Interview By Robert Cavuoto
Photos by Robert Sutton and Adrian Hextall
Black Star Riders return with their third killer CD Heavy Fire on February 3rd. Building on the success of their previous two releases All Hell Breaks Loose  and Killer Instinct  the band has put together the perfect 10 tracks CD with Heavy Fire. Their music combines commercial hard rock with big riffs and a tremendous sense of melody – all sung with a true sense of passion and purpose. Being skilled masters at songwriting, the band goes beyond those thunderous riffs as each song is laced with intricate guitar fills and nuances that bring them all to life. From the first riff of the CD’s opener “Heavy Fire” to the final sustained chord of “Letting Go of Me” it is apparent that Black Star Riders are at a whole new level with their songwriting.
The band consists of Ricky Warwick on vocals, Scott Gorham and Damon Johnson on guitars, Robbie Crane on bass, and Jimmy DeGrasso on drums.
I caught up with guitarist Scott Gorham to talk about their opus Heavy Fire and the teamwork that went into building it.
Robert Cavuoto: Most bands use all their best songs on the first CD. With Black Star Riders each CD gets better; building on the band’s strength as songwriting and the band come into their own. Do you feel that’s the case?
Scott Gorham: I agree with you, now that we are into our third CD we know what each guy can do to push the boundaries and push the boat out a little further on each other’s talents. It’s also about being comfortable writing together and not be concerned that someone might not like something. We know that everyone is going to be throwing loads of ideas into the songs. You just have to understand that your shit’s not going to get used every time. If you really believe in the riff than let’s work it up in another song. I think this is my favorite CD. It’s our second with Nick Raskulinecz pushing the button as producer. Being our second CD with Nick, he knew what to expect from us as people and vice versa. He’s been a good fit for these two albums. It’s a great working environment all round
Robert Cavuoto: What do you make of so many established rock bands from the 70’s and 80’s who don’t want to record new music; claiming people won’t listen to or buy it. Here you are successfully making new music and breaking their stereotypical thought process.
Scott Gorham: We could have done the Thin Lizzy thing playing sold out shows. I think it’s important if you are a musician or at least a serious one; that you want to start breaking new ground and not doing the same thing over and over. It’s important to keep dipping into that songwriting well. It’s a lot of fun to be able to come up with cool riffs and songs. Songs that you like to play and listen to. Then it’s hoping that audience will like it. When you start to get the compliments about the new material it makes you feel even better than just hearing “he plays some great guitar.” When people start saying that they love the songs; that’s a whole other category.
Robert Cavuoto: I thought this CD had less of a Thin Lizzy vibe to it between the guitar parts and Ricky’s voice, am I correct?
Scott Gorham: You’re absolutely right! When you came up with the phrase, “coming into our own,” that’s really true. It’s that we can go on by ourselves with our own music. Not that we were worried about having to tag on a Thin Lizzy sound-a-like chord pattern. If you have twin guitars with harmony guitars you’re going to get busted for sounding like Thin Lizzy. I think you right that we as a band are coming into our own and standing on our own two feet! People would ask me how many Thin Lizzy songs are we going to play in the set? When we only had one CD we played almost the entire CD with a heavy Thin Lizzy set mixed in. Then with the second CD, we started dropping more Thin Lizzy songs. Now with three CD’s, we will play even less Thin Lizzy songs. We will work up six Lizzy songs and then play two a night for the fans who come to see multiple shows.
Robert Cavuoto: I would love to hear Heavy Fire played live in its entirety but I know that’s not realistic. Want songs are you planning to play live from it?
Scott Gorham: That’s a good question. We haven’t played any of the songs live at this point. We finished the CD four months ago. This week I’m going to sit down with my laptop, and I sure the other guys are doing the same, to relearn these songs. Then email each other back and forth with our favorites. We will then do a general consensus of which six songs are favored by everyone to play live.
Robert Cavuoto: I’m hoping the title track “Heavy Fire” will be in the mix!
Scott Gorham: I can almost guarantee that it will be, plus “Dancing with the Wrong Girl” and “Testify or Say Goodbye.” Well that’s three that will be in there [laughing]
Robert Cavuoto: You just finished your list, you can email the band!
Scott Gorham: I’m done, guys! [Laughing]
Robert Cavuoto: As I mentioned “Heavy Fire” is my favorite song on the CD. Tell me about that interesting break at about 3:00 minutes with air raid siren and not including a guitar solo.
Scott Gorham: Nick was behind that. He had an air raid siren on his phone for God’s sake? He heard that space and put the studio microphone up to his phone so the siren was coming out of the monitors. Everyone was like that sound pretty cool. Regarding not having a lead, it’s one of the few songs that doesn’t have one. I don’t think it is a necessity to jam out a lead on every song. It was one of those things that just felt natural. We have so much other stuff going on in that song. What did you think of the odd break down in there?
Robert Cavuoto: Honestly I thought my player was skipping ahead to the next song after the siren because it sounds like a different song started up. After a few listens I got the hang of the flow and really like it!
Scott Gorham: [Laughing] It took me a while too to get used to it. I actually wrote a lot of both parts to the song. It was Damon’s idea that we slam that little repeat thing in the middle. I was like “Shit, I don’t know how to get into it.” He played it and I was like really? [Laughing] I told him, “I’m not sure that’s going to work?” We recorded it and it still sounded weird. It took me about four listens before I got comfortable with it. It’s so odd. I like the way you said, “you thought your player skipped.” [Laughing]
Robert Cavuoto: Which of the songs would you say changed the most from its original state to the final recorded version?
Scott Gorham: Probably “Who Rides the Tiger” as that song changed quite a bit in the studio. Nick had a lot to do with that as well. We walked in with 20 songs and played them all for him. At the end he goes, “Well I think you got three!” [Laughing] That kind of pissed everybody off. We then started working double time fixing arrangements. “Who Rides the Tiger” became a different song from what it started out as.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me a little about that process of presenting songs to Nick. Are you playing full songs performed by the band or are they just riffs and rough ideas.
Scott Gorham: I had a bunch of stuff and Ricky and Damon always have tons of stuff as well. They were going to come up here and do a few acoustic shows so I suggested that they come to my place and spend three days on acoustic guitars to see what everybody has and then start gluing things together. Also to see generally see what songs we like. We banged them out all on acoustic guitars and came up with the 20 different song ideas.
Robert Cavuoto: What guitars did you use on Heavy Fire?
Scott Gorham: I used my Les Paul Axcess. I have two different ones, one with EMGs and the other with Burstbuckers. I’m not a believer in changing guitars for each song for the sake of changing guitars. My sound pretty much stays the same throughout. Damon used a lot of guitars. He had some Les Pauls, a Firebird and Ricky used one of his cool Telecasters. The main thing was the array of amps that Nick has in his studio. He has 12 amp heads stacked on top of each other. He would be listening to the song and knows which amp would sound best for that song. He would plug you into one amp then fuck around with the mics on the speakers which were in another room. He has tons of pedals that you can mess around with as well. It’s pretty interesting because he wants to experiment. He doesn’t want to go for the same thing every time. Nick likes to go for those vintage sounding amps that have great tubes. When these amps bark, they really bark. He knows them inside and out.
Robert Cavuoto: When you are creating music and coming up with riffs, do you tend to hear Ricky’s voice in the back of your head or do you still hear Phil’s?Scott Gorham: I don’t write for any particular voice. When I think of a riff or chord pattern I think of it specifically for what it is. It really has to please me. If I keep playing it over and over then I know I’m on to something. Ricky is a really different kind of singer so to try and strictly write for him is kind of tough. The guy always finds a way with the phraseology and sticking the words in the right place. I leave that up to him [laughing].
Robert Cavuoto: Are there any unreleased Thin Lizzy songs or demos that Black Star Riders would consider revisiting to record in the future?
Scott Gorham: No, not recording, that’s strictly in the Lizzy domain. If I was to do something, it would have to be with Phil’s voice, because that’s who it was originally written for. We recently found a load of tapes and there are some unreleased tracks that we are going to put into a new Thin Lizzy box set. It will be the all encompassing, singing, and dancing box set. For the true Thin Lizzy fans they will find it pretty interesting. There are also songs with alternate lyrics on well-known songs. You’ll get to hear Phil trying out lyrics and being not quite happy with them. You can see where he changed it. Then you will see how it ends ups. I’m hoping it will come out this year, it’s still being masters. It has all the bits and pieces that will be included in the box.
Robert Cavuoto: Is there a tour of the US in the works?
Scott Gorham: I was talking with my manager last night about it. We think it’s imperative that we get a foothold in America as we haven’t spent a lot of time over there which is criminal. I think we are trying to jump on someone else’s tour and not go to America headlining because our names aren’t quite known yet. I think that is in the cards for us.