Black Star Riders är högaktuella för lilla Sverige med tillställningar både på Pustervik i Göteborg nu på måndag och Sweden Rock Festival två dagar senare. Vi ringde upp sångaren Ricky Warwick för att stämma av läget och prata om både det ena och det andra, vilket bl a inkluderade Chris Cornell, Lemmy, Bob Dylan och den tragiska händelsen i Manchester:
Growing up in Northern Ireland during the 70´s and the 80´s, that was a weekly occurrence for us. Bombs going off, riots, murders, gunshots… and you learn to live with it. I had to learn to live with it when I was a kid, my parents had to learn to live with it and you just gotta carry on and you gotta go “We just gotta carry on as normally as we can.” It doesn´t make it alright and it´s absolutely horrific that people are so evil and twisted that they can just bring such devastation and destruction to innocent people and especially children. That´s just so depraved, I don´t even know where to begin. I´ve always been of the mind set “when it´s your time, it´s your time” and you have to live your life as good as you possibly can. Wrapping yourself in cotton wool ain´t gonna change a thing, it´s gonna give more power to the evilness that is out there. More than ever you have to stand up and go “You´re not getting me!”
How´s Chad Szeliga, (drums, ex Breaking Benjamin, ex Black Label Society) doing? Does he fit in well with the band?
Oh, he fits in very well. He fits in and there´s no problem at all. What you need to have in this band is a thick skin and Chad´s certainly got that. He can take a slag as well as a praise. He´s a great guy, great attitude. He´s very happy to be here and we´re very happy to have him.
How did it end up being Chad? Breaking Benjamin and BLS are quite different compared to Black Star Riders.
Sure. We auditioned a lot of drummers and all of them were incredible. They were all very high standard and it was quite a difficult choice. Chad couldn´t make the audition so he actually sent in a video of himself playing along to the songs and we were just all blown away by his playing. He just had that little something that we were looking for. You can´t really define what it is, but we´ve known Chad because Thin Lizzy toured with BLS back in 2011, so we knew him and we´d met him and got to know him a little bit. He just jumped out and it was just “That´s our guy!” and everything just felt right about it.
I guess it has a lot to do with personality as well and not just the musicianship?
It has to be with the amount of touring that we do. We´re on tour about six month of the year, so you have to be able to get along with people. Nobody´s perfect and we all have our little things, but part of it was the hang and we wanted somebody with a positive attitude and to help move Black Star Riders forward.
You´re playing Gothenburg on Monday and then Sweden Rock Festival and Copenhell. Would you say that you have a special bond to Sweden and the other Scandinavian countries?
I think we do. With Thin Lizzy being so big in Scandinavia it´s obviously a very big emotional time for Scott (Gorham) there. I always used to love playing ther with The Almighty. It was always good fun for me and we have a lot of friends there. We just love the Scandinavian attitude and the rock and roll is so good, it´s so open and positive. It´s just somewhere we love playing.
“Heavy fire” has been out for about three months now. How do you feel about the album now?
I feel very good about it, thank you! We just did a UK run in March and April so we´re just really starting the European trek now. We´ve been out for two weeks and we´re out for another three on this run and then we go home. Everything´s still prey fresh and obviously with Chad coming in that´s made everything fresh and given everything a little bit more emphasis as well. I´m very proud of the record. I think it was a big, big album for us and I think it had to be and I think we delivered and I think that everybody seems to be really digging it and digging what we´re doing. We´re playing five or six of the songs in the set already.
Does it ever happen that you later on look back on an album and think about stuff you would´ve liked to do differently?
You know… not really. I mean, I´m quite pragmatic about that. I´m all very much about that you´re catching a moment in time and this is where your head is at, at that moment and that´s hit. If we all had hindsight, we´d probably change a lot of things that were done in the past. When we finish the record I will probably listen to it for a month, solidly, and then I´ll be lucky if I go back and visit it again. If I´ve forgotten the lyrics or something, I´ll just make sure that I´m singing right. It´s that kind of thing. But I´m already thinking about the next one, if you know what I mean? It´s like “We´ve done it, it´s great and I´m really proud of it, it sounds killer, it´s out there and we´re playing it live… what are we gonna do next? That´s just where my head´s at, so I tend not to go back and pick things apart.
Are you already now writing for the next album?
Yeah, absolutely! I was thinking about the fourth album when we were writing the first album. (laughs) It´s just ongoing and we write continuously. The ideas keep coming and as long as they keep coming, we´ll keep working on them.
Chris Cornell, did you ever meet him?
I did. I had the pleasure of meeting Chris a couple of times. I knew his first wife Susan (Silver) quite well. We toured with Alice In Chains a bunch of times and Susan obviously managed them, so I had the pleasure of meeting him. I wouldn´t say I knew the guy well, but I certainly met him a few times. Just sad. Really, really sad.
It was really out of the blue.
Yeah, very unexpected. Who knows what goes on in somebody´s mind or in somebody´s private life, you don´t know. You´re looking at it from the outside and trying to make sense of it. You really don´t know what was happening. As a father, I feel awful for his kids. That´s the bit I can´t really quite get my head around. That emotional baggage that they have to deal with in their young lives growing up, I think it´s very, very hard. But he was obviously at a place where he wasn´t in a good place and whatever he was on or whatever he was using, I think unfortunately just got the better of him. So sad.
Being a well-known musician and being out on the road, like you guys, I´m thinking there might be times when there´s a lot of pressure and you´re away from your family a lot. It´s gotta be a hard life sometimes?
You know, in that respect it is. In every other respect you´re doing a great job, you´re doing something you love, you´re creating your art and following your heart and your passion. It´s a joy to do it and I´m very blessed, but you know, we work really hard at it. It´s not like we get up at seven o´clock, go to the office and then come home at five o´clock and close the door. It´s 24/7 thinking about it all the time. Planning, trying to make tours work… it´s ongoing and all-consuming and it´s a very selfish business to be in as well. I think that our partners put up with a hell of a lot to be able to let us do what we do and focus on what we do. That´s the worst bit of it for me. I just said to my wife today “I´m in a lovely venue, we´re having a great time in Holland and great people, the sun is shining and I´m miserably homesick.” My girls got out of school today for summer and I miss picking them up and all the excitement that goes with that. It´s just tough. You get a little bit older and I definitely feel it gets a little bit harder. To me, honestly, that´s the only downside. Everything else, it´s an easy life compared t what some people have to do t make ends meet. We shouldn´t be complaining at all.
Another tragic event, Manchester and before that we had the Bataclan in Paris. It has to make you think, right?
It´s funny for me, and I mean this in the way it´s supposed to sound… growing up in Northern Ireland during the 70´s and the 80´s, that was a weekly occurrence for us. Bombs going off, riots, murders, gunshots… and you learn to live with it. I had to learn to live with it when I was a kid, my parents had to learn to live with it and you just gotta carry on and you gotta go “We just gotta carry on as normally as we can.” It doesn´t make it alright and it´s absolutely horrific that people are so evil and twisted that they can just bring such devastation and destruction to innocent people and especially children. That´s just so depraved, I don´t even know where to begin. I´ve always been of the mind set “when it´s your time, it´s your time” and you have to live your life as good as you possibly can. Wrapping yourself in cotton wool ain´t gonna change a thing, it´s gonna give more power to the evilness that is out there. More than ever you have to stand up and go “You´re not getting me!” Fight back by being positive and being a good person and with love and compassion. Nobody should go to a concert and not come home. For a fun night out of entertainment, forgetting your worries, forgetting your troubles… you´re just going in there for an hour and a half and see your favorite artist and having a good time. That´s what it should be. It should be nothing else.
I read somewhere that you once supported Bob Dylan. Did you have any kind of interaction with Mr Zimmerman?
I did not. I was part of a bill in Belfast back in 2004. Bob Dylan was headlining, I was on the bill and Gary Moore was on the bill as well, which is very, very cool. And a great Irish artist, a singer songwriter called Damien Dempsey, was also playing that day. Bob came in, went on stage, played and left. I don´t think anybody had any interaction with him. But it´s great to have on my resume, that I stood on the same floor boards as Bob Dylan.
Is Dylan someone you listened to growing up?
Yeah, absolutely. “Blonde on blonde” (1966) and stuff like that is sort of albums that I keep returning to and listen to. As a lyricist and as a storyteller, he´s the best. You can hear his influence in Springsteen, who I love very much, and Van Morrisson obviously as well. Joe Strummer from The Clash and obviously Phil (Lynnott). All these guys are fantastic poets and storytellers in their lyrics and it´s something that´s been a big influence on me personally.
We´ve now lost guys like Bowie, Prince and Lemmy. A guy like Prince, was he someone that influenced you in any way or that you listened to?
Yeah and again, I´m a fan. You gotta admire the talent, the work ethic, the quality of the material he put out. The guy had an amazing voice. He was an amazing dancer and an amazing guitar player. What´s not to like about Prince? He was the complete package. It´s just tragic. He´s gone too soon. I get it, some of these guys are dying and they´re in their 70´s and some are getting into their 80´s. That´s just life and you´re reaching the end of the road. It´s sad, but that´s what happens. We are the first generation where our rockstars are dying of old age. It´s the first time it´s ever happened and unfortunately it´s gonna become more and more common. We are the ones that are having to deal with this for the first time. The guys that were around in the 50´s, 60´s and 70´s are now dying of old age. It´s just a fact. There´s nothing wrong with it. You´ve just lived your life and that´s it.
I´ve met Lemmy so many times and he was always so good to me and so gracious to me. The Almighty toured with Motörhead in the early 90´s and that was wonderful. I can tell you lots of stories of me and Lemmy getting wasted and stuff like that, but honestly, he was one of the most humble, intelligent, gracious and honest people that I´ve ever met in this industry. Away from it all he was just a great person to listen to and to talk to. Extremely intelligent, very well read, great philosophies on the world and I learned a lot just from listening to him and talking to him and being in his company, away from all the Jack Daniels and all the blah blah blah. Yeah, there is that, but that´s what we know and that´s what we wanna know, but beyond that there was just this great enigmatic guy that people didn´t see and I got to see it and I think that was the best thing about Lemmy for me.
What would you say has been a high point and a low point in your career so far?
30 years this year. So many high points. From getting the gig with New Model Army way back in the day. It was amazing for me. The highs I reached with The Almighty and some of the solo shows that I played, opening up for Def Leppard in the US in front of 20.000 people. Just me and an acoustic guitar. Getting the Thin Lizzy gig was obviously mindblowing and then Thin Lizzy turning into Black Star Riders. I´ve been very blessed and I´ve been very lucky. I´ve had so many high points. I think the lowest point for me was when The Almighty split up and I went back to Dublin and I tried to get… a band that I love called (sic) off the ground and I put a lot of effort and time into that and it just didn´t really work for whatever reason. I was going through a messy divorce and I was doing a lot of things that I shouldn´t have and I was hanging out with a lot of people that I shouldn´t have. All my own fault. It was in 1999 and I had no record deal, no management, no publishing deal, no nothing and I just turned 30. It was a real mess and I think that was probably the lowest point, but luckily I had a couple of really good friends, Joe Elliott (Def Leppard) being one of them, and I hadn´t played guitar for almost a year and I was just disillusioned with the whole thing. It took somebody to grab me by the scruff of the neck and give me a good talking and that happened and I really never looked back. I realised I was in control of my own destiny. But that was not a good time.
When can we expect another solo album?
I´ve got the ideas, but it´s just a question of time. With Black Star Riders, we always refer to it as the day job and it´s a big priority for all of us. We all do other things but when Black Star Riders call, we kind of put everything on hold. Obviously it´s been a busy year with the record coming out and doing well, thankfully. I don´t know. There will be one, but I just don´t know when.
What would you say was the first album that really had a big impact on you growing up?
Probably “Inflammable material” (1979) by Stiff Little Fingers. It changed my life, because being in Belfast at that age and that album coming out and then singing about where I was from… you know, they were our The Clash, Belfast´s answer to The Clash. I instantly fell in love with it, the sound, the attitude and that made me wanna be in a rock and roll band.
Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen
Foto: Therés Stephansdotter Björk