BERNIE TORME Interview. New album: "Dublin Cowboy".
“I grew up on the Blues. I love it, white and irish, but man it speaks to me. I see very stupid guitar people talking about the simplicity of pentatonics in Blues, it’s not simple at all, only if you do it badly, its timing and how you voice each note, and in the blues all rules are there to be broken”.
“I just have to have the antennae out and notice it and the net ready to catch it. I always wrote a lot. I’ve been in situations where you write to order because songs are required, but for me not as enjoyable as just collecting ideas naturally and letting them grow”.
“The concept of the rich rock star is dead and gone and that’s no bad thing. Do I care? No, thank Gawd that’s over. The music will survive but right now it’s not doing well”.
“I’d love to (performing Gillan again), unlikely, I’ll wait to hear from Ian. Not holding my breath, mind, he’s a busy man and the band he’s busy with is pretty special! We are brothers. Forever. None of us is getting any younger though. Not sure trying to do it again for the sake of nostalgia would work”.
-Your last cd “Dublin Cowboy” contains three discs, one with new studio compositions, second acoustic and the last cd is a live concert. Please tell us the reasons to record a triple cd.
Apart from it being a pretty stupid idea to strat with, it was not really planned. I wanted to do an acoustic album and I thought no-one is going to even listen to that, let alone buy it, so I decided I better do a studio album as well! So it became a double album: then I got recordings of a gig we had done in the North of England in January 2016 and I thought why not make it a triple album….total accident really, not a plan!
-How did the composition and recording process take long?
Well some of the studio album was unfinished tracks from “Flowers & Dirt” and “Blackheart”, some tracks from even earlier, so if you count all that it took about 15 years! But not really, I had the drum tracks and maybe the songs, though in some cases the songs got entirely re-written over the drum tracks. More than 2/3rds of the studio album was completely new, most of the acoustic album was new though some songs I had parts of from a lot earlier. I tend to collect bits of songs that didn’t get finished from earlier on. They maybe don’t originally work, but they grow in your subconscious. I guess in terms of recording it and re writing about 3 months? Not continually though, lots of breaks. And for example “Power Of The Blues” was largely from 2001 or so, though I rerecorded vocals and guitars….
-The beginning of the first disc is classic Bernie Torme stuff. “Dublin cowboy” contains your representative guitar sound since the first guitar chord. Could we see this song like a representative track of the whole cd’s music?
Not sure the “Dublin Cowboy” track is representative of the whole album, the album is pretty varied, but it is definitely pretty representative of me!
-“Dublin Cowboy” is also the cd general title. I think that describes you totally right. Could you explain to us the meaning of this title and why you choose it?
Because I am really! A bit of a cowboy in all senses, and definitely from Dublin, so I kind of think it suits me! Always wanted to be a cowboy in the wild west too…..
Bernie Torme: "Dublin cowboy".
-In this disc we can appreciate some of the basic elements of your musical style: good Blues Hard Rock, wild and rough guitars, some Hendrix and traditional Irish music. Are you looking for these elements deliberately when you’re composing or they come naturally?
No I don’t look for that. I don’t try to write songs in that sense at all: I remember Keith Richards said he always had to have his antennae out to catch things, ideas, riffs, songs. It’s a bit like that, for me it comes to me, I just have to have the antennae out and notice it and the net ready to catch it. I always wrote a lot, so in the past it could be very frustrating when you were in a band and it was just a playing situation, not a writing situation. Gillan was initially like that, I was asked to join as a guitar player, not as a writer. That changed pretty quickly, but even then there was not that much opportunity because Colin Towns was such a great writer. He consciously had to take a step back to give other people a chance.
I’ve been in situations where you write to order because songs are required, that’s not a struggle either, but for me not as enjoyable as just collecting ideas naturally and letting them grow. Though good songs come out of both processes, I just don’t enjoy the write to order thing as much. But on every album I have to do one or two of those too. I don’t look for particular styles to write in, I play in particular styles so the songs work or don’t work in those styles, but it’s not written in stone whether the song is rock or Irish folky, or blues. For example “Shine” from the acoustic album was originally an electric track, quite bluesy and Hendrixy. For me it didn’t work very well like that, so I tried it as an acoustic song, kind of psychedelic, and I was much happier with it like that.
-I think that “Hair of the dog” is a great Classic Rock song, reminds me a bit some kind of eighties music touch, like “Back to Babylon” days. Could you tell us something about this song?
Thanks! That was in fact a write to order song! I got fairly far into recording the “Dublin Cowboy” album and thought that I maybe needed a shuffle beat rocker, audiences always love them, a bit Southern Rock/ZZ Top you know, or a bit like “Sleeping On The Job”. So I got a feel and a key and spent forever fucking about with the riff and changing it, and finally went back to what I had in the first place. It’s a love song……to alcohol! Works great live. Like alcohol!
-You still choose to record and release new cds, with great compositional level and performing these songs live on stage. How was the crowdfunding campaign for your new cd?
Thank you! It was really good, a lot of fun! I did lots of little video clips for pledgers who asked how I played various Gillan tracks, I had to go back and dig them out and remind myself, but it was really fun. Also let them have unreleased writing demos, “Unchain Your Brain”, and some rare early recordings. It was almost like a three month party! I like to be in contact, some artistes don’t like that, I do, so its all good.
-The final sound of the disc is very good, specialy the guitar parts. You’re the producer. Where did you record the cd and how it works to produce “Dublin Cowboy”?
I have my own studio, its commercial, I do a lot of other bands here too, rehearsals and recording, had UFO in a while back, much beer was consumed! But having said its commercial I am pretty choosy about it not being entirely 100% commercial: I want to have time for my stuff and for other stuff I like, so I don’t go crazy trying to have it booked out all the time, it’s quite hidden and secret! I’m not a money dude and I don’t want a Porsche, I just like music and doing what I do, so while I’m always in a state of potential bankruptcy, I’m happy doing what I’m doing! But it helps enormously always having a studio available for when I want to do things.
Having said that I don’t much like studios, they often swallow time to no good purpose. Originally a lot of my good gear came from Colin Towns, and he said that I would no longer have to watch the clock! Well I spent probably four years dithering over things and getting nothing finished, and now I definitely do watch the clock! So the pledge thing is good, it’s like the old days, you’ve got to get finished in certain amount of time. I like that. It’s difficult producing (and often engineering) yourself. Age helps. I know what I sound like now, and that’s how you got to roll, you can’t make yourself sound like anyone else. That took a while to learn. It’s difficult to like what you sound like unless you are a narcissist and I’m not! I’ve never bought my own records!
-The first disc contains two slow songs, “Time (Has taken its toll)” and “Already gone”, always in the key of Blues. What’s the importance of these kinds of songs in your music?
I grew up on the Blues. I love it, white and irish, but man it speaks to me. I see very stupid guitar people talking about the simplicity of pentatonics in Blues, it’s not simple at all, only if you do it badly, its timing and how you voice each note, and in the blues all rules are there to be broken. Guitar in that is a voice and has all the subtlety of a voice. I was especially proud of “Already Gone”. Strat straight into an amp, no pedals. I think the emotion comes across.
-There’s an interesting balance between fast, power and slow, bluesy songs. In this new cd I think that maybe is a little bit more representative the slower side. What do you think about this?
Yeah probably true. I do love the fast stuff and the groove stuff and the slow stuff too, it’s a nice meal with different courses!
-“Power to the Blues” presents an interesting drum & bass work. It’s a kind of new sound mixed with a great principal guitar. What do you think about this song? Do you listen to any new Hard Rock group or musicians that really likes?
I really like this track because for me it was different. In fact for me it was so different it never got completed or used initially! It’s quite old, and I never found a place to slot it in on a release before. I redid the vocal and some guitars, but that track has lived with me for a long time! It’s my homage to Stax. Baritone saxes and all that. The only new Hard Rock I hear is thanks to my kids, and then it’s mostly Sabbath, Korn, Slayer or Rage Against The Machine, not really that new! But I do hear new heavy stuff from them too. I just listen to everything really. I’m more of a fan of classic stuff and Blues to be honest.
-I’d like to ask you about “Janus Pt 1&2”. First part slowly and second is a genuine guitar solo with an epic touch. Could you tell us something about the creative process of this song?
The song is about being an outsider. Always been happy to be that, but it was sort of related to what happened in the UK referendum. I’m Irish, not British, but I’ve lived in Britain pretty continuously since 1974, apart from about a couple of years in the US. My sister gave me a DNA analysis for my birthday recently, background is part Scandinavian, part Irish, bit of Western Europe, Russian & Finnish: 100% mongrel. It was maybe my attempt to communicate something musical about all that, and my dislike of small minded nationalism, we are all human, we all eat, breathe, and shit and worry about our kids.
The acoustic part was one thing, the electric part was attempting to wail over an almost orchestral structure in a non verbal way and get across what I emotionally felt. Structure wise it is similar to “Presences” on “Electric Gypsies”. I like that acoustic/semi orchestral structure.
-“Dublin Cowboy” has been good critics in the press. How do you feel the new disc public response?
It’s been great. Really did not expect it to go so well.
-How do you feel the current way and the future of the record industry?
I think its fucked. The major labels just want to make money with cheap crass pop shit, or endless re-issues, they’ll never invest in a rock band or indeed any band again. The concept of the rich rock star is dead and gone and that’s no bad thing. Do I care? No, thank Gawd that’s over. The music will survive but right now it’s not doing well.
But I was delighted to see Deep Purple’s recent album doing so well in Europe, well deserved and a great album.
-The second disc is an amazing surprise, congratulations. Always has played acoustically in your cds but this is your first totally acoustic cd. Please tell to the readers of Púrpura Chess when and why did you feel that was the right time to do this.
I always wanted to do it and time was marching on!
-This second cd starts with “Shine”, a long, thick and intense song. ¿Could you tell us something about this tune?
As I said above, I had it for a while, but originally recorded as a Hendrixy Bluesy track and it didn’t really work for me. I thought to try it again acoustically, found this crazy reverb and it just happened. I would have liked to have made it 40 minutes long to be honest.
-This acoustic present a naked, pure, rough and personal sound. In my opinion just like your musical translation from electric to acoustic. ¿Were you looking for this specific sound?
I’m not sure, a lot of the nakedness bothered me, it’s not really like I enjoy listening to me! I’m very self critical. It always sounds different in your head to how it sounds on the recording. End of the day I thought that’s the best I can do! People around me liked it, and it’s not like I sit and listen to it after mixing it!! I think it works, I try to stay true.
-Did you compose every song for this acoustic cd right now or you got some ideas or compositions from the past?
Some from the past, “Shine” and “Circus” were. Everything else pretty much new I think.
Bernie Torme: "Shine". Official Video.
-Is there any song in this acoustic that would be special and distinctive for you among others? Why in positive case?
“Shine”, “Wolf Girl”, “Demons” or “Death Of Dreams”. They all mean something important and personal to me.
-¿Are you thinking about perform any special acoustic concert to show public this cd? Or include some acoustic songs in your regular set list?
I would like to do an acoustic gig, but no plans right now. Tour before last we did an acoustic set in the middle of the gig, but not sure that it works that well in sweaty rock clubs: people like to shout at each other and drink.
-Ian Harris and Christian Heilmann play in your new disc, just like in the others. It sounds great. What can you tell us about your band?
Ian and Chris played on the last three albums, “Flowers & Dirt”, “Blackheart” and “Dublin Cowboy”, and they were killer to be honest. Lovely guys, great players. Unfortunately Chris & I parted company before the last UK tour, and Ian has just retired because he longer wanted to tour. So currently they are ex-band! Now I have Sy Morton on bass, who did a great job on the last tour, and am trying to find a drummer!
-Also some musicians that played with you before –like Phil Spalding or Simon Jeffrey– have recorded some tracks in this new “Dublin Cowboy”. Phil comes from the old seventies days. How did the idea to invite Phil to play with you?
We’ve always been good mates. I kind of lost touch with Phil because he had a lot of drug problems, but we hooked up again when he started to come out of them. He’s just a stunning musician, awesome bass player, probably a better guitarist than I am, played with everyone on the planet from Jagger to Roger Daltrey, Ray Charles, you name it, he played with them. So he played bass on some recordings, and did lots of BV’s on the last album “Blackheart”. I love him. He invited himself! Normal for Phil! I couldn’t say no!
-And the third cd contains a live concert from your last tour promoting “Blackheart”. The band sounds powerful and great. ¿Are you glad with the final sound of the cd?
Yes, very pleased with the sound, I like live albums. It’s the unvarnished truth.
-You tell in the credits that didn't know you had a recording till afterwards. Could you explain this to us? Was that concert special anyway?
Yes, it was a birthday party for some friends for charity. I was really ill with flu that day, I was just hoping I could get through the gig alive! So I didn’t know they were recording it until they told us afterwards. Even when they told us I didn’t know it was a proper multitrack recording until the sent it to me a few months later. I couldn’t believe it turned out as well as it did bearing in mind I felt like I was dying!
-The band plays songs from your Tormé/Electric Gypsies discography. Also perform a couple of tracks from GMT, your past project with John McCoy. Are you in touch with McCoy currently?
Yes, we don’t talk often, John’s a bit of a hermit these days really, but we spoke a few months back. It’s always the same, he’s an old mate, you don’t need to talk often, we’re brothers.
-The version of “Turn out the lights”, the beginning “Wild west” sounds really good and also the new ones. Is it difficult to get the right balance between old, classic and new songs?
Yes! It’s always nice to include new tracks, but that set and the current set are a good balance. Its nice to play the old tracks too. “Trouble” & “New Orleans” are always fun tracks live.
-This live cd is a single disc, this is usual in your discography. Don’t you think about release a double live disc that contains songs from your full discography?
Well that set was 90 mins. We left out four tracks on the CD but had them on the pledgers DVD. At this stage in my career it’s about trying to please the audience and also sustain my interest, and not kill myself in the process! So full discography is not really liable to happen these days! Too many tracks! Maybe if and when I do Madison Square Garden again!
-The live cd finish full of passion and power with “Trouble” and “New Orleans”, two gems from your days with Gillan. How is your relation with Ian Gillan currently? Any chance to perform live an special show or something like that with Ian again?
I’d love to, unlikely, I’ll wait to hear from Ian. Not holding my breath, mind, he’s a busy man and the band he’s busy with is pretty special! Not heard from him for maybe twenty years? Whenever we do bump into each other again it will be like there was no time between, We are brothers. Forever.
None of us is getting any younger though, so I’m not sure that anything like that would be comparable to how magic it was at the time, and it was a magic moment in time. Not sure trying to do it again for the sake of nostalgia would work.
-Some time ago the press talk about the possibility to play some special shows remembering the Gillan band days with McCoy, Underwood and yourself. Could you tell us something about this?
Journalists talking fantasy. In my opinion it won’t happen at this stage. There’s lots of reasons, people being busy or not having time, or simply not wanting to do it, there’s a lot of water under the bridge and a considerable amount of bad blood still. I think all of that is pretty sad and silly, but I do think that there are valid reasons not to, main one being that I just don’t think it would be anywhere near as good. We were young & hungry, even Ian, we had chemistry and a huge need to prove something. Right now we are not young, not that hungry, there is no chemistry and no desire to rebuild the wheel. We did it and it kicked ass. Why do it again when it will be not as good? It’s not as if it would make any of us rich! I’m not into nostalgia, it would be nice to do, but not nice enough for the amount of mental effort it would probably take.
-Your band has played recently in UK to promote this new cd. How the shows have been and the feeling with the public?
-Are there any plans to play in Europe? Any chance to visit Spain this year?
No plans at the moment, I’d love to play again in Spain, beautiful country with lovely people who like to rock.
-Many thanks for your time and attendace. If you like to tell something more to your spanish fans.
Thanks to all my Spanish fans, hope to see you again sometime very soon!