Interview by Robert Cavuoto
Tygers of Pan Tang are set to release their new CD, Ritual, in November via Mighty Music. It’s their second album with the current line-up and the label.
This CD is a creative highpoint for Robb Weir [guitar], Jacopo Meille [vocals], Micky McCrystal [guitars], Gav Gray [bass] and Craig Ellis [drums] as they have an uncanny ability to write riff-driven rock songs with strong melodies. Songs like “Destiny,” “Damn You!” and the epic closer “Sail On” showcase the band’s unbridled passion for rock and love of the guitar. Ritual, with its eleven-tracks, will exceed any fan’s expectation of Tygers of Pan Tang.
I spoke guitarist Robb Weir, about the new CD, riding the crest of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and the challenges of touring America.
Robert Cavuoto: Tygers are extremely famous for writing great and memorable riffs. On Ritual, it’s clearly evident, and one of my favorite aspects of the band. Is that something that you consciously work at?
Robb Weir: It’s one of my favorite things about the band as well. [laughing]. I think there is a huge gap in the market for our riff-driven type of music. Where you can hear the singer sing, you can understand the lyrics, everything is clean, the guitars breathe, and the music is driving. It’s a bit lacking at the moment.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you feel creating riff-driven rock is a dying art as it still shines bright with Tygers?
Robb Weir: I wouldn’t say dying out. Music is a huge wheel that just keeps turning, just like fashion. In the 60s and 70s skinny jeans were called “drainpipes.” They are now called skinny fit or slim fit. It’s a different name for the same thing. Riff driven hard rock is still there, but there is a slight twist on a musical genera. Tomorrow it will be called something else but will still be riff-driven rock.
Robert Cavuoto: Tygers were one of the bands riding the crest of New Wave of British Heavy Metal. What was that like?
Robb Weir: I was there from day one as I started the Tygers. I wrote the music for the Wild Cat CD but not the lyrics. Back in the 80s, there was an article in Sounds newspaper about the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, not just about the Tygers but all the bands that were around at the time. When people get attached to a movement, it makes them feel more comfortable because they can refer to it rather than an unnamed type of music. When John Sykes and John Deverill joined the band, they brought a new musical element to the Tygers, which has stayed with us ever since. It was slightly more melodic hard rock, which was different from the hard rock punk thing on Wild Cat. It was the first album I wrote, and I was finding my groove.
Robert Cavuoto: My favorite track on the new CD is “Damn You!” What can you tell me about its creation?
Robb Weir: I wrote the music to that one. We went to a rehearsal room to jam it for everyone to put their stamp on it. We came up with the musical link between the verse and the chorus. Someone has to come up with an initial idea in the writing process, whether it be a riff or a sequence of chords that eventually become a chorus. They bring it to rehearsals and we all jam on it to take it forward to be a song. “Damn You!” is a song very deep in my roots. It’s a classic Tygers song; head down, foot on the monitors, and let’s go! It turned out incredibly well. When Jacopo was working on the melodies and vocals, he was trying to figure out how singing it, whether he should go high or low. I told him to record it both ways. We recorded them and then married the two vocal parts together to give it a unique effect. It came out really well, and I’m delighted that you like it. It has the signature Tygers stamp on it. When we finished recording the songs, we sent them to Soren Anderson to mix the songs. He added that touch of magic to make them sound bigger than we could have ever hoped for. By the way, we are releasing “Damn You!” as our next single, which will be coming out on October 25th. I just saw the first draft of the lyric video, and it looks pretty cool, so watch out for it on YouTube.
Robert Cavuoto: There are some blazingly tasteful leads on the CD. How do you determine if you or Micky will take a lead?
Robb Weir: Micky is a far better guitar player than me. I have no bones about saying that. If it’s a fast or complicated song or out of my comfort zone, I’ll ask Micky to do it, and he will come up with some great guitar solos. I take the slower, less notes, melodic solos like on “Damn You!” I’m old school because that’s where I’m from. Micky is only 30 and is from the new breed of guitar players where he can play fast and do all the technical stuff. I’m not from that era.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about the chemistry between you and Micky with the different approaches to playing the guitar.
Robb Weir: We work well together and get along fine. Our bassist, Gav, and drummer Craig provide such a solid foundation that allows us as guitar players to be inventive. They are the thunder behind us. It really comes down to the quality of the musicianship in the band.
Robert Cavuoto: The band has had many lineup changes since the 80s, is that a good thing for infusing new blood or more of a challenge for the fans to keep track of?
Robb Weir: How many bands between us could we name with original members from 40 years ago? The prime example would be Whitesnake, who is ever-evolving and changing. How many guitar plays have come and gone in Whitesnake? David Coverdale has probably had 14 guitar players in the band while Tygers have only ever had four standing beside me. When somebody new comes in, they are going to breathe new life into the band. It’s exciting, and they are eager to do whatever they can do to help to make it better. They see the challenge as well. I would hate to audition for another band [laughing]. I wouldn’t do it! It must be an awful experience. I remember when Micky came down, and I said to him. Nobody is judging you; nobody is looking at you negatively; we are just going to jam with you and chill out. If I was to audition, that’s what I would want someone to say to me. It must be a horrendous experience if the pressure was put on you. I would hate to make anyone feel like that. I’m sure Micky would tell you his audition was very easy. He was the best man for the job, and that is why he has been in the band for six years.
Robert Cavuoto: That was very nice of you, as it sounds like a pleasant experience for everybody.
Robb Weir: I’m sure the world would be a better place if people were more polite to each other and said “please” and “thank you.” You don’t hear that these days. It cost nothing and goes a long way.
Robert Cavuoto: You were every bit as good as all the bands that came out during the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, but I don’t think the Tygers ever got a foothold in America. What do you think happened?
Robb Weir: Your right, we didn’t. Back in the heyday, we never went to America; we went the other way to Japan as we were huge there. At the crux of our career, we parted company with our management. The record company wanted us to use unknown writer’s songs for the next album. That is not to be confused with cover songs from established acts. I objected and told them it’s not what I signed up for. I wanted to continue writing our own material as Wild Cat went into the British charts at #13 and Spellbound charted at #18. We have a proven track record. Why would we want to play someone else’s song? The record companies’ excuse was they wanted us to break in America, and we would have to go a little softer. Those words didn’t sit well with me. I would rather not to have a record company as grand as MCA. They told me that we were at risk of losing our record deal. I stood up in the board room and said, “I was kidding” [laughing], and the rest of the band followed. I only wanted to play songs where I wrote or was involved in the writing process. So that is probably why we never came to the states as it fell to bits by 1983.
Robert Cavuoto: Is touring America still a challenge, and will you be coming here to support the new CD?
Robb Weir: The system in America is quite challenging. American musicians can come here to England to play, they don’t need a working Visa, and people will come to see you. If we were to go to the States, we would have to get working Visa’s which cost each member about $1,700 to $2,000. That’s $10,000 just for the five band members; then, we have to fly there, stay at hotels, and hire a vehicle to get around. It’s quite a mountain to climb. We’ve looked at it and certainly haven’t closed the door; we are just waiting for the right opportunity. We look at it all the time. The Whiskey in LA contacted us a few years ago and wanted us to play, but you can’t fly over to do just one show. You have to do a minimum of 10-14 shows. Next year we have a show in Mexico City and hope to do a few shows around that. We have a festival in Madrid, and our agent is looking to get us to Australia as well. We would love to come to play East and West Coast in the States, but it’s all about getting the right deal.