INTERVJU: Danny Bowes i Thunder

De hårt svängande britterna i Thunder är tillbaka med ett nytt alster döpt till “Dopamine” och fansen lär inte bli besvikna. För Rocksverige berättar den charmiga sångaren Danny Bowes roliga och intressanta stories om misslyckade skivkontrakt, Axl Rose, hatet mot Izzy Stradlin, en frånvarande Andy Taylor, Luke Morleys genialitet, Van Halen-brödernas hälsoproblem och hur grungen sänkte dem.

– If I ever meet Kurt Cobain, I´ll kill him. He ruined my life.

What´s the story behind Axl Rose helping Thunder get a record deal with Geffen in the US?

He was partly involved, yes. The story goes that we were told that he was a fan of the band. Somebody we knew gave him a copy of our first album (Backstreet symphony, 1990). Our first album was released on Capitol Records in America, but the guy who ran the label hated us and once we discovered this, obviously our world collapsed and we decided we needed to get off the label immediately. We spent a few months having, shall we say, robust discussions with EMI who in turn had some discussions with Capitol and they passed us around all the various record labels. In this period, our first album was given to Axl Rose by somebody that we knew in LA. He heard that the band was getting off of Capitol and he had a record label called Uzi Suicide at the time and the word came back to us that Axl Rose wanted to sign us to his record label. Obviously we were very flattered, but we felt that this wasn´t possibly the best move, because we had heard all kinds of stories about Axl Rose being a maniac and we weren´t sure that we were happy with that as an arrangement. If we fast forward, we played later on that year (1990) in August, at the Monsters of Rock festival in the UK. John Kalodner, who was the legendary A&R man was on the bus with Aerosmith, who were also coming in to play the festival that evening along side Whitesnake and both of those were on Geffen. Both of those had also been engineered and mixed by a very good friend of ours, Mike Fraser, who mixed our first album, so every chance he got he would tell them about us. David Coverdale was a fan, Steven Tyler was a fan, Joe Perry was a fan and when John Kalodner was on the bus, he heard us covered live on Radio 1 and he said “Who are these guys? These guys are awesome!” and the guys from Aerosmith said “This is the band we´ve been telling you about!” We got the phone call directly after that Monsters of Rock show and we jumped on a plane to LA and did a deal with Geffen. Weirdly, just after it happened, we went to the Rainbow Bar and Grill to celebrate and we celebrated in fine style to the extent that we could barely stand up. Who should be in the Rainbow Bar and Grill with his wife having a very quiet dinner, Axl Rose. Luke (Morley, guitar) staggered past his booth on his way to the toilet, saw him, did a double take, get going, did his business in the toilet, came back, plucked up the drunken courage and said “Are you Axl Rose? I think you are.” and he said “Why don´t you come over and have a drink with us?” Anyway, he came over after he finished his dinner and we had a fantastic evening, basically sitting talking with Axl Rose about all things rock and all things British rock especially and we found him to be super intelligent, incredibly articulate and very knowledgeable about music, but especially British rock music and obviously he complained bitterly that we hadn´t signed to his record label, but that´s how it goes. He was happy because obviously they were on Geffen too, so in a way they all played their part all those artists. It was an interesting story. We had a very big celebrity fan club.

So he didn´t turn out to be the maniac you thought he was?

Oh, I think he was a maniac. I just think he´s very well behaved. No, he was fantastic. We had a such a great time and it was such a great evening. I haven´t seen him since.

Have you met any of the other guys in Guns N´ Roses throughout the years?

Yeah, we met Izzy Stradlin just shortly before he left the band. He got married to the girl we used to get our guitars from from Gibson in California, Annika I think her name was. We met him with her and we hated him immediately because we all loved her. I think we met Duff as well at some awards show. He was slightly less drunk than I was.

“Laughing on judgement day” is 30 years old this year. What do you remember about working on that album and also working with Andy Taylor from Duran Duran?

It´s a strange record because we had already made our first album with Andy and Mike and we had a great time. Ben (Matthews) our guitar player, his famous quote about that record is “It was a party where an album broke up.” It´s very true. When it came to the second album, Andy had gotten all kinds of business interests and I think he was involved in a night club, a record label and all kinds of stuff. His mind wasn´t really on the job and he spent most of his time laying on the sofa at the back of the control room. We would say “What do you think of that take?” and he would say “Eeh, what?” He wasn´t listening and then he would say “Do you like it?” and we´d say “Yeah, we thought it was great.” and he´d say “Ok, I like it too. Let´s go!” He obviously wasn´t listening. It was costing an absolute fortune I remember. It was a very expensive studio, a great studio, but we didn´t have Mike there, so we had his young protégé, a guy called Ken Lomas. He came over and he wasn´t quite Mike, if you know what I mean. He was a nice guy and a great engineer, but we always had a real kind of great relationship with Mike. We really get on. Mike´s like the member we never had in the band. It wasn´t quite the same, with Taylor being distracted, Ken not being Mike, it kind of became a bit strange. I think we got about three quarters through the record and we all lost interest and I think in the end we asked Andy maybe not to come back for the last bit. We finished it off ourselves and then Ken mixed it and we hated the mixes, so we phoned an old friend called David Bascombe, who worked on the really big Tears For Fears records back in the day and loads of other people and David worked with us on some stuff with the band before, when we were in Terraplane. We call him Dirty Dave because he´s so normal. We phoned him and asked if he could help us out and mix the record, so he did and we went to AIR Studios, George Martin´s place, in the very last minute. It all worked out and David did a great job with the mix and it was one of those situations where it kind of started out great, went a bit weird and we thought “Oh my god, this is gonna go very wrong!” and then it got saved in the end by Dirty Dave. It was an interesting time. All the records have been interesting for various reasons.

1992 was a time when the whole grunge scene was blowing up everywhere. The music scene was shifting at that point. How did you experience that?

Oh, it started long before that for us. The previous year in ´91, our album had been out on Capitol in America, like I said, and then we were dropped and we moved to Geffen. Then the album was rereleased with a different cover, different everything. We had to redo all the photographs and all the videos, because the record company hated all the English bosses. Backwards and forwards to America the whole time. Very exciting and we were constantly on planes, but in the summer of ´91 we were set to do a three months tour of what they call sheds in America. David Lee Roth headlining and Cinderella as special guests and we were gonna open. Our album had been number one on Dial MTV for like six weeks, we sold a quarter of a million albums and then suddenly, it felt like over night, grunge kicked in. Suddenly it was Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic… everybody cared about them and nobody cared about anybody like us. Our tour stopped selling immediately and we got a call from our American manager at the time and he said “Have you sent all your stuff?” and we said “Yes!” He said “Have you packed all your bags?” and we said “Yes!” and then he said “Unpack! Get your gear back! The tour is a disaster. It´s gonna fault within a week. If you come here, you´ll get a reputation as the house band on the Titanic.” Like it´d be our fault, so we didn´t get to play there and it was all because of grunge. Radio stations in America were pretty much told “You can´t play that, you have to play this! This is all you play now.” and of course Nirvana was on Geffen as well. We went to Geffen and said “Alright, what are we gonna do now if we´re not gonna go do this tour?” and Geffen said “Who are you?” It was just hilarious. We spent the next two years doing everything we could. We even made the next album in America, to be close to Geffen. We went to Southern Tracks in Atlanta, but we finished it all up at the Record Plant, literally 200 m from the record label´s office. John Kalodner, our massive fan, our guru A&R man, didn´t come to the studio until we made him come and it was finished and mixed. When he came, he sat and listened in silence throughout the whole record and when it came to an end he said “This is the best record I´ve ever made!” He wasn´t there! At that point we just felt… our lives in his hands… Oh my god! But we couldn´t get him to do anything there after. I remember having a phone call with the president of Geffen, a lawyer and a very slippery character. I remember it was a sunny evening and I´ll never forget it as long as I live. I rang him and I said “Ed, we´re very concerned.” and he said “What are you concerned about?” I said “Well, grunge is here, our tour was cancelled, we´ve done a new album, we´ve come as close as we can to be there so you guys get all excited about the record, but we really are concerned that you guys won´t get behind the record, that we´re not gonna get those opportunities from marketing and promotion and touring. What´s gonna happen?” and he said “Well, is John happy?” and I said “John says it´s the best record he´s ever made.”, so he said “Well, if John´s happy, we´re happy.” And I replied “Yeah, but we can´t get the guy on the phone to talk about tour support, we can´t get him on the phone to talk about the adverts and the radio plays. We´re very concerned, Ed.” and Ed just said “Let me tell you something that somebody told me a long time ago. You should only ever worry about the things you can affect, not the things you can´t.” I said “Thanks Ed!”, put the phone down and spoke to my wife and she said “How did that go?” and I said “We´re off the label.” and we were, four months later. That´s a true story. Once that whole kind of grunge thing started, that was it. We never got another chance. Strangely in ´91, just after that tour was cancelled, we out of sheer reaction, we went to play in Canada instead, because we were booked at the end of it and we had a week off and then we were booked to play a show for Lonn Friend who ran RIP Magazine. Lonn was a huge Thunder fan. He loved the band and every time we saw him he gave us massive piles of porn mags. He was such a great guy! We went to see Lonn, but we had this week off and we couldn´t do anything, so we asked our agent to book us club shows, anywhere there was an audience. We didn´t have to worry about selling tickets. We just wanted to go there and play just to keep ourselves out of trouble for a week. We played two shows on the east coast and three shows on the west coast and then we did this gig for Lonn, this RIP party gig. Everyone of those shows we did, the audience had no idea who we were, but at the end of the show we had the whole audience in the dressing room saying “Who the fuck are you? We love you! Where can we buy your fucking records?” and we just sat there all the time with the bottles of beer in our hands thinking “Oh, the irony of this situation! The record company hates us. Grunge has killed us. This audience would love us if only we got half a chance to play.” When we did the show for Lonn. There was almost like a line down the middle of the room. Grunge fans on one side and classic rock fans on the other. I think Soundgarden played and a band called The Screaming Jets from Australia and somebody else, but also Spinal Tap. They showed up in character, with all the stuff on, speaking in English accents. It was hilarious, but the weird thing was that Eddie Vedder came into our dressing room and asked us if he could have a beer and we asked him if he was old enough, because he looked so young. He was great, but the weird thing was that they alternated the bands. You had a grungy band and then a classic rock band and so on, but what happened was that all the way through the gig, one half of the audience would be cheering whilst the other half would be booing and then the next band went on and it changed around. It was the most bizarre experience, but because we lived through that, we felt very sharply that that whole grunge thing killed us. I´ve joked many times since – If I ever meet Kurt Cobain, I´ll kill him. He ruined my life.

Could you as a Brit feel that there was a cultural difference with the way the Americans did things and all that?

Yes, certainly there´s a difference in the way they apply the business. The business is like numbers over there. It´s very, very big and it´s huge, huge business. What doesn´t change and it´s the same the world over, is that if you can get a band with music that can deliver that music well in a room full of people, who may be vaguely interested or not, magical things will happen. It doesn´t matter where you go around the world. You only need a vaguely interested audience, a good band with good tunes and next thing you know there´s an explosion of joy. It happens everywhere.

What is it about Mike Fraser then?

He´s the least affected man I know. He cares about his work, that beer… and I think that´s it. (laughs) He´s a simple man. He likes to make great records and he hears records differently from a lot of engineers. He doesn´t want to put his mark on it, he wants to the most of what is there.

You guys played a few shows with Van Halen, right?

Yes, only a few times. They came over in ´95 and did some stadium shows, Big shows outdoors. One day we were asked if we would like to meet with Van Halen? We were taken into their dressing room, we sat with them and we talked about nothing… shows, audiences and the rest of it. Eddie had a Zimmer frame because he had bad hips and Alex had a neck brace. I said to him “What´s going on with that then?” and he said “What?” I said “The neck brace? What´s that for?” He said “If I don´t wear it my head will fall off.” Then I said to Eddie “You´ve got a bit of a problem with your hips there?” and he said “Yeah, yeah I´ve got one done and I´m gonna have the other one done.” I said “Blimey, rock and roll has taken it´s toll upon you. When did all this start? Just so I´ve got an idea of what I can expect in life.” He said “You don´t take drugs, do you?” and I said “No.” he then said “Well, you´ll probably be ok. All our problems started the moment we gave up cocaine.” That´s the truth. I said to them “Are you coming out to Europe and do the stadium shows there in like Holland and wherever and they said “No, no we´re going back tomorrow. Back to the States.” We said “That´s a shame. We could´ve hung out or whatever.” and they said “Yeah, yeah it´s a shame. It doesn´t matter.” They were glad to be coming home and we said “Why?” and he said, and this is the God´s honest truth, they all said almost as one “We are sick of you guys kicking our butts every day.” I could´ve died there and then at that point and be perfectly happy to do so. They said it. They absolutely said it and we had nothing. We couldn´t say anything at all. Speechless. Truly amazing. We´ve had some very good times over the years I have to say and we still enjoy it. That´s the thing that´s amazing. Every time we make a record we seem to kind of laugh more than we did the time before. I think it´s confidence in the tunes and confidence in the fast that we don´t worry about it anymore. We don´t like we have anything to prove. We´ve made loads of great records, we can still play, we can still sing so what´s to worry about?

Your new album “Dopamine” is another gem. Tell me about the song “Big pink supermoon”, which is a favorite of mine.

Oh, interesting choice. That´s pretty unusual. That was one of those tunes that we kind of recorded without knowing whether or not it would be suitable. Having done it, we decided that the album had to be a double album because we couldn´t leave that off and loads of other tunes. If it had to be a single album that one probably wouldn´t have made it onto the record. It´s six minutes long and half of it is a saxophone solo. You can´t put that on a regular 11 or 12 song album. Not without Thunder fans coming round my house beating me up. We really liked it and we had a real good feel for it and the fact that we had the freedom to make a song like that, record a song like that… it kind of almost broke its way onto the album, forced its way onto the album as a result of it turning out so well and I think it´s strange because we never had an intention of making a double album, but it occurred to us probably about 75% into the process and it probably had to be a double album because we couldn´t choose the songs to put on it. We recorded 20 songs. Four of them we decided to leave off. Not because there not very good, because they´re great, but they didn´t fit quite as well as the rest did. It ended up being 16 tracks and I think it would´ve been way too long with the other four on it.

It´s gotta be a great feeling still having that fire in you, which makes you come up with 20 songs for an album?

I think Luke is a genius! I genuinely think he´s a genius. We´ve known each other for 50 years. He´s been writing songs and I´ve been singing them since 1975 and he can still surprise me. How the fuck can he do that? He´s a very clever individual. I mean, there are some songs he writes and I listen to them and go “Mmm, yeah, I don´t know. We´ve done this one.” But not lately. Not in the last few years. The last few years he writes a demo and he sends it over and I think “You are way too clever for your own good you are.” It´s fantastic. We had a discussion about making this record and originally we were gonna make it in three sessions and then we thought “Well, if we make it in three sessions, it´ll be too late to release it before we play these shows in the UK in May, which means we need to make it in two sessions and finish in in September. October the very latest last year. If we can do that, then we can release it in April. If we can only get it done in September, we have to write as many songs as possible between now and then. Luke said “Ok, don´t worry. I won´t go out. I´ll just stay at home and write songs and everything will be ok.” And he did and it was.

Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen