Adventures in Black-Rock with Jimi Hazel of 24-7 Spyz: part 4

Jimi Hazel lead guitarist of the eclectic rock band 24-7 Spyz

By Oscar Jordan

Jordan: When you write are you getting it out of your system, or are you a disciplined writer who can crank out songs?

Hazel: No. Not at all. I’m so bad. Right now I’m trying to write three songs. For me it’s usually organic. I write when I feel like writing and since there’s no deal and no restrictions, I write when I feel like it. I’m trying to write these three songs as kind of a test. I gotta write stuff that fits in the midst of things today. We’ll either implement them on Face The Day when we remix the record or pull something out and put this in.

I wrote Face The Day in 1996-97. We didn’t record it until 2006. I’d written the songs to be the next Spyz record after Heavy Metal Soul by The Pound, but we wound up without a deal. By ’97-’98 we didn’t exist anymore. There was no Spyz. I was so burned out. From ’89 to ’96 all we did was make records and go on tour. You become a hamster on a wheel. You’re so busy just going, going, going that you forget what it’s like to stop. Anytime we did stop, you still kept moving. Your feet stopped moving but your mind didn’t. It took a while for everything to stop and catch up. When it finally caught up to us, it just ate away at us and me and Ric had to split camp. I stopped playing. I got irritated. The business made me irritated because I kept saying, I believe in the music we make. I believe in the songs that I write and I don’t think anybody does what we do any better than we do. But why is it that every mediocre white band on the planet has come up to me and said, “Aw man, your six albums have been our bible!” Yeah, but what you didn’t do is listen. You picked up aggression and you ran with it. You didn’t listen to musicality. You didn’t listen to the beauty. I’m appreciative of people saying, “Man, “John Connelly’s Theory changed my life!” Yeah but did you listen to “Dude You Knew?”

Jordan: They never picked up on the ska and R&B aspects of Spyz.

Hazel: It was none of that stuff, but the thing that made me mad was I watched the industry as a whole not embrace the black rock scene. What they did was they saw another opportunity to make money without understanding that this is real. This isn’t fun. This isn’t like Halloween where we put on our masks and go out and scream, “We rock!” This is who we really are every day. When they started making money off of it, what every label did was run out and find a black rock band. What they didn’t do is allow those bands the luxury of growing. They expected to put out one record with four black guys on the cover and sticker it, “If you love Living Colour, 24-7 Spyz and Fishbone, you’ll love these guys!” Then you wonder why the record didn’t sell. They did that instead of saying we’ll make record two and three and keep growing. Everybody got dropped.

Jordan: There was no artist development. They wanted to turn over a profit quickly and move on.

Hazel: I think it’s funny. Here in lies the rub. I hate to say this but I’m going to call it what it is. I use the Chili Peppers as a great example. The Chili Peppers’ first couple of records were horrible. I don’t know if it was because of a great lawyer, great manager, or a great A&R person. There was no way in hell they should have been allowed to make the second record. But they did.

I think The Uplift Mofo Party Plan for me was the record that I finally said I like this band. The point was they had to make those early records to get there. A lot of the black bands weren’t allowed that. I always use Sinister Dane as a great example. They were a great band out of St Louis with great potential and made a really good first record. They could have made a brilliant second record. Probably the most criminal of all was Follow For Now out of Atlanta. David Ryan Harris is now renowned for being John Mayer’s songwriter music guy. Follow For Now was an amazing band that didn’t get to make a second record.

Spyz for a lot of people were heroes. “Nobody can stop you guys!” I don’t know if that’s the case but I think we just got really lucky. For everything that we tried to do, there was somebody in our corner who felt just like we did and said, “To hell with it. Let’s just do it.” It wound up working and it struck a nerve with people. Nobody expected us to sell what we sold on the first record. We sold just under 300,000 copies of Harder Than You. That was amazing. We thought if we sold 10,000 records we did something. The second record Gumbo Millennium sold closer to 400,000. We scratched out heads and said, wow. This is deep. There’s people listening and that is wonderful. The mistake we made after that is going to a major label and realizing what the perception is of a band when they make the transition. What you think they are as opposed to what they really are. The values haven’t changed, the music hasn’t changed. When the labels change, that’s when everything starts going sideways.

Jordan: You guys were in business to sell records. That’s the bottom line. Was there ever a group meeting where you guys discussed writing something commercial ala a Journey ballad without selling out? (Laughing)

Hazel: (Laughing) No. The beautiful thing about not having a meeting like that was that we made the most accessible record of our career with Strength in Numbers. For a long time I couldn’t listen to it because I was so hurt by what didn’t happen with it. What didn’t happen wasn’t because of the band or the fans. It was because of Sylvia Rhone and the record company who chose to completely try to kill it.

To be continued…

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