Raven were extremely important for me developing an interest for the whole NWOBHM-movement during the late eighties. I remember buying the rather suspect sampler “The Devil’s Carrion” on vinyl for as little as five dollars, and also recall how impressed I was with the quality of the songs.
I went on to check out more recent stuff from the band, and albums like “Stay Hard”, “The Pack Is Back” which I didn’t like at all as well as the “Mad”-EP, “Life’s A Bitch” and “Nothing Exceeds Like Excess” which were clearly better. In fact, the latter is still my favourite Raven-album outside the first three. So, while there are bands I like better and rate higher, Raven was in many ways my way into the darker and dustier corners of the NWOBHM, something I will forever remember them for. When the chance arose to speak to singer and bass player John Gallagher, I didn’t hesitate. First John, you have a new album out, and you used the Kickstarter project to fund this album. Is that really necessary with the support of a label?
– Yeah, it is because we really wanted to up our game with this one. We wanted to go above and beyond, and in order to do that, you need to do more work, and more work costs more money. We live all over the country, and there is now way you can do it all on internet, phone and email. Raven is an interactive thing, we got to get together as three guys in the same room. No matter where we go, it’s obviously gonna cost money, and we did that a number of times with writing sessions and arranging and we knew that it would eat into the budget big time. So, the concept of using the Kickstarter came up and we talked to the record company and said: Hey, we know you guys are giving us an decent amount of money, but its simply not enough for what we want to achieve. Do you have an issue of us doing this? They said “no” and told us to go for it. This way, we got the best of both worlds. We got the fans to chip in and to have a saying, help out and get some cool rewards in return, while we also still have the backing of the record label.
John sees crowd funding concepts like Kickstarter purely as a positive thing.
– I think in the past there was quite a divide between the bands and the fans, and the thing that was dividing them more often than not, was the record company. They would be the gatekeepers between getting the music out to the people. To a large degree now, a lot of that is changing, and we have the opportunity, in this internet age, not only to have real conversation with our fans, and find out exactly how crazy they really are, but they have the ability to say “hi, I love this band, I want to help them out” too. In a sense its like a return to the medieval times, where you would have a benefactor. Haha! We have a lot of benefactors now, and so far its been really cool. We had the ability to come up with a great reward for our supporters, so we recorded an eleven song cover-album especially for the fans. It’s called “Party Killers”, and it was a great way for us to get our studio muscles on, because we recorded this before we did the actual album. It worked out great.
Doing cover songs isn’t exactly something new for Raven, you have done quite a few throughout the times?
– Yeah, exactly. It’s a just fun thing for us. We just go in and og: Boom! These are songs we wanted to do for a long time too. A real win-win-situation!
Your record label talk about your finest album to date. It sounds a bit over the top, if you ask me, is it something you can relate to at all?
– I think its great, and I am still really excited about it. I have been here demoing and redemoing and redemoing and rewriting. I did a lot of work in this house, the guys gave me ideas, I stayed around with them, I am the one with a little studio here, so I heard these songs hundreds of times in one form or another. To hear they come to fruition in the studio, working with Kevin 131 as an enginerer…Getting the sounds down, see the arrangements changing, getting leaner, more powerful. This album is still blowing me away. Sound wise i’ts probably the best record we’ve ever done, hands down. Energy wise its up there with anything we’ve ever done, playing wise it’s a step above while the construction of the songs, the songwriting, is as good as anything we’ve ever done. To the uninitiated you could say “ExtermiNation” is a cross between something like “All For One” and “Archictect Of Fear”, it’s got the heavy edge of the latter and the songs we had on the former. The album is a natural progression from “Walk Through Fire”, which was a great record. This however, is a better record.
What do you see as the main differences between “Walk Through Fire” and this new one?
– It’s not that there are any bad songs on “Walk Through Fire” per see, but on this new one, we wanted to make sure that everywhere you drop the needle, or put the little wheel on your Ipod, whichever song you hit, it’s gonna blow your head right off. We wanted to have that cohesiveness where every song was heavy, and beat you up, but also enough diversity, so you didn’t feel you were listening to the same song many times over. I think we had a good blend of stuff that’s more rock’n roll, stuff that’s very heavy, almost groove orientated and things that are a little bit more experimental like “River Of No Return” We also have some fun stuff like “Feeding The Monster” and of course the extra track “Malice In Geordieland”.
I guess it’s important for you to keep some kind of continuity, because the albums where you have tried to do something different, like for instance “Stay Hard” and “Glow”, are not among my favourites… The Raven style is what you do best.
-That’s it. That’s what we do. By the way, I don’t think “Stay Hard” was that great a departure from what we did, for instance I think “The Pack Is Back” was a lot more commercial. And it was done in a different manner, with click tracks and at the time, all the state of the art-studio nonsense. Ever since, we don’t do that anymore, we don’t play with click tracks. “The Pack Is Back” is the only album we’ve ever used a click track on. We all play in the same room, so there is a lot of work before we get to the studio. But when we finally get in there, we record basically in the same way we recorded when we did albums like “Rock Until You Drop”, “Wiped Out” and “All For One”. We get in, we play, we fix some mistakes and we move on. You get that live feel, do the drums, do the bass, do the guitars .This is the three of us, we go in and do our stuff. Boom!
You have had only one member change since 1980, when drummer Joe Hassselvander replaced Rob Hunter. Whats the secret? I guess having only three members helps, but that’s not all..
– Well, that’s one thing obviously. We basically get on with each other, and have done so for 28 years now. Before Joe, we had Rob for six or seven years, and previous to that it was a drummer every week I think. Hahaha! Total Spinal Tap. We had Mick Kenworthy for a year or two, and then Sean Taylor for a year or two, then Rob for six and then we have had Joe for twenty years. To be honest, a band is like a marriage or a real partnership, you got to be able to get on with each other. What doesn’t work is: Okay, lets pick this guy because he is a great player. It’s like being in a job, they pick the best people for the job, and that’s it. Its more to it than the ability thing, you have to have someone whose personality gets on with you. In that way, you are more of a team, a real team. I am not quite sure exactly how it works, but I am happy it does. Haha!
The title of the opening song on “ExtermiNation” is “Destroy All Monsters”, which was also the title of a live album you released back in 1995…
– It was such a good title, that we had to write a song of it eventually. That’s basically how it works. We’ve done something along the lines of that before, but backwards. We did the song “Wiped Out”, and then we decided to call the album “Wiped Out” and not put the song on it, just to be awkward. Mark’s been threatening to come up with a song called “Destroy All Monsters” ever since we did that, and now he finally did it. Apparently we’re obsessed by monsters, because there is also a song called “Feeding The Monster” on the album. Haha! That’s just the way it came out.
There is not a title song on the album this time, something that is a bit unusual for you, especially since many of the songs that spring to mind first when I think of Raven, is stuff like “Rock Until You Drop”, “All For One” or “Architect Of Fear” for that matter. Why no title track this time around?
– Well, then we would have to call it “Destroy All Monsters”, and that really would have been silly, wouldn’t it, as we have used it before? When it comes to the title, “ExtermiNation”, we basically pulled the words out of the song, “Destroy All Monsters”,as it says “Exterminate”, which we just changed it into “ExtermiNation”. We had a cover concept for that too, so it all made sense. Great to see it, something a little different as we usually had a title song on almost all albums. A little change, I Guess. Why not?
Does the title say something about the lyrics on the album as a whole?
– Some of the songs are all about the dark state of the earth as it is these days, as far as geopolitical nonsense goes. We tend to write not as obvious as a lot of people do. You can kind of read your own things into it. I’ve already had people say: Hey, this song is great, its all about… whatever. I’ve told them: Well, that was not the intent, but if you see that, that’s great. You could say that a song like “Destroy All Monsters” is about Godzilla, but it could also be about certain political entities or something, you know what I mean? It really could.That’s usually the way I approach doing lyrics, where there is a little bit of ambiguity, and you can see things from two or three different angles. That way it makes things more interesting.
Do you find it demanding, having this approach to writing lyrics?
– Not really. The lyrics are like the music, a stream of consciousness-thing usually. You have to have something to hang your hat on, a title, a phrase, something like that, which kind of suggest where to go from there. It’s a little like a treasure hunt, you have a few words, and wonder where is this gonna lead? Where is this gonna take me? Then you review it at the end, and if it goes in too many different ways, you have to change it. Its interesting, once you get in that frame of mind, the words come pretty quickly.
There is a song called “Thunder Down Under” on the album as well, an homage to Bon Scott…
– Exactly that was a song Mark came up with. He said: Hey, I got this great song, it’s a good rock’n roller, I think we should do it about Bon Scott, as it sounds a bit like AC/DC. He had a few keywords for the title, and he said: I’ll write some words, and you’ll Write some. We looked at them, compared them, and mine were way better than his, so we kept mine. That was fun, putting a few references in there. You know, “From High Voltage To the Highway To Hell. Or “You got to hear the sound/You didn’t want to be a millionare/There is only one way to the top. It was fun putting that in, and it’s a cool song.
I was looking through your DVD, “Rock Until You Drop – A Long Day’s Journey” the other day, and apparently you are big fans of Bon Scott’s replacement in AC/DC, Brian Johnson as well…
– Oh yeah, Brian is awesome. I saw Brian when we was in Geordie, in fact saw him twice in Geordie, the band he was in before he joined AC/DC. If you think he is a good singer now, you should have seen him back then. He gave Robert Plant a run for his money any day of the week. Brian is awesome, and to try to fill the shoes of Bon Scott was probably one of the toughest jobs in rock’n roll. He wisely didn’t try to do it, he went straight in and was his own man. What you see is what you get, that is the people from our town, you know. Good natured, hard working, Brian is a gent. And we have always loved AC/DC. That’s such a great band. We were very lucky when we were kids, I saw them three times with Bon back in the day. I even got their autographs when I was a young lad. I still have them somewhere. That stuff is part of our DNA.
For each new album you release, it must be harder and harder for you compiling a set list. Which are the songs that you just have to perform?
– That’s tough. It is. But every band with a decent back catalogue faces the same problem. People want to hear “Rock Until You Drop”, they want to hear “All For One” or “Break The Chain”. They want to hear…there are a few songs…but that’s usually the skeleton of the set. We try to feed in some new songs as well, and at least one or two old ones that we haven’t done in a while. For instance we just played South America, and on a couple of nights we played “Give Me A Break”, and on a couple of nights “Into The Jaws Of Death”, and sometimes “Crash Bang Wallop” too. We have a few songs we can use depending of the feel of the crowd, so there is always a little bit of spontanity in the set, but basically it’s the ones you got to do, and you always want to do a few new ones. Raven is not an oldies act, we have continued to create new music throughout our career and we will continue to do so. Judging by the last few albums, you can hear that we got a lot more music in us. We are always looking forward to the next one, but right now were enjoying the fruits of our labour. We did a good job on this one. It’s fun!
– Of course you can do it, but it’s not as rewarding. There are a number of bands,who doesn’t see the point in doing this anymore. The point is, if you’re gonna be brutal honest…when you form a band you are forming it for yourself. It’s a selfish thing. We play the music that we like, if we want to play music just to make money, we would be playing techno or whatever garbage is out there at the moment. Or writing songs for Miley Cyrus. That’s not what we do. We play a riff and if it’s good we think: Wow, that’s awesome, that kicks my ass. It makes me wanna jump up and down and break things! That’s what is about. We have no problem playing the old songs, because its part of who we are, it always will be, and we are proud of them, but it didn’t stop with the old tunes. There are still more good songs in there. I am looking forward to getting them out.
Are you capable of playing every song from your catalogue, or are there songs you will never do live?
– There was a time when Rob was in the band where we would probably play about 70 percent of what we did. And then when Joe joined, we got straight out on the road, so he learned the set fast and then we stopped doing new records. You got to go back and relearn the songs to be able to peform them. I don’t remember all of them a 100 percent, a lot of them, but I mean, were talking about 200 songs or something. I am lucky that I basically can remember the lyrics to most of them. Haha! That’s enough of a challenge. We actually did a show a few years back, in Greece, where Joe couldn’t make it because his airport was snowing in. It was a real nightmare, but we were commited and said we would do it nevertheless. We got there and the promoter had three young drummers who each learned three or four songs. It was interesting, because the songs they had learnt, were songs we don’t play. Haha! We had to learn them really quickly. That was fun, we did “Firepower” and “Wiped Out”. We had such fun doing them, so when we came back we said: Hey Joe, lets go over these songs!
I guess that’s the one and only time you have performed without one of the three of you?
– Yeah, it really is. It was really strange, but we got paid, were commited and agreed to do it. It didn’t turn out too bad, but some of the songs were absolute train wrecks, but what did you expect? I arrived at 11 o clock in the night, was in the room with these guys for 20 minutes and then we went to the club and played. Haha! We had a chance to run through some of the songs once, that was it.
That’s one of the things I always hear about Raven, that you always give everything. I guess its quite easy when you perform in front of a crowd of thousands, but apparently you’re also doing it when there are only a handful of People in the crowd. How is that possible?
– Because that’s what we do, that’s who we are. Every show we play, is do or die. That’s really what it is. We put out 110 percent, its never a case of: This sucks, I am just gonna do a minimum. Obvisously you enjoy it more if you got a full crowd going crazy, but if you play some small Club at a Tuesday night and there are a 100 people there and its freezing cold, you take it for what it is, and make the best of it. Hopefully those people walk away going: Wow, Raven just made me feel like I was in an arena with 10.000 people going crazy. That’s what we do!
What is your main drive and motiviation for continuing with Raven? Is it doing these liveshows?
– It’s really quite simple: We do it because we like it. We enjoy it. You plug in, and its still that 15 year old kid that get a kick out of hearing a really loud sound coming from an amplifier. It’s really as basic and simple as that. If you are playing in a band, most people don’t really now, but during 24 hours, you might get about five or six hours of sleep if you are really lucky, then you play on stage for an hour and a half. The rest of the day is either travel or bullshit. We go through all that so we can go on stage and play for 90 minutes, and do our thing. That’s what makes it all worth while. That and meeting the fans. They are so supportive, and especially getting to meet old and new friends. Its always fun playing a new country too, you get a fresh reaction. This week actually, were going to play Helsinki for the first time, then get to meet our friends in Holland, Belgium and Germany.
Throughout the nineties, Japan was a big market for Raven. Do you feel the interest is on the rise again in Europe at the moment?
– The grunge thing wasn’t such a big thing in Europe, but definitely the rock music took a hit back then. You just make heir where you can, and we had the opportunity to come over to Japan twice now and Japan is…in their own way they’re crazy. They are very fanatical and if they like a band, they’re gonna stick with em forever. To be honest, the only places were you don’t see that, are the media drive parts of US and England, where it is like: “Here today, gone later today”. That kind of mentality, which to me makes no sense. I don’t care if the guy on stage is 90 if he is good, and if he is giving it all he’s got. Look at somebody like Buddy Guy. Buddy Guy is great, he has always been great. Who gives a shit? Bruce Springsteen is what? At this point, middle 60s? He got more energy…Mick Jagger…Forget it! It comes down to this: Can you deliver? Can you still do it? God bless you!
But you have to be in some kind of physical shape to put as much energy as you do into the live show. Is this band helping you keeping in shape?
– Yeah, absolutely!
As I mentioned, the album “Nothing Exceeds Like Excess” is my favorite Raven-album outside the first three. What’s your relationship to that one?
– Well, that was a big record for us because we had a new drummer. It was a whole new arrangement. We had a lot of songs written, and Joe came in, and he writes and plays guitar. He was pushing the band from the driving seat, and we had a lot to prove. We wanted to go out and make a very heavy record, we didn’t have a great deal of budget, so the record could have sounded a little better, but as far as content, I think the songs are great. We still play a lot of them. We took it to Bob Ludwig, one the best mastering guys anywhere and said: See what you can do. He said: This sounds pretty good, just compare it to this…He pointed at the next room where they were mastering Metallica’s “And Justice For All” for vinyl. Which of course is dry as a bone with no reverb or anything. Once we heard that we thought: Were not doing too bad. It’s not my favourite Raven-album though, as it doesn’t have everything. For me the favourite album is always the next one, but currently I really like the new album, “Walk Through Fire”, “All For One” and “Architect Of Fear”. I like “Everything Louder” as well. It was recorded in a really crappy, cheap studio, and I wish we could remix it, as I feel the songs are great. Its like talking about your kids, which one do you like more than the other?
Which of your own albums are you most unlikely to put on at home?
– Probably “The Pack Is Back”, because of the whole backstory. There is still at least four-five good songs on it: “Rock Dogs”, “The Pack is Back”, Nightmare Ride” and Young Blood, for example, but it was the whole thing of the record company pushing, Rob wanting to do click track and us getting a guy we thought were doing it live in the studio, Eddie Kramer, then ending up doing the exactly opposite. It was kind of counterproductive. You got a band who excells in playing live and an engineer/producer who excells in recording live acts, then we go in and try to do a really technical, by the numbers record. We learned a lot of what not to do from there. That’s life, you make errors here and there and learn from then. If you don’t make mistakes, you don’t learn, you know.