In preparation for the upcoming Big Love Music Festival in Chengdu, singer and founder of '90s rock band Extreme Gary Cherone made his first trip to China, stopping in Beijing for the initial festival press conference (in July 2011) and an exclusive interview with CHENGDOO Magazine.
You played in Japan a lot during your heyday but you also had a following in China.
I guess. This is new to me. That's exciting to hear. We're really very surprised. We really didn't know. I didn't know what to expect. I thought maybe they might know "More Than Words" ....
You just played in Japan for quake relief ...
That was [with] another side project I have with my brother Mark, who plays guitar. It's called Hurtsmile, and we just finished a record and were doing some shows in America and we had an opportunity to do this Rock and Relief tour to make a little money for that, and it was important for us to over there because we've been going over there since 1989 and we have a lot of friends and associates [there]. We played two of the cities, Sendai and Fukoshima, that were a few miles away from that stuff. And it was very moving.
And of course Sichuan had its own quake ...
I knew, obviously, about the earthquake—I didn't know it was [where we'd be playing].
Who are your favorite Chinese musicians? Have you heard any?
Today I have. But no, not really. I guess what's gonna be good about this festival is that we're going to be turned on to some local talent.
Why do you think you cultivated this following in China that you didn't even know you had?
Maybe we're fortunate enough that "More Than Words" hit at the right time where it got some exposure on radio and exposed fans to the rest of our music. And in a way that's reflective of how it happened around the world for Extreme. If we didn't have "More than Words," I wonder how big the band have been. It exposed people to the other sides of Extreme. So we're very lucky.
Do you like the song?
Yes. Yeah, we do. The only frustrating thing about "More Than Words" is it was people's perception of the band. It's not that we didn't like "More Than Words," people would say, 'Oh, Extreme—they're that pop band. Oh, there are two guys in the band.'
What have been your favorite and least favorite covers of it?
I heard this year Justin Timberlake's gonna do one. We haven't heard it yet. There was an Italian version that was terrible. There have been South American house versions of it, and they were just ... they would send it to us and we would listen to it and go, "OK." Westlife's is OK. I don't think they changed it much. But we're flattered. The more the merrier.
So, what's the most extreme thing you've done to further your career?
The most extreme thing I've done to further my career? If it's something embarrassing it wouldn't further my career, would it? It would hurt my career. Often we've said Extreme—we were never partiers, we were never crazy. I mean we enjoyed ourselves on tour—out of the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, we didn't do the drugs. We did the girls and rock 'n' roll. I guess that furthered our career.
That's not a very rock 'n' roll answer, man.
Well, come on! Crazy or extreme? I think if we'd done the drugs, somebody would have died. A couple of guys got a little crazy. Me and [guitarist] Nuno were just into writing music. And the crazy stuff we kept on stage.
What's the most extreme venue you've played?
Two very memorable gigs come to mind. We played in Brazil. It had to be 35,000, 40,000 people. But probably the best gig was the Freddie Mercury Tribute show—'92 at Wembley Stadium, and it was the biggest show broadcast—it was bigger than Live Aid—the contemporary bands at the time were Guns N Roses, Def Leppard, Extreme, and Metallica. That was the first half of the show, and then the second half had Elton John, George Michael, Robert Plant, Roger Daltry, so when we were invited to do that show, Extreme was just like—that was probably the best collective day of our lives. Because we got to meet David Bowie ... I could talk to you forever about it ... that was probably the best day. And everything's been downhill. [Laughs.] And, well, an extreme day was the day I joined Van Halen. That was exciting.
What about something extreme that's happened during a show?
The usual, pants get split on stage. [When that happens], I scream to the drummer, "Drum solo!" and I go back stage and change pants.
Extreme performs on the Big Rock Stage Day 1 (June 21 10.30 p.m.) of the Big Love Festival