We are in the beautiful Cambridge for the start of another overseas adventure of Rockpages.gr at the Europe, Black Star Riders. A few hours before the show we have Jimmy DeGrasso in front of us who opens up to our camera about the new album, the band’s debut, Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders’ style and their future plans. Jimmy is a very pleasant guy, he’s got something to say about everything and he reveals between others that he used to skate a lot! Interview: Sakis Nikas, Dimitris Kazantzis Camera: Yiannis Dolas Editing, Post Production: OpenField
Rockpages.gr: Jimmy, first of all tell us about the tour, how is it going so far?
Jimmy DeGrasso: Well, the tour is going great so far, everyone gets along, no fighting, hahaha! Everyone’s crowd has been really good… we’ve done a week and a half now and we even changed the setlist around some nights, because we see a lot of people coming to a lot of shows, so we don’t want to be playing the same songs every night. So we’re changing the setlist here and there a little bit. So, everything’s been going pretty well so far, except from the lack of sleep…
Rockpages.gr: What’s the feedback from the first two albums of the two Black Star Riders albums?
Jimmy DeGrasso: The feedback? I don’t know what do you think? Well, from what I heard the first record was received pretty well… the first record was really written as a Thin Lizzy record. ‘Cause the band was actually going to be called still Thin Lizzy. But, then that changed at the last minute. So, in this record it became Black Star Riders instead of Thin Lizzy. Now, on this record the approach was different, because we really weren’t writing under the expectations of the band called Thin Lizzy – I know that this is pretty strange but it’s hard to explain. Because, everyone knows it’s the band that used to be called Thin Lizzy. I think it opened up as far as the creative process. We had to fit into the whole sort of line of what people would thought that a Thin Lizzy record should sound like thirty years later. So, there is a lot of things on this record that are different. You’ll sort of hear some of the different influences coming into the music along with certain Thin Lizzy sounds, like the dual guitar lead and certain grooves, and Ricky is always going to have that Irish, sort of Celtic flare to his song writing and his lyrics. So, you still going to get that, but I think it opened it up as far as doing some other things that steer away from that at times. So, I think it’s worked out well, because it enables us to branch out a lot more.
Rockpages.gr: Did you feel any kind of pressure from the fans and the press’ expectations due to the connection with the Thin Lizzy legacy?
Jimmy DeGrasso: Not so much! On the first record I think there was a little bit of that. No one is going to put more pressure on us than we do to ourselves, because we strive to make the best record possible. We don’t care if anybody wants, or demands from us. No one tell us what to do! We are basically our own creative entity, so we basically write and record what we want. So, we are always making the best songs, and the best recordings that we do. I think everyone, from what I’ve been told, was surprised from this record, because it has branched out more and what I also ‘ve been reading, from the reviews that the band now has more of its own style and sound. And then, you know honestly, it’s been one and a half year of touring since the first record. We’ve been playing together non-stop for a year and a half as this unit and prior to that, when it was Thin Lizzy it was… you had two other members, a different drummer, and a keyboard player and when I joined the band we literally rehearsed for a few days and then we recorded the record. So, even though me and Damon have been playing together, me and Scott have known each other, me and Ricky have known each other for a while, it’s different when you are playing together every day and you learn new ounces of everyone’s playing style and how they approach things. So, like I say it’s the combination of a year and a half of touring and writing together like that. So, that’s why it turned out as well as it did, and then of course we changed producer, as we went with Nick Raskulinecz, it’s hard to say his name, I always mess his name up (hahaha)! Nick came in and he just… he is literally like the 6th member sort of speaking. He came in and that’s what makes him such a great producer, he hears things that the other five of us don’t hear. He had ideas about certain things, how to change arrangements and melodies that I didn’t hear, or not even anyone else. He’d come in and hear what we already have and he’ll take it somewhere else, because he has a totally different interpretation. And, that’s what makes him such a great producer, and that’s why everyone wants to work with him. And I talked to Nick a couple of days ago, we all talked to him and talked about the next record! So, even though this record came out two weeks ago we are already plotting the next one. We are thinking about creative things we want to do, sounds we want to try in the next record, so we are kind of in a hotspot right now with all the creativity going on in the band with the song writing. It’s really a very exciting time, and we are getting a lot of positive responses, which kind of feeds the whole thing, you want to keep working more.
Rockpages.gr: If you look at the crowd in your concerts, you can see that it’s consisted of people in our age mainly. Do you think that the music that was written 30 or even more years ago in the golden age of rock can spread to the younger ages?
Jimmy DeGrasso: I don’t think that rock have died as far as its overall popularity in the world market. It goes up and down certainly and people would say… I remember in the late ‘70s going into the early ‘80s rock was completely dead. It was –I don’t remember how it was called anymore- new wave, pop, you had bubble pop punk, and pop punk bands, you had the Police, and Spandau Ballet not that it was bad, I liked some of that music, but rock bands were not so much in vogue and all of the sudden around the mid-80s it all came back again with the video channels at the time, and then it run pretty well into the mid-90’s, and then it sort of died off again. Then you had all that – I don’t know, what is it?- rap stuff, urban –whatever it was called- hip hop, and boy bands, five boys singing together… but rock stuff, and metal stuff was always there, it’s always there. It seems to take the back seat sometimes to other styles of music, and that’s is always going to be the case. Now, it’s funny with the crowds, it’s probably the same people that went 20, or 30 years ago, who are still following their favorite bands and I think I see a lot of younger faces in the crowd as well. So, it’s always there, and sort of growing. I went to see, 10-15 years ago, Page/Plant and they were playing Led Zeppelin songs, and there were kids in the audience that were 9 to 10 years old, that were born 10-15 years after Led Zeppelin broke up, but, you also saw people in their ‘60s, very much older people in the crowd as well. So, you know good music will always throw people in… I think the audiences now are multi-generational. When you have parents bringing their kids, or even grandparents bringing their grandkids, whereas when I was a kid and going to concerts it was just basically 16 to 20 year olds. There was no kids, there was no adults! It was just 16 to 20 that was the demographic. But, now it’s interesting because you see a wide age range in the audience, which is different than in used to be…
Rockpages.gr: So, I guess you don’t agree with what Gene Simmons said recently that “rock is dead”!
Jimmy DeGrasso: I read that, I thought it was funny! But, I understand what he was saying though. If you are a young band starting out right now it’s near impossible. I don’t even know how you do it. ‘Cause there used to be a whole formula… you wrote songs, you started a band, you played clubs, you made demos, you tried to get a record deal… get your record deal, put out a record, you toured, you did a video right? There’s no labels looking to develop bands because they don’t have the extra money from their huge bands that made them so much extra money, and they had the extra money to spend on developing bands. There is no money, time, or staff for that. With the whole down size of the whole records label system there is nobody developing bands… and it affects everybody. It’s actually affected everybody in music retail. The sales of musical instruments are down because less people are learning to play drums and guitar because they don’t even know how to start a band… music is not available in a lot of ways the way it used to be, as far as radio programming, and things like that. It’s just a whole different monster now. But, I understand what he meant by that… I think he really meant that it’s hard to start right now. Obviously, we are not starting now, we’ve already been around long time in this band, and we’ve all played with different people over the years, so we are well entrenched in the business, but if you are starting out it’s near impossible. I think that’s what he meant!
Rockpages.gr: What do you expect from Black Star Riders for the rest of 2015?
Jimmy DeGrasso: Touring, touring, touring and more touring! We’re going to be touring through the end of the year and to next year. We already have plans for a new record, we already have ideas, we’re going to be over the UK until the end of March, and then we’re going to take two weeks off and do the States for a week or two, then we have again two weeks off and we come back to Europe and we start, I believe in Prague –our schedules always changing, every time I see there is a new date at it- so it might be earlier- in mid-May. Then we’re going to do Europe and back in the UK for the festivals in the summer, probably through the end of July, take a break again and then we have the States again, Australia, Japan and South America and we’ll be over in Europe and the UK in November, so that’s a good idea of what we are doing until Christmas up to that point. I think the one thing we’d like to do and I am not sure when we’re going to do it… we’d like to do a short, not a long thing, we’re going to do a little acoustic tour. On a radio station the other day we did an acoustic thing and it was as fun to do it, because it was really low key and it was sort of like spontaneous and the songs kind of take a different light sometimes when you are playing acoustically, I’d do some percussion, or small drums. So, we might do something like that. We’ve been talking about it, and I don’t know if we could do that this year with all the other stuff that’s been going on. Maybe sometime next year, that’s something we’ve been talking about as well!
Rockpages.gr: That would be very interesting!
Jimmy DeGrasso: Yeah! From a creative stand point, when you are not playing things at that volume with distorted guitars, and loud drums, and you play them at a quitter level, they change. And it’s interesting where it can go sometimes. So, I think we might do that for fun maybe for a week or two… as I said, I am not sure if we could do that this year…
Rockpages.gr: You are a well-respected professional drummer. Everybody knows you…
Jimmy DeGrasso: Oh! I thought there was a joke in there! Come on, go ahead!
Rockpages.gr: Were you a fan of Thin Lizzy back in the day? And is it important for a session, or not so sessions, band member to be a fan of the band he joins later on?
Jimmy DeGrasso: Oh, that’s a good question! I remember when I was a kid… well, obviously Thin Lizzy in America would get a pretty good amount of radio airplay. “The Boys Are Back In Town”, and “Jailbreak”… when I was a kid I used to do a lot of skateboarding, which I don’t do anymore, and we used to go at the skate park by my house and they always played “Live And Dangerous”. I think that’s the only record they had. Because we’d be there for 8 hours and listening to “Live And Dangerous”, so I don’t think I had a choice! ‘cause we’d go to skate park next week and wonder if they got a new record. And we’d go back and they’d play “Live And Dangerous” all day! And after a while we didn’t care anymore, because we liked it was pretty cool. I was always a fan of the band and it’s funny I had most of the catalogue before anything came up. And Damon calls me one day and he says: “you’re not going to believe that, I’ve joined Thin Lizzy”. And I’m like “wow, that’s pretty cool”, and I got a call later. As far as joining a band and being a fan of it, I think if you are going to join a band you sort of have to enjoy the music. I don’t know if you have to be the biggest fan in the world, but you have to enjoy the music. And I think you have to know the lineage of music and the band where it came from. You have to respect that as well, and make sure you respect it and you give it some credibility. So, I don’t think it’s essential but it certainly helps. And of course, who doesn’t want to join a band that they like? You’d never say “I am happy I joined a band that I don’t like!”