This LIPSTICK Won’t Smudge!
An interview with Lipstick’s Greg Troyan
From deep in the heart of Country comes a retro blast of feedback and Aqua Net influenced shredding. Singer Greg Troyan and bassist Steve Smith have helmed Nashville’s Lipstick since 2012. Lipstick is a Glam influenced, metal band in the vein of Poison and Warrant. And while clearly not interested in being another flavor of the day act, their dedication to form is admirable. We caught up with Gregg Troyan while waiting to get his hair did, and this is what he said . . . .
Indie Music: Do you recall the moment you first wanted to pick up an instrument?
Greg Troyan: I didn’t start listening to music until after I went to my first concert, which was when I was 14. After that, I started researching music intensely and gradually became a music fan. When I was 15, I met a guy who liked the same bands I did, so we decided to form a band. He had gear and I didn’t, so he was the guitar player and I was the singer. One day, when he didn’t show up to practice, I decided I still wanted to write some songs, and I didn’t want to wait for him to show up. So, it was that day that I decided I wanted to play to guitar, so that I could write songs without having to wait for a guitar player. I had dabbled in piano and stuff before that, but that was my first memory of really wanting to pick up an instrument and learn how to play it.
IM: What wras it about 80’s style metal that piqued your imagination?
GT:If you look at the history of rock, there’s a clear line of progression from the 50’s to the 60’s, from the 60’s to the 70’s, and from the 70’s to the 80’s. The music of the 80’s was a contination and progression of the groundwork that was laid in the 70’s, and given that I love the music of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, loving the music of the 80’s was natural for me. 80’s rock has a lot of cool elements to it, like great guitar riffs, face-melting solos, catchy singalong choruses and fun, exciting outfits and stage theatrics. Also, you can tell that those guys listened to Thin Lizzy, Van Halen, Aerosmith and all of those other great 70’s bands, and you can hear it in their music.
80’s metal was about enjoying life and following your dreams, and while there are certain lyrical aspects that didn’t appeal to me, there was a good chunk of it that did, and it was clear these bands were keeping rock n roll alive, so I have a lot of respect for it. It felt like the 90’s grunge thing killed it off right before the natural evolution into the next stage was about to happen, and I would’ve liked to seen where things had gone if the progression was more natural like the previous three decades, as opposed to a sharp and sudden death. Imagining where things could have gone if history had been a little different definitely tickled my imagination, so to speak.
IM: Why the mascot Mr. Cool?
GT: Mr. Cool started off as a doodle I did one day as a joke. I just randomly, without any thought, drew a cat wearing sunglasses and labeled him “Mr. Cool”. Then. I just started to draw him all over the place, and when I was developing Lipstick, I thought about how Iron Maiden had a mascot in Eddie, and how a bunch of metal bands had mascots. So, I thought, let’s give Lipstick a mascot.
I like cartoons and expanded universes, so Mr. Cool as a character is really appealing. He has a Mickey Mouse quality about him where his simplicity allows him to fit into tons of situations, but he’s also a really likable character. Unlike Eddie or a lot of the metal band mascots, Mr. Cool isn’t threatening, and he’s perfect for Lipstick because we’re not really threatening either. We’re a fun rock band that sings about enjoying life and following your dreams, so Mr. Cool fits us well.
IM: Which musician (living/dead/other) would you most like to share a stage with and what song would you most like to jam on?
GT: Paul McCartney, easily. I would love to work with Paul McCartney. However, I don’t care as much about performing onstage with him as much as I’d want to collaborate with him in some manner. I’d want to write an original song with Paul and record it with him. That would be the biggest honor in the world for me.
I also would love to work with Jim Steinman as a producer on one of my albums. I’d like to write with him, but I feel like co-writing isn’t really his style. But to have Steinamn produce me would be a huge honor.
But onstage? I don’t know. Maybe Alice Cooper or Phil Lynott.
IM: Most metal bands like to focus on a party-hearty themes of wild women and partying, and Lipstick sidesteps most of that. Why?
GT:I really didn’t like the negative lyrical direction music took in the 90’s, and I wanted Lipstick to be a positive band to counteract that trend. Being straight-edge, it would feel disingenuous to write songs about being messed up on drugs and alcohol. I’ve also felt like there were too many sleazy sex songs in the world, and that I preferred the lyrical stylings of The Beatles, where they were singing about loving someone and not just having sex with them. It felt like there was more heart in a love song than in a sex song, and I also knew that most sex songs have really awful lyrics, and I didn’t want to come up with a lyric like “Put your hand in pocket, grab onto my rocket” or “Let’s put the x in sex”.
I don’t want to lie and act like I didn’t partake in my share of partying and wild women, but I don’t want to encourage that either. The sleeping around thing just leaves you feeling really empty inside, because you’re looking to be loved and you get this moment of satisfaction, thinking, “Oh, I’ve got this hot woman who wants to be with me, I’m so cool,” but after you’re done, you realize she just wanted you for your body and she doesn’t care at all about you as a person, and you’re left feeling even more alone and even more empty. I fell into that scene for a while, despite being straight-edge on the drug and alcohol front, but I never really gave up love. Loving someone with your heart and soul, so that sex doesn’t become an empty and meaningless fix but rather becomes a way of uniting your soul with someone who loves you as much as you love them, is something that I feel resonates much stronger lyrically than partying and wild women. I’m glad that I found somebody who loves me for me, but I’m also glad I learned what I did along the way. I’d never go back to that lifestyle, but it taught me more about who I am and who I want to be: a good partner to the woman I love, a good step-parent to my future step-child, a good friend to my friends and good force in the world.
I want to try and shift the culture and perspective on the whole sex thing. I want to put the emphasis back on love as opposed to sex, and I think there are a lot of people who feel the same way, so I feel like I’m giving voice to that perspective.
IM: Now that music (overall) has returned to a more DIY ethic, do you think it’s better off or do you long for the days of chest thumping arena rock?
GT: There are a lot of pros and cons to the current music scene. As a consumer of recorded music, it is the best it has ever been. The ease and access to music is great because you can check out obscure bands from all over the world for very little money. For new and upcoming artists, the technology for home recording has helped a lot of people release some great projects that they may not have had the money for otherwise. So, from a listening perspective, it’s pretty great.
From a live perspective, though, it’s pretty awful. Bands are struggling to make a living playing music, and there aren’t great unifying bands like there were in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. It’s a shame from a live perspective because when those unifying bands were making tons of money, they invested it back into their stageshow, so you could see Dio battling a dragon onstage and all kinds of great theatrics from a band like Twisted Sister. I feel like the big spectacles were a great part of rock, and it’s sad that a lot of that is going away, simply because it’s too expensive for younger and newer bands to do. I’ll give The Protomen a lot of credit for putting on big productions and keeping that stuff alive, and Lipstick does the best we can with what we have. We are always aiming to make our shows bigger and better, but budget restrictions are pretty rough for the modern music scene. So, it’s a double-edged sword, but if I had to make a decision, I’d say I prefer the olden days when a real rock n roll band could fill an arena. The modern music scene is great, lots of great music, but very few people nowadays know how to put on a real show.
IM: Name of your new project you feel compelled to plug?
GT: We’ve recently re-released our self-titled debut album as a special edition, with deluxe packaging and four bonus tracks. We’re working on recording a new CD, but in the meantime, you should check out the special edition of “Lipstick”. We also have a music video for a song on it called “The Conan Song” that we’d love for you to take the time and check out too.
IM: Your favorite thing/song from the new release?
GT: The special edition is a re-release of our debut, so there’s lots of Lipstick classics on there. I’m really excited about all of it, to be honest. “The Flash” is our best reviewed song, and it’s a great guitar epic for people who like extended guitar solos like the ones in “Working Man” and “Freebird”. “Merle” is my favorite song off the first album, and it has a very Jim Steinman-esqe quality to it. But the bonus tracks are all great. The remix of “Having Fun” is badass, “Illium” and “Fight Club” are great songs, and the re-recording of “I Want The World To Know” is beautiful and poignant. The packaging is killer too, so I’m really happy with the finished product. It’s a great special edition.
IM: Most absurd thing you’ve been asked at a show?
GT: I’m sure there’s something more absurd, but the first thing that came to mind was when somebody asked me if we do any Michael Jackson covers. It’s a bit odd to assume that we do MJ covers. MJ’s great, and I’d be down to do a song of his, but to assume that this random glam band has a couple songs of his in their set is really random.
IM: When you get around to writing your rock opera and/or concept album, what subject will be the focus your intense personal examination?
GT: I’ve got a background in musical theater, so I have a few ideas kicking around. As far as musicals go, I want to write a musical based on Magus from Chrono Trigger. He’s got a really cool backstory, being born a prince to the magical kingdom of Zeal, and then getting flung into the future where he becomes the leader of a demon army, and he does all kinds of horrible things just so he can travel back in time and save his sister from death. It’s fascinating to see him become this hardened villain, all for the sake of love, and then have him become a reedeemd hero. His arc is great, so I’d love to write a musical about him one day.
I also want to write a Dragonball Z musical about the Goku vs Frieza fight. That’s it. The entire musical is just that one fight, and there’s plenty of stuff to fill a two hour musical with in just that single fight scene. I’ve actually written one song for that, called “Kamehahmeha”, but like the Chrono Trigger project, it’s pretty far on the backburner.
I plan on doing a conceptual album about life in a tougher, rough neighborhood and the different characters who live there, but that one is less of a cohesive narrative and more of a thematic experience, even if some characters appear in multiple songs. That album is pretty much completely written, and that will probably be what the third Lipstick album consists of.
Steve and I both want to write a muder-mystery concept album, and we want to release multiple editions of the album, and each edition has a different ending song that has a different solution to the mystery. I want to do a Sherlock Holmes concept album too, so that will probably get combined, and hopefully that gets me an invitation to join the Baker Street Irregulars.
IM: If you were an SAT question, would you be an analogy or long division?
GT: If I were to answer this question, I’d say analogy. If Steve were to answer, he’d say long division. So, for the sake of band unity, I’ll say it’s an analogy that can only be solved by using long division.
IM: Absurd thing you plan to buy with your first million dollar royalty check?
GT: Not to be boring, but I wouldn’t really want too much with a big royalty check. I’d maybe get a nicer house for my fiance (who would be my wife at that point), her son and myself, and I’d want a home recording studio and a study in there, and I know she wants a pool and a deck, but otherwise, I don’t think I’d go too crazy with the money. I just want a recording studio and a study to organize all my books, and I’m happy.
IM: Best reason we should listen to your music?
GT: It’s good.
IM: Finish this sentence, “Lipstick is the perfect soundtrack for _________”
GT: Following your dreams.