.”
You’ve gotten off a supporting tour with Dorothy, and now you are doing this Monsters of Rock tour, for lack of a better term. What’s going to happen after this wraps up at the end of the summer? What are your plans?
Day: “We are going to do a headlining tour. Well, we are planning a headlining tour across the states again. We are still routing it and stuff. We are definitely going to go overseas before the year ends. We promise we will be out overseas. But we want to tour until the end of 2024 at least. Just constantly go out, come home, sleep for two days and then go out on the road, and that’s our plan. Because we have this new album finally, and we just can’t wait to play it for everybody in person. Because that’s how you really get to experience it in its best form.”
Gravante: “Definitely, we will be touring a lot. The only time we are going to stop touring is just to record a new album, and then tour that one.”