Held Hostage’s Tom Collier Talks Great American Rock – “I Wanted to Go Back to the Roots of Rock ‘N’ Roll”
“We’re a rock band and I just felt that it was something we needed to get out there.” So says Held Hostage mainman Tom Collier about the band’s new album Great American Rock. Out now via FireRock Music Group, the band’s second album again features former Judas Priest / Iced Earth frontman Tim “Ripper” Owens on vocals. Owens also performed on the Held Hostage’s previous album, Epic.
“I knew Ripper was going to be on it – well I was hoping he would be,” states Collier. “I wanted to go back to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll and just really come right at everybody with some great mixture of diverse material like America does. We’re rich in rock and roll history.”
Owens elaborates, “It was real good doing it; I did the last record with him and it’s good for me because it’s different stuff. It’s just straightforward rock and roll, hard rock. So it’s fun to do; it’s my job and I love to sing all different ways. I enjoyed this last one more because I put my two cents in a little bit more and I said, ‘screw it, I’m going to put a few high notes here and do a few different things.’”
While Collier composed the songs, he gave Owens free reign to change up the vocal parts and sing them the way he wanted to enabling them to comfortably work with each other.
“He said he wanted to be able to change things and I’ll tell you what he did to them was incredible,” enthuses Collier. “He took those songs to a different level. I couldn’t have asked for a better vocal performance and every time he sent me vocal tracks, 12 to 14 vocal tracks he always sent with notes saying ‘here’s what I would do.’ I tell everybody he produced the vocals on the album. I might have produced the overall album, but the vocals as far as I’m concerned were Owens.”
“I kept at it,” further states Owens. “He sent me the vocal ideas and I wasn’t like, ‘yeah, screw that, I’m not doing that. I’ll do my own thing.’ I didn’t do that at all. I did what he said, kind of went from there and added to it and put different harmonies there or might align a little bit or move something around. But the meat and potatoes he gave me, I didn’t want to mess with that. That’s what he wrote and I’m not there to change it. This time, I was there to put myself into the song and not just sing what he gave me, you know, I guess ‘ripperize’ a little.”
Great American Rocks boasts a simple statement with the album cover – Thor’s hammer with the Held Hostage “HH” logo emblazoned on it while wrapped in an American flag. The hammer has become the band’s logo since its appearance on their last album cover for Epic.
Collier doesn’t shy away from the patriotic symbolism stating, “We’re proud to be an American and have that American flag on there. That’s why it’s Great American Rock. I think everything stems from America; the whole world looks at us and that’s why I wanted something like that. And Scott Braun was the creative director and I just thought it was a great thing to make it front and center. On the first album it was just smashing and you see it in the background and the Earth being with Epic, but this right here, I really wanted to focus on to the hammer itself.”
While not a concept album, Great American Rock sports themes of the love of rock ‘n’ roll, patriotism, overcoming obstacles, and not giving into your inner demons.
Collier agrees, “Absolutely. The song ‘The Master’ is all about addiction. You know, everybody has their master. When I write a song; it’s always about a subject; ‘Show Me The Way Back Home’ is about the veterans that went to war. Some of them were prisoners of war. Some of them never came home; they just never made it back. And even the ones that made it back really didn’t make it back mentally. The song ‘Rise’ is about suicide. I take on different subjects and topics and things like that. Back in the Eighties, when the famous hostage Terry Anderson [American journalist who was taken hostage by Shia Hezbollah militants in Lebanon in 1985] was being held hostage, his sister Peggy called me and said, ‘I hear you’re in a band that’s not afraid to take on a subject. I want somebody to put a song out and I out the song out called ‘Please Rescue Me’. And it did fantastic for us, but I donate all the money from something like that. When I’m helping someone, all the money goes over to them, you know?”
Collier continues, “Every song’s a theme on there. Whether it’s ‘You Rock Our Way’; it’s about back when I was standing in the crowd watching guys like Ripper sing and I was like, ‘hey, notice me!’ I think I could be up there someday and then at the end, you end up making it up there and you give them one hell of a rock and roll show.”
Owens interjects, “You know? Let’s get something straight. We’re the same age. So don’t make Tom making it look like, you know, like he was a kid watching me on stage (laughs).”
As far as songs that stick out from the pack, “The Master” and “Rise” are the favorites to Collier.
“I’ll tell you a quick story about ‘Rise’, but I sent to him this song about suicide. So I did the chorus. Sometimes I write a song, I do a verse, pre-chorus, chorus, very rarely do I write a song where it’s verse, chorus, chorus. So this one was verse, chorus, chorus, post chorus. So when I sent that to Ripper, he sends it back. And so the main chorus is in G and the post chorus is in E minor. And at the end of the song, he puts them together. I would’ve never thought to do this! So somehow he got them, puts them in together, both choruses and it just takes the song to a new level. I was just blown away, I said, ‘how did you make that work?’”
“I don’t sit there and think of what key it’s in or what are being sung,” explains Owens. “And when people asking me about singing, ‘oh, how many octaves can you sing? Oh, I bet you’re going to blah, blah, blah.’ I don’t give a shit really. I just kind of sing. And it was the same with this. I took music and sang in choir, so it’s not like I never did all this stuff, but I just sing it and make it sound right. So, I just did that, sang it first. A few notes had to be changed, but it was kind of fun. I love when you’re in the studio nowadays; I just sit here and I always tell Tom, I give him a lot of stuff, but I say you don’t have to use this, that’s just my ideas.”
Owens learned about layering vocals from his time in Iced Earth stating, “There’s always a main verse in a lower part. I sing it lower, but he doesn’t have to use the lower part. I kind of learned that probably from Iced Earth. Jon Schaffer, especially doing Glorious Burden [2004 album], Jon used to do a lot of layering.
On the live front, Held Hostage unfortunately had to pull out of 16 dates supporting Ted Nugent due to a “little bit of a tragedy” with one of the members.
“We all stick together,” says Collier. “We don’t believe in leaving somebody behind. But every day, my phone rings, our manager calls. I’m planning on doing some touring probably this fall. I would expect this fall for the band to fire it up and go out.”
It’s never too early to ask about new music and Collier says the follow-up to Great American Rock is already written.
He teases, “There’s a song I wrote called ‘Darkness’. I can’t wait! I’m hoping Ripper sings it, but I mean, it’s like old [Black] Sabbath, it’s just grinding and I haven’t named the album yet, but I’m close to naming it.”
Great American Rock is available at retail stores and online on CD and digital and for fans wanting a copy a vinyl, Collier is confident a vinyl edition will become available.
“I’m sure the label will put it on vinyl. I think in the next few months, Epic will have a vinyl issue. I got back Epic from our other label Metal Mania Records, nothing to say bad about those guys. I just wanted to move up a step in labels and I was able to do that, but Epic will be coming out on vinyl. They’re going to do a limited vinyl release. I’m expecting that for the fall.”