Saturday, 23 September 2017

Interview: Scott Gorham of BLACK STAR RIDERS and THIN LIZZY

Photo: Robert John Photography

“After all, it is a completely different entity to Thin Lizzy. As much as particularly myself and everybody else who was involved and loved doing the whole Thin Lizzy thing it is time to take a step in another direction.”

This guitar legend needs no introduction primarily known for being part of the classic Thin Lizzy two-pronged axe attack for over forty years. In a temporary break from Lizzy, Scott also formed another band and diversified in terms of musical style. 21 Guns marked a stepping out of the heavy rock format for which he was known, into a more melodic musical direction. More recently with the diversification of Lizzy into a new band, Black Star Riders, Scott has formed a new connection and musical bond with some new and some old musical partners. Ahead of the release of Black Star Riders’ third album Heavy Fire, I was afforded the opportunity to talk all things music with the guitar maestro himself. Scott even shared the exclusive on that elusive third 21 Guns album.

The initial connection proved to be surprising, as I was always of the opinion that Scott had been residing in the sunny weather climates of the States. I was obviously quite surprised when he informed me that, “I have been here since 1974” – referring to his UK residency. Moving on, I then asked him with the imminent release of the third Black Star Riders album, Heavy Fire, what the band had done differently this time around. “We kind of found our writing and recording boots on this one. I think on this one sound-wise you are really listening to a band that is kind of standing on its own two feet now. We did the Thin Lizzy thing for quite a while and we fortunately (or unfortunately) kept going with that sound but on this album here it has really taken on another turn to where when you listen to this you will see that it is a different sound from the first two albums.” Having had the chance to have listened to the album in advance of the interview, I was moved to agree with Scott and felt that Heavy Fire saw a moving away from the traditional Lizzy type of sound, and instead allowed Black Star Riders to develop their own identity as a separate band. Scott added, “That’s right, I think that is important, after all it is a completely different entity to Thin Lizzy. As much as particularly myself and everybody else who was involved and loved doing the whole Thin Lizzy thing, it is time to take a step in another direction.”

Regarding the band’s recording process for Heavy Fire, I was keen to find out if they had used a new approach in the studio. It was recorded at “the same place as the last one, I think it is called Falcon Studios just outside of Nashville Tennessee. The same producer Nick Raskulinecz, same team, the same heat, and the same mosquito’s. (laughs) We got the same everything.” As many of the band had been involved in the music industry for a long time, I put it then to Scott what role these days a producer fulfilled? Surely with the band being well acquainted with studios and the recording process it would be more natural and save finances if they were to self-produce. Scott reflected before responding, “Well, you know something, I think that we are, but really I don’t think that anybody wants to take on that responsibility at this point because there is more concentration on writing, playing and performing in the studio rather than trying to get the right sounds and all that for each guy in the band.” Scott then added that because Nick was on the previous two albums that, while they were being recorded, he really has literally become the sixth member of the band. “With all the suggestions that he makes, almost for each and every song. It is good to have that objective view, I guess that I could say, from an outsider looking in. That is more the reason than not being able to do it.”

Like many bands these days, Black Star Riders ahead of a new album release have served up several videos in advance as an appetiser. I wondered specifically regarding the process of selection for which to use. I would expect with an album being so fresh that it could prove a difficult task choosing which tracks to pick. Was this something that the band had total control over, was the record label involved or rather a dual involvement? Scott filled me in on what actually happens. “Partly it is because we really like the song, the other partly is because the record company thinks that this is something that the public is going to be able to latch on to. It is a bit of give-and-take with our side and the record company’s side. Kind of a happy handshake really.” Scott developed this further by saying, “With the way that records are sold these days, and with the sheer volume – most bands these days don’t sell – you are looking for a lot of collaboration with your record company, if you are lucky enough to have one. I know that it sounds not so passionate but you try to look for the collaboration there – well, with anyone that you can that has the expertise to take what you are doing and further it on.”

Scott had referenced collaborations which led me nicely onto my next question. On the Black Star Riders’ new album, I had noted additional musicians making an impact primarily on the track “Ticket To Ride.” On the previous two releases I couldn’t recall any input of this nature. I asked Scott if he could tell me about the role and input of the female singers on that specific track off the album. He laughed before stating, “I wish that I could tell you. I had already jumped on a plane at that point back to London when that idea came up. She sounds great, there are three girls that are doing the background singing – kind of the Motown kind of feel. ‘When the Night Comes In’ and ‘Ticket to Ride.’  On one of the other songs there is just a single kind of female vocal.” I subsequently found out Scott Ian of Anthrax’s wife and Meat Loaf’s daughter did this, Pearl Aday. Scott was however able to state that “she is a very well-respected session singer in Nashville.” He replied that he was due to get a copy of the album the day after our interview so he would have to look up the credit on there. That had pricked my curiosity if then in the future Black Star Riders would be open to involving other outside musicians in the creation of their music. Scott reflected for a moment before responding, “I don’t see why not if the song calls for it. You are looking for enhancement anyway that you can get it. I don’t think that there is anybody in the band that could sing as well as any of those girls. I mean we give it a good shot and we can get kind of close. For something that is being heard over and over you want something that is going to be top notch. We can get people like that in to do it. It is the first time that we have done it I will admit but as I say if the part calls for it why not?

I guess with Scott, and the fact that he will be eternally known as “of Thin Lizzy” after forty+ years with that band, it’s a little difficult for him to forge a separate musical identity outside of Lizzy. I wondered if that presented a creative dilemma for him as he was still part of creating new music in a different group. Had he fully accepted that this would always be the situation or indeed would this latest Black Star Riders release see him being viewed as Scott Gorham of Black Star Riders and not Scott of Thin Lizzy? “I am fine with that, that’s great. For four decades, they have been talking about Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy and it’s kind of nice and kind of refreshing to have people say Scott of Black Star Riders. (laughing) It’s actually kind of cool. I do not mind talking about Thin Lizzy one bit. I am very proud of what we achieved of the songs that we wrote and recorded. If people want to ask me questions about Thin Lizzy, bring them on.”

Black Star Riders had toured to promote their previous two albums and the live set list had included a lot of Thin Lizzy songs. As this was their third release, I asked Scott if the forthcoming live dates would see the band solely performing only Black Star Riders songs in their set. They certainly now would have enough of their own material to omit the Thin Lizzy numbers. Scott agreed with me, “Well yes, as a matter of fact we can. We put the feelers out to make sure that is exactly what people want, and I think probably what we will do is – at least for a while, anyway – we will put in two Thin Lizzy songs. We have been talking about working up six Thin Lizzy songs – playing two different ones a night as we go along. I think that is a pretty cool idea.” Thin Lizzy had recently played a few anniversary shows, so I was interested in getting some direct feedback from Scott regarding those. “Those were great, we had Scott Travis from Judas Priest on drums and Tom Hamilton from Aerosmith on bass. They have been great – these are a couple of people that we all wanted to play with and they come from bands that are highly respected throughout the world. I think that the audiences recognised that. These were musicians that actively wanted to get in and play Thin Lizzy music. They told me that they had always wanted to do this also. We had a great time, we just kept it to five shows. There was never any thing that we were going to go out on a three or fourth month tour. Those days are kind of gone now. I am not saying that Thin Lizzy is done and dusted. If there is a special reason for bringing Thin Lizzy, then we will do it. Right now, with Black Star Riders we are on our third album which we are really proud of and that is where the trail is leading to right now down Black Star Riders lane.”

I asked Scott specifically how he had found the whole experience of playing on a cruise. Rock cruises are becoming more common place in modern times and I wondered how it was for him. This is a modern idea and not one that Scott would have come across in his entire career with Thin Lizzy. I imagine that it would have proved to be quite a unique and different gig. “What it is, is an ocean liner, I think that it is just called the Rock Boat. So many people have done it, Kiss have their own boat. Def Leppard did theirs. You get on the boat, there is about eight other bands. You play three shows in four days. It’s a really cool atmosphere. Every stage that you play on – they are great stages. That is where the question mark comes in – jeez, we are playing on a boat. It holds five or six thousand people. The mini arenas that you play in are a very good size and very well equipped. I have just been told that next year Black Star Riders are going to be doing that exact same boat.”

I wondered what was the view of the artists playing on a cruise. From a privacy point of view surely that would present a problem for the artists themselves, as basically there would be no escape from their audience. Scott laughed before responding, “People are really respectful, they know that a lot of the artists are trapped there and they don’t come at you with piles and piles of albums to sign. I think that a lot of them we have already signed in the past. There is really no need for that. People want to come up to have a picture, an autograph or shake hands and that is it. It is very cool and very relaxed. I do know what you mean, that you are trapped with no way out of here. It is not like that, the fans on the boat are really respectful with the bands that are playing there.”

Black Star Riders
Photo: Robert John Photography

While Scott is universally recognised for what he did with Thin Lizzy, I often felt that the music that he created with 21 Guns had been largely overlooked. While researching for the interview I had come across several articles which had referenced a third album for 21 Guns. I decided to ask Scott had there been any recent developments in terms of that. Was that musical project dead and buried, or indeed had Scott and the other members any plans to get into a studio again. Scott then hit me with an exclusive, “Funny enough, we have probably three quarters of the third album already written and demoed up. The hard part now is finding the time to be able to get out to Norway where my writing partner Leif Johansen lives in Oslo. It’s trying to gather the members of 21 Guns together, get me over to Oslo and spend an amount of time, but also to still be able to do Black Star Riders. There is a lot of road blocks in terms of getting the 21 Guns thing together, but I still love that band. I think that the first two albums that we did were great. All of us would really like to do a third album. We have just got to wait and see what the future holds for 21 Guns. Thanks for mentioning that. I think it is a really cool band.” I personally saw that as a complete departure for Scott musically and wondered if he would ever similarly do something again that would stretch him musically and creatively in another direction. “I really and purposely wanted 21 Guns to sound completely different from Thin Lizzy, to the point where my manager took me to New York and Manhattan and to all these record companies. They would play the demos, these A&R guys would look at me and say that they really liked it, but that it didn’t sound anything like Thin Lizzy.” Laughing, Scott told me that was exactly the point. “I wanted to shift the emphasis musically in another direction. Finally, we signed to RCA Records in Manhattan. I don’t actually work like that where things get real premeditated. It’s whatever I write and that is what goes down on the record or whoever I am writing with…that is how it goes down. Even to the point of the day that you are recording, the day that you are doing your lead guitar work, it is all in that moment.”  Well, the album was recorded in Nashville and Damon – Scott’s guitar ally in Black Star Riders – has done some recording in a different style. I wondered if musically Scott would be doing something in a similar vein?  Scott’s response was to laugh before replying, “that there is just so many good country and western musicians, I don’t think that I would ever want to walk down that road. I like what I do, pretty much how I do it, and I am comfortable with it. Damon likes all that, it is his neck of the woods and that is part of his DNA. I am going to leave that to Damon.”

Returning to the release of the Black Star Riders’ third album, the band had utilised another modern marketing tool in using the Pledge Music Scheme. I was keen to get Scott’s opinion on this new trend that bands were employing in their promotion campaign. “Well, I didn’t know if that was the right thing to do or not, to be quite honest. What I am realising is that it is another way to get a little bit closer to their fans. It seems like these days the way that albums and music is being sold you always feel like you are a little bit further away from people. I am particularly interested in the one where people buy on to get up on stage with us in the soundcheck situation. Whether it is the drums that you want to play, bass or guitar, or you want to sing a song. I am really interested in that whole format of the Pledge. I hope that people do that because it will be a lot of fun to get people up there.”

In conclusion, I ended by asking Scott to look back on his extensive career if he was able to pinpoint a particular standout highlight. Scott responded, “Wow, you are asking a big question there. There are a lot of albums that I have been on that I have been really proud of. There are a couple that …not so much. We have done some really successful tours not only in Europe but throughout the United States, and you have got to be proud of those kinds of things. When you can break through the media over there as well as over here simultaneously. It would have to be making decent records and being able to pull off pretty cool tours.”

Finally, I asked Scott himself if the roles were reversed who would he like to sit down and interview. He replied, “Wow, you know something? It might sound a little tame but I would really like to sit down and come up with some questions for Paul McCartney. To really get inside his head about what it was actually feeling like to be that first guy that broke the barrier for guys like me, for everybody in my generation to get up off our butts and want to inspire us to do the same thing. I want to hear what his take on that whole thing was, on what he was doing at the time and how it affected him. That was some heavy responsibilities that those boys carried around with them for quite a long time. It was probably no wonder that they didn’t last as long as we all wanted them to…I think Paul McCartney would be a good start.”

About Mark Dean

I'm a 40+ music fan. Fond mostly of rock and metal - my staple musical food delights. Originally from Northern Ireland, I am now based in the UK-Manchester. I have a hectic musical existence with regular shows and interviews. Been writing freelance for five years now with several international websites. Passionate about what I do, I have been fortunate already to interview many of my all-time musical heroes. My music passion was first created by seeing Status Quo at the tender age of 15. While I still am passionate about my rock and metal, I have found that with age my taste has diversified so that now I am actually dipping into different musical genres and styles for the first time. Photo: Mark Dean with Jeff Kendrick of Devildriver - Photography by Olga Kuzmenko

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