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Radio made Extreme famous, but streaming keeps their live shows alive

“If someone gets turned on by More Than Words on YouTube or from streaming it, maybe they’ll next want to discover what this band Extreme is all about.”

One song does not a band make, nor can one song sustain a band’s popularity or its members’ creative impulses for more than 25 years and counting. So while the Boston-bred funk-rockers Extreme will forever be known for their uber-catchy harmony-driven power ballad More Than Words — which, to date, boasts over 169.5 million views on YouTube and 50.7 million listens on Spotify — the depth of the band goes way beyond the forever catchy single that hit number one in the summer of 1991.

The proof of Extreme’s live prowess is on full display in Pornograffitti Live 25: Metal Meltdown, out today via Loud & Proud Records in various audio and video formats. The performance was shot in high definition on May 30, 2015 at The Joint in the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas. The band hard-charges through their mega-platinum 1990 album Pornograffitti in chronological order, from the funky sinew of Decadence Dance to the self-explanatory sneer of Get the Funk Out, to the undeniable melodic vocal blend of More Than Words’ Top 5 follow-up single, Hole Hearted.

“We’re excited. The band was on all cylinders that night,” said Extreme frontman Gary Cherone to Digital Trends. “We put out a live record in 2010 for the [2009] Take Us Alive tour, but this is even better than that. The production is bigger, and it’s a great-sounding performance too. I think it was shot with 18 cameras, where Take Us Alive was just seven or eight cameras. It’s a great, great video. It shows how we separate the wheat from the chaff. Extreme is a great live band. That’s always been our bread and butter.”

Cherone called Digital Trends from Beantown while Extreme was on a break from working on a new album to discuss streaming’s role as the modern radio station, the true inspiration for the harmonies on More Than Words, and how best to dive into a band’s catalog in the digital age. It’s all they have to do to make it real.

Digital Trends: Pornograffitti Live 25 shows Extreme displaying some serious kickass live chops, which may surprise some folks. It’s so fractious now how people come to know music and the artists who make it, so we can’t assume they know anything about you beyond More Than Words, if even at all.

Gary Cherone: You’re so right, especially in this day and age. Back in the day when we were growing up, we only had three channels of television and so many radio stations, and we waited at the record store for our favorite bands’ new albums to arrive. Now there’s so much information and immediate access to the music you can stream.

There used to be time to digest the catalogs of our favorite bands, but it’s a bygone era. There’s just so much information, so people only know a song or two of a band. I look back and cherish those moments of waiting for the next Cheap Trick record.

We knew every song from start to finish. Is the album format even valid anymore?

Again, you raise a good point. We grew up before MTV, so all we had was the album sleeve, the lyrics, the liner notes, and the picture on the back of Toys in the Attic [Aerosmith’s 1975 album]. You’d just stare at it. Every half hour or so, you’d go over to the stereo and flip it. And now… (pauses) now we’re sounding like our parents! (both laugh)

Right? Well, at least a new generation is buying vinyl now.

Yeah. You asked about the validity of the album format — does someone have the attention span to dive into [Pink Floyd’s 1973 magnum opus] The Dark Side of the Moon? Is a kid going to discover it on YouTube and not multitask and go onto a different page as he’s listening to it? I don’t know. We didn’t have that choice. We dove into that music, and that was it.

If we go into Spotify right now, the most popular Extreme song, More Than Words, has over 50 million listens. As an artist, what do you think about streaming?

Artists have to adapt to the technology and the environment, because it always moves forward. There’s no sense in crying about it. It’s a new format. In a way, the digital world is documenting music better than before. Back in the day, a radio station would have to write in what they played, and that had its flaws.

Streaming is just another kind of radio station.

Streaming changes the dynamic in terms of income. Artists are making less, but in our case, this band was always driven by live performance. Streaming is just another kind of radio station. Do I want our songs to be available to as many people as possible? There’s where streaming comes in.

If someone gets turned on by More Than Words on YouTube or from streaming it, maybe they’ll next want to discover what this band Extreme is all about. They become a fan, and then they go to the shows — and that’s where the band gets paid.

And how cognizant of you guys to have a song called When I’m President on the Pornograffiti album, considering all that’s going on right now. One of the lines in that song that should be the part of anybody’s campaign is, “Things will be different.” But I’d have to add a line after that from another album of yours: “Tell me something I don’t already know.”

(laughs) That’s funny, man. Whenever we’re on tour in election years, we’re always tempted to do When I’m President. I don’t think we’ll play it until after this election, but we’ll always have an excuse to play that song.

Something that was focused on in the bonus documentary was a discussion of the harmonies you guys do both live and on record. It’s something that takes you to a different level than other bands that came up in the same era. What made you guys focus on harmonies so much? Who were your influences?

Harmonies and melodies are as important to us as the riffs and the solos that Nuno (Bettencourt, Extreme’s virtuoso guitarist) plays. As I’ve said in the past, Extreme is the bastard child of Aerosmith, Queen, and Van Halen. The Beatles also come to mind, and the Eagles.

Harmonies were always a part of Van Halen. When you say Van Halen, you think of guitar, but they also had the harmonies of [original VH bassist] Michael Anthony. We refer to [Extreme bassist] Pat Badger as the poor man’s Michael Anthony. [Cherone fronted Van Halen briefly after Sammy Hagar left the band, resulting in the underrated 1998 album, Van Halen III.]

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Gary Cherone

We all can sing in Extreme, but the meld of our voices is something money can’t buy. Pat’s got this clean, high register. I’ve got a little grit on my voice. Nuno takes the bottom, and our voices work together. For the two-part harmony between Nuno and me on More Than Words, we were lucky that our voices sound that good together. If that had been two similar voices together, it wouldn’t sound as good.

Is there one song from another artist that you saw as a benchmark for what you wanted to do in terms of a vocal-harmony template?

When you’re talking about More Than Words in terms of any of its harmonies, it was always Lennon and McCartney — and If I Fell was the song, actually. (If I Fell is on The Beatles’ 1964 album and film of the same name, A Hard Day’s Night.) When I was writing lyrics for More Than Words and Nuno was playing the guitar, that was the reference point. Not that they sound similar, but that was where we wanted to go with it.

It’s funny — when people hear More Than Words, they compare it to The Everly Brothers’ harmonies. I know all their hits, but it was always The Beatles for us.

One of the unique things about Extreme — we did a lot of vocal back and forth. When I think of Pornograffitti, I also think of the song Suzi. The backgrounds are treated almost as a lead, where I’m trading off with Pat and Nuno throughout the verses. That’s a subtle thing that makes Extreme’s harmonies unique within a song. Sometimes we treat them like a lead vocal.

Speaking of that unique harmonic blend, the way you and Nuno sing together on Hole Hearted also showcases that secret sauce.

We’re still feeling the big bang of More Than Words 25 years later.

In a way, Hole Hearted is more fun to do live than More Than Words. It involves the band a little bit more. It’s just a kick drum and a little percussion. Those two songs are almost a blessing and a curse. Here was an acoustic track followed by another acoustic song on the charts, and there was a confusion after that. We saw five hits within six months that blew up the band to the point where these songs were bigger than the band. We were just riding the wave at that point. But nine-tenths of the band’s material is hard rock.

We’re still feeling the big bang of More Than Words 25 years later as we’re celebrating Pornograffitti and reaching the pinnacle of the mainstream. More Than Words was the vehicle for people to be introduced to Get the Funk Out, Decadence Dance, and all that other stuff. We owe a debt to it.

Because of the huge success of a track like More Than Words, the hope is that people will dig a little deeper into the Extreme catalog and find other gems like Tragic Comic on [1992’s] III Sides to Every Story and There Is No God on [1995’s] Waiting for the Punchline.

I was like that as a kid, as I’m sure you were. After hearing that first Queen song or that first Aerosmith song, I’d go into the record store and find out, “Wait a minute — Queen has three records out?”

Yeah, and you wouldn’t hear a Queen song like ’39 [from 1975’s A Night at the Opera] on the radio — but you’d discover it once you dove into the record. And then you’d go, “Oh man, this is where [1977’s mega-hit] We Are the Champions ultimately came from.”

Yes, and that’s usually the case. Singles are vehicles that introduce you to the band — and they’re usually not the best song on the record, by far. You wind up discovering the deep tracks.

Whenever we’re on tour, we do meet and greets with fans, and they’ll go, “Why don’t you play Shadowboxing off of Punchline?” And I’ll go, “Man, you really are a fan. We haven’t done that one since ’95…”

Well, if you’re ever going to go deeper with Queen, I’d love to hear you guys do a cover of Dragon Attack [from 1980’s The Game].

Ahhh … which we’ve contemplated! Absolutely! We’ve messed around with it in rehearsal. It’s one of my favorites. In the wee small hours in the morning, I’ll go to YouTube and pull up an a cappella Freddie Mercury performance of Somebody to Love and go, “This is crazy!” (chuckles)

You’re carrying on that mantle. In the documentary, [radio personality] Eddie Trunk was saying how your vocals are as strong now as they were 25 years ago — and that’s no accident. You make sure you take care of that muscle.

Ah, thanks. We’re lucky, man. The band never fell by the wayside. It was never about the sex or the drugs. It was always about the music and the performance — and we’re just as passionate about that now. It just hurts more in the morning. (both laugh)