So, Wiped Out – what was the mood of the band coming into the recording process for the album? “We were very hyped up. We basically wanted to do an album that was harder and faster than the one before. If you listen to (first album) Rock Until You Drop and this one there’s definitely a progression. From the earlier songs like Over The Top or Lambs to the Slaughter… it’s in the drums mainly. Rob (Hunter) started playing a lot less ‘prissy’ and a lot more ‘punchy’. We’d just done a session for the BBC, where we recorded two songs from Rock Until You Drop and two new songs from what would become Wiped Out. In a real studio! And then we had to go back to the Neat Records studios (laughs)! What we lacked in sonics there we made up for in attitude. But the mood in the band was manic. We did the entire album, and the Crash Bang Wallop EP, recorded and mixed in six days. Just ridiculous! Especially when you realise that about a quarter of the songs were written on the spot in the studio!”
And the first track on the album was Faster Than The Speed of Light. “I’d been writing a lot of crazy books about being able to travel faster than the speed of light… we thought it was a good idea for a song. We still love playing it. It’s fast but it’s bright and it’s incredibly melodic. There are a lot of cool parts in it. It’s like a diamond. So many facets! (Producer) Keith Nichol had this ridiculous little monophonic synthesizer that he used to make some funny little noises. We put a bass drum through a fuzz pedal to make the ‘explosion’ at the beginning of the song… when we put it all together it just worked!”
More fun to put together than these days where you just trigger a sample. “Yes. In those days if you wanted a sound you had to make it. Use what was available. Over the years we’ve used recordings of ourselves banging water coolers, we had a coffee pot that sounded demonic when it boiled so we used that, you can just use anything!”
Track two – Bring The Hammer Down. “A great rocker. Mark (Gallagher, John’s guitar-playing brother) put some great riffs on it. It’s a song very much of it’s time… there were a lot of riots going on in Britain at the time, a lot of disaffected youths. A lot of people felt they had been cheated. We did too. You went to school, got your exams and then you were cast on to the scrap heap. We thought ‘screw this – we’ll play music. What have we got to lose?’. So lyrically it’ all about the riots. It’s a great swing/rock n’roll song with lots of crazy parts in it. And bass pedal parts that you can’t hear! There are some really cool harmonies in there!”
Was that a Geddy Lee-inspired thing? To fill out the sound? Did you use them live? “Yes. I used a cool set of Taurus Bass pedals, but they were so temperamental i ended up throwing them off a cliff or something! I’m toying with using them again in the future. It sounded cool when we recorded them but you’d be hard pressed to find where they are!”
The next track is Firepower. “Another one we still play today. Rob had these lyrics about the wrong people getting the weapons. The whole idea was to come up with something that was catchy, had great riffs… we like to hit people with ‘a 180’ every now and then (at this point John demonstrates a riff/drum part)… cool, tricky little parts. We’ve been playing it over the last two weeks!”
Melody is important, isn’t it. You’ll remember from the time that so many people would label heavy metal as being just a load of noise. “Some still do!”. But so much of what bands like you did at the time is full of melody. Guitar solos that you can whistle because they have tunes! It’s very important! “It is very important. It’s part of our sound. Opposites. The melody and the noise. The order and the chaos. When these are balanced right, it’s a good Raven song. We’ve had times when one part overrides the other and it doesn’t work as well. So it’s very important. Music without melody isn’t music. And there’s a lot of ‘music’ out there today that doesn’t have any melody in it! That does nothing for me whatsoever”.
Song four was Read All About It. “Fun lyrics. This was pre-Jerry Springer and all that stuff so I guess it was a glimpse into the future. It’s just about how the media will write a bunch of crap about anything. That was another fast one in ‘D’. ‘D’ is a great key to play in. A lot of bands tune down, gravitate to ‘E’. We went the other way, looking for something brighter and higher. Not a dropped-down ‘D’ but a standard ‘D’. The number of effects at Impulse Studios was so limited… they had a Roland Space Echo, but Mark had an echo unit that had some sort of automatic double-tracking effect on it and we used that on some of the guitar sounds (emulates strange whooshing sounds, laughing)”.
Necessity is the mother of invention! How much pressure were you under here – did the label only give you six days to get everything finished? “No, that all came from ourselves. I’m sure (label boss) David Wood would have been happy that we were in and out in five minutes because he was the cheapest S.O.B. on the planet! But really it was just the way it worked out. Go in, lay everything down live, come back in, do the guitar solos and the vocals, occasionally a couple of extra parts here and there for ear candy but pretty much it was as frantic as it sounds”.
Were you writing all the time? It was easy for you to go in and write off the cuff as you mentioned? “We’ve never had a problem with that. We’ve always been very prolific. Probably more now even than then. Now we have a stockpile. The album that we have that’s in the can now that’s coming out at the end of the year – there’s still probably another twenty songs floating around that are really good and will see the light of day eventually. But back then we had a few going in, we knew we needed a few more and then it was ‘well, let’s do a few more again now we’re in’. If anyone had an idea we’d just throw it up against a wall and see what happened. A very creative time for sure”.
How old were you? “I was twenty four in 1982, Mark and Rob were both twenty three”.
Were you conscious, as you went to America to tour with proto-thrashers like Metallica and Anthrax that you were pretty much trailblazers as far as British bands were? Was being faster and heavier than most of the British bands at the time something you were conscious of? “Absolutely. We knew what our strengths were and we maximised them. Also I think we were able to be more agile, more fluid as it were, because of the three piece lineup. We were less tied down to structure. You can be a little bit more creative. The three piece thing had been a bit of a revelation for us since about 1980, when Rob joined and we fired the second guitarist who’d been with us for three or four months. All these possibilities suddenly came out. The drums and the bass become more prominent instead of just laying down a riff and everyone playing the same thing. The riff is king, but you can stretch and play with it and do different things”.
Black Sabbath -essentially a power trio with a singer, do that. Listen to Geezer‘s bass parts. “Absolutely. That’s a great example because essentially you’ve got a jazz rhythm section underneath all these huge riffs. Bill Ward, back in the day, was painting around everything everybody else was doing. And Geezer was playing counterpoint. He wasn’t just replicating what Tony was playing. We’d listen to people like that. You have to orchestrate it. You can’t hit them with a wall of sound because you don’t have the second guitar. So you have to play around with it”.
Track five – To The Limit, To The Top. “We did Tyrant of the Airways on the first album, and I was thinking we needed another, epic-type thing. We had maybe half of it, and there’s a part in the middle in 6/8 that has an amazing arrangement but which was totally spontaneous. Totally”.
Do you catch one another’s eye in the studio and know you’re on to something like that? “Totally. But then we stopped and it was ‘well, what do we do now?’ I had this acoustic part, so we took the melody from that which Mark played on the guitar and I played the chords on the eight string bass. Then we modulated into a louder version of the beginning of the song, and then came back to a third verse and then back to the melody – really loud – to finish it off. Not a huge amount of thought went onto it. It just came together at the right time. And that’s a song we’ve never played since, which is really strange. But one day – you never know! We are revisiting stuff from different periods”.
Next up is Battle Zone. “That’s a fast and furious one! Written on the spot in the studio. Mark came up with a riff and he and Rob just went off. It’s another one with a crazy solo section and it also has a strange drum fill where Rob was playing a beat and then overdubbed a fill across the top of it. Which was fun. We got to the end, and I wanted to end with a big scream which I did four or five times so we could have it going as long as possible as song fades out. That’s another song we’ve never played live”.
Even at the time on the Wiped Out tour? “No. There are a lot of songs on the album, and you’re pushing it if you put in more than five new songs on any tour. You want to play your new stuff, the people want to hear your old stuff. It’s a balance that never gets easier. It always gets harder!”
Live At The Inferno is next. You’ve played this live a few times. “We have! And since Joe (Hasselvander, Hunter’s drumming replacement) had his heart attack we stopped playing it. We played a short version of it once at a Californian festival when we were ostensibly playing the Live At The Inferno album. It was always the point in the show where we did the big guitar-smashing thing. It’s actually about the Mayfair Ballroom in Newcastle. That was Hallowed Ground to us. It’s always about the excitement of coming to that place, which was underground, so the music got louder as you were descending the stairs and then you were hit with the sound and light. We saw so many great bands there – UFO, AC/DC, Judas Priest, Ian Gillan – you name them. It’s not there anymore, of course. Torn down to make way for a car park for the horrible, hip-hop/rap clubs they have there now. We were very lucky to play there five or six times before it went”.
Live At The Inferno was followed by Star War. “Another interesting one. It’s got a lot of cool parts and contrary motion – guitars and bass going in the opposite direction. And even though it was kind of the era of Star Wars it was a little more of a generic sci-fi deal”.
So it wasn’t a Ronald Reagan/S.D.I.-type thing? “Not at all. It’s another one with some crazy parts in the middle, where the guitars are played straight and the drums are in 3/4. It’s another one we’d like to think of redoing or revisiting live at some point again. We played it a lot through to about 1987”.
The next song was UXB. “Another of the songs we wrote write there and then. I remember watching a TV show or a movie with the guy sweating – ‘do I cut the red or the green wire?’.
I remember a show at the time that was on British television called Danger UXB. “That’s probably what it was. The song has some mental riffing on it, very crazy. The beginning is really strange”.
I think that was the thing for me as a young headbanger listening to you – the dissonance, the left-field field stuff that you wouldn’t hear with ‘straightforward’ heavy metal bands. “Yes, and we didn’t want to repeat ourselves, we wanted to try and do something that was different. You can rip yourself off later and it becomes ‘style’! But at that stage of our career, we wanted to try something different… it was all about being different. The sky was the limit! But we wanted to tie it in with a roughly conventional form – verse, chorus, melody… then put left turns in somewhere”.
But there has to be a resolution somewhere. ‘That’s right, rather than free-form jazz! Because you have to give the listener something to anchor themselves to”.
Were you conscious of that contemporaneously? If you go back to listening to The Friday Rock Show on the BBC in the early to mid eighties most of what was played sounded much the same. And Raven didn’t sound like that. It was part of the same movement but demonstrably different. “We were. It’s a broad simplification, but ninety per cent of what you heard sounded like Two Minutes To Midnight! It was that fuckin’ riff bastardised over and over again. The feeling and the energy of that riff were great, and it’s not as if people were ripping people off – they just did it at the same time. And the longer the so-called New Wave of British Heavy Metal went on, there were more and more bands using it. Initially the only thing the bands had in common was energy. Saxon doesn’t sound like Raven, who don’t sound like Def Leppard who don’t sound like Iron Maiden! Which was cool. But by the time you got to the third tier of bands it was more like ‘really?'”
20/21 is next one. “That was named after another bus rout. 39-40 was an instrumental I wrote on the first album which Mark and Rob wanted to call More Ale Landlord, because it sounded medieval. But for some reason it was called 39-40 which was the bus route we used to take into Newcastle. The twenty or the twenty one were the buses we’d take from the town to the studio! We incorporated the melody I had from this song into To The Limit, To The Top. Which gives it a kind of overture type feel. It was just a little breather, which had worked well on the first album and worked well again on this. And this album needed a bit of a breather!”
The penultimate track on the album is Hold Back the Fire. “A great rock n’roller. We always loved playing that live and again it’s one I’d like to revisit. What you hear is what you get. The guitar solo on the song builds to a crescendo… Mark was jumping up and down on a piano in the studio when we recorded it! Full-on craziness! I’ll never forget that. It was awesome. We recorded it differently for the BBC session. Here it’s maybe just a little too manic. But it has a lot of energy”.
Was BBC producer Tony Wilson instrumental in reining you in for the BBC version? “No – it was more a matter of the fact that we’d been playing it live and it just got faster and faster!’
And we come now to the last song – Chainsaw. “Chainsaw we’d been playing for a while. If you look at the setlist that’s on the cover of Rock Until You Drop it’s on there… I’d got my red bass, and I conned somebody into fitting a tremolo to it. So the sounds at the start of this song are all done on that – it’s the first time I’d ever used the tremolo on it. The rest of the album was played on eight string bass, which sounded great cranked up. Chainsaw is one of those ‘love story gone wrong’ type of songs – you can tell from the lyrics that the guy has a very nice power tool which he wants to use on his Mrs! I remember being interviewed by Robbi Millar of Sounds at the time. She was very critical of the lyrics! On a mental album this was the mental track. We smashed up the studio at the end of recording, and you can hear some of that on this. Ridiculous”.
And Keith Nichol had the presence of mind to keep the tape running! “He was hanging on by his fingernails. That was the first production he’d ever done and by the end he was a bit nerved out! We steamrollered him!”
Raven wrap up their Australian tour with Girlschool and Tank at the Croxton Bandroom in Melbourne tonight before heading out for two solo shows:
SUN 30 JUNE – FRANKIE’S – SYDNEY
MON 1 JULY – ENIGMA BAR – ADELAIDE
Read Scott Adams’ review of their recent Canberra show HERE