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ROCK SUGAR ~BY SCOTT IWASAKI/DESERET NEWS
Wednesday, August 18, 2010


Published: Thursday, Aug. 12, 2010 3:00 p.m. MDT


A few weeks ago, I put on Rock Sugar's CD "Reimaginator."  The first song out of the chute was "Don't Stop the Sandman."

I laughed because the opening riffs from Metallica's blockbuster hit "Enter Sandman" poured out of the speakers. And after a few bars, lead singer Jess Harnell belted out the first verse of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'."

And the arrangement works brilliantly.

In fact, the 13 songs on "Reimaginator" are composed of 34 rock anthems and pop gems.

For example, you've got "Voices in the Jungle," which mixes 'Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry" with Guns N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle" and "Sweet Child O' Mine."

I caught up with Harnell, who is also the voice actor for Wakko Warner in the "Animaniacs" cartoons, to talk about Rock Sugar.

"Rock 'n' roll should be fun," Harnell said by phone from his office in Los Angeles. "If it can make you think and feel things, that's good, too. But to help you forget about your troubles for an hour and half is what it's all about."

Harnell, guitarist/arranger Chuck Duran and drummer Alex Track were chillin' on an island when the idea for a live, mash-up band sprouted.

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"We were on this island, playing acoustic songs," said Harnell. "We would play four or five songs, and the (residents) would teach us how to hang glide, trapeze, bike ride and kayak.

"I had been (thinking) for quite a long time about the state of the music business, especially in Hollywood. ... I thought there had to be a some way to reignite enthusiasm for the Hollywood music scene again, without doing a standard cover or tribute band."

Harnell came up with the idea of taking a quintessential '80s metal hair band and sticking them on a desert island for 20 years, with nothing but a teenage girl's '80s-pop recordings.

"I told Chuck, and he said, 'Let me kick that around and see if I can come up with something for it,'?" Harnells said. "And sure enough, he did."

"Don't Stop the Sandman" was the first song Duran arranged.

The backstory is that the band has been rescued and thinks Madonna is the Queen of Metal.

"It opens itself up to a really cool reality show," Harnell said with a laugh.

Coming up with songs was fun.

"We took the best metal anthems that get your fist in the air and paired them with pop songs everybody loves to sing in their car," he said.

The secret weapon was Duran.

"(Chuck) would have to make it work," said Harnell. "In all the songs, there is a minimum of two and as (many) as four individual songs that somehow become one cohesive song."

He blended Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" with Rick Springfield's "Jesse's Girl" for "Crazy Girl." And Kiss' "Detroit Rock City" with Paula Abdul's "Straight Up" for "Straight to Rock City."

Harnell knows that DJs have been doing mash-ups for years, but Rock Sugar is probably the first band to do it in a thematic live-band format.

"We get the absurdity of it and see how ridiculous it is to put AC/DC and Madonna together," he said. "But once upon a time, somebody thought it was crazy to put peanut butter and chocolate together, and it worked out well.

"I promise you will have fun from the time you put it on to the time it ends, because our mission is to make sure nobody leaves without a smile."

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