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Stereoboard Chat To Black Star Riders About Debut Album ’All Hell Breaks Loose’ & Their Autumn Tour

Tuesday, 28 May 2013 Written by Daniel Lynch

All hell has officially broken loose as Black Star Rider’s debut album was released ending the speculation over how successfully the band would move on from being Thin Lizzy. Reviewing for Stereoboard, I was perhaps harsh on a few of the songs as it seems that while some songs on the album are immediately striking, others are certainly growers. In this final part of Stereoboard’s interview with front man Ricky Warwick and guitarists Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson (read part one here), the band discuss the writing and recording process, the relationships within the band and what fans can expect from the tour.

For Damon Johnson especially, joining Thin Lizzy when a new album was all but inevitable represented an opportunity to influence the band in which he played and use some of the ideas he had had to put on the back-burner. Since his own band Brother Cane disbanded, chances to write for the Alice Cooper band were limited and Johnson jumped at the offer not only to join a band he had grown up with, but to potentially be involved in a new album.

DJ: Well as you may or may not know I played guitar for Alice Cooper for six years and I love Alice, Alice is my brother. It was the greatest experience to work with him and I wouldn’t have been ready for an opportunity like Thin Lizzy had it not been for Alice. But when I joined Alice’s band I had already had a 15 year career of my own of song writing, fronting a band, making records and recording. I loved to do that as much as I love to perform and play guitar on a big stage in a big production. Over the course of the time I was with Alice I think he recorded three different albums. The first one I was very involved with songwriting, but the second and third ones, he reconnected with Bob Ezrin and Bob did what Bob always does - and what he should do- and that is to bring in what he feels are the right players to make the best Alice Cooper record at that time. So me and the guys in the band weren’t very involved in those albums. I had already been thinking I wanted to get involved in something creatively. I was even thinking of putting my old band, Brother Cane, back together. So this call from Thin Lizzy comes out of nowhere, totally unexpected and one of the early discussions I had with the management was that the reaction to the new version of the band was so good and the fans were excited that there had been some discussion about writing some songs and making a record. Well, I didn’t really think about it much, at that moment. I was like wow! Thin Lizzy? Yes, I’d love to be a part of that. So I joined in Oct 2011 and I wanna say it was maybe the second or third show and Ricky Warwick came to me and said, ‘This thing of making an album is gonna be a reality, do you have any ideas?’ I just remember having this feeling like my heart was going to explode with excitement. I’d been sitting on a ton of riffs and chord progressions and melodies for years, I’m always writing, so when he said that I was like, ‘Fuck yes! I have dozens and dozens of ideas.’ As Ricky and I began to grow together as bandmates and ultimately as great friends we knew that to make a Thin Lizzy album it would have to be the best songs that either of us had ever written. We knew that the bar was gonna be very, very high. It was just a whirlwind! There was no question that we were going to have to work extremely hard and that the record was going to have to be special or we did not wanna put it out at all.  

(Listen to Damon Johnson talk, below).

 Partner in crime, Ricky Warwick, echoes Johnson’s enthusiasm and pinpoints the rapid establishment of close working and personal relationships as a catalyst for the writing of the album.

RW: Damon and I hit it off right away both as friends and as song writers, we both work very well together and we’ve both come out of bands where we’ve been main songwriters, spent time in Nashville and we’re both cut out of the same cloth. When we’re on tour that’s what we do, we’re the kind of guys who’ll just grab the acoustic guitar and go off and start writing.We already have about eleven songs written for the follow up record to this so we’re well down the road on that and we’re hoping to do that as soon as we can early next year and keep the whole thing rolling.

Both Warwick and Johnson grew up listening to Scott Gorham play in Thin Lizzy so for both it was the gig of a lifetime to play alongside the Californian.

DJ: For me it is extra special because I got to play those Thin Lizzy songs with Scott who absolutely was my hero, my idol growing up. When I became a professional I had an even greater love and appreciation for Thin Lizzy because of Brian Downey’s drumming. I would meet so many drummers and we would have intense discussions about why Brian was better than everybody! Brian is such a humble guy, he’s so quiet and reserved. These days musicians go to great lengths to trumpet themselves and promote themselves. Brian just loves to play drums and he loves the blues. It’s such a legendary thing that Thin Lizzy established, such a unique combination of personalities and players. So yeah, I’m very grateful that this whole thing has happened for me.

While most could be forgiven for being starstruck taking to the stage with an idol, Gorham says this wasn’t an issue and says the opportunity for the band to grow together as musicians playing established songs made it easier when it came to writing their own material and ultimately to recording the full album in just twelve days.

SG: I think the adoration has turned into respect. The fan thing has gone, we’ve been through too many things. Damon and I work really well together. From the first day he was in the band there was a real comfort zone, like I’d found the right partner for whatever we were gonna do. I’m almost sure we couldn’t have done it if we hadn’t been such a tight band and so honed in. We all knew each other so well, knew our strengths and limitations.

It made the writing process a hell of a lot easier, decided who’s gonna take what lead guitar in what song and at what point. You write to each other’s strengths. There’s a lot to be said for being out on the road for long stretches and really knowing each other before you even start to write songs. You’re not starting from scratch which is a real advantage.

(Listen to Scott Gorham talk, below)

DJ: The cool thing about BSR is that it’s comprised of guys who have not only had years of experience in the professional business but who have all been band leaders at one point of another. You learn to communicate better, to involve other people better, you know when to lay back, say nothing and let an idea develop. I think that’s got a lot to do with why they album has turned out as strong as it has and with why the band does have such camaraderie. We have tremendous respect for each other.

When writing got underway in earnest, Gorham, Warwick and Johnson all expected their new ideas to appear on a Thin Lizzy album. However, there are songs on the album that take a large step away from the trademark sound while still retaining some of the same characteristics of classic Lizzy material. Would songs like Bloodshot, Kissin’ the Ground or Valley of the Stones have sounded the same on a Thin Lizzy album as they do now on All Hell Breaks Loose?

SG: It might be a little bit too hypothetical to answer that, we’ll never know at this point if thought processes might have changed. I honestly don’t know on that one.

RW: Yes and no. A lot of those songs were written and demoed when were still TL, the majority except 3/4 written after. There’ll always be a part of TL in BSR because of Scott and because of where the band has come from. I don’t think we could ever lose that and I think we’d be foolish to lose it.

Damon Johnson says that the band were well aware of the scrutiny they would be under, in particular Warwick, who would inevitably be compared to Phil Lynott. Warwick elaborates on his writing style and his adoption of ad libs similar to those Lynott used to great effect.

RW: It’s one of those things where songs like Blues Ain’t So Bad, the last track on the album, there are a lot of words in that song, but it was written in five minutes. Scott walked in and started playing the riff and I got the lyrical idea and started scribbling stuff down and it was done. Other songs like Bloodshot just take longer. I was so fired up with so many ideas that I had pages and pages of lyrics. It was great because the guys just kept bringing me riffs and I had notebooks filled with lyrics to fit with them. I do go back and read them, for me they have to mean something and they have to make sense and tell a story. That’s the kind of lyricist that I love, obviously Phil Lynott and Bob Dylan, Joe Strummer and Bruce Springsteen.

On 'Blues Ain’t So Bad' Warwick includes the line “I’m going back to Belfast, because I’ve been to the moon.” The proud Northern Irishman will always regard the city as home, regardless of where in the world he is.

RW: It’s from a quote from Neil Armstrong after he’d been to the moon and then came back to earth and he was like...what am I gonna do now? I’ve been to the moon, what the fuck can top that? I wasn’t trying to be as arrogant as that sounds, there’s still an awful lot I want to do in life but it was me just saying what a fantastic 25 years I’ve had of making music, being in Thin Lizzy and it was a positive note to end the album on. To make this record was a huge thing for me and it was a nod to that. I stole it from Neil Armstrong and it was my way of saying I’m from Belfast, I’ve done all this, but I’ve still got a lot left to do! It’s very important to me, it’s home even if I don’t live there. I do miss it. I’m fiercely proud of being from there.

The tour kicks off in the autumn but with only one album out the band expect to incorporate some Thin Lizzy material into their set. While we can expect to hear the classic songs, the band feel that the name change has afforded them the freedom to adapt some songs and play others that may not have been regulars on live sets.

SG: With this whole brand new band we can aford to go deeper into the TL catalogue and play songs that proabbly never got aired before but we were timid about doing it in case people didn’t recognise them.The bulk of the set will be BSR but we’ll need more material so we’ll sprinkle the set with some TL songs.

DJ: We’re gonna stretch out in BSR. We want to be able to perform these songs in all kinds of applications and again you’re talking about a band who do a lot of acoustic type presentations. Ricky and I have both been doing solo shows for years. Scott is really warming up to the idea especially as he’s hearing our interpretations of some of the songs. I think the fans love that stuf I know I do. When I hear an artist that I keep up with and follow, it deepens my afection for that artist when I hear them strip it down. Queen did that stuff, Bruce Springsteen is a great example and all of a sudden all the focus is on the lyric. When you’ve got songs that have great lyrics, like our songs now and the Lizzy catalogue I think our fans would love to hear it. It’s gonna be a lot of fun to see how it evolves. One of my biggest sources of pride is to see how excited Scott especially is about everything that’s happeneing. Hes really proud of the band, of all the songs, of all the work that everyone has done and he’s always talking about how it’s an equal band. It is, but Scott;s always going to be our spiritual leader, if it wasn’t for him we wouldn’t have all come together.

Warwick and Johnson have toured as solo artists performing acoustically in the years since their respective bands stopped extensive touring. Warwick will play several venues this summer and plans to perform some Black Star Riders material before the band’s UK tour.

RW: That’s what I did before Lizzy, I put three solo record out and was touring with my acoustic guitar. It’s an acoustic show where I play songs from the Almighty, songs from my solo stuff and some thin Lizzy songs and BSR songs and tell a few stories. It’s not that sort of sit down and feel my pain singer songwriter crap, it’s a good show that’s entertaining and I try to deliver it with some gusto. It’s something I like doing and it’s nice to be able to go out and do it.

The band are delighted with the album, the way in which it was recorded and the reception it has so far received from both fans and critics. With the album released in the UK fans will be counting the hours until the Black Star Riders tour begins.

DJ: As people are getting to hear the album now and as the reviews are coming in its fascinating to me that these people can hear the difference, the american influence on this record even though it’s fronted and sung by a guy from Northern Ireland who is very much influenced by the clash as he is Van Morisson and Thin Lizzy. Of all the records I’ve ever made I’ve never been more proud and more confident that it’s a great record. After the first five or six songs were written we knew that we were gonna be ok.

SG: You go through these peaks and valleys being in a band. You’re out on tour then you come home, you’ve no itinerary, you don’t know what to do with yourself. You just can’t wait to get back on the road, it kind of like you really can’t win. All of us are really proud of this. The way we did this album recording twelve songs in twelve days – even I’m impressed! None of us have ever recorded an album in this way. The quickest album I’ve ever done was six weeks and we’ve done this in less than two! It was exciting and a little scary at the same time, but I’m really glad of the outcome.

You can check out part one of this interview here.

Black Star Riders released 'All Hell Breaks Loose' yesterday, Monday 27th May, via Nuclear Blast. Check out Stereoboard's review here. They band tour the UK in November and December.

Black Star Riders UK & Ireland Tour Dates are as follows

Fri November 22nd 2013 - BOURNEMOUTH O2 Academy Bournemouth
Sat November 23rd 2013 - LONDON O2 Shepherds Bush Empire
Sun November 24th 2013 - BRISTOL O2 Academy Bristol
Tue November 26th 2013 - CAMBRIDGE The Junction
Wed November 27th 2013 - NORWICH Norwich Uea
Sat November 30th 2013 - WOLVERHAMPTON Wulfrun Hall
Sun December 1st 2013 - CARDIFF Cardiff Solus
Mon December 2nd 2013 - OXFORD O2 Academy Oxford
Thu December 5th 2013 - INVERNESS The Ironworks
Fri December 6th 2013 - EDINBURGH The Picture House
Sat December 7th 2013 - NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE O2 Academy Newcastle
Sun December 8th 2013 - LEEDS O2 Academy Leeds
Tue December 10th 2013 - LEAMINGTON SPA Leamington Assembly
Thu December 12th 2013 - NOTTINGHAM Rock City
Fri December 13th 2013 - MANCHESTER The Ritz
Sat December 14th 2013 - DUBLIN Academy
Sun December 15th 2013 - BELFAST The Limelight

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