Interview with Black Star Riders guitarist Scott Gorham | By Lord Randall
Black Star Riders arrive aboard the rocket called Heavy Fire – out Feb. 3 via Nuclear Blast – bringing a sense of the classic rock of the ‘70s, because in the world of rock ‘n’ roll, some things are just timeless. When asked about the advance reaction to Black Star Riders’ third and newest full-length, founding guitarist Scott Gorham says, “Everybody’s been pretty blown away with it so far, which is always good, because you never know what’s gonna happen. Of course, it sounds good to you,” he laughs, “but it’s about what the people who buy the album are gonna think at the end of the day.”
Three albums in four years is admirable in any case. However, when looking back to the ‘70s and what we know as the foundation of hard rock, bands like Led Zeppelin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Gorham’s own Thin Lizzy released multiple landmark albums within a year’s time. This leads one to wonder if that regularity of quality is something Black Star Riders would like to revive. “That’s a good way of thinking about it,” the guitarist agrees. “One of the things we were trying to do is get back to 10 songs on an album. We’d written 20 for this one, because [vocalist and guitarist] Ricky [Warwick]’s a lyric machine, but who wants or has time to listen to a 14-song, 70-minute album anymore? It’s gotta be listenable; at the end of the day, spending over an hour with an album, how much are you really retaining? It all might be good, but how much is memorable? How many choruses are stuck in your head during the day?”
Shouldn’t be a problem, right? After writing and recording in his trademark style for decades, one could be forgiven for the assumption that Gorham’s creation of new material should be as simple as downing a shot of Irish whiskey by now. Simple? Maybe. But with this caveat: “Well, you want to avoid repeating yourself, of course. After this long, you’ll come up with a riff or chord progression and think, ‘Wow! That sounds really good!’ Well, you know why?” Scott laughs. “It’s because it was on the last album!”
One of the sure-to-be-highlights of Heavy Fire is “Who Rides the Tiger?” one of the most balls-out rock—read: ROCK—tunes in recent memory. Though, the meaning of the lyrics is possibly lost in translation—even to Black Star Riders’ members. “Ricky’s got a brain that works in a different way,” Gorham explains. “You’re not gonna get ‘The moon in June,’ that’s for sure. To me and [guitarist] Damon [Johnson], lyrics are the hardest part, but Ricky’s probably already got 20 songs for the next album. Over time, we’ve learned to play to our strengths, and Ricky’s always been one of those guys who tries to come up with original or different ways to say what he wants to say. He’s more about the phrasing or melody line than hitting that perfect note every time—which works out well when playing with this band!”
Heavy Fire was recorded Franklin, Tennessee, with producer Nick Raskulinecz at Rock Falcon Studios. “I wish I’d gotten to see more of the area!” Gorham reveals. “We were there for three weeks, which was like a Christmas miracle, considering that’s just a little under the time we spent on the first two [albums] combined!”
So, what did the Grammy-winning producer a short drive from Music Row bring to the band’s all-important third album? “The thing about Nick is he obviously knows what he’s doing, so he’ll stick to his guns if something doesn’t sound right,” Gorham says. “We brought in almost two dozen songs, got there, and Nick says, ‘Yeah, I liked three,’ which immediately pissed off Ricky. The anger coming off of him was just unbelievable. The reason we need that type of producer is because he’s not married to the songs like we are, so Nick was able to sense when we were getting bogged down—and he’s a musician too—in the songs or in the recording. Some of his ideas ended up really changing things for the better. He didn’t always get his way, though. I think we reached a happy medium, and the album’s better for it.”
“I will say this, though,” the guitarist concludes, “if we ever record in Tennessee again, it will not be in August! The humidity there is just unbelievable.” So is Heavy Fire.