Can a hard-rocking cat from Toronto’s seamy west end win over American TV audiences, impress three of the most jaded rock stars on the planet, and still keep his artistic integrity? Well, Lukas Rossi, Toronto’s contribution to CBS’ “Rock Star: Supernova” reckons that he can.
For readers not fully acquainted with the CBS rock’n'roll oeuvre, “Rock Star:Supernova” is the followup to last years’ hugely successful “Rock Star: INXS”. This time the band auditioning for a singer is what Fox modestly calls a metal supergroup, comprising Gilbey Clarke, ex-Guns n’Roses, Metallicist Jason Newstead, and rock/porn/reality star Tommy Lee of Motley Crue. At this writing, 11 singers remain in the competition, with an admirable international representation (take that, American Idol), including starving artists from Australia, South Africa, Iceland, Puerto Rico, and of course, Canada.
Last year, it was tattooed Torontonian J.D. Fortune who beat out the competition to win fame, fortune and all the Fosters’ he can drink as singer for INXS. This time around, Lukas Rossi is looking to make lightning strike twice and prove once and for all that Canadians are just really cool.
We got in touch with Lukas via phone from LA:
Torontoist: Lukas. How are you?
LR: Hey, I’m good man. I’m actually just getting some ink done as we speak, so if my words are a little choppy, forgive me. I got this treble clef on my right arm, I just wanted to funk it up a bit.
(Pause while Torontoist ponders the efficiency of the CBS publicity machine, making sure Lukas doesn’t waste valuable time just sitting in the tattooist’ chair when he can also be doing interviews.)
Torontoist: I’ll make it quick, cause I know you’re short of time.
LR: Nah, I got all the time in the world, brother.
Torontoist: Then your publicity people lied to me.
Torontoist: Anyway, can you talk a little bit about who you are, where you’re from, how you got into music?
LR: I grew up in the west end of Toronto, Jane and Lawrence. It was hard growing up, man. I got into music cause it kept me away from bad things, being from the street and that. I just found an outlet that kept me out of trouble, and I was in love with it. Music was my best friend, you know?
Torontoist: How old were you when you started?
LR: Ah…been doing if for 15 years, 16 years.
(The official bio says he’s 29 now.)
Torontoist: According to the website, you have a lot of different musical influences. How do you choose the songs that you’ve been singing on Rock Star?
LR: I choose songs to test myself. If we’re going to be doing cover songs, which I don’t really enjoy doing…
(Shouts) Hey! Sorry, brother, hit a sweet spot on my arm here, kills…
Sorry, man, I lost track…
Torontoist: I’ll start again. How do you feel about the song choices you’ve been getting so far?
LR: I try to relate the song in some way to my life so I can believe it and I want people to believe. I can’t perform something I don’t believe in, so I try to relate it to some part of my life, and I guess I been doing pretty well so far.
Torontoist: Who do you think your biggest influences are musically?
LR: Jeff Buckley was always one of them. I like classical music. To tell you the truth, I was never really into other people’s music. I was more into making my own sounds. The more I listened to other people’s music, the more it influenced me negatively, I’d just kind of be doing the same thing they would. Their music would end up in mine, and I didn’t like that, so I kind of did it my own way. Because everyone was right-handed, I had to learn how to play the right-handed guitar upside down cause I’m left-handed. So now I can play both ways which is cool cause I write different songs on different guitars.
Torontoist: Music is often pretty collaborative, bands and performers helping each other out. What’s it like on the show, competing head to head like that?
LR: I don’t see it as a competition, to be honest. 11 of us are auditioning, may the best man or woman win. I’m just here to do what I do best, and I’m not really concerned about what anybody else is doing on the show.
Torontoist: So all the people on the show, are you pretty tight by this point? You all get along pretty well?
LR: Some people less than others, but you know, they’re not really gonna be there for long.
Torontoist: The Supernova guys seem to like you.
LR: Well, I think they see that I’m the real deal, brother. Sure there’s television involved, absolutely, but at the end of the day…the other night I did Celebrity Skin (on the episode aired last night, Tuesday August 1) and forgot the lyrics cause I didn’t believe in the song and the performance. I would rather not pretend to a crowd and try and sell something that I don’t believe in. I mean, they’re not stupid and I don’t want to lie to their face. So I basically had my back turned the whole show. And you know I just try to be honest, because whatever fans I do have out there, I wanna give them my all and my best. Last night I was just off my game, you know?
Torontoist: On the web, the fan sites talk about how “real” you are, and I guess that’s the reason why. Given that, what made you decide to audition for “Rock Star: Supernova”? It’s pretty commercial.
LR: My band was having some problems at the time, and I really had nothing else going. I was in Montreal; I didn’t have a job and that. My friend called me and told me you gotta go out there and try out. I turned down the first audition in Toronto, and she calls me a couple weeks later and says there’s another audition in Vancouver. I said how am I going to afford it, and she says I’ll fly you out there. And now I’m sitting here getting inked brother, so I guess I’m doing something right.
Torontoist: People are seeing you anyway, so there’s no real downside.
LR: All we can do out here is be ourselves. Man, and the ones who aren’t, I’m sure people will see through that. Don’t lie to people who want to love you, just be yourself. A lot of people put on facades, but you don’t need to do that. People will love you for just who you are.
Torontoist: How do you like working with the guys in Supernova?
LR: I just think the guys are seasoned musicians and damn serious about the band, and I wouldn’t want to be in a band that wasn’t serious. Since I’ve been here, they just seem like great, down to earth guys, and I want to be a part of that.
Torontoist: It looks like it’d be a lot of fun too.
LR: (laughs) Oh, yeah, it’d be great fun, it’d be a great time. But there’s a time and a place for fun and a time and a place to just kill it onstage.
Torontoist: Do you think their music is a good fit with what you do?
LR: Absolutely, man. It’s exactly what I do. It’s kind of pop side to it…I hate the word pop, but it’s fun music. I feel it. I heard some of their new tracks, I was feeling it big time. You’ll hear, we get to put our own spin, our vocals on top. I did some already, in one of these clinics, got to put the melody and lyrics on one of their tracks, it came out pretty dope man.
Torontoist: Has that aired yet?
LR: I’m not sure…
(Interlude where LR and Torontoist try to remember what nights the show airs)
LR: Have you been watching the show?
Torontoist: Yeah, I’ve been watching. To tell you the truth, I think the people that have been kicked off were the right choices.
LR: Yeah, this is the real deal man. It’s not as diluted by television as I thought. That’s the reason I didn’t want to come out here, didn’t want to damage my musicality, because of the cover songs and just being under the microscope all the time. Which is fine, I’ll bring it whenever I have to. But I’m seeing that this isn’t bullshit, it’s a real band and real decisions are being made. So I want to be a part of that.
Torontoist: And the judges aren’t record company executives, they’re musicians.
LR: I think our show actually shut down one of those other shows, The One or something. (Note: The One was an ABC show that also showcased aspiring singers. It was pulled after only a couple of episodes.) We squashed it. The talent was probably… (tails off)
I would never do something like that. Not ever.
Torontoist: Any Toronto bands you particularly like?
LR: I’m not a big club-goer man. I can’t think of any off the top of my head.
Torontoist: Anything you miss about Toronto when you’re in LA?
LR: Yeah, I miss my friends. And I miss Toronto itself, I mean, it raised me. I respect that, I won’t ever forget it or put it second to anything.
Torontoist: The winner of Rock Star:INXS was JD Fortune, who was from Toronto, and had the same kind of street kid cred as you. If you win, people might think it’s fixed.
LR: Yeah, isn’t that weird?
Torontoist: Why do you think that Canadians do so well in this competition?
LR: Canadians don’t put up with anything. We bring it or we don’t come at all. Someone asked if I was gonna be JD this year, I didn’t really watch the show last year, I just heard about him. But I’m no JD, I’m Luke.
Torontoist: If you win the competition, would you still live in Toronto?
LR: Oh yeah, I’d love to, if I had a choice. But I’d probably be on tour.
Torontoist: Sure, but a place to come back to. You could buy a nice house next to Prince .
LR: (laughs) Yeah, on the Bridle Path there. Ohmigod that hurts.
Torontoist: Sounds like you’re having a lot of fun there. If, god forbid, you don’t win, what’s next for you?
LR: I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing. There are other opportunities out there. But I’m not really thinking about that right now. I’m just doing what I’m doing. Ohmigod.
Torontoist: That really hurts, huh?
LR: Oh yeah.
Torontoist: If you were going to give advice to someone starting out in the music industry, what would you tell them?
LR: Start right now if you haven’t started already. Keep that dream alive. Don’t let anybody tell you that you suck, and fucking kill it man. And turn the volume up really fucking loud, that always helps.
Rock Star:Supernova airs Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights on CBS and Global, and if that’s not enough you can find them on the web too .
Photo by Danny Moloshok/Blue Pixel.