|Black Spiders, Glenn Hughes, Marillion, Joe Bonamassa and High On Fire - Interview Exclusives|
|Written by Tazz Stander|
|Thursday, 05 August 2010 06:00|
In-between reviewing two days on incredible live music at this year's High Voltage Festival in London's Victoria Park. I just about found time to squeeze in one or two interviews with the bands of the day. What follows is the uncut transcription for a sun drenched, alcohol fuelled weekend of musical awesomeness. Join me then as Black Spiders, Glenn Hughes, Marillion, Joe Bonamassa and High On Fire get to spend "Ten Minutes with Tazz".
The Black Spiders are renowned for their stage show being pretty high energy, and I have been listening to what loads of local London bands have been saying about them recently. So ever the opportunist I thought I would grab Ozzy and Irwin between their 'booked' interviews and get the low down what on their thoughts were regarding the gossip. Remember the context of my quest is around the fact that these lads opened for Ozzy Osbourne at the Roundhouse a few weeks ago, they've just played High Voltage and they're due to play Sonisphere this weekend!
Black Spiders - Ozzy and Irwin
I only have one question for The Black Spiders.
Oz: Right, ok.
Are you aware of all the contention that The Black Spiders are causing within the London Rock Scene?
Oz: (Laughing) No, I don't live in London.
So you haven't heard of any of the other band's gripes then?
Oz: No, I'm completely oblivious.
Ok, well, word on the street is that there a lot of very unhappy bands around at the moment due to you guys getting most of the tours and opening slots on all the big acts that are coming through London and other places. Why do you think this is happening?
Oz: It's because we've got a really good agent who can talk his way into anything (laughing).
Only your agent? What about you guy's backing him up musically?
Oz: Yeah, it must be. We have been very lucky. I don't really live in London so I don't know what anyone is saying but, bad luck guys (laughs).
Irwin: I wasn't aware of this and I think this is happening because we're a better band so fuck 'em.
The 'Voice of Rock' Glenn Hughes is an incredibly humble man. He's long since cleaned up his act addiction wise, and he's played in such legendary bands as Black Sabbath and Deep Purple as well as having an incredibly successful solo career. Well, he's very much back in 2010, he's excited about his soon to be released Black Country Communion project and he's an utter gentleman in every way you could imagine. I caught up with him backstage in the dark of a tent and immediately fell under his spell.
At the very offset of Black Country Communion, both you and Joe kept your collaboration tightly under wraps about starting off a new project together. Why did you adopt this secretive approach?
It was very secret because Joe and I didn't know what we were going to do, whether it was going to be a duet album, a hard rock album or a blues album or an R&B album. We didn't know if we were going to go to Memphis with horns and strings because Joe loves the stuff that I do with the blues ... the more we wrote in my house, the amps got louder and louder until I went, "oh right, we're making a rock album". Kevin [Shirley] brought Jason [Bonham] and Derrick [Sherinan] in and I was told to go and write some songs and to come up with a name for the album - it was put on my shoulders but it was a good honour, a very good honour. I took this whole thing very serious, I took it so serious that I put the band first before my own career. I'm 58 now and I only want to be in one more band. It's been a long time for me since I was in a band so if I'm going to be in one, the ship must really be run right.
Interestingly you say that because I watched your video 'One Last Soul' and Joe introduces the band and all you say is, "This is It" and I wondered if that was a reference to introducing Black Country Communion or whether you were claiming that this is the final stop for you.
This is it means we start. It's like a starting gun.
On your as yet unreleased album, you've said that you wanted to create a more traditional classic rock album. How did you capture the definitive Black Country Midlands sound that was so popular in the 1970's?
It was really not me, it was Kevin Shirley. He produced this in a way that it was organic in the same room, no pro-tools. Four guys playing, and no overdubs. There are one or two if you listen to the whole album. You're going to hear live vocals, aggressive organic recording in Shangri La in Malibu. It's the same way that he recorded Bob Dylan, Black Crowes and Crosby Stills, a very organic sound. You're going to hear a very early 70's traditional iconic classic rock sound. If you're a Zep or Purple ... if those albums are in your library - AC/DC, Deep Purple, Zep, The Who, then maybe this is going to fit in there too. If that is the kind of music you like, then this is going to float your skirt up in the air.
It's a known fact that you prefer being on stage. What for you is / are the most exciting elements be it now, in the past or in the future of Black Country Communion?
That is a great question, nobody has asked me that. The future because the past has gone for me. I'm not one to relive it, not one for nostalgialise. I am one of the artists in rock that pushes the boat out every year. A bit of a chameleon and I like to challenge myself and I've gone back to my roots. I've gone back to the voice of rock kind of thing.
I was going to say that you are reconfirming the 'Voice Of Rock' title.
Apparently I am, I better be good don't I?
Black Country Communion is automatically going to be compared to Them Crooked Vultures and Chickenfoot. What for you, apart from a musical genre, are the fundamental differences between you and them?
I'm going to say something that might upset the apple cart as some of my best friends are in Chickenfoot, John Paul's a good friend of mine. I believe we are all different. I believe what we have gone for is a focussed rock anthem kind of record, which can be played live. I'm sure the other two bands have done the same but we are not them, we are us and we are not sounding like anybody else. We are going to be compared to them because we are the newest one but I really think, and Joe Perry said it years ago, the music will do the talking. That might sound a little arrogant, not just about me, I'm talking about all of us, this band is so good. I am a big fan of all of these guys.
I'm very excited about hearing the whole album.
Have you heard the link yet?
Its cracking isn't it?
Absolutely outstanding. You've played with some of the biggest bands in the world yet today you paid tribute to one of the biggest legends in rock history. What were your personal highs and lows of today's tribute to Ronnie James Dio?
The high was playing ... I'm going to be very honest with you. The high was having my friend Iommi next to me, who I've played with for years and who is a very shy guy, knowing that this was a big moment for he and I to present these songs to Ronnie. I single him out because you asked me a very serious question. It was my love of Tony to do this for Ronnie and of course, a big high for me also was bringing Wendy [Dio] on stage. She is like a sister to me so this was like family. This isn't just like guys that live across the street. We live together and hang out.
It was a very touching and fitting tribute.
No lows, no lows today.
What makes a good bass player?
It's the notes that I don't play, it's the swagger and the sexual tension of the notes. I'm not a hammer on guy, it's like (Glenn starts singing bass chords) a vibe and a dance.
Innovators, Marillion are here this weekend. How important are pre-order albums to a band?
I love Marillion. Pre-orders? We're fortunate that we've got a lot. As you know sweetheart, it is the CD's and music that we download now are just an aperitif for the tour. We all need to play live though because the future now, for the next 5 years is to play live shows and sell merchandise. I hate to talk business but music is free now isn't it? We can't smell it anymore, we can't open the gatefolds, and I still want to be able to do that. I'm not in this for the money; it's for the music. I've made money, I'm comfortable and I'm here now. I'm a messenger and this is my prose.
Finally, after all you've achieved, be that in an album form, as a solo career or playing in monumental bands, what would you say has captured the essence of who Glenn Hughes is?
Captured the essence of me? Spirit, a never say die attitude and always, always wanting to challenge myself - never comfortable in my own skin, always a little uncomfortable.
Glenn, thank you so much for spending time with me this evening.
You are very sweet, thank you very much.
I've loved the track 'Kayleigh' since I was about 13 when my heart got broken for the very first time. It was a real honour to sit down and chat to an incredible guy like Steve Rotheray who I really wanted to spend hours with, and talk 'shop' regarding how bad things are in the industry and how they could possibly be fixed. The innovators are on site but I've only got 10 minutes ... talking fast doesn't help get more in than I could before and then I'm beckoned over by Joe Bonamassa - from one great guitarist to another ... twiddle your way through this double bill of six stringers!
Marillion - Steve Rothery
Rock 'n' Roll as a genre is roughly 60 years old - Would that then make Marillion as a band middle aged?
(Laughing) You could call us middle aged for many reasons. We are young at heart so that is all that counts. What we do is timeless so age becomes irrelevant. You just need to look at great musicians like BB King who are still doing it - classical musicians are still doing it. It's not a pop culture thing either so we aren't selling ourselves on our looks thank God. It's all about the music and it really is independent from our age.
Looking back in time, how would you define Marillion in the history of rock music?
When I joined the band, it was at the tail end of the whole new wave era so we were almost like a reaction to that. Harkening back to the progressive bands of the 70's but we still have a little bit of the attitude and energy of the new wave so we are a curious hybrid, at least in the early days. As we developed our own style as well as doing things on our own terms, we have never been a trendy band. The most success we had was in the mid 80's with 'Kayleigh'. That was almost a bit of a blip; it's not what we are about. These days we are probably known as the band that redefined how you can survive in the ever-changing music industry. We set a model on how bands can survive and thrive in an industry that is dying on its feet.
Marillion really is recognised as a pioneering band in harnessing the Internet to achieve pre-orders of album sales. What other ground breaking ideas musically can we expect from you in the future?
There are all sorts of things we are talking about. Because CD sales have dropped so much, it's probably cost a lot of bands 25% of what it was 15 years ago. It becomes more and more about the live experience because that is not something that you can download. I think it's about consolidating your fan base and trying to reach as mean people as possible. It's one of the things I've been talking to Lucy our manager about - simultaneous webcasts - so that anyone around the world can experience the concept of the conventions we do. We have fans all over the world - Japan, Australia, South America and North America and we don't always get to tour those countries, so for people to experience a live performance via the Internet is the way forward. Rather than you go to them, they come to you.
Concert Live is also here and I know you guys are down with a few other bands. That's very similar to what you've just described except it's for the fans that have just watched you, mixed in real time and give to you straight after the show.
It's great. We've done something similar where we recorded one of our foreign gigs and did that sort of idea. One of the things we did 2 years ago at one of our conventions in the UK was that we filmed the first night of a 3-day convention and had the live DVD on sale on the 3rd night. We made it into the Guineas Book of Records for it.
Always-revolutionising ways to keep ahead of the music industry!
You have to try, you have to keep watching the trends and not take the piss with your audience because at the end of the day, they are the people that are supporting you. Our fan base is one of the best in the world.
What makes Marillion work so well?
I think it's because we have never really, apart from 1 album out of 15 that we've made, had any pressure to do anything other than what we have wanted to do. We have always had artistic freedom, which maybe makes the path of recording records a little more far reaching than a lot of other artists where there is always the pressure if you have a very successful album to repeat that formula. That is the surest way of putting off your audience within 2 or 3 records because fans just get bored of it. They don't want to hear the same thing. We have always had that freedom and I think that is what keeps things fresh for us, to follow whatever path.
Are there any bands nowadays that you take your cues from?
Not really. Bands have done similar things to what we have already done, like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails. They've taken some of our ideas and taken them a step further but there is nobody doing anything radically differently to what we started doing many years ago.
Finally, you've been a part of the music industry for 3 decades now. Are there every any concerns that the flow of new ideas will come to a grinding halt?
There is no sign of that happening yet. If anything when we write an album, there are usually more ideas than we can fit on the record. That then turns into quite a bun fight as to whose ideas get on the album and whose don't.
(Laughing) Who wins?
(Laughing) It depends but largely it's down to the producer who will choose the ideas that evolve into songs which therefore directs the development of the record. I think generally the music industry at large - there is this situation now especially in the younger generation, people 25 and younger, don't see why they should have to pay for music. It becomes more and more hard to justify spending money to make a record because you're not going to actually get anything back from it. I think that goes for everything including movies. The internet is this great tool for a certain aged person, you can get anything you want but without somebody paying for the content, that is going to gradually dry up and there will just be everything that has already been made with very few great new records because people just can't justify the expense of making them.
The music industry has really imploded.
It really has but I think it's because the record companies were so heavy handed when Napster first launched. Instead of seeing it as an opportunity, they came down on it like a ton of bricks and pushed it underground. Once you get into a situation like we are in now, there is no control and dialogue that you can have.
Any suggestions on a way out of the situation we're in now?
I don't know if there is one really. You could maybe argue that if there was some way of legally downloading the content you wanted and all artists you wanted were paid a fair royalty then that could continue. Because of the whole structure of the industry anyway, Artists have never been paid fair royalty. The easiest option is to just Do It Yourself.
Thank you so much Steve.
His hat and sweater both have JB embroidered on them yet he refers to himself as Bona. Joe Bonamassa is a young legend (yes, even I'm allowed to say this as he's a few years younger than me) who has played on some of the biggest stages with some of the biggest Blues legends like BB King. Yet he hasn't learnt the power of a satnav as he's got hopelessly lost looking for Victoria Park. Be that as it may, I'm now sitting in front of him and all of a sudden he reaches over and taps my silver pick necklace and says, "Tazz Rocks". Admittedly, this is what is etched into the pick, but suddenly the air has changed, and he's no longer out of reach, he's here and finally, I get my 10 minutes of fun.
Excitingly enough you have a new project called 'Black Country Communion' with your first album being released in September. Tell me how this super group came about and what we can expect to hear.
The super group came about with my friendship with Glenn Hughes and my relationships with Kevin Shirley, my producer on my past 5 records. My friendship with Jason Bonham, it started with a conversation in the House of Blues last year, about 10 months ago, in November, wait, it's not even 10 months, 9 months, that's funny, in 9 months, we have a record out of it. We stared this conversation with Glenn and I wanting to do something together, but we didn't want to make a weekend record where it was Bona Hughes that had haphazard songs. It would have been good but it wouldn't have been what it deserved. So we decided to start a band, take our time and put it together, vis-à-vis 9 months later we have a record which doesn't seem like a long time to get a record out at all. I rang up Jason and he was interested in doing it, rang up Derrick and he was interested so we went into Shangri La studios and wrote songs and now we have a record, a big rock record which we are all very proud of.
I've heard a bit of it and it's incredible.
Thanks, it's all very strange how it all came about.
Do you have any touring plans worked out yet?
Not a tour vis-à-vis but a months' worth of dates that will probably be next year. We have a few shows that we're doing in September, a few live appearances scheduled for this year.
You're playing the Inaugural High Voltage in about an hour's time, what can fans old and new expect?
We have to rock them hard. This will be a heavy show for us, it's going to be an hour and my goal today is for people to blink an eye and it's over. They're going to look at their watches and go, "oh, he's played for an hour". That's my goal but whether I achieve that goal is another story.
I'm sure you could achieve it.
Whether they throw rocks and tomatoes and Pimm's at me I don't' know (laughs). Have you ever had Pimm's?
I must say, I'm seriously not British enough to like Pimm's, my taste buds aren't posh enough (laughing).
(Laughing) I don't get it either but I reckon that is why you've got an eye infection, it's from Pimm's.
Do you think that self-confidence is as important to a performer as talent is?
More. I really doubt a person who thinks he's shit will go on stage and tremor. Consequently, a really confident person with a little bit of doubt or lesser talent can engage the audience with sheer will. They would think to themselves, "If I don't care and I'm confident that I can entertain you for an hour, then it takes less talent". Being able to entertain people is a talent in itself.
Given the vast variety of musical styles that have evolved over the years, do you still long for the purity of the Blues?
No. If I want to hear pure Blues, I listen to Robert Johnson or BB King. There are some great guys like Seasick Steve who go back to that tone and I love it. I on the other hand - I've listened to so much music in my life and been influenced by so much music that I can't quite frankly see myself ever doing a traditional blues record. I don't have the attention span for that. That is just me personally.
Solely in terms of music and guitar, what has Les Paul meant to you over the years?
Most people my age don't know that Les Paul was actually a guy, they know him as a guitar. They also don't know that Les didn't invent the Les Paul guitar but he was the endorser. Les Paul music, if you listen to his records from the late 40's and early 50's, with all the studio technology today, you could not recreate what he did and he was doing that in the 40's. Could not, would not, couldn't even come close. He was a brilliant guitarist, brilliant inventor. He is what I like to say, lived the real American dream. What we are sold in America is if you put your mind to it, you can do anything. Les did it, lived a wonderful life into his 90's playing gigs and is one of my favourite guitar players. "How high the moon" and his version of "Cherokee" are great. As far as playing guitar goes, I opened up the John Mayall and the Blues record and saw that Les Paul. Gibson, over the last 2 years have been making the Joe Bonamassa ones which are like my children, it's been the greatest honour of my career.
That is awesome. A friend mentioned to me that you cover a Led Zeppelin track and it sounds better than the original. How do you react to comments like this?
(Laughing) I don't know but is he currently being paid by me? Is he just a friend of yours? I don't know, I don't know about that. I mean we do our own take on Zeppelin and we are fine with it. Zeppelin is Zeppelin.
Finally, what is your favourite song of all time that you've written?
That I've written? It would have to be "The Ballad of John Henry".
Why would you say so?
Because I listen to it and go, "I can't believe I wrote that". (Laughing) "I must have been doing something good today". I keep searching on the internet to see that I didn't steal it off someone, that it's not a cover of something.
Joe, thank you so much.
You're welcome Tazz.
At this point in Sunday's proceedings I've just bumped into Joe Elliott of Def Leppard / Down 'n' Outz fame backstage and he hands me a couple of his own Down 'n' Outz bottles of beer. Touting a label with 4 guitar heads and the slogan, "100% proof genuine rock 'n' roll vol. 1". I'm just chilling in the sun when a T-Shirt clad Matt Pike makes his epic height obvious in my peripheral view. I'm not sure if I'm happy that he's actually dressed today as I had just been listening to stories backstage of his boy bits being visible on stage. He's charming to speak to and he speaks the way I do, like he was born in prison.
Matt Pike - High on Fire
What is so captivating about David Icke?
He's just amazing. What's not captivating? Whether what he says is true or science fiction, that guy rules, period. I can't believe everything he says but I believe some of it. It intrigues me that he researches his work so well.
I find that the things that I don't believe, I start questioning whether they are real or not.
I think that's what he wants you to do anyway. He is a brilliant man. I love his work, amazing man.
You revolutionised music with a 9-string guitar, and changed the tuning for it on 'Bastard Samurai' technically providing a natural chorus. Has anyone apart from Bill attempted to try it out yet?
Brent also plays them and he invents guitars all the time. Bill and I ordered the same guitar at the same time but I don't think he was as specific about it as I was. I always loved the Yamaha's that Santana played so I had them design it a half inch thicker than a Les Paul. The thing is just brutally heavy today. I'm glad I was playing my Les Paul for the last week and wore it out because the other one just gets to my shoulders. I can't have massages on the road, really good massages because my voice will go out because I'm so toxic all the time.
(Laughing) It's all that Vicodin you take to keep your hands steady.
(Laughing) How do you know that?
In an industry ever changing, how do we weed out the good bands from the bad, the ones that deserve to be at the top and the sell-outs who are but should just give up and make more room for the harder working ones?
That's tough but if you're talking about bands like Metallica, watch them live, they rock. With 'Death Magnetic', they're trying to get back to where they were. The impact they had on the world was huge and sometimes that is a lot of pressure to fall on a person. I think they just cracked and thought they had everything in the world which gave them song writing issues. I've had song writing issues, everybody has that if you're an artist, you have painting issues, you have photography issues. The put on a hell of a fucking show and are just fucking great. There are a couple of albums of theirs that I don't like personally where I just think they could do so much fucking better. I know James [Hetfield] and I just say, "Dude, the yowling, the yowling, stop". He has such a great voice when he's not yowling. I think it was bob rock that put a big old fucking thing in their spinal cord. I like 'Death Magnetic' and when I heard it I thought, "Shit, they're kinda fucking doing it again".
Hopefully they get out of the mindset of being a brand instead of a band.
Well, you can't tell Kirk Hammet to get out of playing solos. He is one of the greatest guitar players. He is the shit that makes the shit happen in your band. You can't cut him out of the shreds you know.
What's it like looking back over all these years, being a fixture in the scene?
I have been underground all the time but I've been in the music business probably as long as half of these motherfuckers. I've been touring for 21 years now between Sleep and High on Fire so I'm a veteran but I've been halfway famous the whole time. I don't have the big success but I don't have to go home and go and work. I earn my living here. I love the fact that I'm respected by my peers and I think I deserve it. I've put a lot of fucking hard work into my music. I think I'm right in the place that I'm supposed to be now, and I'm an important person in this place.
You're obviously used to bands coming out and sounding like 'Sleep' but recently there have been bands specifically sounding more like HoF. Have you had any sense on the bands growing influence?
I haven't really been that aware of anyone trying to be like HoF. I heard the influence in them but they can't fucking sound like us, not yet anyway.
Judging by your set today, I think you might be right.
I have a weak set today on my part. I was wrestling with the new amps and I didn't put my all in because I was unstable about what I was doing personally. I couldn't project my normal amount of energy onto anyone else because I was concentrating on what I was doing. When I have something dialled in and I don't have to concentrate on it, I'm a hell of a better front man. I'm always, "Fuck you right now, get the fuck up". The set was fine but I had little quirks because I was playing through a new amplifier.
What is really going to happen to 'Sleep'?
You know we did the reunion shows here in the UK a few months back so now we're doing 7 or 8 shows in the United States and we have Jason Roeder from Neurosis is playing them with us, playing the drums because Chris [Hakius] is out. We've been working on the set for everyone who has ever loved that band, they all get a little of what they love. So, if you want to see us, it's that last fucking time that you will see us live, so get your ass there. I think this is the last time you will ever get to see Sleep. I'm busy as fuck with High on Fire and Shrinebuilder, we're all just busy as fuck man.
Finally, being in the industry for so long, what is the best advice you can give to up and coming bands?
Listen to your fucking roots. Listen to fucking Black Flag, Slayer, Judas Priest and Celtic Frost or Motorhead, Pink Floyd, listen to Led Zeppelin and listen to the way the shit is put together that made great albums. Listen to them and then make what you have to make. Use them as tools, don't try and copy them. That is the best fucking advice I could give to any musician. That is all I do myself, I don't rip people off but I use things that I learnt from learning their stuff.
And industry wise?
Get yourself a manager (laughs).
Not a label?
No, labels are good, they're like a big credit card.
(Laughing) Thank you so much.
Yeah, thank you Tazz.
After this interview, Matt hugged me so tight that I've still got bruised ribs following it. But what a way to end my time at Hugh Voltage Festival? I'd just like to thank the bands and their PR teams for taking the time to allow us to run "Ten Minutes with Tazz". Question is can I do the same next weekend at Sonisphere? What do you guys think?