» Damon/Ricky - Black Star Riders
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Interview conducted December 05 2014
Interview published February 08 2015

"Yeah, but the fucking time goes on. I'm sorry, people fucking die. That's just the way it is." - Ricky Warwick of Black Star Riders in his prime, as the late Thin Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott's name is mentioned.

The members of Black Star Riders have been getting a lot of shit for not changing their name from Thin Lizzy earlier. They have at this point in their career definitely started to gain more respect and the second BSR album releases on February 20th. Guitar player Damon Johnson and vocalist Ricky Warwick made a quick stop in Stockholm, Sweden, in December and Metal Covenant had the great pleasure to speak to these two gentlemen about the new album and much more.

As soon as the opportunity was given, the guys weren't late to order something with alcohol.

Damon: That was very rock and roll of us. To order a fucking whiskey, you know. (Ricky:) We were just sitting there. The last question [on the previous interview], we just said to the guy "You gotta look after yourself and you need be fit and healthy" and then, the first question, we just order two whiskies.

Tobbe: So let's start with an easy one. Why did you decide to call the new album, The Killer Instinct?

Ricky: We wrote the song and we just dug the song. It felt good. It had a good vibe to it. We loved the chorus, lyrically it felt really positive, and then we just thought it's a cool title, The Killer Instinct, you know. It can apply to so much, so many things, overcome an adversity, you know believing in yourself. Kind of what we did, changing the name and it working out for us. You know you get that killer instinct, you know, about walking tall basically, and we felt it's just falling on nicely from All Hell Breaks Loose. We just thought it was a good title. (Damon:) It really kind of presented itself. Maybe in a similar way that All Hell Breaks Loose did as well? I remember the day, Ricky goes "You know, The Killer Instinct would be a great album title." and I just said "Absolutely, like no-brainer, totally, done.".

Tobbe: If we compare the full album to All Hell Breaks Loose. What do you see is the biggest difference between the two albums?

Ricky: One man, Rick Raskulinecz [producer]. That's the difference, right there. (Damon:) Really special man. You know, we had a great experience working with Kevin [Shirley] on the first album. He wanted us to be in a room, set out live, play the song 4, 5 times and then he kind of pieced it all together. But with Nick, he wanted us to slow that down a little bit. He wanted to get inside the arrangements, he wanted to get inside all the parts and make really sure that the rhythm section was communicating in a great way, that there was the greatest possible bed for this guy [Ricky] to sing over.

And then capture great vocal performances from him, and then put the other guitars around that, rather than filling up maybe too much space with the guitars. It would cloud up the vocal. You know, it was a great learning experience for all of us, man, and that's saying something when you're talking about a band full of guys that have made, between the 5 of us, maybe 40 albums, you know. A crazy amount of records and we all came away feeling like we had been to school, you know, working with that guy. He's very special.

Tobbe: So what have you guys really learned in the time between the albums, from one recording session to another?

Damon: Well, we've learned that it would save us time and preproduction if we'd rehearse before we all get together. [Both guys laughs.] (Ricky:) It so hard, 'cause we're just all over the place. For us to get together, it's so expensive. (Damon:) We're a band that resides on two continents essentially, so it does make it almost impossible to get together. And you'd go "Well, you guys could rehearse on the road.". Come on, man. You know how hard that is. Every day you're working to stay healthy, to get sleep, to be in a good frame of mind when you go on stage. I think more than anything, brother, we'd just learned that we've got a great thing, We've got a great thing that needs to be nurtured, it needs to be protected. I'm just in awe of just how proud all of us feel right now, man. About who we are as a band, where we're at musically, where we're at in this place of our career. It's a great place to be.

Tobbe: What about today's technology? You know, it surrounds all new recordings. How do you use it and how do you look at it?

Ricky: You know, we don't use it as a crutch. We don't lean on it all the time. We lean on it when it makes life easier. You know, if we need to add or if we need to edit something. Obviously when you're doing vocals, Pro Tools is great, but those vocals is still going down a 100 percent live. There's no doubt about that. We still record pretty much the way we always will record, but you just cut the corners. There's no splicing of the tape like it used to be. (Damon:) A lot of time saved. (Ricky:) You know, if we do a take and somebody screws up, you don't need to go and do that whole take again. And that's great, but the machines aren't doing the work. We're doing the work, you know. Absolutely.

Tobbe: Right. And this works all right for all of you?

Ricky: Dude, we didn't even use GarageBand for our demos. Our demos our done. You know, it's on a phone, but it could have been on one of those old tape recorders with just him playing guitar and me singing. (Damon:) Yeah, on the same thing you have right there. [Points at my iPhone.] (Ricky:) That's how we do our demos. We don't even get any more high tech than that, you know. (Damon:) Brother. The entire album was written on this telephone right here. And here you go, this is what it sounded like. [Plays me a 10 second snippet.]

Tobbe: Yeah, you can definitely hear it. With a couple of headphones that would sound all right.

Damon: Yeah, you can hear the song. That's all you need. For musicians like us, man, you can waste a lot of time, fucking around with "Oh, I'm gonna make this kick drum sound like Keith Moon.". I just don't give a shit. I don't care, man. I'd rather spend that time writing a new riff, working on a melody, you know whatever.

[The guys are served a glass of whiskey each.]

Tobbe: So how much pressure do you put on each other during the recording sessions?

Ricky: You know, we don't have to. We both know what's required of us and what we need to do. If we don't do it, it doesn't happen. That's as simple as what it is, you know. If we don't get off our asses and don't work, there'll be no tour, there'll be no album to promote, there'll be no work. (Damon:) We knew of each other, but I had no idea that Ricky's work ethic was what it was. I've never met another person that works as hard as I do. I haven't. Sometimes I'm guilty of working in figure-eights [knots], you know, but every day I get up and do something creative, or at least attempt to.

So for all of the incredible, positive things that came from us getting to join Thin Lizzy and be a part of that story and to play those incredible songs, the biggest payoff or the biggest bonus of the whole thing is I felt like I found the partner creatively that I've never had, ever, in my whole life. You know, I've had some great co-writers that I've worked with, but they weren't in my band. This is our whole thing, man. This is our number 1 musical priority and it's just incredible, man. Every morning we'll text each other, we'll call maybe. "Hey man. Listen, you know what, let's revisit this song. Did you talk to Jimmie [DeGrasso]? Can he use that other bass drum that sounded so good?". We're running an efficient business. You know, it's just so much more pleasurable and easier. It's a lot of trust, man, and I think that's rare at this point in our lives.

Tobbe: So this is definitely something you can take into long terms, you know?

Damon: Yeah. I mean this is not a project, man. This is not a project.

Tobbe: I mean the two of you together.

Damon: Oh yeah, he's stuck with me. That's the bad news for Ricky Warwick. He's fucking stuck with me, bro. [Both guys laugh.]

Tobbe: It's a good person to get stuck with, I guess.

Ricky: Yeah, I'm all right with that.

Tobbe: Even if the album is varied or diverse or something, the band still has a distinct sound. So is it easier to write somewhat in the same vein as earlier or does that interfere with your creative side, to do something new?

Damon: I think it's just who we are, man. It was a bonus to meet Ricky. It was a bonus to get to play those great songs with Thin Lizzy. I think it's a bonus that there's so much experience and love of music within these 5 guys that it's very easy for us to come up with those songs. It really is, man. I can completely understand why anyone would ask "Wow! How do you do that? Is that a lot of work? Are you nervous?". But it's just not.

You know, we've been doing it a long time and I think that's another thing that has pushed both Ricky and myself, and even Scott [Gorham, guitars] to some degree. We finally feel like we're at a place where we're almost getting these rewards for working so hard for so many years. I mean, it's gotta be great for Scott to wake up one day and all of a sudden he's like "Wow! Here I am in my early 60's [Scott is actually turning 64 in March.] and I've got one of the best bands I've ever had in my whole life. I got 2 guys that live to write songs every single day.". Maybe it was destiny? I don't know, but we're very grateful to have each other. All 5 of us.

Tobbe: You're considerably younger than Scott, so how do you see things in 10 years? He's actually getting older and there's no way of stopping that.

Ricky: No, of course not, and nor would you want to. I mean, I just think that Scott will play until he can't. It's what makes him happy and that could be 5 years, could be 10 years or 15 years. Who knows? You know, we'll worry about that day when it comes. I mean, I'd like to think that we would be able to keep going. That would be nice, you know, 'cause we've worked so hard on this, and that's what I'd like to do. It will never be the same without him. Maybe we don't replace him, if that happens, you know.

But maybe it's not a question of that. Maybe in 10 years time, we've taken Black Star Riders as far as it can go? For all us. You know, the band might run its course before Scott Gorham decides to retire. We might do the third album and create the fourth and go "You know what. I have nothing to say.". And that would be the biggest crime ever, just to try and come up with it. Then it's time to go "Right. Okay. What's next?". It's a relevant question and it's a good question and we certainly think about it, but you think about all the other things in place "Well, wouldn't the band run its course first?". Who knows?

Tobbe: As long as you guys write the songs, do you actually think that the fans will miss Scott in a way that they can't support you anymore?

Damon: Well, Scott occupies a big piece of real estate in this band and in rock music in general, so I think it would depend on the timing. I think that it would depend on a lot of things, but I do know this: You know, he's already expressed to us, intently, that he's as proud of Black Star Riders, in these 2 albums, of anything that he's ever done in his whole career. "Are you kidding me?" For that guy to say something like that. And I know he meant it. He's not just talking. I think the fans see that in Scott. They see how happy he is. I have some of the diehard Thin Lizzy fans come up to me after Black Star Riders shows and go "We've never seen Scott this relaxed. We've never seen Scott smile this much on stage. We've never seen Scott so approachable and just in a good place.". You know, if we've had some part to play in that, than what a great thing to contribute to.

Tobbe: Totally. You know what? I saw you guys play live this summer and I actually think the new songs went down as well as the Thin Lizzy stuff. I was standing there before you entered the stage and, you know, you have your doubts and you take a look around and think that the guys around you are there just for the Thin Lizzy stuff, but that really didn't happen.

Ricky: We've been able to play 9 songs off our debut album, instead of playing 3 and the rest Thin Lizzy. That's what most people would have thought. You know "You've got this amazing Thin Lizzy catalogue. How dare you play more than 2 or 3 [BSR songs]?". But you know, we went "No. We're trying to establish something new here, so we decided it was 50/50." and like you said, those songs stood up and went down great. That wasn't just the gig you saw, it was generally. (Damon:) I've never really thought of this until this moment, but something that we can't lose side of is the fact that the Thin Lizzy faithful, the diehard Thin Lizzy fans, are as passionate fans of any band in history. They're like Queen fans. You know what I'm saying? Because Phil was what he was. All the things that he was. I think they almost have interpreted it as a bit of a badge of honor that this band evolved out of Thin Lizzy because it so wanted to make some new music and not just be an oldies act. Not just play the hits. Come on, man, that's kind of easy.

It's easy to get up there and just play the 14 songs that were hit singles that Thin Lizzy had, you know. It's not hard. The audience is gonna go nuts and all that, but it's not just enough to feed our souls. Scott included, man. You know, he was the first one that said "Hey, we need to write some new music.". I think the fans see that, man, and I think they appreciate that. And so now, they're passing some of that support and almost some of that badge of honor off to us. They're like "We fucking respect that you guys had enough respect for yourselves and for the name, to do what you're doing, and you've written some great songs.". Listen man, I see it. I see 'em singing Bound For Glory. I see them singing Kingdom Of The Lost, and Hey Judas, and Bloodshot. They're screaming that hook in Bloodshot as loud as they do Jailbreak and we're proud of that.

Tobbe: About the name change. What eventually was the one triggering factor for a name change? One! You can't say that it was a lot of stuff. Just one.

Damon: We might have different answers for that. I don't know. I mean, the answer that I would give you is that we wanted those songs to be able to stand on their own and get the recognition they deserve. We knew we had written some really good songs. If we had put those out as Thin Lizzy, they would have paled in comparison to this dreamlike list of songs and legacy and image that that band accomplished. Look man, we didn't know, we were unsure, but something in us pushed and our instinct said that this is starting to feel like the right thing to do. You know, we knew the fanbase was divided. We were divided. One day we'd said "Yeah. Let's do it!" and the next like "I don't know. Not so sure.". But the songs were the key. That to me was the main reason.

Tobbe: You're certainly earning more respect nowadays.

Ricky: Yeah, I think so. Nobody can really sort of say anything. They can't go "What are you doing, you know, carrying on without Phil?". We changed the name. You got what you wanted, so…shut the fuck up! [Laughs] (Damon:) That's the great point. No disrespect to anybody, but if there's some diehard Thin Lizzy fan that still wants to bitch about that, then that person has a fucking problem. They just wanna bitch, okay. What more can you ask of Scott? For him to change the name, and he's still writing songs. Let's celebrate that sound. People can still get that vibe of Thin Lizzy in Black Star Riders.

Tobbe: I was young when Phil passed away, so I don't have that relation to him.

Ricky: Yeah, but the fucking time goes on. I'm sorry, people fucking die. That's just the way it is. The songs don't. The songs live forever. You can't kill the songs, so therefore to stand up there every night and sing those brilliant songs that Phil and the boys wrote, to people that were too young to be around, like yourself, when Thin Lizzy were there, and they hear them and kids go and buy Black Rose and Jailbreak, and check that shit out and discover whole new music, and maybe go and buy a guitar because of that.

Where's the negativity in that? 'Cause I fucking miss the meaning. I don't fucking see any of it, and if you're sitting there and are so caught up in your fucking self pity that you just "You shouldn't fucking be doing it, blah, blah, blah". Nobody's trying to replace Phil. Are you fucking on crack? You can't fucking replace Phil. He's irreplaceable. Do you think that I went to that gig going "This is a great chance for me to really establish myself as the lead singer of Thin Lizzy."? No. I went to that gig "This is a great chance for me to sing these fucking songs and share my youth and my childhood and make people smile and stand beside the shoes of the great Phil Lynott.". End of story. (Damon:) I love it, dude. [Gives Ricky a hug.] He's fully awake now. I like it. [Laughs.]

Tobbe: Yeah. That's great. I just wrote 4 letters on this paper. W-H-I-S. Short for Whiskey. [The guys really start to have a good time and laughs.] Let's go back to the recordings a bit. Robbie Crane, your new bass player. What has he brought to the recordings that wasn't there earlier?

Damon: Well, he brought a lot. One thing he brought was an over the moon enthusiasm before our original material. He didn't come in, going "All right, I'm gonna throw my weight around, 'cause I've written a few songs.", which he certainly could do and we would be interested in what he's got to say. But he came in, he wanted to hear the new stuff, and as soon as we started playing it for him, man, the guy was just 12 feet tall and screaming like a cheerleader. He's like "I cannot believe I'm in a band that's capable of writing songs like this.". Come on, man. I love hearing that and me and Ricky feel great to know that we've got a guy in our band now, with that legacy, with that history, with his experience, that's that excited about the stuff that we're playing.

Tobbe: He's very well fitted for the band as well, which I personally saw on stage a few months ago.

Ricky: Yeah. He brings an aggression. And his sound and his attitude on stage fits Black Star Riders and fits it better than Marco [Mendoza, former bass player] does and that's not me dissing Marco. This is the fucking fact of life. I love Marco.

Tobbe: Yeah. He's still a great bass player.

Ricky: He's fucking amazing. Amazing bass player. (Damon:) Oh man, listen. You know, pound for pound or note for note or whatever you wanna call it, Marco's easily one of the best bass players…in the world. (Ricky:) In the world.

Tobbe: Yes, he's awesome.

Damon: He's one of the best bass players in the world, and man, we're all honored to call him a friend and to have been able to play with him as long as we have, man. That guy is extraordinary, but Black Star Riders is a real band, that really has something to say, and has a vibe, and has an intensity, and essentially has a color to it, and Robbie fits that color. He made it all a complete unit, you know. He just did. I can't think of a better guy to come in and be a part of this and we're very grateful to have Robbie involved.

Tobbe: Right. Do you in some way see this new album as a now or never experience? Like this second release is kill or be killed, you know?

Ricky: I just feel as the band is getting better and better and better and you know, trying to reach our full potential, which we haven't reached yet. I feel we're heading in that direction and every day is a step closer to it, and the band's getting stronger and stronger and is getting better and better live with Robbie. You know, the songs we write, I just feel we're moving down that road. (Damon:) I've never thought about it like you asked that question. That's actually a great question. But I don't think at all that it's a now or never thing. I've never even considered that.

As Ricky said; Man, we're just so excited that we almost feel that we are a bunch of 20 something year olds and we got this killer band and now we've made our second record. We're already looking to the next album and the one after that, you know. We have goals at least that in 2018 we have our 4th record out. Man, we wanna make live albums, and acoustic versions, and DVDs. I wanna sell fucking Black Star Riders coffins like Kiss does. Wait, I've had too much Whiskey, I'm sorry.

Tobbe: Action figures. Don't forget the action figures.

Damon: Yeah. A Jimmie DeGrasso action figure. [Laughs intensively.] You pull the string on the back and he goes "When are we getting paid?". (Ricky:) The Marco Mendoza is gonna be so nice. [Both laughs even more.] (Damon:) This is the thing I'm gonna take from this interview. BSR action figures. (Ricky:) Precisely.

Tobbe: Okay, quick change of subject. What's the status of The Almighty nowadays?

Ricky: Nothing. Well, you know, that's not true. The Universal re-releases are coming out in February, which I'm very happy about, that finally all that stuff's gonna be put in its place and we'll be able to access all the Almighty stuff, online, physically, it's great. But I have no plans to play any shows or anything.

Tobbe: No offense, but that was my bonus question actually. Sorry, mate.

Damon: Good question. Man, listen. Ricky Warwick's gonna have a big year in 2015. He's got Almighty reissues coming out. He's got 2 solo records coming out. Black Star Riders coming out. World tour. He's gonna be in a movie. Fuck, I feel like I'm in a band with fucking Johnny Depp now, you know what I'm saying?

Tobbe: So how has the internet age affected you as a band?

Ricky: Well, we just adapt to it. You adapt to it. Either you adapt to it or you get left behind. Simple as that. (Damon:) Listen, man. It's been great for this band, especially because, as I said, we're a transcontinental band. I gotta be able to call Scott Gorham and then not cost $6 a minute, you know what I mean? So thanks to technology I can do that. You know, Ricky's in Los Angeles, I'm in Nashville and we can send ideas back and forth. We can create a complete song in a matter of minutes because of technology.

Tobbe: Yeah, Nashville to California is like a 4 hour flight or something.

Damon: It's crazy, man. I don't know if this band could exist if it weren't for technology, so we're definitely all super supportive and very appreciative for all the modern stuff that we have.

Tobbe: I think you have a fairly bright future now. You're touring a lot and you're playing festivals and stuff.

Ricky: You know, we've done okay. It's a long way to go. We've only just begun. (Damon:) You know, bro. I've wanted to be a part of something like this for a long, long time. I wanted my old bands to achieve something like this and none of them ever did. They never got to this level. I wouldn't call it fear, that motivates me, but there is definitely a sense of accomplishment and I'm proud of it and I don't want it to end. I don't want it to go away, so if that makes us write more songs, if that makes us work harder, if that makes us get up a little earlier, then so be it. It took us all a long time to get here and we recognize that, man. It's rare and we realize we have a rare opportunity.

Tobbe: How do you tackle the killing competition there is nowadays?

Ricky: We don't think about it. You know, once you start worrying about what other people are doing, you're taking energy and strength away from yourself. We're just concerned of what we're doing. (Damon:) That's the beauty that comes with age and experience. You realize, we can't change our stuff, we can't control that. All we can control is the quality of our songs, the quality of our performances and how we run Black Star Riders incorporated. Those are our decisions to make and today we're in a good place, man. We're doing all right.

[I decided to keep my recording device in recording mode for a minute, while some small talk came about.]

Tobbe: Well, I guess I'm done.

Ricky: That's good, bro. Thank you very much. Good questions.

Tobbe: Good answers too.

Damon: Thank you, man. Can't wait to get over here and play some shows, man. Thanks a lot.

Tobbe: Any more interviews today?

Ricky: No, I think you were the last one, brother.

Tobbe: Thank Heavens, huh?

Ricky: No, it was a great one to end on. (Damon:) We're gonna take some pictures over here.

Tobbe: You will probably be back here this summer, I'll take a couple of pictures then.

Damon: I guarantee it, man. You can count on that. We'll definitely be back.

Tobbe: Will definitely see you. There are a lot of festivals in this country nowadays, even though I would wanna see you indoors.

Damon: I love Sweden. I loved it from the first time I came here with Alice Cooper. Thin Lizzy played here. I think we charted higher in Sweden than any other country in the world. This country's been very, very good to us. We've got good people here helping us. It's incredible. It's work, but it's good work. It's hard work, but it's good work.

Tobbe: Yeah, you gotta keep the spirit going.

Damon: It's an amazing opportunity. Thanks for all the kind words, man.

Tobbe: Thank you very much.

Damon: All right, brother. We'll see you this summer. Count on it.

Tobbe: Totally.

See also: review of the album The Killer Instinct

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