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Can't Stop The Train: An Exclusive Interview With RYAN SPENCER COOK And JEREMY ASBROCK Of ROCK CITY MACHINE COMPANY

By Larry Petro, News Monkey
Friday, July 21, 2023 @ 10:39 AM


"He (Gene Simmons) said no, we will not be going here, there and the other, and guess where we went? Here, there and the other!"

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Live Photos By Larry Petro/Petrofyed Photography

ROCK CITY MACHINE COMPANY is the brainchild band of Guitarists Ryan Spencer Cook and Jeremy Asbrock, along with Bassist Philip Shouse, and although these may not be household names to most of you, the people they have previously and currently been involved with will absolutely be familiar to all the Pure Rockers out there. They were members of Gene Simmons' solo touring band and, more recently, Cook and Asbrock have been a part of Ace Frehley's solo touring band.

The story for me begins in an elevated booth in the back corner of The Dirt Bar, a nice drinking establishment directly across the street from Houston's downtown House of Blues, where Ace and his band were set to perform later that evening. As I entered the bar right at their 6pm opening time, Ryan and Jeremy were already there waiting for me, along with drummer Scot Coogan, but noticing that the music inside the bar was a bit too loud I told the bartender that I was about to interview members of Ace Frehley's band and politely asked if she could turn the music down just a tad until it was over and she eagerly obliged. Within a few minutes of sitting down for the interview I noticed that the music now playing on the bar's PA system had been changed to Ace Frehley's 1978 solo album. Nice touch and kudos to the bartender! Also of note, and purely by coincidence, this bar has a statue of Jack Daniels up against the opposite wall from us that had at some point long in the past been painted up to look like Ace in full costume. It's as if this was all meant to be. So as Coogan sat at the bar to "make funny faces at us", the interview commences.

Though my story is recent, the story for Ryan, Jeremy and Philip goes back over a decade when they had a band THE BIG ROCK SHOW, something Jeremy described as "an 80's metal jukebox", playing hits from bands like RATT, VAN HALEN, DIO WHITESNAKE and the like. They had been friends with Doc McGhee, KISS' manager whom Ryan was renting a house from, and he had come to see them play in Nashville. One morning over coffee Doc mentioned that KISS was going to do a cruise. According to Ryan, Doc said "you guys should be on this, just trust me and do it". That was 2011, the first year of the KISS Kruise, and their appearance went over so well that they were asked back numerous times in the future, so much so that Ryan states that they "hold the record for the most invited back band in the history of that cruise". (Kruises 1-5, 7 & 8 at least says Asbrock). Paul and Gene would come and watch them perform frequently until one year Gene approached them and said "hey listen, I want to put together a solo band, you seem like you know what you're doing, will you put together a band?" Ryan recalls. They became the Gene Simmons band and interestingly what "was supposed to be 2 shows turned into 2 years," Ryan jokingly admits. Jeremy concurs. "Yeah, originally it was like 5, 6 shows to tie in with this thing he (Gene) was doing called Wizard World, which was basically like ComicCon with a different name. There was no plan to more than any of those shows." Even though Ryan saw the potential for this band to tour the world with it Gene said "nope, we're not doing it," they both agree. "He said no, we will not be going here, there and the other, and guess where we went? Here, there and the other!" laughs Ryan as recalls that time.

It was during this time that the band had a tour of Australia set and Ace and his band were to be the openers, but given the expense involved with doing so, Ace opted not to bring his band over but instead asked Gene if he could use his band for the tour. Gene agreed, but only if Ace asked the band members himself, which he did, a decision which was a no-brainer for the guys. Ryan says "I called Jeremy and I said 'I knew it', we're going to be playing for both Gene and Ace." Because the relationship between Gene and Ace (and the rest of the members for that matter) has been conflicted over the years, Ryan says that he called Gene privately to find out, "do you really mean this, is it really ok?". And according to them Gene was perfectly fine with it as long as it didn't interfere with what he was doing. Even though it was an 11th hour decision to play with Ace also they had no problem learning Ace's material because they already knew all of his songs already. Ryan says, "You know what would have been the challenge for us? If he had said 'we need you to learn Asylum, Animalize, Hot In The Shade it would have been a lot of work! (laughs)" Did it feel weird playing for both Ace and Gene, like maybe they were 'sleeping with the enemy?'. Not at all says Ryan because Gene gave his blessing.

The guys knew that they were about to become a more permanent part of Ace's band when they were in Sydney as Jeremy recalls, "Gene pulls me into his dressing room and says (in his best Gene voice) 'Ace is going to ask you to do the cruise.' I asked, 'how do you feel about that?' and Gene responded with 'I have no ego'. (They both burst into laughter at this point). In actuality Cook and Asbrock surmised that Gene knew the KISS tour was coming and he wanted them to be able to stay busy, and in way, was probably relieved that he wasn't leaving his band hanging in the meantime. It's now been 5 years that the two of them have been a part of Ace's band and according to them, it's been great, albeit different. "The only thing those two (Ace and Gene) have in common is that they were in the same band," Ryan says. With Gene they played a different set every night. "It was like 65 different songs we played," Jeremy remembers. With Ace though, he's a 'creature of habit' with regards to his set each night. "Gene, we were with 23 of 24 hours a day, Ace we see when he walks onstage," says Ryan. Even so, they are quick to point out that Ace has been very good to them and they have zero complaints.

Ryan did have to make a change within the band recently though. Last year about this time when they last played Houston, Ryan was the third guitarist along with Ace and Jeremy, but with the recent departure of bassist Zach Throne, Cook has switched to playing bass now. So which does he prefer? "Oh, the guitar always," Ryan answers without hesitation. He continues, "That being said, I'm having such a blast playing bass though, it's just so different. I've always owned a bass but it's just a different approach to all the songs. I'm thoroughly enjoying it."

And that brings us to ROCK CITY MACHINE COMPANY, an idea Jeremy says came to him first. "We've done everything together, we've done different cover bands, we’ve played with the KISS guys…One day I got to thinking, man what else are we going to do together, play with another artist, form another cover band? The last thing for our journey to be complete was some original music." Ryan had managed Marti Frederiksen's (the RCMC album producer) studio, had a good relationship with him, and friend Craig Lindsley (Lindsley Records) always offering the opportunities. "The magic 8 ball always came up with 'yes'," Ryan laughs. When asked about the origin of the name ROCK CITY MACHINE COMPANY I pointed out to them that there is actually a water systems business in Tennessee with that exact same name, to which Ryan replies, "We drove by it every day. (laughing)" Jeremy adds, "I'm from Nashville and I always saw this building on 3rd Avenue and at the top of the building it said 'Rock City Machine Company' and I always thought that be a really cool name for a band. They knocked that building down and I never knew what happened to the business but I didn't fucking care, that's a cool name."

Now, that business is still in existence, something they didn't know until they decided to use the name for the band. "Not only are we into rock 'n' roll, we're a big fan of filtrated water!" Ryan says which elicits laughter from everyone. Jeremy adds, "As long as they don't get into the rock 'n' roll business and we don't get into the water filtration supply business, we're all good. I mean, if anything, we're gonna get those guys some business! (laughs)"

Currently, the official lineup of the band if Cook, Asbrock, and Shouse with no officially-announced drummer as of yet. For the recording of the album they used producer Marti Frederiksen' son Evan, who also serves as his Engineer. Rather than just pull somebody in to do it, Evan was the logical choice at the moment. Ryan admits, "Right now, we kinda know who's gonna be on tour with us, we just can't say it yet because we've got to get in a room and work some stuff out."

As for when they found the time to record the album with all of their touring commitments, it was just a matter of finding 'holes in the schedule' as Ryan put it. "We wrote this entire record except for 2 songs via Zoom, because Marti was so busy. It was really a puzzle piece of schedules." In the end it took the band a year to complete the record. One of the coolest things to happen for the band was that they teamed up with NASCAR earlier this Spring for the race at Martinsville, with the song "Can't Stop The Train" being used for the promo spots and such advertising the race. "When I heard the song I knew that it was prefect for some sort of car-based placement or car commercial. The fact that our first placement was NASCAR with that song just proves that I was right!". And as Ryan is also quick to point out, that particular NASCAR track is called 'The Train', so it must have been a match made in heaven. At the time the band had no idea which song they would release first but the NASCAR placement basically forced their hand into releasing "Can't Stop The Train" first, which is a great head-bobbing, toe-tapping song with an earworm chorus that will stick in your head. Check it out if you don't believe me! It was Frederiksen who pointed out that they couldn't have this song on radio and TV ads and people not be able to find it. Ryan states, "Jeremy says it's a song that makes him want to drive fast."

The second song released, called Summer Song" has an old school VAN HAGAR vibe to it. Asbrock readily admits such. "This song sounds like the stuff we grew up listening to. You're gonna hear DEF LEPPARD, AEROSMITH, AC/DC, all of them." And for Ryan, his vocals are a perfect for the feel of the album and he does an outstanding job with it. There's also a cover tune on the record, that being "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man", the song by the BOB SEGER SYSTEM from 1968, which was Ryan's choice, something he says was for 'selfish reasons'. "I thought if we were going to do a cover it's got to be something that's in my vocal wheelhouse. I thought this would bring out all of our strengths." Jeremy agrees, "We could not pick a more perfect song for his voice. And the song hasn't been covered to death."

The thing Ryan likes the most so far prior to the album's release is that 'everybody has a different favorite song'. To have people like the entire record instead of just a song or two makes them feel really good. As for a potential video from the album, though there aren't any concrete plans yet, Frederiksen is pushing for it to be "Summer Song", which incidentally was released on the first day of summer, something that was Jeremy's idea. The album itself drops on July 28th and it can be preordered on both signed and unsigned CD as well as transparent blue marble swirl and red swirl 180g, also signed or unsigned. Check it out at the Lindsley Records website. It is and will be available across all digital platforms, so what are you waiting for? The band has a record release show scheduled for August 2nd at The Eighth Room In Nashville, TN so if you're in the area, be sure and check it out! There's no telling who you might see there.

And in case you're wondering if this is just a side project to pass the time, rest assured that this is a full-on band and as Ryan states, "Man, me and Jeremy, our goal is to work this thing. I would love this to become the A-game." It's clear that it is extremely satisfying for them to be releasing something of their own instead of simply being hired guns for someone else. "Honestly, I kinda let go of that kind of stuff, I didn't really imagine it until that day. I just said 'we should just fucking do this' (laughs). And then, it turned out SO good. It's like fucking Hysteria (DEF LEPPARD), every song should be a single." Ryan concurs, "That's the thing man, there's only 8 songs but we were like, 'no filler'. If there was something we started on and it didn't fit we chucked it out the window." In fact they didn't write a ton of songs for the record, only about 11, and only a couple were ultimately discarded. Working with Marti definitely had an impact, for it was he who suggested just sticking with 8 songs, like the old days, 4 songs to a side on the vinyl and, according to the guys, Marti 'doesn't do filler'.

So what happens once the KISS tour is over and Gene decides to crank up his solo act again? "We'll do both if we can," says Ryan. "Perfect scenario, ROCK CITY MACHINE COMPANY opens for Gene Simmons and we're the same band (laughs). Even better scenario? ROCK CITY MACHINE COMPANY opens for Ace and Gene! (more laughs). We're the same band every night!" Jeremy adds, "Honestly man, I really think that the Ace/Gene tour was a little cooler than the 4 shows in Australia. Like, why should four cities in Australia get that and nowhere else in the world?" In all seriousness though, they have corresponded with Gene of late and they're open to do as much or as little as he wants to do. They don't however, see them going out on a bus for 2 months at a time, just given how many other things Gene is involved with. As Jeremy puts it, "He has his hand in so many cookie jars."

Surprisingly enough, when they're not on the road they have very simple lives, almost mundane if you will. "It's funny because when we get home I never leave my neighborhood. I go running, and there's a little BBQ place down the street where I know everyone and I'll go have a beer with those guys sometimes." Jeremy is a bit busier than that though. "Man, I'm married with 2 kids (2 and 7) and that takes up every second of my life!"

And if things couldn't be any better for the band, they've been listed to open for SKID ROW and BUCKCHERRY on their upcoming West Coast dates, though not officially confirmed by Ryan and Jeremy yet ;)

Be sure and watch out for ROCK CITY MACHINE COMPANY because you "Can't Stop The Train"!

Socials: Ryan Spencer Cook

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/diver.down.127/
Instagram: @ryancook1969

Jeremy Asbrock

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theejeremyasbrock/
Instagram: @JeremyAsbrock


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