Flashwounds Interviews Jeff Rouse of The Guessing Game and Duff McKagan’s Loaded
Jeff discusses his many roles in, thoughts on, and successes in the music industry, past and present….as well as parts of his creative process, respect for fellow musicians, and the recurring theme of coffee in his life.
The Guessing Game, a true collaboration of talented and experienced musicians, brought together by the multi-faceted Jeff Rouse.
There really is something to those old adages like “Hindsight is 20/20,” or that “If I knew then what I know now….” Follow me here…When I found out that Flashwounds would have the chance to interview Jeff Rouse ~ a longtime member of Duff (ex Guns n Roses) McKagan’s Loaded and now frontman of The Guessing Game, a band pretty much pegged to conquer the music world in no time flat, I was excited…this guy is super-busy, super in-demand, and super-talented (and yes, let’s get it out of the way, super-hot looking, too), so “Wow” and “Yay” and other completely embarrassing words flitted across my brain…but when the time came, I kept my cool and introduced myself with something along the lines of, “Jeff, first and foremost, thank you so much for agreeing to speak with Flashwounds. For us, this interview is a rare and wonderful opportunity…,” because that’s the proper tone to take for an introduction, one of professional courtesy and appreciation. But hell, if I knew then what I know now from having some great exchanges ~ both during and after the interview ~ with “J,” quite the funny guy who can throw a [friendly] verbal punch as well as he can take one, I’d have given him a hard time right from the start and chewed him out for not seeming to realize that since we’d already talked to one member of his band, Keith Ash, HE was darn lucky WE were taking the time to talk to him.
But in all seriousness, it was an honor (and a lot of fun) to get to know Jeff a little better and be able to share with you some things about him that lie beneath his incredible resume of bands and tours and collaborations, those nut-hugger skinny pants (I warned you I would go there, Jeff!), rock star colleagues, and renewed celebrity from having put together The Guessing Game and written their hugely popular debut album, Holy Crow.
To quote Jeff ~ bassist, vocalist, caffeine addict, guitar player, writer, music industry veteran, and possible Weird Al fan, “I think what a lot of people think they are seeing is not always a reality.”
FW: Is your music “for the moment” and for as long as you keep putting it out, or do you think at it more (or equally as much) as your legacy-in-the-making…an accumulated body of work of which your children/grandchildren can be proud, that the general public can simply enjoy, that future generations of music lovers/musicians will count amongst those “Must Have Albums,” etc.?
JR: Anything I write is definitely “for the moment” It is something that I just love doing and is something I’ve always done. As a musician and a writer, you always hope it creates its own life. Time will tell I guess.
Born and bred in the Seattle area or a transplant?
I grew up in Puyallup, about 30 miles south of Seattle.
You said about “Someday, So Clear,” the first single off of Holy Crow, The Guessing Game’s first album, that “The track was written early one morning in the time it took me to drink a cup of coffee…Some songs need to be fussed with and groomed, some need to just be what they are.” Had any parts of “Someday…” been wandering around your brain for a while before everything clicked and you fleshed it out that morning (and damn, I want to know what kind of coffee you drink that helps you produce a hit single in about ten minutes!), or did the entire track just come to you out of the blue, all at once?
It did come out of nowhere!! A lot of the songs that seem to be the best for me always come in the morning. A strong cup of coffee, my guitar and a few moments alone are my muse. [Laughing]
Is your mindset different for each band since you hold different positions in each? Do you feel more of a sense of responsibility in terms of making sure that everything runs smoothly, everyone in the band is musically fulfilled, every note on the album or scene in the video is perfect since TGG is your “baby” and Loaded is Duff’s?
I take everything I do seriously ~ whether it’s TGG or Loaded. I might be steering the ship at TGG, but it’s not “my band.” Just the same with Duff in Loaded. These bands work because of all involved.
In December, 2006, Loaded reunited for a special benefit show for Jerry Allen’s Cancer Fund and I seem to recall that you were involved in Hootenanny for a Healthy Gulf in 2010. Are there other causes that are close to your heart for one reason or another?
MusiCares is something I feel very passionately about. They continue to do so much for many people that I love dearly.
Editor’s note: The MusiCares MAP Fund benefit raises resources for the MusiCares MAP Fund, which provides members of the music community access to addiction recovery treatment. Find out more information at musicares.org and facebook.com/MusiCares.
Jeff is also being very modest, as he also still lends his time, efforts, and celebrity to many different causes, organizations (including Catch a Cure for Cancer (fhcrc.org/catchacure), and events to help fight cancer and to aid those affected by the disease and is also active in Team McCready, a subdivision of The Wishlist Foundation, Pearl Jam’s fan-run nonprofit, 501(c)(3) grassroots organization dedicated to supporting Pearl Jam’s charitable & philanthropic efforts.
When was the first time you took on vocal duties, even if for just one song? How did it feel to make the rather significant transition from playing bass to not only singing, but also to being without your trusty instrument that gave your hands something to do? You’re obviously a very talented bassist, and of course basses are serious instruments, but in some ways, they’re also a prop…and when you’re suddenly left with empty hands…or does the mic fill in nicely?
I’ve always felt comfortable singing, but having a guitar in my hands definitely helps. Luckily, having Gary and Kathy in the band takes the pressure off of me having to show off my shredding skills.
So just some of the names that pop up in your history (and I’ve listed them in no particular order) are Alien Crime Syndicate, Loaded, Duff McKagan’s Loaded, Vendetta Red, Sirens Sister, Velvet Revolver, Jane’s Addiction, Black Stone Cherry, Tommy Stinson, The Cult’s Billy Duffy and Matt Sorum (also formerly of G n R), Mötley Crüe, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, Guns N’ Roses, The Replacements, Fastbacks, Screaming Trees, Nevada Bachelors and Harvey Danger, Top Heavy Crush, and Jeff Angell of Post Stardom Depression…Did working with such a diverse group help hone your instincts for what makes a good band and what is a recipe for disaster?
It would be stupid to not learn from people that you surround yourself with. I’ve learned a lot of what to do and what not to do.
Have to ask, even if you won’t tell me or decide to make up some really fantastically original story that has no basis in the truth: how did you (or someone) come up with the name The Guessing Game ~ and same question about the album: where did the title Holy Crow come from/what does it mean? Just a PC version of Holy Fuck, or it that my mind making its usual beeline for the gutter (though I’m sure it’s not the only one!)?
The Guessing Game came from a song that I had written and I just like the title more than the song. It seemed to be fitting for this band. “Holy Crow” is something that I heard Gary Westlake say as he is a stupid Canadian. It was a perfect album title. (Really? Someone from a place called Puyallup ~ which, may I add, prides itself on a Daffodil Festival Parade ~ making fun of a Canadian…and probably alienating our sizable Canadian readership…not to mention one half of the ownership of Flashwounds? Oh, there WILL be payback, my friend…And Gary, are you going to take that kind of shit from him?)
You talk about some songs needed more attention and tweaking than others…what is your writing process (or does it differ from song to song, mood to mood, inspiration to inspiration, strength of coffee to strength of coffee), and have you ever come up against a song that you really believed in and wholeheartedly wanted to finish, but just couldn’t…something wasn’t right, wasn’t falling into place? In other words, how do you know when it’s time to cut your losses, maybe put the song in the vaults for a while, and move on?
It’s such a random thing. I think for every 10 songs people write, maybe 1 or 2 make the cut. It’s a weird thing.
Not only do you still play bass for Duff McKagan’s Loaded, but The Guessing Game is signed to his Guessing Game label ~ and it’s no secret Duff loves your band’s work (he’s kind of like a proud dad) and is hugely supportive and thrilled at all your success, but any butterflies in your stomach before you told him that you were starting your own band, meaning that you would be splitting your time between two groups? Were you expecting a “Why?” from him? Or did things not happen that way? Did the suggestion come from Duff?
With all the respect in the world to Duff…TGG has nothing to do with him at all. As my friend he is obviously very supportive, but everything that TGG has created has been through the hard work of the 5 of us.
Do groupies still exist, even if not to the extent that they did in Pamela Des Barres’ heyday?
Sure they exist, they have made a lot of people really happy and also made a lot of people lose everything that they love.
Was starting your own project, To The Glorious Lonely, the move that ultimately set you on the path to forming The Guessing Game? And at the time, was it less a about starting your own band than it was about finding a way to keep playing but escaping/having some control over the craziness you’d witnessed as a member of someone’s else’s band?
Yes, exactly! (Damn, I’m good!)
Does The Guessing Game as a unit conduct what we used to call “post-mortems,” rehashing every bit of a show you’ve just finished to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly, or, since you’re all very confident in and talented at what you do, is there never any need to articulate what could have gone better or what needs to be different next time…does everyone share a kind of in-band telepathy that makes the words unnecessary?
Everyone knows what works and what doesn’t. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t play with them.
You have been through more soap opera-type drama with more bands and record labels and producers than I think it’s safe to say any musician ever. Seriously, I tried making a chart to keep straight the bands you were part of, the bands you shared the stage with, the bands that broke up and reformed with different members, the groups you left, the groups that broke up but then reunited with their original line-ups, the collaborations you were involved in, unreleased records, the labels that went belly-up or moved, the number of bands you were in simultaneously, the band name changes that went hand in hand with moving to different labels, the albums, the webisodes, the hiatuses, the band members who were added but only for certain albums, the new labels created, the strange overlapping timelines of tours and recording, the swapping of band members between groups, the traveling, the different producers…and I’ve come to two conclusions: A) Your professional music career has been one hell of an incestuous clusterfuck and B) There can be NO doubt in anyone’s mind that you are almost pathologically (but in a good way) devoted to playing music…you stuck it out through years of insane circumstances and never stopped…if it wasn’t with one band, it was with another…if it wasn’t touring, it was recording…all through upheavals, to put it mildly, that might have driven a less dedicated musician right out of the business (and his mind)…and for that…never mind for what we’ll get to soon, your career with Duff McKagen’s Loaded and now with the seemingly unstoppable force of your own creation, The Guessing Game…you deserve a tremendous amount of respect. Any comment on what it was like experiencing all that drama?
Jesus, that is a lot to take in! Just like in life, you learn from the good and bad and hopefully move on. It’s pretty simple. This is the life I’ve chosen.
Don’t know if you can answer this question objectively, but are bands, especially those that fall under the umbrella of “mega” and those that are well on their way to reaching that status, spoiled and pampered, or is that a misconception you wish the public would stop perpetuating ~ or an accurate assessment but only of a very few bands?
I think what a lot of people think they are seeing is not always a reality.
You were a bass tech for Duff for a while ~ what does that position entail?
Basically a lot of hanging out, drinking coffee, sightseeing, and a lot of brotherly support. (Gee, how “bass tech” never made it onto “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe,” I’ll just never understand.)
You handpicked the musicians you wanted for The Guessing Game based on knowledge of their work in other groups: Kathy Moore (Brad, Satchel), Gary Westlake (Kristen Ward, Flight To Mars), Keith Ash (Star Anna), and Shawn Zellar (Redneck Girlfriend) ~ and when I spoke to Keith, he mentioned that everyone had known each other for a while and the chemistry was immediate the first time you all sat in a room together. Since you had such a clear vision of the line-up you wanted, how did you first approach each musician to “…make them an offer they couldn’t refuse?” Was it just a blunt “I’m starting a band, it’s going to be great, you need to be part of it, and I won’t take no for an answer?”
I totally threatened them. If it weren’t for each of them, the band wouldn’t work. I love them all like family.
Watch the video of TGG performing “Stop Draggin’ My Heart” here.
Most impressive/worthwhile (from your perspective, not the public’s) music industry event (awards show, NAMM, premier, etc.) you’ve ever attended?
I’ve been blessed to do a lot of different things like that. Award shows, TV shows, benefits. I welcome and love everything that comes my way. But I play music for that reason. To create something with my friends and to get in front of people and act like an idiot.
If Holy Crow drips of “…heartache, regret and finally redemption,” and the songs come from you, care to elaborate a bit on where you are in that progression now ~ and where you were when you wrote the majority of the tracks for the album?
By myself in a hole…
I’m just going to go ahead and assume that there’s a The Guessing Game US tour in the works and that it’s just a matter of time until the details are released to the public. You’ve done so much performing over the years, but does the idea of touring with your new band, playing and promoting Holy Crow, building on the smaller (but still hugely successful) smaller shows you’ve been doing, especially surrounding the release of the album, give you not just a sense of pride, but also a sense of excitement?
I can’t wait to get out with TGG and play. It’s what I live for. You really get to the core of a person when you spend all day/everyday with them.
Watch the live video for “Another Sunday Morning Regret” (w/ special guest Paul Hutzler on pedal steel) recorded (thanks to facebook.com/Xanaland) at The Guessing Game’s CD release party at The Sunset on 5/9 here.
After reading about your professional music career, going back to around 1997, and naturally (despite my admitted confusion…see above!) seeing how impressive it was and still is, I suddenly wondered, “But where did he come from before that?” So now I can ask you directly ~ Where did you come from, musically speaking? Have you been a musician/in a band since you were a kid? Did you take lessons or are you self-taught? Was rock n roll always your genre of choice?
This is something I’ve always done. I knew I wanted to be here since I was very young. I am lucky to have a family who has been more supportive then they need to be…
Seattle Mariners fan?
How did you decide on “Someday, So Clear” as the first single? (And by the way, your voice and Kathy’s sound amazing together ~ the whole song is, and I know this is a terribly un-rock-n-roll word to use ~ beautiful, but the blending of your two voices really stands out.)
It just seemed to be a good initial song to introduce the band to people…
Is there a code of ethics/conduct amongst professional musicians who are on the same bill…and even in the same band? Maybe things like always acknowledging the band that played before you and the ones who are scheduled to follow, making sure to introduce each member of your own band, not touching/moving other bands’ gear, etc.?
You would think so, but no… (Have to admit, that answer surprised me ~ I figured there WAS some sort of code but most musicians/crew just chose to ignore it.)
You’ve played all over the world in all sort of venues with a laundry list of different bands ~ assuming you got the chance to spend any time exploring the various countries you toured, was there one that struck some sort of deeper chord (again, no pun intended, I’m not that witty) with you than the others?
Santiago, Chile. Me and my Loaded bandmate Mike Squires spent a long day that I will never ever forget riding a couple of rented Harleys. (Jeff wouldn’t get this mushy, but I know that he and his folks consider Mike an “honorary” Rouse…and that Jeff thinks of Mike as nothing less than a blood brother.)
Which band or performer would you like to induct into the Hall of Fame personally?
I’m not sure, I kind of think that whole thing is a bit stupid and unnecessary to be honest. Maybe Weird Al… (Weird Al? Best. Answer. Ever.)
Most important lesson you’ve learned from being in the music industry?
Have fun or quit.
Most difficult lesson you’ve learned from being in the music industry?
Have fun or quit.
Personal pet peeve ~ aspiring rock (and other genres, too, but I’m around mostly rock and metal bands) musicians who can play their instruments really well and know how to break down/assemble their own drums, replace their own strings, etc., but always seem to rely on the one tech whiz in the band to deal with all the rest of the technical elements…any advice on the importance of everyone in a fledgling band knowing how to use/fix/read every piece of equipment the band uses?
All of that and more. It would be too long of a list…
In what must have been (and still be) your approximately 30 minutes of spare time per month (Did we mention that along with dealing with all the demands on him surrounding TGG, the new album, the video, Loaded, etc., Jeff was also out on the road playing bass with the band Fozzy right up until he had to hightail it back to Seattle on May 9th for The Guessing Game record release show?) did you ever do any teaching ~ or have any desire to teach in the future?
I actually do teach! I love it. It’s been a surprising blessing in my life.
I’m not going to reveal my sources, but more than a few not completely unreliable individuals have told me that despite your cool, sometimes pensive, sometimes straight up rock-n-roll-dude-in-leather professional persona, you’re actually quite the cut-up and fun guy to be around. Were they just pulling my leg, or can you throw down some goofiness and laughs depending on the company?
I would hope at this point I would have a sense of humor about what I do. It is necessary, for sure. That is nice to hear that.
(OK, I’ll reveal one of my sources ~ the guys at Union Jack)
If you ever decided to do an entire album of covers, which songs would make the cut?
Purple Rain in its entirety. (SWEET)
How did you wind up deciding on a Yamaha SA503TVL bass and a Yamaha BB2024X bass, and are they still your basses of choice? What is your guitar of choice?
Yamaha is a great company! They have supported me so much. But I play a bunch of different guitars and basses.
The whole time you’ve been with Loaded, you’ve been writing songs that were not for any band that yet existed, they were songs that you simply had to write because they were in your head and needed to take on a more tangible form. Did the idea to form The Guessing Game come partially from wanting to find the right vehicle for bringing these songs to life? Can you put into words what that feeling is like, sharing songs that had been a very personal, private part of you? I could see how it would be both incredibly rewarding but also a bit…sad, as to some extent you had to let them go…
Writing songs is a very personal thing. I believe you have to have fairly thick skin to put certain things out there. At this point in my life, I’m an open book. Warts and all.
Do you have a go-to band, current or past, that you listen to for musical inspiration? One that always gets your creative juices flowing?
So, so many. It really depends on my mood…
Did you keep the first bass and guitar you ever had, even if it was from childhood, and have you kept all subsequent instruments from over the decades?
I wish I had every instrument I ever owned. They are kind of like teenage relationships. They tend to just come and go… (Awesome analogy)
You formed The Guessing Game in 2013 and in record time (no pun intended) achieved a level of success almost unheard of for such a new band (despite the fact that all the members, with you at the helm, are in no way, shape, or form new to the business). Don’t be modest, tell me what you think so quickly propelled TGG to the forefront of rock bands coming onto the scene today? The songwriting? The across-the-board superior musicianship? PR? Live performance? Buzz that TGG as a whole, and you in particular, are part of the Duff McKagan family? Reputation? Image? Holy Crow? Coming from the incredibly supportive Seattle scene, one which still fascinates people? Or maybe a combination of all those elements plus the timing being right for a band with rock, metal, and blues influences to steal some of the limelight from the much harder music that’s been popular for a long while now?
I’m just so lucky to be around so many inspiring, supportive people.
Duff raved about your contributions to Loaded’s album The Taking: “And Jeff Rouse, man, Jeff is the only bass player that I know that is not afraid to be a bass player with me, the bass player from, you know, two big bands. He’s a better bass player than me, and he’s got his own groove, and the ladies love him. Good-looking fella [laughs]. So he’s got that going for him…and Rouse wrote arguably the catchiest song, ‘She’s An Anchor’.” Let’s gloss over the obvious man-crush goin’ on here…do you agree with Duff’s assessment of your talents?
He just likes the way I dance (and make coffee). But seriously, he is a great dude with whom I’ve been lucky to share some of the best moments of my life. (Mutual man crush…nothing wrong with that)
Favorite track on the album (and define “favorite” however you will ~ most personal meaning, most fun to play, a reminder of a great time in your life, etc.)?
“Someday, So Clear” for so many reasons. How it came about, what it means to me and it’s a lot of fun to play live.
If you had your druthers ~ no need to worry about behind-the-scenes machinations or industry politics ~ and were putting together The Guessing Game’s headlining tour, how would you choose the bands who would join you?
Whoever can draw the most people and give us the most money. [Giggles...but in a manly way]
Making videos ~ Fun? Tortuously long hours? Surreal?
Yeah, videos are fun. Exhausting but a great way for people to see what you are about. A necessity in this day and age.
Watch the video for “Someday, So Clear,” directed by David Coalter, here.
Your turn ~ any questions you wish I had asked? Information that’s important to you that you’d like us to share with our audience? Dirty jokes purely for my amusement? Only you know what you’d like the public to be aware of in regards to The Guessing Game (and you), so please…the floor is yours!
I’m just amazed you did this much research! Good work and thank you so much!
Aw, shucks…in all fairness, though, the thanks must go to Jeff for having given us his time ~ and FYI, although the kind words mean a lot, he’s not off the hook for that Canadian comment ~ still, we at Flashwounds congratulate Jeff on all his accomplishments, especially on the incredibly positive reception the The Guessing Game, Holy Crow, “Someday, So Clear” and its video, and he himself have received…to say it’s all well-deserved is an understatement! Can’t wait for more from him and the band…THANK YOU, JEFF!
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