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Raven's John Gallagher: "...So we stuck out big time, "that crazy band that throws their gear around”. ...there’s always been good music from our area, there’s certainly something in the water!"

Interview with John Gallagher from Raven
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 31 August 2020, 1:53 AM

Into the heart of the city, into the place where everything started, into what became slowly and easy, until the eruption, the Metal city. Sounds quite iconic, almost Sci-Fi in orientation, yet it is pretty much real. However, it was a long time ago, and not in a galaxy so far away, yet actually decades ago in the 70s where British Metal was consumed. Raven, one of the premiere Heavy Metal bands of that age, were busy crushing clubs with their stage antics and roughed up music. In 2020, as if time never had an effect on them, they burst with "Metal City", armed by a new skinman and wholesome of energy. Steinmetal had the honors talking to bass player, high pitch sonic, John Gallagher, about the new album, pandemic, new man, noodles and more…

Hello John, it is a huge honor to have you onboard for this interview for Metal Temple online Magazine. How have you been doing sir, right there in the recent pandemic struck Newcastle?

Thanks! I’m doing fine… and have been throughout the “shamdemic”!! Seeing what’s happening to it… very painful to watch.

Truth be told, I have been a fan of Raven for many years, in particular the first three albums, but I have warm spots for some of the later discography. Yes, an old schooler. Anyways, with all this pandemic going on, now striking with what is called a second wave, I have been watching some of your Noodles shows on Facebook. Is this your small patch, or token, in order to keep yourself sane in these crazy times?

Yes, my small contributions to sanity! Actually started by me sending a video of me playing ”Happy Birthday “ to my old mate Tony Dolan of Venom Inc.

I’d just got a 7 string bass so I played it on that. and sent another video of me fooling round on it. He loved it… I put it up on Facebook and apart so did everyone else! So I did another… and another… one for every day. So that’s about 130 of them so far! Improvs loud and soft… cover tunes… run through of Raven songs… it’s been challenging and fun!

In general, how have you been dealing with this pandemic? Do you see an end to it in the horizon?

It’s an overblown reaction to what is basically the flu. So yes… the lockdowns HAVE to end or our society will be destroyed in my opinion… of course it’s out of my hands but it’s frustrating that a virus with a 0.04 mortality rate at best … stops the world.

A five years' gap, like clockwork similar to the previous album, and here we are with your next pack filled of energized Metal, fueled with high octane, kicked into gear, unleashing hell, “Metal City”. Can you state that it is fact, at least for Raven, that this period of time between albums is an actual gift in order to come up with the best possible?

Actually its way too long… but that’s what happened! Due to abortive studio sessions… remixes… artwork hassles… we ended up about a year and a half late. But it’s all been worthwhile… it’s the best thing we’ve even done!

The title “Metal City” is regarded to Raven’s origins, your home city of Newcastle, was that a city that actually had such an outstanding Metal scene back when you guys started out? If that is so, with such a packed scene, how was Raven able to stand out and become the monster it eventually became? What was your secret back then?

That wasn’t too hard believe it or not… when we started playing the pubs and clubs around 1976-79 almost all the other bands wanted to be “The Eagles”!!! The only exceptions I knew of was Axe (who became Fist) and White Spirit… who wanted to be Deep Purple! So we stuck out big time….  "that crazy band that throws their gear around”. A lot of younger bands started up once the 80’s came around…. but there’s always been good music from our area… there’s certainly something in the water!

I really liked the comics styled artwork of the album, it has that youthful spirit, no matter your age, in heart you are still young guys looking to have fun and Rock N’ Roll. How do you perceive this sort of artwork, which is actually the first time for you to do such a thing?

I think it’s great! It is SO Raven… it’s fun! We are a heavy metal band but we are not dark brooding
monsters…. we will hit you over the head with big riffs… and a smile! Mike came up with the idea for the cover… we all added ideas for the booklet art too.

Even with the humoristic kind of artwork, the album’s themes are varied, and rather disclose issues that aren’t that funny or satire. Which of these subjects do you find crucial, bearing and important message? Would you say that there is a relation between one or more of the songs to what is going on out there nowadays?

Some of the subjects are certainly pertinent. “Human Race” is about the destruction of our planet… “Not so easy” about politicians… “Cybertron” is about the upcoming singularity with regards to artificial intelligence… so I’d say those are the more serious ones!

“Metal City” introduced a new skinman for the Raven power trio, Mike Heller, whose career is rather knee deep within the extreme Metal genre other than the classic Metal driven attitude of you, the Gallagher bros. How did Heller’s mindset fit the musical doctrine of Raven?

Yes, he’s a younger guy… a lot of different influences but there is some middle ground to build on! From the first gig he played with us… for which we had no rehearsal… we just talked for 30 min… he loved the freedom to go nuts… be creative and improvise with us… after playing with bands where everything had to be ponderously exact… this is fun!

Well, for one thing, the first time that I heard blast beats in a Raven song, now that is something uncanny and thrilling for a band that has been considered one of the totems of NWOBHM. How did you find this drumming direction within a song of yours?

To be honest… the music where you’d would find blast beats is not my cup of tea… at all! But you take that and put that drum technique under a far more melodic part… or a more open part …and it can work great! So it’s always fun to take something and frame it in a new way.

Talking about drummers, your previous drummer, Joe Hasselvander, which has been an integral part of you guys for nearly three decades, left due to health reasons. Have you stayed in touch with him? How has he been doing?

Yeah, he had a major heart attack 2 days before we had US dates… a Swedish festival and an 11 date European run… luckily he was near a hospital when this happened. I’m not in touch but I do know he’s doing well and will have a new “Hounds of Hasselvander” album out soon which I’m sure it great… he’s playing guitar and is kind of the king of that doomy style.

“Metal City” features a kind of diversity that is a next level in terms of songwriting and musical approach. The early signatures of British Metal are still there, yet being somewhat shadowed by newer elements. How would you say that you guys, as veteran musicians, developed yourself musically while working on “Metal City”?

It all came together organically. We learned a lot from writing in “extermination” by doing pretty intense preproduction… this time I think we just self - edited stuff a lot better before presenting it to each other! I wrote maybe 30 or so really good songs … Mark had a lot of great songs… we worked on them in the gap between the Swedish festival and the Euro gigs in a Brussels hotel… and that’s where songs like “human race” and “Battlescarred “ came from. So we had the songs before Mike was in the picture, we knew it would be a step up from the last one… but adding Mike to this just supercharged everything!

What did you find as a challenge when it comes to that songwriting process of “Metal City”? Were there any stones that you couldn’t unturn while mixing directions in your music?

Seriously, the only challenge in the songwriting process for this album was selecting the final 10 songs … as we had enough for three albums! There were a few that really stuck out that we want on.. like “top of the mountain” and “metal city” and we built a running order around that. Kind of like “let’s start with a few fast ones… then an anthem type song…” you know? And it just… works!

What do you think that was missing on “ExterMination” that came to life on “Metal City”?

"Extermination" was just earlier in our current progression…and that in its turn was a leap forward from “walk through fire”. We just took what we’d done and … did it better… but this album is a far bigger leap forward.

My kind sir, really, how do you keep that voice so sharp, high pitched, in nearly perfect condition, what is your secret? I know younger vocalists that would have died having this kind of tone in a later age. Please smoke out the smoke.

Thank you! I’m very proud of the performances on this album… nothing was a nightmare or a grind to sing… in fact we did all the vocals in a couple of days! I try and stay healthy… I’ve never smoked, very rarely drink … never did any of the “funny stuff” … and that’s paid off!

One of the tracks that burst like flame, and nail me to my seat, was “Motorheadin’”, I can assume that is a small tribute to the late Lemmy and the Motorhead gang. Pretty much making an intro similar to “Overkill” and continuing with a riff on the chorus that has a similarity to “Ace Of Spades”. What can you tell about this tune in your viewpoint?

If I could mention a scorcher, a blasting tantalizing opener, it is “The Power”. Such a strong Speed / Power Metal kind of assault that is what the doctor ordered for a Raven album. The tune is vicious, probably one of the band’s heaviest, darkest and toughest. How did it feel making this one? Are you a Game Of Thrones fan?

Yes, it’s the perfect opener… no messing about and ticks all the right boxes… the playing kills & it’s heavy but full of hooks! I’ve actually never seen “game of thrones” but it seemed a good lyrical vehicle for some backstabbing/ revenge lyrics!!!!

Who is that Zeuss character that did the mixing and mastering of the album? Along with Michael Wagner, the engineer, you came out with a destructive sound that turned out beyond expectations. What is your take on the work done for this album?

Michael Wagener did an amazing job recording the vocals, guitars and bass… (Mike did his drums at his studio) and we did a mix but it wasn’t quite where we wanted it to be. So we auditioned a few mixing guys… and Zeuss won us over! He did a killer job of bringing out the heavy… loud & clear.

For a band like us that’s in our 46th(!!!) year.. to come with an album that’s the best of our career… we feel it’s a throwing down of the gauntlet … there’s many bands of our “vintage” making ..”ok” albums.. but this is a fucking killer album!

So what about going live on stream for your fans to gather around and sing-along? Is that a considered possibility for you guys in the coming future?

Oh I’d prefer just to play live… that’s all fun but it’s a bit…. twee isn’t it?

John, such a thrill for a veteran band isn’t that obvious, and I am glad that you guys aren’t even close to removing your foot from the pedal. Keep it hard, strong and never let go. Thank you for the interview. Cheers sir.

Thank you!! All the best to the fans and we hope to be out in the road early 2021!!!!!


 



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Edited 04 August 2021
 

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