Interviewed by: Adrian Hextall
Live Pictures of Steve Overland: Adrian Hextall \ MindHex Media
With FM about to unleash Atomic Generation on the world, an album that might just be hailed as the best thing they’ve ever released, we took a moment to speak to the man with the smoothest voice in rock music, lead singer and AOR legend, Steve Overland.
Having followed FM since 1989 and the Tough It Out album, I’ve got a few years and multiple live shows under my belt and a definite ‘fan’ moment happens as the interview begins as I start to wax lyrical about the quality of the new release, something any serious fan of AOR and melodic rock needs to have in their collection. Ever the gentleman, Steve laughs and explains what the band are about to unveil.
SO: Thank you very much mate. I mean, it’s a funny thing really because you know the main thing with FM, every time we make an album we strive to just do something maybe slightly different. And I love it because I think it [Atomic Generation] has more diversity. I think it sort of starts from what we grew up with. There’s a bit of soul on there, we’ve got ‘Playing tricks on me’ . It’s kind of a soul blues groove track…
The great thing with us now to be honest Adrian, we don’t have any kind of boundaries on what we can do. We’ve got a great fan base and we just, basically take songs that we think are great songs. We don’t say, we need a song like this, we need a song like that. You know and I think this album’s definitely got a good collection of different style of songs.
AH: Absolutely, I mean it’s funny you mentioned the soul element on ‘Playing Tricks on Me’. That’s probably one of those repeat play tracks that you first come across on the album and struggle to get past.
SO: Oh that’s fantastic, I mean that is the one that we’ve passed to [BBC] Radio Two. I’m trying to get it on Radio Two as we’ve had a lot of success with them. We’ve been lucky since we reformed, we’ve had about about six tracks playlisted.
That song, to let you into a bit of secret. I mean it wasn’t even written for FM. I wrote that song probably about, eight to nine years ago for a blues artist. I mean he recorded it and it didn’t go on his album. I just found it one day and played it to Merv. Then he said, “Wow! Man, this is just a brilliant song. We’ve gotta do it.”
It didn’t sound like FM to start with but as soon as you gave a song to FM it gets the FM treatment. No matter what style of song, it still sounds like FM. You know it’s come out great and it’s a really good tune. You know, I think the greatest thing about this album than all the other albums. Everybody has a favorite song but they’re all different from each other. You know it’s like, so that’s a great song and every song has got its own identity.
You know people are coming into interviews and are really in love with a lot of it. They choose, I really love this song, I really love that and I’ll be thinking, oh right. I was quite surprised in that people are picking on different songs and, know what it is, it’s sort of a collection of about four songs.
They come out on top every time but with this album, with all the press and radio things I’ve been doing people are picking different songs, it’s just fantastic. I mean, it’s that every song’s got its place. It’s just brilliant, you know from our point of view.
AH: And the nice thing is well, nobody’s coming through to you either to say, why on earth did you put this or I don’t get it doesn’t fit because everything does fit, doesn’t it?
SO: Yeah because, let’s face it. I mean there is, you go from things like ‘Stronger’ and ‘Black Magic’ to something like ‘Too Much of a Good Thing’ which is a real AOR Fleetwood Mac’y kind of track. And that’s the thing, when we were signed to massive labels years ago, we kind of were pushed in directions you know it’s like they come to you and say, they need to write another ‘Bad Luck’, they need to do this, they need to do that and now we don’t have that. I mean, with our label Frontiers, they let us make the records. They don’t even hear the records until we finish them and then we just deliver the albums. They don’t interfere, they’re quite happy to leave us to do what we do and you know, I guess they trust us because we’ve made a few albums [Laughter].
SO: They probably think we know what we’re doing by now. But we don’t have that you know, why don’t you do this song, if you do a song like that then we don’t have that anymore. Now we’re in control of our own destiny. We just do what we want to do and we’re not pressurized or pushed in any particular direction which means that we do what we like. You know, and the great thing is I’ve found, they’re so brilliant, I mean they’ll take onboard us doing something not straight down the line, FM. As long as it sounds a bit like FM and I’m singing it and it’s got that style they love it. They love the diversity now and it makes it more interesting for us being able to do some different kind of styles and different types of stuff you know.
AH: Definitely, I mean if you come back to Playing Tricks on Me ’cause that’s a classic example of where you’ve kinda pulled one out of the hat there. And I mean you could almost see the band heading into Marvin Gaye territory on the back of it because it would be easy to do so.
SO: Yeah, totally and that’s what where I grew up. That’s what I mean by, now the band, our age and how long we’ve been on the road. We can draw on all of the things, I mean that was a massive Tamla Motown fan. One of my biggest influences singing wise is Stevie Wonder. So that’s always in your subconscious when you’re writing down the things you love. So if you can get them into your songs, those elements then even better. And you know so, now nobody is telling me that we need to be like Foreigner or we’re going to be the next British Bon Jovi. I don’t have to worry about that anymore. [Laughs]
I can just think to myself you know, that’s right I want to write a song, like an old soul tune with that groove and I can do that. I don’t be saying, well I don’t know about that what about you know writing a song about ‘Cold As Ice’ we don’t have to do that anymore. It’s all down to, we wanna do a song with a string quartet we’ll have a go at it and nobody’s there to tell us not to do it and, you know the great thing is that is a very constructive way of doing albums. But it’s great when someone like you comes on, the press and the radio people. You can see that what you’ve done, people get it.
They appreciate it and they like it. I mean, because we worked around the studio doing this stuff. We don’t know how the fans and the press people and the radio are gonna take it. We have no idea. You’ve always gotta risk, you’re gonna give it to me and I’m gonna go, is that what I really was expecting? I’m not sure about it but we just try and keep the quality up Adrian, that’s the main thing. We’ll record 21, 25 songs every record but only 11 or 12 will get on it, you know so. We try and be very picky on what we do which is why it takes so bloody long to make a record really, you know.
SO: Two years for each album you know so.
AH: But to be fair though that’s kind of a norm these days I mean, you expect to be able to tour for the best part of the year I suppose on the back of one release and then you’ve got then twelve months to get the next one done and dusted.
SO: That’s it yeah, I mean now we kind of, what we’ve done with this album is we recorded about 20 songs I think for this. So what we did was, we recorded it all to the same standard. It’d all been mixed, recorded in the same studio and mastered. They’re ready to go, they’re ready to go on another record so we’re six songs ahead on the next album ’cause our plan is to not take two years because we’re not getting any younger.
So we just want to keep on, stay on the road. So if we can run with the studio a collection of tunes and we’re now, we’re still spiriting out at the studio all the time. We do that between the dates, you know so we’re building up a catalogue for our next album. So the next album might be out at the end of next year, we might have another studio record ready you know.
We just enjoy doing all of it now so we just try and make as many gigs as we can. We’ve got a lot of more stuff going out this year. What’s been announced is just a small drop in the ocean for what’s gonna happen and you know, we just want to be doing it. We loved doing it as much always we did and now we don’t have that pressure on us that we got when we, years ago that pressure of always trying to be…. just compete with the biggest bands in the world, we don’t have that anymore we’re just what we are. We’re the band FM that’s been around for a very long time. You know, we just love doing it.
AH: Well, I was gonna say, you say about having to compete with the biggest bands in the world. I remember those press shots for ‘Tough It Out’ when they put all of you in stone-washed denims, white t-shirts and leather jackets. [Check out the back of the album cover]
SO: Totally, yeah. Yeah.
SO: Exactly mate, exactly. What they did was they sent to us LA to buy the washed-out jeans, the leather jackets and the white t-shirts. We had to go to Melrose Avenue while I could’ve bought them in Stafford.
AH: And a lot cheaper as well.
SO: You need to go to Melrose to buy those you know. Over in LA, they have a better quality of white t-shirts obviously.
SO: And that’s the sort of bullsh*t they used to give us some because we were young and I was like, whoa we’re going to LA, I’ll go to LA and buy a white t-shirt. Great, when are we going? You know it was like, you know and that’s the sort of as you just said exactly. You know we’ve always been a band really is about the music we just wanted to enjoy doing what we did. And obviously, the band took off very quickly and the Americans wanted to take over the management of the band and we had massive management and America doing it. The guys they’ve managed, Survivor and REO Speedwagon and all those bands. At the time we were the biggest bands doing what we did and it sort of ran away with itself really. And we sort of got caught up with it but you know, we now, we don’t even think about that. We’re not worried about what other bands are doing, we’re worried about giving the people that listen to our music the best we can, you know. We’ll be special guests to anyone, we don’t need to headline shows, we don’t care as long as we play you know. The tour we did with Foreigner and Europe it was fantastic. We only did thirty-five minutes but it was absolutely brilliant. We didn’t care, just to be on the bill is brilliant.
AH: That was the best opening for a show like that and we could’ve asked for. I mean you guys then Europe then Foreigner I mean as I was sat there at Hammersmith, the whole night, it was amazing. What a bill. Couldn’t ask for more than that.
SO: That to me was the ultimate bill for that kind of music. I think you know, we get the same thing in Ireland with Journey, Foreigner and us. So another great bill you know and it not really about for us, it’s like when we did the Dare thing. You know we’re doing some dates with Dare, right? And Darren’s a friend of ours and we– they supported us at the Parr Hall in Warrington.
When we talked about the upcoming dates we talked about who will headline. And I don’t really care you know, I don’t really care. If they want to headline in Manchester we’ll let them do it ’cause its Darren’s hometown or whatever. You know on this occasion, it doesn’t matter. You know, whether they’ll want to do that I don’t know but. You know, it’s to say we get it all the time. We go in and do festivals in Europe and people say we want you as a headline. Sometimes, we’ll look at the bill and say, well no actually we’d rather be special guests. You know because we’ve got maybe, Y&T on and we’ll be like, they should be the headline act. And we actually choose not to headline because, we’re not really bothered. It’s not about trying to be the biggest… it’s still about trying to be the best but not the biggest anymore. All that’s gone, we just want to be what we are. We’re quite happy in our skins making the records we make and just being able to play. Yes we realize we had a twelve year break and then we came back and it all just went right back to how it was. And you know, we never thought that would happen.
AH: And you just celebrated your tenth anniversary as well of coming back.
SO: Exactly, exactly. You know ’cause it doesn’t seem that long, but it’s kind of like we’re back to what we love doing and we’ve had a second crack at doing exactly the same thing all over again. We’re still playing great shows and selling tickets and doing well. We’ve got a great following and loyal fans and so to be able to do it again, after a twelve-year break and to get back to where we’ve got it. You know, we didn’t expect any of this. We’ve got one of the biggest agents in the world and we didn’t expect any of that in this time around. You know and it’s just been brilliant. It’s great and we just love doing it, ain’t it? Just love to do it.
AH: I mean you’ve got Steve looking after you. You know Steve Strange?
SO: Yeah, Strangie. He’s class, we’re with Strange World Management. Steve’s kinda the man at the top, basically our connection with Steve goes way back. We did one of the first gigs he ever booked in Island, that was FM. So it’s all, I mean you know Steve’s history he’s got Coldplay, Robbie Williams, Snow Patrol, Eminem. They’re all massive acts and also FM.
SO: He’s got Foreigner as well and got a few other bands but you know, the thing with him is it’s a labour of love for Stevie. It’s kinda like, he likes to be hands on with it because it’s more like his little baby then. He doesn’t need it. He’s not got FM to make him money, let’s put it like that. So he’s involved in putting the bigger shows on here, the one we do, your Ramblin’ Man Fairs, your Downloads. You know, Steve will do that. We’ve got other people that do the ground, you know the spit & sawdust groundwork too, in the smaller dates which we choose to do those anyway because I like any gig and I like doing the small gigs. Sometimes, a lot more than the bigger ones to be honest Adrian, they’re more fun.
AH: Oh, I was gonna ask you about those ’cause since in the last few years you’ve played somewhat, what can only be described as ‘unusual locations’ in the UK.
SO: Good, yeah without a doubt. We’ll play, listen, if the money’s enough to warrant us doing it and you sell them out. I mean selling a little place like Stourbridge, the River Rooms or the Diamond. And we did that. You couldn’t have got another person’s in and they’re great. ‘Cause the people are standing five inches away, they’re a big part of the show when we do Shepherds Bush’s Empire, they’re not, are they? You know, we’re on a great, big, huge stage. We’re kind of trying to get that thing across, it’s all just you and us together in the room. But sometimes it’s nice to play in a little place where you actually speak to the person in front of you standing there. You know but you haven’t got that big show. You haven’t got the back drop and the frickin’ big light and rigs and stuff so it’s all about the music and the band.
Doing all that different stuff is brilliant and it keeps you on your toes you know. When we go out and do some acoustic stuff this year again because we fancy doing it. You know we haven’t done it for a long time. We do it, sort of like versus we’re going over doing the Frontiers Festival.
And we’re doing an acoustic show for the press and the record company that likes to do it. On one of the few days we’re out there, we’re doing the same thing in Chicago. We go to America and so we thought, we keep doing these little private things why don’t we do some for actual fans, [Laughs] you know. So we’re gonna go ahead and do that between other stuff and just keep. We just like doing any of it, so you know we’ve got big plans for what we want to do and we’ve got no hankering to stop at all. We just, we’re trying to do more if anything you know.
AH: I mean, when you mentioned the acoustic stuff I remember you playing, I think it was a venue in London, called the Roadhouse many moons ago is a part of the ‘No Electricity Required’ tour. that was different enough for you to put an album out on the back of it, wasn’t it?
SO: Tell me yeah, I mean there were mainly covers. A lot of it.
AH: I remember Metallica, I think you played ‘Enter Sandman’ at one point. [Laughs]
SO: We did, we did mate. Yeah. We played things like, I don’t know, soul tracks, stuff that we grew up with, we played Bad Company covers. We played all the bands, basically. Instead of just playing FM tunes acoustically like a lot of people do. We wanted to play some songs that we grew up with it. That basically got us started in this. So we said we’ll be playing the FM stuff, what’s to stop us putting Feel Like Makin’ Love or whatever by Bad Company. There’s nothing to stop us. You know, or a Little Bit of Love by Free. You know, so we incorporate some of the songs that basically got us started in this business, that made us want to do this. You know and it was great fun. So we’re gonna do it, we’ve got a couple. We just got out and did them on the fly. We didn’t even really rehearse for them but they went absolutely brilliantly. So it’s like why not do them and make it a proper thing alongside the electric stuff when we’re on a bit of a time off from the main tour and got us some smaller venues. Get some stools out and get intimate, talk to the audience and just do an acoustic set you know. And so, it’s a lot of plans in the pipeline but I would say the main thing now is to promote the new record.
AH: I know, quite right too and I notice as well, you mentioned touring which would obviously be part of the promotion but is it right that you’ve never played the US before?
SO: No, it’s amazing, I’ve been out there and done television, radio. Frozen heart was like a radio hit out there and wrote songs with desmond Child who wrote, Livin’ On A Prayer, You Give Love A Bad Name by Bon Jovi. And I’ve done all the radio trips all of them, I’ve been to America and done everything apart from play a gig basically.
AH: Oh, bloody hell.
SO: [Laughs] We’ve been on so many tours Adrian, right there where it’s all gonna happen. Right back to the time when there was like Emerson Lake and Powell going out. We got that tour and we couldn’t get the visas in time to go so it all fell through. It’s been so many tours, so I hope this one’s gonna happen because this will be the first one that’s come to fruition. Because most of them, we’ve had tours out there and they just haven’t happened.
AH: This is with Andrew McNiece this time, it’s with Melodic Rock, isn’t it?
SO: It is, yeah. So, we’ll do that but then we got a year’s visas so the plan is then we go out, we play on some other dates with some other bands out there. Steve’s got Tesla, he’s got Night Ranger, he’s got quite a few big American things. So the plan is to go out, make the most out of the year’s visas and get everything started on the touring out there so we can then go back every year. That’s the plan.
AH: That would be nice to see, I mean especially when you know, all the way back in ’89 they’ve sent you out there to get you jeans and t-shirts and leather jackets and you didn’t even get to play a gig.
SO: Though you think that just might make sense then while you’re out there buying your jeans why don’t you just pop out, set your gear up and get a gig up.
SO: That would’ve made a lot more sense to me, you know what I mean but no. It was just you know, just a jolly up when we went out that way. So, we’ve done everything apart from play so I’m really looking forward to it.
AH: Just in terms of profiling for the band, you’ve been landing some pretty high-profile slots yourselves. You toured with Heart as well when they were over.
SO: Yeah, that was great. The Royal Albert Hall was a real bucket list thing for me. Turned out it was a great show, brilliant. One of my favorite gigs I’ve ever done, gorgeous venue to play, brilliant.
AH: And for something where you know, your voice can really do its thing you can’t have a better venue on the thought.
SO: It was great, I mean I can’t believe it was just you know, one of those things the Royal Albert Hall, it’s got something different. It’s got that history about it, you know and I arrived early with the wife and we walked in. And the London Philharmonic were rehearsing the Heart tracks These Dreams and Alone. So it’s just the orchestra rehearsing with nobody in the venue. We just sat down and listened to it, and it was just breathtaking.
AH: I’m not surprised.
SO: Absolutely breathtaking. You know, we’re just sitting there out of all, just me and my wife watching the London Philharmonic playing with no one else in the venue.
AH: A private show.
SO: Exactly, it was fantastic you know. So, all of these things you know, to be able to do them at that stage in my career. Just a real great thing to be able to do it still, you know it’s great. And people keep coming and people keep on buying the records and that’s all we could ask for, you know.
AH: One last question if you’ve got time mate. Whilst the cost of doing the full orchestra may well be prohibitive, one of the albums I’ve reviewed just recently added a couple of violins extra and a cello and they’ve done an acoustic album which is why I’m asking because you’ve mentioned an acoustic set but adding that strings element to it brings a whole new dimension to their songs as well. I mean is that something you ever thought of doing?
SO: Totally yeah, I mean we did it a little bit on the song ‘Walking with Angels,’ the last track on ‘Heroes and Villains’. We had a string quartet in on that and it’s just a great sound, isn’t it?
AH: It is, yeah.
SO: A great sound. So, we talked about in the future making an acoustic album. Rearranging the songs, totally pulling them apart. They’ll have the bones of say ‘That Girl’ or one of the old tunes but totally redoing them. Adding I guess organic instruments and using strings on them and having a full band just making up a totally different record, totally different arrangements. So, we even started demoing some of it. Not so long back, we had to stop because of other things we had to do. We would like to make a record like that, definitely yeah.
It will happen. It’s in the long-term plan. There’s some other stuff the record company’s got plans for next year. So what it is, we get a plan and then other things get thrown out and things get put back and have to take their turn but, that is with the acoustic shows we have coming up. There’s something that we want to do, we love making electric albums but you gotta do something different every now and again. I think it’s important that it will really be a well-received album. That’s to say the songs will be, totally different. Torn apart, there are the bones of the song all of it will be done totally differently, you know.
AH: Wonderful. Yeah. I mean I can understand you can’t do much next year ’cause you may have a small matter of the thirtieth anniversary of ‘Tough it Out’ to get past as well.
SO: Oh, don’t you even start me on that one.
SO: You know we, [Laughs] you know everybody says that but we’ve done that. The ‘Indiscreet’ thing was the first album so, we won’t be doing a ‘Tough it Out’ one at all, definitely. We won’t be, no, it’s not gonna happen mate. Sorry. [Laughs]
AH: [Pausing for a moment…] How about if you could just add ‘Someday’ into the set list though, I’ll let you off.
SO: It will be there, I promise.
AH: Good man. [Laughs]
SO: Yeah, it will be there I promise, yeah definitely. [It’s down in Black & White Steve… 🙂 ]
Atomic Generation is released on Frontiers Music Srl on March 30th
It is without a shadow of a doubt one of the best things the band has released…