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INTERVIEW – Ricky Warwick, Black Star Riders – March 2015

| 30 March 2015 | Reply

INTERVIEW – Ricky Warwick, Black Star Riders – March 2015
By Shane Pinnegar

Having name changed from Thin Lizzy to Black Star Riders and toured internationally, including supporting KISS and Motley Crue throughout Australia in 2013, Black Star Riders are back with second album The Killer Instinct. SHANE PINNEGAR catches up with lead singer & guitarist Ricky Warwick for a chat down the line from Beverley Hills.

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Crucially, having shed the Thin Lizzy moniker has allowed the band to evolve musically and The Killer Instinct shows them forging a unique identity of their own.

“You know, along the way I think you have expectations with every record that you make,” muses the frontman. “We know we had a good batch of songs. When we brought in Nick Raskulinecz [to produce the album] that was such a huge bonus for us just because of the work that he’s done [Raskulinecz has produced artists such as Rush, Foo Fighters, Marilyn Manson, Danko Jones, Ghost, Mastodon and many more]. I’ll be honest with you: the album has far exceeded my expectations. All of that is obviously to do with the band, but I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Nick Raskulinecz because he really pushed this and I think he took the band to a whole new level.

“We’re comfortable in our skin, we knew we were making a Black Star Riders’ album obviously right from the get-go on this,” Warwick says of the Black Star Riders’ musical evolution. “The band toured for two years as Black Star Riders. Whereas the first album came out [of] all the turmoil because we weren’t sure if we were going to carry on the Thin Lizzy name. But myself, Damon [Johnson, guitarist], and Scott [Gorham, guitarist and only remaining member of the 1970s Thin Lizzy] were very galvanized in the fact that we needed to carry on, we needed to come up with a new name, which we did. Jimmy Degrasso came in on drums, I’d met Jimmy two days earlier before we went into the studio and started recording. Total different set of circumstances this time around.

“I’m not taking anything away from that album, I love that first album. Kevin [Shirley, producer of debut album All Hell Breaks Loose] did a great job and I think it established a bond, and I’m damn proud of it.”

The Killer Instinct was recorded in just 21 days – still almost double the studio time they enjoyed for their debut. Warwick says that the extra time made a lot of difference.

“You know, it did, there was a huge difference. To me that was the key. We had a weeks worth of pre-production with Nick which was invaluable as far as I was concerned. Just going through the songs and everybody knowing exactly what they were playing, why they were playing it, working on melodies, working on arrangements. That was huge and then just having the extra week in the studio where, ‘hey that guitar part I played last night, I can do something better.’ Having that opportunity where with Kevin it was pretty much ‘wham bam thank you ma’am,’ capture the attitude, but that’s it: you’re done. You know what I mean? It was like wow, it was too quick for us.

“We have a guitar band with Scott and Damon,” Warwick goes on, “and that two guitar thing going on, that’s something that they need time, I think, to work on because we’re always evolving, always changing. I think they had the time to do that this time around and everybody felt a little more comfortable with the extra time.”

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Twelve days or 21 days – it’s still a far cry from the days of yore when record labels would stump up millions for a band to spend month after month in the studio. It necessitates a certain economy in every aspect of being a band.

“I think that’s it,” agrees Warwick. “Back in the ’80s and early ’90s the budget was limitless and people were throwing money around like it was confetti. That was the case, it was big budgets. Producers demanded big fees and you got lazy and people were taking two, three months, four months, five months to make a record. Which when you think about it is dumb. Obviously technology has evolved, studio techniques are a lot quicker now. There’s no splicing of the tape, if you do make a mistake you can edit it out now, [whereas] before you may have had to do a whole new retake. That’s certainly speeded things along, but I still very much adhere to the old thing that you need to have your shit together. If you’ve got the song together, and you’re rehearsed, and are well learned then you’re going to save a bunch of time in the studio.”

Warwick goes on to further praise Raskulinecz.

“He’s great. He gets really emotionally involved in every way. He really became a new member of the band for the month that we were in there. He lives and breathes it with you, and he pushes you as an individual, and as a band, to do the best you can in the studio, and takes you out of your comfort zone.

“He’s just a complete music nut. His studio is just filled with all this gear. We didn’t even have to bring any gear. The guys brought their favourite guitar and Jimmy brought some of his drum kit but I think Jimmy ended up using one of Dave Grohl’s drum kits on the actual record. And he’s got all these vintage Marshall Amps and Orange cabs, and these beautiful old vintage guitars. The choice is limitless. You walk in one day and you think, ‘hey, I’ll try a Gibson Explorer on that song today.’ There was all that going on as well which was a huge difference. He’s got great people skills, he keeps you very motivated. When doing stupid hours – we’d start at midday and we’d be finished by 10 – but we got a hell of a lot done in that time.”

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Still, Raskulinecz wasn’t the bands first choice: Def Leppard’s Joe Elliot – who produced Warwick’s debut solo album Tattoos & Alibis in 2003 – was originally slated to produce the record, but had to pull out due to touring clashes with Leppard.

“I love Joe to death, he’s one of my best and dearest friends,” explains Warwick, “and it would have been fantastic working with Joe, there’s no doubt about it. And we would have made a great album working with Joe. I don’t think we would have made the album that we did working with Nick, because obviously they’re two different people, but I think we would have made a different sounding album working with Joe. It would have been a good record, but things happen for a reason and I’m sure we’ll work with Joe at some point down the line.”

Running the gamut from denim & leather rockers to Celtic-tinged stompers and even a slow-burning epic, The Killer Instinct proves these old dogs still have teeth to take a bite out of you, and the promise of more music – and more evolution – from them is exciting indeed. Warwick says the expectations of their fans are slowly evolving as well.

“When we [first] went out we were playing nine songs off [debut] All Hell Breaks Loose,” explains the singer, “which was virtually unheard of off a brand new album. That stuff was going over great. I think people are now realising that we have this [Thin Lizzy] legacy which we can tap into which is amazing, but we’re very much a stand alone band.”

That said, Warwick is adamant that Black Star Riders will still play Thin Lizzy tracks live, despite having two original albums worth of material of their own to choose from.

“[Playing less Thin Lizzy songs] is something that we’ve discussed. We love playing Lizzy songs, people expect it from us, and there will always be some Thin Lizzy songs in the Black Star Rider set. I think the question is how many, but we’re going to be playing a good chunk off the new album and obviously a few from the first. There’s still room for a good percentage of Lizzy stuff as well so it looks pretty good.

“Hopefully if we get to do the third record and beyond that will change things. We try and gauge what we think the people want and what they tell us they want from being online and stuff like that. That’s really all you can do.”

The Killer Instinct features a great cover image as well, putting the WWII-styled pinup girl from their debut into a Dr Strangelove scenario, riding a bomb through the skies.


“Absolutely. You hit it on the head Shane, that was the whole plan!” enthuses Warwick. “We had such a great reaction to that first album cover. We did try some different album covers and then some guys came up with some great designs, but we just said, ‘hey, everybody liked what we did with this first album cover, let’s develop that a little bit further.’ It’s become a bit of an iconic image for the band and let’s not be too dismissive of it right now. Let’s keep it going, you know. So that’s what we did.

“We’ll come up with an idea and then – obviously none of us are artists – so we’ll go to somebody that we think can make it happen. Obviously with this time around we stuck with the same people that did the cover for All Hell Breaks Loose and that was just a question of sitting down with them, this is what we envisioned it being, and what we’d like it to be, and they did it again. They came up with some great stuff.”

Despite a line-up including former members of The Almighty, Ratt, Alice Cooper, Sammy Hagar & Vince Neil’s bands, Lynch Mob, Suicidal Tendencies, Megadeth and more, Warwick is insistent that this is a real band rather than an artificially created ‘Super Group’.

“I would hate to think of Black Star Riders as a ‘Super Group’! There’s a chemistry in this band, there’s a belief in this band. It’s not a project – it’s a band.

“Everybody that’s in this band is committed to Black Star Riders first and foremost. Beyond that we all have [other] things that go on, but they take a back seat. One of the reasons why Michael Mendoza is no longer with us because he had a few things going on, Dead Daisies being one of them. We wanted a commitment. It’s real for us as cliché as that may sound. We believe in it, we’ve got great camaraderie, we get along great. We care about the songs, we care about the shows, we care about the art, we care about how we’re presented, we care about how people pick us, what time they’re having when they come and see us live. We want to make sure they’re entertained. We make sure they have a great night, they feel the energy, they feel the attitude.

“It’s real and I don’t think some of these other bands are real. I don’t think they mean it and I think that’s the biggest crime that you can commit in music as far as I’m concerned.”

In addition to Black Star Riders, Warwick has also been involved with the first batch of reissues of his old band The Almighty, with their first two albums (Blood, Fire & Love and Soul Destruction) getting the remastered & expanded treatment.

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First, I mention to Warwick that I noticed Black Star Riders played a Munich festival last year called Free And Easy – the name of an early Almighty stomper.

“The irony wasn’t lost of me,” he laughs, and with the festival being established in ’95, and the song released in ’91, there’s every chance that was no coincidence.

How has the feedback from the Almighty reissues been so far?

“It’s been great,” says Warwick happily. “It’s one of those things that as time passes the popularity of the band still kind of amazes me that so many people care. Even new people I never even thought about. We’ve had great coverage in the magazines and stuff. Like I said, the reviews have been great. It’s still like an old friend you haven’t seen for a while. I’m just happy we’re putting the house in order and all this stuff is getting packaged the way it should be. It’s being put up on the various downloading sites as well so people can go to iTunes and get the album, where before they couldn’t. So that gives me great satisfaction that everything is getting put into place. I think it’s great, I’m very happy that they’re doing so well.”

Not only do the reissue packages look great, and include a stack of rarities, the remastering job has them sounding amazing.

“It does, it makes a big difference, it really does,” the singer/guitarist agrees. “All of them are eventually going to come out. We’re working on Powertrippin’ and Crank and Just Add Life for the next to so I think that will be good.”

The Almighty Soul Destruction CD

It’s unlikely that the reissues will lead to a reformation of The Almighty… but you never know.

“You know, it’s a cliche, but it’s a ‘never say never’.” Says Warwick. “I still am very, very good friends with the drummer [Stump Monroe] and we talk a lot. It’s something we’ve certainly talked about. We’d like to do a few shows, but it’s one of those things that I guess it’s a situation where… nobody really wants to do it. There’s nobody hurting for cash, thank God, everybody’s happy doing what they’re doing in their own lives. With The Almighty, as intense as it was, it almost needs to have a want or a will to do it. It’s kind of like, yeah, it’d be fun. To me that’s not good enough to want to do it. I think it needs to be a bit more than that. Intent has to be there, but I wouldn’t rule anything out because you never know what’s coming around the corner. I certainly would have no objection to doing a few shows somewhere down the line at some point.

“A one-off show? Yeah, that would be great. I think it’s such a big part of my life, and our life, and it shaped us into the people that we are. I owe it so much: I wouldn’t be here talking to you if it wasn’t for The Almighty, and I certainly still love those songs and still believe in them. I’d have no problem playing them. When I play solo I always play quite a few Almighty songs in my solo set.

Having been lucky enough to see The Almighty opening for Iron Maiden at 1992’s Donington Festival, I can attest that any kind of live show from them will be immense.

Warwick meanwhile muses on the process of digging up old b-sides and radio sessions for the reissues.

“It has [been interesting], but yeah, you forget because you don’t – obviously, unless your a complete narcissist – listen to your [own] stuff all the time. You forget and you bring back memories. Suddenly you’ll hear a song and you’ll go, oh yeah I remember recording that in that studio, and that was the night so-and-so came. That’s lovely, that’s nice to be able to get that jolt, that flash back in time and remember an occasion or something that happened because of a track that you’re listening to. But yeah, absolutely, like I said I stand by them all. It was a fantastic 10 years of my life and I completely mis-spent my youth and my 20’s. A lot of bad times but a lot of good times as well.”

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And so, after expressing a desire to bring Black Star Riders back to Australia as soon as possible (“can’t wait to get back, love the country, love the people so I really hope that happens”) Ricky Warwick is off through the streets of Beverley Hills to pick his daughter up from school. And there’s nothing more rocking than that.

An edited version of this story was originally published in X-Press Magazine’s 25 March, 2015 Issue

Category: Interviews

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