The Red Eyes have been a life-changing experience for Amalgama frontman John Salka.
After the thrash metal band that Salka led for more than six years bowed out with a final show at Valentine’s in June, he began playing covers with drummer Vinny Padula and bassist Rocky Semeraro, both of Albany heavy rockers Bishop, under the name The Red Eyes. At the same time, Salka began writing new material under the name Hard Soul.
The experience playing everything from Bon Jovi to 50 Cent with The Red Eyes has had an effect on the hookier, more pop-oriented material he’s been writing on his own. It’s led him to rediscover The Beatles, redefine his guitar playing and even stop biting his fingernails.
The Red Eyes
WHEN: 10 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Center Square Pub, 32 Dove St., Albany
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 729-2880, www.centersquarepub.com
“It’s even changed, almost, my little personal things — I’ve stopped biting my nails for the first time in 26 years, because I would bite my nails so much that it would hurt my fingers and it would affect my guitar playing,” Salka said recently from his practice space in downtown Albany, which used to house Amalgama and now provides space for The Red Eyes and Hard Soul.
“Like, ow, I’m biting my fingers too much. . . . And I’ll tell ya, this is probably the best playing level I’ve ever been at in my whole life — I’ve been playing guitar for 10, almost 11 years.”
The Red Eyes will bring their “party rock,” as Semeraro has dubbed it, to Center Square Pub on Saturday night.
“Not in the sense that we’re like a hip-hop, party rock, but we’re just — we’re a rock band that does hip-hop songs and classic songs, kind of in a more punked-up party cover band atmosphere,” Salka said.
“So it’s a lot more fun. You come to see the show, and it’s a show; it’s not just like a cover band doing coordinated jump moves. It’s a three-piece band where I, on guitar, have to sing the songs plus emulate maybe some of the sampling from the rap songs or whatever, or change a song.”
His change in musical direction didn’t come overnight. Though Amalgama released an EP, “Amethyst,” earlier this year, band members were coming and going at that point.
“I think it was Sean [Murphy], our bass player, decided to go back to school — he was leaving town, moving on,” Salka said. “And Justin [Cheever, drummer] was also thinking about retooling his job and thinking about possibly doing something new. So I kind of decided that at like, member change number 100, 100-something, that it was time for me to bring the curtain down.”
Salka had already been writing songs that would eventually form the basis of Hard Soul, and was looking to move beyond the thrash metal genre. He began recording demos of old and new songs on his own, the results ranging from harder-edged rock in the vein of one of his favorite bands, Thin Lizzy, to ballads, and even a country song.
“I’m just writing good songs, not necessarily rock songs or pop — pop is not even the right word — but just good, well-written songs, and whatever style they come out in, cool,” he said. “If it’s got keyboards, cool. If it doesn’t have keyboards, that’s cool, too. If it has guitar solos, cool. If it’s just acoustic guitar, that also works.”
At the same time, Padula and Semeraro approached Salka about forming The Red Eyes. The trio began holding marathon, four-hour practice sessions, trying out songs from every genre.
“It was good because it forced me to play a lot more guitar than I normally would, because you’re just always rehearsing and playing and learning,” Salka said. “[We play] every single cover you can think of under the sun, from Weezer to Snoop Dogg to Dr. Dre to Journey to Bon Jovi to Thin Lizzy to anything else pretty much you can think of. ‘Candy Shop’ by 50 Cent, we do that song — that’s how varied the set is.”
Both bands are continuing to move forward. Recently Salka began playing with a drummer for Hard Soul, Eric Hoehn, who was his college roommate at the College of Saint Rose. If all goes according to plan, the lineup will eventually expand to a five-piece to include keyboards, bass and a second guitar (“I’m a fanatical Thin Lizzy fan, and the Thin Lizzy sound is the dual [guitar] harmonies,” Salka said). The duo have a gig at Center Square Pub, as well, on Dec. 3.
Although The Red Eyes were formed as a summer project, it looks like the project will have some life beyond that. Audience reaction at the band’s performances has been strong, and as long as the trio continues having fun with it, they’ll keep playing.
“We just want to play out — just kind of like a fun thing, not a full-time thing,” Salka said. “We’re not touring with The Red Eyes, but we’re gigging with The Red Eyes, and having a really good time.
“And I think if you ask anybody who comes to any Red Eyes shows, they had a really fun time, probably had too much to drink and woke up with a hangover the next day,” he said. “But that’s kind of the goal.”