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Paul Taylor and Phil Denton (Elixir)

Interview with Paul Taylor and Phil Denton from Elixir
by Grigoris Chronis at 12 December 2010, 2:12 AM

Genuine characters are not that hard to tell: Paul Taylor (vocals) and Phil Denton (guitar) from excellent traditional metallers ELIXIR speak from the heart and share everything we’d like to know as regards the British band’s latest “All Hallows Eve” album; it’s another release with a unique feel and originals but also some other standards made to bring an approach which both loyal and newer ELIXIR fans shall eagerly swallow.

Hi Phil and Paul, here’s Greg from METAL-TEMPLE. Needless to say, it’s great news to have ELIXIR back again with a brand new excellent album. Which were the key-points leading to the release of “All Hallows Eve”? When did you start working on the new album?
Paul: Hi Greg, with the band being together for so long, we never really stop writing and there are always new ideas flying around.Phil tends to plan his songs and produce finished demos for us, but Norman and I prefer to get together with Kev and Nigel and piece them together in a live environment. “The Spell” and “You’re Not Fooling Me” were written that way.It’s very hard to start a new album project, but with “Midnight Messiah” finished, and a few more almost there, we needed somewhere to put them.I had been recording some songs for my UNIVERSITY OF LIFE project at Phil’s place (he’s a great producer as well as guitarist) and on my way home on the train I wrote the lyrics to the “All Hallows Eve” track and it all picked up from there. Once we’d started in earnest, it probably only took a few months to complete.

Phil: As Paul said, we had “Midnight Messiah” finished, and had the music for “All Hallows Eve”. For me, they key point of the album was when Paul wrote the “All Hallows Eve” lyrics. That got me thinking about “All Hallows Eve” as a theme to the album. I read all about Samhain, the Pagan ritual performed on “All Hallows Eve”, and that inspired me for the ‘epic’ song at the end. It also inspired the lyrics for “The Pagan Queen” and “Daughters Of The Moon”.

Did you have any obstacles trying to complete the rehearsals/recordings for the new CD? Anything you’d like to mention?
Paul: The biggest problem was Norman moving back to Belfast. That held us up a bit and restricted the recording time for Norman.
The other major factor was that a lot of the work fell on Phil, as he’s the only guy clever enough to work the recording equipment.

Phil: I thought that the album came together pretty easily, but I did spend a lot of time and care on the mixing. I must say that it was a very enjoyable experience, and I loved doing it. Although we had the songs written, we hadn’t rehearsed some of them much before recording, especially “Samhain”. We have our own rehearsal room where we can go whenever we want, which is great for a project like this. We recorded numerous drum demos from January to March, just experimenting with different microphones, positioning, and even a ‘bass drum tunnel’! When we were happy with the drum sound, we began recording in April – just bass and drums on most takes. Norman was back in Ireland, and I was working the desk, so Kevin and Nigel just recorded their parts together. I added my guitars later, and then Norms came over to record his parts. The vocals, keyboards and effects went on last.

Did you try to find a label for the release of “All Hallows Eve”? If yes, how difficult was it?
Paul: It was difficult because all the honest small labels are having a hard time at the moment, and after being so badly ripped off by Majestic Rock, I don’t think we’ll ever trust a larger label again.At least doing it by ourselves we knew that we would do the very best job we could rather than having to rely on someone we would never meet to mix our album.

Phil: I wanted to release the album on our own CTR label all along, as the Majestic Rock experience put me off using other labels. I have always preferred releasing our own material ourselves, as you can keep control over the product and make it the best release that you can. The hard bit is the promotion and distribution!

Is there any chance “All Hallows Eve” could be released on vinyl too?
Paul: Yes, I met a great guy in Italy who wanted to release the album on vinyl and offered us a much better deal than the UK companies I tried.I love vinyl, and always push to release on it, much to the amusement of the others.

Phil: The artwork on the new album just deserves to be available in a 12” form! We plan to sign the deal and start production in January, so I cannot say too much until the deal is finalized. However, the label said that we can release it however we would like. I would really like a gatefold sleeve with a poster inside too. We plan to make it a really great quality vinyl release, and as soon as everything is underway I will announce it on our website.

The cover artwork seems quite pagan/folk to me! Does it relate in some way to the album’s content? Did you reject any other artworks prior to picking these wonderful colors?
Paul: We wanted a good cover, and Phil had been in contact with Duncan who did the artwork for the “Lethal Potion” album.It seemed natural to ask him if he might want to have a go for “All Hallows Eve” which he did.We sent him the material and he listened to it while he worked. He likes the band so it inspired him. This was the only piece of art we looked at as we all liked it so much, we went with it. As All Hallows is at the end of October, we knew we wanted an autumnal feel, and I think Duncan did a great job with the green and brown colors.

Phil: I sent Duncan the demo version of “Samhain” and he created the cover while listening to the music. I specifically asked him for a Pagan/Celtic look (hence the Celtic border around the edge) and an autumn scene, and he did a brilliant job.

The whole tracklist is impressive and truth is the recipe of great ELIXIR songs is again evident. Still, I’d like to focus a little bit on the last song, “Samhain”. Apart from its huge duration I have the impression this is one of the most complete songs I’ve ever heard from a British HardRock/HeavyMetal band. Which were the layers the songs was built upon? Was it natural this number ended up exceeding 14 minutes?
Paul: “Samhain” would not have happened without Phil. I’m not sure but I think he can claim 99% of everything in it.The rest of us were worried it was too long (and did make him cut some out, but not much) but Phil was determined and stuck to his guns and this is the result.Shame we couldn’t get Christopher Lee to do the spoken parts, but that was a long shot!It was a track that people would either get, and love, or completely miss the point and hate.Thankfully, so far, people seem to love it, which I’m sure Phil will tell you, he knew all along they would!

Phil: Kev had already said that he would like to record a 15 minute ‘epic’ for the new album, and I loved that idea. So I locked myself away through the winter and put lots of riffs and pieces of music together to make up an ‘epic’ piece. Paul’s “All Hallows Eve” lyrics had inspired me to write about Samhain and I woke up one morning and wrote the poem that is spoken in the middle section. Norms had an idea of a slow picked guitar, which he had played to me and I liked. I took that and made a slight change to it for the poem bit, and that worked well. For the verses, I wanted a kind of Celtic feel, so I went with the THIN LIZZY-style harmonies. As Paul mentioned, I tried to contact Christopher Lee, as he would have been perfect to speak the poem, but I had no success. As it tuned out, Paul did a brilliant job, and I love the way he speaks the words. When I played the original demo to the band, they were a bit nervous about its length, and persuaded me to trim a small bit from the middle. It made the track less than the 15 minutes I had intended it to be, but I think the changes were for the best, and the song flows better. I told Paul the idea, and he wrote the lyrics for the verses and choruses. I like the way he ends with “’till All Hallows Eve” and brings the album back full circle to the beginning again. As a songwriter, when you bring ideas to the band and we begin to bring the song to life, some songs work well and some do not. I can’t explain why, some just don’t work as well as I had imagined. However, this one did, and I am really pleased with the way it all came out and what the band did with it.

With a band like ELIXIR I honestly have no fear what I’m going to listen to. Still, since you are the creators of the songs, what new elements do you think an album like “All Hallows Eve” has in regards to the rest of your post-80s discography?
Paul: It seems to gel as an album. “Mindcreeper” had some great songs on it, but you can’t play it from beginning to end and lose yourself in the feel of it as a whole.It’s only when an album like “A.H.E.” comes together, you can see that. It’s something I will bear in mind for future albums.

Phil: I tend to think of albums as whole pieces of work rather than a collection of single songs. My favorite album of all time is PINK FLOYD’s “Dark Side Of The Moon”, and that is a perfect example of an album as one piece of work. With that in mind, from when we recorded “The Son Of Odin”. I have always given a lot of thought to the song running order and how all the songs fit together. It was the same when we recorded our second album “Sovereign Remedy”. However, when Sonic got hold of it they completely messed it all up with their terrible “Lethal Potion” release and they changed all the songs about (another bad experience with an outside label). I was so glad to be able to put “Sovereign Remedy” back out as it should have been originally. “The Idol” album was a collection of our 80s songs, but I tried to give them a good running order to make it as complete an album as possible. So really, we have only made two post-80’s albums, “Mindcreeper” and “All Hallows Eve”.As “Mindcreeper” was the first album we made after re-forming, we felt that we should try to bring the music up-to-date somewhat, whilst still keeping our sound and identity, because we didn’t just want to be an 80’s nostalgia band. I think now over time, and after playing the songs live, you can see which songs work better than others. Songs such as “Mindcreeper”, “Knocking On The Gates Of Hell”, “Iron Hawk” and “Where Angels Fear To Tread” go down a storm live and work really well. With this new album, we didn’t really think about sounding ‘modern’ or ‘relevant’ and just wrote how we always did. I think that is the difference between the two post-80’s albums. I also just think that we had a strong theme for the new album that worked well.

How’s the chemistry in the band, really? Team work, one-man decisions or you have to flip a coin at times, haha? ELIXIR is one of the few bands around with an original lineup, right?
Paul: It’s the only full original 80’s line up I know of,apart from some of the big boys, although I’m sure you could put me right on that. The chemistry is great.We are just like 5 brothers, we have the same goal, to play and produce the music we love to the best of our ability.We have supreme faith in each other. There’s nothing better than knowing there is a brilliant rhythm section behind you and 2 of the best guitarists around pulling things together.We have fun on stage (and off) and hopefully that comes across.We all get on. There’s never a time when people aren’t talking, and we like each other’s company. We try and make group decisions where we can, but the bottom line is we trust each other and all look out for each other.

Phil: Yeah, we are like 5 brothers, and the guys in ELIXIR are really my best friends. We were 5 young boys who had the enthusiasm for the music and shared a dream to form a band and perform our own music. We are very lucky to be able to carry on, although it gets a lot harder as we have family and work commitments to consider. When we started out we lived near each other in East London and could rehearse three times a week (and go drinking together the other four nights). Now we have all moved out of London with our families, so we have to plan a bit more to rehearse or work together. As Paul mentioned, Norman has moved back to Ireland, and has to fly over to England to rehearse before we go to play gigs. However, it’s fantastic when we all meet up and go back out to play, and I think anyone can see how much fun we have when we are together. We don’t know how long this can last, so we intend to enjoy every experience and enjoy every gig that we play! As for decision making, it depends on what the decision is about. We try to be as democratic as possible, and all have a say in things, but it isn’t always practical. We want all 5 members to be happy with how things go, as we are all equal in the band. As I deal with band emails and the website, sometimes business decisions or gig offers come in which I deal with alone. The band seem to trust me with this and are happy to go along with how I do things. When it comes to song-writing, sometimes I present a song to work on, but the band may adapt or reject my idea, or go with it as it is. Sometimes, as Paul mentions, we may play around with an idea at rehearsals and all have an input. Creative decisions are sometimes decided by a vote. For example, when we released “The Son Of Odin” we could only afford to have two colors for the cover print. Paul had made the album in a black and white collage form, and we layered colored plastic sheets over the cover to decide which colors looked best. Two liked the yellow and black combination and three liked the blue and black option, and so we went with blue and black by the majority decision.

Now that the new album is released, what’s up for the near future? Have you lined up any dates? Summer festivals are being organized as we speak too, haha!
Paul: It’s the 25th anniversary of “The Son Of Odin” release in 2011, so we have a couple of dates to play the whole album, 29th January in Oslo, Norway and 9th April in Sofia, Bulgaria.We have the 'British Steel Festival' on 2nd April in London, but I think that’s it for the moment. All gig offers to we would love to add some more gigs to play some of the “A.H.E.” album for you.

Phil: I loved playing “The Son Of Odin” show in Athens the last time, as we could play the whole album and other songs too. I’d love to do that again next year, as it is the 25th anniversary. Maybe we could play “The Son of Odin” album for one half, and the whole of “All Hallows Eve” for the other! Anyway, anyone reading this who would like to see us live next year, please suggest us to the organizers of any good festivals/venues. We are open to offers and love to play our songs for you!

Do you have trouble picking the setlist for your gigs?
Paul: Yes it is hard.Naturally we would like to play our new material, but we realize that some people have waited 25 years to hear some of the “…Odin” album live so we try and put some of those in as well.Kevin is our set list king, he loves organizing them and could probably tell you what we played, when and how well the crowd liked it!

Phil: Yes, the more albums we have, the harder it gets to choose what songs to play. We all have our personal favorites, so we have to be democratic and try to come up with a set list everyone is happy with. We try to consider what the fans would like to hear too, of course!

When you see fans of two different generations raising fists in the air with your music, can you describe the feeling? You think the Rock/Metal youth of today is just served tin food? Many say the glorious days or Rock (60s/70s/80s) are long gone now…
Paul: I think the art of good song writing has not been encouraged for many years now.I know I sound like an old git, but a lot of the material these days relies more on the speed and aggression rather than a good old fashioned song.And as for the growler “singers” well, it’s lost on me I’m afraid.Heaven knows how they do it, it’s very hard to do, I couldn’t I know that.It’s all relative I guess. Every generation thinks the new stuff is tuneless and too noisy, but somehow, unlike Elvis, I don’t think we’ll be listening to CRADLE OF FILTH on the radio in 50 years time!

Phil: We were absolutely astonished and amazed when we re-formed and came to Athens to play for the first time. When we launched into “Trial By Fire” the crowd were raising their fists, singing the words and chanting along with the riffs – it was fantastic! We had never experienced that before, not even in the 80’s. I think it takes years for a band like us to get our music out to the people, and that was when we realized that people liked “The Son Of Odin” album. It was a very emotional moment, and made me feel both very humble and proud at the same time, to think that people understood our music and appreciated our hard work. I think that there is still some good music coming out today. “The Black Country Communion” album, featuring Glen Hughes, Joe Bonamassa, Jason Bonham and Derek Sherinian is like a step back in time to the 70’s, with great, honest rock. I liked the CHICKENFOOT album too. There are still some bands bringing out albums with ‘real’ songs on.

After more than 25 years and only five studio albums, what do you think went wrong and ELIXIR did not make it to the big masses?
Paul: The big labels went from one extreme to the other. At one point CBS wanted to sign us, but then didn’t want to get in to a band war with EMI having MAIDEN. Island and A&M thought (quite rightly) that we were a 5 album project kind of band, and they didn’t have the funds to invest long time. Others just wanted a quick buck and we were old school musicians, not the pretty boy gimmick type of band that would get a quick pay back.We also all had jobs, which meant we didn’t have the time and hunger that some other guys had.I won’t mention management, but needless to say, perhaps we should have had a more ruthless driving force to fight for us. Although I doubt we would have liked that very much.

Phil: I don’t actually think that things went wrong for us! If we had been signed up, toured 9 months of the year, and recorded an album every year, I reckon we would probably have burned out, gone mad, and wouldn’t be speaking to each other. I would probably be divorced too! I like making an album when we have an idea and the enthusiasm to record. I think that if we had made an album every year, we would be turning out uninspired, average music with nothing to say. I wouldn’t like to work under the pressure of having to write and record an album just because my contract says that I have to. I think that things have turned out great for us. It is fantastic that we can go to countries all over the world, play our music to fans who love what we do, have a great time, have fun together, and then return home to a normal family life.

Do you get annoyed at times with fans still memorizing your “The Son Of Odin” debut and only? I sometimes do not know if classic oldies are a blessing or a curse for an artist willing to portray a whole piece of art (be it music, filmmaking etc)
Paul: Yes and no. I love the fact that the fans rate “…Odin” so highly, but I don’t really understand it.There was never a great master plan. “Dead Man’s Gold” made it on the album because it was a new track. “Born To Die”, later put on “The Idol” album, was going to be on it, but there wasn’t enough space left after “Dead Man’s Gold” went on. We did have room for one shorter song, so the newest one, “Starflight” made it on right at the death. “Treachery” nearly didn’t make it out of the rehearsal room as it was a bit too like MAIDEN, but we thought as it wasn’t a direct rip off, we’d put it in the set anyway. The title track itself came out of a remake of one of the very old numbers, “The Dark Void” (never to be heard of again).Other tracks we used to play live like “The Idol”, “The Storm” and others were not included as they were part written by Steve Bentley (the guitarist before Norman) and we thought it best not to put them on the album. We’re very proud of the album, but we are of all our albums.It’s a shame we never knew how people felt about “…Odin” before it’s re-release in 2002. We had no idea it was even known to people all over the world, let alone rated as one of the best NWOBHM albums of all time!Let’s hope “All Hallows Eve” comes a close second!

Phil: I think it is great that fans love “The Son Of Odin” so much. Like Paul, I cannot work out why people love that album more than others we have made. The good thing is, it sets us a challenge to make a better album each time we go back into the studio. I think that we have matched it or even bettered it this time with “All Hallows Eve”, but I am so close to the project, that maybe I cannot see it from a clear perspective. I have a feeling though, that in around 20 years time, people will love “All Hallows Eve” just as much as “The Son Of Odin”!

I was interviewing a well known musician from an American Metal band and asked something about influence and motivation. The answer was something like “if it wasn’t for Great Britain and the Scorpions/Accept duo I do not think Heavy Metal would be the same”. Your opinion?
Phil: There were a lot of British influences for sure, but I think it bounces back and forth. For example, we grew up listening to BLACK SABBATH, LED ZEPPELIN, THIN LIZZY and DEEP PURPLE. When we got together and got started we were also influenced by the newer bands that were coming out at the time, like MERCYFUL FATE from Denmark and QUEENSRYCHE from the USA. I am sure that those bands would have been influenced by the British bands that I named, but they added their own ingredients into the mix, and in turn, influenced us, a British band. So I think ideas go back and forth.

I can still recall the ELIXIR gigs in my country (Greece). Great shows, a great vibe and loooong setslits, haha! Do you experience such a warm welcome in other countries too?
Paul: Ah those Greek gigs. Once we start a gig in Greece you guys never let us stop!I think two and a half hours was the longest we played.The Italians are great as well, as were the Spanish when we played Barcelona last year.It’s been so long since we’ve played Germany I forget (that’s a big hint for any German festival organizers to get in touch) we’d love to go back there soon. It’s nice to know that our fans, where ever they are in the world, always give us a great welcome and we’re grateful to them for it.

Phil: Yes the Greek gigs are always special!! We do receive a great reception in other countries too, but I think that the Greek metalheads are probably the most fanatical!

Is there any chance “All Hallows Eve” could be your last album? If it was, you believe it has all it takes to be a perfect closure?
Paul: Not if I can help it.I always tell the boys we’re lucky to be all together and healthy, and we should write and record until such time as we can’t.I’ve already got a killer song for a new album, but these things take time and a lot of planning.If the worst did happen and this was the last, I hope you would think it was a good curtain call. Only time will tell for that.

Phil: There is a chance that “All Hallows Eve” could be our last album. We are approaching our 50s now, and with the pressures of life i.e. work, families etc. it is a lot harder to fit ELIXIR into our lives. However, I hope that we can still continue for some years yet. As Paul says, we all have good health, and can still play, so we will carry on for as long as it is possible. If it is to be our last album, then I will be satisfied to have finished our musical career with such a strong piece of work.

Which is the most appropriate album for someone to familiar with ELIXIR to begin with? And why?
Paul: I think “All Hallows Eve” would be a good start, as it gives you a good idea of what the band is about.

Phil: I could say “The Idol” because it has the very first songs that we wrote on it, or I could say “The Son Of Odin” because it is supposed to be our ‘classic’ album, or I could say “All Hallows Eve” because I think that it is our best. I think that all of our albums have the ELIXIR ingredients in there – power and melody, so you could start with any of them.

Phil and Paul, thanx to both of you for taking the time for this interview! Really hope we’ll see again ELIXIR onstage in the near future!
Phil: Thank you, and we hope to see you down the front in the near future too!


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Edited 22 May 2022

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