Interview With Rex Carroll of Whitecross and King James

Por Claudia Saavedra

Rex Carroll, one of the pioneers of Christian rock in the United States. He has reached all parts of the world with his melodies, his guitar and his voice.
Exclusively for Argentina, we talk about his musical past full of great anecdotes, his present that shows us a complete man, experienced, who strives to offer the best in each album and each presentation.

 Metalbreed: Hello Rex, it's an honor to talk to you. Welcome to the digital magazine that we made from Argentina.

Rex Carroll: Thank you, Claudia, the honor is mine. It’s my pleasure to give you this interview.

M: You have been working with different projects, all followed with great affection and enthusiasm by the fans of the world. We realize that you are a restless man who likes challenges. How is the musical present of Rex Carrol?

Rex C: I have many musical influences from Rock, to Blues, to Classical and I try to bring them all out. So, I end up making different kinds of records to appeal to different sides of my personality. At this moment I am working on a new rock album that I hope does great things, I’m very excited about it.

M: The union of White Cross-Guardian was great news but there were some delays with the album and they had to postpone the shows! How did you live this and then how was the fan´s reception?

Rex C: I had much responsibility for this album, not only to play the guitar, but also to engineer the entire recording, do the mix, and supervise the mastering. So, it became a HUGE stress for me. But it all goes back to the guitar, and there is a process I have to go through to get myself to the point of being ready to play the guitar. For me it’s usually very emotionally draining to work up to the high level that is demanded when you are making a new album. Since I don’t get to practice for 4 to 6 hours every day, I’m not like some people I have seen who can just pick up a guitar and start shredding away; I have to work at it and work at it. Even at my best, I’m not that fast compared to the guys who are coming up in today’s generation. So what all of that means is, I could not simply “dive in” to the Whitecross/Guardian project right away. I have to sort of, work myself up to it…and I do this with every album.
So there is a built in “time factor” there, where I have to be ready to do what I do best. Of course, it’s easier when you are on the road touring all the time, your skills will be at their best that way…but since I’m not out touring as much these days, I have to take my time to make sure everything is RIGHT for the album. I have to tell you, the guitar work on this album is LIGHTS OUT, I could not be more proud of the tones and the performance. So I think it’s highly worth it in the end to make sure that you take enough time to make sure everything is right, the way it needs to be. After all, the fans expect it to be GREAT. All I want to do is make sure it’s absolutely the best work I can do, at all times, in every situation. So any perceived “delay” is just because of my studio work ethic jajajaja . And the record is now done, it’s coming out very soon.

M: What does it feel like to play classic songs from so many years?

Rex C: If people still like the songs we recorded from 1987 or 1990….that’s a blessing and how can you not be grateful that people still want to hear your songs? It’s amazing, and I’m happy to do it for as long as people want to hear it.

M: Are there shows ready for 2018 with this union to present "Revival"?

Rex C: They are talking about it, but I really don’t know. I produced the album, and that was the part I took responsibility for. If there are shows, it will be great and of course I’ll be excited to do them.

M: Rex, how did your family influence you to start your career with music?

Rex C: When I was young, I wanted to be a drummer. My mother could see that I was obsessed with it so she decided, I think, that it would be better for her to give me a guitar then a set of drums. Less noise hahahaha. So I took the guitar and went from there. But I always had some rock band rehearsing at my house so she got stuck with the noise anyways!

M: I read that you play several instruments but you specialize in the guitar. Why?

Rex C: I started with piano. Again, my mother insisted. Then I tried violin and that went on for many years. For a while I was studying guitar, violin, and piano all at the same time. Eventually I dropped the piano (although I tune them for people now) and then finally I chose guitar over violin. Watching Richie Blackmore and Deep Purple on T.V. had a huge influence on that decision.

M: When did you purchase your first guitar?

Rex C: I received a guitar for my 10th birthday, and a little instruction book. So right away I started going through the book, and then I just kept going.

M: How many guitars do you have today and which one is your favorite?

Rex C: I’m not a “hoarder” and I don’t mindlessly collect guitars. I know a few people that have ridiculous collections of like, 200 guitars, but that’s crazy. I’ve got about 10 or 11 and I use them all. Each one has a different story of how it came to me. A few of them came as gifts from dear friends. One of them (the blue Gibson explorer) I won at a guitar competition. A couple of them are endorsements. I have a special pair of strats that I love.
The creme yellow is probably my favorite, a 1963 re-issue. Everything is stock on that guitar, including the vintage ’63 pickups. The tone on the ’63 is amazing. But you also get problems that are associated with that guitar, namely the fingerboard radius is too small, the truss rod adjustment is terrible, and the bridge saddles constantly need adjusting. So it’s a bit of a trade-off; yes you get the fabulous tone, but the guitar is constantly falling out of spec. The other guitar in the photo is a white strat with the maple neck. Maple makes the guitar sound a little bit brighter with more “ping” to the sound. I put ’texas specials’ pickups in it…this guitar is a beast and it plays fast and solid. Between the two guitars, they are probably my favorites. Although I also play the blue Gibson Explorer a LOT, because it gets a fantastic chunky sound, especially on rhythm parts. Really, I can almost start playing a song, and almost intuitively, the song itself will dictate which guitar it needs to get the right sound. I just started playing the Flying V…I don’t know much about this guitar so it will take a while to figure it out.

M: He has toured all over the world. Did you visit Argentina with White Cross? What countries do you still have to visit?

Rex C: Well actually, whenever “whitecross” came to Argentina, that was not me. At that time, I was doing different things while Scotty was still performing with the “Whitecross” name. I left the band in 1994, and then we re-united in 2000. So, actually, I would love to come to Argentina and the next time we do, will be my first.

M:  What dreams or longings do you have to fulfill as an artist and on a personal level?

Rex C: Gosh, EVERYTHING. For one thing, I have not made a truly amazing album yet. I believe that album is out there, and I’m getting closer to it, but I haven’t done it yet. I also want to be successful as an American Blues artist. That’s a very different kind of music from what Whitecross does. And, having some great shows and meeting wonderful people in Argentina is certainly a dream of mine.

M: Thirty years after your first recording with Whitecross, tell us how it was recording in those days and how much time did the production take.

Rex C: Well in those days, that was the analog world and the digital world as we know it today did not exist. So, you didn’t have the option to sit at home with your computer and use protools to make an album. We would go in these huge studios and typically spend about eight to ten weeks to record an entire album. And, we’d be spending HISTORIC amounts of money to do it hahaha.
Everything was recorded to tape, and mixed to tape. There were big tape machines that could record 24 tracks of audio to a single reel of tape that is 2 inches wide. You needed a special sound-proofed closet called the “tape room” to put the tape machines in, because they were so huge, and they made a lot of noise with their mechanical reel-to-reel transports. We would use several reels of tape to make an album. You might end up spending $1800 just for the tape alone! But it was amazing fun, I loved all of it. It also took PALLETS of money to make records, so unlike today where your brother and your neighbor’s cousin are all making records on the home computer with garage band, it was a total “status symbol” to be a “signed recording artist” with a record label.
There are many things from that era that have been lost forever, and I will always miss some of those things. Even the way that people listen to music now has changed dramatically from 30 years ago. For example: Nowadays, if there’s a new song, people don’t buy it or even download it, they just stream it on Spotify or Youtube. While the accessibility is great, there is a cumulative net effect that ALL recorded music has less value. If it’s everywhere all the time, and convenient to access via streaming, then there is no sense of urgency or importance attached to the release of a new album. In the old days, this was not the case. I remember the anticipation, excitement, and build up before the release of new music from my favorite bands….and then it was a total EVENT to get in the car, go to the record store with all the other fans, buy the album, bring it home, and then spend the rest of the day listening to the entire album from start to finish. I’m happy that vinyl has made somewhat of a comeback, just because a bigger cover allows you to do more with the artwork. The world moves a lot faster these days, and people are all glued to the phone that’s permanently attached to their hand jajajaja and it seems as if nobody has time for anything unless it involves Facebook or Instagram. So people won’t take the time to get cozy,
and absorb a new album from start to finish there are WAAAY too many distractions. So, I guess I miss that. But one thing I DON’T miss from the old days, is incompetent dimwits from the record label trying to tell me my business jaja. Since I’m responsible to make all my own records now, at least I get to do them my own way, not the ‘record company’ way. So there’s good, bad, and just…different. It was a different era, and it will never come back.

M: The song "In the Kingdom" (1991), had a great repercussion also in the radios, in addition to having won the prize Dove like an album. When did this song born and how was your personal life in that moment?

Rex C: Here’s a little story about the song In The Kingdom. It was written by Dez Dickerson, one of the only Whitecross songs not written by the band itself. We had just signed with the Starsong record label, and they wanted a song for us that would broaden our appeal beyond just the rock and metal crowd. For the big gospel choir thing at the end, our producer called the musician’s union in Chicago. He said “I need two black gospel singers” so they gave him the numbers. He called the first one and she said “fine, I’ll do it but I want to be paid UNION SCALE wages”. Simon our producer says “ok, how much is that?” and she says “I don’t know but I want UNION SCALE” jajajaja. So then he calls the other girl and she says “how much is the first girl getting?” Simon says “I guess we have to pay her union scale but I don’t know how much that is, do you know?” And she says “I have no idea but if the first girl is getting UNION SCALE then I WANT UNION SCALE, TOO!” jajajajajaja. I do remember the night they came over to the studio, and Simon started working them from scratch to build the vocal chorus. There was literally nothing on the tape except guitar, bass and drums. He worked them and worked them and worked them, and ran them into the ground haha. After 4 hours it was sounding amazing, so I left and went home. Later on I heard he worked them for about 8 hours just on that one song. To this day, I have NO IDEA how much is UNION SCALE wages!

M: "King James" is the official version of the Anglican Bible, just like the name of your band. Was this the reason you chose the name?

Rex C: That story is actually quite simple. My own mom said to me, the name Rex means “King” in Latin. And Jimi’s given name is “James” so why don’t we simply combine our names and call the band “King James”? So, that was easy.

M: How came the idea of joining with Jimi Bennett, Robert Sweet and Tim Gaines?

Rex. C: In 1993 I met Robert and Tim on a European festival date, when Whitecross was on the same bill as Stryper. This was during a time when Michael Sweet had quit the band to go solo, and the rest of the guys were in total dissaray. Jimi suggested I give a call to Robert so I did, and Robert recommended Tim also. It all came together very quickly and the four of us became the original lineup of King James. I kind of had a feeling it wouldn’t last forever but it was fun while we did it. Sure enough, Stryper got back together which is the best thing for them, and in the long run, it was also good for King James to get to a more stable lineup of the same guys in the band.

M: What was the experience of reuniting in 2012 and recording MaXimus? Any anecdotes please!!

Rex.C: There were some amazing things that happened in 2012- I was offered a recording contract with a new label called Madison Line Records, and they wanted to do things the old fashioned way. They gave me a huge budget that allowed us to do everything we wanted to do to make a great album. The first thing we did is hire the GREAT John Lawry, who has become my friend; he is ENORMOUSLY talented in many ways and was just terrific with the band in the studio. I didn’t really know who he was, but Jimi (King James singer) kept bugging me about “John Lawry this, John Lawry that” jeje and also our manager at the time also is a big fan of John, so there was a lot of pressure for me to go in that direction. Once I met him it was immediately comfortable, and I have to tell you, there have been several records I have done previously that were NOT in a good relationship with the producer or the engineer. So on this record, John was the engineer and I was the producer; I insisted I wanted that role just to make sure that somebody is advocating for the band at all times. Working together, we made a GREAT album.
And here’s another bit of trivia; all those old Whitecross albums…we always had studio musicians on every album. There’s a variety of reasons for that, mainly the band wasn’t very good in the early days. And then the record company always wants to stick their finger into your group and try to tell you what THEY think is best. And in the old days, they got away with it, because they’re fronting the money. But I’m an old coot now and I’ve made so many records, I’ve seen most of the things that go wrong with bands, and things that go wrong in the studio. So with the “MAXIMUS” album, we made sure that we were going to have all the guys who are in the live band, actually play on the record. That’s probably something that most bands wouldn’t even think about, but for me, it took years and years and years until I finally got to connect with fabulous musicians such as Benny Ramos and Michael Feighan. Not only are they fabulous musicians, but they’re also great guys, too.
And at the end of the day, if I would give ONE observation about the musician’s life, is this: the hardest thing you will ever do as a musician is 1) Try to put a band together and 2) try to KEEP it together. That’s it….that’s all there is. If you can keep a group together for 20 years, then you can actually accomplish things. But most groups constantly have guys coming and going… egos, attitudes, prima donnas, screw-ups, can’t show up to rehearsal, drugs, etc etc etc.
So the bottom line for me is, we rehearsed together as a band; we recorded the album together as a band; we lived together as a band; we shared the credit for everything that went RIGHT together as a band; and….we’re still together as a band. That’s all I can tell you.

M: The Rex Carrol Band transmits a Blues-Rock experience of excellence with different moods in each song and invades us of a very special climate that is enjoyed in each chord, taking us to the south of the USA. With your voice, your guitar, the incredible companion of choirs, I would say: Awesome! This is your thing Rex !! Haha. What does this production mean for you? Is there a possibility of another album?

Rex. C: In 1998, I had no future…my life was over. The music business, for me, had died. No record label, no money, no gigs, nothing. And I didn’t have any options. Nobody wanted an old
guitar player like myself who was a product of the 80’s. Especially the christian bands. DC Talk was the thing, and Skillet I guess. Hey more power to ‘em but there was no room in the inn for Rex. So, I went back to the music I grew up on, which is classic rock from the 70’s, blues, and southern rock. I got with a local cover band and we started gigging around. It was hard; I had to learn how to sing and play guitar and front the band all at the same time. I’m not the greatest singer in the world, by no means but I do pretty good, if I have the right songs. Little by little it got better. We made some fans and people generally liked us okay. Eventually I started writing songs for the RCB. One’s creativity has to come out, I guess… so if I can’t write for Whitecross or King James, then I’m gonna write for the RexCarrollBand. And my vocals got better.
At that time, I also started building my own studio. My friend and bass player Antonio Acevedo has helped TREMENDOUSLY towards building my confidence as a performer, and we are both interested in the studio world. The songs on the RexCarrollBand album were written and recorded at my home studio over a three-year period from approximately 2000-2003, give or take. I have to give Tony credit for helping to keep that ball rolling and moving forward, because I know I never could have done it on my own. Once the recording was done, we sat on it for about six years. I didn’t know what to do with it, it’s not a “christian” album by any means…so I hesitated to shop it to “christian” record labels. But finally Matt Hunt came along from retroactive records and convinced me to let him put it out. Retroactive is a christian label, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. But at the end of the day I’m glad it finally came out. Because it’s a very good album, has sold a ton of copies, and the youtube views are fantastic! So to answer your question…yes absolutely I hope to do more with this music, for sure.

M: Who are your favorite musicians, your referent?

Rex. C: Well, continuing with the RexCarrollBand discussion, there’s a musician that many of you in Argentina have never heard of who is a great influence on my own style. That would be Stevie Ray Vaughan, and I highly recommend him to you as perhaps one of the greatest examples of the American musical sound. Stevie played American Blues and was well on his way to becoming an international superstar, performing with Eric Clapton and David Bowie. Tragically, he died in a helicopter crash 25 years ago. He’s generally considered one of the all-time great guitar players alongside of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy Page.

M: I see that you have been interested in social networks and videos in which you give lessons on how to play guitar, classes in Skype, websites etc. That's great, thinking that many still resist using them. Do you like new technologies?

Rex.C: Haha no, I hate new technology!! You kids and your cellphones, get out of here! I just want to watch the football game onT.V., so LEAVE ME ALONE jajajaja.
Actually, new technology is good, for the recording studio. So it’s not ALL bad…and it’s cool to be able to do guitar lessons online with people. I’ve had several Skype students from Europe, but NONE from Argentina. So…what’s up with that, hmmm???

M: Rex, you are considered one of the best guitarists on the rock scene, being a great example of "Shred guitar". Are you satisfied with what you have managed to express with your guitar?

Rex.C: Noouu…I am not really a shredder, at least not in my own mind. To me, I hear the word ‘shred’ and I think ‘fast’. And, not necessarily musical. And it scares me to death, too. Have you SEEN these 12 year old kids on Instagram tearing it up?? Jaja I can’t do that!! But I play fast enough for the things that I want to do. And for me, it’s about getting the right riff in the right place at the right time, with the right sound and the right tone. So on that level, yeah I’d say I’ve improved my game, and it’s always improving incrementally. But the most important thing, to me, is to try to make a sound on the guitar that moves somebody. I want you to feel what I feel when I play, so I’m ALWAYS thinking about “what is going to make people react?” ; and then I try to go to whatever that is. Sometimes it means playing as fast as I can, yes, a little shredding here and there jaja. Sometimes it means making you feel the same pain that I feel in a song through a tortured note, and sometimes it means just playing with total feeling and always, I put my heart and soul into it.

M: For Rex Carrol, what must an artist have to impact and endure with his message and his music?

Rex.C: I think the best compliment somebody can ever give you as a guitar player is when they say “I heard a new song on the radio and immediately I knew that it was you”. And that means, you have a style and a sound that is uniquely your own voice and your own stamp. Everybody plays the same gear, the same guitars, and the same amps. So, to make your own signature that is always present, is what is necessary for people to understand that it’s you they are hearing. Think about all the great players— Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page just to name a few. They all have their own distinct voice and when you hear them, you know immediately where they want to take you with their music. My goal is to express the emotions that can’t be said with words alone, and create something that adds beauty, inspiration, and value to the world.

M: Finally, why do you sing to God on your records?

Rex.C: I have no problem with acknowledging God as the author of all creativity. I believe that man is made in God’s image; therefore making music is one of the ways we mimic God, the creator of all music. Furthermore, I know that by nature, I am not a good person. I’ve made mistakes on the one hand, and I have hurt people on the other hand. I know I’m guilty of all kinds of bad things - lying, stealing, cheating, selfishness, greed, and on and on. But I also believe that God has created a bridge for me. When I was hopelessly lost and unable to set things on the right path, even then, God created a way out, through Jesus. I’m so grateful! Read the gospel of John. Then read the book of Romans. Discover that God is there for you, too, and you can have purpose, meaning, and direction in your life. Without God, what do you have left? An impersonal universe where you are here today and gone tomorrow? That is a road that leads only to misery. But I believe that God is there, and Jesus is the way to God. Don’t take my word for it, read the gospel for yourself! It’s a deep part of who I am, so, it is only natural that music should reflect my convictions about the awesomeness of God.

M: What I can say Rex, it´s a pleasure to do this interview! Thank you so much for your time. Receive our admiration and our constant prayer!

Rex.C: Well Thank you, Claudia, and I hope to see everybody in Argentina soon!

| Claudia Saavedra

Trabajo en Prensa y Difusión - Directora Gral. en Metalbreed Magazine - Dirección y conducción en Programa de Radio Raza Metalera - Psicóloga Social.
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