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Fireworks Magazine Online 80 - Interview with Janet Gardner

JANET GARDNER

Interview by Dave Scott

Janet Garner is the vocalist and rhythm guitarist for the legendary all-female Hard Rock band Vixen. She has recently stepped out from the band and recorded her first solo album with the help of guitarist and husband Justin James. Fireworks picked up the phone and gave her a call to find out more about it.


Janet Gardner - Interview Fireworks

Your new self-titled represents the first new music from you for a while, what relit the fire in you to record not only new material but to do it (in effect) as a solo artist?

Justin James and I moved into a new house and we set up the studio so we went in there just to tinker around. We had no expectations and we had no idea if we could write a song together let alone a whole albums worth of material. The first song we wrote was 'If You Want Me' which ended up on the release and we kind of looked at each other and said, "wow this is really working so let's keep going". I had a little break from Vixen so we just sort of locked ourselves in the studio for a couple of months and it just kind of flowed out of us. Then we thought "okay, now what do we do with this?" ha-ha. We thought we could come up with another band name or we could get a band together... there was a lot of possibilities. In the end, we thought this was just us locked in a room together so why don't we call it my solo album because I have never done one before. Even though it is a collaboration, it does have fifty percent of me in there so we decided to go with that.

Have you always wanted to record your own solo album or was this just a decision that flowed after that first song?

You know, I am not really a solo type of person. I love to collaborate. I think sharing in the creativity and the music is really special. I'm not a sit by myself and play music by myself sort of person. So no, I didn't really ever think much about it. I was always very happy playing with Vixen – which I still am – and Justin and I found that we had a great partnership, a great collaboration. Therefore no, it was just as much a surprise to me as it was to anyone else. However, once we got this going and we were both really excited about it and very happy with all of it – the lyrical content and the music – we decided to just put it out there. That is what we did.

Now I know the reason for this, but there might be a few readers who missed out on your news some fifteen months ago, how did you come to be working with Justin as your musical "partner"?

We meet at a Vixen show in Chicago where Justin lived, we talked a little bit and started to become friends over the next year. We saw each other again a year later and developed a really great friendship, and then we figured out it was more than just a friendship so then we got married. We had never written any music together; I was a big fan of his guitar playing and he liked my singing with Vixen. We set up a studio with the intent of just making some music, not necessarily even together. When we started doing it, it just flowed and it felt great.

Regarding Justin, during my research for this chat, I noticed there isn't a lot of information around about him. What bands and acts has he been involved with previously?

He has been the fill-in bass player for Tyketto and he loves working with those guys. He did a project with Brandon Gibbs who was who was the devil to the angels with the Poison guys. Brandon did some solo stuff and Justin worked with him on that which also involved the Collective Soul and Staind connection comes, there was members of those bands involved in that. He has produced a few things and been kicking around Chicago for a while. A man of many trades.

When it came to writing, did you work on separate parts, for example maybe Justin on the music and you on the lyrics, or was it a joint collaboration across the board?

We did everything together but we were somewhat departmentalised. I am technically challenged so most of the technical engineering was Justin. He would come home after I had been doing some vocals and he was like "what is this mess... there's just tracks everywhere". It was a big fat mess. Once I get into that creative mode, I have a hard time doing the technical aspect. I have got a lot better and he has been very patient with me. He is like "there are papers rattling, dogs barking, you are clearing your throat. It's just a mess going on" ha-ha. So, he handled most of that, the mixing and such like – the production side. I do more of the musical part, the arrangements etc. I will be like "this part doesn't fit here... lets move this here... let's try this". I am more of that person. Sometimes when we are apart, he is doing something else and I am doing something, that is usually what I am tinkering with – chord changes, melodies and lyrics. I do most of the lyrics but we sit down a lot together and do them as well. I usually come up with the concept and I am usually good for a verse and chorus by myself and then I am kind of look "errrm... I am stuck... help" ha-ha. So, we sit down together and work that out. A lot of it is together but we do work separately and we are sort of departmentalised.

When it came to the recording, you have already mentioned you had the studio at home. Did you use any external facilities or did you do it all quite literally "in-house"?

We did, absolutely, and literally in pyjamas and slippers sometimes ha-ha. We would crawl out of bed and be like "I have got an idea for a part" so you would click everything on and start working. We would usually start with just bass, drums and guitar. I do the drum and bass programming and at various points we thought "should we get somebody in to do some of these things?", but then we would perfect it and perfect it and then we would say "actually, it's pretty good as it is". We would usually start maybe recording the guitars with a click track, something like that, and then we would add bass and drums to enhance what was going on. Then we would experiment from there; we would add loops or keyboards and then we would fiddle and fiddle with logic, if it didn't fit, if it didn't make the song better then we would can it and say, "nah it doesn't need anything else – for this song that is all that is there... bass drums, guitar and vocals". Alternatively, a lot of the songs have much more elaborate production because it fit and it seemed to make it move better and a lot more interesting.

Due to what you have said, I am assuming that the album was recorded by just you and Justin with no other involvement from other musicians?

No, it was just the two of us... just scrapping it together. Whoever felt like laying down a part did it. Justin is playing most of the guitars but I fiddled with a few things and I would say "you can replace that or we can skip it if you want" and he would say "no, it's great and it adds to it" so a few of my little guitar touches are on there too.

So, it really is a very personal project then?

Yeah, absolutely, Justin and I were the only hands that touched it.

Can you give me a little insight into the lyrical content of the album? For instance, I know that 'Candle' is quite a poignant track lyrically.

Yeah, I had been wanting to write that song and that had been forming in my head for years since both my parents passed away, Jan Kunamund (the original founding member of Vixen) passed away... a lot of people who meant a lot to me in my life passed away within a short period of time and it was just some feelings that I needed to get out. It was very therapeutic for me to put that into a song. That one was very personal to me.

Things like 'Rat Hole', where did you get your lyrical inspiration from for that?

As you may know, in the United States we are having a huge healthcare crisis. The debate has been going on forever and I guess you could say it was based on my frustration. To me there is an obvious culprit here and it is the profiteering healthcare insurance companies. Doctors, nurses and hospital administrators proved value, they provide the care that we need. I think the culprit is the health insurance companies just sucking the profits out of it. You know what, if you create something – a great product or I know people complain about technology companies or sports stars – we have a choice to not support them. We can just say "I am not going to buy your product because I don't like you". We have no choice with other things, we all need health insurance and we are all at risk of becoming sick. So, this one in particular really irks me, it's just not right. So other people are like "you wanna complain about those things then don't buy it" but this we must have it so it is totally twisted to me. That is it... rant over ha-ha.

Are there any other songs on that album that are particularly important and personal to you from a lyrical perspective?

Some of them are fun, tongue-in-cheek, Rock 'n' Roll... woohoo... let's have a good time. Then there are obviously ones that have a bit of a deeper meaning. 'Let It Be Over' that is a lot of things. I have a son and I am concerned about the future for him. So that is just letting some of that out. I don't like to get overly political with music, I don't think that we have the power to change anyone's beliefs or anything and I am not looking to do that. However, if it can make people think a little bit more then I am all for it.

I take it a lot of the inspiration for your lyrics has come from personal experiences rather than a wider, more general viewpoint?

Yeah, there's not really much that is fictitious on this. It is all pretty much based on either my or Justin's experiences or common experiences that we have both had.

How did you find it working on an album of new material with your husband given that you recorded it at home and therefore I assume had the total freedom when it came to all decisions?

It was great, you know when you only have a committee of two it's easy to make a decision and move on. That is part of the reason we were able to do this so quickly because there wasn't a lot of people that had to approve of it. We had nothing in mind, no record company and no other band members; it was just us. If we liked it we were good to go. It was great.

Did you find it very refreshing?

I did. I love being in a band because in a band you get everyone's input. When everyone is firing on all cylinders and everyone is putting their best foot forward you get the best possible outcome. That is very magical and very special. I love that but it does take more time because somebody might not this, someone might not like the direction of a song or another might not like the lyrics or the topic. There is endless input which is great because the final product is usually the best that four or five people in a room together can come up with. It can be extremely magical but it was nice to be able to let it flow without a lot of input.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music

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How did it feel returning to writing and recording after the break and not having done that for a while?

Ohh, it was incredibly satisfying. It felt so good. It was like turning on the tap and letting it rip. We were on fire after the first song. We started making goals like "this week we are going to complete a song by Saturday" and we would do it. We would get up in the middle of the night if that was when we were inspired and just kept it going. We very rarely got stuck. When one of us would drop the ball for a minute, the other one would pick it right up and start running. It was not forced, nothing at all was forced.

I often ask how does a completed album sound compared to the original ideas but as you have said, you never really set out to start and album so I take it there was no original idea to compare it to?

No, we had no plans what so ever. It just came out like it came out. Even part way through we thought "is any of this making sense together" ... "are people going to go what the hell is this"? At the end when we listened to the whole thing there was a common thread because of us and our sound together.

Did you get any input or thoughts from any of the other Vixen members?

Not really, we were on a break so everybody was off doing their own thing. They have been very supportive and great through this.

I have read that a few months ago you were looking for locations for a video shoot. Firstly, what track was the video for?

Yeah, we decided to do a video for '...Hole' which we had thought about even before we got signed. After we were signed by Pavement, we asked them what they thought before we went in and filmed it. We were pretty much ready to go and they came back with '...Hole' without us even saying anything so we knew then that it was the right song to do a video for.

Is there still work to do on it or is it now finished and if so when will it be released?

It is done and ready to go. I think it will be out on the street date which is 18th Aug.

Do you plan to record any more videos for songs of the album?

Yeah, we would like to. It is really not my favourite thing to do. It is not my avenue of expression but during this last one it was a lot more hands on and now, all of a sudden, we have some ideas for other songs that we might want to do. We will see what happens. It is hard work, and when it's not your avenue, Justin and I have become very do it yourself about things and this was one that was like "wow". When we did Vixen videos back in the day I didn't really do much... I performed and did what you do. It's a different avenue and I am now kind of interested in exploring it a little further.

You signed Pavement to release the album. Was this always the plan, to sign with somebody, or was it an offer that came along that was too good to pass up?

That's exactly what it was. We didn't know what to do. I thought we could just release it ourselves and see what happens. Maybe we could throw it on iTunes and get some printed up and put it on Amazon. We were kind of heading in that direction and looking into things. Then Pavement came along and we really loved (first of all) their enthusiasm, we loved the other bands on their label – they're still signing and their roster is becoming incredible, very great quality from different genres, we are the really the only eighties type band on their label – and we loved the way they had a really good custom plan for us. They loved the music as it was and they didn't say "okay you can do these five songs but you have to record five other different songs because we don't like these". They didn't do any of that. They have been incredible so we are really happy we did what we did.

I see you have announced some live dates in the states so you are obviously taking these songs and yourself as a solo artist out on the road. Are we ever likely to see Janet Gardner as a solo show in the UK?

We are hoping so and our agent is working on it. We told them to look for anything and everything. If there is a good package we could fit on, an opening slot or even headline dates if you can get them, whatever you can come up with we really want to do it.

Have you already put together a band for when you hit the road?

Yeah, we already played a show in Chicago a few months ago and it as so much fun. We have Richie Rivera on drums and set, he is amazing and a Nashville guy, so we are definitely using him. For a bass player, we have gone through a few people, it depends on people's availability so we are still working that out. Gerald Goosman who played guitar for us during the initial show that we did said he would be willing to play bass so that is a possibility. So that is it, we are going to do a four-piece.

As mentioned at the start, you took a lengthy break from the music business, now you are back and recording new material, how different have you found the business compared to the earlier days?

It is completely different, there's nothing the same about it ha-ha. The good things are that you can make a great sounding record in your home without having to leave and with no expense. You can make good sounding music without spending a tonne of money on studio time and stuff so that was great. It allowed us time to experiment because there was no time clock ticking. We weren't wasting hundreds of dollars while we sat tinkering around; that was great. As far as the business end of it, it has completely changed because obviously people get their music in different ways than back when Vixen was making records.

Did you ever consider the crowd-funding route?

We did but we realised we didn't need really any money at the moment we were recording. We had the means to do it without that. Therefore, we thought we would rather just put it out there and if people like it they can support it and buy it. It also means we still have that route available in case we do want to do something different that would require hiring musicians and studio time to get drums tracks and do things a little differently which is a possibility.

Having completed your first solo album, I know it is early but I would love to know if the experience has fired you up to even remotely consider another solo record in the future?

Definitely, we already have ideas kicking around for the next one. Now the flood gates have opened and there is more music in the works.

What was the highlight of recording this album and conversely is there anything you would change if you could go back and start again?

No, no regrets because we are already working on new stuff so things can always be done differently in the future. It is what it is, we were really happy with it and we definitely got to do a lot of things that both of us have always wanted to do. Of course, there's maybe a couple of little things but I am not going to mention it because then people will listen for it so I am not going to give away any of that ha-ha.

So, you have a couple of little tweaks in mind and take a slightly different approach for the next one but nothing that you would say "we should have done this"?

Absolutely. Nothing is every perfect and I have never been one hundred percent satisfied with anything I have ever done. This is a good thing in a way because you are always growing, always learning and always getting better at what you do. If you think you are the greatest thing ever you are not going to get any better. However, there is a point where you have to let it go and you have to put it out there and share it with people otherwise what is the point. We could have picked more at it, done remixes, changed the sound, done this, done that and kept tweaking forever but you do reach a point where you have to say, "this makes our point so let us let go of it".

Turning our attention to Vixen to close, I see you have announced a new recording recently. Can you tell me about the new live album and when it might be released?

We are going to capture a live show, it is going to at the Arcada Theatre in Chicago on 12th August. That may change logistically but that is the plan for the moment. We will get one of these upcoming shows. Then we are going to also add a couple of other little surprises on to it to kind of sweeten the pot a little bit. I am not going to tell you what they are because that might also change a little bit but there are definitely going to be two additional recordings added to the live show.

Following on from that, have you got any plans to head into the studio to record an album of new material?

That will definitely happen, it's kind of like what we were talking about earlier in that collaborations take a lot longer timewise than a solo project for the reasons we talked about. We are also geographically challenged so it is hard for us to get together. However, there are some email threads floating around with some ideas that are going to blossom at some point. I don't know when that is going to happen but it is definitely in the works.

Do you have any long-term plans to return to the UK to play live as Vixen?

We are always looking at that. We have been hounding our agent for years about getting back over there. We did Hard Rock Hell a couple of years or so back but that was it. We went there for one show and turned around and came home. We would love to have a show like that and then build upon that... get some other shows in the UK and Europe. It is in the works.

I also see you have a couple of new faces in Vixen with the addition of Britt Lightning and Tyson Leslie.

Tyson is the bomb, we love him. He is so much fun to work with and is so talented. Even with our background vocals – with him singing – have jumped from great to phenomenal. He is a blessing and we love having him in the group. He is a busy guy, as long as he can show up and play with us we will be happy to have him. As for Britt Lightning, she is an angel, a great guitarist, a sweet person and ultra-talented. We are really lucky to have her too.

I assume you have all played together for a little bit now?

Yeah, we have played four or five shows and there is of course the usual "we are not used to her and she is not used to us", but every show gets better and tighter and it is coming along great. By the time we do the live recording, it should be super tight and sound fantastic.

With your new solo album now ready for release and stuff for Vixen in the pipeline, what does the next few years hold for you? Is there anything you have in mind that you really want to and have planned to do?

You know, you always have goals. I would love to have both Vixen and my solo band out there playing as much as possible. You just never know what is going to happen so you have to seize every opportunity as it comes so that is what I would like to see happen – lots more opportunities to get out and make great music. If I was to pass away tomorrow, I would rest easy knowing that I had a great life full of wonderful experiences and so much great music. I'm a happy camper and any more of that I can grab from here on out I am totally up for it. I couldn't be happier, at this point in my life I couldn't ask for more than what is happening right now.

Fireworks Magazine Online 80 - Interview with Cats in Space

CATS IN SPACE

Interview by Ray Paul

Cats In Space have certainly been making a name for themselves in a very short amount of time. The debut 'Too Many Gods' was a breath of fresh air in the Melodic Rock community, and along with hard gigging and support slots with Thunder and a place on the prestigious Hyde Park stage this summer have gained the band a whole new fan-base. With the release of the brand new album 'Scarecrow' Fireworks had a chance to catch up with guitarist and songwriter Greg Hart to discuss the album and what the future holds for this group of crazy cats.


Cats In Space - Interview Fireworks

Both 'Jupiter Calling' and 'Scars' have some wonderful production, especially vocally. In fact the whole album does. Tell us how you managed this on such a small budget.

On this album we spent more time on the recording process, but the band all know exactly what we need to achieve and they are amazing players. Between myself, Ian Caple, the engineer, and my co-producer and writing partner Mick Wilson, we all have a very clear vision on the production and vocal arrangements.

Listening to the album, I'm picking up the usual influences of Queen and ELO, but also Charlie?

Yeah, we've got all the usual suspects in there, but we take from loads of 70s influences. Melody is king for us, and I think we're carving out our own 'Cats' sound on 'Scarecrow', with Paul's voice being such a big factor.

What did you set out to achieve with this, your second release?

Just to keep spreading the ripples of love with a genuine passion, and hopefully reach out to the millions of old school Rock fans worldwide with some great music and great shows. The thing that's great about this band is the fact that it's really natural, not forced or contrived, and people seem to really like that.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music

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What's the story behind the bizarre song title 'Felix & the Golden Sun'?

[Laughs] Cats in Space like to be a bit quirky, and I had this title in my head for ages. We made it into a jaunty tale about a boy going off to buy his first vinyl record on a hot summer's day ̶ a big deal for us kids back in the day. Lots of people will hopefully relate to this and get a warm fuzzy feeling when they read the words.

My personnel favourite song is 'Time Bomb', bit of a pomp epic in the style of Styx to my ears. Tell us about how this was written.

Good man! I was jamming on my piano in my usual ham-fisted way, and the hook and title came to me. The song title lent itself to some frantic double-speed passages which are there to create the panic of a bomb about to go off. It's probably a touchy subject these days, but it's social commentary baby, and it's a good tune. Dean's solo is a beauty and Jeff's bass is outstanding, so to me this song is classic Cats!

Why 'Scarecrow' as the album title?

It's all there in the lyrics. It's the concluding part of 'The Greatest Story Never Told' on the first album. It took ages to record, and worthy of the album title I think. There's some serious layers going on in the vocals, and Andy's keyboards are stunning. I'm very proud of it. I think it's a great example of the magic made in the studio.

You recently played Hyde Park, which must have been exciting?

We are stoked. It went incredibly well, as did the Thunder tour in March ̶ Hammersmith Apollo plus Hyde Park in one year! We're doing our own headline tour in September and we've got more in the pipeline, but I can't tell yet or I'll have to kill you and all your readers, so it's probably easier all round if I keep my mouth shut.

Any plans for a full length concert video?

Cats live is a different entity to the studio, so it would be cool to do it, and I'm sure we will at some stage. That's one for the future though, when the conditions allow us to do a great job of it.

How do you describe Cats in Space to someone who has never heard you?

We're just a good old fashioned genuine old school Rock Band, unashamed to push the 'Rock envelope'. We're here to make Rock fans smile, think, and have fun.

How long was the writing process for this album?

I'm always writing and preparing for the next thing. My head is a mad place full of ideas, which can be irritating! I'd say it was probably 12 months formulating the ideas for the full album. Mick Wilson and myself are both quite prolific, and when we get together it's so much fun. We never get writers block, I love the whole ride.

What's next for the band?

World domination as a bare minimum! [laughs]. When we released 'Too Many Gods', we did it for us really, but there was a lot of excitement, and we've got a great team around us now, so it's all very, very busy on the Spaceship. We can't wait for the Cats fans to hear the new album, and they'd better learn the words super quick, because we're going to be playing loads of new ones on the tour ... and the old ones of course. Then we've got the announcement I can't tell you about, and then it'll be 2018.

Fireworks Magazine Online 79 - Interview with Devilskin

DEVILSKIN

Interview by Dave Bott

It is difficult to bring to mind too many acts from New Zealand, especially those with a high profile. Devilskin are a female-fronted Hard Rock four-piece from Hamilton, New Zealand, who have been together since 2010. They have released two full-length albums to date (both reviewed in Fireworks magazine), 'We Rise' (2014) and 'Be Like The River' (2016), as well as a live CD/DVD set entitled 'Live At The Powerstation'. Somewhat under the radar they have toured the UK, drawing favourable comparisons to Halestorm (with whom they have also shared a bill) along the way. They are due to play Download in June 2017 so Fireworks thought it was time for a catch-up. An easy-going 20 minute slot with guitarist Nail and lead-singer Jennie Skulander, before the Nottingham show on the recent UK tour, was, despite rumbling tummies, the ideal opportunity to find out more about 'Be Like The River' and their visits to England.


Devilskin Interview


N/JS This current tour of the UK has been one of the easiest tours ever. Everyone is so chilled and we get along really well with the guys from Sumo Cyco (co-headliners). Audiences in the UK are certainly different to the ones back home. Obviously we're still in the process of building a fan base here, whereas the New Zealand fan base is already established. People may come to see the other band on the bill but we make an impression and they buy a CD or t-shirt, that's how it begins. We are not expecting to be playing arenas in front of huge crowds, we're just trying to win people over. We've done festivals before and played with some pretty major bands in the past, but Download will be huge for us and we've no real idea what to expect. We'll try and bring the good weather with us but will have gum-boots just in case. The music scene in New Zealand is healthy enough but you have to remember it is quite a small country. There are tours coming through all the time and we have radio stations dedicated to Rock music so we get exposure from them and get to know if our songs are being played. We decided to record a live CD/DVD on the back of the debut album. It seemed silly not to capture the moment and it also seemed like a good way to make an impact in America and Europe, present a live show so people could see what we're all about.

'We Rise' was recorded in New Zealand but mixed in England yet Devilskin changed tack for 'Be Like The River' and the whole process took place in England. It would seem Jennie's condition at the time dictated proceedings though the end results were no less impressive.

N We were touring in the UK this time last year and Jennie was actually pregnant. We recorded 'We Rise' at York Street studios in New Zealand but it has been knocked down now and made into apartments. Our album was the last to be recorded there. Our producer Clint Murphy is a Kiwi who lives in Tetbury (Gloucestershire) and he came over to work with us on the first album whilst visiting family. Last year we thought why not stay here to do the album rather than making trips back to New Zealand.

JS I was in the process of getting fatter and fatter whilst the mixing took place. We were back on the road when my daughter was 3 months old and opening for Disturbed. She comes on tour with us and when we're in the UK she stays with her dad, with friends and family who live in Derby.
N There's no such thing as a free ride so when she's old enough we'll have her working on the merch stall or as a guitar roadie.

The writing and recording process can vary from album to album for many bands but at the end of the day the old-fashioned way, with all band members together in a room, seems to work best for Devilskin.

N When we recorded 'We Rise' some of the songs were quite old anyway. We'd already been together for a number of years so they had been written over a period of time. This time round we demoed a lot of material with Clint and in the end had around thirty songs that were worked on. We didn't discard all the ideas or songs that didn't make the record and we may decide to return to some, work on them some more and see if they eventually work out. It wasn't that the songs weren't strong, it was just that we could only use so many and the record had to have a balance. Hopefully we can use some of them on the next record.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music

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It's interesting that there is a song featured on 'Be Like The River' called 'We Rise'. A leftover from the first album's writing sessions perhaps and may be the beginning of some kind of trend from album to album?

JS We did write a song called 'Be Like The River' for this album but it wasn't included. The general theme and lyrically the song is based around 'Be like the river, cut through the stone'.

N 'Be like the river, cut through the stone' is kind of our outlook on life. It means forge your own path, take no shit. Similarly 'We Rise' reflects our journey so far, the growth we've made as a band and as people, from one record to the next. It was a natural and obvious decision to include the song on the album. It wasn't a conscious decision to leave out the title track from each record and then include it on the next one.

Lots of bands forge long working relationships with the same producer, but even though Devilskin have worked only with Clint Murphy so far the door is always open to a change.

N We've worked with Clint on two albums so far but who knows what the future holds. We'd like to keep our options open and it would be cool to record an album in America.

JS There is some stuff in the pipeline and there have been offers we can't really talk about just yet. I was approached by someone from the band Snot, who were prominent a while back, and it would be a fantastic opportunity, being such a fan of the band. They were very influential and maybe the main reason I'm doing what I'm doing now.

Lyrically Devilskin deal with a number of themes and cover a number of topics and inspiration for the subject matter can come from a number of sources.

JS Myself and Paul (Paul Martin, bass player) are primarily responsible for the lyrics to our songs and Paul did a lot of writing on this album. 'Voices' was a song written about our fans, the Devilskin Army and the lyrics reflect their importance in our lives. There is another song called 'FYI' which is aimed at our frustration with the music industry in general. It's an angry song, probably the angriest on the album.

Devilskin use strings in several songs on 'Be Like The River', to great effect and are not afraid about the inclusion of orchestral enhancements, even though there may not be strings in mind during the conception and writing process.

N We never use keyboards or programming in our music and everything is written using a guitar, hammering out riffs and seeing where they go, with us all together in a room, kind of old school. We sometimes realise that adding strings will make the song better and have more impact and we were lucky that Clint could make that work for us. We were back in New Zealand and he Skyped us so that we could watch the strings being recorded. It certainly makes the songs more powerful. It's all about drama and emotion so we'll do what we have to, to make the song the best it can be.

First impressions of 'Be Like The River' are that it is a less intense or aggressive piece of work than 'We Rise', even though Jennie's vocals and the big guitars and rock hard rhythm section are all still present and correct.

N/JS I guess 'Be Like The River' is a more mature piece of work at the end of the day. The four of us were involved as a collective this time. We've obviously spent a lot of time together during the last few years. We know each other better and the developments in those relationships come out now in our writing. When we write we try to push ourselves and we want it to sound different to the things we've done before. The song 'Be Like The River', for instance, which didn't make the album, is quite a Bluesy track and it would be great if it featured on the next one.

N I'm forever trying to make it completely different and it keeps things interesting.

Plans for the remainder of 2017 revolve around writing and that show in June, but there should still be time for more touring.

N/JS After this current tour we'll be doing a block of writing, before returning to the UK for the Download festival. We'll then concentrate on more writing with a view to getting a record done for 2018. Hopefully we'll be out on tour again in September or October this year. Writing goes on all the time but it is hard to find time when touring to sit down together and work on ideas. We actually did an acoustic performance the other day, whilst in London. It's something we've never done before so we had to find time to rehearse. Fortunately when we're in the UK we do get some down time and that's when we can visit the relatives and make use of their hot-tub! (Check out the photos online)

Fireworks Magazine Online 79 - Interview with Bob Young

Unsung Heroes: An interview with BOB YOUNG

Back In Quo Country


Interview by Steven Reid


Only two men can say they wrote two of the first three songs performed at the most famous concert ever, Live Aid. Those same two men can also lay claim to a number one hit single in the UK and to having contributed songs to ten consecutive top five UK studio albums and a live album that climbed up to number three. One, Francis Rossi, is a household name, having sung on countless hits and even appeared on Coronation Street. The other is Bob Young, the man who co-wrote the majority of Status Quo's best known hits during the seventies, mainly with Rossi, but also with the band's other singer and guitarist Rick Parfitt. However Bob also played harmonica with the band and worked as their tour manager for many a year. Not satisfied with that, he was also half of the band Young & Moody with one-time Whitesnake guitarist Micky Moody, is the author of respected books on Status Quo and beyond and has just had his excellent 1985 solo album, 'Back In Quo Country' reissued through HNE/Cherry Red Records.


Bob Young Interview 1

Music had been important to you since you were a boy, but how did you start working for the likes of Amen Corner, The Nice and The Herd, which of course featured Peter Frampton and a young Andy Bown?

When I first moved to London in 1967 from my hometown of Basingstoke I lived in a five-story house in Notting Hill that was divided into a flat on each floor. Art students in one, various musicians in a couple of others and myself and some friends in another. It was just around the corner from the Portobello Road market where a mate and I would busk and could make enough money on a weekend to eat and pay the rent. I also did some driving for one or two groups and in particular the Welsh band Amen Corner featuring Andy Fairweather-Low who were enjoying their first hit single 'Gin House'. In 1968 I went along with them to the Hammersmith Odeon where they were on the Gene Pitney package tour. Also on that bill was The Status Quo and during their sound check in the afternoon I got chatting to Mike Rossi (as he was then called) and remember him complaining, and us both laughing about, how long their bass player Alan Lancaster took to tune up. He asked what I did and I said I was a roadie for one or two groups. That was pretty much the extent of our first meeting.

I believe that you were lined up to work as a roadie with Jethro Tull after that, so how did you come to hit the road with Status Quo - and did you hit it off with the band straight away?

A couple of weeks later I was in Nottingham driving the gear for The Herd when Quo's then managers turned up at the gig. They said they'd tracked me down and wanted to offer me a job as the roadie for The Status Quo as they'd just sacked the one they had for nicking some gear and 'Mike Rossi remembered meeting you at Hammersmith and liked you and thought it might be worth checking you out'. I told them I'd just been offered a job with Jethro Tull for £10 a week and they immediately offered me £15, the same as the band members, if I could start at the end of the week. It was an offer I couldn't refuse and thought if it lasted a few weeks I'd be very happy and a few quid in. I soon found out that by getting married I could get an extra £5 a week. Sue and I married two months later...

Once you'd started spending time with the band it didn't take you long to start getting involved with the songwriting for their next album, 'Spare Parts'. Initially it was bassist Alan Lancaster that you struck up a working partnership with. What do you remember of working and writing with Alan for that album?

I began with Quo in 1968 as the lone roadie setting up the gear, doing sound and lights, driving the 17cwt Ford Transit van jam packed with all of their equipment, amps, guitars, drums, Vox Continental keyboards, PA and lights (I still have the drawing I did on the back of an envelope on my first day saying which order to pack it in the van and showing how to set it up on stage). They also had a car and a driver/tour manager but one or two of them always liked to travel with me in the van. In fact on the first day I was quite amazed when Rossi and Rick Parfitt jumped in with me to go to my first show as their new roadie in Bristol. On reflection I think this was to find out more about me, what I'd done, who I knew and where I came from etc. At 23 I was three or four years older than them and they maybe saw me as just a little more worldly. It was definitely that first few hours journey together where we bonded, laughed a lot and talked about the various music we all loved and artists I liked and we began a friendship that day that's lasted, along with Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan, for fifty years. Over the course of the next few weeks Alan occasionally joined me in the van and by then the band knew I also wrote poems and songs. On a drive to a gig through the West Country he suggested we write a song together and with him strumming a guitar and me driving, by the end of the day we'd written 'Antique Angelique' which, although very much in the poppy/semi-psychedelic style of their first album 'Picturesque Matchstickable Messages From The Status Quo' (and a long way from the folk and blues I loved) made it onto their second album 'Spare Parts' along with three other songs we'd written together.

However by the time of 'Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon' it was Francis Rossi that became your main writing partner. How did that come about and did you click as a writing-team straight away?

I was very pleased when their driver/tour manager John Fanning left a year or so later to live in Australia in 1970 and, when we brought in another roadie, Malcolm Kingsnorth, to do my job, I got promoted to tour manager driving the band in their big old red American Pontiac Parisiene car. Money was still very tight and hotels cheap and we all shared rooms. Francis and I roomed together for a few years, and longer than the others even when we could afford better hotels and single rooms, and this meant we would write together pretty much every day and night on the road. After the keyboard player Roy Lynes got off the train we were travelling on up North to a gig and never go back on, the band became a four piece and the music quite naturally harder and tighter. They had started to rebel against the style of music the management felt they shouldn't change and play more of the rockier stuff they would play in sound-checks and back in the Butlins Holiday Camp days. Francis and I, once we started writing together, clicked immediately and found our own way of working in an unforced and enjoyable way (probably helped along by the wacky-backy we'd started smoking). Our songs like 'Spinning Wheel Blues', 'Shy Fly' and 'April Spring Summer and Wednesdays' started to flow as did those of Rick (Parfitt) and Alan (Lancaster). The songwriting and music floodgates for all of us were beginning to open by 1970 when we recorded the third album 'Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon'. With no money and the frilly shirts and flared colored trousers gone, Quo played any gig that would have them and with any cool band that would let them support them, in by now the only clothes they owned - jeans, t-shirts and dirty trainers. The band and myself had never been happier...

It was at this stage that the signature sound of Quo began to develop and take shape. However that sound and feel didn't just come from you and Francis, with everyone embracing the new direction. Was the change in style discussed and worked out, or was it just a case of synchronicity, where everyone somehow was pulling in the same direction without realising it?

Synchronicity. 'Ma Kelly's...' album is definitely where the real foundations, signature sound and tougher attitude of Quo started to shine through and come together. The sleeve was totally against everything that had been dictated to before by the old management and label, Pye Records. In black and white and with no photo of the band anywhere and the shittiest, roughest looking cover possible. It really pissed off a lot of people but was a statement saying 'This is Status Quo. Love us or hate us. Take it or leave it'. It would be one more album, 'Dog Of Two Head' in 1971, that would continue to cement the sound and direction before the band could, with the help of new manager Colin Johnson, who believed in what we were doing, get out of the awful Pye contract and sign to the very cool Vertigo record label headed up by Brian 'Shep' Shepherd, another believer and very important person in the band's history. He was prepared to take a chance on a band that still had a bit of a hangover around it from the Pop 'Matchstick Men' hit, Top Rank circuit days. He could see the honesty and total belief and dedication that was there and the build up of the live and faithful audiences being gained through the constant touring over the previous couple of years. With a manager, label boss, band and even the road crew that would stay another decade, we were off and running and the non-believers were either left behind or would eventually join the Quo Army. It was also a big plus when DJ's like John Peel, Kid Jensen, Bob Harris and Johnnie Walker started flying the Quo flag. I was very made up when John Peel wrote the foreword to my first book of poems later in 1978.

Some of the tensions between band members during those years have (true or not) become the thing of legend. How challenging was it to deal with the different characters in the band out on the road?

I defy any band that started out at school, stayed together and became hugely successful as teenagers and then spent at least nine months of the following dozen or so years on the road together as they grew from kids into men of the world, to not have a few tensions along the way. By the mid seventies everyone had changed and I believe mostly for the better. By then we were continually travelling around the world, seeing new places and faces with money in our pockets to support our families back home and definitely having fun in more ways than many can imagine but, importantly, the band had quite rightly earned a reputation for being nice, friendly down to earth people with a great sense of humour....a 'Band of the People'. Basically my job was to be the last to bed and first up and to make sure everything ran as smoothly as possible every day. In 1976 Ram magazine in Australia headlined an interview I did as 'The man who gets them up in the morning, gets them to the gig on time, then writes songs and plays on stage with them...'. They easily could have added 'doing the best job in the world'. Just as it was back then and still is today for Quo and most other artists out there on and off their tours, the importance of having a great road crew and loyal team around you can never be underestimated, which certainly made my job a lot easier.


Bob Young Interview 2

How did your job evolve as the band went stratospheric in terms of success in the UK, Europe and Australia? It must have been night and day compared to those early days?

It was totally night and day. Another of my jobs was playing harmonica on stage every night after my teenage folk and blues playing days came in handy when in 1970 they needed 'harp' on 'Down The Dustpipe'. This was the first single that moved away from the sound and style of any previous releases and gave an indication of the harder edged rock/blues direction Quo were now heading in. It reached Number 12 in the charts and that meant the inevitable television promotion in the UK and Europe and somehow I ended up with the crazy distinction of being 'the roadie with the most TV appearances under his belt'. This carried on for the next decade throughout my time on the road with more songs such as 'Roadhouse Blues', 'Break The Rules', 'The Price Of Love' and others. I think being there from their first taste of success in 1968, I had the unique opportunity to grow with them as friends while learning about writing, recording, the music business and looking after people as I went along. So going from the band playing to twenty people in the Top Rank in Bristol to just a few years later headlining to 30,000 fans in Sydney Australia and arenas around the world wasn't, in fact, such a big leap providing you lived in the Quo bubble. Technically I was a rubbish roadie but immediately became a part of the family by simply getting along with everybody and sorting out any problems that came up and later talking to all of them when they didn't necessarily feel like talking to each other. It was easy because I wanted to be there and not because I had to, which is pretty much a rule I've always tried to follow. Not always easy but worth the effort, add in a slice of good luck and almost anything is possible.

'Paper Plane' from the 'Piledriver' album suddenly took the band back into the top ten in the singles chart. How much of a thrill was it to see one of your songs making such an impact?

Following 'Dog Of Two Head', the last album to be released on Pye in 1971, Shep and Vertigo's faith in Quo was rewarded in 1972 with their first release 'Piledriver', a Number 5 album that many describe now as 'Quo defining'. Containing many of the songs that have well stood the true test of time such as the Doors 'Roadhouse Blues', Rossi/Parfitt's massive 'Big Fat Mama' and three Rossi/Young songs that included the only single from the album, 'Paper Plane'. It was a big thrill for me personally as a writer to see it chart at Number 8. That album and single gave us all such a boost, the band, label, management and crew and was the start of a lengthy series of big hits worldwide which all led to bigger and more successful tours everywhere (other than America which, despite several excellent lengthy tours and gigs throughout the seventies with great bands like ZZ Top, Blue Oyster Cult, Black Sabbath and Aerosmith etc, Quo never managed to crack...but that's another story).

However, with the likes of 'Caroline', 'Down Down', 'Mean Girl' and 'Break The Rules', amongst others, you also had a hand in the writing of a host of songs that established Status Quo as one of the most well-known and successful bands in the country. That must have been quite wonderful for you, but I wonder if it created any friction with some of the other guys in the band, or were they very much as excited with how it was all coming together?

In the early seventies, as the band was going through its transition period from one hit wonder pop stars with a dwindling crowd of screaming girls to bona fide 'rock' stars playing to a more critical and discerning audience, it wasn't too important who happened to write the songs so long as they worked live and on record. On reflection maybe at one stage it did feel a bit like Francis and I had a bigger output of songs but we were writing at every opportunity whether on the road, at home or on holidays. Most songs, whoever wrote them, were put forward in rehearsals and everyone would quickly have a good idea as to whether they were likely to work live or not. New contenders were usually road tested before they got to the recording stage and I'm sure that helped a lot as the band tended to pretty much set up too much gear in the studio, plug in and go for it very live. And also producing themselves was definitely the best thing to happen back then and would have helped shape their sound and style. They could break the rules and enjoy the recording process and mostly it worked. Many songs Francis and I wrote became singles but it shouldn't be underestimated the importance and success of the early songs Rick and Alan were also writing. Songs like 'Backwater', 'Blue Eyed Lady', 'Big Fat Mama' and later 'Little Lady', 'Is There A Better Way', and 'Rain'.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music

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Over the next few years you also had a couple of really successful songs with Rick Parfitt, with 'Mystery Song' and 'Living On An Island', although your partnership with him was never as prolific. Did the writing process differ with Rick from how you worked with Francis?

With the very sad and tragic passing of Rick over Christmas I'm sure everyone who knew him will reflect on the time they got to spend with him whether a fan with a few brief words outside a gig or those of us fortunate to have shared a lot more of his life over the past five decades. Personally speaking I'm glad to have the few songs he and I wrote as a permanent reminder of our friendship and times together. Our writing process differed a lot from that with Francis in so much as it certainly wasn't as frequent, never on tour and there were a lot more distractions in Rick's world. The last thing we wrote together was 'One By One' in 2007 for the 'In Search Of The Fourth Chord' album, a song quite non-Quo in the same way our 'Living On An Island' shouldn't really have worked for the band but somehow it did.

Although Quo have always been anti-heroes in the eyes of the press, during that period from 'Piledriver' to 'Whatever You Want' in 1979, the band could do no wrong in the eyes of the fans. However from there things seemed to change, the dynamic and sound of the band evolving. 1980 also saw you moving on from being the band's tour manager. You've always been quite magnanimous about those events, but looking back now, how did someone who seemed to be right at the heart of the band, both in terms of songwriting and management come to end their association with them and how did you feel about it at the time?

The whole of the seventies was a rollercoaster of events. 'Ma Kelly's Greasy Spoon' and 'Dog Of Two Head' were the springboard and 'Piledriver' the lift off for the massive success of the next dozen or so albums when a million UK, plus the huge rest of the world sales of each release began to feel very normal. After the success of Quo's first live album in 1977, recorded at the legendary Glasgow Apollo Theatre, it was decided for a few reasons that it was maybe time to consider bringing in a producer for the first time in many years. One: to record an album that might be more American radio friendly and two: to have someone in the room to mediate between the band that by now each had there own firm ideas. Pip Williams was brought in to produce with his engineer John Eden for the 'Rocking All Over The World' album, that was eventually recorded in Studio Bohus in Gothenburg and it all worked really well with songs mostly written by Francis, Rick, Alan and myself. The production was certainly noticeably different to the previous band self-produced albums, having knocked off a lot of the rough edges and the certain spontaneity associated with them. The reaction to it was divided with many fans, but there's no denying its huge success, helped in no small part by the title track single and the subsequent massive RAOTW world tour. While we all tried to keep our feet on the ground it became more and more difficult as various casual substances became a regular habit and without doubt this contributed to the bands attitude to all manner of things going on around them. That solid bubble was beginning to show cracks.
In 1979 in Lyon, while on a French tour, I wrote a confidential letter to Francis, Rick, Alan and John expressing my views and displeasure at the state of things going on. The changes in them and their attitude that was not good for them, the shows or their audiences and why I considered moving on to be the best option for me if we were to remain friends. There was management things going on which I didn't agree with and I wasn't enjoying touring in that atmosphere. Nobody else has ever got to see that letter and maybe one day it might see the light of day. I was unhappy and looking back now it was the right thing to do. It gave me the freedom to do many other exciting things with my life using whatever skills I'd learned over the years whether songwriting, recording, tour managing, management, writing books and documentaries and, importantly, seeing the world at my own pace. It would be another year or so before I finally made the move off the road with Quo and soon after my leaving drummer John Coghlan was replaced. Just three years later Alan Lancaster was ousted from the band after Live Aid.


Bob Young Interview 3

However you still contributed a co-write with Rick for 'Just Supposin' ('Coming And Going') and with Rick and Andy for 'Never Too Late' ('Falling In, Falling Out'). Were these songs written before you moved on from working with the band, or did you continue to write with the guys during that time?

Because we all remained friends, although not seeing each other on a day to day basis, there was no pressure, but I could still see the way things were heading and the problems inside the Quo camp. Rick would still come over to my house and we'd write and drink and... 'Coming and Going' was written over a couple of long sessions, him on electric guitar, me on harmonica and both of us singing along and was I so glad it made it onto the 'Just Supposin' album.

And, of course, you performed with the band at their 1984 'End Of The Road' show in Milton Keynes. That must have been an emotional time - did you have any inkling that Francis and Rick would reform the band without Alan not long after?

I was totally made up to be asked to play harmonica again on 'Roadhouse Blues' on that show. It was very special to look out from that stage and see that amazing crowd of 50 or 60,000 fans going crazy. And very emotional for them genuinely believing it was their last live show together. Just a pity John Coghlan wasn't in the band and there to enjoy it. I don't think anyone could have predicted they would reform without Alan after Live Aid although there was, as I said before, a lot of tension that had been building over previous years due in no small part to the amount of drugs and alcohol around.

Amazingly while all this had been going on, you found the time to form a formidable writing partnership with guitarist Micky Moody, forming Young & Moody, which went on to become The Young & Moody Band. How did the two of you meet and when did you start song writing together?

Micky and I first met on a European tour in, I think, 1974 when his band Snafu was supporting Quo.
We immediately hit it off with a shared taste in music (blues) and humour (very silly). Soon after that we began writing whenever we had a chance to get together which, because of our separate touring commitments, meant not as often as we would have liked. Deep Purple's Roger Glover eventually heard a few of our songs and demos and suggested he produce an album for us.

You released the self-titled Young & Moody album in 1977, which never quite achieved the success the songs deserved. With your Quo links and Micky's time in Juicy Lucy and Snafu, do you think people were maybe a little surprised by the direction you took with the album?

Maybe one or two people were a little surprised but I think, because it reflected the roots of Quo and the bands Micky was with, it was easier to accept and enjoy than had we done say a jazz, pop or soul record. That album was an absolute dream to write and record. Very bluesy and laid back with just Micky and I, Kokomo drummer Terry Stannard and the multi-talented Graham Preskett on violin, bass, keyboards and mandolin. Roger is quoted as saying at the time "It's most enjoyable and fun album I've had the pleasure of working on". It got a lot of excellent reviews and we spent a very funny and memorable couple of weeks going around the UK on a national radio and press tour. We're both very proud of that album.

Micky was then asked to join David Coverdale's new band, Whitesnake - an offer he couldn't really turn down. Did that scupper the Young & Moody plans for further albums?

No not really as I was so busy anyway on the Status Quo continual world tour and Young & Moody was never meant to be our priority. Whitesnake for Micky was a brilliant move and I loved that band and especially the great songs he wrote with them. David Coverdale is a born star. The three of us even got to write a really nice song together. Micky and I still write the occasional song but it's our friendship that's the most important thing to us. I think we now have a catalogue of well over a hundred songs and are planning to do something live as Young & Moody later this year.

However you continued to release a few singles between 1979 and 1983 - the last one being a 'maxi-single' with Motörhead, Cozy Powell and The Nolans! That's not the most obvious combination. How did that come about?

'Don't Do That' was just one of the many songs we were writing at that time and it had quite a Quo-ishness to it. When we came to record it we wanted our friend Cozy Powell on drums - and he came on board. I didn't think my voice suited it so we pulled in another mate, Ed Hamilton, who had that rock type of voice we felt it needed. Lemmy was an absolute first choice for bass and he agreed immediately, especially when he knew we'd asked the Nolan Sisters to do backing vocals and we'd be doing a video. It was a crazy idea that worked and another memorable moment in the crazy world of Young & Moody. It's still up on YouTube and worth checking out.

During this period you also published your first book, 'Alias The Compass', a book of poems, ideas and observations on the life you were living. The book was enthusiastically received - what was the thought behind the book and were you pleased by how well people reacted to it?

As long as I can remember I've been scribbling notes, writing words, lyrics and poems and, being a bit of a hoarder, have kept everything. I hit my thirtieth birthday in 1975 and decided it was time to stop dreaming about putting a book of poems together and get on with it. Quo by then were flying high around the world in more ways than one and I thought there might be a few people out there interested in checking it out. Eighteen months later I'd pulled it all together and asked DJ John Peel if he'd write the foreword for me, not really expecting him to agree. I sent him quite a few samples and to my very pleasant surprise he agreed and that for me was the icing on the cake. Several of the poems became the foundations of a few Quo and Young & Moody songs, probably most notable 'Paper Plane', although it's a bit of a misconception that I've always just been the lyricist in any of my writing partnerships... It's taken me another thirty years to put the follow up book together and that's now in the making....

You and Micky also contributed three songs to the excellent 'Line Up' album by Rainbow/MSG singer Graham Bonnet - an album featuring the likes of Russ Ballard, Cozy Powell, Jon Lord, Mel Collins and of course Francis, Rick, Andy and Micky. Were those songs written especially for that album, or did Micky bring them to the project after you had written them previously?

We were with the same management company as Graham and when he was going into the studio to record a new album we were asked if we had any songs that we'd like to put forward. Fortunately we had plenty and three of them happened to suit Graham. They weren't written especially for him but we knew they might work okay as we'd previously used Graham to sing the song 'These Eyes' that we'd written and recorded for a big Levi's commercial and which went on to win us a British TV advertising export award in 1981.

You wrote two books in the 80s, 'Again And Again', focusing on your time with Quo. How was it looking back on your time with Quo - in a way from the outside looking in - at that time?

On the road I've always collected various bits of what we now call memorabilia i.e. old backstage passes, itineraries, photos, hotel room keys, demos etc etc. I'd throw them all into my suitcase as we went along and when I got home at the end of a tour would put it all into boxes and basically forget about it. I was the only one really to do this on a regular basis and I'm glad I did. I've always been the go-to when rare things are needed for tour programs, books, documentaries, re-releases and the like. Putting together books on Quo was a natural progression and always an opportunity to dig out old memories. There's been a couple of excellent coffee table books I've worked on over the past few years too.

And 'The Language Of Rock n Roll' with Micky, a sideways look at the phrases and language musicians use that may not be so obvious to those outside the business. It's a wonderful idea, where did the notion behind that book come from?

That particular book came out of our very silly 'joint' sense of humour. First published in 1985 it soon caught the imagination of a lot of bands and road crews as it was speaking their language. Our descriptions of everything from Backline to Being in a support band: Jobsworths to Japanese Hospitality: Unknown Warriors to Unwinding after a gig. Not much was out of bounds and the sillier the better. I wish we had the time to do a 2017 follow up. Maybe it's time to hand over the baton...

1986 saw you release your, to date, only solo album, 'In Quo Country', where you focused on the more country side of some of the songs you wrote with Quo. Was this, in a way, how you'd always heard these songs as you were helping to create them?

This album had long been something I'd wanted to do and it took coming off the road with Quo to actually get on with it. I'd left with quite a list of ambitions and objectives and fortunately, with time now being my own, have been lucky to tick many of them off along the way while always adding a few more dreams to chase. A lot of the co-writes with Francis were usually started on acoustic guitars and some would have a bit of the country blues thing about them such as 'Claudie', 'Caroline' and 'Dirty Water', as have one or two of the ones with Rick Parfitt such as 'Living On An Island'. I've always felt there's more than one way to arrange and produce just about any song and the idea I had for 'In Quo Country' was not to try and better the originals, because that's not possible with definitive Quo tracks, but to re-record and arrange some of those I'd been involved with using musicians and friends I thought would work well together in a studio and record a selection of my songs but with a bit more of a country flavour.

The album also features a host of respected, talented musicians. Can you share your memories of recording the album and the people involved?

With much help and enthusiasm from Micky Moody, who co-produced the album with our producer friend, the late Stuart Taylor, we pulled together a very special bunch of musician friends all of who we believed would work well together. They didn't take too much persuading and we soon moved into Phonogram Studios in Marble Arch, and the first thing we did was hire in several eight foot tall cactus film props. That immediately set the tone for the week and we were off. With guitarists Micky, Albert Lee and Billy Bremner, BJ Cole on pedal steel, Kokomo drummer Terry Stannard, Graham Preskett on violin and keyboards and Mo Foster on bass, plus various other musicians in and out it to add their bits, it couldn't have gone better or been more fun. A really memorable week...

The album has just been reissued under the title 'Back In Quo Country', featuring eight bonus tracks. What can people expect to find on this new expanded edition?

The 'In Quo Country' ten tracks have all been re-mastered and I've added several songs written and recorded in and around the same period as the originals and which I felt were in keeping with everything else on this re-release. There's three Rossi/Young songs, three with Micky and a steaming version of the Charlie Daniels song 'The Devil Went Down To Georgia' with Micky's slide guitar replacing the violin solos featured on the original and Francis on backing vocals. There's also a rare recording of Francis and I writing 'Down Down' in our bedroom in the Travelodge Motel in Hollywood in 1973. The whole CD package is completely new with photos, biog, info and track listing etc. There's been a lot of enquiries about also releasing the album on vinyl and I'm really hoping that works out.

Since coming off the road with Quo you've turned your attention to a variety of different things, as well as managing bands and artists like Relish, Leya and Joe Echo. How much did you enjoy going back to the start with bands to help them build from the ground up?

My very good friend Marc Marot who was MD of Island Records for many years started his own management company for artists including Paul Oakenfold, Richard Ashcroft and Cat Stevens.
He invited me to work with him and as well as helping develop new artists one of my roles was looking after Richard Ashcroft on a day to day basis on and off the road. We got on well, there wasn't really a dull moment and I really enjoyed those three of four years with him. I liked one of the nicknames he called me...WD40 because he reckoned I could get anything moving. He also called me plenty of others names too... Prior to joining Marc I did a lot of what I've always enjoyed doing and that's looking after artists. I tour managed violinist Vanessa-Mae all over the world for a couple of years and also did a couple of really nice ones with the legendary Hank Marvin. Over the past few years I've also done several tours of China, Japan, and Korea with Croatian classical pianist Maksim, in fact all over Asia where he has superstar status. And for fifteen years now I've guided the career of the hugely talented singer songwriter Ciaran Gribbin who became the singer of INXS and now lives in Australia and has written songs for movies, Madonna and Al Pacino amongst others.

And of course, you continued to write books on both Quo and the history of the Fender Stratocaster, and you also were one of the driving forces behind the TV documentary, 'The Story Of The Fender Stratocaster'. That must have been a really great project to be able to bring into being?

Yes that was great to work on with Frankie Miller guitarist Ray Minhinnett. We had this idea to write and produce a documentary on the forty years history of the Stratocaster. We started by drawing up a big list of all the guitarists we'd like to include in the film - Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Mark Knopfler, George Harrison, Keith Richard, Bryan Adams, Nile Rodgers - the list just went on and everyone pretty much suggested we'd be lucky to get a quarter of them and that's if we could ever raise the money to do it. But never say never and eventually EMI decided to give it a shot and provided us with the funding and an office in Manchester Square. It took us two years to not only pull it off but also interview and film both here and in America, all of the players and people on our original list.

However the call of Quo was never all that far away, drummer John Coghlan asking you to be part of his band Diesel in the late 80s. How was it getting back together with John after so many years - and are you disappointed that those songs remain largely unreleased?

John's Diesel Band actually did their first gig in 1977 at the Marquee Club in Soho. The band included myself, Micky Moody, Jackie Lynton and Andy Bown and over the years various other members came in and out such as Alan Lancaster, Rick Parfitt (who particularly loved coming out to play), John Gustafson and loads more. A lot of fun which is why Diesel formed in the first place.... We recorded an album in Sweden and the band by then was John Coghlan and I, Ray Minhinnett (Frankie Miller), Phil May (Pretty Things), Chrissy Stewart (Spooky Tooth/Frankie Miller Band) and Hilly Briggs on keyboards. It was never released as the record company went bust - not our fault! - although it's likely to be out now sometime this year.

Out of the blue, Francis got back in touch with you prior to Quo's 'Heavy Traffic' album. Was that a big surprise to you and was it easy to put some of the things from the past behind you? It must have been good to rekindle that old friendship?

Yes it was an unexpected call from Francis seventeen years ago to suggest we get together and see where it took us. We'd never actually fallen out, just hadn't spent much time together for many years even though we've always lived very close to each other. So we did get together and started talking pretty much every day for the next three months and slowly, quite naturally the old writing habit started falling back into place and we've carried on where we left off and have since written around fifty new songs.


Bob Young Interview 4

Were you surprised at how quickly your song-writing partnership clicked back into place with Francis? After such a long time not working together, you must be very proud with the songs you two have contributed to the albums 'Heavy Traffic', 'The Party Ain't Over Yet', 'In Search Of The Fourth Chord', 'Quid Pro Quo' and 'Bula Quo'?

I'd say we were pleasantly surprised as we had no game plan other than getting together and chatting as old friends do, but I do know it felt good to talk about many things that had happened over the years and maybe work out just why some of them had happened. Eventually seven of those first new songs made it onto the 'Heavy Traffic' album in 2002, produced by Mike Paxman and really well received by both critics and fans, which was very satisfying. On reflection yes, very proud to have contributed and played a small part in those albums.

However, would it be fair to suggest that one of the highlights of recent years must be getting back on stage with the Frantic Four during their reunion tours. Those must have been some really special moments?

I'm so glad those two recent very successful re-union tours with Lancaster and Coghlan came together and that I was asked to play harmonica with them again on the road and particularly now in the light of Rick's recent tragic death. The fans really loved it, having always hoped but never actually thinking it could happen. There were some really special moments on and off stage. Hammersmith Odeon (Apollo) for me was one of the many highlights. Standing on that stage I really did think back to first meeting them almost fifty years earlier on that very same spot on the Gene Pitney tour.

And finally, in what has been a long, fruitful and eclectic career, what's lined up next from you Bob?

I'm currently helping put together a big coffee table book on the 60 years history of the world famous Cavern Club in Liverpool. For over twenty-five years I've been what you could call their music industry consultant and have been involved in many of their interesting and rewarding projects including organising, on their behalf, the Hillsborough Justice Concert at Liverpool's Anfield Stadium, which raised over £400,000 to help the Families continue their fight for justice. I'm working too on my 'autobiographical scrapbook' that tells my story through letters, poems, lyrics, stories, photos and memorabilia. Francis and I will probably get to write a song or two this year and I'll continue to do lots of travelling to places around the world I haven't been to and to places in my passports I can't remember going to before. That should keep me quite busy...


Bob Young Interview 5

Fireworks Magazine Online 79 - Interview with Sumo Cyco

SUMO CYCO

Interview by Dave Bott

Canada's Sumo Cyco have been around since 2011, though they may be an unfamiliar name to many. Their debut album, 'Lost In Cyco City', was released in 2014 and by the time you read this, sophomore release 'Opus Mar' should also be available. Both albums have received favourable reviews in Fireworks, in the process generating comparisons to both No Doubt and Skindred. Lead singer Sever (Skye Sweetnam) was something of a Pop music sensation thirteen or fourteen years ago but decided her destiny lay in a totally different musical genre. Fireworks caught up with Skye in Nottingham, before a show that formed part of a co-headline tour of the UK with Devilskin, to find out more about 'Opus Mar' and her musical influences.


Sumo Cyco Interview


You know, UK audiences really seem as though they want to have fun. It's a night out, as though the band is a bonus. We've been here before and so have Devilskin but I think having a co-headline tour takes the pressure off both bands. We're getting on really well together and there has been a lot of mutual love and appreciation. Sometimes on previous tours we've been the support, or even third on the bill and you don't get much time. You have to make the most of the time you do get, hit hard and make an impact. Having a co-headline tour means both bands get to play a full set to show what we're really all about.

Sumo Cyco opted to crowd-fund 'Opus Mar' independently and realised more than double their goal. Skye discovered she even had a business sense during the process and would be keen to take the same route again.

Wow, it was such a time consuming process. As a band we know what we are striving to achieve creatively but from a business point of view it is such a very steep learning curve. I learned so much during the pledge campaign. We were trying to do so many different things for the fans. For example we created a deck of cards with a different Sumo Cyco character on each one. You have to judge how much time and money the things you are offering cost compared to how much you are charging for them. At the end of the day the fans get a really cool experience and it is so humbling for us to see just how many people enjoy what we do. For us, being independent is very important. I've been with a major label before and you can be a small fish in a big pond and they can only dedicate so much time to you. We do all our own social media, create all our own videos and produce our own music. The pledge campaign is basically the way we fund all that and is just a case of taking destiny in our own hands.

Whilst trying to find out more about the album title and the creation process behind the songs it came as something of a surprise to learn that there is more to the album cover than just a picture of a train.

We wanted a cool name for the album that would also be a cool name for a train. An opus is obviously a collection of music and to mar something is to ruin its perfection. The heart of the idea behind the album was a non-stop train, barrelling through and creating the equivalent of a scar on the landscape. The songs deal with a number of social and environmental issues and highlights that as humans we are flawed and like a scar on the planet. My dad had an old toy train lying around the house and there was a lot of work involved in getting it back in good condition, then using it in photos for the album and also in some of the videos for the songs. The thirteen train carriages are represented by the thirteen songs on the album. The creation process was a lot faster than the debut because we had the pressure of the pledge campaign and our management required us to stick to a schedule. The first record took a long time to bring together but we had built up a lot of momentum whilst touring and 'Opus Mar' captures a twelve month period in our lives. We'd played a lot more shows together so had a better idea about what things worked and what didn't. For us a live show is not just about playing the songs really well. It's everything involved in the performance and the connection with the audience. When we were writing the songs for the new album we always had the live translation in mind.

The Fireworks & Rocktopia review for 'Opus Mar' implies that the material it contains is slightly heavier than that on the debut and somewhat less commercial. Skye agrees to a degree but indicates that the songs take on their own identity without necessarily writing with a heavier direction in mind.

There are certainly heavier elements to 'Opus Mar'. During the first couple of songs I scream a little more. Since the debut I've become a lot more comfortable with the intensity in my voice. It is part of my repertoire that I'm not afraid to use now without feeling I may be doing some damage to my vocal chords. The album contains moments of chaos for sure, but to me both albums seem to sit well next to each other and there is a natural progression from the first to the second. I love trying to fit crazy fast rhythms into the songs, to try to make them different and interesting. Matt (Drake, guitarist/producer) always says that one listen to our CDs is never enough because there are so many things that will be missed.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music

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As well as being the guitarist and co-writer of the songs Matt Drake is also Sumo Cyco's producer. Skye appreciates that an element of objectivity may be lost by not having someone who isn't so close to the band producing, but is also keen to emphasise that she has complete faith in him.

Matt did a lot of pre-production. We had James 'Lerock' Loughrey co-produce and mix the album, so he was like the outside opinion for the music. He took the songs away and then made us cut or re-work certain things. We are usually quite self-sufficient in that respect so there were a lot of mutual decisions that had to be reached and a lot of ideas batted back and forth. I love that Matt can do all the things he does because it is not only great for the budget but also for creativity. We have our own studio in which we can record, rehearse and do videos. It's far easier to set a schedule and also be spontaneous when everything is done in house.

The song 'Move Mountains' features a contribution from Skindred frontman Benji Webbe and Skye finds it difficult to disguise her excitement when talking about his involvement.

Skindred and Benji have been a huge influence on Sumo Cyco and me in particular. It was always the intention to collaborate but initially it was only with touring in mind. It was suggested that we should actually do a song together so I contacted James (Lerock) because he has worked on the last three Skindred records. We managed to get it to work even though it involved firing files back and forth electronically whilst we were on tour. I remember being in a coffee shop in Manchester, downloading and listening to the finished track. We only got to meet in person when we did the video for the song.

Sumo Cyco have released nearly twenty songs digitally, alongside some striking videos. A novel approach for sure and Skye is keen to elaborate.

We like the idea of being spontaneous. When we create something we want to get it out there straight away, without having to wait for the album to be fully completed or the whole marketing side of things. There was a video for every song on the first album and they followed on from one another with a thread. Creating videos for every song is hard work but a lot of fun and we have no rules, we can do everything our own way. It means every song gets its own chance to shine and it doesn't get lost somewhere in the album.

Skye's change from Pop music sensation to lead singer in a Rock band has been well documented but it was good to get the chance to hear about the change first hand.

To me it doesn't really feel like a change. Obviously the musical style is different but it is something I'm very comfortable with and it feels so natural, a progression of sorts. Matt and Ken (bass player) were both involved with my backing band so I have known them since I was 14 years old, for the best part of fifteen years. We make and create music together now and they are not just hired musicians for a backing band. They have a bigger role and receive greater acknowledgement. When I was doing Pop music I got to work with some really cool people. The first producer I worked with, when I was 13, was actually a guitar player and I was always insisting that the guitars needed to be featured prominently in the music. I got to work with Tim Armstrong from Rancid and also with Matt Wilder who produced the No Doubt album 'Tragic Kingdom'. I was getting nowhere with my record label so I decided to take control of my own career rather than wait until they had something for me to do. I took a couple of years off and tried a few song-writing sessions. Matt sent me away with a few CDs to see if I could get any inspiration and 'Babylon' by Skindred struck a major chord.

The Sumo Cyco calendar is pretty packed right now and there are so many things happening. When the band are not touring or making music they are creating videos and Skye wouldn't have it any other way.

We have festivals to do in the Summer and hopefully we'll be back in the UK before the year is out. My little sister is getting married when we get home. Who knows, maybe there will be the chance to do a song.

A short while after the interview the band took to the stage and blew everyone away with their energy and enthusiasm. The crowd may have been small but that made little difference, the performance would have been identical if there had been 10 or 10,000 in attendance and that highlights just how much Sumo Cyco love what they do.

Fireworks Magazine Online 79 - Interview with Sumo Cyco

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