© Jay Hawkins
Interviewed by Mark Dean (Journalist/Writer/Contributor) Myglobalmind Webzine
Black Star Riders formed out of Thin Lizzy are due to release their second album in February ahead of playing a UK co-headline tour with Europe. Ricky from the band recently flew into the UK to do a quick promo tour for the new release. I chatted to Ricky as he took me through a track by track analysis of the new album and we touched also on a few other topics.
Ricky”Hi Mark, hows it going”?
I’m grand Ricky. You have a second Black Star Riders album coming out in February. Do you feel that this will be more representative of the band’s sound given that the songs on your debut were originally written to be released under the Thin Lizzy name?
Ricky”I think the main difference is that we knew we were making a Black Star Riders album this time around. Obviously there was some confusion for a while that we were going to make a Thin Lizzy record when we recorded All Hell Breaks Loose, and we cleared that up. Quite a few of those songs on that album were written with the idea that it was going to be a Thin Lizzy record. Obviously we decided against it. We didn’t have that around this time and we knew we were making a Black Star Riders album and that was it. There was a different kind of pressure and maybe not as great as it was the first time. There was certainly a wee bit more freedom to explore different sounds, different styles. I think it was a nice situation to be in. I think it was a lot more relaxed, and that may have featured in the way that the record sounds.”
When and where was the album recorded? I understand that Joe Elliott started to produce it?
Ricky”Joe approached us Mark at the start of year and said that he really wanted to work on our second record. Obviously we are big mates with him and we jumped at the chance to work with Joe. We were going to record it in Dublin, Joe was going to produce it and Roland McKee was going to engineer it. That was all well and good and done and dusted up to about May of this year and then Joe’s calendar started filling up. Leppard obviously went out with Kiss, and then they decided that they wanted to record a new album. Unfortunately that is his priority he said that he couldn’t do it anymore which we were very disappointed about. We understood why and we understood the reasons why. It’s one of those things as a door closes another one opens. I think that it all worked out for the best in the end.”
Who did you go with then producer-wise?
Ricky”We went with a guy called Nick Raskulinecz. He has worked with Alice In Chains, Rush, the Foo Fighters on their big album. He was sort of on our list anyway, and he came along to the show when we were playing in Nashville. We hung out and we really liked him. Obviously his work spoke for itself. Then Damon our guitar player got to know him really well. Nick really wanted to do the album and I have got to say that it was absolutely phenomenal working with him. He was brilliant.”
What about the songs themselves? Are some from those initial sessions with Joe, or did the band start completely afresh with Nick?
Ricky “Not with Joe, we never even got as far as getting into pre-production with Joe. There was maybe one or two that was maybe left over from the first album. Like ”Sex, Guns and Gasoline”and “Bullet Blues “were certainly two ideas that didn’t quite make it onto the first album that weren’t finished. We kicked them into shape but everything else is brand new.”
What about the bands song writing process? Is it involving all the band members or is that solely the department of you and Damon?
Ricky”The majority of it is me and Damon, Scott comes in with his amazing Scott Gorham riffs that he does. In a song for example like “Soldiers Town” it’s one of Scott’s riffs which is brilliant. I will handle all the lyrics, and a fair bit of the riffs as well. Then Damon and I will sit down and we will work on the songs together, and present them to the band. Like I said Scott does come in those amazing Scott Gorham riffs that we end up working into songs as well. I would say that the bulk of the heavy lifting is me and Damon.”
I have had the complete album for a few days so have had a chance to listen to it thoroughly. I was wondering if you could guide me through it track by track. The story behind the songs so to speak. Perhaps giving me an insight into their recording and also possibly the lyrical subject matter behind them?
Ricky”The first song is Killer Instinct “which is obviously the title track of the album. That was one of these things were we were backstage playing a gig in the summer? I think it was up in Yorkshire in England on acoustic guitars in the dressing room. I started playing this wee riff, and idea came into my head, Scott heard it and went ”I like that, you are playing it too punky. He told me to slow it down, and he really dug it. I took it away, wrote the melody for it and brought it back in. Damon and I worked on it together; lyrically it is basically inspired by this Muhammed Ali documentary that I saw. It was about how Ali overcame his adversities to be the greatest heavyweight champion of the world. Taking that to a broader spectrum and taking it into the real world-being that it’s a nasty old world right now and you have got to put a smile on your face and be hard to survive. That’s really the lyrical idea behind that one.”
Ricky”Again as I said that was one of the ones that was left over, from the first album. That was Nick Raskulinecz who really kicked that into shape in preproduction. He came up with some arrangement ideas that totally changed the vibe of the song. Again it has got a bit of a dark look behind it. It was inspired by a friend of mine that unfortunately took their own life a few years ago. It was kind of inspired by the suicide note that they left, obviously they were going through .It was really about the disparity of the person and really where they were at. It was a cry for help. It’s a heavy riff and lyrically that’s where I sort of went with that.”
Ricky”Again I had a riff, in rehearsals a very easy three chord thing, Scott came in and asked “what’s that you are playing”? He said “it sounds really good “We worked on it and lyrically it is a love song. It is about the first love of my life, when I was about sixteen and going to concerts and sort of asking the question “I hope that you are doing OK? I haven’t talked to you in thirty years, how are you doing. I hope life is good with you. Sort of reaching out, just a simple and probably the poppiest song that we have done so far to be honest with you.”
Next up is “Soldiers Town” this brought to mind elements of the Lizzy song “Emerald”when I heard it?
Ricky”Yeah, absolutely,its got the Celtic feel. We had a song on the last album, “Kingdom of the Lost “obviously with Lizzy too. It was something that we wanted to retain. Scott walked in with that riff and my jaw hit the floor it was that brilliant. I wanted to be anthemic, I didn’t realise that there was going to be ten f**king verses in it!(laughs)but once we started writing it we couldn’t stop. I have a really good friend back home Sam Robinson…”
Yes I believe that he helped out on your new solo albums?
Ricky”Yeah he sort of came up with the idea whether it be Afghanistan or Isis, or anything like that -you have the soldiers come along knocking on the door taking the strongest son to go off and fight-to join up. That could be the paramilitaries back home or something like that. Just the whole situation about how the families cope with that, or what’s going on there with the lyrical content.”
Next up”Charlie I Gotta go”.
Ricky”Again I went down to Nashville, about February of this year (Damon lives down there) and we started working on some ideas. That was one of the ones that we came up with down there. Lyrically it is about the guy that bailed out of he Manson family before all the shit went down. He joined up for the peace and the love and all that kind of stuff. The freedom. He saw it getting very dark and knew where it was going to go and just basically bailed out before the Sharon Tate murder. Hence the “Charlie I Gotta go”
Ricky”Yeah, that’s the ballad again it was written in Munich. I had the riff for a while and nothing was really coming lyrically. I think that I was listening to a lot of Tom Waits at the time. That inspired the story basically about a guy who has obviously had his demons in the past through alcohol and drugs. Meeting the woman of his dreams and she promised him the world and that they are going to fly off into the sunset to anew future. He waits for her at the train station and she doesn’t show. He is thinking that maybe he was better off living in his own darkness. That is the story behind that.”
Through The Motions?
Ricky”Again one of the ones that Damon and I worked on its basically got a great groove to it. I really like the groove of that song. Lyrically I think that it is just a pop at anybody that is up there not playing from the heart, or doing anything in life and not believing in it. Trying to fake it and that’s what’s going on there.
“Sex, Guns and Gasoline” you had indicated that was one left over from the first album?
Ricky” That was actually one of the first songs that we ever wrote back in the Lizzy days. Again a great riff from Scott .We made a lot of arrangement changes, to it in preproduction with Nick..Again it is a road story. A lot of Colm McCarthy and Steinbeck and a lot of kind of stuff. The people going out on the road in America trying to find themselves. There is a couple of characters in that, Tina and Billy, two kids both strung out on meth or whatever. Going off on this mad road trip trying to find this fucked up promise land .It obviously doesn’t work out too well.”
Down to the last two tracks we have “Turn In Your Arms”
Ricky” A great Scott Gorham riff, and just the whole vibe of it had that American Indian feel to it. I wanted something lyrically that would keep in tandem with the riff. I saw a story in a magazine was based up in Dakota or somewhere like that. It was a billboard and was a picture of American Indians and it had the writing “Turn in Your Arms”. It was basically saying that obviously there is a lot of shit going on in America about gun laws right now. They were debating whether or not they were going to pass gun laws. The American Indians were basically saying the last time we handed over our guns look what happened. They lost their land and they lost everything. That was what inspired that.”
and then finally ”You Little Liar”
Ricky”I think that is one of the heaviest ones that we have done, with down in drop D tuning. Seven and a half minutes long so it had to be the last song on the album. It is a bit of an epic, Scott and Damon play some amazing guitar on it. Lyrically it is dead simple it is about somebody I know that lies, and lies some more even though they are making things very hard for themselves. They can’t stop lying.”
Have the band already decided which tracks will be singles from the album?
Ricky ”The Killer Instinct “is going to be the first lead off track Mark so we are going to go with that.”
And a video?
Ricky”We are going to do a video at the start of the new year “
The album cover is still not revealed and out in the public domain. Any clues regarding that?
Ricky”Lets just say that we are very happy how the first one looked and how iconic the logo looks. We have continued that with this album cover. I think that people will realise that there is a connection between the first one and this new album cover. It is the same guy that designed the first one that did this one.”
Following the album’s release in February Black Star Riders embark on a co-headline UK tour with Europe. How much of the new album will be featured in your live set?
Ricky”I would like to think that we would play about four or five songs. By the time the tour starts the album will have been out about two weeks, hopefully everybody will have heard the new album. Maybe three or four off “All Hell Breaks Loose”, and then obviously we will play some Lizzy stuff as well. Touring-wise we are open to everything and what will work logistically. We are planning to be on the road for pretty much all of 2015.Wherever that takes us we will have to wait and see. I think with the way that rock is now the tour with Europe is a good ticket. Europe are good guys and I hope that people don’t just judge them on “The Final Countdown.”They are so much more than that. We get on with them well, and we are obviously from the same stable. I think it will be a hell of a night”
Just a couple of other things to finish on-outside of Black Star Riders..With the recent Almighty re releases was that something that the band were personally involved in or was it solely a record company decision?
Ricky”It was both, we were approached by the record company that they were going to do it. It was a case that they own everything so it was a case of ”if you are involved with this then great. If not we will do it anyway “Obviously we wanted to be involved so that it would be done as well as we could possibly do it. We were involved the whole way, myself, Stumpy and our manager Ace.”
That will lead on to the inevitable fan question. Are there any plans for Almighty to play live? Appreciate you have BSR, and the solo albums to also promote.
Ricky” It’s never say never. I certainly would be open to the idea of doing a few shows. I don’t know how the others feel about it. There is no sense of “lets do this-wouldn’t it be great “I certainly wouldn’t lose any sleep if it never happened. I love the guys and I love the songs. I would like to play them one day again because life is short and you just get one shot at it. I think that there are certain elements in the band that …..I haven’t talked to Floyd in almost four year-and I don’t think that Stumpy has either. It is difficult you know and it would need to be for the right reasons. I think just to do it for the sake of it, I mean what’s the point? Never say never but at this moment in time its not looking very likely. I like to keep busy and am one of these people that my mind is always ticking over .I am just ecstatic that I get to make music for a living and it pays the bills. I like to work hard at it and enjoy it. To be honest it keeps me straight and it keeps me sane.”
You also have a double release of solo albums coming out.
Ricky” Through the Pledge scheme they are due out on December 14th. That is only for anybody that has pledged. The official release then is not until November of next year. The idea of the forthcoming Belfast show is just to hang out with some of the people that have pledged, play some of the songs from the new albums. Play a few oldies, chat to people and just have a good night. The Pledge Music has worked out very well for me. To record one album is expensive, but to do two as you can imagine is a lot of money. I would never have been able to do that with a label-I would not have got that amount of funding. I would never have been able to have that freedom to make those albums the way that I want. I am very honoured that the people who believed in me where able to make that happen. I am eternally thankful for that. I would never have got that from any label Mark you know. They are the reason that I am sitting talking here to you. I will never forget that and that is what this is all about”
Thanks for chatting to me today Ricky. Good luck with both the Black Star Riders and your solo album releases. Will see you in Voodoo Belfast soon for that Pledge gig.
Ricky “All the best Mark mate, take care.”
Black Star Riders head out on a co-headline UK and Eire tour with Europe throughout March 2015.
March 2: Olympia Theatre, Dublin
March 3: Ulster Hall, Belfast
March 5: o2 ABC, Glasgow
March 6: o2 ABC, Glasgow
March 7: o2 Academy, Newcastle
March 8: o2 Academy, Leeds
March 10: Rock City, Nottingham
March 11: Corn Exchange, Cambridge
March 13: Academy, Manchester
March 14: Civic Hall, Wolverhampton
March 15: University, Exeter
March 16: o2 Academy, Bristol
March 18: o2 Academy, Bournemouth
March 19: UEA, Norwich
March 20: o2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London
March 21: o2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London