There's a scene in the 1988 movie The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years where Seduce guitarist David Black — looking every bit a Joe Perry-esque rock 'n' roll star — is asked by director Penelope Spheeris, "Who's the biggest band in Detroit?" to which he answers "us." And that was no lie. The band was huge in Detroit. Elsewhere in the same movie, Black says, "I'm busting my balls at this. Of course, I wanna make it. Whatever it takes, last drop of blood, because I'm in it till the death."
Fast forward 22 years, and Seduce is preparing for one of its semi-regular reunion shows on Dec. 11, at the Token Lounge, one of the band's old stomping grounds. They never made it to the level of, say, Ratt or Cinderella, at least not outside of Mitten State borders. But ask a hard rock fan that was around then and Seduce is referenced with the kind of reverence usually reserved for Seger. The band was the true missing link between the Romantics and Sponge. They had the songs, they looked great, and were ferocious live, and they knew rock 'n' roll.
Black, drummer Chuck Burns and singer-bassist Mark Andrews are two decades older and wiser now, sitting down in Burns' Redford home, practically a museum of low-brow and Tiki art. It's obvious that some of youth's cocky swagger is gone. Some, but not all.
"I took a lot of stick for saying that we were the biggest band in Detroit in that movie," Black laughs. "But I was just stating a fact."
The band's sound coalesced over a love of Motörhead, Van Halen, Alice Cooper, Discharge, the New York Dolls and the Sweet. They were incorporating bubblegum glam into their hard metal attack and were plastering on the makeup, a la Johnny Thunders, some years before Mötley Crüe (and Hanoi Rocks) surfaced, and they were doing it right here.
The guys look back and swear that they were some distance ahead of the curve. "For some reason, the math got done quicker," Black smiles. "It was something we didn't notice when we were in the middle of it, but when you look back on it, we had it together. That's why, when bands came through town, we'd end up opening for Accept at Harpos, or Saxon or Girlschool, or any of these bands. We played Harpos a lot back then because we could draw. The funny thing is, when you look back on it in the context of time now, we used to play at Harpos and draw 1,500 people on a Friday and 1,500 again on Saturday. That doesn't exist any more. That was a whole different world ago."
Seduce was born in 1980 when Andrews and Black, initially playing in a band called Sparks, met Burns through mutual friends. All were 19 years old.
"Mark and I jammed through a few things and put the first version of Seduce together, then Chuck came along later," Black remembers. "How you meet people now is very different to then. There were smaller circles of people, I guess. Chuck used to come and see us in Sparks, and then the first incarnation of Seduce."
Andrews recalls styling the band sonically and visually. "The influence I had was in the heaviness, the look, the style we played and the image," the front man says. "Also, I was the people person, the goodwill ambassador. Basically, Seduce was my idea. But we always had this vision of what we wanted to do and it fell into place. When the three of us got together, that was the magic."
It was the band's timely combination of songs, aesthetic and skill that translated into a killer live rock 'n' roll show, which made for a top local draw. The band's indie-released, self-titled '85 debut helped solidify their area fan base and, before long, they were attracting the attention of the major labels. A year later, the band signed with Miles (brother of the Police's Stewart) Copeland's I.R.S. Records, which resulted in the band's second album — Too Much, Ain't Enough. The record cost a fortune to make, and production credit was shared between the band, Ken Waagner and Todd McEvoy.
Burns is quick to point out that he doesn't like either record. "The first album was recorded on the fly in this rickety old fucking studio over on Five Mile," the drummer says. "We were literally banging on shit to get it to work right. We had to record at 2 a.m. For the second album, we flew out to Reno, Nev., to some stuffy fucking hoity-toity studio. There were always other fucking people involved. Way too many people. We had to stay at the Circus Circus Hotel, which sucked. The studio sucked. I had to record on a rental drum kit, which sucked. Honestly, I look back on it like there were a couple of people that were into this project spending way too much money. The month that we went out there, that studio was on the cover of Mix Magazine. It was a beautiful studio, but it was sterile, really stuffy. But no one had kickass basement studios and shit like they do now. There was no Pro-tools. We were recording on two-inch tape. We were recording old-school, but that was state-of-the-art at the time."
Hindsight is 20-20, and I.R.S. wasn't exactly the right major label for them.
"They were trying to break new territory," he says. "We took the deal because they had such a short roster. But they had REM and the Go-Go's, so that meant the label had money. We thought, 'Well, if we can be one of the few metal bands on this label with a short roster that has loot, we might come out of this good' — only to do a record and come to find that their whole distribution was way more set up for college radio. They signed us and we did a record that they didn't really know what to do with, so it was just one of those weird things."
Seduce toured to support Too Much, Ain't Enough with the Vinnie Vincent Invasion, and also with Iggy Pop. Black says hitting the road with Pop was cool, a kind of all-Detroit tour, and says that the Stooges frontman looked out for them.
Soon the trio was beginning to learn the very idea of broken dreams, of real frustration; there were many factors involved in earning a national audience and radio support then, and the band did its part. But in 1998, Mötley Crüe had already blown up and Seduce was imploding.
"We were flying out to LA ... and I.R.S. pulled the deal on us," Andrews says, grimacing. "We were heartbroken and didn't know what to do next."
It's true; they didn't know what to do. They even tried hiring another singer, Angelo Ganos (of Gangway and Paris, who died of a stroke in 2008) to become a more traditional four-piece. "But our fans didn't know what we were doing," Andrews says. "We got to the point where we decided we were kicking a dead horse and, after 10 years, dissolved from there."
Normally that'd be where the story ends. Like many '80s bands, Seduce had worked hard and released albums, they'd supported major headliners and they were even immortalized in the infamous film The Metal Years (courtesy of Miles Copeland).
More importantly, they'd generated the kind of hometown following that'd be the envy of many more established acts, and those fans weren't about to let their band fade out like a beer going flat. Certainly not literally; the trio partied hard, of course, but they've managed to avoid self-destruction.
Talk of Seduce's implosion isn't comfortable; Black's eyes immediately give that away. Still, since that initial breakup, the guys, and in particular Burns and Black, have kept busy in bands such as Speedball, the Skeemin' Nogoods, Universal Temple of Divine Power, and Heresy (Burns), Crud (Black) and the Shakey Jakes (both). Throughout that time, however, Seduce has been consistently re-forming to do one-off reunions, both for their still-adoring old fans and for themselves.
Indeed, only a couple of years ago the three found themselves opening for Heaven & Hell (Black Sabbath with Dio), Judas Priest, Motörhead and Testament at the DTE Energy Music Theatre.
Just like the old days?
Andrews has mixed feelings about those shows. "I wasn't gonna turn it down, but I felt guilty because there are a lot of younger bands that could have done the show to get some exposure because they're trying to promote something," Andrews says. "In the same sense, it was a great day for us. I knew we could do the job. It is what it is. I'm glad they asked for us."
To this day, the band refuses to sell itself short on stage — it's that basic idea that won them fans early on. "Now we play a Seduce show because we want to," Burns smiles. "We all have good jobs. It's not like we need the money. We do it because we love to. I'd love to play more but we're all busy guys. Seriously though, if you want us to walk out the door, mention a record deal. We just want to play."
Black adds, "I tried being a prostitute with a guitar. I didn't like it."
Seduce plays the Token Lounge on Dec. 11, with Syrant, Helicon and Co Dam, 28949 Joy Rd., Westland; 734-513-5030.