A new supergroup is gearing up to dominate the rock scene this summer, and there’s no messing around when it comes to the talent packed in this high-caliber trio. Featuring Glenn Hughes (bass, vocals), Jason Bonham (drums) and newcomer Andrew Watt (guitar), California Breed are set to make their debut self-titled album available worldwide through a staggered release that ends in the U.S. on May 20. Earlier this week, we checked in with Hughes to learn about the making of the record.
California Breed is set to release its debut album later this week – congratulations! How will you be celebrating?
I’ve been doing this a long time. I relish in the now; I love the moment. I’ve done things in the past that have done well, but I’m all about the now and about this moment. Nostalgia isn’t the thing for me, but I’m super proud of what we’ve accomplished.
When you hear this album, you’ve got to remember that we haven’t played any live shows. It’s interesting to think, “How could they do that and sound so proficient already without playing any shows?” I think it’s a really cool recording.
How did California Breed come together?
It’s a really simple story, and it’s one I’ve told many times. A dear friend of mine, Julian Lennon, was in town last February, the night before the Grammys. Julian was having an art exhibition for his wonderful photographs. I was there and Julian kept coming over to me. Then he said, “There’s somebody I want you to meet.” It was this young man Andrew Watt, this young guy from New York City. We started to talk; he was really interesting to me. I asked if he had anything he could send me so I could listen to his work, and he did just that. I thought it was exceptionally good, and I asked if he was available to come to my home in L.A. in the next couple of weeks. He came out, and in the first day we wrote “Chemical Rain” and “Solo.” Then I called Jason up and the next day we went in and recorded. That’s the real story of how we got together. I want to thank Julian for that, really. I guess Jason and I could have gone with another kind of guitar player, someone who was properly well known. But we wanted to tour, and to tour you have to have three individuals who are ready to go. That’s another reason we got Andrew – he’s really talented and he’s ready to go.
Your guitarist is from New York, and both you and Jason are English. Where does the “California” in “California Breed” come from?
Right. I am from the Black Country of England – you know that from the band I was in before with Joe [Bonamassa] and Derek [Sherinian] and Jason. The Black Country is like a segment of the UK: one million people live in the area. Very industrial, middle of England, coal mining, steel…and Black Country Communion was a great name for the band because that’s where half of us were from.
I moved to California in 1973. I’ve been living here ever since – I love California. In one of the songs, “Solo,” which is actually a bonus track, I sing “California breed acceleration.” I brought it back to the guys because we were trying for months to come up with a name – and, low and behold, everyone’s got the names we wanted. Then I came up with this idea that I’d written in the song, and it kind of stuck. I like the California thing – I like having that magenta, purple, orange logo. Black Country was very dark and mysterious, very 19th century, and this is all very now.
I am a man of the moment. I do enjoy a lot of different kinds of rock music. When I came back with Black Country about four years ago, we had success, and I realized when the band broke up, “What am I going to do now?” I needed to continue in the vein of rock because I made my name all those years ago in Deep Purple as a rock artist. I’m not trying to be retro – I am retro, I’m from the 1960s. This album sounds very akin to what Jason and I are, really. The kinds of things we grew up with, with his dad and Zeppelin and me in Purple, it was kind of that thing. We’re not trying to sound like anybody. I think what we’ve done here is we’ve come up with our own sound and style.
With Andrew, what Jason and I did successfully here was we did not try to recreate Black Country. We didn’t want to have Black Country Communion Part Two, and I didn’t particularly want to have a guitar player that played or sounded like Joe because it would have been wrong. When we think of Keith Richards, he’s a very right-handed guitar player, and Angus Young and Townshend: very right-handed. Andrew is from that ilk of guitar player. He’s only 23. But he started listening to Zeppelin when he was only 4 or 5 years old. When I listen to Andrew’s technique, it’s very late-1960s – but not ‘70s or ‘80s. It’s grungier than Eddie Van Halen, and Eddie’s a good friend of mine. But I didn’t particularly want that in this band. I think we did really well by getting Andrew in this band because, yeah he’s an unknown, but let’s hear the album; let’s let the album percolate with us for a while, let us come to you, let us play, let us get on the stage. That’s what we want to do.
What was the recording process like for this album?
There’s one thing that’s different on this, one thing that’s really different. Yes, it’s live drums; yes, it’s live guitar. But Dave Cobb produced it in Nashville in the studio, and while Jason and Andrew were cutting the guitar and drums, he said, “Glenn, do you have the lyrics?” I said, “I do.” He said, “Do you have the melodies?” I said, “Yes, I do.” I always like to go in prepared. He suggested, “Why don’t you go to the mic in the vocal booth and just sing with the guys and lead them during the recording.” So I said, “Okay, I’ll do that.”
So at the end of the 12, 13 tracks we made, I hooked up the bass in the control room, which was a first for me. It was kind of fun. The next day, after a long sleep, I went back to the studio and said, “Now I’m going to sing.” And Cobb said, “Well…you’ve already sung the album.” I knew I was actually recording what we were doing, but I wasn’t sure it was going to be the end result. When I sing, I’m always in the moment; I never normally sing an album more than twice or three times, because then it becomes like a job rather than for fun, you know? So, for the first time in 45 years I recorded an album vocally from start to finish live. Now I can’t imagine going back to do it any other way. I think Dave Cobb was a real magician for me; he really helped all of us with our own art.
When we got together, we met in L.A. for a couple days, and then for six or 10 weeks we’d either get together at my place in L.A. or at Jason’s place in Florida. We would all bring songs in that we started, and then we would finish them – like I would finish something of Andrew’s, he’d finish something of mine and Jason would finish something. What I really wanted in this band was a collaborative effort, and not just in the music. I wanted a group conscious toward the writing; I wanted everybody to have the ability to speak up and be heard, which I think we did really well. I don’t think you can tell who’s 23 and who’s 62 – I don’t think you can hear it here. I didn’t set out to sound like anybody other than me. I think Jason played the best drums he’s ever played on the album, and Andrew’s been a really good lifesaver in the way that his approach is pretty fearless.
In what ways has California Breed been a challenging or eye-opening project for you as a musician?
Jason and I spoke about this early on, before Andrew came in, when we were talking about continuing playing after Black Country. We both agreed on one thing: we didn’t want to have keyboards. I have been trying for so many years to get back to just guitar, bass and drums. When I think of my favorite bands from my era, back in the 1970s there were really no keyboard players. Deep Purple was the only major keyboard band, and we had Jon Lord, who was the greatest. But I wanted to get back to being in a trio, which I haven’t done for ages. So for Jason and I, it didn’t matter who was going to play guitar: we wanted to have a trio. With that, there are more holes in the music and there’s more sparseness. There’s more light and shade, there’s more push and more pull. When one person overplays, somebody underplays; this can only really happen in this format.
What’s next for you and California Breed?
I have a calendar of about 18 months for this next album. We’re going to do a couple of shows coming up in L.A. and New York, and in September we’re going to start the touring cycle. Something I haven’t done for quite some time is have an album come out in a band and tour it across the globe within a 14-, 16- or 18- month window, which a lot of bands do. That’s what the plan is for me, and we hope to do that. We really believe in this album, and we look forward to seeing everybody on the road.
Interview by Meghan Roos