Classic hard rockers Black Star Riders have a third album, Heavy Fire, due for release through Nuclear Blast in February, so of course we jumped at the chance of sending Sentinel Daily editor Scott Adams off for a chat with the band's loquacious frontman Ricky Warwick - here's what went down when the two caught up...
Good to talk to you Ricky, thank’s for taking the time! The albums’s been out with the press for a while now, if not the public, so are you happy with the critical response” “Very happy, yes. We’ve released a couple of promo singles which have been received very well, they’ve received a lot of airplay on BBC Radio 2 in the UK, so it’s going well!”
Radio 2 was always the middle of the road music station in the UK when I was growing up – did you ever think as a teenager you’d be hearing yourself on Radio 2? “(laughs) No! growing up in the seventies in the UK Radio 1 was always the station you dreamed of hearing yourself on, but when I was in The Almighty we were always too heavy for Radio 1 – we’d scare the housewives! But Now a lot of the Radio 1 DJs are on Radio 2 and their demographic – sort of people our age, or at least 35 and upwards- is what ours is too. My mum used to say ‘why don’t I ever hear you on the radio?’ Now she says ‘you’re never off the radio!’ so it’s good!”
You talk a little on this album, and all through your solo career, and with Circus Diablo (Warwick’s short-lived collaboration with The Cult’s Billy Duffy and Matt Sorum) and The Almighty, on themes of absolution and salvation. I’m thinking with this album in particular about the title track and Testify or Say Goodbye. What is it about these themes that keeps you coming back to the subject? “It’s not always about religion or salvation in the religious sense, although growing up in the seventies in Belfast and having that side of it shoved down your throat, sometimes violently, has obviously left it’s mark on me. Heavy Fire is more about the fact that we as a race have all the tools, more tools than ever before, to make things better for the planet but still we keep fucking things up. ‘Here is the saviour, but where is the salvation’ is just that – here are the things to make it right, but we don’t. Testify or Say Goodbye is more along personal lines, saying that you have the power to do something about your life, to change things, People talk a lot about doing it – so talk about it but if you’re not going to do anything shut up! Heavy Fire looks at the subject negatively, Testify… is more positive of a positive message I think”.
A couple of the songs on the album – When The Night Comes In and Testify… have a real seventies, Rn’B sensibility about them – they remind me of Graham Parker and the Rumour. Whose ddea was it to bring in the gospel-type backing vocals for those songs? “I’m glad you picked up on that! I’m a big fan of Graham Parker, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, all those guys, and a big fan of Northern Soul – Stax, Tamla Motown, and the Holland–Dozier–Holland songwriting team. In fact my biggest writing influences over the last five or six years have been those kind of sounds. Nick Raskulinecz, who produced the record picked up on that right away when he first heard those songs; we recorded in Nashville and he knew a couple of girls there, Gale Mayes and Drea Rhenee who came in and did the business on When The Night Comes In. Pearl Aday, who is Meat Loaf‘s daughter and is married to Scott Ian of Anthrax did the backing vocals on Testify… on her own and knocked it out of the park”.
You’re three albums into the band’s career now, and for me this is the first album that really says Black Star Riders is a band in it’s own right. Would you agree with that? “Yes I would. Three albums in, we’re ready to step out of the shadows of Thin Lizzy. Obviously we have (former Lizzy guitarist) Scott Gorham in the band, and he has a certain sound – why would you want to get rid of that? But I definitely feel that this is us going forward, the start of the next phase”.
You have a successful solo career running parallel to BSR; Do you have a separate headspace when writing for either project, or does it just flow out of you and you divvy everything up afterwards? “A bit of both. For my last solo album, When Patsy Cline Was Crazy (And Guy Mitchell Sang the Blues) the album was about growing up in East Belfast so it was easy to write a set of songs with that in mind. But I played the album to Scott and Damon (Johnson, Gorham’s co-guitarist in BSR) and they occasionally would say ‘that’s a great riff! Why are you saving it for your solo album!’ So it crosses over a bit!”
Do you ever suffer from writers block? “No, because I never let myself get in a position where you are under pressure in that way. The well is never dry, I never stop! It happens when you say ‘I’ve written the album, now I’m gonna take six months off’ and then someone rings and says it’s time to do the new album. Everyone stands in the studio looking at one another and saying ‘have you got anything? Because I haven’t got anything’.
And that’s when the vocation turns into a job isn’t it? And that’s not good. “That’s right! Vocation is a great word for it. I love having a vocation where I get up, get the kids off to school and then sit down with my guitar. And there’s so much to going on in the world right now – if you can’t find anything to write about, well… You could write an entire album about Donald Trump becoming President of the United States!”
You could, you really could… The new album is very guitar-heavy, the songs sound like they will go down well live. Will your upcoming tours feature mainly new material? “We’re very lucky that we’ve been prolific – three albums in four years – so we’ve got over 30 songs to play with, but yes, I would imagine there will be six or seven from the new album, and only one Lizzy song this time. We scaled back the number of Thin Lizzy songs a lot last time, now I think we can just do one or two”.
And talking of touring – any chance of any Australia dates? ‘We’d be there in a heartbeat if it were possible. We’re talking to a few people, so hopefully yes”.
Great news! Anything else you’d like to say to our readers about the new album? “Thanks for your love and support! And if you love rock n’roll with a bit of soul, if you want an album that you put on to get you going before going out on the town, or if you just want an album you can sit down and listen to, then get Heavy Fire!”.
You heard the man!