LES CARLSEN: Les is Most Definitely More
Immortal Fest started Friday, September 2. I arrived early hoping to get in and take some pictures during setup. I was sitting in my car, windows down, reflecting on the last concert I saw at this venue. It was in February and was, what turned out to be, Bloodgood’s last show. Honestly, I have had a hard time writing anything about music since. Michael’s death hit me hard. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t close friends or anything, but his music has been there with me since my junior year in high school. And my interview was the last press interview he ever gave. That left me a little gun-shy when it came to writing anything about Christian rock music.
I was psyching myself up to go into the BMI Event Center when another car pulled in next to me. It was Les and Joyce Carlsen. Les immediately recognized me from our last interview. He pointed at me as he got out of his car and told me to follow him inside so we could sit down and chat. This is that chat.
The recordings has started. I’m here with Les Carlson, lead singer of Bloodgood and now, solo artist.
At this point, Michael’s gone home to Jesus. So, you know, I told Michael that if anything ever happened to him, I could not continue as Bloodgood. And he basically said, “Yeah, that sounds good. I feel the same way if something happened to you.” So, it was no contractual thing … it was just something that was said out of respect. Um, of course there will be Bloodgood legacy things that’ll happen.
And we want to keep Michael’s ministry alive as much as the family is wanting to do that and myself.
Let’s go back to, when was the last Bloodgood concert?
Wow, six months. Let’s go back to that night. Wonderful, wonderful way for Michael to finish his career. It was an amazing show. Then the next day you had the privilege of speaking at pastor Ronnie Campbell’s church, Ark Church.
Yeah. The next morning.
Then on Monday was when he had…
The cerebral hemorrhage, yes.
Okay. I want you to take us through that. What the next few weeks were like for you.
Well, Michael and Marilyn stayed Monday to be with some friends in Troy. And Joyce and I flew out Sunday late. I think it was Monday, I got a phone call that Michael had had a stroke after I’d gotten home. Actually David Zaffiro called me and said, “I just spoke to Michael. And he sounded like he was slurring his words.” And I said, “wow, that’s weird,” because Michael doesn’t drink or anything like that. Well, then just a little bit after that, I got another call saying that Michael had had a stroke. So I tried to get on an airplane.
I tried to, you know, to book a flight, and I couldn’t get on a flight right then. So I went to the airport in Fresno. I drove about a half hour from my house and tried to just get on the plane. I couldn’t get on a plane that day. And then the next day, my wife and I went together and we spent, I think, five or six days up there.
But Michael was in a coma, but after speaking to him later on, he said that he remembered us being there, remembered us praying for him and holding his hand and squeezing his hand and all that. So he was totally conscious in the midst of all that. But we were praying because the doctors were in there and everyone was saying it didn’t look good.
And we were telling him, “Michael, they don’t know Jesus, you know,” whatever. So anyway, it was so much. I’m just kind of skimming the surface and I’m sure (I’m) going to give too much detail. But basically we prayed and David Zaffiro drove up from Nashville with his wife Susan, and we laid hands on Michael and prayed for him.
And over the course of the next few months, it looked like Michael was actually coming back. He’d gone through various procedures that got him to that rehab place. And he was able to speak and just, you know, have a sense of humor. And so I got to talk to him on the phone a few times and and then he got this … I guess he got COVID.
And then he got separated from his wife because he had COVID. And after all that, that he’d gone through struggling to get back. Then he gets COVID and he’s separated from his wife, who has been there day and night with him. And so I can only imagine what he went through at that point. And then I, I don’t really know what the actual cause of death was.
It’s up to the family to release that kind of stuff. But I just lost my friend.
So, brother, we were praying for you through all of that. Praying for the family. Yeah, I know. When I got the news, I went downstairs to my wife and was like, You’re not going to believe this and told her. I had met you guys twice. Once, 35 years ago and in February.
But it’s beyond that. You know what it’s like. You’re a musician. I’m a music lover. I was never talented enough to call myself a musician. But, you know, I’ve been around this industry for all these years and it means so much and Bloodgood’s music has meant so much to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people out there.
You know, you guys were one of the first I and you kept you kept it going. So it really just hit me right here, you know, and him being separated from his wife. I tell you this one thing I’ve always appreciated about you and your wife and Michael and his wife: you guys are inseparable every time I see you, I see her.
And every time I saw Michael, I saw his wife. So I would watch videos on YouTube and there’d be Les and your wife would be in the background. And, you know, I remember they ran the merch booth back in ’87 when I saw you guys at Bogart’s.
So Marilyn was always the head of the merch department, and Joyce did the sound, the lighting, and she would sing some of the high notes with me. Yeah. Harmonies from out front. And because you can’t tell her voice from mine and we both sing real high like girls.
(Laughing) I have a four-note range.
Yeah. The only note I can sing is on the fridge.
See, the thing about you, Brad, is it just seems and it’s probably because it’s the body of Christ, you know, that we all have this thing where when we meet each other, we have that common thing through Jesus in us and it makes us just feel joined together. So it’s always so natural. I wish the world would pick up on this.
You know, I do, too. I’ve talked about Christian metal concerts. You are always … you’re among your best friends, even though they’ve never met before. I can turn around and talk to someone and we have this immediate connection. But it’s not just the music.
Yeah, it’s in the Spirit, you know? Yeah. The Spirit of the Lord.
And so this weekend, we get to hear the best of the best.
It’s an amazing weekend. Isn’t the lineup incredible?
I was talking to a buddy of mine at work who’s not that familiar with Christian Rock and it was like, you guys don’t understand Christian Rock. It has the best vocalists in such a small market.
And in just this weekend, we get great vocalists. We get Les Carlson. We get Michael Drive. We get Rey Parra.
There’s another guy named David Roberts. Yeah. With White Cross. Yeah, he’s great to welcome to the club.
Yeah. And Saint’s lead singer. I forget his name.
I don’t know, because I think Josh Kramer was the original.
So after this devastating loss of your best friend, I again, I appreciate the tributes that you’ve been posting on social media. They have been very meaningful. And, um, thank you for not being exploitive about it. It’s been very heartfelt. And the pictures that you wear on stage on your, shirt, that is such a great tribute.
What has been going on musically with you now that Bloodgood is kind of winding down? So you’ve got this new stuff?
We had started submitting music for the Bloodgood album. And when Michael was unable to do the album, then I thought, I’ll take the stuff that I had submitted. I didn’t co-write with Michael on any of those particular songs. I do have some that I did co-write with Michael that we may do in the future, but I just took the ones that I wrote and decided to do a solo album because the way I cope with people passing is I go to work and I mean I go to work and I praise God and I say, because while I’m alive, I can’t waste another day.
I’m not waiting for anything or anybody. I’ve been called to preach the gospel and to be with people and have the Spirit of Christ released in me. I’m not perfect by any stretch, but when the moment is right, I’ve got to be used, He allows us to speak using His voice. He does. If you’re in a pulpit or you’re in front of people, you got a microphone and you’re there for Jesus.
Whether you’re prepared or not, He’s coming through. I don’t want to get in His way, and I just don’t know what else to do with myself. I’m a very productive kind of guy, you know, and so I, me and my wife just went to work and we finished this album. And I think it’s good, you know, Paul Jackson plays on some of the cuts, Craig Church plays on some. David Zaffiro does a solo and some other guitar parts.
It’s always good to hear Zaffiro play.
Yeah. And Zaffiro is always outside the box, you know. So he played the solo on ‘He’s Coming’. That was the first release. The second release is ‘I Want to Know You’, which is out today, September 2nd, my son’s birthday. You know, here’s this festival and it’s my son’s birthday. Let’s put that out right now.
That’s incredible. It’s great, great timing.
And of course, my son got saved at a Bloodgood / Stryper concert back at the Paramount. In our second gig, I think. Yeah. Which is on the ‘Trenches of Rock’ documentary.
So the album is coming, you are now releasing singles.
I’ve got two singles. Yeah, two singles out as of now. Okay. As of September 2nd, maybe there will be a third single. Mostly it’s just because, you know, things have changed in the industry and people do a lot of singles first. And you know, with social media you just have to constantly be going, “Hi, here we are.”
You know, the attention span of modern day listeners is not as long and they make their own playlists. And so back in my day, we used to get albums and we would have album listening parties.
They were this big and they were so much fun to get a party together and you put it on and nobody spoke during the album. I knew you’d listen to the album from the beginning to the end, which I’m trying to bring back, by the way, because the young folks don’t understand how you can make it. There’s all kinds of entertainment out there, but how about putting your phones down and just getting together and listening to music together and see what artists are saying and how they put their songs together?
But anyway, because that’s not how it is now, I’m doing singles. Then there will be an album. And it’s written. It’s done.
It’s in the can?
It’s yeah, it has to be mixed. There’s one final ballad that, that we’re doing and that’s it. The basics are all there for that, everything else in all the other songs, everything is recorded and now in the mixing process. So just that last song called ‘The River’ is still in the works, but it’s really exciting.
It’s a great ballad. And then at the end, Paul Jackson, I asked him to do some incredible overdubbed guitar stuff, so you can imagine how good he is by himself when he adds himself by three or four times. It’s just like, What the heck, you know? So I’m looking forward to it. Yeah, that’ll be great.
Now do you have … is it on the label or are you releasing it independently?
It’s not on a label. Probably what we’ll do is we’ll shop labels internationally and have deals with different countries and that sort of thing. But you know, these days if you’re if you’ve got a base following that’s paying you for an album, it’s amazing how you can make a little bit of money and make a living somewhat.
Not a living, but, you know, a little bonus money.
You have an audience.
Yeah. Yeah. Well, you know, hopefully the Bloodgood folks will continue to follow me.
I’ll be there. Okay. You know, I’ll be there.
So, are you planning on touring? There’s always such a tough thing to do.
Here’s the thing. I am preparing to be ready for that and I would be loving to do that. But it’s really difficult to just crank up a tour. So, I don’t know, maybe you could jump on somebody else’s tour festival. I know that Disciple has invited me to open for them in Visalia when they play there.
And you never know. We’ll see what God’s got going.
You know, Disciple tours all the time. I think they live in their tour bus.
Yeah, I think so. I love that guy. I love Kevin. Kevin is just amazing. He called me the other day and was asking how I was doing. Yeah. Then we know the guys in Chaotic Resemblance and we’ll just see what God has planned. I just want to be ready
Let’s talk about your life a little bit. You go from doing Hair to singing at a Christian metal festival. Yeah. How many years later?
My life has been like Forrest Gump, actually. Yeah. You know, because back in the day when I was in Hair, I mean, I met so many people and, you know, just celebrities I was hanging with. Jim Morrison. Mick Jagger, Alice Cooper. Not that Mick knows me. But I spent a pretty good afternoon with him in a house in L.A. one time. I mean, just because of my position in Hair. And Crosby, Stills and Nash and those guys hung out with me.
Leonard Bernstein, you know, kissed me on the lips after a show. “Congratulations. Bravo.” You know, I’m like, you’re Leonard Bernstein. It wasn’t like a sexual kiss. It’s one of those Eastern European, ‘Yeah, you’re marvelous’ kind of things. So, yeah, I’ve been christened by Bernstein. Yeah. I mean, I just had a lot of really crazy events happen in my life.
And then I really met somebody of major importance when I was 36 years old. And that was Jesus. And then everything changed because I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, everything I’ve been striving for is really worthless. I’ve really found the true treasure in Him, and so nothing else mattered.’ And I just gave up singing altogether. I’m sure people have heard my testimony.
I got saved in my bar band. You know, they hired a keyboard player that was a Christian. And I liked what he had so much, I didn’t understand. Why is this guy so cool? And when I asked him and he said it was Jesus, I was like, ‘Oh my God, wait a minute, I can’t deal with that.’
Why was I so, you know, taken aback by the name of Jesus? And I started thinking, ‘If I was attracted to whatever he had found out, it was Jesus. And now I’m recoiling because it was Jesus. There must be some power in this Jesus.’ And I just, I don’t know, I was being … just my heart was just being tugged on.
There was a spiritual battle for me, and I just fell in love with Jesus. My wife at the same time was going through the same thing, but we were hiding it from each other because we thought, ‘Oh my God, that would be so stupid if you became a born again Christian. How would I tell my wife?’ And she’s thinking, ‘How would I tell my husband?’
And then we realize, ‘Oh my God, Jesus was God in the flesh? What are we going to do about it?’ So we asked Him into our hearts right there in our bedroom, and in the afternoon, you know, wept like babies, asked for forgiveness and asked if He’d be Lord. I immediately went to a Bible bookstore and bought two Bibles, one for her, one for me.
And we read those Bibles. Now, we did not go to church. We didn’t. We were just reading the Bibles and we were still working the nightclubs. We’d read the Bible all day till we had to go sing Billy Idol and Bee Gees and everything else. And then, you know, and then on the breaks, we used to do cocaine, you know, and then we started doing lines of Galatians, lines of John instead.
And the guys in the band were good and the Christian guy was going, ‘Oh, I have that effect everywhere I go, you know.’
Oh, that’s fantastic.
So now all the way up to then I got into Bloodgood and then I got into Bloodgood because I totally left performing and altogether cut my hair and actually went to a church. The pastor told me, ”God was going to use you right where you’re at? With voice like yours, you need to do something with the Lord.”
So I saw an ad in the paper and it was Michael Bloodgood at this local rock paper up in Seattle. And that’s another story. And you can watch the movie, watch the ‘Trenches of Rock’ film. But yeah, and then I got into this incredible band called Bloodgood, and the whole premise was all original material, all about Jesus.
Then I was interested and they all agreed, and we did Bloodgood. Within a couple of months we had our first gig with Stryper and we recorded ten songs. It was our first album, and my wife wrote the lyrics to ‘Anguish and Pain’.
We’re going to get together every Tuesday. And before we pick up our guitars, we will pray with our wives, whatever family was there, and we would pray. And after we were done praying, then we would pick up the guitars and we would write. And then we just did that every Tuesday. And within a very short amount of time we had this ten songs and that was the first album.
And then we opened for Darrell Mansfield and he saw what was going on with us and he went to Frontline records and the rest is history.
And that was right smack in the middle of Mansfield’s metal phase. He had done the ‘Revelation’ album. A young Paul Gilbert played on that.
Anyway, one thing that I’ve always appreciated about you is since you have that theater background, your performance is very theatrical. I love when you guys play ‘Crucify’ and ‘The Messiah’ and you put on the Pilate’s sash. Have you’ve done that since the beginning?
Well, we pretty much did it, you know, once it first started off with just a little red shawl, you know, I realized, ‘Hey, this is perfect for this. I’m going to be Pontius Pilate, throw that robe off and then get whipped.’ And it was just so cool because the guys were, you know, so we basically choreographed that. And that was my sort of thing that I did with the band.
For the most part. That was why I would choreograph the moves. I remember we’d have this move in ‘Soldier of Peace’ where I had the sword and I, Michael and David, I’d swing it. They knew I was going to swing it at at their kneecaps, you know, just below their kneecaps. And if they didn’t jump, they’re going to get hit. So they were jumping. Well, you know, we used to rehearse that kind of stuff and, uh, it just added another level of interest and validity for us to be a band that was portraying Christ in and preaching about Jesus. And we looked like real rockers and we played like real rockers, but we believed in Jesus. And so I think that it was real and it was received as real.
From the beginning of that first album, so many bands around that time, Christian bands around the time were, you know, young late teens or early twenties. You guys were a little more seasoned. And it was a little different. With a lot of other bands, we would say, “Oh, this band sounds just like this band, but Bloodgood sounds like, well, Bloodgood.” You guys never fall into the trap of trying to sound like anybody else. Yeah, which was refreshing.
Yeah, well, you know, I think that God prepares us all for something really wonderful, even people that don’t get saved are being prepared for something really wonderful. And so it just so happened that I didn’t get saved till I was 36 years old. And I know I looked extremely young in Bloodgood, but I was close to 40 when I first got it.
But you know, he’s seen the beginning and the end. And I know that he certainly had a plan for Michael’s life and mine, David Zaffiro, JT, and then Mark Welling. And of course, Paul Jackson, who has actually been in Bloodgood longer than David ever was.
And, you know, Paul and I are still very, very close now. And we write together and we’ve written a lot of great things together. And so Paul acts as a musical director and also a, you know, songwriter and great guitarist. And then my wife now has joined the fold as being the engineer on the project. She has done a little bit of vocal stuff and yeah, it’s turned into a great, great little factory of cranking out music.
And then, of course, we have been writing with Craig Church. So I wrote a song with Oz Fox called ‘Judas Is Dead’. It’s very dramatic and that’s going to precede ‘Crucify’. And now it’s that thing is just getting launched.
You’re writing an entire passion play.
I’m just getting into it. I am just thinking that we should. I don’t care if I hand it off to some young group that does it, that it’s got to be someday. Someday it’s going to be a passion play.
I was just listening to Classic Petra who re-recorded ‘It is Finished’ and it’s incredible. It turned into almost a metal song and I was like, this needs to go right with ‘Crucify’ and ‘The Messiah’. I actually have a playlist on Spotify, my Easter playlist, and it just goes through all of those songs.
There’s another group called Chaotic Resemblance. Yeah. Oh, gosh, I love those guys. And as far as I know that when I first met them, they just reminded me so much of a young Bloodgood. And, and they have taken it so far. They’re just powerful.
It’s always interesting to hear, what I call, the ministry band versus the we’re a rock band or we happen to be Christians and there’s a difference. And you guys have always been a ministry band. I’m getting the same vibe from Chaotic Resemblance.
You know, Disciple, I think is like the perfect example of that. When you go to a Disciple concert, you hear an hour of music or 40 minutes of preaching.
Yeah, Kevin’s another one that I saw at Cornerstone first. I went, ‘Well, there, there you are. This is the next generation.’ Kevin is just amazing. Kevin Young I love that guy. And Travis.
We’ve covered just about everything I wanted to. I don’t want to take any more of your time. Thank you so much for this interview.
Thank you, Brad. God Bless.
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