"We're honest because we do everything from beginning to end."
Interview with drummer Sammy Lee Bendheim of Richmond, VA Hard Rock Band, Red Reign! By Jenna Williams "The Scream Queen" - August 2018
You guys did release an EP.
That’s correct, we did release an EP back in 2017, but it was really late December 2016.
How do you feel this EP has captured the energy that Red Reign are all about?
We are four musicians who have played music for a long time. and when we got together we all were basically on the same page musically of what we like and what we were striving to do. what we’re striving to do, we wrote songs that we like that has our influences in them and so it embodies what we do, everybody has added their influence to the point where it makes them happy enough to be a part of the song writing process. so it embodies us because we enjoy what we do and what we play and our writing sort of represents that.
And do you write any of the lyrics?
I do none of the writing. Our lead singer, Bubba [Carlton McMichael], his nickname is Bubba, – he writes all of the lyrics, he writes most of the riffs. Larry [Moore] and Stevie [Shred], our guitar player all contribute to the writing.
This brings me to the question… With the drums, the beats you create, the riffs and melodies– how do you feel all of that captures the energy of what Red Reign are?
The songs are brought to the table by the three guys and then I have the freedom to add my flare to it. So, being a fan of older music, say 80s music, I try to instill that into what my current playing is.
What are some things that have impacted how you play, whether it be musicians, music, a certain person – what has impacted your music the most?
I’m a monster David Lee Roth, Van Halen fan. Alex Van Halen is a big influence in sort of my style of drumming, as well as Tommy Lee of Motley Crue. A lot of double-bass drummers. Tommy Aldridge of Black Oak Arkansas and Whitesnake, there’s so many drummers to name. I try to emulate some of that sound and some of the drumming with my own flare to it, my own taste to it. So I think, for me, that’s how I kind of come up with what I do.
How do you feel that with the freedom you have creating music, like you were just talking about, you’re able to bring your songs to life?
The beauty about it is, when you don’t have somebody telling you what you have to do, it does allow you the freedom. The songs that we – and I’ll say we – even though they do most of the writing, the songs that we have written and the songs that are on the EP, obviously are songs that we created that we had put the time and effort into, that we believe were songs that people would like. But when we met with David Ivory, who was our engineer and producer of the EP and David is Grammy-nominated, he brought his flare to our songs, like these are good songs, we just needed to tweak them a little bit.
David never changed our idea or our concept of the song. So, that really is a confidence builder because it gives us the freedom to write what we want and then the good point is, once you write it, it’s almost like a teacher proof-reading your paper, you know? Once you write the song, then you have somebody who is sort of an expert that say, “hey, this is really good, but we just need to tweak it here and there.” And that’s a real confidence builder because a guy like David, who has won a Grammy, didn’t come in and say, “hey guys, I listened to your stuff and it’s no good, it’s junk, we’re going to do this!” It was never like that. And again, I think that builds confidence as we continue to write new material, we do have the freedom to do anything we want with the song. And that’s how it’s brought to life and that really helps us a lot.
It has to be amazing to have that freedom. You’re not artistically suppressed.
Yeah and we’re an independent band, we’re not tied to a label and then we don’t have a label saying, “hey, you got to put this out now, April 1st and then August 1st, you have to put another one out.” So, we’re not pressed for time because I believe that that hurts the value of the song too when you rush people, so we do, we have that luxury of writing on our time. We have so many songs that are still ready to go, I mean, those guys are writing machines. So, that’s the good point, that’s a good thing.
It is and I was just about to ask, are you guys working on a new album?
That’s a funny question. I’m going to give you the yes and no. We were always writing, but we’re not planning on recording in the near future. Our concentration is on live shows, while it’s been a slower summer than we liked, we do have some shows. We have two shows on the books now for August and we are negotiating some newer shows. That’s really where we’re focusing right now.
How long have you been a part of Red Reign?
The singer, Bubba, and I started the band back in 2014 — the concept of the band in 2014.
What was the initial concept of the band?
No cover tunes, all original and if we fail, we do it on our own. And if we’re going to go out– Bubba and I’ve played in bands for years together. If we’re going to go out and never play music again, we’re going to do it on our terms.
That is a great philosophy to have.
Well, listen, we’re a little bit older and we’ve all done the bar scene, the cover band scene… We’ve had some good shows and I just, I got tired of playing cover tunes, probably about ten years ago. Listen, I respect anybody, anybody who picks up an instrument who can get up in front of people and play, is awesome in my book.
But for me, I grew tired of it. I grew tired of playing other people’s music and it’s never been about money for me, but if you’re going to “shlup” your stuff and go on stage at 1AM, it’d be nice if we’d have some gas paid for and that was even becoming hard. So, I was like, “look, I’m not really in it for the money, if I’m going to do this, this is what I want to do.” And then you have to find people who believe in that. I knew Bubba did, but he was still playing some cover bands and he liked that, but he realized that the reward was not worth all of the work you were putting into it, and so we went this route. And it’s been fortunate, it’s been good for us, we’ve been lucky.
That’s great to hear and you’re on Chipster PR, which is an amazing PR company. How did you get connected with them?
That’s a long story, so I’ll try to shorten that one up. But, Bubba and I were in a band years ago, another band that was really more of originals, but we did play a cover or two. But it was 90% all original band and my now wife, but at the time was my girlfriend, when I first started dating her, she came to a show and said, “hey, you aught to give this CD to a friend of mine, he knows a guy in this radio program.” So, there’s a show out there called “The Classic Metal Show” – I don’t know if you’ve heard it or not, but the two guys that are on air are Wendell Neeley and Chris Aiken. So, years ago, I sent this old band and I ended up, long story short, talking to Neeley. Neeley liked the old stuff and Neeley and I became really good phone friends, I had never met the guy, but we talked like once a week, became really good friends, and then I kind of dived out of the band, then we started Red Reign again. So, I called him and said, “hey, I got something you’ve got to listen to.”
So Neeley and Chris were really instrumental because they played our stuff on their show, but helped us kind of bridge the gap between Chip and myself. And that’s how we met Chip was through The Classic Metal Show.
Wow, that is very cool!
Yeah, and then that’s when the doors really started opening with Chip. [laughs]
It’s definitely a prestigious PR company, for sure!
Yeah, we’ve been fortunate and it’s been great. Chip’s really been the rock that held it together. At one point, we had played a show here in our hometown… We’re in Richmond, Virginia. We had played a show before Chip, with Saliva, I just remember being in the club because I do all of the business work for the band, and I just remember after the show, it was not a very highly attended show, but then again, it wasn’t a very publicized show. Everything that could’ve gone wrong, kind of did as far as getting people there.
I just remember telling myself, that we’re in a crossroads here because we need somebody to do the talking for us. That’s sort of how I had talked to Neeley and all of this other stuff. Thankfully, Chip liked what he had heard. We have a– let me back up a little bit, we actually had a full-length CD that was out before the EP. The full-length CD was called Chasing Shadows. Chip had heard some of the songs on there and that’s how we got hooked up through Chip and it’s been great, it’s been a great partnership.
That’s great! You just mentioned that you did release a full-length before the EP, Chasing Shadows. How do you feel that you have grown as an artist since Chasing Shadows?
Chasing Shadows was a self produced CD we did here in Richmond with another wonderful engineer, who’s a very close friend, a gentleman named Grant Rutledge. When we hooked up with Chip, what we did, we had talked to some people in the music business and we talked to David Ivory and we felt that– really, the EP is five songs off of Chasing Shadows that we reworked and we had redone some of the lyrics. So, really the EP is basically five songs off of the original full-length CD.
In terms of growing, as a musician, you never stop learning. I’ve been in the studio quite a few times, but going into one person’s studio is completely different from going to somebody else’s. I love the studio and I love learning and love playing in the studio. And it’s just amazing when you hear people who know what they’re doing. Most musicians are like, “I know how to do this, I know how to do that.” And I’m never like that, I always listen and try to take all the information that I can to make me better. And I think that’s how you grow.
Yeah, the moment that you start thinking that you know everything, is the moment that you know nothing.
Right, right! The funny thing is, and this is in all aspects of life, no matter how good you are and how good you think you are, there’s always somebody better. And you can never stop learning. I don’t have as much time as I’d like now, but when it settles down, I’m going to go back and take drum lessons again. I look forward to that.
Yeah, I was watching a documentary, I think it was on the Sound City one where Trent Reznor was featured and at the time he was talking about how he was taking classical piano lessons and he’s so talented as it is. He’s a perfect example.
Yeah. I mean, I know a lot of musicians who I’ve read that keep taking lessons or give lessons because it keeps your musical chops up. For me, it’s a little harder – I’m dyslexic. I don’t read music because it was always tough for me. I’m more of a self-taught drummer, I actually took lessons– first of all, I started playing drums late. I didn’t start until I was 14.
I had a great teacher, but he was strictly Jazz and more into the [music] reading. As it went on, I learned that I couldn’t keep up, I was more faking it. Like, he would show me how to do certain licks and I would basically copy him. I realized I wasn’t growing. You know, I was younger and I wanted to play Rock and Roll. I stopped, he was moving, and when he moved I didn’t go further. I would just sit in my room and put on tapes and headphones and just play to those.
I really want to go back and learn the right way to play drums. I look forward to that. When I get more time, I will do that.
What was it that initially sparked your passion to play drums?
When MTV came out and I saw their first video, I was like, “Yeah. That’s what I want to do. That’s it right there!”
Do you remember the song that made you realize, “I need to do this!”?
The song was….Unchained. It was the video for Unchained.
That’s a great song.
Yeah. And that’s the thing, it’s so funny. I think it’s a little different back in the 60s, 70s, 80s. I think there were so many bands out there that inspired so many people, just in general– in life in general. I feel today’s music doesn’t do that as much. Van Halen did it for me. I mean, when I first heard Van Halen at the age of 10, it did something for me. It gave me confidence, it’s like, “This is what I relate to!”
The reason I say that, I was watching the Rush documentary. It’s amazing! It’s amazing because they did their final tour 2 years ago, their 40th. They interviewed all of these fans and all of these people. I mean older and younger. And it’s like, there’s a passion for that band that I don’t think you get today. And I have that passion for Van Halen. I’m Van Halen all the time — I mean, the David Lee Roth Van Halen. It really does change, like I said, when I first heard it, it made me want to become a musician, it made me want to play what they were playing. That’s how I really got inspired.
Van Halen is such a great band to be inspired by. They were monstrous and still are. I’d say Zeppelin would be too, but they’re one of my most favorite bands ever.
You just don’t find bands like them anymore. I mean there’s a couple out there, Zeppelin obviously – I don’t really count Zeppelin because they’re really still not playing. Aerosmith is another one, I mean, Aerosmith, my goodness. [laughs] The catalog of music that they’ve got… And Rush, even though Rush might be done forever, it’s just, I don’t think today’s bands will get that stretch of 40 or 50 years that these bands have gotten.
You might be right on that one. If I were to say a band that would have, it would’ve been Soundgarden, but obviously that’s not going to happen.
But let’s take, and again, this is only my opinion, but let’s say that Chris Cornell was still alive, which that is a tragedy that he’s not. But I’m not sure Soundgarden would still have that staying power in 40 years. That’s a tough thing to do, but maybe they would’ve. I don’t know. I guess, what I’m saying is, Van Halen and Aerosmith and Rush are still relevant – that’s the thing. Zeppelin, obviously, is a different monster. The Beatles are still relevant. That kind of staying power is hard to come by. I’d like to get five years of staying power, I’d be happy with that! [laughs]
[laughs] Yeah. The music industry has been very tough. I’ve been doing this for 12 years and I’ve seen it change drastically. I mean, now there are so many bands out there – many bands think that they can just be “rockstars” and they don’t realize how difficult it really is, how much work you have to put in, how much you have to compete with 20,000 other artists who sound just like you do.
It is difficult, I think it’s changed because radio doesn’t really help much with unsigned bands. Promoters have a hard time with unsigned bands. I don’t think there is a lot of support for unsigned acts and it’s a shame because there are so many good bands out there. But there are some really not-good bands either. [laughs] And I don’t mean that mean; like I said, anyone who picks up an instrument and puts their heart and soul into it, they get my respect. But I think that because a band may be commercially acceptable looks wise, doesn’t make them a band. And that’s where it’s changed, I think TV and this glorification of what you look like and not what you sound like, I think has also hurt music as well.
Yes, that is true. And also auto-tuning everything, everything sounding so computerized… I can’t even listen to what’s considered ‘popular’ on the radio anymore.
Neither do I. I don’t listen to music much anymore, I don’t. I listen to, during the week, because I sit at a desk, I listen to Howard Stern because it’s talk radio. It’s Howard Stern, so it’s comedic, but he’s also a great interviewer as well. Then I get in my car, I listen to at least a few Van Halen songs per day, because that’s what I’ve been doing since I was a kid. And then every night I’ll listen to Sirius, I’ll listen to Ozzy’s Boneyard and then Hair Nation every now and then – then I listen to Classic Rewind a lot.
It’s hard because I love all of those songs, there’s only so many times, with the exception of the bands that I love, you can only hear the same songs so many times. And that’s why I think radio is so tough because they have this play list that they just play over and over again.
I know! I was listening to the rock station in North Dakota the other day and they were playing the same songs that have been played for the last 5 years. And as much as I love Metallica, Enter Sandman seems to play every 3 hours. [laughs]
Yeah and you know what, that’s one of their worst songs! Like, that’s a great song, but there are so many great Metallica songs out there. And that’s why when I listen to radio, it’s Satellite radio. Like on Ozzy’s Boneyard, they’ll still play the popular Metallica songs, but they’ll play the different songs. It’s not always the same. I’ve just gotten so tired of hearing those songs; those songs are in my iPod.
When I go out and do yard work or cut the grass and I’ll listen to those songs, then I’ll turn the radio on and listen to those songs. I’m just like, “I can’t do this anymore!” I’ll get burned out on all of these bands. I’m a huge sports fan, you’re in North Dakota, so I’m a huge Minnesota Vikings fan. So, come football season, I don’t really listen to music, I listen to sports radio. I’ll listen to the NFL channel. So, yeah, music, as much as I love playing it and as much as I love being on stage and doing all that, you know when I come off, that’s like someone who’s a race car driver who races for four hours, then gets in a car and has to drive across the country; sometimes it’s just enough.
Yeah. I’ve mainly interviewed all Heavy Metal artists over the last 12 years and a lot of them don’t listen to Metal. There are people think that Heavy Metal artists only listen to Heavy Metal, but in actuality, they say “oh, I can’t stand listening to what’s out there right now.” They’ll listen to Jazz or R&B, Blues, Classical, something completely drastic genre-wise – although Classical and Metal are very much the same, in my opinion, it’s just Metal has distortion on it. People don’t realize that artists in the music industry, they don’t really listen to what you think they would.
I listen to more Hard Rock and Metal more than anything else. Like I did an interview a month ago and they asked me if somebody were to ask you what was in your iPod, as a Hard Rock artist, you wouldn’t have in there? I was like, “I’ve got Bruno Mars, I’m a Jackson 5 fan, I love the Jackson 5.” I’ve got songs like those in there. I’ve got the Rat Pack in there, I’ve got Sinatra. Listen, good music is good music, it transcends time. I tell people in every interview, people will ask me, people that I grew up with that I haven’t seen in a while, “You still listen to Van Halen? It’s so 80s.” But it’s like, no it’s not. A good song is a good song and that transcends time. So, if I’m listening to Elvis or The Beatles, I’m stuck in the 60s? I don’t think so. I just think it’s a good song.
Like with The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin – all of their music definitely holds true to that. And they are the artists you’ll always hear playing on the Classic Rock stations; they’ll play Stairway to Heaven, Me and Bobby McGee, and Break On Through.
Yeah. And again, all great songs though. That’s the thing,
I like some of the Mama’s and the Papa’s, I like The Kinks, I mean I’m a big fan of Kinks. Obviously Van Halen were too, they recorded a lot of their songs, but there are just so many good tunes out there – they just don’t write songs like that anymore. And listen, times change, I get it, but it seems like it’s become more electronic than anything else.
I remember watching, I don’t remember what
music– I think it was either the Grammy’s or the music awards that came on in February or March and I watched it and I get so upset when I watch it, I get irritated, but I remember saying to myself,
“There was not ONE band up there.” Not Heavy Metal or Hard Rock, but not one band there. There wasn’t a drummer, a guitar player, a bass player, and a singer on the stage. It was all a DJ or maybe a drummer and a violinist, but there wasn’t a Rock band up there. And I’m like, “wow.”
That’s what I love so much about Rock and Metal, there’s so much honesty, it’s real. Every now and then you’ll hear Auto-Tune in some rock songs, but for the most part it is very raw. So that brings me to my next question, how do you feel that Red Reign embodies that honesty in the music?
We feel like we’re honest because we do everything from beginning to end. We create songs, we actually play the songs, we don’t filter anything out, we don’t stray away from the idea that we have.
We really enjoy our songs. The reason I say that is, I’ve seen, when we’re on stage, somebody had said, “You know, I saw you guys play, you look like you’re really having fun.” We ARE having fun. We enjoy what we’re doing and we enjoy what we’re playing.
We’re comfortable with the songs that we’re putting out to be judged by the people who hear us. Somebody could come up to me and go, “Yeah man, I heard your CD and it’s terrible.” I can say, “hey, thanks for taking a listen!” I always give out my e-mail so if somebody wants to write or say anything.
I was telling somebody that somebody had written me one time and said, “hey, I really like your stuff, but you know, you aught to change this to make it a little more mainstream.” And I said, “I really appreciate your opinion, that’s great. I hope you continue to listen. I value what you say, but we feel like we’re going to stay on the path that we stay on.” That’s where I think people stray, if you’re trying to write a song for people to like you, I think is where you get lost.
You have to believe in your song and what you’re playing. I think it’s our job, or any band’s job, that when they create a song, it’s their job to present it to the people in a way that they’re comfortable with that they can say, “hey, we’re giving you the song whether you like it or not. We think you’re going to like it.” That’s sort of how we are.
I remember when we were doing the title track, Red Reign, there’s a breakdown part in there when we were talking to David [Ivory], again, this really helps because David, you know, we all had input, but David was like, “but this breakdown part, I [want to] hear maybe a little of a guy not rapping, but sort of a raping…” And I went, “Absolutely not. That’s not what we do.” But I mean, I have no problem with Rap, it’s just not what we do. I don’t want to be like today where Rock bands have Rapping — that’s just not us.
We are a Hard Rock band and I want to continue to stick to that. Because I think once you do that, you’re opening yourself to and I hate this term, but almost ‘selling out’. It’s like, “Ok, we’re going to do this because we really want to be on the radio badly.” We obviously all want that anyway, but I’m more comfortable doing it my way. Like I said, live or die by the sword. I’m comfortable – I can honestly say if we fail, that we did it our way and I’m happy with that, I’ll never look back.
I love that answer, that’s inspiring and amazing to hear. I’m a part of this organization, Guitars For Vets. We give guitars and guitar lessons to our Veterans. My question is, why do you feel music is so important to have in life?
That’s sort of what we were talking about earlier, the whole Rush, Van Halen thing. Music is subjective. It’s the same as picking a favorite color, it’s the same as picking a favorite sports team, it’s the same as picking a certain color car or style of car. It’s a very subjective thing. I think, in my opinion, that Van Halen is one of the greatest, most influential Rock bands in the world.
We say that, but somebody else might say that you’re crazy, you know? Or Zeppelin or it’s Rush or it’s The Beatles. My point being is, it’s all subjective. But the one thing is, when you can find that band that can uplift you and put a smile on your face, it really can change somebody. And again, when I was younger, Van Halen gave me confidence and you could latch onto that, it can spread.
I believe that people really need to start liking what they want to like and not sort of have this whole advertisement, mass influence of what you should life. I think people get caught up on that. I never did. And the guys in the band, they like what they like, they don’t really care what everybody else is listening to. I think you have a lot of people who are really into music who are like that, but I think there are some people that who are like, “I’m afraid to tell them I listen to Britney Spears. If that’s what gets you through the day and it puts a smile on your face…Who cares?
I think that when people find that band, that one song after another that puts a smile on their face that it changes your attitude a little bit.
It definitely does. Would you like to share any experiences that you’ve had when you’ve been in a dark mindset or going through a dark time where music has helped bring you out of it?
I’ve been pretty fortunate enough, I don’t get down that much. I’m a pretty happy person. The only time, I mean my father passed away when I was younger, but not too young– younger. But yeah, I leaned on a lot of Van Halen, I also leaned on some adult beverages. [laughs] Listening to stuff like that made me not think about my current status in life, if that makes sense.
I will say this too, movies and music, for me, I just want something that puts a smile on your face. I don’t really want to go listen to a band who has a specific message in every song because then you have to start thinking about that. Or [when you] go to a movie that has a specific message about the world today we live in. I mean we live in that every day, I need something to escape from. I think that’s what music does; music, good bands, have an escape. And that’s one of the thing I love about Van Halen, their songs are basically about the old-school sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. [laughs] It’s not about – and it’s not saying that I don’t care, it’s not about the planet, the politics; that escape helps a lot in anything.
If you have a bad day and you’re like “I don’t want to think about today.” and just throw in a good song and next thing you know, you’re acting like a fool in your car singing and drumming and people are staring at you, but you know, it puts a smile on your face. [laughs]
That’s why I love being a part of Guitars For Vets, it’s so amazing to be able to be around these Veterans who are going through PTSD or who knows what exactly they are going through mentally and also physically, but to see them be able to learn to play guitar and create their own music is just so amazing to see.
They are so underappreciated. I did an interview a couple weeks ago with someone who works with Veterans and actually works in the military and we sent them like ten or fifteen CDs to disperse to anyone who is in the military. Because I’m a firm believer that anyone who does that for our country, they deserve more than just a CD, I’ll tell you that much. If that can put a smile on their face, we’re willing to do that.