INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
Black Star Riders is a new “all-star” band that formed in late 2012. The band got started when members of the most recent line-up of Thin Lizzy decided to record new material, but they choose not to release it under the Thin Lizzy name. The band now consists of vocalist/guitarist Ricky Warwick (the Almighty), bassist Marco Mendoza (ex-Whitesnake, Blue Murder), and guitarists Damon Johnson (ex-Alice Cooper, Brother Cane) and Scott Gorham who’s the only remaining member from Thin Lizzy’s classic line-up. The original Thin Lizzy drummer Brian Downey and longtime keyboardist Darren Wharton decided not to take part of this new band and Downey was then replaced by Jimmy DeGrasso (ex-Y&T, Megadeth, Alice Cooper). The band released its highly acclaimed debut album ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE on May 2013 and since they’ve been extremely busy touring act across the world. Black Star Riders played its first show in Finland on last November. Vocalist Ricky Warwick sat down with us in backstage of club Virgin Oil Co and we discussed about the new album, creation process of new songs, the future of Black Star Riders and Thin Lizzy, possibility of the Almighty reunion and various other topics. Read on!
Metal-Rules.com: First of all a welcome to Finland, Black Star Riders.
Ricky Warwick: Yeah, right. Crazy.
Metal-Rules.com: You have been here many times with different bands. So, is anything different this time?
Ricky Warwick: I’m older “Laughs” No, it’s always good… This is a country that, like you said, I have been here many times and it’s always good to play here. And I love Helsinki as a city; I think it’s a great city. Yes, it’s just nice to be here. It’s nice to still be making music.
Metal-Rules.com: Two days ago you were at the Classic Rock magazine awards gala in London. You didn’t win the title, the album of the year, but I think it was still a great experience for you?
Ricky Warwick: No, we were beat by another band called Black Sabbath. That’s okay, they’re allowed to win. They are pretty cool. So, it’s alright “Laughs” Sabbath came back after 40 years, their album was number one in USA, number one in the UK. They deserved to win.
Metal-Rules.com: In my opinion, you should have been included in the best new band category in Classic Rock magazine lists as well?
Ricky Warwick: We are a new band; we are a new band with an old history. Which is very unique, so I guess we could have been in that category? But it was just great to be nominated for the best album of the debut album, which is a huge honor. It was really cool.
ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE
Metal-Rules.com: ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE was released in May. How does the album feel for you now afterwards, six months later?
Ricky Warwick: It feels good, it feels really good. We are really proud of our record, because of the pressure that we were under to write it and the things that happened within the change of the name. Brian and Darren leaving, all that kind of stuff. There was certainly a few weeks there last year, where were really kind of “One minute, this is the end. What’s going to happen? Is this record ever going to be made?” The fact that I’m sitting here talking to you about this brand new band called Black Star Riders a year later, it’s a huge achievement for all of us involved. So, it’s really special the record now of living up for six months, I listen to it, I’m extremely proud of the songs. I love the way it sounds, yeah. There is just stuff I want to change, yes there are always is. But I think it’s a great start for this record, we are already working on the second album.
Metal-Rules.com: I remember when I first heard ‘Bound for Glory’ from the radio and I was a 100% sure that it was some left over from the ’70s Thin Lizzy material but it wasn’t?
Ricky Warwick: No, it’s brand new song. Damon Johnson and I wrote, that was one of the first tunes that we wrote. I’ll be honest with you; we had to fight for it to be on the album. Scott wasn’t too sure about it, and Darren my good friend insisted this is a hit single, this is a great song. But what made that song so special is it’s got a great story behind the lyrics about a guy called Johnny Wong. And actually he exists, he’s a crazy Thin Lizzy fan and he own owns a Chinese restaurant in Plymouth, England. We met him there and I kind of based this song on him. But we did the song and Damon and I said to Scott “Look it needs a killer a Lizzy type guitar, dual-harmony” Two guys walked in the studio and started playing, and there it was. I was just like, “Fuck, that’s it!” It just turned the song from a good song into an amazing song. Just because of that little guitar lick and that’s the beauty of having Scott Gorham in your band. That’s Scott Gorham guitar style. That’s what he’s going to do, and will never lose that. I never want to, and we will always have the spirit of Thin Lizzy and Black Star Riders no matter what we do. The reason we put it out first, was we wanted…. It’s just a good song, it’s very catchy. But we wanted to let the Lizzy fans know that we weren’t moving away completely from Thin Lizzy style, but we also…
Metal-Rules.com: So, it was kind of bridge between old to new?
Ricky Warwick: Yeah. We also wanted to let people know that we have the old style but we also have something new and I think that was a perfect song to do that.
Metal-Rules.com: I think in my opinion, another gem of the album is ‘Kingdom Of The Lost’ and it’s again you and Damon who wrote it?
Ricky Warwick: It is, yeah. Obviously the Celtic thing is something that I’ve always loved and obviously it was always a big part of Lizzy. So, it’s something again that we wanted to keep, and something that we were going to keep just because of who I am and what I’m into and where I’m from. Damon as well being an Alabama boy, growing Bluegrass, Country and which was started by Scotch-Irish settlers bringing the Irish folk music over a 100 years ago. He’s got that in his DNA as well. And it’s becoming anthem, it’s just going down, it’s amazing at shows. People are really, really catching onto that song. And it’s a good fist in the air song.
Metal-Rules.com: If you ask me, that song would have been in BLACK ROSE?
Ricky Warwick: Thank you. It’s very, very cool you said that. Yeah, it’s just one of those songs that comes along. Damon had a riff, I had a riff. I said, “I think my guitar riff is good, it’s going to give your guitar a riff.” It did and then it was the case of just writing up a good lyric, having great chorus, a good catchy chorus. Which we got.
Metal-Rules.com: Actually, today I did see the video of “Kingdom Of The Lost”. It’s very different to your other videos.
Ricky Warwick: Yeah. Well, we wanted to know, would have been very, very easy just to make a kind of typical Irish video of pictures of moons and island and all that. But there is another side to the song about, the song is really about alienation and searching for… People sometimes moved in other countries for a better life, because they think affects the problems that they have in their life but the problems are there. So, you need to fix that first before you can move. And it’s hard to realize that sometimes, so that’s really what the song is about. So, we wanted the video, the director called Michael Biddy. He’s very good Irish film director, and he had a vision that he wanted to sort of show the two sides of America, the opportunity, the freedom but also the poverty, also the immigration issues, also the known freedom. And we were only trying to pick that in the video, along with the beauty of the country, as well as the hustles of the country, so show them both sides. And I think we did that, so… It’s just like a road trip through California. And it’s an amazing place, there is so many different people, characters and the scenery changes so much and we had to show difference. I think it looked great and we’re really happy with it.
Metal-Rules.com: The new album is mainly written by the band itself. Was it just a strict decision not to use any outside writers, with exception of Marti Frederiksen on one track and Darren Wharton on a few tracks?
Ricky Warwick: The reason for that, I’m a songwriter. I wrote all the Almighty stuff and the solo albums, that’s what I do. I have a great passion in writing lyrics and stuff like that. Damon Johnson comes from background where he’s a songwriter too with Brother Cane. So, that’s what we do. And Damon and I both work very, very well together. So, we felt we don’t need to bring in anybody else, because we understood the dynamics of this band and how it works. And we are the ones, when we came to make this album with the people, okay, we’ve got to write the songs. Scott always brings in some great Scott Gorham riffs. The reason Darren is on there is because some of the songs, we started them when it was still going to be a Thin Lizzy record before we changed the name. So, Darren took the credit for some of the help with arrangements and he was involved like “All Hell Breaks Loose” I think and “Blues Ain’t So Bad” So, that’s what Darren is credited there. And the Marti Frederiksen, I think Damon had written “Kissin’ the Ground” with Marti before as an old demo, four, five years ago with Marti. I came in and I changed the chorus, did a completely different chorus because I felt the chorus was the weakest part of the song and Damon agreed. That’s why Marti has got a credit on there, but we are pretty adamant that we… If somebody came to us, we are not stupid. And said, “Here is the song, and you played it to me and it was an amazing song. And you can have it. I’d be a fool not to take it but we don’t struggle when it comes to writing. We’ve got a lot of ideas and we are very strong that way. But we are open to everything.
Metal-Rules.com: At some point when you had Vivian Campbell in the band, he said “If there is ever going to be any new music from these guys, I want to be included”. Did you ever write anything with him during that time?
Ricky Warwick: No. Vivian just did the tour and went back to Def Leppard and… myself and Damon, we all worked so hard on the songs in the album. It was kind of like we wrote these; we spent the time and effort writing these songs to sort of let somebody else come in and steal the glory. We don’t want to do that on this first album, you know. But Vivian is an amazing guy, and a great guitar player. And we would get him to contribute something down the line.
Metal-Rules.com: ALL HELL’S BREAKS LOOSE is getting good and lots of attention but how about its commercial success?
Ricky Warwick: It’s pretty good, it’s done really well. We’re in a good situation and will be going ahead making the second record. So, in this day and age that’s great, because it’s hard to sell records these days. So, it’s gone really well. It charted top 30 in Germany and top 35 in Sweden. It went to 38 in Finland. Yeah, so that’s great. For one, it’s really a new band making a big change and taking a gamble. We’re very happy with how it’s turned out.
Metal-Rules.com: I have discussed with many musicians who have been in business for like 25 years to 40 years, and they say “It would be a complete suicide to have a new band with new name at this point of my career” But you don’t feel like that way with Black Star Riders?
Ricky Warwick: No. Because it was a risk when you went there but what was the alternative? The alternative was to keep on playing Thin Lizzy stuff, over and over and over again for 10-15 years, well that may have been fun. As artists and as people, we wanted to write new music and so there was no other alternative, we had to do this and we had to take a risk to move forward. And so, it’s been a success. So, I guess it paid off.
Metal-Rules.com: How well do Thin Lizzy fans recognize the new name, you know?
Ricky Warwick: Like everything else, it’s getting better every time we play and get it on the Internet, spreading the word. People start to realize it, all over the world that this band used to be Thin Lizzy and now it’s Black Star Riders. It’s a new band with big history. I think it’s good, a lot of respect to Phil and everything. I’m so glad that we did it, I really am, and I think it took a lot of pressure off from me. I think it’s a cool name, I think it fits the band, it fit’s music and it’s great. I see people wearing Black Star Riders jackets and I’ve already seen some Black Star Riders tattoos, so it’s getting great, you know “Laughs”
FORMATION OF THE LATEST INCARNATION OF THIN LIZZY
Metal-Rules.com: Actually I went to see you guys when you played one of your first shows with Thin Lizzy in Hammersmith Odeon, London 2011. What kind of goals did you have at first when you joined the band?
Ricky Warwick: I just wanted to do the best job that I could do, I wanted to make people happy. Put a smile on their face, play the songs the way I would want to hear them as a fan. And make people go, that is good as it’s going to get without Phil.
Metal-Rules.com: If I’m right, you had no plans about making a new music together at that point and overall you had no exact idea long it’s going to last?
Ricky Warwick: We didn’t know if it was going to last for one tour, we just thought at the beginning it was just going to be one tour. And we didn’t realize that tour obviously went so well. The offers for the shows kept coming in, and before you know, its three years later and we’ve toured the world two to three times, most busy time, which is phenomenal and very nice feeling for me that on the whole I was accepted by all the Lizzy fans. So, when I think of Thin Lizzy, I don’t think of me singing, I think of Phil and I’ll always will, because that’s Thin Lizzy. But times change, Phil is dead, people move on and people want to hear those songs. And I think that hopefully I deliver them with heart and soul and passion, the way Phil would have. And that was a huge honor for me, and I think I connected with people and it seemed to work. So, I’m happy. It’s huge, a lot of pressure. I was very nervous and I was very scared, it was a big gamble because if people didn’t like it, I would have been that guy that came in to Thin Lizzy and sucked, you know? And probably it would ruin my career forever. So, it was a big gamble. If it didn’t pay off, I would have been in trouble but I believe that I could do a good job and I believe that I could.
Metal-Rules.com: I might be wrong here but Darren (Wharton) told me in interview a few years ago that the re-united Thin Lizzy had originally a plan to continue for five years and that was going to be it?
Ricky Warwick: Well, we had a plan for sort of five years that we wanted to do. And that did include obviously making the record, which for whatever reasons it didn’t happen. And not really prematurely ended after three years, because we needed to make some music to keep moving forward, otherwise. Because we are just cool, I think people get tired if you want to tour every year and you play the same shows, even with Thin Lizzy and you know the songs are amazing and people are like, “I saw them six months ago.” So, you’ve got to keep reinventing yourself and keep it fresh and think. And you know, money is tight for people and you want to get people something different every time you play.
Metal-Rules.com: At the beginning you had plans to have Brian Robertson in the line-up as well, right?
Ricky Warwick: I don’t know about that, I think that Scott wanted Brian too. When he was putting the band back together, he was talking about Brian, maybe coming on board. But Brian tells, not that great. And I think that was really the problem on everything else, which is a shame, because would have been fantastic. But it worked out okay, so.
Metal-Rules.com: Did you ever see the John Sykes fronted version of the band?
Ricky Warwick: I didn’t, no. I never saw them which is funny, you know.
Metal-Rules.com: I do remember that, when that version of the band played in Helsinki, I interviewed both Scott and John then. And when I asked about possibility to have some new music from the band John said “No, it’s never going to happen” but Scott said he wants to make a new album someday. It seemed that Scott always had that vision of new music in his head?
Ricky Warwick: Scott just loves to play and he loves to write. And I think Scott was looking for the right people to make the record with. And I don’t think with all respect to John that he had that with John. And I think he knew that and I think when we got together, and started chemistry and have all these stuff with Scott for many years. And we’ve always gotten really well, and we have a good chemistry between each other and a good understanding. And I think that just grew when we started playing together with Lizzy, and I had written all the lyrics. I started showing them ideas that I had and he got really excited about it. And we were just waiting for him to say, “Let’s go. Let’s start writing.”
BLACK STAR RIDERS TALK
Metal-Rules.com One thing I like about Black Star Riders is that you have a strong believe in your own material instead of relying too much for the old stuff. Recently you’ve played nine songs out of eleven tracks from ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE and that’s a lot!
Ricky Warwick: Yeah. Thank you. That’s something we are always going to do, we’ve only got one album. So, we’ve got to play most of it “Laughs”. But, yeah. We will always play Lizzy stuff too, always. And we’ve shared this, and when you see the show it’s 50-50, it’s 50% Black Star Riders and 50% Thin Lizzy. But we are trying to create own identity and it’s important for us to play as much new stuff as we can. And now when the album is out, because people know it and they know the songs.
Metal-Rules.com: Another great thing with Black Star Riders is that you seem to have really good chemistry and the line-up seems to be very stable.
Ricky Warwick: Obviously four of us have been together for quite a while, Jimmy has just joined the band, and just came straight in, great guy socially and we get on great. It’s a really good atmosphere in the band, very positive. We all get along very well. Which is… it really makes touring very easy. And there is certainly good energy right now, good vibe.
Metal-Rules.com I think that Jimmy came in through Damon because they played together in Alice Cooper band?
Ricky Warwick: He did, yeah. Absolutely. Damon was like, when Brian left, Damon said straight away, “I got the guy, I got the guy.” I’m like, “What? Already?” And he said, “Yeah, Jimmy DeGrasso.” And we all knew who he was but we didn’t know him like Damon. He was like, “I’m telling you, this guy is the guy for the job.” And Jimmy dropped everything to do it, he’s like, “Yeah. I’m in.” So, we didn’t even audition everybody else, and Jimmy just came straight in. And within a week was playing on the album.
Metal-Rules.com: You like it or not but Black Star Riders is often considered as being a kind of super group. But isn’t it challenging to have a band where everybody has other commitments as well?
Ricky Warwick: No. Because we are all very committed to this, we all… Anything else that we’ve got going on career wise, we Black Star Riders. When we formed the band we said, “Black Star Riders will come first.” So, anything else that we have on, we fitted on Black Star Riders. And we are all made that agreement when we started that; we wouldn’t do this unless we are a 100% committed to putting this first. I think it’s the only way, otherwise it’s just half-assed and it doesn’t work, like you said after one album, tow, these bands start to fall apart.
Metal-Rules.com: Also, you guys live different places around the world. How do you work out band rehearsals etc?
Ricky Warwick: Sure, it’s not easy. It’s tough to rehearse and also to get together. We use Skype a lot, and we use Internet a lot to send ideas. Damon and I will get together, I’ll go to Nashville and write with him in his house, sometimes he comes down to L.A and meet with me, and will get together that way. We are all at this stage and point in our careers, good musicians. So, we all do our homework, so we do get together. We don’t need a week; we need a couple of days. It’s like, it fits right in.
Metal-Rules.com: So, you don’t have to play songs together too much outside of tour.
Ricky Warwick: Well, I have to practice songs at home in my own, but when we get together, usually chemistry is pretty good and it comes together very fast.
Metal-Rules.com. Touring wise, you still have a few shows left for this year. Do you already have dates booked for the next year?
Ricky Warwick: We start UK next week, which should be great. We already have dates booked in Japan for May, Australia and then we are going to South America and the USA. And then we’re going to do some festivals next summer and more touring in the States and that will take us to September. And will start a new record in September, October.
LINE-UP TALK AND THE FUTURE OF THIN LIZZY
Metal-Rules.com: I think this is been one of the most asked questions from you recently but what was the main reason for Brian Downey and Darren Wharton to leave out of Black Star Riders?
Ricky Warwick: Well, Darren basically. It was kind of the same reason for both of them, we got to the point where Brian sort of re-joined Thin Lizzy, was like, “Yeah. I’d love to do like maybe one, two tours a year. Suddenly we are doing 120 shows a year. We are away for six months a year. And for me, for Scott, for Marco, for Damon, we are fine with that; we are road dogs, that’s what we do. But I think Brian and Darren were like, “I want a minute. This is a lot. This is a lot touring. And we were away from our families and we are not sure if we want to be in that situation.” So, that was a big part to play and with Darren, he wanted to work more with his own band Dare and he was also working on a movie that he had been working on for a while, which he’s still working on. And also to be honest with you, Black Star Riders is a heavier band than Thin Lizzy. There just isn’t a lot of keyboards in there, and I think he felt that he would be underused. And we didn’t really need that many keyboards, it came clear when we changed them, the direction we were going in that we didn’t need a lot of keyboards. And so, it was really amicable. He just said, “I wish you guys all the best, but I’m going to concentrate on Dare and other things.”
Metal-Rules.com: Actually I was going to ask how much you had to change your original plans because suddenly you had no keyboard player in the band.
Ricky Warwick: No, not at all. To be honest with you, you don’t really hear much keyboards apart from the “Angel of Death”, maybe stuff on RENEGADE. There is not a lot of keyboards in Lizzy. Really, you know. As you can see we play a lot of Lizzy songs and without the keyboards, no disrespect to Darren, you don’t really miss him. But Darren is a great guy and he’s a good songwriter in his own write, fantastic, and it’s great what he does with Dare. It’s just like, we want to do this, you kind want to do that, you go do that and will go and do this and it was fine. With Brian, it was just the question of he just didn’t want to be on the road that much, and certainly, I think when he realized that we were going to promote a new album, we were going to tour like crazy and we were going to, and all the stuff that comes with that. He was just like, “You know what guys? This isn’t for me. I’m happy doing a few shows a year, but that’s it.” And he just said, “I’m just going to step aside.” And it was really, there was no arguing, it was all very amicable and very friendly. And if we do some stuff with Thin Lizzy, some one-off shows over the next few years, Darren and Brian will come back in for those shows.
Metal-Rules.com: But do you have any shows already planned for Thin Lizzy in the future?
Ricky Warwick: No, we have not yet. And it would be one offs, a couple of shows…
Metal-Rules.com: Like some festivals?
Ricky Warwick: Festivals, some shows here and there. I know obviously it would depend, what Black Star Riders are doing too. There is certainly willingness there from Brian and Darren to still do something, and we obviously would like too. But again Black Star Riders is the first thing.
THE ALMIGHTY RE-UNION AND SOLO CAREER
Metal-Rules.com: Well, I heard a rumor that there might be a sort of re-union of the Almighty coming as well?
Ricky Warwick: Maybe yeah. We are talking about it, we are trying to work it out. And try to get everybody on the same page, it’s a whole different band you know.
Metal-Rules.com: And which version of the band it will be this time?
Ricky Warwick: It will be with Pete Friesen, Floyd London, Stump and myself. We’ve had some offers for some shows, we are looking to try to do it, make it happen. The problem is obviously everybody has different lifeline, different stuff and just trying to get everybody to come together. Also, we are now going to watch that it doesn’t conflict with Black Star Riders.
Metal-Rules.com: Maybe you could combine these things?
Ricky Warwick: “Laughs” I think if I did two shows, it would kill me. I don’t have enough energy, too old “Laughs”. The Almighty show and Black Star Riders, so much energy in both shows. I’ll be like…
Metal-Rules.com: I have seen some guys doing that and, at least, they tried… “Laughs”
Ricky Warwick: Right. And I don’t think it’s fair, I think it’s important that the two things are separate.
Metal-Rules.com: The Almighty also have a set re-mastered albums coming out soon?
Ricky Warwick: We do, they are all coming at January the first week, which is pretty exciting. It will be great, because it’s hard to get some of this stuff right now. And it would be great that you will be able to get online and you will be able to buy vinyl again, and all. It’s cool, I’m happy that it’s coming out.
Metal-Rules.com: Who is going to release them?
Ricky Warwick: It comes in a label we call Spinefarm Universal.
Metal-Rules.com: You have Black Star Riders and the Almighty but how about your solo career, is there something going on as well?
Ricky Warwick: There is, yeah. I’m going to put out two albums actually, one is going to be electric full band and the other one is going to be just acoustic. I have been working on those in studio between breaks and so, I’m going to have some information about that in New Year. It’s pretty cool, I get some pretty special guests on it and I‘ve written a song with Ginger from the Wildhearts, which is really cool.
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah, sounds great and the albums will be out next year?
Ricky Warwick: Possibly next year. It’s good to be busy, so “Laughs”
Metal-Rules.com: Yeah, yeah. It keeps you moving.
Ricky Warwick: Exactly.
THIN LIZZY FAN TALK
Metal-Rules.com: Speaking one more thing about Thin Lizzy. When you got your first touch with the band?
Ricky Warwick: As a fan? My sisters, two older sisters, bought me JOHNNY THE FOX. I think they could bring it at home and I was playing it, and I was just going, “What is this? Who is this?” And then my earliest memories is seeing them on Top of the Pop’s in ’72, I was six years old and they were doing “Whiskey In The Jar”. And even then being mesmerized by Phil and how he looked, going, “Who is this guy? That guy looks crazy man; he’s looking and that hair…” And that’s something didn’t stop with me. And I think that was it, my sister used to get me into the band when I was a kid. And I never got to see them play live, which is…
Metal-Rules.com: You never saw the original Thin Lizzy live?
Ricky Warwick: No. But I got to see Phil play live in Grand Slam right before he passed away.
Ricky Warwick: It was on October, October ’84 I saw him play in Glasgow. And it was great, it was great to see him on stage. Obviously it would have been better if it was Thin Lizzy, but I just got to see the great one on stage. Yeah. It’s just been a growing up and my idea was just to be one of the bands. Everybody loved them, so.
Metal-Rules.com: I think that all members of the Black Star Riders, they have been huge Thin Lizzy fans.
Ricky Warwick: Yeah, definitely.
Metal-Rules.com: I have learned that especially Damon was a crazy Thin Lizzy fan.
Ricky Warwick: Yeah, absolutely. Scott was his idol when he was a kid, so it’s cool. I mean it’s just funny, that was his dream come true. And I would never dreampt of, my whole life that I could be sitting here talking to you like this. It’s been amazing last few years, and just to be a small part of that is such an honor and such, it’s built my wildest dream, it really is. It’s crazy.
Metal-Rules.com: Okay Ricky. I think this is enough by now. Thank you very much!
Ricky Warwick: No problem and thank you.