MOB RULZ from Virginia, USA, are a great example of a talented band that captured lots of amazing elements in their music, but despite their first-class material and their musicianship, they never managed to take it to the next level. You see, in this business - yes, I mean the music business -, talent is not the only thing that matters. Anyway... Musically MOB RULZ delivered a really exciting mixture of melodic hard rock and classic heavy metal, with some pomp rock touches. You can hear all that in their "Primal Urges" private CD release from 1989. Vaggelis "VXN" Fotakis tracked Robert Johnstone (guitars) down, talked about MOB RULZ and his personal saga around music on a great interview done the old fashioned, "printed zine" way. The way we love!
Tell us the history of MOB RULZ: how old were you back then? When did the band founded and by whom? Did any of the members participate in another act before MOB RULZ? How did it happen and you came altogether? Did you have any lineup changes before the release of the CD?
It started back in the mid to late 80’s the band was called NIGHT CRY back then. The two founding members were Chad Aylor (singer) and myself. We were primarily a cover band back then, but Chad and I really just wanted to do originals. After all you can’t make money playing other peoples stuff.
We primarily gigged in the small town of Charlottesville, VA, at places like the Mine Shaft and Tracks. Back then Dave Mathews was a bartender in one of the local clubs as he was starting his music career.
I was the old man of the group in my late twenties. I believe I was about 10 years older than everyone else.
NIGHT CRY wasn’t really getting anywhere so Chad and I started working on originals at my house. I had built and insulated studio out of a utility shed in my backyard and it worked great for us.
“City of Fire” was the first track we did together. Chad and I did everything. Chad sang and played keys. I played all the guitar parts and did backup vocals. We used an Alisas HR-16 drum machine and the bass was MIDI. The day we recorded that song in the studio I had stomach flu so bad we had to stop about every 30 Minutes so I could go throw up but we had already paid for the day in the studio so as they say, the show must go on.
After we recorded “City of Fire” we started pushing it to a local radio station to get some air play. It was a bit long, over 5 minutes but eventually they started playing it. We were scrambling to put a band together at the time then we met up with Cris Kougher (guitar) and his brother Jon (bass). We tried out several drummers and Randy Robinson was the obvious choice for us. It all really just clicked.
Our collaboration came together quickly. “Primal Urges”, “Night Stalker” and “Spider Woman” were my creations while “Fire in Heaven”, “Anti-Love” an up in heaven were Chad, Randy and the Kougher brothers.
Is MOB RULZ still alive today? Do you play live shows? If you have disbanded, when and why MOB RULZ actually ceased to exist?
Sadly no! I have reached out to all of the band members with no luck. The last I heard Chad & Jon were playing in a disco tribute band somewhere in Virginia. I was told by Cris’s ex-wife that Cris has not played in about 27 years. Randy sadly was in a motorcycle accident around 20 years ago and suffered some brain damage. My understanding is that he only has partial memory of the band days.
Randy and myself were the primary financiers of the band. We were both married with kids at the time and it just became to costly for us to keep pouring money into the band.
Another reason was creative differences. At the time of the recording some of the lyrics were changed at the last minute. This prevented airplay on a few of the tracks. We went back to the studio with another singer and fixed part of them but it was just too costly to re-release the CD. That was the beginning of the end for me.
I honestly didn’t think we were going to get as far as we did back then with all the awesome bands that were around back then
How about your gigs? Did you use any special equipment for your shows? How big was usually your audience? With which local bands did you play with? Was there a local band that you think was something special? For which “big” bands did/do you open? Did it happen to play in front of a huge audience (in a stadium for example)?
Nothing special. I used a 50-watt Marshall Jubilee series head and a 4 X 12 Hiwatt Cab with some Boss Micro rack series effects that I still have today and they sound great! I played a Kramer Night Swan designed by Vivian Campbell and a 70’s black Les Paul Custom both of which I still have today and play regularly.
We were from a small town so our venues were rather small anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand people. We opened for FIREHOUSE, and WHITE LION at the Newgate Prison in Richmond Virginia on occasion.
You released your CD in 1989. How do you like it after so many years? Did you have any other releases? Did you promote your CD on concerts? Did you receive assistance in the promotion of the CD from your label (if any)? How many copies of your CD were printed?
I can’t say I love it and I can’t say I hate it either. The entire CD was recorded in less than 24 hours at Omega Studios in Rockville Maryland. We only had the money for a weekend in the studio. Fortunately our recording engineer was Jack Knepley, a sound engineer for JUDAS PRIEST. He was great to work with. We really just needed more time and I think it could have been allot better.
It was a private release. Randy worked at Nimbus Records in Stanton VA and that’s how we were able to get the CD done. We sold them at shows all the time. I know we went through at least one thousand.
We never had a label. We talked to a few but they really won’t have much to do with you unless you are lawyered up and we just could afford it back then. Randy and I put up most of the money for the band and it just got to overwhelming, and that is one of the reasons we broke up.
How would you describe the music style of MOB RULZ? Did you change your style during the years?
I think you could just call it 80’s Metal! It didn’t really change much at the time.
Would you consider a re-issue of your material in case you received a proposal by a label?
Yes! I am actually working on that.
How did you learn playing your instrument and who where your idols?
My first guitar was a SG knock off. It was a piece of shit! The action was at least 1/2” off the fretboard. I knew I needed a better guitar and there was this one kid at school that had a black Les Paul custom. He couldn’t play it, he would just swing it around by the strap pretending to be a rock star, so I asked him if he wanted to sell it.
He needed money for weed, so I said Ill give you $300. $150 now and the rest in a couple weeks? He agreed. When his parents found out they freaked out and told him to get it back so he broke into my house and took it.
I knew it was him because I had weed and money on my dresser and it was still there. He just wanted to get the guitar back. So I called him up and told him if he didn’t have it back at my house in an hour I was going to call the cops and have him busted for breaking and entering and theft. I also told him I wanted a receipt stating the guitar was paid in full.
His dad was freaking out that he mite go to jail because he was already in trouble for some other stupid high school crap he got into, so he made out a bill of sale saying it was paid in full so for $150.00 I got the guitar, the case, A small Randell amp, a cry baby Wah peddle and a few cords. Not bad for $150.00 I still have that guitar today and still play it all the time. Today the guitar is worth about $4,500.00 US.
What were your influences at that time and what music did you listen back then?
Back in the day I was heavily into ZEPPELIN, TED NUGENT, QUEEN, BLACK SABBATH. All the usual suspects from the era.
Who were / are the artists you admire?
I always wanted to be a singer but I suck at it. I was and still am a huge Freddie Mercury fan along with DIO, Geoff Tate. Today I’m always listening to Joe Satriani, Gary Moore, Vinnie Moore, John Petrucci and of course George Lynch!
What music do you listen today?
I have to admit I do listen to a lot of smooth jazz. My wife and I started listening to it about 15 years ago when we would take our boat out and moor across from Seattle. We would drop anchor and eat crab, drink wine and watch the lights of the city at night while listening to smooth jazz. Very relaxing. I often use smooth jazz backing tracks to practice over. I plan on releasing a jazz track in the future.
Was MOB RULZ your first involvement with the music industry? When did you actually start playing music?
I was about 15 when I started in Southern California. We played the party seen in Orange county when I was in High school and was in bands up until MOB RULZ.
What about your personal career as a musician after MOB RULZ? Were you active in the music industry all those years? What were your music activities all those years? Did you participate in other bands? If yes tell us the names and their style.
After MOB RULZ I played briefly for a band called TWISTED in VA, but then I moved to Seattle for work. I looked for bands to play with but the grunge scene had set in and I wasn’t really into it. I focused on work and family for years. Only recently have I gotten back into it.
What is your future plans regarding music (if any)?
I am currently putting a home studio together. I am back to playing just about every day. I intend to re-release some of the MOB RULZ stuff as a solo project as well as some new material within the next year.
Do you feel your music is still appreciated by people? Do you still get letters/emails from fans after all those years? Send a message to the people that read this interview.
I do believe it is appreciated! I get contacted all the time by fans and frankly I am shocked that there is still so much interest in our music. I honestly didn’t think we were going to get as far as we did back then with all the awesome bands that were around back then, but to see the interest by so many, it’s very humbling. I for one greatly appreciate it and I am sure the other band members would as well.
After all these years I look forward to sharing my passion with everyone again.
Thank you all!