An Interview With Ted Poley Of Danger Danger AndTokyo Motor Fist
by Andrew Daly
As unfortunate latecomers to the glam metal era, New York-based outfit Danger Danger just missed the cresting wave that was hair metal hysteria.
Fronted by jovial frontman Ted Poley, who was flanked by Andy Timmons (guitars), Bruno Ravel (bass), Steve West (drums), and Kasey Smith (keyboards), Danger Danger combined ample amounts of fun, with gobs upon gobs of slick musicianship.
But despite their talent—which was beautifully defined by Poley’s hyperactive yet operatic vocals—Danger Danger didn’t drain the expected proverbial half-court shot. Of course, given that Danger Danger (1989) and its stout follow-up Screw It! (1991) dropped first at the doorstep and then within the heart of the grunge era, it’s not hard to see why.
Alas, life was never fair for Poley and company, but that doesn’t mean he looks back in anger. Instead, the golden-voiced frontman chooses to look on the brighter side of life as he embarks on what appears to be his final run around the world.
Still, given that Danger Danger never officially broke up, fans often wonder what the future holds. To that end, Poley tells ClassicRockHistory.com, “I’m focused on this tour now. And I love what we’re doing in Tokyo Motor Fist and want that to continue. But as far as Danger Danger goes, everybody is always busy.”
“I’d 100% be down to do both, but I’m not one to ask the guys in Danger Danger to go out,” he admits. “We’re still friends and talk, but they don’t really leave the house unless it’s a big thing. I’m the only one who kept on doing this full-time. But they look at it because they’re up to it, but it has to be worth their time. So, I’m 100% ready to go when they are.”
During a break from the road, Poley dialed in with Classic Rock History to dig into the nuts and bolts of his final world tour, his musings on the trajectory of Danger Danger, and why the organizers of the Stadium Tour missed the boat by excluding Tokyo Motor Fist.
Your final tour around the world is underway. Why now?
Ted Poley: The original plan was to retire at 60. Well… I’m 61, so that didn’t work out. But the real reason it’s happening now is COVID happened, and everything got delayed. I would have done this earlier, but the world shut down, so here we are now. And then I thought, “Maybe retiring isn’t the best idea anyway.”
So, this isn’t a retirement, then?
Poley: Not from music, just touring all over the world. If I gave it up altogether, I would get bored out of my mind. But I’m loving being back even though touring is brutal. I love interacting with the fans and being on stage, but I hate traveling. I wish I could beam myself out there as a hologram like in Star Trek because traveling really does suck. So, as far as going to other countries, this is it for me. But as far as making music, no, I’m not done.
Considering how good you still sound, are you leaving anything on the table by shortening your touring career?
Poley: I’m probably singing better now than ever, so that’s a fair point. But no, I don’t think so. I’m going to do this tour Kiss style where I go all over to see the people who want to see me live. It’s not going to be a quick run; it’ll take some time. So, no, I will not leave anything on the table. Plus, there’s nothing to leave on the table because, as far as money goes, it’s not a lucrative situation. After paying the crew and band, I’m barely left with any money. I’m not going to be the guy who dies on the road in some foreign country.
Was the touring experience better in your Danger Danger days when Epic Records was footing the bill?
Poley: Oh, God, yeah, it was [laughs]. It was comfortable jets rather than cramped tour buses. But it is what it is. Epic treated us well because they had high hopes for us. I think we accomplished what they expected, though.
Even though you debuted at the height of hair metal’s oversaturation point?
Poley: Oversaturated didn’t matter. We rocketed right to the top; we rose above in part because our albums were different. We might have seemed like it, but we were nothing like many of the various contemporaries we had. Danger Danger was different.
Poley: We were great musicians; people forget that. What people don’t seem to remember is that, sure, we looked the part, but we could really bring it. I was schooled in classical piano from three years old, and I can basically play any instrument you give me. Music has always been my life.
Bruno [Ravel] went to Julliard, and his father was a violinist in the New York Philharmonic. And then, we had Andy [Timmons] on guitar, one of the most insane guitarists on this earth. So, anyone who thinks we were just another band—they’re wrong. We got big because we rocketed through all the shit and pulled off some great albums.
That’s fair, but the fact remains that gold and platinum success eluded you.
Poley: True. But we had a cult following and were absolutely on our way. We only had about 15 minutes left when we came out. Our window was small because grunge was right around the corner, and we kind of blew it. Well… we didn’t blow it; Epic Records did. We had to act quickly because the scene was changing, and they didn’t push us the way they should have.
What could Epic have done differently?
Poley: We caught the world’s attention with “Naughty Naughty,” then Epic went and put out “Bang Bang” when we should have been doing a ballad. That’s the difference between Danger Danger and Warrant, and Firehouse is the ballad. I told them I wanted to do a ballad, but they [Epic] ignored me. And then, before we knew it, it was a quarter to grunge, and we were fucked. I was losing my mind over the whole thing; I really was. They thought they knew better, but like many record companies, they didn’t know a thing.
Why didn’t they change course during the promotional cycle for Screw It!?
Poley: That’s a good question. Once again, while we were doing Screw It!, I said, “Guys, we need to do a ballad. That’s what going to sell a million records,” but no one gave a shit. They put us right back in the studio without releasing a ballad off the first record, and they still hadn’t altered their mindset for the second one. And then, by the time we were touring for Screw It!, everybody was wearing flannel and listening to grunge. It was all over. We were obsolete.
Even though it was competing with Ten and Nevermind, and didn’t get the attention it deserved, Screw It! is one of the better records of the era.
Poley: Thank you. I thought the same thing back then. It’s sad that it got buried because it came out the same year as Nirvana and Pearl Jam’s albums. That was not a good time to be what they were suddenly called “hair metal.” But, as I said, a ballad might have given us one last push. Instead, though, Epic threw $300,000 at a video for “Money Business.” And while that’s a great song, and the video was fun, it was the wrong time. So, we had this expensive video, and an album with a gorilla on the front cover come out just as Nirvana put out an album with a naked baby on the cover. You can kind of see the difference in that alone.
Did the “Monkey Business” video receive any airplay on MTV?
Poley: No [laughs]. It didn’t fit in with their other alternative programming. They might have played it a few times at like three in the morning. It would have been awesome if it made it into heavy rotation, but it had no shot. But it’s a cool video; it’s on YouTube if anyone wants to check it out. I’m wearing a shirt they got from Sonny and Cher’s closet [laughs]. I don’t know how or why that shirt was borrowed, but I ended up wearing it for the video.
When you look back on Danger Danger, do you have any regrets?
Poley: Just that we didn’t get as big as I know we should have. We were hot out of the gate, but grunge and our label fu*ked us. The first album was good, but as you said, Screw It! was great. If you listen back, there’s some really cool shit on there. And you know what? I’ll tell you the truth: I think Danger Danger put out some of the best albums of our genre. I wish we’d get more credit for how good we really were.
Do you feel the first two records are Danger Danger’s best?
Poley: No. The best one is actually Revolve, which came out in 2009. I know that every time any band puts out a new record, they say, “Oh, it’s our best thing ever,” but Revolve really was our best thing ever. It’s not about ego; I just think those are some of the best songs we ever came up with. We kicked serious ass on the album, man. But once again, the shame is that it came out about 20 years too late.
That’s a bold statement. Why Revolve?
Poley: I don’t know… it’s just an amazing-sounding record. Go check it out, man; you’d be surprised how good it is. It’s got all the stuff that made Danger Danger cool, but we’re more mature on it, you know? I feel like we stepped out of the hair metal thing a bit. It’s honestly a shame that we were pegged into that genre because we were good enough to have been something more like Journey. We had that level of talent and musicianship. And had we exploded the way we should have; we would have gotten there. But it’s cool. I’m okay with how it turned out. I still love the songs, and the fans still love hearing them.
Then why have you focused so much on Tokyo Motor Fist rather than Danger Danger?
Poley: You have to know when to cut your losses [laughs]. But it’s not like Danger Danger is over; it’s just dormant. If Danger Danger needs me, I’m always on call and ready to go. Plus, to have the opportunity to be in a band with Steve Brown has been incredible. He’s a guy that’s sold a lot of records; he gets it. To be in a band with veteran players of this caliber is amazing.
Did Tokyo Motor Fist’s success catch you off guard?
Poley: We never expected the project to take off; it was more of a “let’s do it for the money” project, but to our surprise, it did, and we loved it. So, we did the second record [Lions], which was awesome, too. But I’ll tell you what, and this is no offense to Joan Jett, but the people who put together the Stadium Tour last summer should have had Tokyo Motor Fist on the bill.
You feel Joan Jett wasn’t a good fit?
Poley: She was fine but didn’t really fit the mold of those other bands. And I mean no offense to Joan Jett; she’s wonderful, and I love her music. My point is the people who put that tour together never considered a band like Tokyo Motor Fist. If they gave us a shot, people would have gone nuts during our set. We are everything they wanted. We’re new, but not really new. It’s hard to describe, but we would have killed it. A guy like Steve Brown and myself… we know how to put on a show. I wish they had called us.
Does that discourage you at all in terms of continuing?
Poley: No, not at all. We love doing it. And we’ll keep doing it. I play with Steve all the time. He’s one of my best friends. Greg [Smith] is, too. But it doesn’t matter what we do; this is a hard business to make it in. And here’s the thing, there’s this old saying that goes something like, “Be nice to everyone on the way up because it’s going to be all the same people on the way down.”
But guess what? That’s complete and total bullshit, dude. It’s way different people on the way down. I’ve been there, and I’ve seen it. So, here’s my advice to everyone: Don’t get discouraged. Don’t worry about anybody on the way up but yourself, your family, and your true friends. Do whatever the fu*k you want because you’re never gonna see any of those people again after it all goes away. I know from experience. They become ghosts.
Check out Toyko Motor Fist’s Great rock and roll records….
Ted Poley Of Danger Danger: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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