How Michael Bay Ended Up Directing a Winger Video

Before directing Hollywood blockbusters like Armageddon and Transformers, Michael Bay was at the helm for a number of music videos.

His cinematic aspirations were already apparent, when you look at his work on Poco’s “Call It Love,” one of the very first music videos Bay did in 1989. He would also direct clips for Meat Loaf and Aerosmith and numerous other superstars. But by the time he got to Winger, Bay was over it. “He wasn’t a very happy person at the time,” guitarist Reb Beach tells UCR, regarding the band’s experience working with Bay on 1991’s “Can’t Get Enuff.”

Winger had their own date with the silver screen eventually, penning “Battle Stations” for 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, a “most triumphant” moment on the film’s soundtrack, to borrow a phrase from the time traveling California teens.

During a recent Zoom chat, Beach looked back at the experience with Bay, while also detailing some of the band’s most colorful moments while making music videos. The guitarist remains busy with Winger, while hitting the road this month with Whitesnake, as well.

His side project Black Swan also recently released Generation Mind, Beach’s second album with bassist and producer Jeff Pilson (Foreigner, Dokken), vocalist Robin McAuley (McAuley-Schenker Group, Survivor) and drummer Matt Starr (Ace Frehley, Mr. Big).

You’ve said that you play and program more drums with your fingers than you do guitar when you’re writing. Things have really changed with technology compared to how you used to make records back in the day.
You know, there’s a thing that I put out a long time ago called The Fusion Demos. People loved that thing. I did some of the songs on a four-track cassette machine. There was only four tracks, so I would have to record all four tracks and then bounce them to something else and you’d have to live with that, whatever that mix was, was the mix. You’d bounce it back and get two extra tracks. It used to be a pain. I remember recording albums when we would have to edit the giant reel of two-inch tape and slice it at the right place. I never knew how they knew exactly where to splice it, but now you just press a button.

Winger has been playing “Battle Stations” from Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey and that’s not really a song that’s been in the set list in the past. How did that one pop into the mix?
We needed some new stuff for the Monsters of Rock cruise. The reason we never played it is because it’s a pain in the ass. The vocals are all over the place. You know, it’s a big ‘80s production. Pulling it off right, you really had to rehearse it. To me, it’s still not totally tight yet, but we’re going to [keep playing it]. I had a friend tell me, “You shouldn’t open with ‘Battle Stations,’” and I’m like, “I like opening with ‘Battle Stations.’” He’s like, “No one knows that song.” I’m like, “Yes they do!” [Laughs.]

Watch Winger Perform ‘Battle Stations’

It’s a cool song, one that feels underrated in your catalog.
We threw that together. That was another song that, whatever the powers, the angels, the music angels, whatever that is – it happened on “Can’t Get Enuff,” “Easy Come, Easy Go” and “Battle Stations,” where we wrote the song in half an hour. I had the riff [imitates the riff] and that was it. Kip [Winger] was like, “That’s done. That’s the whole song right there.”

Was it written for Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey specifically? Or did that come later?
We wrote it for the Bill & Ted thing. “Battle Stations,” we used lyrics from things [in the movie]. “Stations,” was the name of the two aliens that were in the van. The song plays when they get in the van and they build a robot for the end of the thing that they do. So we had to think of that [as we were writing it]. I remember looking at the script and Kip describing it to me and saying, “This is what it has to be.”

It feels like you and Jeff Pilson are really hitting a good stride with this new Black Swan record.
Yeah, it’s better than the first album. That’s what I was really nervous about. Really, all of the pressure is on me, because I have to come up with the riffs. It’s a guitar-riff band. Also, they have to be riffs that Robin can sing over. The first thing I do when I come up with a riff is I try to sing over it. If it sucks to sing over, I’ll probably never see it again. So I was really nervous going in. On the first day, when I brought my 30 ideas to Jeff, he said, “I’m lovin’ it.” He picks the ones that he likes and he really has a vision for Black Swan. He knows what Black Swan is. Some of my stuff was real dark, heavy riffs, you know, like heavy metal – like all of these half-steps and mean notes and everything. He’s like, “No, dude.” Black Swan is frickin’ Def Leppard. We need big, happy choruses, but it still has to rock. I was nervous about it, but we definitely achieved an album that’s better than the first. Sophomore effort, you know, that’s always rough. Are they one hit wonders? Do they have it in them to do it again? This one’s better.

Watch the Video for Black Swan’s ‘Eagles Fly’

How did you know Robin prior working with him on these Black Swan albums?
I had heard some Michael Schenker, MSG stuff but really I didn’t know anything about him except that he was in that band and he had a great voice. When I got there and we started writing, Jeff was like, “You know, that’s too low for Robin. You don’t understand, Robin has this [voice]. We can write a chorus in this key.” I went, “Oh, yeah!” – because there are times when you’re hindered by the range of the singer. So right away, I was excited about that. Then, I met Robin. I’d heard from friends, you know, every time you mention Robin McAuley, to anybody, the first thing they say is, “Oh my God, he’s such a sweetheart.” He is just a wonderful, wonderful human being.

Were there some challenging moments working on this album?
There were a couple of interesting things with the solos. When you’re doing this stuff, [random things] happen. There’s a “rub,” we call it, when two notes don’t work musically. It’s a major second and you don’t want those two notes to happen. It happens in “Eagles Fly.” We added another part over the rhythm of the actual lick, which is a cool lick. [Beach imitates the riff.] I added a rhythm on top of it and then realized there’s a rub in the verse. So we went to change that riff and the amp blew up. [Laughs.] So we couldn’t achieve the sound again to do it. We were flipping out, because we had other songs to do. We had to put the amp in the car and drive to an amp guru guy and then we forgot about it and just left it. But there’s other things, like, Robin wasn’t around to do a vocal. All we needed was one word to be changed, because I didn’t like this one note that he was singing because it trails over into the re-intro on a weird note. So Jeff just sang it. Jeff sings one word in one of the songs and you can’t even tell! It’s awesome.

Winger made a number of music videos. What was the most difficult one?
I remember making the “Miles Away” video was a pain in the butt because we had to stand in water. It was cold. It was in this warehouse and they poured a bunch of water into this area that they had made into a pool. It was freezing and we stood in the water for hours and hours while they got these syrupy shots of us looking sexy at the camera, you know what I mean? [Laughs.] Terrible. “Hungry,” that song didn’t do what they thought it would do, but it was a big-budget video. We didn’t get any sleep that night, I remember. We flew in from a gig and that was a really tough shoot. “Can’t Get Enuff” was a huge video that was done by Michael Bay. He started us off by saying, “Look, I don’t want to do music videos. This is going to suck, but let’s just do our best to get through it.” I was like, “Way to pump us up, Michael!” [Laughs.] I remember saying that to him. He wasn’t a very happy person at that time, but that was big – and all of the guys slept with all of the girls who were in that video, so that was cool. They were all Penthouse Pets.

Watch the Video for Winger’s ‘Can’t Get Enuff’

On the flipside, what’s the music video that you enjoyed the most?
“Easy Come, Easy Go.” We had Kiss’ production; we were opening for Kiss and they let us use their production. It was one of those deals where, “Alright, we’re going to put everybody in the front and we’re only going to film the front. Now, everybody to the right side and we’re going to do the right.” Because there wasn’t enough people to fill the whole arena. But you know, I got to wear my Richie Sambora hat and feel all sexy, and it was cool. I really enjoyed making that one. We got to dance with these girls in bikinis on the beach with horns and stuff. It was just a really fun time to be in Florida and make a video. Making “Madalaine” and “Seventeen” was very exciting as a young kid with these big-budget videos. You know, the budget for those videos was $300,000 and the budget for Black Swan is probably $3,000. You see all of these comments like, “Wow, you guys really should make a better video.” And it’s like, “Well, that’s what you’ve got to work with.”

What’s your favorite memory from touring with Kiss?
I was a huge Kiss fan. That’s where I had the vision, when I saw Kiss at Madison Square Garden in 1978, I think. I saw Ace [Frehley] and just said, “That’s what I’m going to do!” – because I wanted to be Elton John before that. I was a piano player. I wanted to play the piano and sing, but then I saw that and I was like, “Oh, man, that’s what I’m put on the planet to do.” Getting to meet them all was very cool. Eric Carr was the drummer at the time, and he was just a sweetheart. He was so great. I hung out with him in catering all of the time. We got to know the Slaughter guys and their guitar player was the best guy. Tim Kelly, who passed away, I loved hanging out with him. He was such a great guy. It really sucks that he’s gone. But it was just a great time to be with Kiss. My favorite time was with Cinderella and Bulletboys. That was the tour. That was just like a Motley Crue video, girls everywhere and drinking and fun on the bus. There were parties every night and we were all young and gorgeous. Me and Jimmy [D’Anda], the drummer in Bulletboys, we had a lot of fun.

What are your memories from working on the Daytona USA video-game project?
Oh God! I do have a memory of that! Rod Morgenstein got me that gig. He knew somebody, probably at the Japanese management company, where Winger got our start. I was staying at some apartment and Rod told me what time to be there – be there at noon, and I thought he said one. Something happened where I was an hour late. I showed up late, so the Japanese people who were in charge, the producer and the other people involved already had a bad taste in their mouth about me thinking that I was some rock-star guy. The song was in what I call “happy scale.” It was a frickin’ major-scale song, which I can’t stand. I never know what to play. I learned how to play guitar from Molly Hatchet. I started playing all of my happy Lynyrd Skynyrd [riffs]. That’s the only thing I could think of to play over it, because it was in this happy, fruity scale. They stopped the tape and the Japanese guy says, “What do you think this is? Some kind of Lynyrd Skynyrd bullshit? Play the rock ‘n’ roll, come on!” It was just a terrible session. They really didn’t like me. I ended up playing something acceptable, I guess, but I hated the music that I was playing.

Where are things with the Winger album that’s been taking shape?
I mean, it’s done. Kip wants me to replace a couple of solos. I had my guitar worked on and they put stainless steel frets in it and for some reason, it makes this weird tinge in the high end on certain notes, so Kip wants me to go fix those. There’s a song that John Roth wrote. I have to learn that and that has to be recorded, but that’s the only one. Everything else is done. It’s very epic; it’s an epic record. Who knows if it will be our last record, I don’t know. Probably not, but you can tell that it took years. Winger records kind of take years, but it’s only because we’re all doing so many things. I mean, I just went to Kip’s symphony, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra playing his symphony and it took him years to write that. That’s really where his heart is, to tell you the truth.

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