Hard-rockers Buckcherry formed in 1995 in California, originally under the name Sparrow. By 1999, the band had become Buckcherry and had released its first full-length record which boasted such hits as “Lit Up” and “For the Movies.” In 2006, the band released its third album, 15, to enormous commercial success, with such popular hits as “Sorry” and “Crazy Bitch.” Recently, the band released its ninth studio album, Hellbound, and is once again on tour to support the record’s release. Read on for our interview with Buckcherry frontman Josh Todd, where we take a deep dive into the new record, songwriting, and Buckcherry’s 20-year career.
What’s it like to be back playing live and touring the new album after the extended break from Covid?
Josh Todd: We’ve been on tour over a month now, and the shows have just been like usual. We’re only in the States right now, but we did do a few shows last year that were socially distanced shows; it’s good to have people just business as usual at a rock show, for sure. We’re super grateful to be back. We’ve been sitting on this record since October of 2020, so it’s really great that it finally hit the streets.
What did the songwriting process look like for Hellbound? How did the record all come together?
Todd: We were just really thorough. We had a lot of time, of course. We wrote 28 songs for a 10 song record; we were really thorough. Stevie and I wrote a lot of songs, we wrote about 22 songs and then the whole time we were sending demos to our team and Marti Frederiksen, our producer, we’ve co-written song with him in the past, our label was like “hey, we want to fly you guys to Nashville to write with Marti for a week.“ We were like songwriting machines; we wrote six songs in five days and five of those songs made the record. We couldn’t write a bad song at that point in time, which was really great. It was definitely a labor of love. It seems like whenever this band is facing a lot of adversity—like we were just being thrown into the fire with Covid—it’s always when we make our best records, for sure, and if this is not our best record, it’s really up there in the top three.
Just because you mentioned it, what are your top three favorite/best Buckcherry records?
Todd: 15 would have to be one of them just because it’s commercially our biggest record for sure, and the third one would probably be a big debate with a lot of people, but I think All Night Long is a really great record, but I’m sure everybody would have their own thoughts on all of that as well.
In that studio session in Nashville, how do you find song ideas and how do you take those ideas and create the final product that makes the album?
Todd: They really happen all different kinds of ways. My department is mainly lyrics and melodies; I’ll occasionally write some music as well, but Stevie wrote a lot of the music and Marti wrote some of the music. Sometimes I’ll come up with lyrics and melodies and no music like I did with “The Way.” Sometimes, It’ll just be Stevie sending me some music like he did with “Gun.” He sent me the whole thing and I kind of struggled with that song at first. I couldn’t get the chorus to pop—finally, I just started chopping up my words and wrote that “Gun” chorus and it was just like “wow, this is cool.“ Sometimes, songs happen that way, and sometimes they happen super quick. When I got the music to ‘So Hot,’ I wrote that song very quick.
I wanted to bring up “The Way” — what was the inspiration for that song, and what did the writing process look like on that track in particular?
Todd: I come up with a lot of melodies in the shower which is really weird, I don’t know what that is, maybe it’s the fact that the water’s running, it kind of opens you up. I always have my phone close by so I can record something if I come up with something good. I came up with the verse/chorus of that and just thought it was amazing. I remember running to my computer and just sitting for a good hour or so and writing the lyrics and melodies; I was so inspired. We were just going through a lot, both Stevie and I. Being home after we’d been on the road for 20 years was challenging with our personal lives, and then Stevie lost his father last year; there was a lot of stuff going on right around the time we started putting that song together. It was good for the songwriting and the song really brought out a lot of the emotion.
And then I went to Stevie’s and I was like “I got this great song. I want to have some piano in it. I want to start in one place and end rocking in another place, take you on a journey.“ He finished the music to it and I came back and he was like “I want this to be like our ‘Hey Jude.‘“ He played me the song and I was like “damn, this is amazing.“ That song, we wrote it really fast; it’s one of my favorites.
You’ve got a very distinctive rock ‘n’ roll voice—over a 20 year career filled with records and constant touring, what do you do to maintain your voice and keep it strong and healthy?
Todd: It’s a lot of work and I haven’t done it gracefully. I wasn’t vocally trained until after the first record. I accumulated a lot of bad habits. I had to really become a student of vocal technique, and now I can’t get enough of it. And I feel like my range has really grown. Every record, I find a new area where I’m like “oh, that’s really cool for this Buckcherry song, that’s different.“ If I go into a falsetto or something like that, I never did that in the past. To answer your question, you gotta be really disciplined, especially the older you get. What I have to do is actually sing more. There’s singing and there’s vocalizing; I vocalize a lot—I’m basically staying fit, stretching a lot, doing a lot of vocal scales and exercises, even on days when I’m not singing.
When you’re attacking songs with a 20-some odd year voice, you just have so much voice, and you utilize all your voice. You don’t think about “oh, I’m gonna be singing these 15 years later and maybe I should set myself up to win,“ you just go for it. Having to sing a Buckcherry set now, it takes every bit of my focus.
With those elements of your voice—texture, rasp, range—is there thought or purpose that goes behind the way you choose to sing certain parts of a song, or do you just sing naturally, in a way that just feels right?
Todd: Sometimes it’s emotional—maybe I’ll sing it sharp or flat or whatever, but the emotion’s there. And then we’ll get down to recording it and it just doesn’t sound good, of course. And then we’ll adjust the key to get it in my wheelhouse. We did a lot of that during this writing cycle, which I haven’t done in the past. That’s the problem I think with a lot of bands now; they go in, and when you’re recording, you record this verse twenty times ‘til it’s great, you go through a song bit by bit while you’re tracking it, and when you go out to sing it live, you can’t sing it; it’s at the top of your range and you can’t get through it. This time, I said to Marti, “I want to be able to sing all these songs very comfortably when I’m recording them.“ So, we really worked on the keys. For instance, “Gun” was in a different key. I sang it higher than that. I go “I’m throttling on this song and it’s not gonna be good when we go out there.“ He goes “ok, let’s drop the key,“ and it sounds great. We did that with a few songs. Because of it, my voice just sounds better on the whole record.
The cool thing is there’s some program on the computer where even if you record a song in one key, you can pitch it to another key and then just sing it, to find out if that key works better for you. It’s a pretty cool tool that we used.
In 2020, you released a few short acoustic sessions—when you do these acoustic reimaginations of these songs, does it give it a different emotion or meaning to you?
Todd: Definitely, because there’s a lot more space. You can throw more feeling into the song and then you can try different things. We did an acoustic version of “All Night Long” and we did it in a little bit of a different way and it was really cool. We were getting into that whole acoustic thing; we were gonna continue doing it and then we had to shift gears and start writing for the Hellbound record. We’ll probably get back to that. I wanna have more fun and do some rocking songs and make them more soulful, like break down “Lit Up” acoustic or “Crazy Bitch” acoustic.
Guns and Roses did an acoustic version of “You’re Crazy” and I thought it was so cool the way they did it. I always liked that version of that, and so I’d like to do stuff like that for sure.
What drew you to music and songwriting? What inspired you to seek out a life as a career musician?
Todd: From a very early age I was drawn to music. My mother would play records and clean the house. And my sister and I would listen to records and just play. She had Rod Stewart, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson. My dad was really into the Eagles; my first record was In The Long Run. I started getting into my own music; I had a big punk rock collection. My sister would listen to Prince, Billy Idol, Yaz—all these records shaped me, there was something cool about all of them. Cut to when I joined my first band, I had a knack for writing words—I would do a lot of creative writing and poetry and I got in my first band and I wasn’t interested in cover songs. I was like “let’s write an original song right now,“ at the first rehearsal. And I just started conducting the rehearsal. I wrote my first song right then and there, and that was it. The lightbulb went off. Then I played my first show live at a house party and that was it, I knew there was no turning back. That’s what “Hellbound” is about, the song.
You can listen to Buckcherry’s latest record, Hellbound, here.