Interview by Massimo Incerti Guidotti
Over the years, Gary Hughes has been a very busy man. First and foremost with his band Ten, but add to that several solo albums, epic concept releases, the first three Bob Catley solo albums and working with Hugo Valenti producing his awesome debut solo album, then his talent as a song-writer can be truly appreciated. Massimo Guidotti got Gary on the line for a very long and detailed discussion...
I want to start by asking you if this rich line-up with two lead guitar players like Dann Rosingana and Steve Grocott (not forgetting John's riffing) has allowed and convinced you to go for an even slightly richer (than the usual) songwriting approach to give more space to the instrumental sections and of course to the keyboards/piano played by Darrell Treece-Birch?
Yes there is a wealth of styles and talent within TEN at the moment and this gives me 'carte blanc' when it comes to arrangements and musical overlay. - I think that Illuminati says much about the band now, and in particular about this line up, than any album before it. This is the 4th studio album we have recorded together as a unit and I think the cohesion in the band at this moment in time is very strong. This shows through the performances here. Dann, Steve G and John playing out of their skins once again, and Max and Steve Mack as solid as ever. Illuminati has a slightly more progressive feel to it too allowing Darrel to push the boundaries more. This only comes through confidence within the band. I feel that Illuminati is our most forward thinking album so far, and in some ways it's a more 'modern' sounding album than its predecessors and to me it takes up where Gothica left off.
One of the many defining elements of Ten has always been the blend of Hard Rock and Melodic Rock, I'm interested in knowing how you find the right balance between the Rocking parts and the more mellow side of Ten, is it always a very spontaneous process or, at a certain point, there must be a specific plan for each new album?
I write pretty perpetually. I never really stop. What this creates is the enviable situation of always having more material around than you need. This in turn allows us choices. I think it is always easier to create albums with a richer blend of material when you are able to choose from a greater selection of songs. In recent times I think the least number of songs we've actually started with is 19. Given that most of our albums are 10 tracks and a bonus mix that's at least 2 options in almost every department. I can truly say that it's a labour of love.
Another trademark of Ten that I really love is the fact you're not the classic Melodic Rock/A.O.R. band when you're writing lyrics, there are ballads and love songs in your music but at the same time there are also stories influenced by historical events, old battles or a secret society like the Illuminati. Tell us the roots of your passion for history and these intriguing subjects.
I like to be a storyteller and I prefer to think of the lyrics as informative and thought provoking. I am something of a historian in many ways. A lot of the time I will prefer to read a book over watching a film. I think this stems from my upbringing. I went to a grammar school which was more like Hogwarts than a normal school. They encouraged pupils to read and absorb the subject matter. History has always been my passion. When it comes to love songs it is the constant search for a different lyrical angle that proves most taxing. I try to avoid any and all repetition and a love song is a love song however you paint it. Therefore I like to try to come up with a different slant on things each time. A different concept or perspective. Something 'out of the box'. On 'Rosetta Stone' for example I thought the idea of Love having its own Rosetta stone was interesting. The idea that we've had the instruction manual all along and yet we are no closer to deciphering it.
Back to the lyrics, your lyrics are too cool not to talk about them extensively, so could you tell us more about the new songs on 'Illuminati' lyrically speaking? What do they deal about? The title track, for instance ─ have you read books about them? I'm interested in the line about Templars never breaking...
The llluminati topic has been debated many times in Rock and Metal music. When choosing subject matters for songs I try where possible to avoid the obvious. I tend to choose the subjects that leave a lot to interpretation. This allows greater creative input. The Illuminati as far as the modern world is concerned, is believed to stem from Bavaria in 1748, but it is not difficult to trace the same beliefs and theorizations back to the Garden of Eden, depending on your personal beliefs about the bible. Cue the history lesson.... In a nutshell, since the creation of earth and Adam and Eve, Lucifer has worked behind the scenes directly and indirectly conspiring and working to destroy God's plans. Satan would make his move and seduce Eve and through the child of their union, Cain, and the Serpent Seed line of the devil would begin. God's wrath was in full flow at the defilement of all he had created. He cast out his angels and refused to allow them back into heaven. The angels or 'the fallen ones' mated with human women and create the Nephilim. Giants amongst men. Their race was called The Anakim and some were 30 feet tall. Hybrid children.
They are the titans, pans, gods, goddesses, and fawns of Greek and Roman mythology. The Illuminati are the Nephilim and their New World Order is a vast network of organizations and secret societies encompassing government and religion to bring about a New World Religion of pantheism. One of the first secret societies to merge out of the nations of mankind was the "Brotherhood of the Snake", a secret society that refers to Satan (the Great Serpent) back in the Garden of Eden. The Illuminati consider 'Satan' as the good God since Satan gave man knowledge to mankind and they consider 'God' to be evil for trying to suppress the same. It is from this viewpoint that Satanism was developed and is practiced within the secret societies of all ages. The original Brotherhood of the Snake split up into different groups over time as a result of inner fighting and disagreements. As a result groups such as Freemasonry, Knights Templars, the Knights of Malta and others were formed but always led by the Illuminati itself. Secret Societies and the Illuminati believe that power is attached to symbols and thus the symbols of the Illuminati revealing their massive infiltration into every aspect of our society from corporation logos and religious symbols. Simply put, they are everywhere. The insignia of the Illuminati and the New World Order is the "Pyramid with the All-Seeing- Eye", which you can study on the back of the U.S. One Dollar Bill. The All-seeing-Eye of Horus which goes back to the Egyptian era.
The opening song of the new album features another classic element in your arsenal: the epic suite. Of course the mind goes back to classics like 'The Robe', so what appeals to you on these long tracks?
I always like Ten albums to open with an Overture of sorts. I love Classical music which helps and I always think that a short passage of music sets the scene for what is to come. Nowadays I am encouraged by the label to not have too many 'epic' style songs on one album but when it is a band trademark we have to indulge with the opening track at least. I think it help to make the feel more cinematic and helps the listener to create their own images in mind.
'Shield Wall' is probably one of those songs where your patented melodic sound is harder and more rocking. We Metal fans have always wondered what might have been had Ten chosen a slightly heavier side. Have you ever thought about flirting a bit more with a harder sound?
It is nice on occasion to try something a little different and I am open-minded when beginning a new album and it is the new songs themselves that totally dictate the stylisation of any new collection of material. Each song evolves into its own animal. Who knows, maybe one day a song will arrive that will drive Ten down a heavier path.
I want to ask you why you opted for this a bit cold 'drum machine' like sound, when to me a warmer human drum sound would have made an already excellent album even better. This is my only little problem with the record. Has it been a decision to cut the costs in the studio? This is not the first time drums are handled in this way on a Ten record. I know it's a sensitive topic but I'm sure you know there are several fans that have noticed this...
After consultation with Dennis (Ward) we decided to add samples to some of the live kit on Illuminati. We wanted more edge to the drums this time as sometimes a basic live kit can get lost on some frequencies, especially on productions as large as Ten track wise. On some of the songs for 'Illuminati' Dennis was dealing with almost 100 tracks in the mix. Also, after 14 studio albums occasionally we like to change things up a little and give things a more progressive vibe. We have always recorded live drums on each album to begin with but sometimes there is only so much you can do with microphones around a kit. Sometimes you have to add a little more punch.
After having said that about the drum sound I have to say I dig the cymbals thing on 'Shield Wall', it recalls the sound of the weapons during the battle, nice little details like that always enrich your albums. Are there other details on the record you're particularly fond of that you might like to point out?
Yes, the cymbals were compressed to give them an even more metallic ring but without being too much 'in your face'. Both on 'Gothica' and now on 'Illuminati' I have been particularly proud of the vocal harmony arrangements. I think they work well with the keyboard arrangements without conflicting in frequencies, and quite often they move on their own without being 'tied' to the lead vocal.
Your song-writing skills are phenomenal, just like your sense of melody. Yours is not a very high voice compared to many other vocalists of the Melodic Rock scene but the vocal lines you write, for example on 'The Esoteric Ocean', enchant the listener nonetheless. How long does it take to come up with such great hooks for every song? Is your own self criticism your best working partner?
Thank you. Yes I am very critical of my own work and I learnt a long time ago to write songs according to my vocal range. As you say quite correctly, my voice is somewhat in the lower range but that works nicely for the richer tones, especially on ballads. I suppose for me a high-pitch Rock song would still feel mid-range for many other Rock singers. The key rule is crucial in Rock music. The best way to maintain your voice in good condition is never to overstretch. If you do then problems arise such as the dreaded nodules and bowed vocal chords. One of the reasons why I enjoyed composing my 'Once And Future King' albums was that it allowed me to write for many voices with different ranges and strengths.
'Heaven And The Holier-Than-Thou' seems to add a further element to the painting of the new album, your love for Symphonic Rock. There's a way to use keyboards in Rock music here that reminds me also of theatrical musicals. The question is how big of a fan you are of these styles: Symphonic Rock and musicals?
Yes, 'Heaven And The Holier-Than-Thou' is very unique in that it has a very mainstream crossover feel to it. I like the lyrical slant it has. Everyone in the song is a ghost. Deceased. It lends itself to great mental imagery of an apparition reflecting upon his time as a mortal. I am a big fan of musical theatre and also theatrical concept albums. One of my regrets is that after completing my 'Once And Future King' albums I never got to see it performed live. It would have made a great spectacle, especially with a cast of so many fine singers.
Tell me something about your professional relationship with John Halliwell; he's been playing the rhythm guitar in Ten since the second album and he seems to be a very quiet presence. Is he one of those musicians that are also very important team players, able to keep together all the band members?
John and I are very close and have been since the early days. He is my sounding board for new Ten material. In John's eyes things are very black and white with no middle ground. He either likes something or hates it. We have been through a great deal together since the beginnings of Ten and he is more like a brother to me now. He is more influential on some of the decisions I make than anyone realises.
Are you still in contact with Vinny Burns?
We don't really see each other now or have much contact. He is happy doing his thing and I am continuing in Ten. There was a lot of bad blood when he left the band but this is all 'water under the bridge' now. Over the years we have been offered a lot of money, by several labels, to reform the original Ten line up, make an album and Tour with that lineup. But for me the money would be the only motivation for doing it and I would not wish to destroy a perfectly functioning current line-up to do it.
Ten has been the first band to appear on the very first Frontiers Records Release ever, 20 years ago, for a live album called 'Never Say Goodbye'. Don't you think it's time for a second live release, hopefully accompanied by video footage?
We plan to film 2 x DVD/Blu-ray products over the next year and no doubt there will be soundtrack albums from both. The first, the terms of which have not been negotiated, is at Frontiers request and is likely to be a 60 minute 'stand-alone' set from their festival in Milan. The second release will be a 'long form' DVD product encapsulating our full 2 hours 30 plus live headline set, recorded in several cities around the globe. To include 'on the road' and 'backstage footage'. We have been planning this proect for some time now and we will begin recording this product in Madrid and Athens next year. This longer form DVD is the band's idea as we feel it will give more idea of what TEN are all about. These products will be the first ever DVD/Blu-ray releases by TEN and as such are highly anticipated so we want to make them as good as we can. Some would say that they are long overdue. In some cases they will give fans from around the world an opportunity to watch the band live when a live show in their home country is not feasible.
One of the musical trends of the last decade is the return to the past, this revivalism that is quite evident if you think about the number of old bands that are bringing to the stage their classic albums to be played in their entirety. Is it something you'd like to do? Are there any Ten albums you'd like to celebrate in that way?
This idea has been mentioned from time to time but it's not something we have ever considered seriously. The set for a Ten live show usually has an even spread of material past and present. With fourteen studio albums to choose from it is hard to pick two hours or so material to begin with. What we prefer to do instead is to keep core songs as 'must play' songs and swap the others around so that it's always fresh for the band and the crowd alike.
In this way no two shows are ever the same. If we considered touring one album it would be hard to choose one. Not to mention the fact that for most of the band they would be playing material all night long that they didn't appear on in the first place. Maybe the occasion to do this would be if a reformation ever did come to pass but as I said earlier, there is no sign of that happening anytime soon.
The announcement you will play at the next Frontiers Rock Festival hasreally excited us. Can you tell us what's in store for us? Which new songs will be part of the 'Illuminati tour' set-list?
The set list is a secret but what I can tell you is that we promise everyone a good mix of old songs and new. The set list for the 'Illuminati' Tour will be 2 hour 20 mins or so long. In Milan, I'm afraid that we will only get to play for 1 hour but we will fill that hour with great mix of energy and depth of material.
In the past you revived the career of Magnum's frontman Bob Catley, and you also wrote great music for many great voices on the two concept albums 'Once And Future King' that you mentioned before. Would you like to write something similar in the future?
Yes, I have written another concept work. Like 'Once And Future King' it is two albums. I have been trying to convince Serafino to develop this new concept project for some time now but I don't think that Frontiers see this type of albums as viable in today's marketplace. However, at some point I will record it as the songs are screaming to be sung and with the right cast of 'name' singers I believe it will be, not only a fine pair of albums but a serious crowd-puller if we brought it into the theatres.
Are you still in touch with Hugo?
Unfortunately not. Which is a shame because I really liked Hugo and we worked exceptionally well together. At one time, after the debut solo album we did together, I had hopes of writing an album for him in its entirety. However, he is a songwriter himself and I think he was already involved with other writers in the US. He has a wonderful voice and he is such a nice guy too.
Gary, in the studio you're a perfectionist and not only a great songwriter but excellent in arranging the songs. I'm definitely curious to know your artistic mentors and inspirations with regard to vocalists, songwriters and favourite bands...
I have admired the work of many artists and songwriters over the years. I have admired John Waite and David Coverdale. The richness and texture of their voices is second to none. Anne Wilson is another. I would probably credit my knowledge of vocal harmonies to hours of listening to The Eagles. Queensryche's 'Operation Mindcrime' and Pink Floyd's 'The Wall' being responsible for my love of concept albums.
We have talked about Ten's music being mainly a marriage of Hard Rock and Melodic Rock, I want to ask you your favourite milestrones in those two genres and if you have other styles like Classical music, Opera, or soundtracks that have helped you to become the Gary Hughes we all know. If you have any titles or artists in these different styles don't hesitate to let us know.
My great love of Classical music has had as much influence on Ten as anything else I suppose. Though even in Classical music I love the melodic and powerful composers the most. The list is endless but to name a few, I love Samuel Barber, Modest Mussorgsky, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Richard Wagner, Sergei Prokofiev and Italian Composer and violinist Niccolo Paganini.
Something a little bit more personal now. Every album reminds the artist/songwriter behind an album of the mood, the mental state he was going through at that time during the making of. Sometimes you're having a great time in your private life but you don't release your best record while during a crisis you might come up with a masterpiece; does that apply also to you? How was the road to the creation of 'Illuminati' and does the terrible state of our planet and the poor state of the music biz influence you in any way?
Everything around me influences me. I despair when I look at the world sometimes and how we are destroying it. We never seem to learn our lessons from history. We kill each other in the blink of an eye. No other animal on the planet causes this much harm. All these things influence me. There have been times in my life when I have been able to tap into very deep emotions, good and bad. These times have undoubtedly influenced some of my best writing.
I have an idea that is also a question. Have you ever thought about bringing Ten's music to theathers? I think yours is a very theatrical music and you might come up with a script, a story that connects a lot of your songs through the years, giving you the chance to perform a sort of 'time machine' travel. You might sing on stage accompanied by actors playing the parts of the people you talked about in your songs (including medieval scenes), of course with the rest of the band playing where the orchestra usually is located, quite possibly accompanied with some strings and classical instruments. To me it would be a wonderful spectacle because you have the perfect songs and the charisma/voice/presence to pull it off. What do you think?
I think that this is a great idea. You and I appear to think on the same lines. This is what I was eluding to when I mentioned 'Once And Future King' and my new concept earlier. These kind of creations scream out to be performed in theaters and the potential in them is massive. I have never been able to understand why labels are not more 'into' these ideas, especially when you consider the revenue involved. From album sales, theatre ticket sales, live Blu-ray performances and live soundtrack. Not to mention merchandise.
In a time when the new Xbox or PlayStation games are £50-£60 pounds each bands have to find a way to tap into that revenue as it is not a bottomless pit. With hours of storyline and multi character play on gaming discs, Audio CDs have to be more than just 'Oh yeah baby' on a disc. There has to be more to engage the listener if bands are going to compete and for a slice of that revenue. Project such as the ones we have mentioned are perfect to bridge this gap.
I've kept for last a question about the extraordinary closing song of 'Illuminati', 'Of Battles Lost And Won'. We love that composition which reminds me a little bit of the very best Magnum stuff; it's a wonderful song. Please tell us something about this one, if you're still alive after this grueling interview-marathon...
Haha, thank you. It's nice to know that Metal-heads can still love a good ballad. I think that the lyrics in 'Of Battles Lost And Won' make this particular song. The idea that everyone goes through life winning or losing battles, especially in dealings with Love, but also in our education, our work and even our health. It asks the question, if, when our book of life is closing and the summary of its pages are read, are we truly in the end defined by the sum of those battles lost and won, or are we in actual fact much greater than this upon reflection? I suppose in the end the value of a life can be measured upon how many people your life has touched along the way and how much positive influence we have had...