Jake E. Lee returns with new Red Dragon Cartel album

Photo: Joe Gorelick

Guitar hero Jake E. Lee is back with a new Red Dragon Cartel album, and it’s the band’s first since 2014. Which is actually not all that long, considering the extensive lineup changes and not-rushed recording process that led to the creation of Patina.

“The record took a while,” says Lee. “I wanted it done right. I didn’t want any excuses, I didn’t want to ever have to say, ‘Well, that’s good enough.’ So I approached this record like it would be my last one. Which it might be; it might very well be my last one. I don’t know how many more I have in me. Everything about this record was done as if it would be the last thing I ever do. You never know, I could be hit by a bus tomorrow.”

Lee—who is forever playing the riff to “Bark at the Moon” in your head, like it or not—is joined this time around by bassist Anthony Esposito.

“I happened across Anthony mainly through his son, who I’m good friends with,” says Lee. “Anthony came on board, and it was a godsend. He’s perfect, I think, for the band.”

Esposito also owns Obscenic Arts Studio, where Red Dragon Cartel recorded Patina. Having a slightly more relaxed recording atmosphere comes through loud and clear on the record, which definitely sounds like a relaxed band jamming hard around those endless riffs. And one of those band members is new guy Phil Varone, who you may know from Saigon Kick and Skid Row, on drums.

“Jonas [Fairley], the old drummer, I love Jonas, and he was perfect for the band at the beginning, but when it came to writing, I could see where he was… we needed a new drummer. And Phil was one of about a dozen that auditioned, and he fit perfectly. I really don’t know him personally that well, but as far as a working relationship, it’s perfect, he works really well with Anthony, they lock in, this is going to be a really good band live. I can’t wait to go out on the road and prove that.”

Darren Smith (of Harem Scarem) is back behind the mic on the album, after some time away from the band, during which Lee tried out several other singers on the road.

“Darren and I had a personal disagreement about something, I don’t want to go into detail,” says Lee. “Since we were on tour, and that’s really the worst place to try to iron out differences, because you’re stuck on a bus with each other, and you’re around each other 24/7, and it’s hard enough to get along with everybody when you’re constantly with them, so we decided that he would take a break from the tour. I didn’t fire him, he didn’t quit, but we agreed that it would be better if we work out our differences long distance. So I had four singers that were available to me, so I portioned it out for the rest of the tour so each singer would have about ten days with us.”

After that odd and fun (ask Lee about the one singer who crooned like Sinatra during a usually-rockin’ vocal break in a song) situation, Lee and Smith came back together and the band created Patina, which Lee says is “as good as pretty much anything else I’ve ever done, really.”

“It’s so easy to screw a record up at so many different points,” he says. “The songwriting… you have to have the songs. And it needs to be recorded perfectly. You can’t use that old adage, ‘Fix it in the mix.’ That really doesn’t work. We’re very careful, and took our time doing this, and I do think this record sounds a little more honest, a little more organic, and it does sound like a band, and I think a lot of that was the process, that the songwriting was done with the band, and because of that I think these songs can be played live.”

Speaking of live, Lee says that because the way the first album was put together with different musicians, it didn’t lend itself to the stage that well, which is why a lot of Ozzy and Badlands songs ended up in the set last time around. Not so this time.

“This time I’m hoping we can do mostly Red Dragon Cartel songs and maybe throw in a couple of Badlands songs, because those still feel right for me to play,” says Lee. “I don’t anticipate playing any Ozzy stuff anymore, because it just doesn’t feel right to me. Even though I wrote it and played the original guitar on it, they’re Ozzy songs. They belong to Ozzy. It always felt a little dishonest of me to play them in another band, so I don’t think we’ll be doing that this tour. I probably just hurt our sales [laughs], but it doesn’t feel good to me to play Ozzy songs.”