The Spark that is Us

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The times I don’t mind the tedious process of transcription is when it pertains to an interview with a member of one of my favorite bands. That was without question the case with this recent telephone conservation with UFO drummer Andy Parker, my second with the British rock veteran, Texas resident, and all around affable fellow. Four decades strong and UFO sounds as great now they’ve ever sounded. The names occasionally change and there is a more pronounced blues streak on albums released this century, but more than anything else UFO continues to churn out intelligently written and memorable hard rock. New album Seven Deadly is another notch in the belt of that proud legacy. Along with Parker (a founding member) and guitarist/keyboardist/songwriter Paul Raymond, Phil Mogg (the other remaining founding member) leads the effort with an emotive, soulful voice that is one of the most unique and recognizable in rock, while guitarist Vinnie Moore shreds and blisters with some of the best chops in the business. Quite simply, UFO was, is, and always will be one of the best, most influential bands in hard rock and heavy metal. Period!

UFO has been touring the states with some regularity these past few years. How have you been dividing up the set between the old and the new? That can’t be easy when you’ve got four decades of material from which to choose.

It does get difficult. I’m not absolutely sure at this stage what we’re going to use from the new album. I’d imagine it’ll be two, maybe three songs at the most. I mean you’ve got to cut something. Otherwise, we’d have to go about four hours. Normally we get about two hours; that’s been our limit. At this stage I haven’t seen any set list. We’re actually out at the end of this month; we’ve got a warm up show in Fort Lauderdale and then we have the Monsters of Rock Cruise to the Bahamas. As far as I understand Phil’s plan is to use the old set to do those and then when we’re on the boat for the cruise we’re gonna talk about what we’re going to do for the new tour, which starts in the UK in mid-March.

So Phil typically pick’s the set list then?

Well yeah, but obviously it’s open to discussion. It’s what he feels comfortable with. And he’s pretty proactive and he’ll change it if a song isn’t doing well. Quite often he leaves it up to the audience, asking them what song they want to hear. We’ll have kind of a bare bones set list with a couple of choices in there and he’ll ask the audience whether they want to hear “Lights Out” or whatever. It’s kind of fun to get that input.

Have you played something lately that you’d not played for a long time or had never played up until that point?

Oh yeah, absolutely. “Try Me” [from Lights Out] came back into the set recently, which we had actually never done live. We put that in last year and it seemed to go down really well. Oh and we put in [1981’s] “The Wild, The Willing, and The Innocent” because we were getting people hitting the website saying we didn’t play much from the Paul Chapman era. And we actually tried that before some time ago. We brought in that and “Long Gone” into the set for the same reason; we’d been getting a lot of hits to the website saying we don’t do any from the Chapman era. And then after a couple of weeks we pulled them back out because they didn’t seem to be doing that well. So it’s pointless playing songs that aren’t going down that well if you’ve got other stuff that people want to hear. So we took them out and the Chapman diehards came back and complained so “The Wild, The Willing, and The Innocent” went back in, which seemed to go down pretty well. We were actually opening with it for a while.

Seven Deadly is the title of the new album. So are we talking about sins or something else there?

No, it’s just Seven Deadly [laughs]. I mean it wasn’t the first choice. You may have seen the debacle that happened when SPV announced that the album was going to be released and it was going to be called Last of the Bone Riders. Phil flipped back and forth with it for a while because he wasn’t getting the feedback from it he wanted, especially from the rest of the band [laughs]. We had people saying it sounded like some kind of gay porno movie or something [laughs]. It was quite funny actually. He was polling people on a regular basis to see what they thought about it. When we were in a hotel somewhere in the Midwest we had a day off and were sitting down at the bar with a couple of drinks and something to eat and we were actually working on a short list of songs. On days off that’s what we usually do, we’ll sit around the hotel and go through the songs and decide what ones we’re going to go for and which ones we’re not. And he actually asked the bartender when the title of the new album came up again because they’re always good folks to ask. So he asked the bartender “If I said to you ‘last of the bone riders’ what would you think” and I swear to god the guy looked him straight in the face and said “it sounds like a gay porno” [laughs]. So we were done with that title and decided we’d come up with something else. So about two weeks later we were playing in St. Charles, Illinois. We had done Chicago the night before and it was a lovely day and we were staying about a block from the gig. We’re walking down to the show in the evening and this guy and a couple of girls were walking in the opposite direction, and this guy had a tee-shirt on that said Bone Riders with this picture of a skeleton on a motorcycle, which is what Phil’s original concept was; it was more of a biker thing. Phil has a Harley and likes to ride and stuff. And Phil goes “See, I told you it was about bikers!” So this poor guy had to trade shirts with Phil in the middle of the street [laughs]. So Phil got the shirt and the title was back on again because he felt vindicated. That was going to be the title until SPV announced it and we got some terrible feedback on the website, so he decided once again that he would change it. It was funny because my drum tech, the guy I usually use who is out with Motorhead right now, e-mailed me the other day and said he much preferred the bone riders title [laughs]. You can’t please everybody, can ya? [laughs]. I really haven’t spoken to Phil since he did his vocals for the album; he’s back in England. He did his vocals just before Christmas and I was sitting out here in Texas. So it’ll be interesting to find out where Phil came up with that title.

My impressions of Seven Deadly after multiple spins – and I’ve been playing it frequently – is that it is very guitar-forward and riff based with very little keyboards on it, a couple of songs aside. And obviously there is a lot of great soloing from Vinnie Moore, as usual.

Paul and Vinnie pretty much wrote this album between them with Phil. The stuff that Paul wrote was actually more centered around guitar. The first track, “Fight Night,” is his and it has a serious guitar riff. You may think of Paul usually as a keyboard player with guitar on the side, so that’s kind of interesting that two or three of the songs that he pitched this time were much more built around guitar. It’s still got that blues thing going on, but it’s more edgy this one I think, a little heavier to please some of the fans. Like I said, you can’t please everyone all the time and we were getting some feedback from some of the diehard fans that we had gotten soft in our old age and gone to the blues or whatever. But what I always tell people is that UFO plays what comes from UFO’s heart. It is not some kind of calculated thing; it’s just where the guys are at the time. That’s where the band is at. I personally wouldn’t expect it to be the same thing that it was in the 70s or even the 80s because it isn’t anymore. It’s a different band, we’re all older, and we’ve experienced more life. I’m real happy with where the band is and the album seems to be getting great reviews.

Those first two songs – “Fight Night” and “Wonderland” – definitely set a much heavier tone. The ending riff of “Fight Night” actually sounds like a teasing tribute to AC/DC’s “Walk All Over You.”

Yeah, it does. I think Paul just writes whatever he feels and I’m sure in a way that was a homage to AC/DC because he does love AC/DC. You play a riff like that one has and can’t help people saying it sounds like AC/DC. That kind of riff is a trademark of sorts.

You’ve got the cowbell going strong on “Fight Night” as well.

Yeah, I’ve got more cowbell in that song, that’s right [laughs]. I’m a big cowbell fan, you know that. I’m still using the same one I used for the Strangers in the Night album, believe it or not. I dug it out of storage when I came back in the band in 2005. It’s kinda cool.

But it’s “Wonderland” that moves like a full on, up-tempo heavy metal song.

I always thought it was very Deep Purple that song. The guitar solos are a tip of the hat to Ritchie Blackmore. Vinnie is a huge Blackmore fan. I think that is going to please some of the fans that maybe thought we were going soft. It’s those two opening tracks that kind of kick you into gear.

Are you using female backing vocalists for some of the songs?

Yeah, it is a lady that Tommy [Newton, producer] likes to use in Germany at Area 51. I recorded the drums and we did the bass there on the south side of Hanover. Tommy did You Are Here and he did Showtime and The Monkey Puzzle, which was my first one back with the band. But he has a couple of people he likes to use for the backing vocals and the same with the harmonica player. The backup girl and the harmonica player are the same ones that were on the last couple of albums. Of course, it gets difficult when you get out on the road and someone has to try and hit those notes [laughs]. That’s gonna fall to Rob De Luca [Sebastian Bach] because he’s playing bass this time around. It would have been Barry Sparks [Dokken, Ted Nugent, et al.] but he’s off doing something else. So Rob and Paul will be struggling to hit those high notes, but that’s the way it goes. But it usually turns out for the best.

I’ve got the MP3 promo of course, but I still pre-ordered the CD and vinyl versions.

I actually only got the finished CD the day before yesterday it came in the mail. Up until then I only had MP3 files sent to me, which I don’t think were even the final mixes and they were certainly in the wrong order, which is kind of weird because when you listen to them for a while then the album doesn’t sound right [laughs]. You keep expecting something else to pop out but it doesn’t. I definitely like the running order on the album a lot better than the way they sent them to me. When I got them it started off with “Angel Station” and I knew damn well we didn’t start the album with a ballad. It’s interesting because we don’t really hear Phil’s finished stuff until the album is done. He keeps his cards pretty close to his chest. He’ll give us ideas like a lyric, hook, or a melody or maybe phrasing, but he likes to write his lyrics on his own and I think he works best under pressure. He’ll decide which tracks he wants to work with from the guys and we’ll get in a room and do the arrangements, and he’ll tell us “ok, I need another verse there” or something else here until we get the arrangements down. Then we’ll pretty much try to play the tracks without the vocals and he puts his stuff on afterwards. When I left Germany last summer after I did the drum tracks I didn’t have much of a clue what Phil was gonna do. So it’s kind of nice for me because I kind of get to hear it for the first time. In the old says I probably wouldn’t because we’d all be close to the studio and I’d be in there even when he was doing the vocals and stuff, hanging out and listening. So I heard it all. But now since we’re so spread out I’ll do the drum tracks and come home while Phil is in Germany working away. I don’t really get to hear it until he’s done so it’s kinda fun.

Were you pleased with how The Chrysalis Years collection came out with all the extras and live performances?

Absolutely. From my perspective I think there are a lot of people out there that would love to discover this band, those that maybe didn’t get to the first time around. Anything that will help that is good. Even though it is previous material remastered, repackaged and with extra tracks in there it creates attention and that to me is great because we are starting to see some younger people at our shows, which is very healthy for me.

That’s good to hear.

Obviously, in the past it was older fans bringing their kids or whatever, but now we’re actually starting to see some new faces there. It’s exciting to get discovered by a younger generation. I really do think this band has a lot to offer with not just the past material, but the present and future as well.

http://www.ufo-music.info/

www.facebook.com/ufoofficial

Comments

  1. Commented by: Biff_Tannen

    Great interview ! What a fantastic, legendary band ! I was at that show in St. Charles… wish I could’ve seen them walking around the town before the gig!


  2. Commented by: JWitt

    This band is killer. Great interview and always glad to see them featured. Seven Deadly is a great record.


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