Just before the recent Ten show in Athens we had the chance to chat with their leader, Gary Hughes, about the new album “Isla De Muerta”, the strong bond the band has with Greece, mythology, working with other musicians, melodic rock in Britain and more. Interview: Sakis Nikas
Rockpages.gr: Gary, it seems that you have established a strong relationship with Greece over the last few years. Why do you think there is a strong bond between Ten and the Greek fans?
Gary Hughes: I think that Greek people are genuine and warm. There is a certain feeling…what you see is what you get. I really like that. I think it’s probably down to the fact that there is a lot of honesty and love in the music that we do as a band. There is a lot of sentiment and I think that there is an obvious romantic idealism among the Greek fans. You can see that especially in Greece and Spain…the fans here in Greece and in Spain want their hard rock but they also want their ballads to be sentimental, drink some wine and celebrate with their women. I believe that our music…Ten’s type of music fits perfectly in there.
Rockpages.gr: You have been all over the world with Ten. Would you say that the Greek fans are the most loyal ones…? And don’t be influenced by the fact that you are in Greece right now (laughs)!
Gary Hughes: (laughs) Oh yeah! I would say Greece and then Spain. I started to recognize faces in the audience. I saw many Greek fans in Firefest last year…of course, there were other bands in that festival but I have seen many fans from Greece and Spain when we are playing in Europe. They are traveling just for us and that’s a fantastic feeling for me. Japan, if we are talking about sales, is also great. They really support the artist. I have to say that our sales in Greece and in Spain have gone up a little bit over the years and I really appreciate it because I do know that there is the recession in the last few years and people are having a difficult time. But yeah…the sales figures in Greece and in Spain are very healthy.
Rockpages.gr: By the way, how are things in England regarding this matter?
Gary Hughes: Well, in England there is a small group of romantic people trying to keep this music alive. Things are hard in England…people don’t really seem to care about hard rock music although there are a few festivals here and there but the truth is that things are not like they used to be in the past. Even the top class bands like Bon Jovi and Def Leppard are playing in smaller arenas. For instance, Def Leppard will be playing in UK this December with Whitesnake. Two great bands…they can’t do this tour alone. They need a tour package in order to draw an audience. So, I’d say that there is a cult following in the UK. Also, the English audience is cold in lots of ways. They always check out an artist with a certain attitude, like they want to say to the artist: “OK, impress me”! It’s in total contrast with the Greeks, the Spanish, the Portuguese people where they come to the show and have a great time! It’s strange with English people sometimes. One other thing is that you will never hear…let’s say, a German fan say a bad thing about a German band. But in England it seems that the fans and the journalists have a tendency of slaughtering our own artists.
Rockpages.gr: Def Leppard and Iron Maiden faced similar problems…
Gary Hughes: Exactly! It’s very strange. That’s why there are many English bands that don’t play anymore in England…so sad.
Rockpages.gr: You have just released a brand new album called “Isla De Muerta” which comes actually only a few months after the release of “Albion”. Is this the second part of the same writing sessions that started back in 2014?
Gary Hughes: Yes, you are right. I had 26 songs for “Albion”. Due to the fact that we started with a new label, Rocktopia Records…we left Frontiers…it’s like it used to be in the early 90s with Now & Then Records. They encouraged us to develop as many songs as we wanted and see how it goes from there. Initially I had ideas and almost finished 29-30 songs but then I narrowed them down to 26. It seems that we have enough material for a double album and I talked about it with the guys in Rocktopia Records…by the way, some of them used to be in the Now and Then team back in the day…so, we talked about it…I had done it in the past actually. I released a rock album and then after a while I released a “ballad” album. So, the idea was to do it again. Release the first record with half of those songs and then release the second album after a period of six months. I think that we divided the material quite well because it’s like a brother and sister albums but at the same time they are also quite different to each other. So it worked quite well. But yeah…that was the plan right from the beginning…have the first album out and then the second one after 6 months…it was the same writing sessions.
Rockpages.gr: One of my favorite albums of all time is “Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen.
Gary Hughes: Classic album!
Rockpages.gr: In there, there is an instant cinematic feeling…“Thunder Road” starts and you are virtually into a car running down the highway.
Gary Hughes: Yeah!
Rockpages.gr: I got the same feeling with the new songs in “Isla De Muerta”. Especially the opening track “Dead Men Tell No Tales” sets the tone for what we should expect from the new record. How do you approach the composition of a record…? I mean, do you have a story on your mind first and then comes the music or vice versa?
Gary Hughes: Actually, I had the music on my mind…a musical theme (ed.note: Gary starts humming the melody of “Dead Men Tell No Tales”). Some of the guys in the band said that this should be in “The Pirates of the Caribbean” movie (laughs). I really love that opening song for one other reason…when you reach the chorus, there is no vocal. Instead, the guitars take over and they play the riff. It’s the same as “Massacre” by Thin Lizzy where Phil Lynott doesn’t sing the chorus but there are dual guitars in there. So, I thought…why not? After 12 albums, let’s just skip the vocals on the chorus of a song (laughs)! Turn the spotlight on the guitar players. Also, because I had this great musical theme, I had to get some really cool sound effects in the beginning to fit with the atmosphere of the song. I wanted to get the listener on board on a pirate ship that sets sail on the open seas.
Rockpages.gr: The new album has once again an epic feeling combined with the ever present melodic elements. This is quite a unique approach and if you take aside Magnum and Bob Catley’s solo albums, I can’t think of many other bands writing songs in such a particular way. What do you think?
Gary Hughes: I agree! It’s hard for me to write any differently. There is a classically-based way of composing; that’s the way I approach my songwriting. If you sit down with an acoustic guitar or a piano, it’ still gonna sound good! It’s the classical background that makes the songwriting special. Also, if you break down the songs to just the guitar and the voice, the song would still sound good. I add everything else in the studio but the core of the song is just the acoustic guitar or a piano and my voice. That’s the only way really that I can write a song.
Rockpages.gr: The majority of your lyrics touch upon historical and mythological subjects. Given that you are now in Greece, a country with a rich history and full of myths, would you consider writing a record with a Greek-influenced concept?
Gary Hughes: Oh yeah! As a matter of fact, we were talking about it today…we went up to the Acropolis…amazing! I thought about the “Once and future king” albums…the problem with those two records is that I spent a lot of time and money…it became very expensive to me…you gotta pay the singers, the musicians, the engineers…everybody. The cost of making that album was huge. So, I said, if I ever do something similar in the future, it would have to be based on the epic works of Homer: Odyssey and Iliad. A double album but with a relatively common theme. I love the way Homer wrote those epic books. You never know what the future holds but I’d love to that somewhere along the way. And how cannot that be epic! These are the biggest legends in the world.
Rockpages.gr: And maybe the role of Goddess Athena should be played by Stevie Nicks!
Gary Hughes: That would be awesome! I would love that. I love the way Stevie Nicks sings…that crack in her voice, very sexy for a female singer. On the other hand she might be a little bit expensive, right? (laughs)
Rockpages.gr: I guess so! You have worked with many talented musicians through the years. Which was the most memorable one and is there someone that you still haven’t worked with that you would love to do so in the future?
Gary Hughes: Ann Wilson.
Rockpages.gr: Absolutely great singer. She recently got married, by the way…
Gary Hughes: Was she? Great! It took a while to get round to it…John Waite, David Coverdale or Glenn Hughes would also be great. Awesome singers…also, Geoff Tate. I would love to hear him sing something else and not a Queensryche type of song. Something that will allow him to express himself more.
Rockpages.gr: What was the major turning point in your career? Personally, I believe that “The Robe” was that point from a compositional standpoint…
Gary Hughes: “The Robe”…yeah. That was a funny time for Ten because the first three records were recorded by Mike Stone who was a great guy. So, we went through a small hiatus to reassess what we were doing. We had done three albums with the same producer and we wanted to make sure that the material on the fourth album would be absolutely killer! So we took a little time to write the next one and that turned out to be “Spellbound”. The songs and the production of that record were amazing…Rafe McKenna did a phenomenal job on mixing the album. I really love that album and the fans share the same opinion, too! The material on “Spellbound” is really strong…some of our best songs are in there. But it was a big departure for us, especially given the fact that we have done three albums with Mike Stone in the past and now we were changing direction a little bit. It was a turning point.
Rockpages.gr: Hard rock music was at its peak in the mid to late 80s. Do you think that the future would be different for Ten if you had appeared a few years earlier?
Gary Hughes: Oh yeah! Definitely! I honestly believe that we were a good ten years late really. Let’s say that if “The name of the Rose” would have been released in 1987 when Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Motley Crue and all these bands ruled the world, I believe that we could have sold millions of records. We were just too late. On the other hand, the flipside of that situation is that it wasn’t easy for the hard rock bands in the 90s and early 00s. All those years, hard rock artists were really struggling. So many bands fell by the wayside. We were on of those bands that carried the torch of European hard rock music in the 90s. I am still quite proud of that although I didn’t become a rich man (laughs)! Although we didn’t get in all those books of the late 80s, I must say that some of that 80s stuff is really mediocre. Actually, some of them were rubbish! The record labels signed almost every artist that had big hair but at the same time no depth in his music. So much wasted money. Of course, there were some excellent bands like Def Leppard and Whitesnake but there were others, especially from L.A. that was really dreadful!
Rockpages.gr: Gary, if you had to write your autobiography, although it’s way too early for that, what would the title be?
Gary Hughes: Oh, my God…That’s a great question! I think it would be called “The Life and Times of A Storyteller”! That’s all I can think of right now really…what a great question. It’s not quite often that I am at a loss for words (laughs)!