Best Things You've Never Heard, International — December 15, 2020 at 6:03 am

Jess Harnell of Rock Sugar


“The cool thing about it that’s really great is that if you ever liked anything about metal or pop or the 80’s this is your band because it takes the stuff that you already love and gives it to you in a new way combined with other stuff that you’ll love even if sometimes you won’t admit that you love it.”

From campaign: What is Rock Sugar?! Rock Sugar is tough to describe… It’s kind of a cover band, except they don’t play any traditional covers. It’s kind of a mashup band, except they don’t make any traditional mashups and NEVER use any samples of any kind. Rock Sugar takes the best and biggest pop hits of the 80’s (and with the new album, pop hits all the way up to today!) and mashes them up with hard rock and heavy metal classics! Throw in the fact that it’s fronted by Jess Harnell, the voice of your childhood (Animaniacs, Transformers, Crash Bandicoot, Rick and Morty), and Rock Sugar truly is a one of a kind experience!

At home, we gave our mate Jess Harnell of Rock Sugar a call to talk about the amazing Rock Sugar, the band, their Kickstarter campaign for the new Rock Sugar album ‘ReInventinator’, the process of making a mash-up, 2020, and so much more… we can tell you that Rock Sugar are by far one of the Best Things You’ve Never Heard! Trust us when we say check this band out…

OK, Jess, for those that aren’t aware of the amazingness of Rock Sugar, can you give us the abridged version of the Rock Sugar story…
Well basically the Rock Sugar story came about, Troy, because my mind works in really weird ways and I’m the first person to admit it, and years and years ago I’ve always had this proclivity for singing Steve Perry stuff, Steve Perry was always my favourite singer and some guy happened to hear me and Chuck, Chuck is the guitar player singing a Journey tune at Karaoke or something and said “Hey I have this island resort and I can’t pay you guys but if you’ll fly out there we’ll take care of flying you out, we’ll get you a great place to stay, you can do all these activities for free and you sing four Journey songs every day at sunset for everybody.” I thought well that sounds like the easiest gig ever, so we went and we kayaked, we trapezed, and ate grapes and did all these great things. We were sitting on the beach and I said dude, you know what would be a great idea for a band? I said imagine if like an 80’s hair metal band, our favourites like Def Leppard or Guns N’ Roses, they got shipwrecked, it’s the end of the 80’s on a deserted island and had nothing to listen to but pop hits from the 80’s, and it eventually brainwashed them into thinking that metal and pop were the same thing, that pop was metal and metal was pop. He said, well how would that work? I said I don’t know man, like you could play ‘Enter Sandman’ and I could sing ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ over it and we could call it ‘Don’t Stop The Sandman’. So we tried it and sure enough it worked and yes we had to mess with a few things to make it fit but over all it worked. So we filmed a video, the video went viral, all of a sudden we had all these offers to play all these huge shows and had millions of hits on videos and we’re opening up on bills for Aerosmith and AC/DC and Linkin Park for crowds of 50,000 people looking at each other backstage going this was just a goof, it started as a goof! The cool thing about it that’s really great is that if you ever liked anything about metal or pop or the 80’s this is your band because it takes the stuff that you already love and gives it to you in a new way combined with other stuff that you’ll love even if sometimes you won’t admit that you love it. I’ll never forget one of my favourite images of the whole Rock Sugar experience was playing at the Download festival the second time and I think there were like 70,000 people in front of us and we were doing this song called ‘Shook Me Like A Prayer’ which is a combination of AC/DC’s ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ and Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ and I’m looking out there and I’m looking at all these biker guys in their cut off Slayer t-shirts and their huge moustaches singing along to Madonna and that is something that you don’t see every day *laughs*. That was a very cool thing, Troy and that’s still what we’re trying to do, and we’ll talk about the return of Rock Sugar, but from the beginning the intent of this was always for people to have fun to let yourself have a good time and that’s what it’s done and that’s what it has been about.

You guys brought out one of the most amazing albums in 2010 with ‘ReImaginator’, and now you’re back with a Kickstarter campaign for awesomely named ‘ReInventinator!’ Give us a bit of an idea behind the campaign and why this was the best way for you to get your music to the world…
Dude great question and thank you for the compliment on the name that thing I don’t even know where that came to me, but I thought well ReImaginator… ReInventinator… that works. Basically we are in a unique set of circumstances and I can’t tell you publicly although we’re buds so I can tell you sometime off the record but we actually got sued off the first album and the thing is I do a lot of voices, that’s my primary occupation I always thought I was going to be a rock star but I became a studio singer before I became a voice actor but I became a voice actor and I’ve worked on all these very popular movies and TV shows that you’ll know like Anamaniacs, Rick & Morty, and Transformers and everything in between, I’ve done voices for pretty much everything. So I’m pretty good at changing my voice and mimicking people, and all over the Rock Sugar album as you know, Troy I’m imitating singers, well one singer heard a track from the Rock Sugar album and I guess the impression was a little too close because he actually sued us for sampling his voice which we did not do, we’ve never sampled anyone or anything, no vocals are sampled, no instruments are sampled it’s all us but the impression was really good. So he sued us and said you can’t use my voice without permission I’m suing you, so we had to go to court with this guy who’s one of my favourite singers of all time and prove that it wasn’t him singing, but at the end of the day it was thing whole kind of legal mish mosh that they said “well when we granted rights for this stuff we didn’t realise it was derivative works which is more complicated than standard covers” because we don’t really do covers we change things drastically and they said “and therefore you can not sell your music online, you can’t sell it on Amazon, you can’t sell it on Spotify, you can’t sell it on iTunes. You can play live but you can’t sell your music online.” OK, well shoot…

Then a couple of years ago, maybe four years ago we said ok, you know what man, we’ve got all these great ideas, the first album was so well received we got to do all these great things and we’ve had a few years off, let’s make a new album and make sure it’s better than the first and I’ll tell you more about that in a minute. So we did, got the album all done and thought well we can’t sell this thing so how are we going to get people to hear it? The problem is it’s not even about making money it’s about paying for stuff because when you make an album and as you know Troy, on the first album ‘ReImaginator’ the production was really high level, and on this album it’s higher level, it’s even higher, and so that doesn’t come cheap, that’s a lot of time in the studio, that’s a lot of time getting things just right, obviously any royalties that have to get paid we’re gonna make sure we pay those, we have to pay for videos, we have to pay for production costs, we have to pay for photographs and licensing and there’s a lot of stuff and a lot of costs that go into it. So we said what’s a creative way that we can cover these costs while at the same time sticking to rule number one which is again, how can people have fun with this? How can we make it fun? So I said you know what? We’ll do a Kickstarter, we’ll give the music away and they can get all kinds of other cool shit that we’ll throw in there whether it’s the bottom level which is a Rock Sugar logo face mask, all the way to coming and hanging out with the band at a party, or whatever else is on that thing. There are so many things on there and they’re all really fun and in addition to those things we’re saying and here’s the music for you to enjoy on top of that so it’s creating fun. Plus there’s going to be a scavenger hunt we’re doing all kinds of giveaways, there’s things where you can participate in a virtual record release party with the band where we listen to the record top to bottom and take comments and answer questions, then there’s a live party and live performance, and all kinds of stuff. So we were just looking for a way seeing as Rock Sugar is a creatively driven project as it is we thought well what’s the best way to market it and this seemed like the best way, and what I like is if you jump on the Kickstarter page and whether or not you choose to back it go on there anyway and just watch some of the videos because we made a dag video about being locked up in a basement that’s really funny, and there’s all kinds of music videos and there’s bonus clips you can listen to and all kinds of other really fun stuff. Again, its just about having a good time and I think the Kickstarter page does that really well.

So can you take us on a journey of creating a Rock Sugar mashup?
Yes, it’s kind of interesting *laughs* each one is different and I’ll sidebar with this Troy just to get your mind working and this I’m not gonna tell you, you can hear it and then tell me what you thought of it, we are very ambitious in some of these tunes, I think on ‘Reimaginator’ the first album I think the highest number of songs we had represented in one tune was five, right? Well on this new album that’s like child’s play because a lot of them have five, one of them has twelve, ok, twelve songs in one song, and all twelve of those songs are by two bands that have nothing in common, they have no common ground except they’re both awesome and you can’t even imagine and if I told you these two bands which I won’t you’d say there’s no way that those two things go together, but they totally do and it’s basically this thing is like our magnum opus, it’s our ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ I don’t know how we’re gonna top it, so if we do a third album we’re gonna have a hard time doing that. So in putting the mashups together, my favourite anecdote to simplify it for you is to tell you this… when ‘Don’t Stop The Sandman’ came about which was the Journey and Metallica thing which is still online, you can go onto YouTube and watch that it’s really fun. We were sitting on the beach and I said “what if we combined Metallica and Journey” and it was just the first thing I thought of, and Chucky goes “Yeah how would that work?” and I go *starts singing it* “we could do that” and he went “hang on a minute” and he starts playing it “yeah yeah that would be great” and I’m just like “woo hoo”. Then it was Chucky’s turn to come up with a song, we’re really good partners and we work very well together, we come back off the island and he goes into a studio and four days later he calls me up and says “Dude, you’ve gotta hear this” and sends me this thing and it’s a skeleton track and what a skeleton track is you where you take part of the original album and you assemble them in Pro Tools and it’s a train wreck because all the keys are different and they don’t sound smooth and the transitions are terrible but it’ a way to get the ideas for the arrangement for the song. He goes “Look man, I’ve combined Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ with Motley Crue’s ‘Kickstart My Heart’ check it out, ‘We Will Kickstart Your Rhapsody.” And I go “Oh my god” and he played it for me and said “I’ve worked on it for four days it’s really good” and I said “Dude it’s fantastic you did such a great job” and I had gone over to his studio to hear it and he played it for me and I said “Wow that’s great I’ve gotta go do a cartoon” and he goes “Whoa, dude, nope it’s your turn you’ve gotta come up with a song” and I go “But I’ve gotta go, I’m running late” and he goes “No you’ve gotta come up with a song” and I said “shoot shoot… ok hang on let’s do it right now let’s get it out of the way” and I go “what’s a great riff?” he goes “Crazy Train” Ozzy Osbourne, so I go *sings riff* and the verse goes “Jessie is a friend….” I go “Dude you could sing ‘Jessie’s Girl’” and he goes “Wait a minute, no you couldn’t” and I go “yeah, yeah try it” and he goes “You son of a bitch.” That took me like fifteen seconds *laughs* and that’s not to say that they all did that and they were all that easy but I just think it’s funny because you’ve got Chuck over there like Beethoven’s laboratory and I would throw things out in thirty seconds.

On this new one, the cool thing about the new album is that’s basically how it works, and on the new album what I wanted to do and I’m so excited about it, bro, because when we used to play shows you would look out there and because the songs we are doing are so part of the world’s consciousness and that’s another reason I love Rock Sugar because you know all these songs so well but you don’t know them like this, and we would look out there and we would see fifteen year olds singing along with fifty year olds and that’s a beautiful thing to bring everyone together. On this album we wanted to please Rock Sugar diehards and on the first video we released we did that, actually we’ve put two videos out now, we still do the 80’s thing but the classic 80’s pop song or two or three and a classic 80’s metal song or two or three and put those together we still do that, but on the new album about half the tunes are 80’s metal with today’s pop, in other words now you get your Motely Crue and your Katy Perry at the same time or whatever it happens to be. What I love about that is when we do shows now there’s gonna be ten year olds our there that know these songs as well as fifty year olds who know these songs, so it’s really really cool and it’s really fun because it’s something for everybody, man, and all these biker guys that were singing along to Madonna I bet if you put a gun to their head they wouldn’t listen to Madonna but they liked that tune because at the end of the day all these tunes are really great songs, you don’t have to put labels on them just like people, you don’t have to say well I only like this one type of people, no man, if people are cool you like everybody, if they’re not you don’t like it because it’s not cool but it has nothing to do with a label. The same thing with music, it’s like this music is fun music and it’s good music whether we did it or someone else did it, they’re great songs.

The thing I love about Rock Sugar is that you can’t not be happy when listening to your songs like it’s a nostalgia overload, but now with these new songs mashed with 80’s rock it’s what I’m coining as NOWstalgia if you get what I mean. 
Nowstalgia, dude can I steal that? That’s the best word I’ve ever heard to describe it and that’s exactly what it is, going with your point but I love that word. It’s a perfect bridge, bro, because as you just said about classic metal it’s all still there but unfortunately and this is just the way it is there isn’t a lot of classic metal being done any more you know what I mean? I feel bad for kids now but I got to grow up with Def Leppard and Motley Crue and Guns N Roses and bands like that and someone asked me the other day who would you say are some exciting contemporary rock bands? And I said “rock bands?” they said “yeah” I said “that are making noise, that the world knows, that people know their songs?” they said “yeah” I said “well there’s two” I said and that would be Nickelback and Foo Fighters and they’ve both been around for twenty five years, there hasn’t been a new original rock band that has really created a stir where I’d buy all your music. I get all the music from Scandinavia and Sweden and Germany and Italy all the Frontiers guys and support the hell out of them and it breaks my heart that more people don’t know who they are because if it was the 80’s they would be Bon Jovi, they would be enormous. There is no classic rock for the future being made now and that’s a shame, so maybe what’s kind of cool in our latest video and this is kind of a fun thing for me we put together the video that just launched and I really hope that you do me a favour and just take a couple of minutes and head over to YouTube or on the Kickstarter page and put in ‘Rock Sugar Shout’ and it’ll come up, it’s a song called ‘Shout At The Devil Dog All Night’ and it’s a combination of ‘Shout’ by Tears For Fears with ‘Shout At The Devil’ by Motely, with ‘Up All Night’ by Slaughter who by the way Mark Slaughter makes a cameo in the video as things would be, and also ‘Black Dog’ by Led Zeppelin of course these songs don’t belong together but that’s why it’s so awesome. What’s killer about it we have all these celebrity cameos in it, like these people from geek culture, TV, and music, and pop culture, and everybody is going to know everyone in this video for that reason but what I love about it is the first person to kind of say let’s just do something that’s pure fun with pop music, rock music or whatever is Al Yankovic, well Al’s in this video. Then there came along a band called Steel Panther, who we’ve played with and we love those guys, and we’re like they were kind of in a way responsible for Rock Sugar because I used to go and see them and they’re doing something different they’re not being a tribute band, and I didn’t want to be a tribute band and I thought I like what they’re doing, it’s not right for us but they were definitely an inspiration and Michael Starr from Steel Panther is in the video too. So there’s all these people that you’re gonna see in the video and I just like that the guys who kind of set the bar and trying to make that kind of music fun again and inject some into music are both in our video and I’m very, very honoured by that.

So has there been a song you would’ve loved to use that you just couldn’t make work?
That’s a good question, you know what? How do I say this without giving away the score, man? There was a song that was a pop record about three years ago that was a huge hit, fantastic song, man, I don’t want to give anything away but boy first time I heard this song it’s one of those songs that when you heard it for the first time you say this has to be a hit from years ago that’s been covered here because it’s such a strong song and this guy is really wow, unbelievable, huge hit. So we met and I said to Chucky, I think it’s gonna go that’ll be the pop thing the current song and I can tell you this because we didn’t end up using it, I think it’s gonna go with Twisted Sister’s ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ and that’ll be great as people will be chanting and raising their fists in the air during ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ and then we kick into the pop thing and that’ll be great. So we got together at Chuck’s place and got out the guitar and then Troy, we worked on that idea for about an hour twenty five minutes and we just couldn’t make it stick, it just didn’t fit right. You know when you put your foot in a pair of shoes and it just doesn’t feel right? *laughs* well this was that. So we said let’s try it another time and maybe we can think of a better tune to put with it but that was so disappointing because I really wanted to use that song right? So we’re turning out the lights, closing the door to the studio, shut the door and I go “wait a minute what about this song?” and I thought about another quazi metal song, a hard rock song and I said “couldn’t that verse fit this really well and couldn’t we then mess with the chorus like this?” we sat back down and in fifteen minutes the whole thing was finished. So the heavens were smiling upon on us and hallelujah we sat back down and we reinventinated this song that we had just about given up on and it’s one of my favourites on the new album, this thing has so much energy and it will blow your head off. I can’t wait to play live because as great as the first record was and as high energy as it was this thing will just explodes it man, it really does, when you hear it in context I’m more proud of this than anything I’ve ever recorded hands down, not even close.

I think the important question is when is it going to be available to hear?!
Well now that’s the great question, you can like I said by joining the Kickstarter you’re going to hear everything first, the way it’s gonna roll out is I believe everything is going to be sent to everybody from what I’ve been told in February, we’ll shoot for the middle certainly by the end of February everything should be in hand. Now, if people don’t support the Kickstarter they’re still going to be able to find the songs eventually because what we’re gonna do is have a monthly scavenger hunt where we’re gonna plant some songs on the internet under an assumed name and you’re gonna have to hunt for it and when you find it you can have the song it’ll just take you a lot longer, but you get all at one time, artwork, there’s fun things, there’s all kinds of things to participate in that I mentioned that’ll all be February but if you choose not to do that by the next February you can have every song anyway.

Well I know that I can’t wait to hear it because I’m excited about it!
Dude you know what? You’re not as excited as hearing about it as I am you hearing it because we’ve worked so hard on it, Troy and you know there’s a feeling you get… like it’s the holidays right now and my girl and I were watching some holiday movies and we were watching ‘Elf’ that Will Ferrell movie and I’m watching it and I turned to her and said “do you think they knew when they were making this how good it really was?” because everybody sets out to make a movie or an album or whatever you’re making everybody has high intentions and great hopes and you really want it to be great and for people to embrace it and love it and you can only hope that they do, right? Well, the thing is with this record like I said, I don’t live and die by anybody’s opinion but my own and the people that I love but I cannot imagine that anyone who liked anything about the first album isn’t gonna go this thing blew my head off, it’s almost like remember the good old days when you would buy albums and they would take you somewhere when you listen to the first track through to the last track and you go “what just happened, man, oh my god there was so much there and it made me feel something and it took me and it made me smile and it made me feel sad and it made me laugh, I’ve gotta hear that album again” and that’s also fallen by the wayside because of streaming, but when you hear this album from top to bottom it’s gonna take you on a journey like a surprise party where the presents don’t stop coming and people keep popping up in your face and screaming surprise at you. It’s gonna be frickin’ amazing, like I said please folks check out the videos, check out the band, go into it with no expectations and I really hope you’ll dig it.

So let’s touch on this year for a second, how has 2020 been treating you?
2020 man it’s been a year that I wouldn’t have believed was going to happen had you told me about it last year, or even in my lifetime I’ve been around a while and haven’t seen anything like this and hope to never see anything like it again. Now on the positive side me and my wife and our friends and stuff like that we’re all pretty much hanging in there, everybody’s okay, we’re getting by, things are alright and could be a heck of a lot worse. What bothers me is that I just have tendency to feel a lot of empathy for people and I know when I am seeing a lot of the hardships that are on people all over the world as a result of this thing and it breaks my heart. I see people that I care for, their businesses go down, their restaurants close, their stores close, they’re having to move and all kinds of things, it’s just catastrophic. The way I always try to find an optimistic way to look at things if I can and I’m looking at it now as this vaccine is now done and starting to circulate, no matter what I know there’s a lot of different viewpoints on vaccines but all I can say is that I know it’s gonna change things for the better, whether or not you’re a fan of vaccines enough people are that millions and millions and millions of people are going to get it which is going to I think the world breathing a sigh of relief and after this year there will be a sigh of happy tears you know what I mean?

From it what’s the one thing 2020 has taught you that you’ll now maintain throughout your life?
Well you know that’s a good question, but the thing about it is I consciously strive and one of the most important things that I live by is the principal of gratitude, and I’m grateful every day and I give thanks every day, and I pray every day, and am just appreciative of everything that I have all the time. No matter what I’m doing if I see a clock say 11:11 or 1:11 I stop what I’m doing and I give thanks, and say “hey up there, thank you so much, I appreciate everything, help me be worthy and help me be the best that I can” so I’ve always been a very grateful person. Now, 2020 has taught us and if there’s a principal that 2020 has shown it’s that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone, and the cool thing for me personally and it’s just the way I was wired, I’ve always appreciated everything.

So when we go like for instance there are restaurants here in California that have opened and shut and those poor folks, man, they’ve had their livelihood teased to them like okay you’ve gotta shut down, now we’re gonna let you seat people and you can seat eight people inside, now you can’t do that anymore, now they have to sit outside but they have to be six feet apart, no no no, now we’re gonna shut down outside for three weeks then you can open again and we’ll try it outside with five people and they’re doing all this stuff, so when we were finally able to go back into a restaurant my wife and I sat down and we’re friends with a lot of the servers and owners at these places and I said “it’s so good to see you” and I would be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate it before but I appreciate it even more now  so I think that after 2020 what it’s gonna do for me personally man is just heighten that sense of appreciation, when I’m in a room, when I’m standing on a stage in front of thousands of people and I can actually see their smiles again and this is no lie I will probably start to cry because one of the things that sucks the hardest about all of this with the mask thing, by the way wear your mask, keep people safe, be respectful man, even if you don’t believe in it other people do, so wear your mask don’t be part of the problem, right? So when I’m up there and on a stage and I look out and I see people smiling I will feel so much gratitude that I can’t even put it into words.

Lastly let’s predict and look ahead to the future, so finish this sentence for me, in 2021 Rock Sugar will…
Oh wow, will part of that I just have to say pre-emptively part of that is dependent on the world *laughs* but let’s be positive and let’s assume that as I am expecting and hoping for and expectations are like answered prayers before they’re even answered, I’m hoping by late spring that things are gonna be a lot better than they are now. So in 2021 Rock Sugar will see the ‘ReInventinator’ album not only released but embraced to an even higher degree than the first one was, the new one will come out, it will be embraced and we’ll hear lots and lots of stories about how it makes people happy and they we’re having a crap day and they heard the album or saw a video and it made them smile for five minutes because that’s what we’re really trying to do. We’ll hear a lot of that and we’ll play some great shows, we’ll get to open up for more of our heroes and have them come to us backstage and say they’ve never heard anything like that and that is a feeling of pride I can’t even put into words, and we won’t get sued by anybody for thinking I sing too much like them so that would be good.


Essential Information

From: California, USA

Band Members: Jess Harnell [vocals], Chuck Duran [guitars], Mick Christopher [bass], Kevin Kapler [drums]


Forthcoming Release: ‘ReInventinator’ – check it out and back it on Kickstarter HERE or click on the image below!


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