“I really think this is probably one of the best albums I’ve ever been on… I went there OK? *laughs* It’s just the way we wrote the songs, the arrangements, Ricky’s phrasing, his lyrics, Damon’s playing some kick ass guitar in there, Jimmy DeGrasso is like a fresh face in there, the whole deal. Lighting a fire is kind of a mild way of putting it *laughs *”
From press release: In October 2012 Thin Lizzy announced that they would not be recording new material under the Thin Lizzy moniker. The last incarnation of the band – Scott Gorham, Brian Downey, Darren Wharton, Ricky Warwick, Damon Johnson and Marco Mendoza – would be looking to form a new project.
Step forward Black Star Riders… 24th December 2012 saw the announcement of the new band formed by Thin Lizzy alumni Ricky Warwick (vocals), Scott Gorham (guitar), Damon Johnson (guitar), Marco Mendoza (bass) with new addition Jimmy DeGrasso on drums (Alice Cooper, Megadeth, David Lee Roth, Suicidal Tendencies). The change in personnel came about as Brian Downey didn’t want to commit to the touring cycle a new album would entail and Darren Wharton wanted to concentrate on Dare and other music and film projects.
Black Star Riders is set to enter the studio in Los Angeles in January 2013 to start recording their debut album with the legendary Kevin Shirley (Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, Aerosmith, Rush). The album will feature material the band wrote whilst touring as Thin Lizzy and the sound retains that classic feel but is very much its own as well. The Black Star Riders record is the next step in the evolution of the Thin Lizzy story.
We had the honour of sitting down with both Scott Gorham and Ricky Warwick of Black Star Riders while in town playing one of their final shows under the name of Thin Lizzy. These were two separate chats, so was great to get both guys takes on some of the questions below, as well as a couple relating to their various other endeavours. The BSR album is out in May, so you can read all about that below as well as how somewhat hard and exciting the changeover has / will be… oh and an exclusive on the album title.
Welcome back to Australia, for you the first time in a long, long time, do you have any memories of your last visit you can share with us?
Scott: It’s been thirty years since we’ve been back, I think it was 1981 and we’d been coming to Australia I think for six years, every other year and we hit ’81 and its’ like we fell off the end of the Earth. You know, Phil died obviously in ’86 so that kinda put pay to anymore visits for a while at least *laughs*. I think the tour was the Sydney Opera House that we played at, and I’ve actually got a book out right now and that’s the front cover is us playing in front of there must have been 50,000 people there, it was massive and the back cover is the whole place just trashed, which is what a festival does to a ground like that and from what I understand we were the last band to actually do that because the city fathers actually saw what had happened to their iconic building and I don’t blame them… It’s like you look at the Sydney Opera House and it’s like you look at the Taj Mahal or the Eiffel Tower and you know exactly in the world where that is, so you can see why the Sydney fathers went, we’re never going to do this again. I think they were expecting maybe two or three thousand people *laughs*. That’s for me a real iconic moment, to see that scene with the Opera House right in front of you, and the Iron Bridge, the helicopters, the estuary there, it’s pretty kick ass.
Ricky, now when was the last time you were here with The Almighty?
Ricky: 1992, we opened for The Screaming Jets, six weeks we spent here, it was brilliant, very good, I think their album was number one in Oz at the time and The Almighty were just coming up as well, we had a good time with those guys, got on really well and still remain friends to this day. I got to see a lot of Eastern Australia because we did it in a van and went to Broken Hill, Wagga Wagga and Wollongong and all those kind of places as well, but it was great, you want to see the Outback of Australia it was a good way to do that, so it’s good to be back.
Now you’re here with Motley Crue and Kiss on this Monster tour, how have these shows been going so far?
Ricky: They’ve been fantastic, we’ve only done three but the response has been great, we’ve been treated very well and looked after very well, it’s just a great bill to be a part of.
Scott: They’re actually going pretty fabulous, I know every band probably says that, but I kept saying to everybody that I don’t know how we’re going to be received here because we haven’t been here in such a long time and really from the moment that we hit the stage in Perth it was nothing but good things. Especially the headlining show we did in Melbourne, it was kickin’, people were flying in from Dublin and The States and all that, we’ll I think they’re doing that because I think they know it’s going to be the last time they’re going to see Thin Lizzy for quite some time.
So set wise, what can we expect to hear at these shows?
Scott: Well we’re trying to do that in a forty five minute things, it’s easy for us to go deep in to the catalogue in England, Europe and Ireland and all that as the following is so huge over there, so right now we’re going to take little baby steps to see how far into the catalogue we can go before we start getting some blank faces *laughs* which hasn’t happened, yet… It’ll be ‘Are You Ready?’, ‘Jailbreak’, ‘Cowboy Song’, ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’, we’re throwing in ‘Emerald’, we might do ‘Chinatown’ on one of the nights in Sydney, ‘Whiskey In The Jar’, so it’s quite extensive as the catalogue is so big that we can just go boom, boom, boom and get all the timings down.
So, what was the decision behind changing the name of the band to Black Star Riders and how hard a decision was it for you to take that step forward? Was there any hesitation or worry in doing that?
Ricky: The hesitation and worry was the other way round, it was more to do if we were going to put the record out under the Thin Lizzy moniker which was what we originally planned to do. It’s just such a unique situation, the whole thing with Lizzy is that Phil’s obviously been gone for 25 years, the gap between albums would be almost 30 years if it were to come out as Thin Lizzy, and that’s just so unique and it’s not as if Phil had passed away for a couple of years and we got a new singer and put an album out, but there’s such a big gap. Phil has become so revered and become such an iconic legend that we wrote the songs, we felt great about them but the more we got closer to the starting date, you’re obviously thinking about what the fans think, what friends and family think, what we thought maybe this is just a little bit of a step too far to record under the Thin Lizzy name as Phil is so loved and well respected, so last minute we just had a soul searching and we had a change of heart and decided that no, we wanted to make almost a fresh start with a new name. A lot of things, we sat down and the amount of promo and touring and press that comes with a new album, Brian Downey and Darren just didn’t want to do it anymore, they didn’t want to be away from home 200 days a year, I can completely respect that, whereas the rest of us did, we want to go for it, so taking that into consideration we changed the name to Black Star Riders and we’d go ahead and record the songs we’ve written, everyone knows it would’ve been the Thin Lizzy album, but it’s now Black Star Riders and to me that was a big sense of relief, because it appeased all the people were not really sure we should be doing this and there were people that were behind it, we’re still going to play the records, we’re still going to go out there and play Lizzy songs along with the Black Star Riders songs, so I think it’s a win, win you know?
Scott: Well I’ll tell you what happened… it became kind of a journalistic band driven thing and we told everyone as the number one question over the past few years was ‘When are you going to write and record new material?’ I just waited for that one every time. I think everyone just assumed it was going to be the next record for Thin Lizzy, and to be quite honest we kinda did too as everybody expected it so much. Then I always felt uncomfortable about it, Brian Downey felt uncomfortable about it and when it got right down to the crunch it was really, do we want to do this as Thin Lizzy. Brian and I talked it out with the guys and we just figured that history is as history was and we’re just going to leave it, leave that alone. If Phil was still here it would be a whole other ball game obviously, but now we’ve got these seventeen songs that we’ve written and we think they’re kick ass songs so we’ve got to record these things. That’s why we said we’ll end Thin Lizzy for a while and we’ll start this new thing with a couple of new guys in the band.
Is it fair to say that Black Star Riders is a continuation of Thin Lizzy musically but essentially a totally new and fresh variation of it?
Scott: Well it kinda is, because at first in our minds it was going to be a Thin Lizzy album so it’s going to sound like a Thin Lizzy album by default just because I’m in there because of the way I write and play and all that. Then you’ve got Ricky Warwick and the lyrics on this are just unbelievably good, Damon and his take on things, but he’s a giant in this band and his writing leans towards the Lizzy side, so what you’re going to hear is, yeah, there will be shades of Thin Lizzy, absolutely, there’s a lot of harmony guitars and riffs and all that but it’s got its on sound all at the same time. It’s a different producer in Kevin Shirley and he’s got his take on it and I was constantly trying to drag everyone away from the Lizzy thing, just because I’m figuring if we’re going to do a new album new band, new sound, new everything, but you couldn’t help it. It’s kind of a mish-mash of Lizzy and brand new at the same time.
So you could say that this has lit a fire under you guys where you can be your own band now?
Scott: It absolutely has, especially after Kevin got done mixing it, we got mixes at home and Bob Ludwig actually mastered the thing and it just went ballistic, I really think this is probably one of the best albums I’ve ever been on… I went there OK? *laughs* It’s just the way we wrote the songs, the arrangements, Ricky’s phrasing, his lyrics, Damon’s playing some kick ass guitar in there, Jimmy DeGrasso is like a fresh face in there, the whole deal. Lighting a fire is kind of a mild way of putting it *laughs *
For you personally, to now be able to be out the front of essentially a new band and not have to now fill Phil’s shoes must be a sense of relief?
Ricky: Yeah, people always say those are big shoes to fill and you can’t fill them, all I can say is that you stand beside them and hope some of the man’s greatness rubs off on your performance, but I can get back to being me a little more with Black Star Riders, and I’m not stupid and I realise this myself as a Thin Lizzy fan, that when I play these songs people want them played the way and sung the way they know them and love them, they almost want to close their eyes and almost sound like its Phil doing them, that’s what I would want if I was a fan going to the show, so I try my best to do that, whereas with Black Star Riders I’m still very influenced now by Phil as I always have been as a songwriter and lyricist and the way he phrases stuff, so we want to retain what’s great about Thin Lizzy and move it over to Black Star Riders. I can be myself a little bit more now, which is nice, I’ve got nothing to really prove anymore because of Black Star Riders too, I can just go back to being Ricky Warwick instead of having to stand up and deliver the songs the way we all know and love them, which I’ll continue to do.
What do you feel you may be able to do with Black Star Riders that you may not have been able to do as Thin Lizzy?
Ricky: Yeah, well I think for number one, make a record *laughs* that was a big thing. In saying that, you’ve still got Scott Gorham and he’s got that guitar sound and got that style and he’s very much part of the Lizzy sound, Marco and Damon have been playing in the band for a couple of years and it does sound like Lizzy, it probably always will but I think we can push the boundaries a little more with Black Star Riders. Jimmy has slotted in seamlessly and it’s a great line up and I’m looking forward to it.
Scott: Well, there’s always going to be a little bit of prejudice against us in the fan world, you know, no Phil, no Lizzy, we’ve always lived with that although those numbers have really shrunk quite drastically I think, but this I think people will be able to look at this and look at a whole new project from the ground up rather than something that was grown out of the history books I think that will free us up on that side.
I think you may have copped more flack if you had released it as a Thin Lizzy album…
Scott: You know, we just might have… I think the people that are still out there that are a little bit antsy would’ve really voiced their opinion in that way. You know, none of us are out to hurt anybody and we’re not out here to piss anybody off, when you get on stage it’s like party time and we’re there to have a great time, and that’s what it’s all about, so to in any way shape or form to endanger that it’s kind of not on the cards.
How is the album going, can we have a little progress update?
Ricky: It’s done, it’s finished, I can give you an exclusive reveal of what it’s going to be called, it’s called ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ it’s finished, it’s mastered last week and we’re good to go, last week of May, pretty much simultaneous worldwide release everywhere. It’s out on Nuclear Blast too, one of the great indie success stories of the last thirty years, so they’ve been super supportive and very excited about it, very helpful in recording, giving us pretty much everything we wanted to do and making us work hard which is great. We didn’t do it on tape but, it was mixed on the board, we did it with the faders and it was done twelve tracks in twelve days, as a band in a room playing and looking at each other, there was hardly any overdubs, it was a case of we’d run through a song half a dozen times and then it was not me going into the vocal booth and putting the vocal on, after the track was recorded it was done there and then, but it was very much instantaneous and it was capturing a vibe and I think we did. That’s how Kevin Shirley likes to work, he’s super-fast but you’ve got to know your shit, you’ve got to now the songs.
Scott: It’d done. It was twelve songs in twelve days and none of us had ever done an album like that before, usually you do a basic track, tuck it away for a couple of days, think about it, move your amp into the control room, dial in your sounds and go over some overdubs for a while. Not with this. With this, you started with the count in and a lot of these vocals are Ricky singing at the moment, a lot of the guitar solos are the same way. A lot of the major overdubs are probably harmony guitars and maybe a little bit of percussion, more the fluff that got overdubbed, but basically what you’re going to hear is exactly what was in the studio and that’s kind of a fearsome kind of deal. You’re kind of studying everybody to make sure you’re not the guy that’s fuckin’ this up *laughs* you don’t want to be the guy ‘Oh shit let’s try this again’ *laughs* it was fun doing it that way.
Now, Ricky did reveal the title to me, but can you tell us the meaning behind it?
Scott: I have no idea *laughs* it’s just for me a really cool title, ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ it brings up a tonne of different things.
*Scott then asks one of his crew to remind him to ask Ricky about it and turns out the crew member knew the answer to the question*
He was watching a documentary about World War 2 bombers and there was a B17 in the mix that had pinup art on the side that said ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ and he thought what a great name for an album…
Scott: So we kind of carried that on with the album cover too.
In relation to the song writing, Ricky, did you have a major part in the songs?
Ricky: Yes, I probably wrote about fifty percent of the record, I wrote all the lyrics, I wrote all the melodies and some of the music and the vast majority of the rest of it was me, Scott and Damon, so I think that’s what I do, these guys are amazing guitar players, I’m not that good but I think I’ve always wanted to be the songwriter and that’s my craft coming up now over the years with The Almighty and some solo stuff and lucky we’ve had some success with it and like I said it’s a natural thing for me to do. I like telling stories, I’m a storyteller in my own solo stuff so the way Phil is, and Phil was an influence on me and still is, so I think in that vein it was a nice way to be able to grab the reins for this and say I got this, don’t worry…
As Black Star Riders moves forward, will Thin Lizzy tracks remain as part of the set or will these slowly phase out over time?
Scott: We’re going to have to; we’re not going to have enough material. I think everybody’s always going to expect us to throw some Thin Lizzy songs in there and I’m good with that. I still love playing the Lizzy stuff, I still get a lot of emotion playing it, it’s still a hell of a lot of fun, these are guitar vehicles, that’s how we wrote them, this is a guitar band, to not play any Thin Lizzy songs in any BSR show people may feel a little ripped off. So yeah, there’ll probably always be elements of Thin Lizzy no matter what format we’re going to put it in to.
Yes it’s exciting to have Back Star Riders as a new project, but are you sad in a way to put an end to Thin Lizzy?
Scott: You know, that’s a really great question, and I was in the beginning, I thought Holy Shit, after forty years of doing this I’m never going to see this again, but I figured we will see it again, so and once I realised that, I dove headlong into BSR, knowing that somewhere in the future we will get back together as Thin Lizzy with Brian Downey and Darren and go out and do these, I don’t know if they’re going to be short runs, or long runs, so it’s not like an actual ‘see ya this is never going to happen again’ kind of thing.
So when do you essentially farewell the Thin Lizzy name and welcome Black Star Riders?
Ricky: Pretty much the last show we play in OZ, that’ll pretty much be the last time Thin Lizzy play for quite some time. We haven’t closed the lid on it completely, certainly there’s a couple of offers for a few shows we may go back out as Thin Lizzy with Brian and Darren, but again Black Star Riders will dictate when and if we can do that. We’re certainly very focussed on that, the four of us focussed on making the album a success and building up the name of the band and getting it out there. I guess Mackay will be the last Lizzy show for the foreseeable future. Mad place to end, right? *laughs*
Scott, I have to ask about 21 Guns, with some killer work in the 90’s, is this a project that could maybe see the light of day again one day?
Scott: Oh man, I like you *laughs* thank you. Well, we are talking about it, we’ve got songs written, we’ve got probably an album worth of material written, we’ve got a couple of record companies that want to further this thing. The problem being the whole Thin Lizzy and BSR thing takes up everybody’s time, to find a window now to go out and do the third album is hard, but I love that stuff, it’s way different from the Lizzy or BSR stuff, it’s a little more melodic kind of deal. I was really kind of sad when the first album ‘Salute’ kinda got skipped over and I was sad about that as there were some really good things on there that nobody really got to hear. Well grunge had just hit and it kind of totally wiped us out, because whatever record company that you’re with or that you were working on at the time they wanted a grunge band to fill that hole and it was a ‘nice knowing you, we’ll talk to you later about your thing…’ Thanks for asking about that.
Just back on The Almighty, Ricky, I heard you’re doing some new stuff, is that right?
Ricky: Yes, we are looking at doing four or five new tracks for some re-issues that are coming out this year which will be exciting, if I can find the time *laughs*
The other thing I love that you did over the last couple of years, Ricky was a track with Trucker Diablo on their debut album…
Ricky: They’re a great band aren’t they? Big things are starting to happen for that band and they really deserve it, because they’re a really great bunch of guys, hardworking, fantastic musicians and players and I’m a big, big fan of theirs.
Lastly, what does the remainder of 2013 have in store for you?
Ricky: As Black Star Riders, the record comes out at the end of May, we start on the European festival circuit on June 1st and then pretty much go right through. There’s talk of us going to Japan and then we’ve got a UK tour towards the end of the year, some States shows as well, would love to get back down here as well. So just get the record out and tour the hell out of it you know? It’s old school, we recorded it old school, we may as well tour it old school.
Scott: We start in June, we’ve got Sweden Rock festival, there’s a tonne of festivals in Europe we’re going to be doing, which once again is kind of a nervous thing as for the first time you’re going to be walking out in front of a shitload of people playing these songs for the first time and you keep thinking how much have you heard of this material and how much are you really going to know? But it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be a situation now where everybody backstage is going to have that thing in their stomach, there will be nerves but I think it’s going to be a good kind of nerves as we’ll be well rehearsed and all that. The Lizzy thing everybody’s real comfortable with that, especially with this crew we’ve been doing it for over two years, but you’re more comfortable with it which means everything flows real easily with the Lizzy thing, but the BSR thing, it’s exciting and I think it’s going to take a little while to get as comfortable as it is now with Thin Lizzy, but it’ll happen.
Plus with Ricky out the front you’ll be fine…
Scott: He’s got balls from hell man, I love that guy. To me, he’s my new Phil… I can sit on his shoulders all day long and he won’t get tired, he’ll grab the audience by the throat and shake them and get them going and I know he’s going to do that every night. No matter how he feels I know he’s going to do that, so I can walk out with total confidence, same with the other guys in the band, I know these guys are that good that none of this is going to be a problem, so that’s a great sheet of armour to have on when you walk out every night.
From: Los Angeles CA, USA
Band members: Ricky Warwick – vocals, Scott Gorham – guitar, Damon Johnson – guitar, Marco Mendoza – bass, Jimmy DeGrasso – drums
Forthcoming release: All Hell Breaks Loose – May 2013 (Nuclear Blast)