This past week, I met up with one of my biggest rock heroes, Joey Cassata, in New York City to do an in-depth interview for Journey of a Frontman. In addition to previously being the drummer for ZO2 and having a lead role on Z Rock, he continues to break through the entertainment scene with the upcoming Wrestling With Joeylicious and Victor. On top of that, he is currently the drummer for the Broadway play, Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812.
Alex Obert: Your biggest influence growing up you would say is Kiss?
Joey Cassata: Definitely Kiss. When I was five years old, My brother was a big Kiss fan but I didn’t really know them yet. We went to see them at Madison Square Garden and it changed my life. Just incredible. When Peter’s drum kit rose up in the air, I was in awe. I think I saw them in July and that Christmas, I asked my mom for my first drum set. I could barely play, I was just banging around for a little while, but that was definitely my biggest influence growing up.
Alex Obert: Which other drummers?
Joey Cassata: Besides all the Kiss drummers? Believe it or not, Eric Carr was a bigger influence than Peter Criss. Just because when I got into them, Peter was on his way out. I saw them with Peter, but then really started buying the records, the first record I actually bought was Double Platinum, but my first new record was, The Elder. Eric was the drummer on that. Eric was my bigger influence growing up and all throughout the eighties. Eric got me into the big drum kit and style. Growing up, I had the exact same kit as Eric. I had a big, giant kit. That’s all I would ever play on. As I got older and discovered more drummers, John Bonham was, to me, the best rock n’ roll drummer that ever lived. Another big influence, believe it or not, is Robert Sweet from Stryper. A lot of people will probably laugh at that, but he is an incredible, incredible drummer. Very signature, all the stuff he does. Very different, he throws in a lot of cool accents that you wouldn’t normally put in spots. He puts it in and it just works. He has his own style, just his own way of playing. We had played with Stryper at B.B. King’s a couple years ago and we were hanging out backstage, ZO2 had finished their set and Stryper had just finished theirs, we were hanging out. Just bullshitting and stuff. Robert and I were talking and I was like, “Dude, you were a big influence on me growing up. Style-wise. Showmanship-wise.” All that stuff. And he was telling me how he was watching our set and he thought I was a better drummer than him. So I was floored. I remember driving home that night, I called Chris Jericho, who is also a huge Stryper fan, I said, “You’re never gonna believe what Robert was just telling me.” He’s like, “What, dude?” “Robert just told me I’m a better drummer than he is.” He was going crazy cause he’s a Stryper fan too. Funny little story.
Alex Obert: Speaking of Chris Jericho, what was it like when you first met him? Was it on Z Rock and did you react the same way you did on the show?
Joey Cassata: (laughs) Yes, it was on Z Rock. We met on set before we started filming. We met earlier in the day, talking about scripts. But no, I didn’t react like I reacted on Z Rock. That was definitely fabricated. But I definitely was a Chris Jericho fan. I am a huge wrestling fan. I was more of an eighties wrestling fan. I knew of Chris when he was in WCW, but at that time I wasn’t a huge wrestling fan anymore. I was a wrestling fan growing up in the eighties with Hogan and Ultimate Warrior and Macho Man, all those guys. Chris was super cool to work with. I remember the very first thing he said to us when he got to set, you’ve gotta understand, we’re not wrestlers, we never put on wrestling gear or anything, so the wardrobe department gave us wrestling outfits, we didn’t know what the hell we were wearing. We just put them on, they said, “Here’s your wardrobe for today.” We were actors, we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. So we put on our wrestling outfits and Chris, I remember, was looking at us, and was like, “Guys, are you wearing cups?” we said “Uh, yeah. Why? You guys don’t wear cups when you wrestle?” He’s like, “Uh, no. You guys look ridiculous.” (laughs) So I remember the second day of filming, I guess we filmed a whole week with Jericho, the second day we filmed, I think we took the cups off. So if you look at the footage, you probably notice some scenes we have cups on and some scenes we don’t. That’s because Chris Jericho told us we look ridiculous.
Alex Obert: How did it come about that you played with Fozzy in New York City in 2010?
Joey Cassata: Well, through meeting Jericho on set, Jericho’s a huge metal fan. He has his own band, Fozzy, as you know. And we became really close with him. We became real good friends. We’d go out to this music convention, NAMM, every year out in LA. It’s just basically everyone from the music industry checking out new gear and signing and doing all that stuff. So we would hang out with Jericho every year at NAMM and we became very friendly. We played a gig with him in LA also. We just started talking and said, “Oh, we’ve gotta do some shows together.” And whenever he was in town, trying to hook up with him, and if we were in the same city together, we’d try to do a show together. Those were good times.
Alex Obert: Back to wrestling, you are developing a new show called “Wrestling with Joeylicious”, tell me what’s going on currently with that.
JC: So as you know, I played this character on Z Rock, Joeylicious, In the Jericho episode. Funny thing has it, that character wasn’t written for the show. The original concept for that episode was we were all supposed to dress up as our favorite wrestlers. I think I was gonna be Hulk Hogan. But I was suggesting to the producers and the writers, I said, “Listen, why don’t we dress up like our own characters? We’ll make our own wrestling characters.” For years, my buddies and I used to get a house out in the Hamptons, Long Island, it was a party house every Summer, we’d go out and drink and have fun and stuff. I used to always have this wrestling persona that I would run around the house as called Joeylicious. We would have fake wrestling matches and just be ridiculous. I used to put boas on and become Joeylicious. So it kind of just formed from that, where I said, “Guys, listen. I can be Joeylicious.” And Paulie winded up writing his character, Pulled Pork Paulie. Dave was Chippendave. So it just turned out to be so ridiculous. So from that, the episode was a big success. I think it might have been the highest rated episode of the second season. We just got so many great comments from it. I remember every show ZO2 did after that, people would scream “Bring the violence!” and “Joeylicious!” So, the Joeylicious character became very popular. After Z Rock went off the air, me being a huge wrestling fan, rather than just trying to start acting in other people’s shows, me and my buddy Christopher Lynn (who co-wrote Joeylicious), who I know from grade school, we’ve been friends forever, I sat down with him one day, I said, “Dude, we gotta write something with this character. We should write something based on this character with wrestling involved.” So we sat down one night and we came up with a script. It kind of morphed from there. We started developing this script and developing this concept. We went and filmed a little sizzle reel with some of the producers from Z Rock and they of course loved the idea because they knew Joeylicious from Z Rock. So they were all into it. So we filmed the sizzle reel. It turned out okay. Some of it was great, some of it was a little dull. So we went back to the drawing board and said, “You know, we gotta spice this up a little bit.”
So what we did was we said, “Okay, now we gotta get some real wrestlers involved. The concept of the show is I’m basically this wannabe wrestler. My whole life, I wanted to become a wrestler. And in a weird way, this is a true story. When I was a kid, wrestling and music was my life. And I’m talking about before being a teenager, I’m talking about ten years old. I was a very, very big kid. I was my current size when I was probably eleven years old. I was the biggest kid in school. I was a monster. So wrestling was a real thing I could have done when I was a kid. I always thought maybe I would become a wrestler. Then I basically just stopped growing. So I’m the same size that I’ve been since I was eleven years old. So that dream went out the window. In this show, it’s kind of like the same concept. I’m a wrestler that just wasn’t big enough, wasn’t good enough, but I still wanna do it. I make no money. I live at home with my Mom. I have a shitty job just trying to support myself as a wrestler. Throughout the show, whenever I think about quitting, wrestling legends from the past, appear to me. For instance, there’s a scene we just filmed with Jimmy ”Superfly” Snuka. where I’m sitting at a bus stop and Snuka sits down next to me. I pour my heart out to him and ask him for some advice. He reaches into my bag and pulls out a coconut and smashes me in the head with it. Basically, reenacting the Piper’s Pit scene from the 80’s. Then it turns to a wide shot and Jimmy isn’t there it’s just some old women. So the premise is that these wrestlers are never really there, they’re just manifestations of my imagination. There’s a movie, True Romance, with Christian Slater. Incredible movie. Christian Slater sees Elvis throughout the whole movie. Val Kilmer actually plays Elvis in the movie. Elvis is constantly giving him advice. But Elvis is never really there. That’s kind of where we got the idea. And we’ve been signing on these great wrestlers to be on board. We’re filming all of these little vignettes and we’ve got a lot of interest from some networks. Even if the networks don’t come on board, there’s so many other options now with the internet. Chris actually just aired his show, But I’m Chris Jericho, online. So we can always go that route. But we have a lot of interest.
We actually just signed on probably the biggest wrestler of all time. He’s on board. I got confirmation from his agent that he is on board. So once I have it in writing, we will be able to shop it with his name on board, so it’s just a matter of time before someone picks it up. We’re looking at Comedy Central right now, it would be a great fit. We’re shopping around, but things are looking really up.
Alex Obert: Can you adjust from the profanity of Z Rock to a cable station?
Joey Cassata: Well, yeah. It’s definitely not gonna be as racy as Z Rock. I would say it’s gonna be more like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, that type of humor. Listen, it always depends on the network. If a network comes on board and says, “We want it to be a little racier.”, of course we’re gonna go a little racier. If they want it to be a little toned down, we’re gonna go a little toned down. It’s really up to the network. The way we’re writing it is really, totally sitcom comedy. Sophisticated sitcom, but sitcom, like Modern Family. That type of humor. Clean humor, funny humor. This show could be on NBC, it could be on FOX. So it’s definitely not something where we’re looking to be racy. If it’s wrestling, we wanna draw a wrestling audience. The wrestling audience is really kids, it’s older folks. It’s not that rock n’ roll audience that Z Rock had.
Alex Obert: With your experience on Z Rock and acting, tell me how Jay Oakerson, who played Neil, influenced you on the set with his improv style and working with him.
Joey Cassata: Jay was amazing. I mean, you’ve gotta understand, when we started Z Rock, none of us acted before. We were all newbies. So it took a little getting used to, even just something as stupid as looking into the camera. You see a camera in front of you, because we’re a rock band, we did a million interviews and stuff, and we would always look into the camera for interviews and stuff like that. So it was very different for us to not pay attention to that camera and to act around the camera. The show was filled with comedians, Jay Oakerson, Lynne Koplitz, and Joan Rivers, Gilbert Gottfried. All these comedians, Jay the most because Jay was on every episode with us, just their timing and their reactions. I mean we always said that we weren’t acting, we were reacting. And there was no one in the world better than Jay. Jay could do the same scene a hundred times a hundred different ways. Every time, it would get funnier and funnier and funnier. What we would do is, we would kind of have a line written for us and we would play around that line and maybe try to do that line different ways. But then Jay and all these other comedians, we saw doing their own thing and their own lines and really became funnier than what the writers had written for them. So that’s when we started doing our own stuff because our show got picked up, there was no writing involved when we first got picked up, it was us that sold the show. So our humor and our ridiculous comments and sometimes our own stupidity would be what made the show so funny. What we would do is, Jay taught us, and Joan and Lynne taught us, just be yourself. When we filmed Z Rock, we filmed out of order. We didn’t film episode 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. We started filming episode four with that intention because we weren’t seasoned actors yet. So we didn’t want the first episode to be raw. So if you really watch episode four with Gilbert Gottfried in the first season, we all probably are the least comfortable because that was our very first episode filmed. We filmed 4, 5, 6, and then we went back to 1, I’m not even sure the order, but we went back to 1. So 1 was like our sixth or seventh episode in. So when we filmed 1, we were very comfortable at that point. Jay and everyone really helped us be natural on camera.
Alex Obert: On the topic of Gilbert Gottfried, tell me about working with him on the animated show Victor you are developing.
Joey Cassata: So, Gilbert, obviously is hysterical in everything he does. I’ve been working on an animated show called Victor. It’s basically a cross between All in the Family and South Park. There’s a character on All in the Family, Archie Bunker, he’s probably the best TV character of all time. We like to say, “What if Archie Bunker lived in South Park?”, that’s what you would get if you had Victor. Victor’s about an old, cranky man. Racist, sexist, self-deprecating. He’s just a crazy, crazy old man. He’ll say anything, he’ll do anything. I am the voice of Victor. Gilbert plays Victor’s archenemy, a Hasidic Jewish midget rabbi. When myself and my partner Tommy Snyder were writing this character, we had Gilbert in mind from the get go. We just pictured that whiny, Jewish type of voice in this midget and it was just golden. So obviously, I kept in contact with Gilbert throughout the years with Z Rock, and we sat down with Gilbert and met with him and showed him the storyboards and showed him the script and he loved it. He said, “This is right up my alley.” So we’re in the process right now of doing the voices for the first sizzle reel/episode. We’re entering the studio probably sometime next month to do all of his voices. Then we’re shipping it out to India to get animated. It will probably be another two months before all that’s finished and then we’ll make all our rounds to all the networks. Probably come January, early February at the latest. So that’s probably a little bit ahead of Joeylicious right now. Joeylicious is probably about three or four months behind Victor, as far as the developmental process. But Victor’s coming along great. It’s a lot of freedom because you don’t have to act, it’s just voiceovers, so we have all the freedom in the world. Victor will definitely be more along the lines of Z Rock as far as humor. Dirty, racist, just ridiculous, over the top humor, whereas Joeylicious is definitely gonna be more geared towards a regular audience, like a regular network audience. Victor’s been great and Gilbert’s been doing an amazing job. It’s gonna be fun.
Alex Obert: Another comedian you’ve worked with on Z Rock, someone gone way too soon, Greg Giraldo, what was it like working with him?
Joey Cassata: Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of Z Rock guest stars that have passed. Greg, Patrice O’Neal, Mike DeStefano, who played Neil’s father on the episode where we went to jail. There’s been this curse of Z Rock going on which is a little crazy. Not to talk ill about the dead, but that son of a bitch, Greg, when he was coming back for the second season, we were super excited but in the first episode of the second season, Greg’s character, Harry Braunstein, was dating my ex-girlfriend, Becky and we ended up fighting in the episode. During that fight scene, it was totally a fake fight, but during that fight scene, I actually tore my ACL. In the Steel Panther episode, I am legitimately in a wheelchair. I had just had surgery. So in the Greg Giraldo episode, which is the first episode, the spot where he jumps on top of me and then I’m pounding him from above, Paulie and Dave pull me off of him. When they pulled me off, I think it was in the kitchen, and it was on a linoleum floor, my boot slipped, and you literally heard a big pop on set. I screamed in pain and my foot and knee swelled like a balloon. I Had X Rays, MRIs done, sure enough, I had a torn ACL. Totally ripped. ZO2 actually had a show two nights later. I played the show with a torn ACL and I didn’t get my surgery until after the Chris Jericho episode. We filmed in order the second season. I filmed 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 with a torn ACL. So if you watch those episodes back, very rarely do you see me walking, you never see me running, anything rapid pace or getting up quickly. If you really notice, you never see me do any of that stuff because my ACL is ripped. Even in the Chris Jericho episode, my ACL was ripped, so we had some other things planned like moves and stuff that I couldn’t do because I was hurting from my ACL. Right after that episode, Z Rock took a two week break. I had the surgery, came right back in the wheelchair and filmed the rest of the season. The rest of the season, I still wasn’t great. I had the wheelchair, then I was on crutches. The episode with the mob, I’m on a crutch. That’s totally legit, I’m really on a crutch. I don’t think I was ever good until the end of the season. Even the last episode of the second season, I don’t think I’m on a crutch anymore, but I’m still hurting. If you go back and look at the blooper reels from season two, from the Steel Panther episode on, the bloopers are great because I am on pain killers and scotch and anything I could get to get through the day. So I am completely loopy in most of those episodes. But Greg was fantastic to work for and with, even though he tore my ACL. That bastard! God Bless.
Alex Obert: Another name on Z Rock who you’ve stated in the past is one of your biggest influences, Dee Snider. How has he inspired and influenced you ever since you’ve spent time with him playing shows and on Z Rock?
Joey Cassata: Well, I’m a huge Twisted Sister fan. When I was growing up, Kiss was my biggest band, but Twisted Sister was up there with them. The We’re Not Gonna Take It and the I Wanna Rock video’s were on MTV 24/7. Stay Hungry was like a staple for me. I listened to that a gazillion times. So when Dee came on set, he was amazing. Not only is he one of the best frontmen ever, that’s my opinion anyway, he what a pleasure to work with. You’ve gotta understand, the people we got on the show, obviously the comedians do stand up, so you know they’re gonna be funny. But a lot of the musicians and some other people we got on the show, you don’t know if they’re gonna be able to one, act, two, be funny, three, be willing to do some kind of crazy fictitious version of themselves. I’m actually having that same issue with the wrestlers I’m dealing with right now. A lot of them are not actors. So I’m really asking them to play the same type of roles as we ask people on Z Rock to play, which is really just a crazy, fictitious version of themselves. I don’t want just a regular character, I want you to be over the top. We didn’t want Dee Snider to come on and just be Dee Snider. We wanted him to be a ridiculous version of himself. So when you’re asking him to be on a boat with Paulie serenading him and you don’t even know if this guy’s gonna go for it. He might be like, “Screw you! This is lame. I’m not doing this.” But he was unbelievably funny. I mean I know it came across on camera, but the hundreds of outtakes we didn’t use, everything was funny. Just a pleasure to work with. Unbelievably funny. Great guy.
Alex Obert: I also noticed John Popper adapted very well.
Joey Cassata: This is not taking anything away from anyone, but John might have been the best at it. And again, you don’t know what you’re gonna get. You look at the script and you hear “John Popper’s on set today playing himself, this crazy love interest Dina used to have”, and you’re like, “Is he gonna be able to do this?” And again, we hit home run after home run cause you’ve gotta understand, the production company, it’s not like they sat and auditioned people and had any kind of rounds. We got who we got. We were doing some stuff on the fly. I remember originally, Dee Snider’s role was scripted for Peter Criss to play. And just for scheduling and some other stuff and just certain things happened that it didn’t work out. Who knows, Peter might not have been able to do it. It just turned out we hit a home run, same thing with John. Hit a home run. I remember our schedule for filming was brutal. We would film six in the morning until sometimes eight, nine, ten, eleven at night. So it was brutal. Five days a week. And if you had a day off, you would cherish it. But there were days where I remember specifically, we were off certain days that John Popper was gonna be on set, and we purposely came in. Just some of the stuff that he would come up with, it’s all improv. I mean we had a script. I wish I had one of the old Z Rock scripts to show you to compare what a Z Rock script looked like compared to what actually got taped. It’s just amazing what we came up with, what the actors came up with, what these musicians came up with. How they played around the script and made it even funnier than it could have ever been. So John again, his improving skills were out of this world. I don’t know where he learned them, if he learned them somewhere. But wherever he did, he was hysterical.
Alex Obert: Back to Dee Snider, ZO2 performed on stage with him at Rock Asylum. What was that like?
Joey Cassata: That was a great show. I remember we were only supposed to do We’re Not Gonna Take It. And Dee was on stage, we were all ready to do We’re Not Gonna Take It and he comes over to me and he’s like, “Listen, I feel good! I’m in the mood! Let’s do a couple songs. You know Highway to Hell?” I don’t think I’d ever played it, but I know Highway to Hell. So he’s just like, “Listen, let’s do Highway to Hell. Paulie, Highway to Hell.” So we just jumped into Highway to Hell. Started jamming. So much fun. Still one of the best frontmen that ever lived. And even vocally, he’s so powerful still. I mean there’s a lot of rock guys out there that have lost their voice over the years and Dee is possible better now than he’s ever been. He’s in shape, vocals are in shape. Just an amazing front man too. The songs we did that night at Rock Asylum with Dee are on YouTube.
Alex Obert: Moving onto ZO2, we talked about Kiss earlier in the interview, what’s not as well known is Kiss Nation, where you and Paulie were in a Kiss tribute band in the early 2000s. How did that come about?
Joey Cassata: It’s funny how things work out in life. I was in a band for many years called Valentine Smith, you can get their CD on Amazon. Great band. Very professional band, not a very hard rock band, it was more Train, Wallflowers, that type of band. I was in that band for years and it was just very serious, everything was with contracts and lawyers and record deals and all this other stuff. Not alot of just fun. It was just a very serious band. Something I wanted, don’t get me wrong, but it kind of sucked a little bit of the joy out of it for me. So while I was still in that band, I think I was looking in The Village Voice and I saw an ad for one of these Kiss tribute bands and they said they wanted an Eric Carr drummer in the band. So I looked at it and I kind of did a double take, I looked back and I said, “Wait a second.” Because I’d never seen any tribute band doing Eric Carr before. And I looked back at it and I said, “This could be fun.” I mean I’ve never dressed up as Eric Carr for Halloween or anything. When I was a kid, I dressed up as Kiss a lot. And of course I know the Kiss catalog up and down, I could play every Kiss song for you. Even the real rare ones. So I looked at it, I said, “Why not?” I mean I was gigging a lot with this other band, but I said I could probably squeeze it in with my schedule. So I answered the ad and the Ace Frehley in the band, Ruby Rinekso, answered the phone. And he was talking to me and he’s like, “Yeah, we’d love for you to come down and audition.” I think it was Monday night that I called him, he was like, “Can you come down Wednesday?” I was like, “Yeah, Wednesday sounds good.” I said, “What do you want me to learn?” He’s like, “I’ll send you an e-mail of what songs to learn.” And I still give him shit to this day. He gave me an e-mail with thirty plus songs. Luckily, I could basically jam on all of them because I’m a huge Kiss fan. But he gave me thirty songs to learn. I remember getting into the audition, sitting down, and I said, “Okay, what do you wanna start with?” And the first song he said was Strutter. Strutter was not on my list! I said, “You son of a bitch! You made me learn thirty songs, Strutter was not one of them.” Of course I knew Strutter, we jammed on Strutter. But it’s so funny, I learned all these songs, and he made me play Strutter of all things. So as you may know, Paulie Z was the Paul Stanley of that band. So long story short, I started playing with them. So much fun, we had a ball.
We even filmed a TV show for VH1, it was called Mock Rock. We filmed a full episode about us as a tribute band. At the end of the episode, VH1 told us, “We’re flying you guys out to LA to do a show in front of the producers of Mock Rock for VH1.” It was at the Whiskey A Go Go, which is a famous LA club. So we were excited, “Oh, we’re going to LA. Free trip to LA, free food.” We love food. So it was great. We went to The Whiskey, put the stage together, put all our gear on, and we looked out and there was no one in the audience. We went back up to the dressing room, fifteen minutes later, we come out for the show, it was mobbed! There were young kids and it was almost too good to be true. So we were like, “What the hell is going on? We thought this was like an executive party.” Sure enough, we start playing Rock and Roll All Nite at the end of the set, and at the Whiskey, there’s a balcony. A spotlight shines on the balcony, so we could see it purposely, and all the audience is looking up in the balcony and it was Gene and Paul from Kiss. They were up in the balcony watching us. It turns out it was all a set up. VH1 wanted this to be the final segment of the show where Gene and Paul come and watch us play. They watched us play, they came on stage with us, congratulated us, came backstage with us, told us how good we were and how great our costumes were. It was like a dream come true. It was unbelievable.
Alex Obert: Is that what planted the seeds for the Kiss/Poison/ZO2 tour?
Joey Cassata: Funny enough, no, not at all. At this time, Paulie, myself, and Dave were already forming the seeds of ZO2. This was probably 2001, 2002ish. We were doing ZO2 stuff and slowly ZO2 just became more serious. We started to record an album. Slowly Kiss Nation just started to phase out for us because it was just for fun. ZO2 became more serious and more serious. So we hooked up with manager, Bob Held. Bob, once we recorded our CD, winded up getting our CD to Paul Stanley. So there is no connection to Kiss Nation at all. I know there are so many fans out there that think that our Kiss Nation connections and stuff got us the Kiss tour, but I don’t even think to this day Gene and Paul know we were the same two guys on that VH1 Kiss Nation show with them. I don’t even think they remember that. Because we were in make up, they didn’t know what we looked like. I don’t even think Gene and Paul ever put that connection together. So that had nothing to do with ZO2 at all. Bobby got Paul the CD. Nikki Sixx’s band Brides of Destruction were originally on the bill with Kiss and Poison, and something happened, either they got kicked off the or they had to drop off for personal reasons, whatever it was, there was a slot open on the tour. And it was very late, it was probably the end of April, and we went on tour in June. Paul called our manager up and said, “Listen Bobby, we’ve got a slot open. Do your boys wanna do it?” And of course, what’s the answer? Holy shit yes! I remember getting that e-mail, I still have the email that Bobby’s wife, our co-manager, Lynn, sent to us. It said, “Are you guys available to do fifty dates this Summer with Kiss?” And I was like, “What?!?” We didn’t even think it was true but sure enough, that’s how that started. It had nothing to do with Kiss Nation.
Alex Obert: With ZO2, what are some of your fondest memories?
Joey Cassata: They are all fun memories. We were a local band from Brooklyn that made it. Maybe we didn’t become as big as Kiss or The Rolling Stones, those mega star bands, but we did more than I would say 99.9% of the bands in the world. Some of it had to do with hard work, some luck, some of it had to do with determination, some of it had to do with right place, right time. All the cards fell in the right slots at the right time. Starting with the Kiss tour. And it’s funny how things work out, I remember when we were recording our first CD, Paulie and David funded that CD by themselves. They spent maybe fifty grand funding the CD on credit cards and through our kids music we were doing at the time. And I was like, “Guys, this is nuts! We’re a beginner band. We should not be spending fifty grand on a CD. Let’s make demos and shop it and maybe get funding.” I was against it. Sure enough, if we didn’t have that CD, Paul Stanley would have never heard it and invited us on the Kiss tour. So, everything happens for a reason. So that CD spawned the Kiss tour. Once we were on the Kiss tour, a million doors opened up. We were actually supposed to go out with Scorpions and Tesla right after that, but stuff happened, road blocks happened and we came to a little bit of a halt right after the Kiss tour. Then all of a sudden, we got approached to do this Z Rock thing, the TV show. We were like, “TV show? What are you talking about, a TV show? How are we gonna do a TV show? What?” Sure enough, the TV show winded up happening two or three years later. And then from the TV show, a million other doors opened up. The third season was on the table for Z Rock, the ball was really starting to roll, the snowball was going downhill and we were starting to pick up momentum. Then a lot of internal things happened. Stuff with the Network, our managers, just stuff happened. The train got derailed a little bit. And then unfortunately, IFC didn’t pick it up. There was a lot of different reasons, one of the main reasons were they were going more ad-based. If we would have gotten a third season, I believe to this day, we would have been very big and still going strong today. We were ready to film the third season, we had production meetings, we were ready to roll. Not getting that third season definitely hurt us. We were in a rut after that, we started to record again for a fourth album. Things never were the same after that. It was a tough nut to swallow. We were getting older, I’m married, I have a kid. During Z Rock, when we were touring, we were getting paid very well, we had a record deal and Z Rock money. Then our record label winded up going under because it was spending a lot of money foolishly. So we didn’t have funding anymore. People have to understand without funding, touring is very hard. We did it in the beginning, but touring is very hard without any funding. Luckily we didn’t have to get day jobs again yet. The band was self-sufficient, which no other bands can say in this day and age, unless you’re a mega band. Bands at our level, there were no bands on the road just keeping afloat, being on the road and selling CDs and selling merch and all that stuff, but we were. Unfortunately, after a while, you just couldn’t do it anymore. I had a kid, I couldn’t go out for weeks at a time and come home with just enough money to live. I had to bring money home for my family. I know Paulie, unfortunately wanted to do more of that. I couldn’t. Dave, of course, could. Dave has Trans-Siberian Orchestra, so he was financially okay. But it was a tough time because we couldn’t be on the road as much. Then recording. Everything was getting expensive. Without funding behind you, you just can’t keep going. It’s a thing where if we had funding, we’d still be out there today trying to do it. We just didn’t have any funding anymore. Too bad too because the songs we had recorded for that fourth CD were dynamite. Who knows, maybe we will release it one day.
Alex Obert: When Z Rock was going into a potential third season, the show was left on a cliffhanger in the last episode of the second season with Jason Flom, how do you think that would have wound up?
Joey Cassata: Well, here’s the funny thing, we had another record deal on the table, Jason Flom, was gonna actually sign us for real on Z Rock to Universal Records. And we just got some bad advice at the time not to do the deal that it was what the industry calls a 360 deal, which is really industry standard now. The old school way of thinking was that it was a bad deal. We just got bad, bad advice. And we didn’t take the deal. And shortly after that, our record company folded. That deal was gone. We always wanted to take the show to the next level, almost like Entourage, that ZO2 made it big. You never know what the show was gonna be. It was probably gonna be more of the same hard times and stuff like that. But we had a deal with Universal on the table and unfortunately, we didn’t do the right thing or maybe we did the right thing, who knows, Because things are good for me now. At the time, we probably should have taken it. But, what are you gonna do? Things happen.
Alex Obert: How does it feel going from being with ZO2 and touring the country then being a TV star with Z Rock to playing drums in the Broadway play, Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 you are currently in?
Joey Cassata: It has been a fun and amazing ride. Not many people can say they have toured the country with major acts like KISS, starred in their own TV show and played on Broadway. It’s pretty wild!! As you may or may not know, I’m the backup drummer for Trans-Siberian Orchestra. I met a musician there named Or Matias, he was conducting this up and coming play. He called me in to work on some drum parts with them. They were using a track and they wanted to see if they wanted a live drummer. Long story short, I auditioned and they hired me. The play is called Natasha Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812. It’s technically an Off Broadway play still, but it’s literally right next door to Pippin and Kinky Boots. Broadway basically, you have to have a certain number of seats and in a certain theater to be considered “Broadway”. So we’re just waiting for a theater to open right now and we’ll become a Broadway play. The play is huge, it’s a great opportunity for me. It was New York Times, best reviewed play of the Summer. We just recorded the cast album. It was just released on iTunes and should be in stores soon. It’s based on War and Peace, it’s kind of a love story/pop opera. It’s opening up a lot of doors. It’s getting me into this whole Broadway world, where for me, with my schedule and all these other projects I have going on is perfect. I’ve done a hundred and seventy five shows with them since June. So it’s a lot of playing. But it’s great because it’s mostly at night. I get my days free to not only spend time with my family, but to develop Victor, develop Joeylicious, do all these meetings and running around. The Broadway world, it’s definitely a different animal. It’s not like playing in a rock concert, that’s for sure. You’re doing the exact same thing every night. I’m reading off a chart every night, following a conductor every night. So it’s a different world, but it’s phenomenal. It’s a great schedule for my world right now.
Alex Obert: Before we wrap up, do you have any additional plugs?
Joey Cassata: Well, always my Facebook account, facebook.com/JoeyCassata. You can find updates there, I always post little tidbits about who I’m filming with for Joeylicious. There are pictures up from the scene I recently shot with Jimmy Snuka when he smashes me in the head with a coconut. I always post up anything I’m doing, whether it’s The Great Comet play, Joeylicious, Victor stuff, all my updates always come from Facebook page. Definitely my Twitter page too, twitter.com/JoeyCassata. You can also email me personally with questions or just to say hello or anything at JoeyCassata@Aim.com.
Alex Obert: In closing, I am going to do a speed round with you. I’ll ask you questions, you answer whatever comes to mind.
Joey Cassata: Talk to me.
Alex Obert: Favorite song off of Tuesdays & Thursdays? I know what it’s not!
Joey Cassata: What is it? Tell me what it’s not!
Alex Obert: Head Up.
Joey Cassata: The problem with Tuesdays & Thursdays is a lot of that stuff was written before I joined the band. Some of it is a little off for me, even drum-wise. That’s why I don’t love that album. But my favorite song is probably Living Now. She Believes is my all-time favorite ZO2 song, that was on Ain’t It Beautiful?. Favorite to play, favorite to listen to. Maybe the favorite drum sound we got, just overall, killer song.
Alex Obert: Favorite off of Casino Logic?
Joey Cassata: Show Me, probably.
Alex Obert: Favorite match of all time?
Joey Cassata: (laughs) That’s a good question. I’m not sure if it’s my favorite match, but the most influential match, I saw Hulk Hogan win the title at Madison Square Garden versus The Iron Sheik in 1984. One of the best nights of my life. Definitely the most influential match ever. Maybe not my favorite actual wrestling match, but definitely my most memorable.
Alex Obert: Last wrestling event you went to?
Joey Cassata: Well, I go to see Jericho now when he’s in town. If RAW’s in town or something and Jericho’s on the card, I’ll call him up and he’ll have tickets and we’ll go backstage and hang out for a little bit. But it was probably RAW at the Garden maybe a year or two ago.
Alex Obert: Best line on Z Rock?
Joey Cassata: (laughs) There’s so many to choose from! There’s a line that I did, someone asked me to describe my love for Chris Jericho and I think I said, “If you take the Yankees and the Pope and combine them, that’s my love for Chris Jericho.” That’s one of my favorites.
Alex Obert: Have you had the Cassata dessert?
Joey Cassata: Of course, are you kidding me?
Alex Obert: What’s your thoughts on it?
Joey Cassata: I love cannoli cream, so I like it. I don’t love it, I like it. It’s very good. it’s definitely worth a try.
Alex Obert: If you could be in any other band, which would it be?
Joey Cassata: Do you wanna answer it for me?
Alex Obert: Does it begin with a K?
Joey Cassata: Yes! We came close on tour. We jammed every day, we jammed with Paul, we jammed with Tommy Thayer. We were just jamming on Love Gun one day, Paulie, Dave, and I. And Paul came out and started singing Love Gun with us during soundcheck and Gene might have been on bass too. They were all looking at us like, “This sounds pretty good! What the hell are you guys doing?” And I remember the sound man coming over to us afterwards, he’s like, “Guys, don’t ever do that again. You might have sounded better than them. So don’t disrespect them.” Very funny but true!
Alex Obert: If you could share an apartment with any musician, who would it be?
Joey Cassata: I don’t think I would ever share an apartment with another musician just because living on the road with Paulie and Dave has scarred me for the rest of my life, so I would choose nobody.
Alex Obert: Song you wish ZO2 covered live?
Joey Cassata: ZO2 was never a great cover band. Some of the covers that we did, we did really well, but there were plenty of times people would ask us to do covers. If you look online, us jamming with Sebastian Bach, two out of the three of us always knew the song, the other guy didn’t know it. So we’d always have to fake through it. We did some Ozzy songs I didn’t know, then we did a Zeppelin song Dave didn’t know. I remember a few weeks we were really get into covers and we all picked covers that we wanted to do and a cover that I always wanted to do and no band that I was ever in could do it was Stryper’s Soldiers Under Command. We goofed around with it in the studio. It was fun. I wish we would have done that. That would have been fun to do live. No one would have liked it probably, but I would have liked it.
Alex Obert: What are your last words for readers?
Joey Cassata: Just definitely keep up with us. We’re all doing good, we’re all doing our own thing. Dave’s on the road with TSO. Paulie’s out in LA having fun, he’s doing his own solo thing. I got this play and I’m developing these TV shows.. I mean we’re all good. I would hate for people to think, “Oh my God! ZO2 broke up because they couldn’t do it anymore.” Stuff just happens. Life gets in the way sometimes. It’s hard to keep going after awhile. Sometimes, you’ve just gotta slow down or call it quits or take a break. We’re all still having a great time, we’re out doing our own thing. We’re still all friends. We’ll probably jam again one day, you never know what’s gonna happen in the future. But I just want people to remember us as a fun band. I mean there’s so many fucking negative things you hear from people that you split with your manager and that’s why you guys didn’t do anything after that or you lost Z Rock and that’s why. No dude, stuff happens. We were together for ten years. And we had a great run for ten years and it was just hard to sustain after a while. Everyone has to live, everyone has to make enough money to live. And when you make just enough money to sustain yourself, it’s hard to keep going. It was more of a financial thing than anything else. If money was never an issue for anyone, ZO2 would still be out on the road every night jamming for all the fans. We love playing for you guys. Financially, it was so hard. If the fans want to put us back on the road and contribute money-wise, we’ll do it. It’s just there’s no money to be made right now, so it was a tough sell.
Who knows, maybe we’ll do a reunion show, a reunion tour in a couple years and it’ll sell. But I want people to remember us as fun and a great show and fun guys and Z Rock was fun and we always had a good time. I don’t want people to think we broke up because of stupid reasons. It’s just not true. Everything in life happens for a reason. Just like I said before, we got the Kiss tour for a reason. Then because of the Kiss tour, we got something else and we got Z Rock. Everything happens for a reason. So by ZO2 stopping, I got this play. It’s one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me. I’m playing drums for a living and it’s a great schedule for my family and my other projects. It’s opened up so many doors as well. So if ZO2 continued, I might not have pursued this play. So everything happens for a reason, Joeylicious might not have happened if ZO2 was still going. Victor might not have happened. I wouldn’t have the time to devote to these other projects because ZO2 took so much of my time. So everything in life happens for a reason. One thing ends and another one begins. End of story!! One door closes, another door will open. You’ve just gotta be there to open the door. Make sure you open that damn door because if you don’t, you’ll never be able to walk through it. If a door shuts, you have to be ready to open the next one once it comes to you. Or you know what? Go find a door and fuckin smash through it. And that’s how it’s done. You can’t sit back and wait. Once ZO2 ended, I didn’t sit back and say, “Jesus Christ, what am I gonna do now?”, I went out and I said I’m gonna do Joeylicious, I’m doing Victor. And these things are going great right now, they’re gonna be amazing for me. Then this play came along. It’s been great. The moral of the story is once one door closes, another door is open and there for you to walk through. You just gotta find it. Don’t ever fuckin sit on your ass and be sad about a door closing cause a better door is always gonna be in front of you. Always look forward, never look back. Wow that was a lot of doors! (laughs)
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[…] from part one of my interview with Joey Cassata, here is part two where we discuss ZO2 memories, Natasha, Pierre […]