BLACK STAR RIDERS: Intervju med Ricky Warwick och Damon Johnson

Black Star Riders har skakat av sig Thin Lizzy och står på egna ben, även om soundet fortfarande bär stora likheter med det gamla bandet. Med kommande “The killer instinct” fortsätter de med ljudbilden från debutalbumet “All hell breaks loose”, dvs hederlig gammal rock and roll. Nyligen besökte Ricky och Damon huvudstaden för lite press och Rocksverige fick sig ett längre samtal med herrarna då vi bl a avhandlade nya albumet, Fifa-spel, sambandet mellan Nordirland och Alabama och det där med att bli gammal:

It gets harder as you get older. Things start to ache, but that´s life. The line is; “Getting old is not for pussies.” and it´s true.


First off, who´s Charlie in the song ”Charlie I gotta go”?

Ricky: Charles Manson. The song is about a guy who joins Charles Manson and his merry band of crazies, when it´s all good and peace and love and freedom and drugs. Charlie´s got his mandate and gonna change the world and it´s all positive vibes. Obviously we know what happened with all that shit and the Sharon Tate stuff. The guy sees where it´s going and he´s like “This isn´t fun anymore. It´s not what I signed up for. I gotta get out of here before it goes bad!”. That´s the story behind it.

Damon: Now that you know what it´s about and you really listen to the lyrics and the verses, it takes a whole other trip.

How come it ended up being a song about Manson?

Ricky: Just an idea! I read a lot and watch documentaries and I just thought it would make a great story and it is a great story.

He just got married to a 28 year old or something like that.

Damon: Good for Charlie!

A song like “Sex, guns and gasoline” makes me think of the South. Am I right?

Damon: The southern moonshine!

Ricky: Lyrically, no. It´s definitely about an Americana road trip, but it´s about two guys strung out on meth, trying to get their shit together. Finding more trouble along the way, as you do when you´re on that crazy road. That´s really what it´s about.

Damon: That song was written during the “All hell breaks loose” album. It´s a song we held on to because felt it was a little too similar to the title track. They were both in the same key, both in the same tempo and we just felt like we had a song that covered that and we really wanted to call the album “All hell breaks loose”. We knew it was a really good song, “Sex, guns and gasoline”, butit´s just how it worked out. That´s another beautiful, amazing event, having the quantity of output this band has. We could go make another record today, with ten more songs that nobody´s ever heard of. For us, that´s exciting. Feels like we´ve got a great band in Black Star Riders. Whatever the five of us are looking for in a band situation at this point in our lives, everybody´s getting whatever that fulfillment is.


You ended up working with Nick Raskulinecz instead of Joe Elliott. When Joe told you that he wouldn´t be able to produce the record, didn´t you just wanna slap him in the face?

Damon: (laughs) I think maybe Ricky did a little, because he and Joe are best mates and Ricky had told us; “Holy shit this is gonna be great! Joe wants to do our record.” So, knowing A, their relationship and B, Ricky´s enthusiasm about it, it was like “Alright, sounds good. Let´s go!” The initial reaction was just that we were disappointed. Joe Elliott knows a thing or two about great songs and about making great rock records.

Ricky: Joe was genuinely gutted though. He was really concerned about how we felt and that was very obvious. He couldn´t apologize enough, but we understand. If it had been us, we´d done the same thing. You´ve got to look after your band and if Def Leppard´s your gig, come on! But it was one of those things where you just pick yourself up and go “Ok, what do we do now?” We had thought about other names and other people and certainly Nick was one of those, but to be honest with you, we thought Nick was out of our league, just because of what he´d done. We didn´t think we´d be able to afford him to be brutally honest and would he wanna come work with us? That´s where Damon came in.

Damon: It was an accident. Both Nick and my family live in Nashville, but we literally met backstage at an Iron Maiden concert, in Nashville of all places. Our wives became faster friends than Nick and I did. Nick and I talked about Rush and Maiden, but the girls were just hitting it off. Fast forward another three or four weeks and Joe gave us the call. As soon as Ricky called me and told me what was up, I sent my wife a text and said “Hey, do you think Amber would be comfortable to pass along Nick´s number?”, because just like Ricky, I didn´t think we could afford him and I just thought there was no way his calendar was gonna be free in 10 weeks? But it was and he worked within budget.

Ricky: And he came to see us as well.

Damon: Yeah, he came to see us play and I think that sealed the deal for him. He knew about the history, but he saw us play before he heard any of the new songs. If he was here, he´d say; Yeah, they blew me away with the show!”. We went back to Europe to tour and he just told us to send him everything we got; “Send me rehearsals, roughs, demos!” and hand on my heart, all we ever had were iPhone versions of me and Ricky playing around on guitars. Thankfully those were enough for him to go; “Ok, I´ve heard enough. Let´s go in and make this record!”

He´s done stuff that is quite different from your sound, like Mastodon, Rush, Alice in Chains.

Ricky: But it´s all still rock and roll! It´s all still guitars, bass, drums and vocals, for the most part. It´s just a question of getting us to sound great and getting us to find our sound. Make sure the vocals sound good and make sure there´s a killer drum sound and that´s really all your asking somebody to do. Some people are really great at it and Nick happens to be really fucking great at it, no matter who he´s working with. He´s done The Hold Steady and Mastodon, two completely different bands, but it´s still guitars, bass and drums.


You hadn´t written anything with Joe before it fell through?

Ricky: No. I´d been to Damon´s in Nashville and we had already started working on some ideas, but Joe hadn´t heard anything. Nobody had. The three other guys in the band didn´t hear a song until the first day of pre production.

Damon: It´s nothing we take for granted. We´re really grateful that the guys have that much confidence and trust in us.

Ricky: They see us working and that´s the other thing. Sometimes I think Ricky and I are both a little mental? We just love to get up, go for a run, pick up the guitars and just start banging on them. “What have we got today? We had a cool thing yesterday, let´s see what we can come up with today?” I´ve said this a lot this week, but we were finding out who we were on the first album. This time going in, we knew exactly who we were and we knew we had some good songs and to have new energy that Robbie Crane brought in as a bass player, and the energy that Nick brought in, it was a homerun, man. We just felt ten feet tall and bulletproof. It felt great!

Was there any of the ideas you brought to the band, that the others didn´t like?

Damon: You can tell by people´s body language, but to, their credit each of those, they´re all professionals, they gave every idea a chance. Then after a couple of run throughs, somebody would say; “So, what do you think?” and there were a couple of times when Scott (Gorham) went “I don´t know about this one, guys.” Or Jimmy (DeGrasso) would say “I´m not really feeling this, man. The chorus is good, but we need to work on the bridge.” But we had such a quantity of good ideas, that if we got hung up on anything, we would just push it to the side and go; “Ok, we´ll revisit that one on the next album or some other time.”

You referred to Nick as a “Viking warrior” somewhere and you talked about his record collection. Did he bring records for you to listen to?

Ricky: We sat around playing stuff.

Damon: Yeah, he definitely did. You gotta remember that was his other motivation for working with us, that we were fine coming to Nashville so he could be at home and work in his studio with all his stuff. I´ll never forget that very first day, we were setting up drums and getting a few sounds and we took a lunch break and normally, after we´ve been listening to music for three or four hours, we wanna take a break. Well, they brought the food and we´re sitting down at the table and he walks over and pulls out an album. I think that first day, we literally listened to “Moving pictures” by Rush. He dropped the needle and fucking cranked it! He was walking around air drumming and going “A, that riff! I love that riff!” I made eye contact with Ricky, like; “Is this guy for real?” (laughs) It was like that every day. He would play stuff, but there was a method, I know, to his madness. It was his own unique version of taking a break. Shift to another headspace and then come back.


With the new Foo Fighters album out and how they recorded in different studios and Dave Grohl taking about how you´re influenced by the place you´re recording in, had this album been different had you recorded it in Dublin instead of Nashville?

Damon: Well, it would´ve been a different album had we recorded it with Joe in Dublin. I think if we had recorded it with Nick in Dublin, I think it would´ve been a very similar record, I really do. Nick would´ve had the same arrangement ideas and he would´ve brought some of the same gear that he´s passionate about. You know he would´ve brought that Orange amp and that Flying V of his.

What was it that made you two click the first time you met? Are there any similarities between Northern Ireland and Alabama?

Ricky: Well, most of the people in the South are descendants from people from Northern Ireland and Scotland. Maybe that´s what the connection is, over the years there´s that bloodline, the Scottish Irish thing, along the Appalachians, Tennessee and into Georgia and as far north as Pennsylvania. Lewis and Clark, Andrew Jackson, all those guys were Scots Irish, so there´s a bloodline there. There´s probably more in common than what most people would think. For us, the love of music, the love of song writing and great songwriters and lyricists and great performers, good worth ethic, good morals.

Damon: Yeah, we´re both just as crazy about music now as we were when we were 16 years old. I´ve never known anybody in the music business that works as hard as me, until I met this guy. I just remember coming home from that first tour and I said to my wife; “This fucking Ricky is on fire and he´s so disciplined and focused!”. It was nice for me, because in all my other bands I was always the go to guy and sometimes I would be tired of that and sometimes I didn´t wanna be that guy. Now we have a situation where we can help each other, support each other, work together. There´s no question I would hesitate to ask him and I know he would give me a thoughtful and responsible answer. At this point in my life, that is really important to me. It´s a great feeling to know that when I get on a plane and leave my family for three weeks, I´m gonna be with a guy that´s got his shit together.

About the title, “The killer instinct”? Do you think everybody has that killer instinct or do you have to go through difficult stuff to get it?

Ricky: We´re all born with it. I just think some people don´t know how to use it and some people don´t know how to tap into it in a good way. You can have a good killer instinct or a bad killer instinct and I think it´s all within us. It´s that animal instinct that we have. I´m trying to portray it positively in the song, opposed to negatively. Life ain´t fair and don´t kid yourself that it is and don´t kid yourself that it ever will be. Be prepared for a lot of things to shock you and things you thought were set in stone that will crumble in front of you. Include people in that too, people that you believed in, that will let you down and that´s just the way it is. I got inspired by watching a Muhammed Ali documentary and just see the adversaries that he overcame to be a champion. There´s a great line where he says “Man, if I was a garbage collector, I´d be the best damn garbage collector in history!” and that´s just brilliant! Be the best I can be and what a great attitude to have! He came from nothing and I try to install that in my kids and it´s not always easy. Sometimes you see people rioting and they come from not the best areas in the city, yet they´re rioting in run down areas where they live. “Where you live is already bad. What the fuck are you doing making it even worse? Get yourself together!” Shit like that! People are so bored and they´re so fed up and just looking for any excuse to have some fun. Where I´m from, in Belfast, we had riots every year and it´s the same thing. People are shitting on their own door step. “Come on! We´re supposed to be better than this!”

Damon: There really is a double positive meaning in that lyric. The killer instinct of pushing yourself to be the best and work hard and the other thing is the tough stuff that happens to us. There´s no greater feeling than going through some real adversaries and coming out the other side and go; “I thought that was gonna kill me, but you know what? I survived!”

Ricky: I guess it´s a bit directed at us. Everything that we went through with the name change. Everybody had an opinion; “Why change the name? No Phil, no Lizzy!” and it was just like “Here it is!” and we turned it around. I´m a big, big fan of “don´t tell me, show me!”. You better fucking make sure you can back it up. People made it happen because they believed in us and we believe in ourselves. It´s just that whole thing of not giving up. We´re gonna keep on keeping on.


And you had Robbie Crane enter the band. He´s been around.

Damon: Robbie has been around. (laughs)

Ricky: Not as much as Marco, funnily enough. (laughs) Robbie´s only been in like three bands, Marco´s been in 700.

Damon: When we´ve talked about Robbie on this trip, the thing that still blows my mind, is that that guy was born and raised in Hollywood, California. Everyone I know that lives in LA, are transplants. My sister, my wife´s sister, my lead singer, my friends that work at ESP guitars and the list goes on and on. Robbie is from there and Robbie has this street smart, savvy… it has a lot in common with Ricky´s whole personality and that´s part of what makes him fit on a personality basis, but he also brings that same confidence with his bass playing. He´s got his bass down by his knees and his tone is mean, aggressive.

Ricky: Which is what Black Star Riders are. And he´s a phenomenal bass player. You had the Marco show and that was Marco and that´s what he does.

Damon: We´re The Clash and sometimes he (Marco) was still in Whitesnake. (laughs)

I saw Robbie play here in Stockholm with Steven Adler and he almost got into a fight with someone in the audience.

Damon: Robbie is a fucking brawler and he will throw a punch and so will this guy. I can´t wait till we start going out and cause trouble, knowing I´ve got these two.

Ricky: Here in Sweden we played a gig and it was one of Robbie´s first gigs. The security wasn´t great backstage and we came off and were pretty beat up. We were sweating and two young guys came into the dressing room and just started talking to Scott, drinking beer and they wouldn´t leave Scott alone and Scott was being polite. I said “You need to get the fuck out! Nobody invited you in and you need to fucking leave!”. I turned around and Robbie was right behind me, waiting and ready to go. (laughs) He got my back and was right there and I was like; “Alright, I like you even more now.” (laughs)

It´s like a band of brothers.

Damon: It really is! He´s just the absolute perfect piece to our puzzle. If he was trying to get into my good graces, he couldn´t have said anything better than when he said; “Look man, if you guys had asked me to join Thin Lizzy respectfully, I wouldn´t have done that. I´ve been in a couple of bands that existed before I joined. I love Thin Lizzy, but I´m just at a place in my life where I´m not looking for that. When I heard “All hell breaks loose” in its entirety, I was blown away. To find a band that exists in 2014, that can make a record like that and wants to continue to grow that, I wanna be a part of that!” It´s just been great having him on the road, on the bus, in the studio.

Are the two of you constantly writing stuff?

Damon: I´ll tell you a story. We´re in the middle of this insane press week. We´re not getting enough sleep, we´re jetlagged, exhausted… we´re sitting on the plane at nine o´clock this morning at it´s taking off. We both pull our iPads out, he´s (Ricky) reading some literature and making notes and I´m reading about Guy Clarke and Townes Van Zandt and we´re exhausted! We´re tapped, but we gotta think about song writing. (laughs)

Ricky: I´ve got a great story. I´m a big soccer fan and I love Playstation´s Fifa game. I mean, I fucking love it! Two years ago my wife bought me Fifa 12 or whatever it was and I played it for a week. My stepson said; “Where´s the Fifa game? I wanna play it!” and I said; “It´s in the trash!”. He went; “What do you mean it´s in the trash? What´s wrong with you?” I said: I had to throw it in the trash or you´d be homeless by Christmas. I won´t be able to write another song again.” I´m very aware of that one day I will wake up and I won´t be able to write a song and I won´t be able to go on tour, so I´m gonna fucking make sure I´ve done it all when the day comes.

Is that something you think about, getting older, the hectic life of touring?

Ricky: You do, because it gets harder as you get older. Things start to ache, but that´s life. The line is; “Getting old is not for pussies.” and it´s true.

Damon: There are a lot of guys in our business that are in complete denial about that. Guys our age and older that are still living like they think they´re 25 and it´s gonna put them in a early grave or they´ll have a stroke or heart attack, because they´re not looking after themselves. I see that and it scares me. It scares me for myself, because I wanna do this for 20 more years and I wanna make records with this band, I wanna write songs and go to concerts. Music just consumes our lives from our earliest memories.

Ricky: I look after myself. To do what I do, I need to look after myself. I´m not saying it´s right for everybody else, but it´s right for me. Have a clear head, be healthy and fit. I don´t have time to waste days being too hungover. It´s not fair to me, it´s not fair to my kids and it´s just a waste of time.

It was scary to hear about Malcolm Young. 61 is no age.

Damon: So sad about that. We have such deep love for that guy and his musical contribution to not just the world, but to our lives. It´s totally sad. You don´t need to look any further than that example. You don´t think that guy has access to the greatest doctors in the world, the greatest medication, the greatest treatment?

Ricky: You gotta listen to your body! Your body will start to tell what you need to do as you get older. If you don´t listen to it, bad shit´s gonna happen.

Av: Niclas Müller-Hansen

Foto av: Therés Stephansdotter Björk

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