Hirsh Gardner, Legendary Drummer of the Classic Rock Band New England, Releases New Solo CD

New CD: "My Brain Needs A Holiday"

BOSTON – Hirsh Gardner, original drummer of AOR/Melodic rockers New England, has released a new solo CD, My Brain Needs a Holiday, his first solo release since the critically acclaimed Wasteland of Broken Hearts in 2002. However, Hirsh’s musical talents go far beyond drumming, as the former Berklee College of Music student is also an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and highly sought-after producer.

Article by Joe Milliken * Photos: 1. Photo by High Wire Music Photography 2. Photo courtesy of Hirsh Gardner 3. New England reunion show, 2006, photo by Joe Milliken 4. Onstage with solo John Fannon, 2013, photo by Joe Milliken 5. CD cover, courtesy of Hirsh Gardner

For those who might not be familiar with New England, Gardner, guitarist John Fannon, keyboardist Jimmy Waldo, and bassist Gary Shea, were discovered by Kiss manager Bill Aucoin and hit the music scene with their self-titled debut album in 1979. The album was produced by Kiss front-man, Paul Stanley, and producer, Mike Stone (Queen, Asia), and their first single, “Don’t Ever Wanna Lose Ya’,” hit the Top 30 in the summer of ‘79.

New England would release two more albums (Explorer Suite and Walking Wild, produced by Todd Rundgren) and toured the world with such legendary bands as Kiss, AC/DC, Cheap Trick and Journey, before finally disbanding in 1983 when Waldo and Shea formed the band Alcatrazz. However, Hirsh has remained in the music business as a player, solo artist and producer, four decades strong, and also let it be known that to this day, Mr. Gardner continues to sport some of the best rock-and-roll hair in history!

Along with continuing his role as the drummer of New England, (the original line-up reunited in 2006, and this fan was there!) Hirsh has also been writing his own songs for years. His latest solo effort, recorded in his Boston studio, features 10 diverse tracks of melodic, feel-good rock, full of catchy hooks, hard rockin’ guitars, and a couple beautiful ballads and cover songs mixed in. “I’m constantly writing and coming up with ideas, so I’ve got hundreds of song-snippets that I’ve cataloged over the years,” Gardner said in a recent, exclusive Standing Room Only interview.

“My last solo album was in 2002, and since then, I’ve been writing and recording material all along. I really didn’t game-plan to put out a new solo record, but when several of these songs started to come together, I figured, why not? I was also inspired to release this CD, once I had several incredible musicians contributing to the songs.”

Indeed, Gardner brought in some talented musicians to participate, including keyboardist and New England bandmate, Jimmy Waldo, renowned guitarist Jon Butcher (Jon Butcher Axis, Barefoot Servants, Johanna Wild), guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (Guns N Roses, Lita Ford, Sons of Apollo), guitarist Richie Ranno (Starz), guitarist Jodee Frawlee (LoveSexy, The Midnight Crew), and bassist Steve Baxter (Shyboy). “Jimmy and I have been writing songs and ideas together, forever, so that was a natural partnership,” Hirsh said.

“Jimmy is very open-minded and will always flush out any of my ideas, before giving me a ‘thumbs up’ or a ‘thumbs down’. He can tell me that he doesn’t like something, but will offer a couple ideas to try to move the project forward. To me, that’s the ultimate relationship a musical partnership can have. He’ll never stifle an idea, he’ll only try to grow it, and the goal is always to make the idea better.

“With Bumblefoot, I met him several years ago and was absolutely blown away when I found out that he was a huge New England fan. We bumped into each other at a show I was performing at in New York City, and we’ve stayed in touch since then. I sent him the track, “Get It Back,” and what he sent back to me absolutely blew my mind! He is such an amazing guitar player and an awesome guy as well.

“I also must mention my good friend, and incredibly talented guitarist, Joe Feloni, who plays on several of the songs on this record. Joe is so easy to work with and we always have a great time in the studio. His work on songs like ‘Sister Jane,’ ‘Do Me Do Me’ and ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ are stellar. Of course, we also have Richie Ranno of the band Starz playing lead on ‘If You Need to Talk,’ Jon Butcher doing some screaming leads on ‘Love Is,’ and bassist Joe Mudarri on a couple tracks. Another good friend of mine, J. Rushwell, also plays guitar on ‘Shadows.’”

Gardner also co-wrote a song with songwriter/producer, Oph Kiltah. “Oph is an incredibly talented songwriter and producer, and we co-wrote ‘Shadows’ just prior to the end of production on the album. We were just chunking out some chords in the studio and the song came about very quickly. I called in J. Rushwell, and we laid down his guitar tracks. The title track was also a co-write with Jimmy Waldo.”

To help fuel the creative process, Hirsh has the ability to work on music at his home studio, before mixing and producing tracks in his Cambridge studio. “I’m fortunate to have a studio at my home, and then what I call my ‘real studio’ in Cambridge. I can lay down ideas when I’m just chilling at night, or on the weekends, and then just take the files to the Cambridge studio to complete the song and do the mixing.

“At home, I have a music room where I’ve set up my acoustic drums and Roland electronic drums, my piano and all my guitars and basses, so at a moment’s notice I can lay down ideas in Pro Tools. I also use that room as my rehearsal studio. The Cambridge studio, which was designed and built by (renowned studio designer and engineer) Michael Blackmer, features a pretty small, but very effective control room. I’m not a big ‘outboard gear’ guy... I have everything I need right in the box and try to keep it simple as an engineer.”

My Brain Needs a Holiday took about a year to create, and the project was almost completely produced by Hirsh. “I did have some help from my engineering friend, Oph, who is absolutely brilliant when it comes to all this newfangled technology. I consider myself ‘old school,’ having grown up in an era where editing involved splicing tapes! So, it’s always great to work with engineers who have been schooled in new technology. It’s fun to watch these kids work, so I guess you can teach an old dog, new tricks!”

There are also two cover songs on the new album, one very well-known song, (Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale”) and the other, not so much... a hidden gem called “Sister Jane,” by the French band, Tai Phong. “I was talking with my former A&R guy from Marquis Avalon Records in Japan, and he mentioned the song ‘Sister Jane,’ so I looked it up online and found a version of the song,” Hirsh explained.

“It’s a very dreamy ballad, with an incredible lead vocal. So, I learned the song and laid it down in the studio, in its original arrangement. However, it didn’t really hit me as a Hirsh song, until I started changing and arranging it as a heavier, rock song. I brought in Joe (Feloni), who came up with the guitar parts, and his performance is world-class. So, the song transformed from this dreamy ballad, to a classic, somewhat heavy prog-rock song. As I understand, it is a pretty big hit in Japan, and is being played by popular radio DJ, Masa Ito, on his syndicated radio shows.”

As for the remaining tracks, this writer is going to save most of my opinions for an upcoming CD review-column. However, let’s just say, that My Brain Needs a Holiday is an eclectic blend of both melodic and heavy rock, recorded in a variety of formats - from hard rock-bashing guitar and drums, to Latin-tinged percussion and metal-edged drum and bass loops - Hirsh certainly diversifies in his approach to creating a well-rounded collection of classic rock sounds that his long-time fans, and hopefully some new ones, will surely enjoy.

“I feel fortunate to have gained such an enthusiastic fan base over the years,” Gardner concluded. “They’re very supportive of my music and you have no idea how much that means to me. I really enjoy recording and I am already working on my third solo album. Do me a solid and go check out the website... lots of cool stuff to read, videos to watch and best of all, support the arts and the CD... it rocks!”

We couldn’t agree more, Hirsh!

Upcoming local shows include Gardner opening up for Security Project at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Ma. (Nov. 10), as well as performing multiple shows with New England in Los Angeles (Oct.7) and in Plymouth and Shirley, Massachusetts (Oct. 13 and 14).

My Brain Needs a Holiday is released worldwide on the GB Music label in the U.S., Canada and Japan, and on Escape-Music in Europe. It is also available on Gardner’s website at www.hirshgardner.com, as well as all the popular download sites such as CD Baby and iTunes.

Editor’s Note: Also, please watch for an upcoming CD review of "My Brain Needs a Holiday"