By Andrew Bansal
Veterans of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement of the 70s, Raven have always stuck to their guns and stayed true to their self-created ‘rock until you drop’ philosophy. This year they are celebrating their 40th anniversary as a band, but not relying on mere nostalgia, they have completed work on a new studio album called ‘Extermination’ and at the time of posting this interview, they are in the final week of a Kickstarter campaign to help fund it. They’ve been on an extensive North American tour since early October, and I’ve had the pleasure of sharing this journey with them as the non-playing fourth member of their touring support act Night Demon. On November 23rd, I sat down for dinner with them in Baltimore at a great science fiction themed restaurant called Lost City Diner down the street from the Metro Gallery where the show took place later on. I spoke to brothers John and Mark Gallagher about all things Raven. Enjoy the conversation below.
First of all, it’s been a pleasure touring with you guys. It’s been quite an adventure.
Mark: Thank you! We appreciate that.
How do you look at this tour from your perspective, now that you’re almost at the end of it?
Mark: You know, we weren’t sure what to expect, because we were kind of in between projects. The last thing we put out was the ‘Rock Until You Drop’ DVD and we’ve been working on a new record. We knew we’d do some touring just to be out there playing. We love to play live, no matter what kind of opportunity it is. But this is probably the longest tour we’ve done in quite a while in terms of number of dates. We played some places that we never played before, so that was cool. We’ve had a good time and we’ve kicked some ass!
And what do you have to say, John?
John: I have to say you still owe me 20 bucks (laughs). Well, the tour has been quite a stretch and it’s been long, but all the main places that we wanted to hit, we did really well in and consolidated from last time. We’re happy to be out with a good opening band. Night Demon have done a great job for us and we got along really well with the guys. New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Toronto and Chicago, all of those places we did really well. As for the other places, it’s just a function of the business the way it is, a little up and down. But we made a lot of new friends, so it was cool.
The thing I’ve noticed throughout these shows is, you have your fans, the ‘lunatics’. They might be 10 or 200 in number depending on the town, but they always come out. It must be a satisfying feeling to meet people like that.
John: Right, half the thing about doing this is to get to meet people like that, because without them, where are we? It’s a big deal.
Mark: We have people that are really knowledgeable about all of our old stuff as well as our new record. They’re very excited about us doing new music. We want to make sure that we’re a relevant band. A lot of bands get to this point and say, well, we’ve got a few records that are very popular, and they just keep playing those songs. We know a few bands that are like that. We’re more interested in the future and what we’re doing as far as new music goes. We don’t want to become like an oldies act or a tribute to ourselves, you know. We don’t want to become a nostalgia act.
John: Nostalgia is not what it used to be anyway! (laughs)
Mark: Yes it has! We had a bunch of breakdowns but you’ve got to keep your eye on what you’re supposed to be doing out here, and that’s playing these gigs. People pay good money to come and see us. We’ve got to put on a show and do the right thing, and I think we have. We’ve been pretty consistent on this tour in terms of our playing. We’re at that point now where we know each other, we can finish each other’s sentences and we really lock in when we play live. There’s adversity, but so what? You’ve just got to overcome that.
It’s got to be the worst feeling in the world, right? You’re trying to get to a gig and you’re stranded. How do you deal with that and what’s going through your mind at that point?
John: All you can do is just put everything in a box and try to get from point A to B, otherwise you’d lose your mind. But the one thing about the tour, like he says, is the shows and our playing, and as far as that’s concerned, it’s been our best tour ever. We’re at the top of our game at the minute, and it’s great. We’re playing a couple of new songs and the reaction has been awesome. People are specifically mentioning that they love those songs.
I would say the gigs you showed up really late to were your best ones, because I guess you were just excited to get there.
John: Yeah, it was like a release. When we got to the one in Brooklyn we were all just mad as hell, pissed off, and it made for a really good show. It’s not something I’d like to do everyday, that’s for damn sure (laughs).
You mentioned the new album, and I’ve been really enjoying the two new songs you’ve been playing on this tour, probably as much as any of the old stuff. I believe the album is done, according to what you say on stage every night. How long have you worked on it and when did you start writing it?
John: The riffs were around for a long time and it finally got made this year. We all contributed ideas and riffs. We had a lot of stuff that we were reviewing and deciding whether we were going to record it. We’ve been condensing, rewriting and making everything as strong as possible. This part here, is it needed? Can we do something better? Can we cut it out? It’s all about chewing down to the essence, because the last record was really good and we know we have to raise the bar and do better every time. So, this is more direct, the riffs are stronger, the melodies are more melodic (laughs), and the sounds are better. I’ve got some vocals that need to be done and what we call fairy dusts and some ear candies, some odds and sods that need to be done to finish it off. But we’re very close, and the rough mixes are incredible.
Mark: We made sure that we got together a couple of times before we even started the pre-production for this record. We can send ideas across on the internet. In the old days we used to have cassettes where we’d record ideas and send them back and forth. We all never ever lived together in a band house, so it’s not much of a difference, really. We did spend a lot more time doing the preparation for this record, the writing, and just making sure we can play the songs live before we start recording. Because we are one of the few bands that play in the studio together. A lot of people put together a record like a jigsaw puzzle. We’re not that kind of band. It’s all about having that live feel and trying to get that excitement on tape. Well, on digital recording nowadays (laughs). But yeah, living in different places doesn’t really faze us. We spend a lot of time together anyway, so its all good.
Talking of living, I’ve seen that a lot of flyers on this tour say ‘Raven from the UK’ and a lot of people that I talk to at the merch table are not even aware that you’ve been living in the States for a while now.
Mark: It doesn’t matter. We are from the UK. That’s where we started the band.
John: You can take the boy out of Newcastle but can’t take Newcastle out of the boy!
Mark: Having Joe in the band made a huge difference because it made us a heavier band. But he had the same influences growing up just like we did. There wasn’t really much of a learning curve for him. We were already in sync, actually more than when we had Rob as a drummer. I guess because we’re a little bit older and have been around a little bit, that kind of stuff doesn’t even come to our minds. We’re called a UK band because we started there, I guess. Me and John were born there, and obviously we were part of that movement that’s called the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal. That keeps coming up. To us, we were just in a band, playing. We didn’t go out to join some kind of club. It’s just the way it happened. It’s good though. We’re not knocking it. We just think that no matter where you’re from, you should be proud of it. Our opening band Night Demon are from California and they’re proud of that, so why not?
But, has living in the US impacted you at all and made any difference from before, in terms of the music or anything else related to the band?
Mark: I’d have to say no. It hasn’t made much of a difference.
John: We travel around the world. We’re all over the place. You’re influenced peripherally by whoever you’re meeting or seeing when you go around, but as far as your core choices of what you like, what kicks your ass and what does not, that’s never going to change. That’s why we still love the music we loved when we were kids.
You’re taking out Night Demon on this tour. Obviously I know their side of the story in terms of how they came together with you guys, but what was your reaction when you first saw them last year on the Diamond Head/Raven tour?
John: I walked up to Jarvis and I said, you owe me 50 bucks (laughs). But yeah, we saw them and they were great. We played a couple of shows with them out on the West Coast last year, and then we played a festival in Madrid together this year which was funny because there were four bands on the bill and they were all three-piece rock bands. It was amazing.
Mark: They’ve got the same mindset. It’s about the music, they want to kick ass, they want to make it look like it’s a show. They’re not interested in the money or in picking up girls. Well, they probably are. But you know, they want to make sure they do the right thing and really kick some ass. That kind of thing immediately caught our eye. There’s a lot of other bands and they are all worried about all the other things. It’s just nonsense. If it’s not about the music, I don’t know what it’s about. So that’s one of the good things. And they remind us a lot of some of the bands that we listened to when we were starting out. They have that classic style. They’re bringing it with some decent songs. There’s some other bands that are also starting to pop up now, like Cauldron and Bat, different bands that bring a new version of the old feel, if you want to call it that. It’s like a new wave too that’s happening now, not just in the States but in Canada and Europe. It’s funny to see people out there when they’ve got these striped shirts and things that people used to wear in the 80s. It’s weird and super throwback. But it’s not necessarily about fashion, and the music has to be good. For the longest time it’s been bands putting out mediocre records. So I’m happy to finally see people wanting to get in there and kick some ass.
For young bands, touring the US is hard and expensive. What would your advice be? Would you advice bands against touring the US and focus on Europe more, specially the younger bands that are playing old-school metal?
John: Well, yeah there’s obviously more of a market for them there. Time will tell where we are. The business is always cyclical. Things will be great and then things will stink. I’m not quite sure where we are at the moment, whether it’s a downswing or an upswing. There are a lot of younger people getting into the music, which is great. It’s prevalent the world over. We’ve seen it in America too and it’s happening. There’s still a big enough scene in all the big cities, but it’s just that you could deliberately play everywhere before and now it’s a little bit more hit and miss. As far as advice, do the music you love, get out there and wherever you can make hay, go for it.
And lastly, you guys have been eating food in all kinds of different places through this tour. What’s the worst meal you had?
Mark: Worst meal? Wow. Right now, this one (laughs). Remember what we ate that was bad?
John: I know what was bad. We went to a Denny’s in Los Angeles and everything was freaking wrong or cold or burned (laughs).
Mark: But you get a little bit of a tough skin on the road because you don’t want to get sick. That’s the main thing, and everybody tries to make sure that they eat pretty good, make sure that they’re not starving, but also make sure that when they eat some place, whether it’s food at a venue or somebody made food, they’re not going to get sick from it. We’ve had people bring food to our gigs and we’re always a little questionable about that. We had one lady who brought this rum cake. It had so much rum in it that we had one slice of the cake and we were on the floor, completely drunk. So you never know, but we just try to stay healthy (laughs).
Raven/Night Demon remaining US tour dates:
11/25 – Raleigh NC @ The Maywood
Get all the info on Raven’s Kickstarter campaign here.