For years Tony Clarkin has guided Magnum to become one of the great British Rock bands. We caught up with him to talk about the new album ‘Sacred Blood, ‘Divine’ Lies’ – an album that it’s not possible to play and skip a single track. It’s great to hear that the best years are still to come…
Mark: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today Tony.
Tony: No problem Mark.
Mark: I‘ve just been listening to the new album ‘Sacred Blood, Divine Lies’ album back to back; you know what, it’s bloody good! Were you pleased with it once you got it in the can?
Tony: Thank you, thanks mate, very pleased with it yeah!
Mark: Where did the title for the album come from, it’s a cool title?
Tony: I started writing the song ‘Sacred Blood, Divine Lies’ but I had no idea what it was going to be called but I came up with that line even before I came up with the music. It was more like writing a poem really, I pretty much wrote the chorus without any music or melody and it ended up being the title track. I guess I just thought it was a cool title for the album.
Mark: Do you always start out like that? Do you have a loose concept before you start writing or does it just come to you?
Tony: I don’t really have a formulaic way of doing things, this time I just started to write some lyrics and I liked them but it’s really quite rare I do it that way. Normally I’m working on music or a melody, but the melody came second on this. So this is a rarity.
Mark: It’s a really rocking album, there are some really big songs on there and I love the two singles that are out there at the moment. If we look at some of the tracks there are some long songs on there. Do you find yourself writing more that way these days; they’re all five minutes plus more or less!
Tony: (laughs) I think it’s harder to write short tunes! You know if you write like a three minute twenty like the radio always wanted I don’t think there’s enough time to really get to what you are trying to say so maybe it just takes me longer to get it across lyrically to say what I want to say (laughs)!
Mark: As a fan for many years I’ve always loved your lyrics. Some of the highlights for me aside from the title track were ‘Gypsy Queen’ the song that was inspired by your St Petersburg show. Now that is a great song. ‘Don’t Cry Baby’ the closer too is wonderful as is ‘Your Dreams Won’t Die’. Do you have any particular favourites or ones that will definitely make it into the live set?
Tony: (laughs) It’s real hard for me to really speak about them other than ‘Gypsy Queen’ when I actually got that to where I wanted it to be I was jumping up and down thinking ‘This is great I love it, I absolutely love it.’ And everybody that heard it was telling me that’s a great song but Bob was silent and I was thinking ‘Doesn’t he like that song or something?’ But he told me he does like that song, I just thought it was funny that he was silent when everyone else was telling me it was great (laughs). I think one of my favourite songs is ‘Don’t Cry Baby’, I’d written ‘Sacred Blood’ and then it was ‘Don’t Cry Baby’ so I had the first and last song and all I had to do was fill in the middle bit! (laughs) I actually like the al though to be truthful. I haven’t heard the album though now for about a month, I’m trying not to listen to it!
Mark: To me personally, and I’ve been a Magnum fan from way back, to me I think this is one of your very best, certainly since you got back together in 2002. Is that something you think about at all? Do you ever look at a new album in the context of what you’ve done before? Or is that the furthest thing from your mind?
Tony: It’s the furthest thing from my mind when I’m writing it, but when it’s done and you listen through you go through this 18 month period of listening to songs a million times till it drives you crazy. But then in a short period of time when the album’s finished I just go to bed and lay there with the headphones on and it really impresses me. And that makes me feel really confident. So this album and ‘Escape from the Shadow Garden’ which I thought was real good, and this one I think is better I really do. I don’t know if I mean better, it’s just another album that I’m really proud of, I think we’ve pulled out all the stops and I’m really pleased with it.
Mark: I’ve played it a dozen times now and I love it, it’s one of those rare albums where you can’t skip a track.
Tony: It’s great that you say that, I love it that you said you can’t skip a track.
Mark: Has technology vastly changed the way you write. Back in the old days I remember reading that you didn’t used to write anything down, you’d turn up in the studio with a song and show the band how to play it!
Tony: Yes it has, I mean I’ve got my own studio in my house now, In those days I used to write on an acoustic guitar and I’d go in, and never record anything I’d just have to remember it (laughs) and then as you said I’d go into the rehearsal studio and go ‘This is how it goes’and hope it worked out! When I look back at how haphazard it was I can’t believe it! These days I take a good 14 or 15 months writing, not just this album but just writing and writing and writing, not every single day, but most days and at some point I’ll get to a place where I think ‘OK this is sounding good now’ and I’ll record it all and I don’t have to go through that stupid thing where I’d say ‘This is how you sing it Bob, This is how the bass goes’, (laughs) I just put it all down then I go in the studio we’re going to record in and re-do it all. I’m there with Bob on his own really, just to go through all the songs and make sure everything is singable that I’ve written, it’s all silly little things like certain words are better than others to actually sing . So technology to me, yes I could have recorded it one a tape recorder back in the day, but these days I use a computer and edit it before the band has even heard it. Now I don’t have any excuses and it’s a much quicker process as well.
Mark: When you actually get into the studio do you ever change your mind? Do you ever listen and think ‘I wish I’d done that’ or ‘Maybe I can change that up a bit?’
Tony: These days when I get into the studio I’ve got a really well structured set of songs. The way I decide whether it’s any good or not has a lot to do with how Bob sings it. Obviously I try to get the best melody I possibly can, but I don’t necessarily finish all the lyrics before Bob sings. So sometimes I’ll say ‘sing a chorus on this one Bob and see how it works’ and sometimes it doesn’t and I’ll put that to one side. And then other times I’m jumping up and down again thinking ‘This is great I love it, I love it’. But it’s all a bit of a shot in the dark really with everything you do. I can come up with what I think is a great rock song and maybe it don’t suit Bob’s voice, though most things do, but something can always go wrong . When we did this album I wrote 25 songs I think it was, then I broke it down to 16, then 13, then to 10. The last three songs I discarded I put on a bonus disc with the DVDs.
Mark: That’s the first time I think you’ve ever done that isn’t it? (Release bonus tracks)
Tony: Yeah, people keep saying to me ‘What do you do with all the material that you don’t use?’ and generally I just shelve it because I take the opinion if they didn’t make the album they can’t be good enough, but these three tracks I thought were pretty good but I thought broke up the flow of the album but were good enough to be heard so we put them on the bonus disc.
Mark: I’ll certainly be buying that one. Taking it all the way back Tony, what was it that triggered you to want to become a musician? Was there a defining moment or was it a gradual process?
Tony: I think when I was at school, I made a guitar because I couldn’t afford one and I had some mates and one became a bass player, one became a singer and one became a guitarist and the other a drummer – It seemed like quite a natural thing. And the ‘work thing’, well that seemed to get in the way of becoming a musician so I did that for a about three years, (laughs) I mean I worked for about three years and then I just quit and said to myself I’m going to take music really seriously, this is what I want to, and come hell or high-water that’s what I’m going to be. And I’m still doing it now!
Mark: It’s certainly stuck! So what are the best and worst aspects of a life in music? Tony: I don’t really know anything else really. I feel so lucky that every day I can go in my studio and play music, every day I can play guitar if I want to, and then go on tour. I just feel really lucky really. Mark: It sounds like you’ve still got all the passion you always had in the early days too?
Tony: I think it’s got more, I think I’ve got more passion than I ever had. When I was younger I was just doing it for the fun of it you know, getting drunk and all that sort of stuff. Now I just really enjoy it more than I ever have.
Mark: Do you have any unfulfilled musical ambitions either with Magnum or personally? Anything you’ve always wanted to do?
Tony: My main thing is that I just want this to continue. I want to write the unwriteable song, come up with some magic stuff. That’s what I want to do all of the time. I mean I’ve been writing these last two or three weeks and it’s a bit of a shock because you finish and album and your head is completely empty, you’ve had a few months without writing, and like I said I have my own studio and I’ve written six songs now I think and I just have this urge dragging me saying ‘Come on, come on you’ve got to do something’ and I was just so excited about doing it and I just want that feeling to carry on Mark.
Mark: Just time for a couple more questions before our time is up. If you could have been a ‘Fly on the wall’ for the creation of any great album from any period, just to see how the magic happened and it all came together, what would it have been for you?
Tony: (pause) It would have to be a Beatles album wouldn’t it I suppose, purely because they were so ground-breaking. I loved them when they came out, but I was more of a Stones guy at the time, but being in studios and seeing records lying about you put one on as you haven’t heard it in years and you realise how good McCartney’s voice was and how great the songs were. You tend to forget things like that, but I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for any one of those albums.
Mark: And finally easy question to end with Tony: what is the meaning of life?
Tony: (laughs) Yeah that’s a really easy one! I think it’s lying on your balcony in the sun in Perth, that’s got to be the meaning of life Mark.
Mark: (laughs) Do you think you guys will ever get out here one day? I’ve got a sun lounger for you! Is there any country you’d like to play that you’ve never been to?
Tony: (laughs) I don’t know. There’s like a million countries out there I’ve never been to but you always need a promoter to say ‘We want the band there’ you can’t just get on a plane and turn up, but I’d love to come out to Australia it would be brilliant.
Mark: We’ll have to see if we can find one then for you. We get quite a few rock bands out there these days; we had Uriah Heep out just last year
Tony: Oh really? OK.
Mark: They packed out a thousand-seater and there’s lots of ex-pats in Perth.
Tony: We’re with the same agent so you never know.
Mark: Well thank you so much Tony for talking to The Rockpit today, it’s been a pleasure; you’ve always been one of my favourite song-writers so it’s been great to catch up and talk about the great new album.
Tony: Thank you Mark, it’s nice of you to say.
Mark: I’ve always loved Magnum and it was so cool to hear you say you’re even more passionate about the music than you’ve ever been, it’s brilliant knowing that the final tour is still light years away!
Tony: Cheers mate.