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INTERVIEW: JOHN GALLAGHER of Raven – October 2014

| 7 November 2014 | Reply

Legendary heavy metal band Raven is celebrating their 40th anniversary, and it’s a busy time for them.  They’re working on not one, but two new albums and are currently on their longest tour in years.  Robert Kitay of 100% Rock Magazine caught up with Raven’s singer/bass player John Gallagher before their show at the Elbo Room in San Francisco, California on October 27, 2014.


Robert: You guys went a couple decades without visiting us here in San Francisco, but now you’re pretty regular now.  What happened?

John: We took Metamucil (laughs).  A couple things happened.  I think the last time we played San Fran was’85ish maybe, I don’t know, or maybe ’84 at the Kabuki.  Must be ’84.  We didn’t play when we toured in ’86 when we did some shows with Judas Priest, where the closest we got was LA.  Then when we toured in ’88/’89 with Testament the tour didn’t come this far, they just played some solo gigs at the end.  And then grunge hit and we didn’t do much touring in the states at all, so it was just circumstances.  And then we got the offer a few years back after Mark had his accident when we were just getting back out and about to play the Rockit Room, which was a fun little show, and then we did Tidal Wave, and then like you said last year we played the DNA Lounge and now here we are at the Elbo Room staring at girls, so it’s wonderful.  So it’s been good getting out and about.  Last year was the first time we did a real full tour of the states since God knows when.  I mean it was really just a half tour in ’89, so this is a really extensive tour.  I mean we are doing 2 weeks in California for gosh sakes.

Robert: How long is this tour lasting?

John: This tour goes right though Thanksgiving.

Robert: When did it start?

John: It started on October 2nd.  It started in Florida, we worked our way across, up, down, then to the Midwest, east coast, then back again.  It’s extraordinary.  I mean America is so big that if you literally wanted to hit every market you’d be out for 3 or 4 months, it’s crazy.  Even then you could start again playing places next to where you just played.  Even though it’s not the touring heyday, but even now you can still do it.

Robert: I saw a recent interview with you that was talking about your winter and spring tour plans and it seems like you’re playing everywhere – South America, Australia, New Zealand.

John: Yeah, a lot of stuff going on.  That just got confirmed.  Yeah, we are playing South America.  And Heathen is playing with us, so we’ll get to hang out with Lee.  He’s a good guy from Exodus.  So we’ll get to play some places we’ve never played before.  We’ve played South America twice, actually three times.  So we’ve played Brazil, we’ve played Bolivia, which was an oddball one which was amazing.  We were on national TV in the morning, so it was a real big event for them.  No body told us, so we kind of freaked out.  And we’ve played Argentina.  This one starts in Venezuela, then Ecuador, Chile, Peru, so it will be awesome.

Robert: Is there any particular place you love playing?  A favorite place to play?

John: Brazil is awesome.  It’s always fun.  But we kind of have our own crowd.  Crazy Raven lunatics wherever we go, whether it’s 10 people, 10,000 or 100,000.  When we played in Brazil we played a club with 250 people and the night before we played for 65,000 people with Metallica in Sao Paulo, which was awesome.  But at the end of the day it’s the same story, go out there to entertain and have a good time.  If we have a good time, they’re going to have a good time.  Not a bad thing to do.

Robert: So tell me about the Kickstarter campaign you have going on.

John: So what happened was that we wanted to do the next album, and we were talking about how we wanted to take it to the next level, make the songs stronger, more direct, more riff oriented, no real parameters other than to make it heavy.  And that took a lot more out of the wallet just getting it prepped as far as writing, rehearsing, demoing because we’re spread all over the place.  Marks in Florida, I’m in Virginia and Joseph’s in Massachusetts. So, through a friend the Kickstarter thing was discussed and seemed like a way to go.  So we talked it out with our record company, who were very supportive, but a deal is a deal.  You just can’t flip around and ask for triple the money, it usually just doesn’t work out that way.  So we kicked in, they kicked in, and we needed the money to finish it up, so we decided to go out with that.  One of the things we did while rehearsing was to record an 11 track cover album called Party Killers, which is a joke amongst us for many years.  We went to a party in Germany and our manager’s son or nephew or whatever he was was a DJ and he was playing all this horrible disco, it was a big ass party, so all these people were dancing on the floor, and we say ‘Play “Sheer Heart Attack” by Queen.’  And he did and the place emptied and we were standing there proud, like proud fathers, saying “party killers, yeah.” So we had a collection of songs that would literally do that if you played them at a shitty disco.  And it’s also kind of like when we were kids we had this little red 45 box, and a lot of the songs are in there.  Like “Hang on to Yourself” by David Bowie, it was on Ziggy Stardust, which was kind of an obscure album, and we really kicked it up. “Fireball” by Deep Purple, “Tak Me Bak Ome” by Slade, “Is There A Better Way” by Status Quo.  So it’s all in that time period of the late ‘70s pretty much.  “Ogre Battle” by Queen.  So we had a blast doing it.  These are songs we’ve loved for years.


Robert: I can’t wait to hear it.  So, how did you do at singing Freddie Mercury?

John: I was great.  When we were recording it the engineer turned around and said you just did “Ogre Battle” in 25 minutes, and I said “Yeah, but I didn’t write it.”  (Laughs)  So you’ve got to give props to Freddie and the boys for writing such a brilliant song.  We are just putting our little spin on it.  It was excellent to do, because when I was growing up there was the Queen Christmas Concert, in ‘75 and I was watching it.  Back then there were no video recorders, so I was taping it with a microphone.  And I was pouring over every note for the last 40 years.  So we start recording this, and we’re in Richmond, Virginia, so Joseph says “Let me at it.  I’ll do it.  I’ll play the song.” So we say, go ahead, play it.  So he goes in there.  No click track, no nothing.  (John starts pounding out the beat) And the studio owner brings in this guy and says “This is Mark.”  We say “Hi Mark,” and it turns out to be Mark Morton of Lamb of God.  He starts looking around saying “What’s going on here?”  We say “We’re just recording our drums” and he says “I know, but there’s no band.”  Yeah, he knows the song.  Then he says “But there’s no click track.”  Yeah, we don’t use click track.  “So, how does he know the song?”  Well, we’ve been hearing it for a few years, so know know it good.  He couldn’t understand how we record like that, but we’ve never recorded like everybody else does.  It’s like we were discussing earlier about playing live and the whole click track thing, with the fake instruments, and the laptop.  That’s not rock and roll.  That’s not rock and roll.  That’s your slagging off Brittney Spears and those people.  That’s what you’re doing when you’re doing that.  So, don’t throw stones in the glass house and all that nonsense. So, when we record, I mean, yeah we might rerecord the bass and the guitars, but we play as a band, with the exception of “Ogre Battle,” which was done a little differently.  But we usually play as a band.  We usually change the guitar.  Usually the facilities in the studio, you want to play in a big room with a guitar to mess around with stuff, and there usually isn’t enough room in the studio.   But we play as a band and that energy is in there, the push, the pull.  The needle drops from the beginning to the end, it might be a little faster at the end.  That’s ok.  That’s energy.

Robert: I’ve always thought what makes Raven exceptional is that it sounds like a live band, full of energy.  It sounds live in the studio.

John: Because it basically is.  That’s exactly it. I mean, it was fun doing this one because we would work on stuff, and the lyrics were 99.99% done, so yeah I sung bass and it just added more energy to the process, it really does.  That’s what makes a difference.  When we did our DVD, we went down to interview with Michael Wagener and he gave us a great comment.  He said “I’ve only worked with 3 bands that track the way you did.”  The other two were King’s X and a band called Saigon Kick out of Florida.  They’re real bands.  They play as real bands.  There is none of this it’s all clicked out and done now.  I see these videos on Youtube where their doing the guitars with along with a metronome (makes clicking noises) counting along with it, and the drummer plays four months later or something.  It’s killing music.  It’s killing music.  Would Led Zeppelin do that?  Absolutely not!  Would the Who do that?  No frickin way!  Yeah, The Who used backing tapes on two or three songs, but they still had to contain Keith Moon, didn’t they. (Laughs)

Robert: Speaking of drummers, I never got to see Raven back in the day with Wacko, but the stories are just legendary.

John: He certainly had his moments.  That’s for sure.

Robert: I recently heard that after he left Raven, he started producing jazz music.

John: Yes, he does live sound for Branford Marsalis.

Robert: Did he, back in the day with Raven, did he show a particular interest in jazz?

John: Not at all.  His one hook was his interest in pop.  I mean melodies and stuff like that is a large part of what we do, but like the “Pack is Back” was a bit too much of that.  I mean, that was him. He did that album, with the click tracks.  That’s why we never used click tracks again, because it kills the feel.  But no, one way or another he came across a jazz guy and that’s the way he went.  There was a long period when we never talked, but we now talk occasionally because of business stuff.  But Rob is a very talented guy, he always was, always will be.  And we were very, very lucky to find Joe because he needed somebody to bring as much to the table as Rob did.  A guy who plays guitar; a guy who writes; a guy who has vision and perception of what’s going on, like in an arrangement sense of things.  Contrary to most drummer jokes, the drummer is usually the guy who has the full picture, so Joe’s very much got that.  This new album, because me and Mark really pushed it, Joe said we really need to feature this, we really need to turn this shit up.  And we did, and drums are going to blow your head off; it’s awesome.

Robert: The rock and roll world is full of stories about brothers in bands, and usually they’re fighting.

John: It’s contentious.

Robert: I just saw a story about the Kinks today, a recent interview.


John: Is it ‘We’re going to reform whether he’s with us or not.’

Robert: Actually the opposite.  Dave said he didn’t want to work…

John: Ray anymore.

Robert: No, not Ray, but with drummer Mick Avory, and Ray said he wouldn’t reform the Kinks without him.

John: Really?

Robert: Yeah.  But you never hear that story with Raven.  Is it difficult working in a band with your brother for 40 years?

John: No, it’s really good.  Because, although we’re different and we approach it two different ways, you getting something greater than the sum of it’s parts.  We can argue and forget about it minutes later.  There is no festering whatever.  It’s like F-you, f-you..eerrr – It’s what we do.  It’s in our blood.  It’s what we do, and it’s very healthy that way.  To me, he’s really inspirational.  The way he came back from that accident, it kind of sums up what we’re all about.  It’s unbelievable.

Robert: The other dynamic is being a 3 piece.  You look at 3 piece bands and they generally stay together a lot longer.

John: Well, that’s another thing.  I think the dynamic of having more people in the band results in there being two camps and stuff like that.  With a 3 piece it’s harder to play those games, and it’s like a gang, a bunch of friends playing as opposed to being a corporation.  Or having like the Hitler type, or for a better word for it the Yngwie Malmsteen version of things or the Blackie Lawless version of things, where it’s basically a solo project or a side project, which is fine.  It’s just not the way we do things.  And the 3 piece dynamics are kind of interesting because you would think that you might be restricted and limited to what you can do, but you’re not.  You’re free to do so much more.  The improvisational thing, and we do that on a nightly basis.  There’s always some extra stuff put in there.  And playing a tour like this you start locking into stuff.  You might say “that was really good last night. Let’s put that in and let’s keep that.”  While we’re on, rest in peace Jack Bruce.  Now, there was a trio.

Robert: After 40 years, have you had any thoughts of retiring?

John: No, we’re just getting started.  (Laughs)  Literally, we’re just getting started.

Robert: So we’re not going to see one of those BS final tours from Raven any time soon?

John: The endless farewell tour.  The ones that started when it started and it ends when it ends.  Those are just cash grabs.  I think the only time I saw one happen for real was Thin Lizzy.  They said they were going to retire, they did a tour, and then they broke up.  And then Phil died and it wasn’t going to happen again until what 30 years later.

Robert: But 30 years later…

John: Well, that’s a good thing.  That’s great music and people should hear it.  That music is precious, that’s excellent music.  God bless Scott Gorham for going out and still kicking it out.  That’s great shit.

Robert: Yeah, recently I saw Black Star Riders and it was great to hear new music from those guys and yet you still get to hear the old Thin Lizzy songs.

John: Yeah, the new stuff is still in the same vein.  They have great players.  They’re just a great band.

Robert: So, what kind of music do you listen to when you’re out on tour, or at home.


John: A lot of stuff.  We were just listening there in the bus to The Sweet and Slade.  All that kind of cover stuff we listen to.  Mahavishnu, Yes, Genesis, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree, Tori Amos, I love all her stuff.  Kate Bush from way back when.  Some of the more eclectic like Michael Hodges on acoustic guitar.  He was brilliant before the poor guy died.  Stuff like that.  Across the board to me there’s just good music and bad music.

Robert: Are there any new bands you really excited about?

John: The young fellas playing with us on this tour, Night Demon, are awesome.  They’ve got that spirit of 1979 as it were.  They really nail it down.  There are a few other bands.  Our friend Brian from Municipal Waste has a band called Bat, which really kicks ass.  They have that New Wave of British Heavy Metal thing.  Calderon from Canada are an awesome band.  A band called Holy Grail I’ve heard floating around; they’re really good too. They’re bands who play songs – singing. Not that Cookie Monster stuff that should have went bye bye 20 years ago, but people still try to resurrect the corpse of “Reign in Blood” and make it worse than it was.  Sorry dudes – Slayer did it.  They’re still doing it.  Play something else.  They kind of got that cornered.

Robert: I’ll finish up with one last question.  Gene Simmons recently said “Rock and Roll is dead” – Is that true or false?

John: I’d didn’t hear the whole thing so it’s hard to comment.  But taking it on the premise of rock and roll is dead, the little I did hear is that he was talking about comparing it to the way it was, where there was a business and you could sell albums – that’s dead basically.  But you adapt and move on.  As far as the music being dead?  No!  Absolutely not!  Absolutely rubbish.  And if he thinks his music is dead, then I don’t know where that comes from.  But Gene seems to be inserting his foot in his mouth quite often.  I saw him on TV talking about ebola for gosh sakes.  Come on.

Robert: Anything to get publicity?

John: That’s it.  There’s no such thing as bad publicity, or so they say.  But no, rock and roll is not dead, and from what I see all over the world there is a whole new generation of people getting into heavy metal.  They’re knowledgeable.  They’re passionate.  It’s a great time to be playing hard rock and heavy metal or whatever the hell you want to call it.




Category: Interviews

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ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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