A THIN LIZZY ALBUM WITHOUT PHIL LYNOTT? WELL, IT’S NOT HAPPENING, BUT FOUR GUYS FROM THE CURRENT INCARNATION OF LIZZY TEAMED UP TO START A NEW GROUP – BLACK STAR RIDERS. THEIR DEBUT ALBUM COMES OUT IN MAY AND WE’RE EXCITED TO PRESENT YOU THE INTERVIEW WE RECENTLY DID WITH THIN LIZZY AND BLACK STAR RIDERS GUITAR PLAYER, THE GREAT SCOTT GORHAM. LIZZY, RIDERS, WORKING WITH KEVIN SHIRLEY AND THE FUTURE OF MUSIC FORMATS – IT’S ALL HERE FOR YOU TO ENJOY.
Let’s start with the obvious question. Do you feel like changing the name gave you any freedom when you were creating the album?
Absolutely, it brings a lot more freedom to the band. If you listen to Bound for Glory – that was written when we were thinking that it might be a Thin Lizzy album. And you can actually hear that. But as soon as we decided that we weren’t gonna do the album as Thin Lizzy, it started to take off in another direction. There’s still harmony guitars and we do have an Irish number in there, but that’s because Ricky [Warwick, singer] is Irish and I’m half-Irish and I’ve been playing in a fuckin’ Irish band for my whole life [laughs]. So, it’s kinda natural thing to put it there anyway.
An Irish band with one Irishman and all Americans. [laughs]
[laughs] That’s very true but my mother was full Irish, so I’m half and born on St. Patrick’s Day. I’m kinda honorary Irish guy. [laughs]
Just because you’ve played in an Irish band for so many years, you probably are.
I think Irish people kind of adopted me. I love Ireland.
So releasing this new stuff as Thin Lizzy would probably put you in a pigeonhole where you would not be able to go very far from the path. Now, you can pretty much do everything.
We can at this point. We can do absolutely anything we want. Now it’s down to the audience at large – are you gonna like it? We hope you will. It is literally the first album that I recorded where I can put on the first track and listen to the whole thing – all the way through. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to do that with another album. Even the older Thin Lizzy albums – you put on the first track and then you go like, uhm ok, let’s skip over to number three… now we go to six and ok, I’m done with that. With this album there’s something in every track I look forward to when I’m listening to it. So I think that’s a very cool thing.
There are usually two groups of artists. One group that listens to their own music probably all the time or at least from time to time, and the other group that never listens to their own records once they’re finished.
And I was in that “never listen” group with the old Thin Lizzy stuff. The big part of it is because you’re playing it every single night. So to go to your CD player and immediately put on Thin Lizzy, it’s like… nah, not gonna happen [laughs].
I read some comments on the Internet and one of the people posting on YouTube or Facebook wrote that he started paying attention to this band once you changed the name, because it is a proof to him that you’re a serious band and you don’t want to be a Thin Lizzy tribute band.
Well, I never look at it as a tribute band anyway. We’re the only band that can actually play these songs the right way. But I understand what he means and I thank him a lot for that. There were some people that thought we were crazy. “Hey, you got a great thing going on. Why are you walking away from it?” Well, it’s just for those reasons that we’re talking about. Because we would be constrained all the time. But the main reason that we didn’t do it under the Thin Lizzy name was out of respect for Phil. It got to a point where we’d been writing songs for about four months and I kept thinking and thinking about it. I got more and more uncomfortable with the idea of doing a Thin Lizzy album without Phil being there. I could not wrap my head around that, so I talked to [Thin Lizzy’s drummer] Brian Downey about it and he said, “You know what, I’m feeling the exact same thing.” We went to Ricky and Damon [Johnson, guitar player] and we were all thinking the same thing but everybody was scared to death to actually say anything. It took one guy to finally bring it out in the open [laughs]. So that’s when we decided that we’ve got to end this thing. Not forever, but we’ve got to end it so we can go out and record this kick-ass music that we’ve just created. We really wanted to get it down on tape and put it out as an album. It was really the only way we could to it – to stop Thin Lizzy and start Black Star Riders.
So that probably means Thunder and Lightning was the last Thin Lizzy studio album ever.
I guess, if you wanna put it like that – yes.
I think you gained a lot of respect from the fans because there might be a bit less interest from those who might not know, who you are. On the other hand, I think a lot of people were saying things like – “Ok, they play live shows and that’s fine, but I don’t want them to release a new Thin Lizzy album.” And I believe that you might have gained a huge amount of respect from this group. And it’s a huge group.
Thank you. It’s always good to hear that. You do this job because you want people to like you. To carry on as Thin Lizzy and to do an album and if there was a faction of people that would have just hated that idea – you would’ve lost them. It’s a gamble. We knew it was out there but it was the one we needed to take. I’m glad we did that this way and I know everyone else in the band thinks the same. So it’s really nice to hear that comment.
I’d like to ask about the recording process. Were all the tracks totally new – written in the last couple of months – or was it collected in the last, let’s say, two or three years?
It’s mainly in the last year. We would talk about recording an album, talk about writing songs and I just finally said one day – that’s it, let’s start writing NOW. There’s the green light, let’s go. Unbeknownst to me, Ricky and Da-mon had already been getting together in a hotel room and had come up with two nearly completed songs, which was great because there wasn’t a thing when you go – Ok, ready, steady, go. They’d already started the process and it gave everybody a nice springboard to jump off. At that point, we had all those acoustic gui-tars around us all the time, so you’d be in this guy’s hotel room or that guy’s hotel room and you’d get on you iPads or iPhones and just record the ideas, or backstage at the shows, or at the back of the bus when you travel to the next gig. So it was done in a lot of ways and a lot of different places. It’s almost like, when the idea struck, you had to be ready, you had to have your iPad or iPhone ready to record it.
So it all started with Damon already in the band, right? No stuff written earlier with Vivian [Campbell]?
No, because we knew that Vivian had a day job. He was gonna go back to Def Leppard. We couldn’t do it with Richard Fortus, because he had a day job, he was gonna go back to Guns N’ Roses. So, after the Richard thing… well, actually he was still in the band… we said – Ok, we need a permanent guy on the right hand side. This is not doing us any good at all. So we did a show with Def Leppard and Alice Cooper a couple of years ago. I was talking with Damon. I’d played golf with Damon and Alice before. And I’m talking with Damon and he’s like – “How’s it going?” – and I say, “Well, all’s good but Richard is getting ready to go back to Guns N’ Roses and we really have to get a guy on the right hand side, a permanent guy.” And I could see him go – “Oh, really?” [laughs]. So I asked, “Are you in?” And he goes like, “Man, I grew up with Thin Lizzy music. I’m your biggest fan.” [laughs]
I imagine Vivian probably said the same thing. [laughs]
Yeah, he did [laughs]. And you know, I said – “Well, cool, but you’ve got a great gig here playing with Alice.” – “Yeah, yeah, I’ve been doing this for a while but I grew up on Thin Lizzy stuff.” So I told him to give me his number not really thinking he was gonna quit Alice Cooper, ‘cause it’s a good gig. And I had my manager keeping contact with Damon all the time. And it got to the point where Richard was gonna leave in like 30 days. We needed that guy, so I instructed my manager – “Call Damon, ask him if he’s really interested in this, cause if he is, then great.” So he called him up and Damon said, “Absolutely! I’m in.” Then I started to feel kinda shitty, cause I’m actually poach-ing the guy from a friend’s band [laughs]. That’s a shitty thing to do. But I said – “Make sure Damon understands what he’s doing here. He’s giving up this job here and he’s jumping into unknown. If you even talk him out of this, I won’t feel bad about this.” Because I didn’t want to fuck him up. They talked and he says – “Let me talk to my wife and let me get back to you”, and he called back within an hour and said, “I’m in.” That was a quick decision [laughs].
I also wanted to ask about the studio work. Was the album planned and carefully exercised or was it just all jamming, improvising, trying stuff, recording live?
The album was absolutely recorded live. As you hear, Ricky was singing his final vocal as we were putting the basic tracks down. We had 12 days to do 12 tracks. None of us has ever recorded an album like that before. Usually it would take a month, you’d do a basic track, listen to it for a couple of days. It was none of that. Once [drummer] Jimmy DeGrasso counted you in, you went until you’ve finished that basic track. That track was going to be fin-ished today, because track number two starts tomorrow morning [laughs]. That was a pretty daunting thing, you know. There was no rest in there. There was some pressure, because once you got to the end of that day, you’re gonna be listening to this album like that for the rest of your life. There’s no going back on it. And in the end it was actually a pretty cool way to do it. The adrenaline was up, you’re pumped, you’re making sure you’re absolutely dead on. Kevin [Shirley, the producer] brought us in on the first day and he said – “Come on here and have a listen to this basic track to see what you think”. And he got the exact guitar sound I wanted, the same with Damon and with Ricky and his vocals, the drums… everything. He got it exactly the way we wanted it. Just this one listening gave us the confidence to go right back out there, do another basic track and it really gave us the confidence for the rest of the album. So thank you, Kevin Shirley [laughs].
Actually, my next question is about Kevin Shirley. He’s a guy that likes to be involved in the whole process, not only as a producer, but also sometimes becomes another band member. He helps writing stuff, he’s really involved like in Black Country Communion.
Yeah, but not with this stuff. Not in writing or arranging. His main duty was to crack the whip and make sure we got that song finished in the right way on that day. Miking everything up the “Kevin Shirley way” and just generally keeping everybody geed up, keeping the adrenaline flowing. He wanted to do this album. He heard the demos and as soon as he heard them, he said, “I really wanna record these guys”, so I think what he really heard in these songs, it didn’t really need rewrites or extra bits.
I think he’s perfect for bands that want to sound like 70s but at the same time modern. He’s got this feel and touch for this old classic hard rock stuff.
I think he does. I think it was one of those things that attracted him to us. You listen to his work, the sounds he goes for – he gets this big, meaty, thick sound. Doing it live, the way we did it, he also captures the energy of the gig. He was definitely an asset to have in there. He’s the guy you want on your side. When the pressure’s on, you want Kevin Shirley to be sitting right there [laughs].
And he’s actually quite used to working that fast lately with Black Country Communion. Joe Bonamassa is usually playing somewhere on the other side of the world and he has like three spare days.
Yeah, when we got finished, he was like – “Me and Joe Bonamassa are doing an album in four days.” [laughs] Are you fuckin’ kidding me? [laughs]
Well, if the guy records like three albums a year, he’s doing BCC, solo stuff, the Beth Hart album, all at the same time…
He never stops. Somebody I was talking to went over to Joe’s house and the whole time he was at Joe Bonamassa’s house, he [Joe] had a guitar around him and he was playing the whole time while he was talking to him. That can kinda get on your tits after a while – “Joe, put that fuckin’ guitar down!” [laughs]
I know. I was talking to John Norum last year – and Joe had played on the title track of Europe’s last album – and he said that Joe is a real freak in terms of collecting guitars and it’s just totally amazing that he spends a fortune just to buy some vintage stuff.
Yeah, exactly. Joe, settle down, leave some guitars for the rest of us [laughs].
Are you also into collecting some vintage models?
I was in the 70s. But it got to the point where I didn’t have any space [laughs]. I had one bedroom which was just filled with packing cases of guitars so you could not use this room and my wife walked in and she goes, “Do you actually play these fuckin’ guitars?” [laughs] I said, “Well, uhm… a couple of them, yeah…” – “Ok, I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you pick maybe 15 or 20 and get rid of the rest of them…” And I promised her I would, and I did. A lot of these guitars are like given to you or something.
I understand that because it’s kinda similar with me and buying CDs. You start a collection, so it must be complete. If I don’t like an album or two by a certain band, I will buy it anyway, because I already have like 18 of them. So, I hate The Works or A Kind of Magic by Queen, but I will buy them, because I do have the rest. I have like 800 or 900 CDs at home, I just can’t throw some of them out.
I’ve stopped walking into guitar shops because it’s too easy. “Oh my God, it’s beautiful. I really need that guitar!” Well no, you don’t [laughs].
It gets to a point where it becomes an obsession.
And that’s why I don’t walk into guitar shops anymore.
What about the tour? I’ve already seen that you have selected festival dates in Germany in the summer. Any full tour coming up?
Like you said, we’re starting in June, June 1, I think, and we’re starting with festivals, so thank you very much, fifty thousand people, first show [laughs]. The actual UK/European tour starts in October. They’re working on the venues right now. We have to see how the album’s gonna do to figure out what kind of venues we’re gonna be playing. It’s a little premature but it’s got to be talked about, because before you know, October’s gonna be here.
What about the setlist? I imagine you’d like to play as many new songs as you can, but some fans will probably not let you go offstage if you don’t play Don’t Believe a Word or The Boys Are Back in Town.
There’s gonna be a large portion of the audience that’s gonna expect Thin Lizzy songs, after all that’s what we’ve been doing for the last… who knows how many years.
And probably these will be the very same people who would be most opposed to the idea of releasing the new album as Thin Lizzy…
Probably so. But if you think about it, we’ve only got one album, so don’t have enough songs to do the whole an hour and a half set. It’s a good problem to have, but the actual problem, if it is a problem at all, is gonna be figur-ing out what Thin Lizzy songs we should be putting into the BSR set. It’s gonna take us getting into rehearsals to figure that one out.
Like we already said, the single sounds very much like Thin Lizzy. It has that vibe, but at the same time it’s not a rip-off, you don’t do a tribute to yourselves. How representative it is of the whole album? Because singles are usually not representative at all.
No. And I don’t think this one is completely representative of the rest of the album. There’s a bigger sound for the rest of it, more sophisticated sound also. I was really quite surprised that the record company picked Bound for Glory. I completely understand that, it’s because of the whole Lizzy thing, I get that. But we can’t wait for the album to come out, so people can hear the rest of the album to understand what BSR is really about. It’s not about this one song. I can’t wait for people to hear it.
I think it was probably because, well, you hear a song on the radio and you don’t know the name of the band, but you hear that it sounds like Thin Lizzy, so you wait to hear the name of the band and then the radio announcer probably says – “This is the new band by the guys from Thin Lizzy.”
And he won’t say the name of the band. Goddamit, that’s Black Star Riders [laughs].
Exactly. You only have one album coming, so it’s probably not the best time to record a live album, right?
Yeah, we wanna wait till possibly the third album to have a set to choose from.
Though you don’t really need any time to gel, you’ve all known each other for many years.
Yes, the playing side is not a problem. It’s purely having enough material. You could do a live EP or something, but I don’t think anybody wants an EP. If you buy a live album, you want the whole set.
The pin-up girl on the album cover – whose idea was it and why there’s a pin-up girl on the cover?
Those kind of things were very popular during the World War II. The airmen would put them on their bombers to remind them, what they were fighting for, to give them more courage, because a large portion of those guys never came back. Probably the worst part of the army you could be in was being up in the air, cause you would usu-ally come down a ball of flame. This was done by a really famous pin-up girl artist Gil Elvgren. We actually had to go to his estate and say that we love this picture and we want to use it for our album cover and they came back with some astronomically over-the-top price [laughs]. So we had to negotiate with his estate but we really wanted that one. It was representative of that era. She looks pretty hot [laughs].
Is the record coming out on vinyl? I think the vinyl records are coming back. A lot of new bands and old bands release their stuff this way these days.
It’s the right and proper thing to do. As a kid, me buying an album – I used to sit looking at this big picture. It’s not the same with the CD. It’s like with the Chinatown album cover. It’s beautiful, you want to study it.
Are you a collector yourself? Do you buy vinyl records?
No, I don’t even have a record player. I got rid of that about 20 years ago. I revamped my stereo system. And nobody was releasing vinyl records, they said it was the end of vinyl at that point, we didn’t know if it would actually come back.
Five years ago, you couldn’t find any vinyl records in Polish record stores. Now you go there and there’s this whole shelf of Metallica stuff, Iron Maiden stuff, Deep Purple stuff, new releases. People are saying that CDs are over but I don’t think so. If people are coming back to vinyl, they will probably just as well stick to CDs. It might be the right time to buy your record player back.
I might do that. I think everybody likes to have a physical thing. It’s like smoking a cigarette, it gives you something to do with your hands – you can go through the booklet and all that. To just sit in front of your computer and hit download – there’s something unsatisfying about it.
It’s too easy.
It is. And buying it track by track is a bit of a drag, because you miss out on a lot of really good music that way. Some people would go just for the one that’s advertized. If everybody just went for Bound for Glory, as an artist I would feel totally ripped off.
You recorded 12 tracks and people listen to only one, so you might think, why bother?
It might get to that point. In a few years time artists might go – “Why the fuck do I record 12 tracks if no one listens to the other 11.”
But you’re not really that scared of the digital format of recordings, are you? You don’t think that you don’t want to record new music because maybe nobody would buy it?
I’m not scared of that thing yet. But possibly down the road it would get like that and you’ll get new bands com-ing up and their management would go like – there’s no point in you doing 12 tracks, cause nobody’s gonna hear any of that, so we’ll just do the one and that will be your recording career, you’re gonna record one track [laughs].
And then go on tour and try to play this one track 20 times [laughs].
It’s gonna be really long [laughs].
I wanted to ask about Jimmy DeGrasso. How did you find him?
Since Brian didn’t want to do this, we needed a drummer obviously and I didn’t really know Jimmy but Damon did, so did one of the guys from the management and Marco [Mendoza, bass player] knew him. They said this guy is kick-ass and this guy’s gonna do the job. First time I’ve met Jimmy was when we flew him over for the photo session and the first time I’ve played with him was the first two days of rehearsal for the album. And thank God he was as good as everybody said he was [laughs]. If he was crap, it would be like, “holy shit, what do we do now?” [laughs]
Thanks a lot. That’s been a great pleasure. And I hope we’ll see you touring here in Autumn.
Thank you as well.