The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world
John Gallagher Raven - Interview
The Rockpit interviews

Some may remember Raven as the band that took Metallica out on their first major tour but the band are synonymous with being a pioneer in the early formation of thrash and speed metal as well as being associated with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. Whether you're an old fan or newbie, there is something for everyone as Raven have been delivering pure heavy metal consistently for over 40 years and 2015 sees the band put out a new album titled "ExtermiNation". We have a chat to bassist/lead vocalist John Gallagher about the new songs and the production values of today's music.



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Andrew: So how are things with you at the moment? How's the band?

John: We are great, we just got off doing a whole bunch of shows and they got me tied to the computer and the phone for the last 8 hours here so yeah it's been busy.

Andrew: Do you ever get sick and tired of doing interviews at all?

John: No generally the gents like yourselves are intelligent enough to mix it up a bit. Every now and again I get the...I don't know if you are familiar with the character that Chris Farley used to play on Saturday Night Live where he would go like 'Hey man Paul McCartney, you were in the Beatles. Do you remember that? That was cool!' That kind of crap. It's part of the territory, you just try to make something out of it.

Andrew: That's right. So let's talk about the new album then "ExtermiNation", what can you tell me about this one?

John: This album has more of a dance feel, we introduced a lot more horns and sexy backup vocalists on this one haha!

Andrew: Haha!

John: Enough malicious banter! We upped the level on this album, we knew we had to because the last record was very good and we put a lot of hard work into writing and arranging and re-writing and rearranging and then getting into the studio and kicking it out as a live band. No click tracks, no bullshit, done it the real way and it's paid off. We got an album of all sits together nicely yet it's diverse at the same time. It works, we're very happy with it.

Andrew: Definitely! I was just listening to a preview of it earlier and it sounds fantastic, there are some great songs on there. Was there anything in particular that you wanted to do on this album that you hadn't done before or didn't do on the last album?

John: We wanted to basically better everything, we wanted more of I guess for lack of a better word "All For One" meets "Architect Of Fear". We wanted very strong songs with a lot of melody but we also wanted very heavy and we got it. Equipment-wise we're always changing so it's new guitar gear, new bass gear, different drumkit. Kevin our engineer a few years further on, he's got a few tricks up his sleeve and it just all came together. Sonically I will put this up with anything, it really sounds that good. You turn this louder and it just gets better so there's none of that rubbish with the loudness wars or having it way too compressed, it breathes, it sounds right and it kicks ass so we're happy with it.

Andrew: Yeah as you said, sonically it sounds fantastic, a great sounding album! Now you just mentioned the whole loud wars, clipping and all that kind of thing. What's your whole take on that whole thing and why do you think bands are doing that now?

John: 'Cause their stupid haha!

Andrew: Haha!

John: Back in the day when you were doing analog recording, you really wanted to pin the meters because you wanted to get that tape compression. Once you put a low signal on the tape it kinda flattens out in a really cool way, there's a little bit of analog distortion out of the sound and normally when you did drums you would normally push the crap out of it. But with digital it's a different animal, you gotta have headroom, you gotta record and leave a bit of space at the top to play with it because unless you're playing black metal or punk or whatever, the music has to have dynamics. There's a little bit of light and shade, a bit up and down and once you start screwing around with limiters and compressors to the extent that people are doing these things, you reduce all the subtley out of the music completely and anything that is innately harsh in the music comes to the front so it wears your ears out. You might hear the first 10 seconds of whoever and it's like 'Oh this is great' but after a while it's like 'Woah it's hurting my fucking ears!' With our record, the louder you turn it up, the better it sounds. It really does!

Andrew: Yeah one of the things with digital technology is it's made people a little bit lazier than before. I mean would you agree with that?

John: Yeah absolutely, it's pro-tools and the other associated competitors. They're a great tool, it really is but it's a tool. You need to use it, not be used by it. In the 80's when all the big productions were coming together, people started figuring out shortcuts like 'Hey this chorus has 10 thousand voices on it so if we sing it once and then make a copy and then we can copy it in further into the song, we don't have to sing it 4 million times.' That is now to the 'nth degree with pro-tools, if you record with a click track so that everything is perfectly in time, you can take pieces from any of the part of the song and put it in it's place. It's not recording music at that point, it's not a rock n' roll band, it's word processing. It's like 'I need to copy this phrase I did earlier and I'll put it over here', it's not right. We use pro-tools and it's a great thing for like if you listen back to a bass track and I was late on this one note and if I'm not there then they can move it, you can cover stuff up. But people use that as a crutch, especially these drummers who are doing these very fast kick drum parts, a lot of them they can't play. There's no real balance, there's no consistency therefore the engineer comes in and moves every damn beat. 'This ones's off, this one's not loud enough, I'll replace the soft one with the loud one'. They glue it together and in the end 'Oh this is wonderful, the guy could never play that'. So it's kinda taking the piss haha!

Andrew: Haha exactly! I think it's much better for a band to actually play the music because if they paste together stuff in the studio, then when it comes to playing it live then it would make it a bit more difficult.

John: Yeah that means they have to go out and that's when you see all these guys with their laptop and they finish the song and ready to start the next song and they all start looking at the drummer and the drummer looks like he's checking his email. 'Oh I'm looking for the next song, OK it's 180 beats a minute, here's the click track...boom!'And because it's a click track you can have everything else in there too, I've seen bands do it where they have keyboards, orchestras. There's this band called Sabaton, all the riffs it's all keyboards and there's no keyboard player onstage. What the hell is that! They're not the only offenders, a lot of people do this. I'll call them out, what the hell! Ghost, I've heard half the vocals on there it's all on backing tracks. It's crazy, that's not live music! The studio is one thing, you can do all the tricks you want but if you don't play it right, you better back it up.

Andrew: Exactly right. So let's go into some of the songs on the new album. There's some great songs on here like "Feeding The Monster" and there's one song I particularly like "Thunder Down Under". Is that a reference to Australia by any chance?

John: 'Straya 'Stray 'Stray we love ya! Exactly, that's to Mr Bon Scott.

Andrew: Ah Bon Scott yes!

John: A little tribute to Bon, you can hear it in the lyrics there. Mark (Gallagher, guitars) had some riffs and one or two of them sounded vaguely AC/DC so he said 'Hey let's do a tribute to Bon' so we did.

Andrew: Yeah when I first heard that song I thought there was a little AC/DC kind of thing.

John: That way we can get away with using an AC/DC riff you see haha!

Andrew: Haha! So let's go back to some of the early days, you have been around for a long time now. At this point in your career, 40 plus years, what keeps you going?

John: We still got so much left to do. We got more music in us as you can tell, we're enjoying the hell out of playing live. We're more energetic and having more fun and playing better. I'm singing as well as I ever have, we're having a blast. So why stop now?

Andrew: What has been the biggest thing that has changed from the early days compared to now?

John: Overall with the whole business thing, it's probably the internet. And we're able to do things like what we're doing right now and being in contact with the fans, having that instant repoire. With this record we did a kickstarter project and the fans were incredible, they showed up, they contributed. They provided enough money for us to finish the project in the way it was supposed to be finished because we were spending money like water in the rehearsal and writing phases. And we knew we were going to run short to do the project that we were supposed to be doing and it's a win-win doing that. We did an entire extra album exclusively for the kickstart people called "Party Killers" which is an 11 song cover album with all our influences. So you got Deep Purple, Thin Lizzy, Cheap Trick, Status Quo, Slade, Sweet, Nazareth and all that kind of stuff.

Andrew: So who do you consider to be your biggest influence then? Who is the reason that made you get into music?

John: Oh geez, there was so many bands. There was Slade and Status Quo and Sweet and those bands are still awesome! Definitely they were the bands that we got the tennis racquets out and jump around and play air guitar and then it was like 'You can actually buy these things and get to play them?' So that's it. And all the people that we knew would say 'Well if you like that, you should check out Black Sabbath or Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin' and then whatever bands would come to town we would go and see them and that was our university. We would go see Budgie, we would go see UFO, we would go see Rainbow. Whoever came to town and luckily in Newcastle the holes are relatively small so even if you were way back you had a good view of everything going on and you would see the equipment and you would see what people would do and see how people would handle an audience, or not handle an audience. When you're feeling that 'eewww' feeling when your band is dying of death, you think why are they dying of death? And why are they not connecting with the audience and you take these things and it would all go in the bank and create a bit of interest there you know?

Andrew: Do you still enjoy touring as much as you did back in the early days?

John: Oh yeah absolutely! Sometimes the travelling can get a little bit flaky on us. Being the singer, I need to get my sleep because the voice is the first thing to go when you get worn out which really sucks and once you're behind the 8 ball with that, it's hard to get it back. So travelling, that's a tough thing. I mean that's really why you get paid to get abused by airlines and all that sort of nonsense haha! It never gets any easier but the fans make it all worthwhile.

Andrew: That's good to hear. So what are the plans for touring this year?

John: Well we just went out and did a South American thing down there for just over a week. We did Bogota, Pereira and Colombia which was amazing and then Rio in Brazil and got to do a bit of touristy things there. Had a week and a half off then went to Europe, did a couple of festivals which were awesome. Also played Helsinki, Finland for the first time and then some German shows and some Dutch shows, Belgium and that was awesome too. The last gig was a festival where we got to play with all our old mates from Newcastle - Satan and Tyson Dog and from London, Tokyo Blades and a whole bunch of English guys was there so it was cool. So we got that done and now the records coming out and we're doing the press and we're doing some video stuff and next leg is Japan in early July. Then we come back and we're doing a couple of weeks in the States, some gigs that we missed off on our tour last year so kinda filling in the holes and then we have Europe for September/October. And there's still murmurs, we're trying to get over to Oz, trying to make it happen so any listeners out there with no brains and deep pockets, get in touch please haha!

Andrew: Haha yes we would definitely love to have you over here. When was the last time you had been to Australia?

John: We've never been.

Andrew: Never been?

John: Never been to Oz, never been to New Zealand. We would love to visit both and they're on our list.

Andrew: Well maybe Metallica can give you a run out here some day!

John: Yeah that would be nice! They gave us a nice little shot last year, we played with them in Brazil. Football stadium in front of 70,000 lunatic Brazilians which was pretty amazing and it was great actually hanging out with Metallica for the first time in many, many years so that was really something. I see the schedule and every winter you have the Soundwave Festival everywhere and all this good stuff but we're working on it.

Andrew: Maybe next year! As I said the album sounds great and it's been a pleasure talking to you today so good luck on the tour this year!

John: Thank you so much Andrew! We'll keep you posted then.

Interview by Andrew "Schizodeluxe" Massie on April 14th 2015