FANS HAD TO WAIT A LONG TIME FOR THEIR NEW STUDIO ALBUM. AFTER ALL, IT’S BEEN EIGHT YEARS SINCE THE RELEASE OF “RAPTURE OF THE DEEP”. BUT NOW WE CAN TREAT OUR EARS TO “NOW WHAT?!” – DEEP PURPLE’S NEWEST OFFERING. AND A GOOD ONE TOO, CAUSE THE ALBUM – PRODUCED BY THE LEGENDARY BOB EZRIN – SOUNDS FRESH AND DYNAMIC. THE NEW ALBUM AND BOB EZRIN’S ROLE IN RECORDING IT WERE AMONG THE TOPICS WE DISCUSSED DURING OUR RECENT INTERVIEW WITH THE BAND’S SINGER, IAN GILLAN.
Let me say I’m very honored to be speaking to you today. There aren’t many rock fans today who wouldn’t name Deep Purple as one of their biggest influences. You must be very proud of being such a legend.
Oh yes, you know, we created a lot of music and we’re just very lucky to be around for such a long time, it’s amazing.
Your last album, Now What?!, is really great, I love it. However, it seems like you were not in a hurry to record new songs.
It’s true. We weren’t in a hurry at all. In fact, we would meet in a bar from time to time and somebody would say, “what about the new album?” And somebody else would say, “well, yeah, maybe next year”. That was the way we looked at it because we were having such a great time on the road and the main thing for us is the live performance. And then we had a meeting with Bob Ezrin, our producer. It was quite fascinating what came out of that. I think we remembered a lot of things we might have forgotten, particularly that Deep Purple is primarily an instrumental band. We make music and put the songs on top. I know that sounds strange but I’ve never done that with anyone before – other writers or other bands. And another thing is, he said: “Don’t worry about the length of the stuff, don’t think about it. Let the ideas develop naturally and do what you do on stage every night.” So that really got us interested and of course we went into the studio with an added bonus of Bob being not only a great musical producer, but also a guy that’s been around for a long time, so we respect his wisdom and judgment, and he became almost a sixth member of the band. So yeah, it was a long time but it was worth waiting and we enjoyed it.
You mentioned in one of your interviews that Bob Ezrin’s main task was to make sure things wouldn’t get out of your hands. Do you have this tendency to develop your music in all those strange directions with no limits?
I think there’s always some confusion. When we were recording in the 60s or 70s, there was a rebellion going on, a rebellion against all the traditions of the music business. We wanted to break the rules so we recorded in strange places and we made long songs that were instrumentals, basically. There were some vocals on them, but they were basically instrumental. The first three albums only had seven songs on each of them. Over the years, particularly when the digital age came, everything changed and people were more concerned with quantity than quality. I think we fell into that trap as well, writing formulaic music but now it’s great, because we’re free again.
Does the new album sound as you expected it would?
It sounds much better than we expected. Much better than I’d even hoped. I knew it’s gonna be good with Bob, but for me – and I’m not talking about the music now – it’s the best sounding Deep Purple record ever.
The keyboards sound amazing on this album. It’s almost as if Jon Lord was your guardian angel while you were recording it.
That’s an interesting and emotional point of view. It’s very nice of you to say that. But the natural reason for that is good engineering [laughs]. Don has always played that way. But contrary to what most people think, Jon died at the very end of making this record, so there’s no particular tribute to him at that point and I think Don’s emergence has been strictly down to the fact that the producer managed to capture the sound of the guitar and the Hammond organ working together, which is such an elusive thing, because they cross over in the middle of the sound spectrum and occupy each other’s space, so it’s very difficult to get that separation, and I think he’s done a marvelous job. And yeah, Don sounds fantastic!
You also recorded a cover of It’ll Be Me. Are you a fan of country music?
[laughs] Country? Oh no, it’s rock’n’roll. Well, if you look at where rock music came from, it came from country music, bluegrass, folk music, blues and all kinds of areas – Scottish or South American music. And also jazz. If you listen to the musicians on early Elvis, Little Richard or Fats Domino records, these were all session musicians, who were trained jazz players. But no, I wouldn’t call it country, it’s rock’n’roll.
I heard many stories from various musicians, that Nashville is a very inspiring place when you work there. What did it bring to this record?
Well, first of all, focus and professionalism. People don’t record in New York anymore, they don’t record in Los Angeles or Detroit anymore. Everybody goes to Nashville where they have the best studios, the best equipment. And I’m talking about orchestras, jazz groups, rock groups, country, of course. All kind of hip hop and rap artists, they go to Nashville. It’s a very professional set-up. You can get accommodation there, rehearsal facilities, equipment rental, top class technicians, and of course, Bob Ezrin lives in Nashville, which is the reason we went there. They call it the music city and it really is an amazing place.
You also made a video to Vincent Price. I think it’s the band’s first in over 20 years.
Oh yes, what fun! [laughs] It’s just a joke, really. It was the idea of the record company. Personally, I’m glad we’re not in it too much [laughs]. I don’t think we look very good on the small screen. But it was lots of fun and a lot of people have seen it already, so it caught a lot of attention.
Who came up with that sexy pole-dancing nun?
It never occurred to me, when I wrote the lyrics, to include a pole dancer. I wrote about creaking doors and bloodsucking vampires and zombies. Maybe she was a sacrificial virgin, I don’t know [laughs]. But I didn’t write about that and it was the producer’s idea. It’s a joke, it’s tongue-in-cheek. If you look at all the videos everyone does, we have no idea about it, we haven’t made one in 20 years, and even then we were hardly in it. So we haven’t got a clue, why people would even want a video or what to put in it. So we left that all up to the producer. I guess he thought that might get a few people interested if they didn’t like the song [laughs].
I know that some time ago you were narrating a documentary about Frideric Chopin. Can you tell me something more about it?
I was the narrator in a movie, a very nice one, made in Poland. It was a couple of years ago, it was released on DVD and also won an award in two or three different countries at film festivals. I thought I would be recording in a studio just using my voice, but when I arrived, they said – ‘Oh, we’re going on locations here and there”. I was like, “What? You want me on the camera?” I didn’t know. I’ve never done it before but it was great fun.
I was wondering, what is your attitude to the most legendary songs of Deep Purple. If Machine Head or In Rock were recorded now, what would be different in terms of the sound, also taking into account your present experience?
Obviously things would be different, nothing stays still. You can record the same kind of music all your life and you have your own niche, be it cabaret or pop music, which is fine. But when we work on the basis of improvisation and jamming, every day there’s something different. So I don’t know how we could have stayed still. Sound techniques have improved a lot, but engineering ability have not, so generally speaking, on most records that are recorded digitally now, you get an overwhelming sound that fills every corner and every nook and cranny in the spectrum of sound. There’s no fresh air, there’s no room to breathe, so that’s one of the things we achieved by actually playing the music live when we recorded it. We write it, we do the arrangements, we rehearse it, practice, we go to the studio all together at the same time and press the record button and record it like we always did. Nothing’s changed in that respect. It’s only that the technology can be a bit difficult for producers and engineers who actually understand how to use it in the 90s and 00s. You always need good engineers and a good studio, or at least somebody who knows how to mike up the band, cause it’s different using microphones for live drums and live amplifiers as opposed to the DI, the direct input, that everyone uses for digital. It’s kind of changed and we’ve adapted to the needs but our methods haven’t changed. From the musicians’ point of view, it’s exactly the same as it was.
And how much time does it take for Deep Purple to compose and arrange your songs?
I can tell you with some degree of accuracy, because it’s pretty much always the same. It takes about four weeks to write the music, that starts by working from noon to 6 o’clock from Monday to Saturday, just like going to the office. We jam and improvise. Little ideas come tumbling out, they get developed into songs that are pretty much finished after four weeks. And the recording process involves the arrangements and the fine-tuning, getting everyone to the studio to perform. That normally takes two weeks for the band, one song a day normally on average. I’m allowing a bit extra for a day off, and a couple of weeks to do the vocals. So another four weeks, and then two weeks to mix it. I’d say between 10 and 12 weeks is normal.
Do you still enjoy being a frontman after all these years?
I’m getting used to it [laughs]. I’m not naturally gregarious, I’m quite shy, actually. I’ve never liked doing the “come on, let’s rock’n’roll” thing. So I like having a conversation with the audience about complete rubbish until the drummer interrupts me for the next song. And of course, being in a instrumental band, it’s plenty of room for me to be entertained as well.
How does the audience now differs from the fans who came to see you 40 years ago?
Behavior patterns are completely different. In the 60s and 70s, it wasn’t anything like the crowds now. There was no protocol, there was no sophistication, there was no understating of how you should behave at a rock concert. People used to sit down or dance or just relax and have a great time. And the shows were never as crowded, we never had crash barriers back then. People were very relaxed, they weren’t so densely packed. I remember asking the audience to sit down on the floor when we were playing some blues. So they did and we were jamming for 10 or 15 minutes, and then “ok, now let’s have some rock’n’roll, get up!” [laughs]. But that has changed. Everyone knows how to behave at a rock’n’roll show, they chant in the right moments, they cheer in the right moments, they call for the encore in the right moments and they go home at the right time [laughs]. The audience is all professional now. And the other thing is of course the great input of young people to our shows, it’s absolutely fantastic. There’s a difference between old people and young people, of course. There’s plenty of good things about old people, but the good thing about young people is that they have a lot of energy and when you hear that roar in the crowd before you go on, those young people giving everything, you know it’s gonna be an exciting evening, because the audience is the sixth member of the band. This symbiosis is developed over the years, so we’re very grateful for the input of younger people but also the new style of response. It’s great.
I’d also like to ask about your work with Tony Iommi. Can we expect more of it?
Well, not really. You can’t expect anything in life. The last thing I said to Tony after we finished working on the WhoCares project, was “We must do this again one day”, “yes indeed, let’s do it again one day”. We don’t know where, we don’t know when, we don’t know how. But we enjoyed it very much, it’s been a fantastic, wonderful success. It’s achieved its purpose, the school is being built and it’s almost finished. We’re going to the official opening in September. It’s been a huge success, so we obviously would do it again when the time is right. In the meantime, he’s got Black Sabbath, I’ve got Deep Purple and Tony’s not been well, as you know. He’s been ill with cancer. He’s in remission at the moment and doing fine. Next time we have a week off, we might do something.
Ok, so the last question. What is your answer to the question – now what?
Well, it’s a rhetorical question that requires no answer. It’s not meant to be taken literally. It’s meant to refer to what happened in the past. You’re just getting comfortable, you don’t wanna do something and the phone rings, and you ask, “now what?!” It’s a grumpy response to intrusion which in this case was the call for making a new record. It was our initial reaction – now what?! But it all turned out great, so now the answer to “now what?!” is “back on the road!” We’re kicking off in Morocco on May, 30th.
Ok, so see you in Poland. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you.
I look forward to it very much, I have lots of friends there. Thank you as well.