» Tony Clarkin - Magnum
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Interview conducted April 21 2016
Interview published April 29 2016

"I mean, we fight it hard. Our budget is so tight and if something goes wrong it's like "Oh no!""

The British veterans Magnum recently visited Stockholm on their tour for their new album Sacred Blood "Divine" Lies. Prior to the show Metal Covenant got a moment with the band's mastermind Tony Clarkin to find out a little bit more about the album, his songwriting, why the band doesn't rely solely on their classic stuff and also a few things about the band's distant past.

Tobbe: Your new album was released like 2 months ago and what do you believe it adds to Magnum's total catalogue of records?

Tony: I think we made a good album and is very pleased with the way it came out. From a personal point of view, I think lyrically it's really good. I was really pleased with the lyrics I'd written. When I'm writing songs and it comes to the lyrics part of things I'm always like [roars] crazy. So it seem to flow really well to me and I love the way everybody played on the album. I just think it's another step along the way for Magnum, really. I mean, anyone who likes Magnum would like the album, I'm sure, you know.

Tobbe: So when you're entering the songwriting process, is it hard to not get trapped in the same riff over and over again?

Tony: Well, not really. I write at home in my own studio and when I'm doing things and if I think that sounds like something else, obviously I try to go another way. But when I finally take my demos into the studio and Bob [Catley, vocals] hears them for the first time, I always say to Bob "If you hear anything, you know, that you think is something else, let me know.". Because I would have been living with these songs for ages and you can't be very objective when every single day you're playing the same songs, I think.

Like when people say to me, you know "What do you think of your album?". I've been working on the things for like 18 months probably and it's very hard to be objective. Maybe in a couple of years' time, I'll go "Why did I do that? That's crap!" or I'll go "Wow! That's good!", you know. I mean, I did hear the album 2 weeks ago for the first time in a long time, but I had left it purposely, and it's okay now.

Tobbe: But is it even possible to not repeat yourselves just a little bit? I mean, you've done 19 albums.

Tony: Maybe. I don't know. I'm not aware of this. Obviously when you hear Bob's voice, instantly you're gonna be "Oh, it's Magnum.". And when I'm like playing solos it will be within my, sort of, mind of what notes to play. I try and look for different subject matters, so that it's not just like a rock song and that's it. I try to put a bit more thought into it, you know.

Tobbe: Magnum has sometimes put some effort in the cover of the records, so what's the message of the cover on the new album?

Tony: It's really a simple thing. It wasn't a complicated idea. It was like having this evil sort of being sitting on lots of money and an innocent child with his dog. Giving you like the black and white thing, you know. I mean, it's been done millions of times, but I come up with the ideas and I get to Rodney Matthews, who does all the artwork. I mean, I suggest what it's like and I tell him the title of the album and he then came up with the evil being things, you know.

And the backside of the album, I don't think we'd sorted anything out for that. But I went down to Rodney's house in Wales and he drew a few things. I mean, normally that's what he does. He just sits there and draws and roughing all this rubbish out and he just sketches through that and then goes away and maybe in like 3 months or something he comes up with a copy. That's how it happens.

Tobbe: And the album has a strong title. So why did you choose to name the album Sacred Blood "Divine" Lies?

Tony: I just thought it was a strong title for an album. When I wrote that song, I'd got the tune and the riff and everything. And I'm riding back home to my house, and then back to the studio, and back home, and I'm singing it to myself. I'm not sure whether I came up with the title. But I started singing it "Sacred blood, divine lies" to all the riffs and all that and suddenly one night "I love this! This is great!" and I couldn't wait to get to the studio and, you know, "This is what it should be!". And then I just continued to write the rest of the lyrics, 'cause once you got a title it does help to write the song obviously, you know. It gives you some way to aim for.

Tobbe: You have obviously written pretty much everything Magnum has ever put on a record, but haven't you ever missed having a songwriting partner in the band?

Tony: Not really, no. I mean, no one really writes anything in the band and I've done it from day one. Probably I started doing it in 1974, I think. It might have been earlier. It was always me who did it and no one ever showed any interest in, you know, writing songs, so I've always just done it. In fact I enjoy doing it more now than I've ever done. I find it more creative than I've ever been. I get this feeling inside me and it makes me write these things, you know. I don't know, it's a strange thing and it's something I have to do.

Tobbe: So it has become easier to write songs along the road, or is it more like you don't feel the pressure to be as hard anymore?

Tony: I don't feel as pressurized. It depends when you ask me. At the minute I've just finished an album, so, you know. But I mean, I've started writing songs. I always carry on. I write songs all the time and I've written like 6 songs that I think are pretty good, but I know I'll write probably 20 or something like that. I always aim at something in that region, or even more, but in a really basic form and then I'll just throw lots of things away and also go "Oh, that's good. I'll keep that.", you know.

Maybe it's just an idea. But it's like an ongoing thing for me and I really do enjoy doing it. Honestly when I first did it, it was a lot of pressure and I thought [Shaky voice] "Who's gonna like this? This is a load of crap!". But now I feel pretty confident about what I do and, you know, I think I know what I'm supposed to do, so. [Laughs]

Tobbe: You know, a lot of bands of your generation have kind of stopped making records already and just rely on basically the classic stuff. Has the thought never occurred to Magnum, like "Let's just relax and rely on our classic stuff and let's just forget about writing new records."?

Tony: No, that can't be for me. I always wanna go forward. I don't know how bands can do that and just live off what they did years ago. I mean, I have a lot of ideas. I'd explode, you know, playing the same stuff every night. It's so boring. When you're playing new stuff, it keeps you vibrant and it keeps you going.

Tobbe: You've had quite a solid lineup since the reformation in 2001, so in the recording room, is it a lot easier to work with guys who know each other really well, or is that like a disadvantage sometimes, because people kind of get lazy?

Tony: You could have somebody that you don't know who might come in and do something. I mean, we don't. But people use session players and things and it can be very inspiring when somebody walks in, that you've never heard play before, and they play something and you go "Wow! That's amazing!". We don't do that obviously, because we're like a band. Our situation is; I demo things at home and I like to do all the piano parts and all the strings and all that sort of stuff.

And I'll go in to the studio and Mark [Stanway] will listen to it and maybe change some things and maybe not, you know. Generally we don't change anything massively, but obviously he's a better piano player than I am. I'm no great piano player, but I can get by, you know, and say "This is what I'm looking at. This is the sort of feel I want." and of course then he can relate to that. I do that with Bob as well. Bob is the first person to hear the songs, and I sing them to him, in my horrible voice, and, you know, he gets the idea.

I mean, I explain to him about the song and how it came about, so he knows what he's singing about. And I did the bass at home and this is purely so I can look at the song and think "Oh yeah. I'm liking this. This is great!". The whole idea, I think, is like; everything I've done; you know, they can play exactly what I played, that's fine. But if they wanna do something else, that's fine as well, you know, and if it's really good; Great. We'll keep that, you know.

Tobbe: With all your classic albums and your whole catalogue, do you still try to improve with each record or is that even possible?

Tony: Yeah. Well, I mean, I'm trying to do some things that maybe, you know, we haven't done before. It's hard, but I mean, you're always in that position where you finish an album and you think it's the best thing you've ever done. Even if it's terrible, you'd think that, you know. [Laughs] But I feel confident enough these days to know what to do. The worst thing that I would hate to do is shortchange people.

Magnum have been going a long time and Bob and myself take great pride in what we do, you know, and we do appreciate people that go and spend money to buy the records and things. I said the other day that without these people there wouldn't be a Magnum, so I wouldn't wanna shortchange our audience. It's too precious to us, you know. So yeah, we're trying to get better and better, you know. I mean, it's a little late in the day, but, you know, [Laughs] you gotta keep going, 'til the day you die, really.

Tobbe: So for how long do you see Magnum as a touring band?

Tony: Forever, I think, I hope. I mean, as I'm saying that, I can't walk on my one foot. I nearly broke my toe yesterday. [Laughs] But I mean, it has been a way of life for us, for 40 odd years, and I just hope we can carry on doing it, you know, for as long as we want to do this.

Tobbe: You were saying that you put pride in what you do, so before you go to sleep at night at home, are you sometimes lying there and thinking of what you've accomplished through the years?

Tony: No. I'm thinking of the next song or something, like a song I've done maybe and go through it in my head, which is what happens when you're on the road a lot. You know, you're going through things and you go "Oh, that could have been better." and trying to think of what you can make better, really.

Tobbe: But isn't it hard to fall asleep when you're thinking about composing all the time?

Tony: Well, it keeps you awake. That's for sure, yeah. But you have to go "Forget it! Forget it!", you know. Years ago I'd be going to bed at like 5 o'clock in the morning, and probably drunk. I don't drink anymore and it gives you a much more positive feeling and you get up revitalized, going "Okay. Come on, come on! Let me get this idea in my head out and put it down on tape or something!". So that keeps me alive and going.

Tobbe: You guys were already active long before the internet age arrived, but what are new bands supposed to do these days to make any money?

Tony: I don't know. It's really tough and I don't really know. I mean, we fight it hard. Our budget is so tight and if something goes wrong it's like "Oh no!". But we just about scrape through. I mean, it's always been tough, really. Unless you are like this massive megastar band, you know, where they're like riding around in limousines and all that sort of stuff. 'Cause we've never reached those heights [Laughs], but I didn't particularly want it anyway, so. I always wanted to be an underground band, that sort of band, and I think I got that wish. [Laughs] But I'm happy with what we did, you know, and how we did it.

Tobbe: Which were Magnum's most important decisions in the mid 70's, which eventually lead to your fame?

Tony: We were a resident band in a club, just doing pop stuff. And I joined it as that, and it was the first time I had ever earned any money. I think it was about £30 a week we were on. And that's when I started to writing the songs. "Do you fancy doing one of these songs?", you know, and Bob "Yeah, okay.". And we started doing some songs. And then we got the sack, but we still stayed together and we did some backing things for American artists who would come over.

I started writing, what I thought was serious stuff then, and we knew a bloke who was with a record company called Jet Records and we approached Jet Records and they went "Yeah. Come down and do an album." and we went "Wow! It's amazing.". And it seemed so easy, but [Sighs] that was wrong thing to think.

Tobbe: During your long career, which memories stick out the most?

Tony: I think the first time we went into a studio maybe. This big studio, called De Lane Lea. They did all film music and things. We walked in and obviously the lights were low and I mean, it looked like the starship Enterprise. Very impressive. And that was when we were doing the first album. We'd only ever been in demo studios before, which were like pretty crummy. Suddenly you went "Wow! This is how you do it.".

And when we'd done On A Storyteller's Night. We'd had a bit of success with albums before and in Great Britain we couldn't get arrested for a record company and it was released by an independent bloke in Wolverhampton. Suddenly it went to like, I don't know, about 20 or something like that in the charts and we went "We can't believe it!". And that was a great feeling.

Tobbe: If you're being totally honest, do your fans age in the same pace as the band does, or do you have like a regrowth worth mentioning and are having young people coming to the shows and listening to your music as well?

Tony: Yeah, we have people bringing their children and grandchildren and that sort of thing. I mean, mainly in the U.K., I would say. It's probably like 3 generations, but not everyone brings someone obviously. There was a funny one the other day. We got this to our facebook and this woman said "Oh, my children went with my husband over the weekend and my daughter came back and she's 6 years old (or 7 or something) and she keeps singing Crazy Old Mothers." and I just thought that was really funny, 'cause the father had been playing the record, you know.That made me laugh.

But yeah, I mean, I think people did pass records on and go like "Have a listen to this!". My father did it to me. He played me John Mayall, and I was listening to Cliff Richard at the time, and my dad said "Listen to some real music. Listen to this! John Mayall and his blues stuff.".

See also: review of the album Sacred Blood "Divine" Lies

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