Back To The Past (21):


[Interview with Mara Fox and Leslie Knauer]

As soon as we heard, we could do an interview with former PRECIOUS METAL members Mara Fox and Leslie Knauer, we started working on a huge list of questions. Then we noticed, we'd already planned PRECIOUS METAL for our Back To The Past section of December. This would mean 'overkill' and we decided to look for a suitable construction. Best way to do this was to write a Back To The Past story in interview style. Needless to say, we also focussed on the future activities of these two former PRECIOUS METAL ladies. They'll explain everything about their solo projects and their time with PRECIOUS METAL. Finally, you can hear the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about PRECIOUS METAL. Thank you Leslie and Mara for being so open to us! So fasten your seatbelts and take a ride into our time machine, which will bring you to the early days of the band, as well as the future to come. Before we start our ride, I want to introduce you to our passengers, in case you’re not familiar with the names of all the band members passing by. Leslie Knauer (lead vocals, now in KANARY), Mara Fox (guitars), Janet Robin (guitar, keyboards; now a solo artist), Alex Rylance (bass), Susette Andres (original drummer), Carol M. Control (drums) and Julia Farey (bass, she replaced Alex on the "Precious Metal" LP)

When did you girls form PRECIOUS METAL and can you tell us how you actually met up with each other?
Mara: "We formed the band through ads in the local music magazines. Susette Andres placed the original ad, I answered it, and she and I put the rest of the band together."
Did you play in other bands before PRECIOUS METAL and if yes, please tell us about it.
Leslie: "I played in PROMISES with my brothers. We broke up, because we were sick of singing love songs to each other!"
Mara: "Leslie should tell you the rest of it! PROMISES did two albums and had several hit singles including a multi-platinum #1 hit, called "Baby, It's You". They were huge in Germany and Australia."
Were there any bands, that inspired you back in those years? Our thoughts especially go out to all-female outfits, but I imagine there were other bands, who were as much of an influence to you.
Leslie: "All the sixties stuff: motown, Phil Spector, Carole King..."
Mara: "I was really the only one with the 'all-girl band' dream. I had that dream since I was eight years old. THE RUNAWAYS came about when I was around twelve. They were the first all female band, I'd ever heard of and I was actually a little miffed that someone else had beat me to it. Nevertheless, I was awestruck by them. I was a huge fan and had every record. They were the only female band of which I would really call myself a fan, but we were all always supportive of all the other female players. We were such a minority back then. My biggest influences were probably AEROSMITH and DAVID BOWIE. Janet was a big HEART fan and Carol was into THE PRETENDERS."
You started out with Sussette Andres on drums, who got you in touch with producer Paul Sabu. After the introduction, she left to a band called WYLD HEART. Didn't you feel sorry for her, because you continued working with her boyfriend after she quit PRECIOUS METAL?
Mara: "Paul wasn't Susette's boyfriend. He was just our producer. And no, there was no need to feel sorry for her! She followed her dreams, kept playing and did a bunch of acting... I just wished her the best in all her endeavors."
Mara, is it true that you've got a very special bond with the LP "Heartbreak" by SABU? We heard, you took the picture on the cover of this album. Was photography a big hobby of yours in those days or maybe it still is?
Mara: "Yes! Most people thought, the legs on the cover were mine, but you got it right, I took the picture. That came about, because Paul hated the cover his record company came up with and basically gave me a sketch of what he wanted and two hours to do it in. It isn't what I would have done. Leslie and I had our own concept, that would have been much cooler. Rock photography has always been a hobby. When I was a teen, I used to pretend I was press and I took around a camera, so I could get in places back stage and enter clubs I was too young to get into. Now I just take pictures for my friends. I did all the new pix of Cherie Currie, one of Leslie that got printed in Music Connection Magazine, and also Paul's last album cover."
"Right Here, Right Now" was your first album. You looked quite heavy, though you sounded more mainstream. How would you call the music you played yourself?
Leslie: "We looked heavy on that one?! Wow, we wore such bright colors! And we had a big punk following back then, believe it or not! We used to play everything so fast. We used to call the music 'metal-gum', but was more like power pop."
Did you know there was this Dutch band called The DOLLY DOTS, who had a major hit single with your song "This Girl", back in '86? Do you know any other bands, that covered songs by PRECIOUS METAL?
Mara: "We were approached by the producers of the movie "Dutch Treat". They told us that they were doing a movie with the DOLLY DOTS and for various reasons were looking for a band to replace them. I told them that we were not actresses but gave them a copy of our album. They eventually came back to us and said that they had decided to keep the DOLLY DOTS, but use our music. The only other artists I know of who were interested in recutting our tunes were 'near misses' with LITA FORD and BELINDA CARLISLE."
How did your song "Girls Nite Out" get on the the movie "American Drive In"? Is it true that the demo version of this song provided you the record deal for this first album? There also was a rumour, that "Bad Guys" from this same album would be the title track for a wrestling movie. Did it ever get so far?
Mara: "Paul Sabu did all the music for "American Drive-In". He was working on it during the time, we were forming PRECIOUS METAL. We recorded a song for it, that Susette wrote, called "L.A.". Me, Alex Rylance, Susette, Paul on lead guitar and a girl named Terry Wood on vocals. When Leslie and Janet joined the band, we recorded three more tunes and I guess some of them ended up on the soundtrack as well. Our three song demo was being played on KROQ, and the West Coast President of Polygram heard "Girls Night Out" in his car on his way to work and called the radio station saying that he wanted to sign us."
Leslie: "We were originally approached by Polygram to use "Cheesecake" in the movie "Bad Guys". I had a half finished song from the PROMISES days, called "Bad Guys", so we kind of faked, we had a master of it and would bring it in the next day. We raced over to our rehearsal studio, wrote it, learned it, recorded it from 7 pm until 9 am, took a shower, then Mara and I stumbled into Polygram at 11am with this finished master, like we had it all along! It was chosen as the title track and became our first MTV video."
(note: the movie did get made and the video enjoyed a long stint on MTV. To make room for the song "Bad Guys", the record company bumped another track off the record, entitled "Let The Music Move You". The girls were upset about that because they thought "Let The Music...." was a hit.)
Janet Robin got guitar lessons from the late OZZY OSBOURNE guitar player Randy Rhoads, when she was just ten years old. How big was his influence on her playing because in some interviews she mostly named Eddy van Halen and Jimi Hendrix as her biggest influences?
Leslie: "You should ask her that question!" (note: There is a slight chance, that we’ll do that in the near future if we are able to get in touch with Janet!!)
You've always been in touch with the big names in the scene. Can you tell us a bit more of the bands' collaboration with CC de Ville (POISON), Ann and Nancy Wilson (HEART), Tom Pettersson (CHEAP TRICK) and Cherie Currie (THE RUNAWAYS). How did you get in touch with all these interesting people?
Leslie: "We were on a major label and that lends a bit of clout. CC de Ville, we just knew as being a fellow musician in town, while the others we were each fans of and made efforts to collaborate with."
In '86, you recorded "That kind Of Girl" on Savage Records. In '88, it was re-released on Chameleon Records. Did it have the same sleeve and songs and/or did they also remix it?
Leslie: "This is incorrect."
Mara: "No, we were signed by Savage and Chameleon in quick succession and it ended up being a group effort. They both threw cash down for us to do the album and the records were released simultaneously in '88. It was exactly the same record. Each label paid for their own cover, that was the only difference. Chameleon/Capitol had the American rights, while Savage had England."
What would, in your opinion, be the biggest difference between "Right Here, Right Now" and "That Kind Of Girl"?
Leslie: "I don't think there was that much of a difference! We were playing live and touring a lot more so we were more seasoned for the second album. We did both of those records in two weeks, while we did the last in nine months. We did a concert in the middle of recording the second album. Paul thought we were pretty funny for feeling the need to do that.
Mara: "We had a much smaller budget, when we did the second record. For me it was a lot more fun."
On "Precious Metal" you got rid of your metal-like outfit and started looking more like THE BANGLES. Any explanation or was it the fashion trend of those days?
Leslie: "The BANGLES?!? It was just a more casual time. Maybe the road does that to you! We never followed any trend, we just did what we felt. Maybe we just dressed to try to look thinner!"
Whose idea was it to record the BRUCE SPRINGTEEN cover "Two Hearts" on this album?
Leslie: "That guy, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN's producer... I can't remember his name!"
Mara: "Oh my gosh, neither can I! He wanted to produce our album and was a friend of the record company owner or something. Then he fell ill and wasn't able to complete the album. He took Leslie to party with Bruce one night."
Leslie: "Oh, yeah! I told Bruce, I was surprised how short he was!"
Mara: "ha ha! I remember that!"
Leslie: He told me he loved our version. Bruce halted the release of a BETTE MIDLER version of "Pink Cadillac", 'cause he hated it. Thank goodness he didn't do that to us!"
How come you parted ways with Paul Sabu as a producer?
Leslie: "Our label had different producers in mind."
Why did Alex Rylance leave the band and how did you get in touch with her replacement Julia Farey?
Leslie: "Touchy subject."
Mara: "Alex had basically lost interest in the band. She was writing screenplays and finding success in other areas. We found Julia the same way we started the band, through musicians wanted ads in the local papers."
Can you tell us what the people could expect during a PRECIOUS METAL show those days? We heard you also threw in covers like "Rock and Roll All Nite" (KISS) and "Ballroom Blitz" (THE SWEET).
Leslie: "The best rowdy time ever! Party party party!"
KERRANG! (UK) once wrote, that LITA FORD would be recording her version of "Right Here, Right Now" on one of her albums. Were you aware of that and have you got any clue why she never actually recorded it?
Mara: "We were approached by one of our all time heroes, Michael Chapman, (SWEET writer/producer) who produced one of LITA FORD's albums. Mike and Lita wanted to record "Right Here, Right Now". It's not uncommon for an artist and/or producer to ask for a portion of the writing and publishing credits of a song. In this case, we were asked to rescind 50% of the credits in order to have this artist record our material. It was not within our power to give them these rights, since we'd already released the material and the credits were already divvied up. It was impossible for us to comply with the request, so they chose not to release it."
What happened after the release of "Precious Metal"? How did the album sell compared to the other two albums?
Leslie: "We were never given a proper statement on any of the releases. We were told Chameleon went bankrupt twice."
Mara: "Leslie's right, we were told numbers, but never on paper. According to what we were told by various sources, the last album sold over 300% more than the first."
Who was involved in the making of the "Very Best of Precious Metal" CD? And what did you think of bringing out such a compilation?
Leslie: "I had nothing to do with it, Mara did it. I was surprised and happy. I'd forgotten how much fun we had together and how fun the music was! I think it's great!"
Mara: "John Edwards, the president of Renaissance Records, approached me with the idea, I was stunned. I digitally remastered the first record (which was never released on CD), dug through boxes of old photos and sent him over a hundred to choose from for the CD booklet. Carol and I did the sequence together. John let us choose which songs we wanted to include."
When you look at the inlay on f.e. this CD, you'll see the Art Direction was done by a guy named '@rt*E'?. I can read the word 'art' in that description, but who's really behind that 'nick' name?
Mara: "Chameleon's staff artist, Todd Skyles."
Leslie, when did you start to form KANARY?
Leslie:"I started forming it in Mara's comic book.. I slowly metamorphosed into a Superhero. KANARY is kind of off my last name Knauer. My ex, Peter, co-wrote the song "Kanary" on my new album for me too, that made it inevitable." Mara: "Ha ha! Leslie is talking about a story I started writing back in '88. I'm a bit of a comic book superhero freak. I wrote this fictional story about a rock band who become Superheroes. I based a character on Leslie, that I named KANARY. I hope to produce it one day as both a comic book and a film or TV show."
The bio of KANARY writes about four (!) PRECIOUS METAL albums, I can only count three albums. What's the fourth one?
Leslie & Mara: "We officially recorded three albums (in four releases) plus the "Very Best Of..." CD. Then there's the EP released in the US and England (which contained tracks/versions that were never released on any albums). We were also involved in ten soundtracks, that resulted in two soundtrack albums and we did two compilations."
What's the biggest difference between KANARY and PRECIOUS METAL, except the music style of course.
Leslie: "I've never played guitar before and now I'm the solo guitarist. I write all the songs. It's way more quirky than PRECIOUS METAL. The lyrics are completely autobiographical. I write mostly about things people are embarassed about verbalizing or being. Jealousy, stupidity... It's not just 'girl trying to get guy' lyrics, but more rounded, not just about partying."
Are you also playing PRECIOUS METAL stuff during a KANARY gig? Leslie: "No! I can't even play the guitars on those songs!"
Mara, you're now the president of TSP (Times Square Productions), which you founded in '96. Tell us a bit more about your activities as a music publishing and production company.
Mara: "I create & place music for TV and movie use, and try to help create opportunities for our artists to further their careers."
How did you get in Cherie Currie's band THE MIX and are you still a member of this band?
Mara: "Cherie called me and said she was asked to do a benefit, and needed some names to do it with her. The line-up was Cherie & me, Berton Averre & Bruce Gary from THE KNACK, Craig Doucet, and occasionally Ian Mitchell from THE BAY CITY ROLLERS. The band no longer exists. We only stayed together for about a year, but it was definitely the most killer players I've had the pleasure of playing with! It was a blast!"
Leslie recorded a song called "It's gonna rain" for "The Music of Times Square Productions Volume 1 & 2" sampler. Can you tell us something more about those CDs, that also feature songs by KANARY and PRECIOUS METAL?
Mara: "Only a few of those songs were recorded especially for the Times Square CDs. Leslie already had the song on tape and I think it's a huge hit and I wanted to include it. The songs on the sampler set are for the use of music supervisors for TV and movie use. The sampler acts as a calling card for our music library and roster, which consists of over fifty artists and over 1,000 songs."
Leslie: "It's just one of the songs I wrote,. Even when I don't have a band, I'm just constantly writing songs."
Janet Robin also released a solo CD, called "Open The Door" Did you hear it and do you like it?
Leslie: "I heard it and it's her, very nice."
Do you know what ex-drummer Carol M Control is doing at the moment? Is she also still in the music business?
Leslie: "She still plays and performs occasionally, but she's a computer guru now, and she also paints! She's an art lover. She lives up the street from me and we have coffee on Sundays, I love that! Carol's great."
And what about Alex Rylance and Julia Farey?
Leslie: "Alex is married, pregnant, looks gorgeous! She's so tiny, you can't even tell she's pregnant yet."
How big is the chance of a PRECIOUS METAL reunion in these days of revivals? I can imagine it's going to be even more difficult now, since almost every bandmember has their own new band together. But just for the record, is there any chance you might reunite someday?
Leslie: "We had a little reunion for a friend's wedding this summer, you missed it! It's hard to go back into the past. I'm really into what I'm doing now."
Do you have anything to say to our readers, now you've got a chance to speak out here?
Mara: Thanks for rockin' with us through the years! There's more great stuff to come, so keep your ears open for us!"
Leslie: "I hope you all give the new KANARY CD a listen!"

written by: Rita & Toine van Poorten/copyright Metal Maidens

RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW ('85 Polygram/Mercury)
THAT KIND OF GIRL; two different covers ('88 Chameleon Records, USA and Savage Records, UK)
S/T ('90 Chameleon Records)
BAD GUYS ('85 Mercury/Polygram- promo)

INVINCIBLE ('97 indie)
BUNDLE OF HISS - 3 track EP ('01 indie)

OPEN THE DOOR ('98 Little Sister Records)
OUT FROM UNDER ('01 Little Sister Records)