BLACK STAR RIDERS – One More Dance With Lizzy
October 1, 2019, 9 months ago
If you're old enough to remember and appreciate the magic of Thin Lizzy - or a youngling with refined taste - you're likely aware that legacy gave birth to Black Star Riders in 2012. Long story short, guitarist Scott Gorham wanted to record new Thin Lizzy material, but out of respect for the late Phil Lynott, his estate and the fans, Gorham and the band's line-up at the time chose to do so under a different name. Black Star Riders released their first album, All Hell Breaks Loose, in 2013 to rave reviews and haven't looked back. Each album has embraced their roots while carving out an identity for the Black Star Riders all their own. Led by frontman Ricky Warwick, who made a name fronting The Almighty before joining Thin Lizzy in 2010, the band has put out Another State Of Grace, which he believes is the Black Star Riders' strongest album to date.
"You know the drill," laughs Warwick. "Every time a band releases and album they say it's their best record ever. That's the way I'm feeling about Another State Of Grace because of the way the band is right now, the way we're a unit with Christian (Martucci / guitars) coming in. I'm not sure what it is, but something has really kicked things up a notch."
Diving right in, Another State Of Grace marks Black Star Riders' first album without guitarist Damon Johnson, who acted as Warwick's songwriting partner since the band's inception. It was a potentially major blow for the band, but as a group of seasoned veterans they were able to shake off the loss and move forward. The fact it was an amicable split likely contributed to making the change easier to deal with in the end.
"Damon didn't just turn up and say 'Hey guys, I'm leaving...' and take off the next day," Warwick explains. "We knew for about a year that he would be leaving us, which was after we came off the road opening for Judas Priest in the States last spring. It was handled very well. Damon is an amazing guy and we love him, and we wish him only the best. As for the songwriting, I write most of the guitar riffs and all of the lyrics, so I would get a song to where I was happy with it and then I would take it to Damon, and then we would finish it together. The process didn't change, only now I would take those ideas to Christian. He'd have his input, Scott Gorham and Robert Crane (bass) would have their riffs and ideas, as always. Christian fit right in not just playing-wise, but as a person with his attitude and his energy. Obviously, with Damon leaving, that sucks, but it was never a case of 'What are we going to do now?' We just had to find somebody else and keep moving along."
Warwick and his bandmates didn't worry about the fact Martucci is also a member of a "little" band called Stone Sour....
"In 2019 and rock ‘n' roll, you can see how many people out there are in more than one band. Take the Foo Fighters; everybody in that band has side stuff going on. I think that's just the way that it is now because nobody is able to retire on record sales alone anymore. You have to go out and play and be involved in different scenarios, different bands. Christian being in Stone Sour never phased us. They were off the road for three years, Slipknot (featuring Stone Sour frontman Corey Taylor) is going out for their new record, so when Stone Sour becomes active again we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. Everything's negotiable."
Black Star Riders have always come by the Thin Lizzy sound honestly, but it seems even more pronounced on Another State Of Grace compared to previous albums. The band has always been conscious of not trying to cash in on that distinctive Thin Lizzy vibe, but there was no fighting the natural order of things with a long time member of the beloved band in the Black Star Riders ranks.
"The song 'Underneath The Afterglow' is pretty much all Scott Gorham," says Warwick. "He's all over this record. Scott has probably played more on this record than he has on any of the other Black Star Riders records. He played his ass off on this record, he was on fire, and that's why I think you're hearing a bit more Thin Lizzy coming through. Scott is playing all over it and it's wonderful. Thin Lizzy is in Scott's DNA and Phil was a huge influence on me - I've never made a secret of that - and I got to sing those classic songs for a few years, so it's something that we don't want to shy away from. There are songs like 'Poisoned Heart' and 'What Will It Take?' that don't sound like Thin Lizzy at all, so hopefully the album has that mixture."
Warwick says the band consciously decided to keep the songs on Another State Of Grace short and sweet (preferably under four minutes), trimming any potential fat away.
"We wanted to keep everything catchy, direct, stripped down and... no messing around," he says. "It's a straight ahead record from start to finish. I'm a big fan of soul and Motown, artists like Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Four Tops and the soul, power and anthemic vibe they had. Those are great songs, and to me that's just beautiful rock ‘n' roll writing. Three minutes, they sound fantastic, the playing is great, and the songs just connect. I would listen to that music more than anything and it had a huge influence on my writing. Obviously, I take that influence and turn the guitars way up (laughs) but I think that influence comes across on the new record."
Another State Of Grace is also beautifully warm for all the heavy riffs and monstrous grooves, which Warwick credits to producer / engineer Jay Ruston and the band working as unit from start to finish.
"We recorded this album as organically as possible. If we needed to cheat, obviously we'd use Pro-Tools to splice something, but the performances are all real. There's no auto-tune, it's as live as it possibly can be. The album was recorded in two-and-a-half weeks; everyone did their homework before we went in, everybody knew their parts, and because of the type of band that we are we don't need to spend six months in the studio. It's all about the feel, the vibe, and the groove for us. There's no substitute that. It comes from inside and you can't replace that with technology. Working with Jay Ruston, we did a song a day, and it worked really well for us rather than the drummer coming in, doing all his drum tracks, then going home, and so on with bass and guitars and vocals. We were able to focus on the songs individually, and the whole band was there until the very end of recording. We were coming up with ideas, everybody felt involved, and I think that was a revelation for us."
As mentioned, Black Star Riders had the opportunity to support Judas Priest on tour in 2018, which is any band's dream. This year they will hit the road with the iconic Diamond Head supporting them in Europe, a legendary act in their own right if on a smaller scale.
"Judas Priest.... their latest album is amazing and they were on fire," Warwick smiles. "Rob is singing as great as ever, and even though I've been in this business for 32 years it was still 'Oh my God, Rob Halford just walked past me in the hallway...' (laughs). The Priest guys were so good to us, and funny enough three of their crew members used to work with The Almighty. It was great going on tour and seeing guys that I'd toured the world with for eight years. They're great people, an amazing band. We knew we couldn't go out and play any of our softer stuff, so we played the heavier Black Star Riders songs because we know what the Judas Priest audience wants. We're not a straight ahead metal band but the audiences appreciated what we did. They could feel the power and the heaviness, that we were loud as hell on stage, and I think we were able to win the majority of the Priest fans over."
"Touring with Diamond Head, it's great; 'Am I Evil?' is such an iconic song for all of us who grew up with it. The new Diamond Head record sounds fantastic, and it's just a huge honour to have those guys out on the road with us. I think it's a fantastic bill and it'll be a great evening of heavy rock ‘n' roll."
(Photos by: Robert John)