Thursday, October 14, 2010

Interview with bassist and singer John Gallagher of Raven

Raven put on a vigorous and animated performance in Portland, OR on October 3rd, 2010 at Peter’s Room. The audience was small but fanatical. I placed a call to John a week later to catch with him and talk about the new album, their tour plans leading them from year’s end into early 2011.

You guys have been kicking since 1974. 36 years later here you are. What’s the secret behind the band’s longevity?

Yeah, we’ve been playing since ’74. We’re going into our 4th decade of our career. As for our longevity? It’s pretty simple really; we enjoy what we do. We feed off the energy of the music. When we hit those big power chords it’s like getting a shot of 240 volts into your body. We put on a very physical show, there have been times where I’ve been sick and I’ve been walking around prior to the show like a little old man but when we get on stage we have a show to do. We have a reputation as a good live band and when we are on stage we deliver.

Your vocals have held up pretty well. You sound much like you did 25 years ago when I first heard Raven.

I take care of myself singers are at times a hypochondriacs. I’m no different, my voice is my instrument and I have to take care of it. It also helps that I’m healthy. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke and I’ve never done any nasty stuff, which certainly helps. When people are partying all night the first thing to go is the voice. We have a reputation therefore I have an obligation to deliver live. When someone has paid his hard earned money to see us we need to give them a show.

Raven are one of the pioneers of metal. One of the bands that lead the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. You’ve made a contribution to the metal scene world wide yet you’re still the underdog. What are your thoughts on this?

Yeah, that one of those things that you can look at it in two different ways. The first would be on a business level and the second would be on an artistic level. We didn’t get into this on a business level we got this on an artistic level; no one sounds like us, we’re the best Raven sounding band there is because no one sounds like us. That was one of the cool things about the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal bands they are were different from one another; Def Leppard, Saxon, Iron Maiden, Diamond Head and Raven. We were all heavy but we all had our own identity. These days that’s harder to find because everyone seems to be copying each other. We have a lot of music left in us as you can hear in the new album Walk Through Fire. This year has been a great year for us as we have played in places that we haven’t been to in a while because of the trials tribulations that we’ve had over the course of the past few years.

You’ve released 12 studio albums the latest Walk Through Fire on Metal Blade Records (for the United States). You’ve been on a major label in the past (Atlantic Records) and you been on indies. Which do you prefer and why?

With the major label we like the fact that the distribution was there, but the fact was when the guy that signed us got fired and things changed. Then we have the department looking at us like a commodity; they thought “hey these guys are good, if we dress them up like clowns and we make them sound commercial maybe we can make a lot of money.” The communication thing with a major was that we were dealing with people who had no idea what we were about and didn’t know what to do with us. Thinking back they didn’t care what we were the just wanted to make us different, which was ridiculous. I like the communication with smaller labels, they know what they are getting with us, they know what we are about and we’re happier. It’s been a long tortuous process but we figured it out.

I love the track “Running Around In Circles” on the new album it’s vintage Raven but commercial. It could have come off of the Raven records of my youth The Pack Is Back, Life’s A Bitch or Stay Hard.

Really? That’s cool because I came up with that one…I was a little unsure about it because it was really commercial. We thought that if we put enough aggression and we put it on the album with the other songs it should work out fine. It’s a part of what the band is about; an interesting mix of noise, aggression, craziness with a smile, heavy metal, rock ‘n’ roll and melody. When it’s all in there you wind up with a very good Raven album. If you take a song like “Train Wreck” off the new album it’s a throwback, the riff sounds like it could have been taken from a Slade song or something. We took a longtime picking songs for this record. Nothing depresses me more than an album that is frontloaded with 2-3 good songs and the rest crap that was thrown together at the last minute.

Maybe the lack of good albums or music has made people’s attention span lessen. I mean it’s not uncommon for people to briefly scan through an album and listen to seconds of each song. It just seems like in the age of computers, iPods and mp3’s no one takes the time to listen to an album from beginning to end. I’ll speak ourselves do yourself a favor spend a few minutes and listen to the entire Walk Through Fire album, you’ll be surprised.

Raven has tackled some great covers in the past Thin Lizzy’s “The Rocker,” Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimmie Some Lovin’” and now Montrose’s “Space Station #5.” Why that particular track?

Why not?! It’s one of the best songs rock ‘n’ roll songs of all time in my opinion. The Montrose album is one of the best heavy metal albums there is. When this album came out there was albums that rocked, but they had ballads or an acoustic song on there. This album didn’t, this one rocked from start to finish. Those guys are absolute legends; Ronnie Montrose, Sammy Hagar, Denny Carmassi and Bill Church. When they came to England they blew everyone away, me included. It’s funny that Van Halen later modeled themselves after Montrose, even going as far as getting the same producer and engineer. They wanted that kind of sound and impact and they got it too. As we were finishing up Walk Through Fire we were in the studio talking and we decided to do a cover. I said “let’s do Space Station.” The other guys said “alright.” One, two, three, boom, boom it was done. It came naturally because it was a song that we had done in New Castle growing up so we knew the song very well. We didn’t rehearse it, we just went for it. We’ve done a lot of Montrose in rehearsals or sound check; “Rock Candy” and “Rock The Nation” included.
Raven is based out of the United States these days correct? How did that come to be?

We’ve lived in The States since 1984. It’s funny when we hear fans say “it’s so great that you made it here from England!” (laughs) We came over here in 1984 to tour, we got a record deal and agent, we then went home for the holidays and came right back. With time we got families and everything and we never went away.

I didn’t know you were based out of the U.S. until a few weeks ago. All those years and I didn’t know.

That’s right! I live two doors down from you! (laughs)

Do you keep in touch with your former drummer Rob Hunter? What’s he doing these days?

When Rob quit he did it through a third part and naturally we were upset by it. 10 years went by before we talked. We had a conversation for a couple of hours and he was doing well for himself. On occasion I’ll get some message from him on Facebook about what he’s up to. He’s worked doing production and engineering music by Bradford Marsalis the saxophone player. He’s basically become a studio guy. It’s funny he quit the band to be close to his family and now he’s away from his family because Bradford tours all over the world and Rob is doing the live sound for him. Rob’s a very talented guy, he a good guitarist, drummer and producer. We wish him well and we’re very happy for him.

As the year winds down what are Raven’s plans in the way of touring or plans for new music?

In about two weeks we’ll be headed to Texas for a some shows there. In November we’ll be going to Brazil, which will be first for Raven as we’ve never been down there before. Then we’ll shut things down for the holidays and we’ll be doing the 70 Thousand Tons Of Metal Cruise in January of 2011with 30 other bands. I envision there will be a lot pillaging and the boat will burn down. Should be a lot of fun actually, we’ll get to hang out with the fans and some of our friends in other bands.

Well I hope you make it back in piece from that one.

Yeah, I think we’ll just lock ourselves in our cabin in think! (laughs)
Right after that we’ll be doing some shows in California and Las Vegas and then we’ll think about the rest of 2011.

Thank you for your time John.

Thank you and we’ll see you again real soon.

Thanks are in order to Vince @ Metal Blade and thanks once again to John Gallagher for his time.


rockpdx said...

RockPDX was at the Portland Raven show, here is a video from one of the songs, shot ten-camera..

Clay said...

Great interview! Good questions. Raven is one of the great metal bands. They deserve so much more attention.