As the band continue their 2013 headline trek RUSHONROCK editor Simon Rushworth caught up with long-serving Lizzy guitarist Scott Gorham and band mates Ricky Warwick and Damon Johnson.
rushonrock: What’s the story behind the birth of Black Star Riders’ debut album in Newcastle?
Scott Gorham: The actual embryonic arrangements of the songs were written on the road. There were bits and pieces that weren’t pulled together. It really did take us getting into the demo process in the studio in Newcastle to get things going with some acoustic songs.
Damon Johnson: We did one session in Newcastle that was purely acoustic and we were just sewing the seeds of the songs. We were just working out whether they were up to scratch at that point.
Ricky Warwick: I’d never recorded in Blast Studios before but my last release I’d worked with the owner, Eric Cook. I’ve known Eric for a long time and he’s a big Lizzy fan. When we were talking about recording some demos he was happy to help. He said he’d do us a good deal…and he did! The guys at Blast couldn’t have been nicer to us.
rushonrock: New York Dolls and Therapy? are just two of the big names to make Newcastle’s Blast Studios their home from home – how did you enjoy your time there?
SG: They were superb at Blast and we got a lot done in a very short space of time. Newcastle is a great city to be in for any amount of time. You can walk out of the hotel and suddenly you’re in the middle of the city. There’s a ton of things to see. In the early years I never saw anything of anywhere! I was probably too high. Now I go out and make a point of getting to know where I am. Newcastle is such a great place. As a rock band you must play Newcastle. No argument. In the last 10 years the city has really grown and blossomed. They’ve spent a lot of money on the city centre and it’s been money well spent.
rushonrock: So you firmly believe Newcastle is still one of the UK’s rock hotbeds?
SG: Certainly. People in Newcastle are so knowledgeable about their music. It’s still a lot more rock n roll than a lot of places. I’ve been fortunate enough to play some great shows at the various venues in the city over the years. I love the City Hall and we always used to play there with Lizzy. Newcastle’s a great place to stop off at on the way to Scotland. There’s this great clip of Lizzy playing the City Hall back in the day and letting the fans in the dressing room. It’s things like that that I do remember. There’s a history when it comes to rock music in Newcastle and we were all acutely aware of that when we were working in the city.
rushonrock: You entered the studio as Thin Lizzy and came away with a Black Star Riders album – how did that happen?
SG: I don’t think the decision to change the name was ever black and white. But I think Damon wrote Bound For Glory with Thin Lizzy in mind and at first we intended to write a new Lizzy album.
DJ: When we first began writing the songs 18 months ago we thought we were going to record a new Thin Lizzy record. Ricky and I felt that the bar would be set very high and we were under no illusions that we needed to write some quality songs. We just decided to see what we could cultivate and whether we could make music worthy of the Lizzy name and reputation. Ricky and I had written some songs that we brought to Scott – and we were all out of business if Scott didn’t think they were very good! Luckily he gave us the thumbs up.
rushonrock: So did the name change impact upon the songs?
DJ: Not at all. There’s no doubt Black Star Riders sound like Thin Lizzy. We’d been playing together so long as Lizzy that it was bound to happen and when Scott plays guitar you can always hear elements of Lizzy in there. He’s got such a signature style. It’s impossible to avoid that sound and why would we? With Ricky working so hard to get his vocals right for Lizzy it was inevitable that the new songs would have a familiar feel and sound.
rushonrock: So why change the name and would a new Lizzy record have sounded any different?
SG: There came a point when we realised that we weren’t going to play the new songs under the Lizzy name. It’s a hypothetical question when you ask what the new album would have sounded like if it had been a Lizzy record. But I’m sure they would have sounded pretty similar! In the end it gave us a chance to do something a bit different and cover ourselves legally. Ultimately we’ve written and created something brand new for a brand new band and in actual fact that feels really good. Everyone in this band is a songwriter – we’re a genuine team working together and we all want to move forward. Black Star Riders is the best vehicle to do that.
rushonrock: Does Black Star Riders feel like a band with a big future?
SG: We have a great songwriting team. Everyone’s in this together and nobody is precious. I mean that. That goes for everyone. Nobody stands in the corner with an attitude if their song doesn’t work. We just move on to a song that does.
DJ: There’s no point in getting upset about it if the rest of the band isn’t keen on your song idea. It’s just one song. We’re looking at the bigger picture here.
rushonrock: Does that mean there’s more to come from Black Star Riders as a songwriting force?
SG: There are 12 songs on the album but we wrote 18 or 19 so there’s already a starting point moving forward. Maybe three of those songs were never going to work but the rest are under consideration.
rushonrock: Scott – how difficult was it for you separating yourself from the Thin Lizzy name after so many years playing in the band?
SG: Leaving the Lizzy name behind was an emotional wrench. I’d been in that band and playing those songs all of my life. Maybe I’m never going to do it in the same way again. That’s a lot to come to terms with. What I do have is a lot of amazing memories playing with Lizzy and nobody can take those away. I knew Lizzy couldn’t last forever and there would come a time when I – or the band – needed to go down a different path. It didn’t make it any easier when that time came.
RW: The name Thin Lizzy might have gone but you look at the calibre of the musicians behind Black Star Riders and it’s still a band that you expect quality from. We’ve set our standards high – and we always have – because we’re well aware of the legacy surrounding Lizzy. We worked at it so hard to ensure the last Lizzy line-up did justice to the past. Maybe the pressure’s off a little bit now. From a personal point of view I think it’s already a case of people not judging me in the same way now I’m no longer the Thin Lizzy singer.
rushonrock: So Ricky – is this band your primary focus moving forward?
RW: I want Black Star Riders to be a big success and I really believe in this band and the musicians I play alongside. I looked out at the crowd at the Download Festival this summer and it was great to see people singing along to the new songs. The setlist was split pretty much down the middle – we have to find the happy medium and at the same time stick to our guns. There will always be a lot of Lizzy in our set but we’re a new band that’s proud of our songs and we can’t ignore the fact that we’re the Black Star Riders.