Your most recent release “Cruel Magic” is such a fantastic album. What’s your favorite song you wrote for it?
Speaking personally it has to be ‘Ophidian’ because it’s so different from everything else we play. It was the last track to be written for the album. We’d been working for two years on writing & arranging. It had slowly become clear that the vocal ideas on two of the songs we’d chosen weren’t working, and Brian pointed out that much of the music was so fast he didn’t think he’d be able to do anything with it. He asked if I had anything at mid-pace tempo – something he could really get his teeth into. Well I didn’t, none of us did but it made me pause to take stock and consider his point. To cut a long story short, that is how the song ‘Ophidian’ came into being. I’m grateful that Brian spoke up because the vocal on this track is one of his finest moments ever. I think from that point onwards we became much more focused on getting the best ‘vocal’ arrangements and four of the songs got major overhauls to facilitate this.
Recently you’ve started to tour the USA for “Cruel Magic”, has there been any memorable moments from the tour so far?
At the time of writing, we’ve now completed the tour, which is definitely the most successful run we’ve ever had. The interest and attendance have been phenomenal and I guess it really peaked at our Brooklyn show at Saint Vitus. We hadn’t played New York in two years and the venue was at bursting point. The noise at the end of our set was deafening. The loudest thing I’ve ever heard in my life! We were just looking at each other with our hands over our ears! Another memorable moment for me was at the Cleveland show. We got into town late from Seattle and I really wanted to catch the opening set by Destructor. I arrived guitar case in hand just as they were beginning and went straight to the front. On the first number, the guitarist/singer Dave broke a string and I thought, “Oh no!” Then I remembered I had my guitar with me. I reached down to my case and pulled out a ‘bottom E’ string and when the song finished I stepped forward to hand it to Dave. The look on his face was absolutely priceless! A mix of relief and astonishment I’d say. It felt really good to be on hand to help a fellow musician and their set was friggin awesome!
How did everyone in the band meet?
We were at school together. Myself, Steve, Graeme & Andy (Reed). It was the last year of high school and Steve had the idea to form a metal band and that it would be called Satan. At that point, he couldn’t play any instrument but decided that he would be the rhythm guitarist and I would teach him since I could already play (a little). Well at 15, we all thought it was a pretty cool idea haha. Graeme was studying classical guitar so got the bass job. And Andy was famous for kicking over his drum kit at a school concert so it was a no brainer he should be the drummer. We always struggled to find someone who could front the band. Nobody wanted to do it!
What was it like playing your first show together?
That would’ve been the school Christmas concert in 1980 haha. We had to play three songs and a classmate had volunteered for the job of singing but he was a little bit shy and kept his head down the whole time while mumbling inaudibly into his mic. Our drummer Andy Reed had no drum mat and he was hitting the bass drum so hard that it jumped forward an inch with every hit. By the end of the set he was right at the front of the stage and we had to cut the last song shortly before he fell off the edge. Then he stood up and kicked it over! We loved it.
Being around the music scene for almost forty years, what is it like seeing all the changes in the metal scene?
My very first awareness of getting excited by music was in the early 70’s when bands like The Sweet and David Bowie played on British TV shows. The thing that really got under my skin was pure classic Rock – Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Sabbath. I so wanted to do that and would posture in my room pretending to be a guitar player with a broomstick. Later, two guitar bands like Judas Priest and Wishbone Ash became the thing. Then, when I saw Iron Maiden it totally made me want to be in a band for real. They really increased the speed factor. I wanted to take it further still with Satan which we did, but then thrash came along and speed went off the scale! The thing all of the above bands had in common was that they recorded live to analog tape. I never appreciated how much I would miss that sound until years later when it was gone completely. By the early 1990’s I’d given up my music career and I kind of switched off as a listener when the digital age started to kick in – Grunge, Nu Metal, it all seemed to be louder and simpler – bands playing to a sound grid. Horrible. Slip Knot increased the excitement for sure but it was still micromanaged and quantized to Hell. Nothing sounded real anymore. Even Maiden & Priest were on the grid. To me, it was like the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And then the very worst of all happened… Symphonic Metal! Nooooooo……
Thankfully there’s been a recent revival of underground bands recording live to tape including Anti Christ and Black Magic from Sweden, Danava and Natur from the US, and my own new project Tanith. This is very promising and I’m hopeful that it will catch on in the mainstream. If nobody uses analog studios then the engineers & machines will become obsolete and this beautiful medium will be gone forever.
If you could collaborate with any artist/band, who would it be?
It’s funny but I’ve never worked with an organist/keyboards player before and I’ve always been an admirer of Ken Hensley from Uriah Heep. I would totally love to do something with that guy, both in terms of writing and performing on stage.
What do you think your life would be like without music?
I have no clue. The only real job I ever had was as a motor fitter for two years when I gave up music in the 90’s. It nearly wrecked my hands and to be honest, I don’t think I am cut out to work full time five days a week. I’m very much a night person and I guess if I couldn’t play guitar I would have found something, anything that meant I didn’t have to get out of bed early every day! A Night Watchman says…
If you could change anything about today’s music overall, what changes would you implement?
Well, I know this will sound old-fashioned and somewhat Luddite, but as I’ve already stated I’d really like things to go back to how they were before Pro-Tools and autotune, where it was simply about recording a band playing their songs as if it was a live gig or dress rehearsal. It’s hard for me to listen to 21st-century recording because nearly all of it sounds so phony. Nothing ever goes wrong or stands out in excellence. There is no spontaneity and it’s boring as Hell to listen to. Compared to say, the excitement of Raven’s first album or Iron Maiden’s debut.
Lastly, if you could give your past self-advice, what would you tell them?
This one is easy. I’d go back to 1984 after ‘Court in the Act’ was released. I’d tell myself not to listen to the negative press reviews. And to pay no attention to the dismal sales of the first six months. Most of all, do NOT break up the band and follow a different direction with another singer. I’d persuade my younger self to keep the faith and get to work on the second Satan LP. In the same style with the same line-up. All of that should have happened.