Okay, let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first – this is your the first Raven trip to Australia – excited? “Very excited. This is something we’ve been trying to do for about fifteen years. Finally it’s all come together. It’s a good time for us to come, as we’ve got a lot going on. We’ve a new drummer (Mike Heller), whose only been with us a couple of years, so why not do it now? Let’s get down and see all the Crazies in Australia!”
I’m assuming we’ll see a bit of a greatest hits set? A bit of everything? “Yes. That’s usually the best thing to do for a tour like this. We’ll probably do a new song from the (as yet unreleased) new album, a couple from the last album (2015’s ExtermiNation), some old classics, stuff from the first three albums, and a few beyond that! It’s fun for the audience and it’s fun for us”.
If we could go back a bit in time now – to when you were starting out. The heaviness! Where did that heaviness come from? A young band starting out now has forty years of heaviness to draw inspiration from, but the young Raven had a far smaller well to visit. In your brains as a collective, did you set out to be heavier than anything you’d ever heard elsewhere? “It was more about intensity I think. We gravitated – even when we started playing covers – to the more energetic, more extreme side of things like Highway Star by Deep Purple, Space Station #Five by Montrose… it was never ballads! So that was always the template we took, and we just added more parts to it, more insanity, and basically just revved it up! But we definitely stood on the shoulders of Giants. We were very lucky because an awful lot of bands came to Newcastle, and played in a relatively small hall. That was our education… Blue Öyster Cult, Rory Gallagher, AC/DC, Status Quo… Cheap Trick – and we were always front row, watching. Seeing how they did things, their equipment. And watching how they handled audiences. Some bands were masters, others weren’t. It all went into the memory bank so when the time came for us to start playing the Working Men’s clubs you could draw on all that – how to win over a rowdy crowd that had no interest in seeing you. And if you couldn’t then you’d do the opposite and try and piss them off as much as possible (laughs). Get a reaction! So we basically just soaked all that up like sponges and then delivered our own version”.
And you did that very successfully. Although, now you are very much associated with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, the success came in America. How did that happen? Were you always keen on doing well in the US or was it more accident than design? “A bit of both. We first went to America in 1982… and there were more places to play, there were more people wanting to go to shows. The excitement and energy were there – ‘oh! Wow! America!’. Plus in England we were getting about twenty quid a week from Neat Records… we’d had to fight tooth and nail to get All For One recorded in a proper studio, and we knew we were in for another war to get the next one done… we knew we were getting ripped off. So we did a couple of shows in 1982, came back to do a full tour in ’83, and it was obvious… you have to make hay where the hay is. So we went where the hay was! And I think that was the right thing to do”.
The musical climate was ready for you in America, wasn’t it? “Absolutely. They were ripe for the picking, but unfortunately the powers that be at the record companies wanted to water everything down, make it a bit more acceptable for Mrs Jones in Peoria, Illinois! So that made things very hard for us for a long period of time. It’s really taken us almost to now to reclaim that lost ground. I don’t regret it – some things happen for a reason. And the crappy things keep happening until you learn the lesson!”
If you are talking about things like The Pack Is Back, the song writing is still pretty strong. “The Pack Is Back is a fine record, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just not a hundred per cent Raven record. It’s very much a commercialised version. Commerciality, or ‘hooks’, is a large part of what we do – we’re not afraid of melody. It’s just that that particular album… the way it was recorded with Rob (Hunter, drummer) playing by himself to a click track, was totally alien to us. I don’t know why he insisted on doing it that way, but it sucked all the ‘push and pull’ out of the rhythms. Add to that the fact that a lot of the lyrics we wrote were ‘cheesy’ at best – you know, let’s be Bryan Adams or flippin’ Bon Jovi or something! We had enough craft, enough talent to pull that off, but it’s just not where our hearts are. So after we recorded it and the record company (Atlantic) just said ‘whatever’… they forced us to make the record then wouldn’t even promote it! After that we did the Mad EP and then Life’s A Bitch, which was a return to form because we went back to recording without reference to what anybody else said. So we learned the hard way that dealing with the big boys wasn’t all it had been cracked up to be. Some of the people at Atlantic knew absolutely nothing. It meant nothing to them. They could have been selling baked beans! I guess it looks pretty obvious looking at it from an outsider’s perspective but when you’re in there you want to impress these people. Here’s our new record! But they just wanted to play us the new Twisted Sister album instead. We’d come all the way to New York from New Jersey, two and a half hours for a meeting about our album and they wanted to play us somebody else’s record!”
But still you were doing good business on the road weren’t you? It’s strange that everybody says the industry is dead now and that touring is what keeps bands alive – but that live side has always been the best for Raven, hasn’t it? “Yes. Don’t get me wrong, I love the creative aspect. I love sitting with a guitar or a bass and a recording device of some kind and coming up with new music. ‘Wow! That wasn’t there before, and now there’s something!’ – and then you take it to the guys, they throw in their ten cents worth and you come up with a monster. That’s awesome. But we’re a live band. Very much so. That’s our bread and butter and we feel that we’re better at it than just about anybody. Get out there, entertain the audience and squeeze their short and curlies til they scream – every show. One hundred per cent, no excuses. In fact no matter how you feel, if you’re sick, whatever problems you may have, once you’re on the stage it’s one hundred and ten per cent”.
Having said that – and you’ve been doing this a long time now – you must have noticed that the reaction to Raven from audiences in the North East of England was different to Audiences in the North East of the USA they first time you played there. Is that still the same, or are audiences starting to get a little more similar thanks to notions like the Global village? “I would say they are getting a little more similar. Even when we first went down to the South of England from the North East the audiences were much more ‘impress me’, just standing around… so you just re-calibrate, fire a few more weapons and pull them over to your cause! That seems to have gone away, in the last ten years London audiences have been great. But places like Brazil, the passion is off the charts. And surprisingly Japan, whose society seems so prim and proper… the shows there are crazy! The fans are totally committed! They don’t speak a word of English but know every word to every song! Any place that doesn’t see too many bands is generally good. You always get rewarded by wonderful audiences. I remember in the nineties the first time we played Greece the fans were amazing. Before we get to Australia we’ll be playing Mexico for the first time as well, and I know we have a crazy following there. We’re playing Chile and Ecuador for the first time too. So we’ll be match fit and ready to go!”
Match fitness is very important! Could you ever have dreamed in 1974 that years later you’d be playing in places like Ecuador? “Of course not! I couldn’t have imagined we’d even be able to play the hallowed ground of The Mayfair Ballroom in Newcastle. And that was just down the street! We’ve always done this for the love of it. We love what we do. You put up with a lot of bullshit in order to do it… the process of recording the new album has been an absolute nightmare. Having to deal with crazy engineers, ridiculous stuff. But it’s all worth it because the new album is better than the last one. You just have to grit your teeth and get through it. You have to go through A and B to get to C”.
An admirably phlegmatic may of looking at it! The tour down here is being done in tandem with Venom Inc and Girlschool – what memories do you have of your first contact with those two bands? “Well, we first met Girlschool when we did a tour with them in the UK in 1982. We supported them for twenty seven, twenty eight dates and it was great! So much fun. Back in those days they could drink anyone under the table. They were totally crazy! I remember the last date was in Glasgow and we did Johnny B Goode with them onstage. And then in 2013 they opened up for us in Europe. We all travelled together in the same bus which was great fun, They are all good people. And Venom? Well Jeff (Mantas) never said boo to a goose when I first met them, so the first time I really talked to him was about seven years ago when I got the whole Venom story first hand from him! And Tony Dolan I’ve known since ’82, when he was in Atomkraft. They’re great lads… so basically everyone’s family and it’s going to be great!”
See Raven on tour awith Girlschool and Venom Inc:
26 June – The Basement – Canberra
27 June – The Zoo – Brisbane
28 June – The Manning – Sydney
29 June – Croxton Bandroom – Melbourne