Raven: Still Hard Rocking Your World With ExtermiNation
Not sure how this one slipped through the cracks, but it is always a good time to revisit the thrashing sounds of the mighty Raven! 2015 was a banner year for the legendary power trio – this would include a massive world tour as well as the release of their 13th album ExtermiNation, available on SPV Records. Here is a conversation I had with founding member John Gallagher awhile back to find out more about their epic new album, life on the road, the secret of Raven’s longevity, advice to musicians, and a whole lot more!
How does the new album ExtermiNation compare to the previous Raven releases?
We raised the ball, it’s one step up, definitely. We did a really good record the last time around with Walk Through Fire, which was a very important record for us after being away for a while, due to Mark’s injury and we have a lot to prove. It was a big step as far as song writing, sounds, the whole package and when we finally got around to doing the next one, about five years after the fact, we had a tall order to follow, so we really took a lot of time and planned what we wanted to do. We wanted to have an album that had strong, powerful songs, maybe make the intros a little leaner, a little bit more to the point and have a bigger sound. In effect, we ended up with All for One meets Architect of Fear in a back alley and then they beat the hell out of each other.
Is there any overall story or concept behind the title “Extermination”?
Not really, it just kind of loosely came together. We were doing the title for the album and coming up with a cover and all that – it’s usually a huge pain in the behind. We had Destroy All Monsters, which is the live album we did in Japan back in ’95, we always threatened to do a song called Destroy All Monsters, my brother came up with it, so he had the title and a few things and I added some lyrics and came up with the exterminate, exterminate bit – which will always appeal to the Dr. Who fans out there. We were just looking at titles and words and the exterminate thing came up my brother said, well, why don’t we make it ExtermiNation? Highlight the “Nation” part and that leads into all the conspiracy theories, all the crazy stuff that’s going on these days. We have that and I came up with the idea having the scientist injecting the Earth with god knows what. Looks like a radioactive enema or something. As far as the concept – lyrically – they lyrics are pretty much all over the place. You’ve got songs about moving on from a situation, songs about politicians, songs about misspent youth in Newcastle, destroying monsters, getting up off the floor and finding your way back in a boxing ring or whatever situation in life you find yourself in.
On the current tour that you did, which had a stop at the Whiskey, you played one or two new songs. Do you enjoy playing the newer songs – or do you enjoy playing the older songs more?
We enjoy them both. It’s a challenge, obviously. You’re never as comfortable with a new one, no matter how much you rehearse them, because you only get comfortable playing them live, so, hey, you gotta get out and play them live. It’s fun playing them before they’re released, because then you get a totally honest reaction from people. That was very encouraging because from the first show we played them, everyone clued in, and they really got it. They’re singing along and poking their fists by the second chorus.
How did that tour with Night Demon go – what were some of the highlights?
It went great. It was a stretch – we actually had a big falling out with an agent and I said screw it, I’ll book the tour. So, I still have the grey hairs to prove it. I think we did forty three gigs and the only real issues we had was the tour bus, which used to keep running – it kept breaking down every five minutes. It was very, annoying, expensive and depressing, but other than that – you have you major cities and we did great in all of them. We had some gigs thrown on at the last minute that were awesome and then one or two that were thrown on that were not so good, you know? As far as New York, Toronto, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, San Francisco – the main deal – we definitely did even better than expected, which is great. It was great having bands with the right attitudes, no bullshit, just go out there and rock and roll. It was a good package, you know?
Is it any easy to tour now than it was say, back in the ’80s or ’90s? Or is it more difficult for you guys?
It’s one of these things where the more things change, the more it stays the same. We’ve definitely – as far as financially, we probably make more money at it than we used to back then, because it’s not five or six sources taking all the money out of your hands before you even get to it. The states is always great for touring, because it’s a 24/7 society. Trying to do things like this in Europe is usually a little harder because “oh, we close early on a Wednesday” and stuff like that. It’s a lot better in the UK than it used to be. You try to get a bite to eat after eleven o’clock in a lot of places, then good luck – so that aspect of it hasn’t changed. The thing is that we’re just gonna broaden our appeal to three generations of Raven fans out there at this point, there’s a new generation of kids coming out and that’s awesome. It’s killer.
So, what do you think has kept Raven alive and thriving for over 40 years now?
I mean we love what we do. We still have the passion about it we had when we were little kids at fifteen, sixteen years old. It’s what keeps us going. We love the music, we love getting out there to play it and we love making it. We’re still a vibrant, vital band, we still create new music, we haven’t sat on our loaves, we probably could have turned around twenty years ago and said OK, let’s play the first three albums until the end of time. We don’t do that. We love playing the old stuff, we love playing the new stuff and the fans want to hear the new stuff, as well as the old, so it’s a good recipe for longevity.
What is the best and the worst part about touring with your brother?
We actually get on pretty well. Somebody asked us a question as well, how come you guys have been playing together for so long? Because it’s easy. Joe lives in Massachusetts, I live in Virginia and Mark lives in Florida. (laughs) This is a band. We’re more like a brotherhood than a corporation or a soccer team. It gets better with each band, you never know who’s playing guitar from week to week, or bass from week to week or you know, here’s our new drummer. We don’t work on that kind of philosophy. This is a business, but no it’s not. It’s music, it’s art, we’re a band and that’s how we do it. We just have to think in the same direction as far as the kind of music we want to play and how we want to put it across, so it works and you don’t break it.
The Queen of England invites Raven for a royal command performance to play one song for her and her guest – which song would you play for the Queen?
It would probably be either Gimme A Break or Kick You Ass.
What advice would you give a young band seeking a recording deal in this day and age?
Well, the game has obviously changed. Luckily, people can record decent sounding demos in their own house and get a decent drum sound. Work on the songs. Work on playing live, build up a following. You build up a following, make a demo, start selling your demos, put them up on Soundcloud, Youtube, what have you and use the media – use everything you’ve got to try and get your name out there and build a following. In our own way that’s kind of what we did, we built up a following in North East of England and eventually somebody had said “hey do you want to do a single?” Then it all kind of went off from there. So, work on your craft. Stuff never happens overnight and play for the right reasons, which is for the fun and joy of playing music, getting there having fun playing live. If you’re trying to negotiate a career out of it, get it all down, get a computer and start writing songs for Miley Cyrus. You’ve got to do it for the right reasons. It’s a lot of hard work and not for the faint of heart. If that’s what you want to do, one hundred percent, get out there, get your feet wet and do it.
Last question – do you have any messages for Raven fans out here in the Southern California area?
Absolutely, of course, we love you guys. We always have a great time out there. Thanks so much for the support and thanks to everyone that helped out with the Kickstarter for this album. Check out ExtermiNation – it will blow your freaking head off and we will see you out on the road.
Raven is: John Gallagher – Bass Guitar, Vocals Mark Gallagher – Guitar, backing vocals Joe Hasselvander – Drums
(Interview by Ken Morton – Photos by Jack Lue)
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