Interview: Lukas Rossi & Rock Star Supernova

Photo by Odessy Barbu for YRB Magazine

After 15 years of struggling to make it in the music biz, Lukas Rossi is finally a household name – at least in Canada. But for the rest of us, Lukas (a Toronto native) was the winner of Rock Star: Supernova, a CBS reality show in which hopeful rockers vied to become the lead singer of a new “supergroup.” Also called Supernova, the band consists of guitarist Gilby Clarke (formerly of Guns N’ Roses), Metallica’s Jason Newsted on bass, and drummer Tommy Lee, best known for his work with both Mötley Crüe and Pamela Anderson.

For the duration of the 11-week taping, Rossi and 15 other contestants lived together in an L.A. mansion (or the “pretty prison,” as Lukas fondly refers to it), where they had various opportunities to prove themselves worthy of fronting Supernova. In keeping with the reality show prototype, the series also featured “celebrity” hosts Dave Navarro and Brooke Burke, and an interactive component whereby viewers could vote for their favorite rocker. After a grueling elimination and selection process, the fans and band members agreed that Lukas Rossi was their man.

So, how does it feel to go from doing commercial voiceovers in Toronto to pay the rent, to living the dream in L.A., preparing to go on tour with your new band? “I’m just taking it a day at a time; it’s really overwhelming and fast-paced,” says Lukas, the morning after completing work on Supernova’s self-titled debut last fall. “I did a lot of writing on the record, and obviously a lot of singing. I’m still taking a deep breath everyday. It’s exciting as hell though.”

Ladies and gentlemen, you heard it here first: Being the lead singer of a supergroup comprised of rock industry veterans is awesome, and if you also get to crash on Tommy Lee’s couch when you’re not living on a crowded tour bus, even better. Just one quick question: If you’re Jason Newsted, Gilby Clarke and Tommy Lee, don’t you, like, already know someone, anyone, who could front your band?

“In this day and age, we’re kinda running out of options,” Gilby says. “Radio isn’t what it used to be, MTV isn’t what it used to be, and for all of us, to start a new band and pick the cream of the crop – you know, Tommy Lee on drums, Jason Newsted on bass – and scour the world for the best new singer we could find, it was an opportunity that we had to take.”

If you look beyond the superficial, made-for-TV components of Rock Star: Supernova, and refrain from dismissing all the contestants as a bunch of angsty, black-clad, inked-up, would-be rock stars, what you’re left with is a seriously painstaking audition process. The rockers were subject to a level of public scrutiny that few prospective band members ever are. Given that Lukas prevailed, it would seem that he truly is the most qualified person to front the band (or at least the most qualified person who also screen-tested well). And just because the show might have been gimmicky doesn’t mean the band is.

But no one denies that the publicity generated by the show certainly won’t harm the band’s chances to find wider success. A large segment of Generation Reality Show have Ticketmaster on speed dial, and all they want for Christmas is tickets to a live Supernova performance near them. And while each member of the band brings his own preexisting fan base, it’s questionable whether tickets for the tour (which kicked off on New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas) would be selling out months in advance, as they are, were it not for the exposure afforded by Rock Star: Supernova.

Lukas emphasizes that the 27-city tour is not just a matter of fulfilling contractual obligations, and neither he nor his bandmates view Supernova as a temporary gig. “I don’t want anybody to get confused,” he says. “I don’t think we went through all this just for like a four or five month tour.”

On the contrary, just weeks after dropping their debut album, Supernova is already looking toward working on the follow-up – not because they’re dissatisfied with the first record, but because they’re amped about the possibilities they can explore as a real band, making an entire record in the more traditional way: together, from beginning to end.

“For me, Guns N’ Roses was the ultimate hard rock band. You never really knew what was gonna happen from day to day; it was the perfect hard rock band,” says Gilby. “We don’t really know what Supernova is until we get the record out and start playing as a band together. Ordinarily you would have done that before you made the record – this is a very backwards way of doing things. But the thing was, most importantly, we were all up for the challenge. We’ve all done it the conventional way; we’ve had other bands that have succeeded and failed. So this is just a new, different way to do this, and we were just so excited to try something new.”

Lukas agrees. “The circumstances were obviously unorthodox, considering the way that other records in the past have been done,” he says. “But in my opinion, the product is gonna blow people away.”

For some people, the feeling that Rock Star: Supernova is just a few B-list guest spots short of a VH1 Celebreality special is inescapable, undermining the possibility that the music might actually be great. But does it really matter that the band found its frontman by combining one part Making the Band with equal parts American Idol and The Surreal Life? The show was just a means to a greater end.

“One feeling we had about Lukas through the whole program was that he was a lot like us,” says Gilby. “He just wants to be in a great band, and make a great record and go on tour and be a musician. And that’s the one thing we were really trying to keep for ourselves through this: it’s just a television show, it’s just a process to find this person.”

And then in October, the media was informed via press release that due to a serious shoulder injury, bassist Jason Newsted would have to undergo emergency surgery followed by a long period of recovery, effectively terminating his place in Supernova, at least for now. It’s a setback, but the show must go on.

“When we started this project, I was handed a list of names – guys who could potentially anchor our rhythm section,” says Tommy Lee. “I responded by crumpling up the paper and asking, ‘Where’s Newsted?’ Jason was always the right guy for this band and we’ll miss having him with us as we kick off our album and tour, but we know he’ll be back as soon as he can pick up and play.” Until then, former Black Crowes bassist Johnny Colt will serve as Newsted’s temporary replacement.

Whether Supernova will succeed in bringing rock ‘n’ roll back to its golden age remains to be seen. But with his new bandmates backing him, thousands of fans cheering for him, and one hell of an audition tape to prove he’s the man for the job, Lukas Rossi and Supernova are poised to do big things.

“We’re all human, we’re all musicians, we’re different musicians, and that’s what makes it cool,” says Lukas. “I’m always gonna be the same person that came here. I just can’t wait to take on the world with the band and see all the fans out there that have put me here.”

(A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN YRB MAGAZINE COPYRIGHT © 2007)

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