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Interview with Paul May
14 March 2012
Interview by Neil Daniels
Paul May is a Christian guitarist best known for his longstanding collaborations with ex Judas Priest singer Al Atkins. The pair have recently hooked up together for a heavy metal album dubbed Serpents Kiss. May also plays in the popular Midlands bands Temple Of Dogs, A.N.D. and V-Rats. Visit his websites for further info: www.paulmay.biz and www.atkinsmayproject.com.
How did you meet Al Atkins?
I was actually gigging in West Bromwich, in the heart of the Black Country. This is where I was first introduced to Al, around twenty years ago now. We hit it off pretty much immediately and he asked me if I would be willing to lay down some guitar on some new material he was writing at the time. I said I would. These tracks actually evolved into songs that would be included on his first solo album. And then subsequently the next five albums! And onwards it rolls…
What’s the concept behind Serpents Kiss?
Firstly, I wanted to write and record a hard rock album with that ‘classic’ type sound, with a NWOBHM feel, but with a slightly more modern edge. I wanted an album I could look back on a few years down the road and think ‘Yeah, that’s still cool!’ A couple of the tracks were originally intended for the latest A.N.D album, (one of my bands) but as the writing progressed it began to evolve into something different. I met up with Al again, after a few years off, and played him some of the tracks. He kindly and immediately offered the talents of his fabulous voice! From that point on it allowed me to write, some tracks, with Al’s voice specifically in mind, the likes of ‘Theatre Of Fools’ and ‘The Shallowing.’
Why is it called ‘Serpents Kiss?’
‘Serpents Kiss’ was originally a song that was recorded by Temple Dogs (one of my other bands.) It was a track covering the subject of betrayal and temptation. Always an intriguing subject. However, I just felt it was a great title for the album especially as there are several tracks about betrayal on the CD. I asked Rodney Matthews to design a cover with the subject of betrayal and temptation and he came back with this stunning ‘Prophetic’ cover. It all fitted well together and so it was borne Serpents Kiss!
Why did you decide to cover the KISS song ‘Cold Gin’?
After deciding to put a cover version on the album, I wanted to find a great hard rock ’n’ roll song that I thought I could beef up to the max with the guitars and knew Al could do a killer vocal to. I loved KISS, they were and still are a great entertaining rock ’n’ roll band and ‘Cold Gin’ was the first KISS song I ever heard. I get a bit of stick as a Christian for doing it but hey, that’s rock ’n’ roll! And guess what: most people think the songs about Gin!
You describe yourself as a Christian metal guitarist. Should religion and metal mix?
Well, I’m a Christian and I’m a guitarist if that describes me better! I was a guitarist before I became a Christian and travelled across the globe playing everything from country to metal. And when I became a Christian, twenty-two years ago, I was able to include gospel and worship too. It’s just a natural extension of who I am now! I love playing all types of music. I love music; it’s a passion and a way of life. But I love God too. He’s been faithful when at times I been faithless man…
Should religion and metal mix? Depends on your definition of religion! If you mean loads of rules, regulations and hypocrisy ... then no! Who wants that!? God doesn’t! But if you’re talking about real stuff like world view and events, God’s viewpoint or even prayer for help, of course. I think it makes for great subject matter. I’m sure if you asked artists who are Christians that work in the mainstream metal arena, like Nicko McBrain who plays in Iron Maiden, one of the biggest metal bands in the world! Or Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, Alice Cooper, POD, Paramore, Kings X or even Creed, I think they might agree with me that metal/rock is a great and powerful genre that lends itself to a host of powerful subjects. To be honest, I think if you’re true to who you are and you’re not talking nonsense most people accept it and enjoy it for what it is if it’s any good!
What’s the current state of Christian rock and metal?
I think its holds its own on the world stage in general, however I think it does vary greatly from country to country. But I think its gaining momentum worldwide as the bands get better at their art; however some of the USA bands are stunning! I mean, Michael Sweet from Stryper, was recently touring as vocalist with Boston. Even now, man you need to have an incredible vocal range to attempt that gig. But he can do it! And he’s a really sound guy too.
How did you get involved with designer Rodney Matthews?
Well, Rodney is also a cool dude and he’s a Christian too. I met Rodney some years back at a retreat called Meltdown. He was speaking there and showcasing a selection of album sleeve designs he had done for some bands, which were all fantastic! I thought to myself that I might ask Rodney to design one of my album sleeves in the future. So, a few years down the line I did! I asked him to design a cover for an album, on the theme of betrayal and temptation. He came back with this amazing cover that depicted the forthcoming state of the UK economy. He was actually bang on. And it ended up being the perfect classic metal cover.
What was the most challenging aspect of making the album?
Nothing much really, just having the balls to stick to my guns and put out a ‘classic’ sounding rock album in this day and age with so many different genres of rock and metal flying around. And, I suppose knowing when to let go of the mix and performances... I’m never satisfied. Hmmm, I know a song about that!
Do you have any favourite lyrics off the album?
Yes, actually several passages; firstly from the final track on the album the song ‘Theatre Of Fools’ as it was quite prophetic in its nature. The lyrics go: “The world’s a stage but there’s a pantomime of madness, about to play at the theatre of fools, where slavery by the hands of evil tyrants, see kingdoms fall, their rulers one and all.”
It was a strong take on world events. It was written at a time when the Iraq situation and conclusion was still fresh in the media. I just felt that there would be more to come on the world stage of events. And sure enough over the following twelve months we saw the demise of several world dictatorships and tyrants. I’m pretty sure people can figure those out.
I like all the lyrics to be honest as they all have much more to them than on first glance and listen. I like ‘Betta Than Twisted,’ it’s all about beginning to believe a lie and then re-telling the story over and over until it turns a myth into a legend. Bitterness and betrayal. Hey those are good rock ’n’ roll subjects!
Will you be playing any of this stuff live with Al?
Oh yes, we have every intention of doing some dates, hopefully the festivals. We’re looking at the live line up at the moment.
How long did it take you to write and record the album?
I already had a couple of tracks down, unmixed though. So, from chatting about the idea and then recruiting Al, writing, playing, producing to the pressing of the CD, probably took around a year, only due to the fact that we were messed around by a couple of companies along the way, however that turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the company we are actually with now, Gonzo, have done a sterling job so far and delivered everything they have promised us to date.
What’s the kind of feedback you’ve had so far?
To be honest the majority has been fantastic, we’ve had such great reviews from all over the world. We’ve been received really well! It’s been a real blessing to me. The response and feedback has generally been very positive and the reviews mostly come in around the seven or eight out of ten mark, which is great! However, more recently we just had 9/10 in Australia, 5/5 in USA and 10/10 in Poland so Al and myself are just knocked out with the response. Big thanks to all the kind reviewers.
Who are your musical influences?
I have so many. Some of the artists that inspired me in the rock arena range from Clapton and Hendrix (obviously essential listening and inspiration) to Boston and Thin Lizzy (for their harmony lead work) Tony Iommi (for his mega Sabbath riffs) and Motorhead (for their raw edge and aggression) and then there would be KISS (for their commercial rock ’n’ roll); the list is huge. But on the other side of things I love good songs whatever style of music and artist they may be.
So what’s next for you? Will you be making another album with Al?
Well, I’m already currently writing and recording for the next Atkins/May Project album, which is lot heavier than the latest Serpents Kiss CD, and hopefully going to be collaborating with Al on some of the tracks too. It’s sounding real good.
What does 2012 look like, musically for you?
Apart from producing the new Atkins/May Project CD, I have a bunch of things I need to produce and record too for other artists. Also, one of Al’s earlier albums is getting a re-release too, the Heavy Thoughts album, which I was heavily involved with, but it’s going to have three new tracks on it; two that were intended for the A.M.P album and an unplugged type version of ‘The Shallowing’ off the Serpents Kiss CD.
Also, at some point during the year, both of my other bands, Temple Dogs and A.N.D are intending to release new albums. Temple Dogs being a rock ’n’ roll affair, no guitar hero stuff on that, and A.N.D is more of metal encounter! And I may even put my blues album out if I get time to finish it!