Scott Stevens is the former frontman for The Exies, but he took the downfall of that band and capitalized on the opportunity of a lifetime. Instead of being on stage, he is now working with in the studio with bands such as Halestorm and Skillet as a very successful songwriter and producer. I spoke with Scott about his incredible journey including touring with Motley Crue, writing the biggest hit for The Exies, the unexpected success of Guitar Hero, and how he ended up working with many successful modern rock bands in the studio.
Alex Obert: What are your earliest memories of listening to music?
Scott Stevens: My earliest music was probably the Beatles, Carly Simon, Elton John, those are the earliest I can remember. My mom and my aunt used to play those records all the time.
Alex Obert: What was your first concert?
Scott Stevens: I guess my first concert was KISS in 1979. They were at the height of their career. It was like a circus show.
Alex Obert: Did you relive that type of experience when you toured with Motley Crue?
Scott Stevens: I don’t think I did intentionally. It was there, those guys definitely have a lot of pyro and a big show. I suppose it was a little bit like it. In my opinion, Motley is different from KISS. They were just more punk rock. I don’t know if I ever considered Motley Crue to be a glam band. It felt more like they were a New York Dolls type of glam band or something, a little more streety and dirty compared to something like Warrant.
Alex Obert: I always felt that Motley’s first album, Too Fast For Love, definitely had strong shades of punk.
Scott Stevens: Yeah, the first Motley record’s amazing. It’s really raw and cool.
Alex Obert: What’s your favorite Motley Crue song?
Scott Stevens: I think as far as the raw stuff goes, I probably like Too Fast For Love and Live Wire. Take Me to the Top is awesome. Being cliché, I really like Shout at the Devil and Looks That Kill. I thought those were cool. But that’s when they became more mainstream, though I knew they were going to take over when I heard that. They were coming out of the garage and into the arena.
Alex Obert: What was that experience like touring with them?
Scott Stevens: We were on tour with Velvet Revolver and we were in Canada, we had just landed. Our manager called and he said that we were gonna do two months with Motley over the summer. It was surprising because we were playing with bands like Breaking Benjamin and The Used and My Chemical Romance, that kind of stuff. And our manager said Nikki Sixx hand-picked the bands that he wanted. I just said, “Well, I guess that’ll be a chance to meet some of my heroes. And I’m sure it won’t suck because the crew will be huge. That means good catering and reasonable hours for the people driving and pulling into venues. That means sleep and rest!” So we looked at the proposal and we decided to do it. But I don’t think it made sense for us completely on a fan level. I don’t think those fans were really ready to buy Exies records. I think it was more of an experience for us to make Nikki feel like he had his finger on the pulse of the rock bands that were on the radio at the time. Perhaps he just liked it. We talked a couple times, but I don’t recall why he said he picked us.
Alex Obert: And with the music of The Exies, what is the story behind Ugly?
Scott Stevens: Songs have weird beginnings. I think a lot of stuff in this world is glamorized and fictionalized to give it some kind of importance through some kind of a story. Here’s the truth behind Ugly, I had a talk with my A&R guy, Dean and he just said, “You don’t have your first single yet.” This was after that Inertia record while we were working on songs. And I just kept saying, “What do you mean? We just turned in this song that can be on the radio!” He disagreed and said it wasn’t there yet. He said we had to trust him and told us to demo more and more. Dean wanted us to narrow down from twenty songs to fifteen and wanted us to keep writing. He said they were gonna start on the hunt for studio time and a start date, what they wouldn’t okay the budget until we got the song. He just said something stupid to me like, “You’ve gotta think about what kids are talking about.” But I’m not a kid though, I was in my early thirties at the time. I just didn’t know what that meant. But I just started to have this conversation with myself about me and my shortcomings and things that I didn’t like about myself that I needed to change. For some reason, that came out well on paper. I called my guitar player after I wrote the chorus and asked him if it was any good. He said it was, but that I should change the word Ugly to something else. But it seemed to be like the only word that really sums up everything. He told me that he’s heard it in a Staind song before and in a Nirvana song. But those are verse lyrics, it’s not a chorus lyric. It hadn’t had any importance put on it. I didn’t listen to him and I just kept it. Dean was scheduled to come out from New York, he had some business here in Los Angeles and he was gonna swing by the rehearsal place. And I had made sure that I was gonna finish the song by the time he got here because I knew it had something that was simple enough to be a single and something that was edgy enough where people could take away from it what they wanted. It had all those flavors. I finished it over a three day period while working nonstop on it. I then took it to rehearsal and we worked it up.
Nick Raskulinecz was working with us and we were doing preproduction. He loved it immediately. He did the one thing that I thought really helped make the song, he put the break in the vocal before the last chorus. He cut the music and was like, “Just stop! Everybody stop! Just let Scott sing that part.” And when we did that, it really just made that moment happen. I really learned from that. Just a small move like that and what it did for the song. At that time, things like that weren’t being done very much in music. We beat Linkin Park to the punch on that stuff. We didn’t explode like they did, but we were eight months ahead of them. Putting a raw vocal in the song just made that moment happen. When we saw Dean the next day, we played all the songs. He had this look on his face where I could tell that we didn’t get him and that he doesn’t think that it’s there yet. Nick just looked at me and said to play the new song. I told him we barely know it. But we played it and he lost his mind. He was like, “That’s it!” Then they made Nick audition and I thought that was a bunch of shit. He was already an accomplished producer and he was great. We were told to do two songs and then they’ll see if they wanna give him the job. We did Ugly and we finished it and it came out amazing. We had Randy Staub mix it. Then they tested it because in those days, they were testing songs. And it came back at 98.9% that it would be a single. That opened up the books to get the record going. It was truly a story of an eleventh hour song written by only me that came in right at the end. It became the biggest radio song of our career, it was the song that lasted the longest.
Alex Obert: The band also had unexpected success because of Guitar Hero. Did you expect the game to become as big as it did?
Scott Stevens: Not at all. I loved that song, Hey You. I knew it had something, but I felt the lyrics were not gonna connect. It was about a friend of mine that OD’d in my apartment. I didn’t think anybody would get that this is a song about heroin, it just doesn’t have that commercial lyrical appeal. But I thought the riff was catchy as shit. I’ll never forget that when we were cutting that, Dave Grohl was sitting right behind me in the studio. He was getting ready to make his first Foo Fighters record with Nick Raskulinecz after The Exies. Because he sat right there, I felt nervous as shit. I remember he looked at me and said, “That’s a great riff, man! That’s a really good riff!” Then he and I got to know each other a bit. He actually asked us out on tour with him and Weezer, but we had to decline because of a situation that happened with our band. I remember we were at Virgin signing CD covers or something and the product manager came in. And she said, “Listen, I got a contract here that needs your signature for a new video game. Actually, there’s three new video games that I need your approval for. One comes out this year and one comes out in a year.” One of them was this thing called Guitar Hero and I asked what it was. She said it’s where you play this plastic guitar songs on there. And I said, “Whatever.” I didn’t even let her finish, I just rolled my eyes and I signed it. I just thought it was something that was going to be stupid because she didn’t have a picture of it or anything. It sounded dumb.
We did that whole record and while that Head for the Door record was going, this game was brewing. And we had no idea until we went in to make the Modern Way record, I walked through the door of Sound City, we were one of the lucky bands to record there. And Shivaun, the girl that was in that 606 documentary, was right there playing Guitar Hero with our song! I didn’t even realize it was mine for a minute. It was right after that when that game just became monstrous. I’ll never forget that we went into make that record in June and that Christmas, I got a call from my drummer. And he was like, “Where are you?” I said, “I’m in Colorado. You know I’m in Colorado.” And he said, “Well it’s Christmas time, so Merry Christmas!” And I said, “What do you mean?” He goes, “That little game that we signed off on sold fifteen million copies. We have a royalty rate on that.” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” He was like, “You just got a check for a half a million dollars.” And I was like, “Are you kidding me?” I thought he was totally joking. It was one of those things where you just drop the phone while stunned. My band made money not from record sales, but from video games? (laughs) That song became so big that once we started touring, people wanted to hear that as much as the songs that they’d heard on the radio. It was a trip! I tell that to bands that I work with right now, I go, “You never know where your money’s gonna come from.” We were in MVP Baseball 2003 and that was the biggest game in the world that year, we got paid on that one. We were on some racing games. And we were on Guitar Hero twice. That’s what did it all. It bought my house. It’s nuts. Don’t ever think that something like that can’t pay the bills, because it can.
Alex Obert: So how did you go from being in the Exies to becoming a multi-platinum songwriter and producer?
Scott Stevens: Look, I loved being in The Exies, man. I thought it was the best time of my life. It was the dream come true. I could never find singers to get it together, so I started to sing. And things took off at twice, no, five times, the rate that it had been previously. So that was a real great affirmation. I really enjoyed it, but after the Modern Way record, which was one of my favorite records, we were just going backwards. We didn’t have a label that supported us, we weren’t getting out there, there was not enough money to push it to radio and push the tours. We’d be in a van, then we’d get in a bus, then we’d get in a van again, then we’d get in a bus. Near the end, we finally said, “If we’re gonna make any money, we’ve gotta van it. No crew, just suck it up and we’ll make money. Then we can decide what we’re gonna do.” At that point we all kind of knew that we might be going our separate ways. We toured eight, nine months and we made money. I vividly remember that we were in The Machine Shop in Flint, Michigan, one of my favorite places to play and always will be. I love the guys that run the place. I love Kevin and I love Minty. I think the place is phenomenal, as far as connecting you with fans. But it was then that our guitar player, Chris, was like, “I gotta do something else.” I thought that night to take a meeting with my publisher. I got off tour and came into his office and said I need to do something else. I told him I couldn’t just be in a band anymore. He asked me to write him something and so I wrote a piano ballad and turned it in. And that changed it all. I had a year left on my artist contract ends they said if the year went well, they’d give me a writing contract.
The year did go good. I wrote Tomorrow for Sixx:A.M., my first single. That was probably my second co-write ever. Then they started taking notice of the work that I was doing. I was working with pop artists and just being able to do every genre. Right at the last minute, they offered me a deal. But somebody else swooped in and got me, they offered me more money and to be able to produce things and to really grow in that area. One of the first sessions that I had that was amazing, it was with Tyler from Theory of a Deadman. I wrote a song with him called Head Above Water, which made it into Transformers: Dark of the Moon. And that caught the attention of Steve-O over at Atlantic who then put me with Brent from Shinedown. I wrote a song that didn’t make the record for Amaryllis, but was the last song to be cut. But that got the attention of Pete Ganbarg, the head of A&R for Atlantic, and he sent me Halestorm. And that first day, I wrote I Miss The Misery with Lzzy. It became the biggest song on that record. Even though it didn’t win the Grammy, it’s the biggest selling song on that album. And it’s now the biggest Halestorm single they have. I think it was at number two for fourteen weeks. It couldn’t get past Three Days Grace, but it was a hit. It really helped launch the band’s awareness. Pretty soon, Skillet showed up, then We As Human showed up. I won the Dove Award with Skillet for Sick Of It, though I was nominated with both those bands. I never really did anything in the Christian world before, so I thought that was kind of funny and kind of cool at the same time. And then Daughtry showed up, then Sick Puppies came in, and then I wrote with Nothing More. I just had a number one with This Is The Time (Ballast) with those guys. I think I did six songs with them on this new record, they’re my buds. I just worked with Halestorm over a three month period, co-writing songs with them. We got a lot of great songs for the new record. I also have a new thing coming out with a band called Highly Suspect, they’re Lyor Cohen’s new band and signed to 300. I’m currently working on a song I just did with Shinedown. I also just worked with an Australian band, they were great. They’re called Tonight Alive and they have a girl singer. I just did a song for Of Mice And Men that will be on a rerelease that’s coming out in a few weeks. So it’s really starting to spread now.
I’ve definitely become one of the go-to rock guys. I’m in great company with Dave Bassett and Johnny Andrews and Zac Malloy and David Hodges and James Michael, all those guys. I’m very happy to be there with the guys that I look up to as writers. And more stuff’s coming, I’m gonna do some pop this year. Just gonna keep on doin’ it. But I’m always gonna be a rock guy at heart, it’s what I love and it’s what I know how to really kill at. I don’t know if we’re gonna do any more Exies stuff. I won’t lie, there are a few songs that are lying around that are really good. But we don’t know what to do with them. Some of them are from the last run of The Exies, they were left over but just not finished. When you listen to them, they’re like time capsule songs. It’s like, “Wow! Those songs are from 2007. They really sound like that time.” I don’t know what we’re gonna do, we’ll start talking about it here towards the end of the year. We may release a few things, potentially for free for everybody to have. I don’t know about brand new stuff, but we might. I don’t know.
Alex Obert: Before we wrap up, do you have any plugs for readers?
Scott Stevens: If you go to ShoreBreakInc.com, click on Artists and you’ll see me. You’ll see everything I’ve been writing from Tech n9ne to Halestorm, it’s all on there. For album releases, I’ve got Halestorm coming, I’ve got Highly Suspect coming, Tonight Alive is coming, new Black Veil Brides is coming. I’ve got two songs on that. I co-wrote a song with them called Goodbye Agony. I just did Theory of a Deadman, got one on the brand new record called Livin’ My Life Like A Country Song. That one’s real different for me, it was started by my cousin who’s not really a musician. But he was going through a divorce and he had the title. I brought it into them and I said, “Listen, my cousin had this concept and I think it’s genius!” The song would not exist without him.
Alex Obert: I’d love to thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
Scott Stevens: Yeah, man! Thanks a lot!