Brit rockers Space Elevator have weathered the pandemic well. Despite losing a couple of European tours – one of which, in support of famed rock songwriter to the stars Russ Ballard, was the sort of jaunt any muso worth their salt would donate a kidney to be part of – the band find themselves, at the start of 2022, in good shape and with a new album, Persona Non Grata, set for release today. We here at Sentinel Daily have been long term fans of the band so of course we jumped at the chance for a chinwag with the band’s avuncular guitarist David Young about all things spatial…

Two tours down the Swanny – it’s obviously been a difficult time for everybody in the music industry – how have you, as perhaps a less well-established act with just the two albums out, held things together during the pandemic? And, when the time came given the layoff, how hard was it to get up and running again and get stuck in to album number three? “Easier than expected. Or maybe the outcome was easier than I expected and I’m forgetting how hard the process was! The tour supporting Russ Ballard was meant to be in March/April 2020. The first date was set to be in Frankfurt on the Friday, but the tour was cancelled on the Wednesday. That’s how close we got. At that point we we already writing for the third album. A hugely important person in the middle of all this has been our producer Adam Vanryne; (recording software) Cubase, hastened by the pandemic, put all their software up on the cloud, which meant that we could load up our parts individually as we did them and then he, being a genius, was able to make sense of it all. I don’t think Cubase had foreseen bands doing entire albums this way; it seemed like more of a way to musicians to get the odd track out, and with our music being a bit more complex than just an acoustic guitar and a violin, Adam had to take completed songs down to give us room to work on new stuff. Before we were working in this way, we’d work in a relatively ‘steam-driven’ process of recording parts and emailing them to one another. That’s how we made demos, and then the band would appear in the recording studio and work on them again. Using Cubase, everybody was able to work at a much ‘higher level’ and add their own parts even before we got to the demo stage. We went into the full recording having all already more or less done an album’s worth full of demos. So, to answer your original question, it wasn’t too bad… I don’t think there was any difficulty from a motivational point of view either! It was a lengthy process, and, although we recorded our parts in isolation from each other Adam turned it into something that sounds like a ‘proper’ studio album”.

That whole decision beggars belief to me; as noted in our review of the album, to me it’s the best sounding thing the band has ever done. It’s as much the space between the sounds as the actual recorded music… there’s less compression, and as an old fogey it sounds to me, like you say, as a ‘proper’ studio album should sound. And when you say it was made by five people in isolation with a producer off site somewhere else… even in this day and age that’s quite a hard concept to get the head around. “I think you’re right about the sound being better. The whole process was new to Adam as well, but he said he thought it would work, that it would be all right… Brian (Green, drummer) gives lessons in his home in High Wycombe, he has an electronic kit set up there. Adam went round to his house to set it up for recording but described it as like ‘a bomb going off in a telephone kiosk’! He had to rebuild the room for recording. It took him about three weeks. But consequently the drums on the record sound incredible! Adam did that for all of us, driving round to everybody’s house to make sure they were suitable for recording. Apart from The Duchess, who recorded her vocals down at (keyboard player extraordinaire) Mike Moran‘s studio”.

What was the biggest difficulty with this process do you think? “For me, it was sitting in a room on my own doing a take and not knowing whether it was any good or not. Or not knowing whether the sound you’re using is right… I found that really challenging. But on the other hand you’re not looking at a studio clock thinking ‘oh my God, getting this guitar solo right has just cost me another hundred quid!”.

You’re putting this album out yourselves? “Yes and no. We’re putting out ourselves through Plastic Head Distribution in the UK, but it’s going out in Europe on a label called On Stage Records. They are a relatively new label, who also promote tours. They were promoting the Russ Ballard tour that fell through. They are based in Bremen in Germany. When we were with our last label (SPV/Steamhammer), it was still me trying to sort out gigs – as you know there’s often no synergy at all between a band’s record label and their booking agent. We’re hoping that this set up – and the deal with On Stage will eventually cover all of the world apart from the UK – will work well for us. It’s good for us at the moment because a band at our level really need to sell it’s own physical product itself as much as possible, whether off of the website or at gigs. Maximise the income. Because although recording the way we did was cheaper than using a studio, it wasn’t as much cheaper as you might think”.

All that being the case, will there be any touring and, by extension, merch sale opportunities this year? Or is the ongoing venue availability logjam as backed up tours get out and about causing you grief? “Well, we were touring Europe in April, but that has been put back to 2023; In terms of the UK we doing the Cambridge Rock Festival on June 17th, and we’re looking at doing shows the day before and after that if possible. Chas (Maguire, bass) has relocated to the Netherlands so it will be good to get gigs as close together as possible rather than doing the odd date here and there. We will get out and we will play!”

We’ll take a break from the album now and play a little game. “Ok (sounding doubtful)”. We doing a little side feature with everyone we interview at the moment called Building The Perfect Beast where we ask the interviewee to put together their perfect hard rock or heavy metal band, alive or dead. You get to pick a singer, two guitarists – either two lead players or a lead and a rhythm player, a bassist, drummer and keyboard player if so required. “The problem is, I’ll answer this today and then come up with a completely different answer tomorrow!”

That’s perfectly OK. So, who are you having as a singer? “I’m going to pick the first person who comes into my head… and that would be Freddie Mercury“.

What’s your guitar configuration going to be? “Well, although Brian May is my favourite guitarist I’m going to make a point of not having more than one person from any one band. My guitar configuration would have to be… My God! you’d think this would be easy, but it’s bloody hard! I’ll go for Steve Lukather – I’ve been listening to loads of Toto recently – I’ll go for a second lead guitarist. But the guy I’ll pick is someone whose rhythm playing I love too – Francis Dunnery“.

I’ll talk to you more about Francis Dunnery later – don’t say any more! Now, who is your bass player? “I’ll go for Phil Lynott. Just as an aside… I don’t think his bass playing is as noticed as it should be, because of his charisma, his songwriting, but nobody really played the bass like him”.

Nobody. Drummer? “I’d probably say… Phil Collins“.

Controversial! “Is he? Not Phil Collins now, obviously… I’m torn between him and Neil Peart, but Neil Peart is too much of a ‘Rush‘ drummer, if you see what I mean. I can see Phil fitting in to my supergroup more easily”.

Fair enough. What about a keyboard player? “Bloody hell, that’s tricky. There are players I like, but I’m trying to stay awy from bands I’ve mentioned. I’m a big fan of piano playing rather than ‘keys’ per se; I’ll go for… what’s the name of the main guitar player from Saga? I listen to a lot of Saga. I’m thumbing through my record collection now to find someone… I’ve got to go for Mike Moran. I know we’ve done stuff with him but I’ll have to go for him”.

Jim Gilmore was the keyboard player in Saga. “Was it? No, let’s leave Mike in. Bloody hell, I bet that took longer than you were expecting”.

Not only did it take longer than I was expecting, it messed up my next question. I was going to ask -safe in the knowledge that they wouldn’t feature – where (It Bites frontman) Francis Dunnery and Stevie Nicks were in the big picture, seeing as how they both feature as subjects on the new album… “I haven’t played the track to Frank yet. I was going to do it tonight but Rangers are playing Celtic and he’s a big Celtic Fan (Young is a Rangers man-Ed) so if that goes the wrong way I might have to postpone again! The Frank Dunnery thing (Cheerful Frank as described on Persona Non Grata)… the main part of that song (hums piano riff) was written on acoustic guitar. I don’t write lyrics, but I start most of the songs in the writing process. I was playing around the chord sequence of the intro, and it put me in mind of a Francis Dunnery solo type of thing. I’m always looking for working titles, just as a reference. I wrote down Cheerful Frank. It didn’t make me think of It Bites, who I’m much more clued up on. Ironically The Duchess is more of a fan of Dunnery’s solo stuff than It Bites. I told her I’d called it Cheerful Frank but I wasn’t much expecting her to write a song about him, much less with that title! I’d actually just seen a film about Bonny and Clyde where Kevin Costner played a really miserable bloke called Frank – I suggested she write something about that! Anyway, time went on, and we went to Mike Moran’s house to record her vocals, when she said ‘I’ve just written a song about Francis Dunnery!’ and as you know there are lots of It Bites references in it… and she went for it. It’s got a sort of carnival, eighties Carnaby Street feel to it”.

It makes me think more of a nineties kind of Britpop feel. “Yeah, that makes sense! I hadn’t thought of it like that but I do know what you mean. It is very British. And it feels sunny and nostalgic”.

And what about Stevie Nicks? “Well, remember I’m not the one who wrote the lyrics. It’s the well-known story of somebody who is a bit down on their luck, is trying to get confidence, get a bit inspired. There are actually four rock stars mentioned in the chorus of that song – Thunder‘s Luke Morley (the Duchess sings backing vocals for Thunder), Rickie Lee Jones, Alice Cooper and, of course Stevie Nicks. We like Fleetwood Mac, The Duchess likes Stevie Nicks… beyond that I couldn’t really say. It scanned nicely, it seemed like a nice name for a song and the lyric worked really well! It’s really about somebody being inspired by a set of musicians, as opposed to a song just about Stevie Nicks. Whereas Cheerful Frank…” (tails off into laughter).

“Can I change My mind?” Yes. “I put in Francis Dunnery because I knew nobody else was going to pick him – they’ll all be going for Jimmy Page. But in view of the story I’ve just told, and in view of the fact that I have Steve Lukather in the band, I’d like to put Brian Robertson in instead”.

I don’t have the heart to point out that, by David’s own rules, Robbo is ineligible because he’s already picked one Thin Lizzy member in Phil Lynott. So I let it go. I’m nothing if not a kind man.

So there you have it; we spend the rest of our allotted time extemporising on the theme of favourite musos – David is very graceful when I dismiss Robbo in favour of John Sykes as far as fave Lizzy guitarists are concerned. We have to wrap this up – anything else you’d like our readers to know about Space Elevator or the new album? “Just to say that Michael Bramwell, who played keyboards on Space Elevator II is back and we’re hoping he’ll be able to do the live shows with us. He’s the difference between the ‘boxing gloves on a piano’ playing you hear from me on the demo version of First Girl On The Moon to the fine playin on the album… and to say that I personally love the record, I think it sounds great – we all stand behind every one of the songs. The playing is better than it ever has been before and I think the Duchess is singing better than she ever has. And she has a lot to say in the lyrics”.

Couldn’t have reviewed it better myself!

Persona Non Grata is out now.