Intervju med Ricky Warwick i Black Star Riders/Thin Lizzy.
Ännu ett besök på fashionabla Lydmar i city. En mycket trevlig och rolig Ricky bjöd på en fantastiskt givande konversation om bl a Black Star Riders, Thin Lizzy, lärdomar från Phil, Titanic och hur han kom tillbaka in i musikindustrin efter några svåra år.
Pga stress och andra intervjuer var jag inte särskilt bra förberedd utan hade bara krafsat ner några allmäna frågor. Det visade sig inte vara några problem som helst och intervjun blev en pratstund jag med all säkerhet kommer ha som en personlig favorit långt framöver.
Doing these promo tours, is that a necessary evil?
Ricky W: It is, but the good thing about it is that you gotta remind yourself that if people don´t want to talk to you or aren´t interested in your record, then you should be fucking worried. I have a real, real problem with people that are in this industry, musicians, that are assholes. The act like they don´t want to be in this industry and act like this is a chore and a hard life. It pisses me off, because it isn´t! This is a fucking blessed life and an easy life and if you don´t want to do it, then don´t fucking do it! Go do something else! Don´t fucking whine to me about having to get up and talk about your art and how proud you are of it, that´s an honor and not a chore! Of course you get tired and everybody gets moody and all that, but at the end of the day you remind yourself that you got what you wished for and it came true, so be happy!
Writing for this album, was any of you the main guy chipping in ideas or was it more of a group effort?
Ricky W: Honestly… I mean, I wrote all the lyrics so I was the guy going “I´ve got an idea for a song.”. Scott and Damon would throw me riffs and I´d be singing like a melody or something. A lot of it was written by me and Damon (Johnson) and Scott (Gorham) was involved in a lot as well, so I would say the three of us pretty much wrote the album. The album was written before Jimmy (DeGrasso) joined us on drums.
Did you write separately or in a room facing each other?
Ricky W: What would happen is… last year when Lizzy was on tour, a lot of the guys liked to stay at the hotel, but Damon and I like to hang out at the gig and stuff like that. We would make a point of getting together in the dressing room, so a lot of it was written in the dressing room or in the back of the bus and hotel rooms. You get an idea at a certain point and you go “Hey guys, what do you think of this? Do you like this? Is it crap? Do you want to change anything?” and that´s what we do. We get something worked out to the point where we thought it was presentable and show the other guys. Scott was just coming up with killer riffs and I´d go “Play that again!” and I´d record it and take it away and then go from there. It was written really quickly and when you´re fired up and excited, the ideas come pretty fast.
Which song was the first one?
Ricky W: “Someday salvation”. It was the first song that Damon and I wrote together and then “Bound for glory”. Those were the first two songs we wrote in my house in LA. Damon came out to stay with me for four days and around that time Scott said “Guys, let´s write a record!” and gave us the green light. The first kinda band thing where we were jamming was “All hell breaks loose”. No sorry, “Blues ain´t so bad”, which is the last song on the album. Scott came into the studio and we were just about to start demoing some songs and Scott just started playing that riff and next thing you know, it turned into a song.
The writing process is so interesting. Some can´t write on the road at all and have to sit down in a room when they´re off tour and others are more like “Yeah, I woke up, grabbed the guitar and wrote a song.”.
Ricky W: Again and this is just me and my own personal feelings on this, but people that go “I need to go to a cottage on an island for three weeks, with no distractions so I can do my art and get my head together.”, I say “Fuck off, you fucking dick! Really? That´s what you need?”. Music is what´s going on around you and it´s about catching the moment and catching the vibe. I write on the road and I find writing on the road easier because at home I have four kids running around and my youngest daughter hates when I´m playing guitar “Dad, stop it! I´m trying to watch SpongeBob.”. You seize the moment and I know when I´m at home that I have a certain window from when I get up to when the kids come home and I can work. You adapt. If somebody said to me “You wanna go to a cottage on a desert island for two weeks to write?”, I would go and I would make good use of that time, but I don´t feel that I have to do that to write. I think you´re a product of your environment and you should just try and find moments and find time to get up and write. Nick Cave´s got a great attitude. He gets up every morning and he has a studio in his basement, he puts a suit on, makes a sandwhich and then goes to work from 9 o´clock to 5 o´clock and does a full day of music. Gets back in, the kids come out and they have dinner. I think that´s a great attitude because he gets up and works on his art and songs.
When you started writing the lyrics, did you start off thinking that they had to be in a certain way or did it just flow out of you?
Ricky W: When we were still writing under the guise that it was gonna come out as Thin Lizzy, there were certain rhymes and certain words that I wanted to get a bit of Phil on. When it wasn´t and we wrote four or five songs after we changed it to Black Star Riders, I found myself doing that because I´ve been singing the Lizzy songs and I couldn´t get it out of my system. I´ve never learned so much from a dead man in my life! Phil, God rest his soul and obviously he´s not with us, but I think about him, I sing his songs every day and he´s in my thoughts all the time and he might as well be here. He´s teaching me about his phrasing, about his poetry, about his writing so some of that obviously got into me and it´s a great thing. I´ve always loved people who tell stories in songs and there´s nobody greater than Phil or Springsteen, Joe Strummer, Dylan. Those guys are great wordsmiths and that´s what I like. I like to tell stories too. I certainly had a certain mindset about how I wanted to write and I wanted the Lizzy fans to feel comfortable.
I read that you got the name for the band from watching the movie “Tombstone”.
Ricky W: I got part of the name from that. I got “Black Star” but the “Riders” came later. I needed something that would complete it. I wanted something that was wild westy and gangy and I wrote down a few other words that I thought were cool and Riders was one of them. I read about David Bowie and how he used the cut out technique and threw all the words on the floor like a jigsaw. So I thought “Fuck it, I´ll do it!” and I threw them on the floor and Black Star Riders came up and it was like “Fuck, that´s great!”. (laughs) That´s honestly how it happened. It´s simple as that and I threw it out to the other guys and everybody really liked it. Scott took a few days to come around to it. I think because of a little bit of fear of the unknown and what was going on, which is understandable, but everybody else was really vibing on it and the more we thought about it, nobody could really come up with anything better that fitted it and eventually Scott, after four days, popped in and said “I´m fucking loving it! Let´s call the band Black Star Riders!”.
Were you watching that movie trying to find something?
Ricky W: No I wasn´t and I hadn´t watched in a while. It´s just something… I don´t even know what part of the movie it´s in or even if it wasn´t the fucking movie? (laughs) You know, I´m actually gonna watch it on the plane tomorrow to see if there is something in it or if I´m talking complete rubbish and made it up. (laughs)
I guess you guys see this album as one of many to come, right?
Ricky W: Yeah, but nothing´s for certain. Fuck, we´re musicians and we live with doubt and you don´t take anything for granted and we´ve all learned that the hard way. I think there´s a lot of fuel left in the tank and there´s a lot of energy and chemistry in this band and we´re just beginning our history right now and the band´s only three months old. I would like to think that we´ll be in this situation, making a record, absolutely next year. I´ve already got ideas with Damon and we have a few songs that didn´t quite make it onto this one and I still think are worth working on. I´d like to think that this is the start of something really cool and hopefully a long road, but who knows?
How did you guys hook up with Jimmy DeGrasso?
Ricky W: That was Damon Johnson. When Brian stepped aside and decided that he didn´t want to be on the road as much anymore, which was… I´ll be honest with you, it was a bummer. We would love for Brian to be a part of this, but we respect his decision. It was like “Fuck, who are we gonna get? We need to audition.” and then Damon said “No, I´ve got the guy!” and he said it was Jimmy DeGrasso. I had met him once or twice and obviously I knew of his work with Y&T, Suicidal Tendencies, Montrose, Megadeth… the list is long and he´s a fantastic drummer, so we said “Would Jimmy be interested? and Damon said “Dude, he´s a major Lizzy fan and I know he´s looking to join a band and this should be ideal for him.”. Marco had worked with him and Damon. Scott didn´t know him that well but was aware of who he was, so Damon got in touch with him and he just said “When do I start?” and that was it. He just came out personality wise, fitted straight in and playing wise he´s worshipped at the altar of Brian Downey for most of his life and has soaked that up and he´s Jimmy DeGrasso and has his own style as well that really fits with the songs.
Still, playing in a band is also a job and it´s different from me when I get a new coworker, because you guys spend a lot of time together on buses, planes and hotels and the chemistry has to be really important, right? It´s not just about being a great musician.
Ricky W: That´s true and a really good point. I´ve been in bands where people don´t get along, but the music´s great… but it´s not worth it. It´s not fun. The time you´re on stage is fun but the rest of it is just really difficult because there´s tension and aggression. That´s not why you´re doing this. You do this because you want to enjoy it and that´s tough. With Black Star Riders and with Thin Lizzy, I haven´t laughed so much in three years. On days off we don´t all go to our rooms and don´t talk to each other. We go to our rooms and go “Are you up for dinner later? Do you wanna catch a movie?”. We all hang out and the chemistry is very, very strong and I think that´s because we´ve all been doing this for so long and we´ve learned from our mistakes. We´ve all been through so much that we all know how to act and react when we´re around people. We know when someone wants his space, when someone wants to hang out or not hang out. We seem to have got that down because seriously, in three years I´ve never heard a raised voice and even when we were writing because people get very passionate when they write. No one sitting in the corner “Well, you fucking didn´t use my song!” (imitates crying). We´re all big enough to take it on the chin and you know when you bring something in that you may think it´s the greatest thing in the world, but if the other guys think it sucks, it´s not gonna be used. That´s just the way it is. Age certainly plays a part in it.
All you guys together must have a ton of war stories and Spinal Tap moments?
Ricky W: Yeah! The first year I was in Lizzy, Scott Gorham would sit there and it was like “Off you go Scott!” (laughs) “Tell me how you and Phil fucking terrorized the Western world!” because that´s what they did and it´s amazing. Then the second year after you´ve heard them for the 75th time you kinda go “No, I´ve heard that one.”. Scott would go “Have I told you…? And I´d go “Yes and yes and yes!”. (laughs) Everyone brings something fantastic to the table.
Marco then? First time I heard of and saw him live was with Michael Ruff, who does more fusion jazz and ballads. All these different styles he plays, is that something that brings anything to the band?
Ricky W: Oh, Marco is in my opinion, one of the best bass players in the world. A fact! He´s a phenomenal musician. He can play the down strokes like Phil and then the next thing he does is this fucking jazz thing and it´s like “Where did that come from?”. I´m blessed that I´m backed by some of the finest musicians in the world and that makes it easy. You trust them and every night they deliver and they´re always on it.
Did I understand it correctly that you have a place in Belfast and a place in LA as well?
Ricky W: Yeah! LA is home and where I spend most of the year, but I have a place in Belfast so I go back quite a lot.
What made you wanna live in LA?
Ricky W: My wife. She was based in LA and I made that decision. I had just bought a house in Dublin as well so I was in it for three months and then sold everything and fled to America and that was nine and a half years ago. It´s the best thing I ever did.
You always read about LA that either you love it or you hate it and also that it´s a city that can really eat you up.
Ricky W: Yeah, it can and to be really honest, I´m not in love with LA. I love the weather and the life my children have there, it´s very good. I feel very secure where we live and knowing that when I go on tour, my wife and my children are safe, which is a huge peace of mind for the amount of time I spend on the road. I´m not doing the Rainbow or de the rock and roll scene anymore. I´m all through that. We go surfing in Santa Monica and we go out to the desert and I love that part of it, but there are so many fucking people that are so far up their own assholes, but there´s assholes everywhere. In LA there are certainly a lot of fucking people that do wind me up, but I choose to ignore them. I could live anywhere. If my wife says “Let´s move to Halifax, Nova Scotia!”, I´d go with her, you know. All I need is an airport. My wife loves Ireland as well, so it´s great. I wouldn´t rule out the fact that we might move there one day when the kids get older.
Belfast and LA has to be really different from each other?
Ricky W: It is and I think that´s what´s funny. I´ve been in situations where someone in LA gets so dramatic about stuff that doesn´t matter. I mean, fuck, I grew up in Belfast during the troubles! It´s really not worth it, you know. I shouldn´t laugh at them, but I do. They get upset about petty things and in the big scheme of things it don´t matter. You hear them bitching about their coffee being wrong and losing their minds. “I didn´t get my thin skimmed blah blah that I ordered!”. Fuck, if that´s all you´ve got to worry about, your life must be wonderful. I try not to forget where I´m from and where I´m from will never let me forget and that´s something I´m really happy about. If I go back home to Belfast tomorrow and we watch football and I go with my mates, the piss will be taken out of me, as it was 20 years ago. They don´t fucking care. It´s like “Fucking Black Star fucking Riders? Where the fuck did you get that from Ricky?”, but I know that deep down inside they´re proud and happy for me. It´s great to have that ground you in your life. I mean, you´re only as good as your last fucking record or as your last song.
What´s Belfast like these days?
Ricky W: It´s healthy, it really is. For so long there was obviously no money being invested in the country and nobody was going there because of the situation. It´s changed and it´s like an oasis now. They´ve built a big Titanic to celebrate it. You have this big museum and attraction center about a ship that didn´t work.
We have the same kinda thing in Stockholm with the Vasa ship not far from where we are now. A big failure as well, but really fascinating.
Ricky W: Yeah? There´s a great saying in Belfast about the Titanic and that it sank, which makes me laugh and it´s “Well, it was alright when it left here.”(laughs) “It was working fine when it left here.” (laughs) And the music scene is just booming with the success of Snow Patrol which really did a lot for musicians and they´ve put a lot of money back into the city with recording studios and practice rooms for young bands to go to. They´ve returned the wealth. There´s a lot of really good rock bands. It´s a really happening place and a great city.
Earlier today I interviewed Udo Dirkschneider and we talked about ProTools and you just get the feeling that there´s a lot of bands trying to go back to the analog recordings or being in the studio all at once playing live. How do you feel about that?
Ricky W: I agree with you. I think there´s a warmth and a spirit and a vibe of the analog recording, but also a spirit and a vibe of rehearsing your songs to a point where you go into the studio and you´re standing in the room with the drummer going “1, 2, 3, 4!” and someone hits record. That´s what we did. We used ProTools but we recorded it old school. It was not like “Ok, play four chords, go home now and I´ll just chop it up!”. We were taking complete takes and Kevin took parts of takes and doing it that way. We combined both and I think it´s coming back. Music is supposed to be from the heart and the soul. It´s not supposed to be auto tuned and perfect. It´s supposed to fucking be from the soul. It´s supposed to have blemishes and you can go off a little bit and speed down a little bit. That´s all part of it. For me, there was a time when every fucking band that came out started sounding the same. Five bands came out and it all sounded like the same fucking band! It was ProTooled, auto tuned fucking shit and soulless. Honestly, if you´re using auto tune that much on a record, you shouldn´t go near a fucking microphone! You´re in the wrong profession. It´s cheating! You don´t have the talent so go find something you have talent for!
Another thing, you opened up for Dylan once, right?
Ricky W: Yeah I did! It was me and three other people. It was a gig in Belfast and it was in 2004. It was kind of a festival and Bob Dylan was headlining. I was on the bill with a guy called Damien Dempsey and Gary Moore was on as well. It was the three of us and Bob Dylan and I got to stay on the same stage as the man, which was great. I just got asked and I was doing solo stuff at the time.
Did you get to meet him?
Ricky W: No I didn´t. It was a bit disappointing. It was when he was doing a tour and came out and did the whole show to the side of the stage with his hood down. It could be fucking anybody! To be honest with you, people were walking out. They´ve paid to be entertained and where´s Bob? I don´t think anyone got to meet him. I mean, he changed music and shook things up. Does that give him the right to do that? I don´t know. I just think… it´s like us, when we do Thin Lizzy and not play “The boys are back in town”. It´s unthinkable. Unfuckingthinkabale! People come for that song and they´re the people that have clothed and fed you and supported you and enabled you to have the life you have. The Dylan thing, it´s nice to have in your bio, but now you know the truth and it was a fucking disaster. (laughs) “You played with Bob Dylan.” And I go “Yeah and it was shit!”. (laughs) I´ve been so blessed in terms of music. I´ve played with so many great people and with everyone I ever dreamed about. It´s been a real journey.
Besides Black Star Riders, are you involved in anything else?
Ricky W: I´m always writing and I´m sitting on a huge amount of solo stuff, but I just don´t have the time to get into that. Universal are rereleasing The Almighty stuff this year because it´s the 25th anniversary of the band and we´ve been asked if we would like to record some new songs as bonus tracks and we wanna do it and we´re really excited to do that. There´s things going on but I always like to focus on one thing instead of doing five things at a time.
Have you been able to make a living from this since you started out?
Ricky W: Yes. I won´t lie to you, some years have been tough and I´ve been very close to go “Shit, I might have to go back into the real world.”, but certainly in the last 10 years, music´s been very, very good to me. There was a time when The Almighty split up and before my solo stuff where there was a four or five year gap that was pretty tough. A lot of it was my own doing. A messy divorce and a bit of a bad run with drugs and all that. A bit of a cliché but In was hanging out with the wrong people and doing the wrong things and I paid the price. I turned 30 and I had no money, no record deal, no management but something always comes along. I was thinking about getting out of the business and nearly did it, but I got a letter from a publishing company saying that the rights to The Almighty catalog were mine. I went to the gym one day and this guy asked me if I used to be in The Almighty and I said yes. He said the he used to work for Polygram Ireland and that he had actually worked on some of the Almighty albums. I asked him what he was doing now and he said he worked for a big publishing company and he said “What are you doing now?” and I said that I was a bit lost at the moment and hadn´t picked up the guitar in six months. He wondered if I had written any songs and I said “Well, I´ve written one acoustic song.” and he goes “I´d like to hear it!”. I played it to him and he goes “That´s really good. Have you ever thought of doing a solo acoustic thing?”. I said “That´s not a bad idea.”. Then he said “You´ve got anything else going on?” and I mentioned that I´d gotten the rights to The Almighty catalog back. He said “Give me a couple of days and I´ll meet you here on Friday. I might be able to do something.”. He came back on Friday morning and offered me a check for 40.000 Euros and I was back in the music industry. (laughs) It helped me finance the first solo record. I had no confidence back then, but he sort of helped me get it back in the game and I´ve never looked back since that point.