Magnum: A brand new sound for latest CD.

Magnum Interview with Bob Catley and Tony Clarkin by Sven Horlemann - from the Bang Your Head Festival 2004

At the Bang-Your-Head Festival in Germany (read the review here) I had the chance to talk to Bob Catley. It was fun to talk to him (as you will see in the interview). By chance Ollie from SPV got me another 15 minutes with Tony Clarkin, and I didn't had to think twice about interviewing one of my guitar idols. Thanks go out also to Mirko for making it happen.

MelodicRock – Hello Bob, thank you for taking your time to talk to MelodicRock.com
Bob – Oh oh I lost my voice I can't speak.
MelodicRock – I had the chance to talk to Lenny from Kingdom Come yesterday, though right after the concert all interviews where cancelled because he caught a cold and the voice was gone.
Bob – Lenny Kravitz?

MelodicRock – Oh no, more like Lenny Wolf from Kingdom Come.
Bob – (fumbling with some cigarettes) I am going to blow some smoke in your face. Ah, filthy habit. (begins to sing).

MelodicRock – …
Bob – Have we started yet?

MelodicRock – Yes.
Bob – Ok. What's your name again?

MelodicRock – I am Sven writing for MelodicRock.com. And I know the webmaster Andrew is very much into Magnum.
Bob – Ah that's nice. [Good of Bob to remember our last encounter at The Gods 2003….but I guess he was a few drinks into the day!! – Andrew]

MelodicRock – It was great to hear two new songs from the upcoming record 'Brand New Morning' live this afternoon.
Bob – Yeah, 'We All Run' and 'Brand New Morning'.

MelodicRock – 'We All Run' is one of those songs where you get instantly hooked on.
Bob – That is great. And it shows it works. We thought it was the right thing to do. It's a nice commercial number that everybody can listen to and enjoy. The hook is there, nothing too heavy, like a party sing along song. It is actually about the holocaust…

MelodicRock – No!
Bob – Yeah. The nuclear holocaust. The songs starts with (begins to sing)
'I dreamt I saw the cities burning, at the gates I saw the angels cry.
Now there be no turning, and still I wonder why.
I dreamt I felt the hand of reason, coming slowly down and pass me by.
It's just a killing season, yeah it's a foolish lie.
We all run, it's a pity for every one.
It's all gone, and there's nothing that can be done.'

So you got the cities burning and the gates of heaven in the first sentence. There is all this stuff going on. (Recording it) I thought what did I just sang? It was wonderful. With 'the hand of reason that passes me by' that means there is no sense, no meaning.
You know, we all get away from the bombs, get away from the nuclear shit. But we do it like in a swing-your-arms-thing, you know. 'We all gonna get killed' (waves his arms)… if they only new what we were singing about! They have to go home and put the words in front of them, because we always put the words on the album, right, always did always will. And you go 'Wait a minute, this is about people dying'. We simply put these lyrics in a light, melodic way, you know. 'We All Run' could have been written as a speed / thrash / metal song. It could have been done that way.

MelodicRock – Is there a different concept behind 'Brand New Morning', because the cover is very dark with a kind of sinister atmosphere…
Bob – Oh, everybody is saying that. It is dark, whatever. I think it is fine. I think it reflects a lot of the lyrics on the album. Ok, there is a scarecrow. I think it looks fine. Sue me (laughs). You know, the lyrics are darker on that album, much darker. Magnum have done dark lyrics before. Right from the first album. What do you think 'Kingdom Of Madness' is all about? But we don't do it in a thrash metal way. Only because the lyrics are dark, it hasn't to be (grunts into the mic), you know.
We are a heavy lyric band. We are a rock band that does lyrically heavy songs. Talk to the man who does the songs (pointing to Tony sitting at a different table across the room). Talk to him.
With the song 'Brand New Morning' it is like the first day of the rest of your life. Forget everything else. Just wake up with the sun shining and start living. I only got one life. Same as you. So stop bitchin' about it and get on with it. That is what 'Brand New Morning' is all about. 'Spread your wings and you'll take flight'. Come on, what a good line is this? Ha!
I am very proud on the lyrics of this album. Especially Magnum has to be like so good for it to exist any longer. It has to be extra special for all fans. And nothing else we are going to do.

MelodicRock – Have you written any lyrics yourself this time?
Bob – Tony Clarkin writes the words. Tony is the most superb songwriter I've ever known. I just sing 'em, you know. Tony gives me words some time I don't … it doesn't hit me until we recorded the album. And when I take it home I go 'Ok, this is the finished album, let's see what we've done'. So this is what the world is going to hear in three months time, right?
Then I sit down. Cause when you are working on it, it just gets past you, you try to get some music down. Sounds good – ok. You don't analyze it too much. When you've done it and it is there you take it home. Then you put the album on. I can't listen to it straight away afterwards. But when I put it on properly – am I saying the right things? – I think 'Well, that's brilliant!'. I hope that is what gets across the people.

MelodicRock – Being right into the creative process it is hard to keep your distance and judge on your own material.
Bob – Somebody else must tell me if it is a good song. I don't know but I think it is. Tony comes with his stuff and I say 'Tony that is wonderful'. And he asks 'Is it any good?'. And I say 'It is brilliant!'. And he goes 'You are right!'.
You know, you are trying to make something that is really great. And you got to like it. Of course everybody else is going to like it even more than us. It is difficult some times. You are too close to it. Hopefully we get it right.

MelodicRock – How do you get attracted to the songs?
Bob – The first time when Tony writes down the words for me and the music is there because the tracks are done, but of course there is no singing. Tony sings to me in the studio. He puts the words down and of course we can change them if I don't like them, right? And he plays it. I then have to write it down in my own handwriting because his writing is very calligraphic. It is wonderful, but I can't read it. I have to put it down in block capitals, big letters. Like in TV with those teleprompters. And then I try to get the melody right, and see if this works. Then I realize what the words are. I don't look at the lyrics at first. Cause when you are doing it you are just trying to get it right.

MelodicRock – As a singer it is not only the melody and the words, it is also the phrasing that makes the difference.
Bob – The phrasing is most important. It got to sound natural. The way you phrase it has to live and be part of the music. And then you get it right. Also it is easy on your ear.

MelodicRock – Tony is also producing the Magnum albums…
Bob – Oh, Tony is a very good producer. He is not an engineer, he is a producer. He tells you what he wants. We use an engineer.
He goes like 'Play me one more time.', and it's the hundredths time he said that. He is never convinced. It takes him a long time to decide whether it is right. The right balance, the right mix, is everything there? And it takes a long time. But it is worth it. You can't make an album in ten minutes. Forget it. It is not going to happen.

MelodicRock – I don't know Breath Of Life, but …
Bob – 'Breath Of Life' is a good album. But this album is better.

MelodicRock – And what about the Hard Rain interlude?
Bob – Hard Rain was an intermediate thing that we did in between Magnum breaking up all those years ago. This was something we wanted to do. We didn't have to be Magnum, we could have done anything we wanted. Anything. But then everybody is going 'Oh, it is not Magnum', and I said 'Well, it is not supposed to be Magnum!', you know. But with me and Tony they were expecting Magnum.
Magnum wasn't working then. It had gone. It was finished. But we never closed the book. It was always there. And we did Hard Rain with two albums, two tours, and it was pretty good. We had some pretty good songs on these albums. Still everybody was going 'Oh, it is not Magnum…'.
So we asked ourselves: should we do Magnum again? And we said, ok, we can manage Magnum one more time. So by public demand, we are back. It is only because of the fans wanted us back.

MelodicRock – The songs Magnum stands for are such classics, they are a value for a lot of people.
Bob – Well, yes, thank you. I do hope we have classic songs. This is what the people who buy our records have to say, not me. I need people to say that to me (laughs).

MelodicRock – You got a lot of classic songs that mean a lot to the people.
Bob – When I see people in the audience sings our songs, I can't believe it. Their reaction just chokes me up. Sometimes I think 'Don't do that, I'm trying to sing here' (laughing).

MelodicRock – I got the impression your voice got better with the years.
Bob – It got better? That is because I am really old.

MelodicRock – I really mean it. It was like with Phil Mogg from UFO, he still got that impressive voice. You still have that power …
Bob – Well, we just got better. Everybody is saying the same things. I thought it was always good. But it just got better I guess. Maybe I am better than I was. You are not saying I was crap before (grins)? All right, so I am good now. I am joking of course…

MelodicRock – I feel a difference between the role of the keyboards in the past and today.
Bob – The keyboards still play a big part on the new record. There is a lot of keyboards on the new record. It is those little keyboard touches. We've developed over the years, like every band would. It is quiet different now. Before we were a pomp band. That's what we were told. Now we don't do this stuff anymore, so… Let's have an argument!
… we are different now. We have a lot of atmospheric things going on now. The keyboards are still very important. On the stage there are still the big chords. We tend to push the little touches more for the stereo effect and the atmosphere on the record. On stage you can't do that stuff so you just do the big chords. But that's how it always used to be. So nothing has changed there life. We are the same band life. On record we try to be a little more posh than on stage. We wanted a nice, classic production. You know, that's what we wanted to do.
I think this new album sounds like a band in there playing. And with Harry on the drums, he is holding all together for us, which we hadn't had for a long time. He is really good for us and now we got the right drums for us. And now we can be that big monster rock band again, and we are all back into it. But we still wonna do these nice keyboard touches, you know. Which is easy, you know, Mark comes in and Tony says 'try this and this', and it is more like some of these new production techniques.
We don't have this on stage, because there is no backing tape, it is all live. Live we are going to the basic bump and grind. It is like two different band. There is a recording Magnum, and a live Magnum.

MelodicRock – You have two new members since the reunion…
Bob – Yes it is Al Barrow, he was also bass player on Hard Rain. He was with us on the last Magnum tour, the 'Breath Of Life' tour, and he is with us now. To a lot of people he is very new. They ask 'Where is Wally?'. I mean, he is not in Magnum since 1995. Just like 9 years ago! He is gone. Al fits perfect.
Who else would I want on my right side on stage? Nobody but Al. Who would I want behind me? Harry. And left of me? Tony, who else. It just works. It is like it should be.

MelodicRock – Are their any tours coming up?
Bob – September, October and November. The European tour is mainly Germany. This is our biggest market. Always was. Still is.

MelodicRock – Not so much in France?
Bob – No, but I don't know why. We used to play Paris, but that was it. We never did a French tour. I would have loved to. Italy is the same. We did Milan and Bologna and that was it. What happened to Rome (laughs)?
It is to others to decide what should happen, not me. I'm not into booking the band, I'm just singing the songs.

MelodicRock – You feel comfortable here, at this is a heavy metal festival?
Bob – Yeah. I am fine. There is definitely a place for us today. I'd like to be on stage a bit later, but maybe next time. You know, when it is getting dark and the lights are coming down. I would like that then.

MelodicRock – Yes but it is nine o'clock and still light.
Bob – Yeah, it is still light.

MelodicRock – You got some solo things in the works.
Bob – Solo stuff is still happening. I do it in between Magnum any way it works. So with Tony organizing Magnum and when that's finished my manager and I can organize my solo stuff. Everybody feels comfortable with that. I will be doing some festivals next year.

MelodicRock – Any new directions on your solo records?
Bob – It is pretty similar to Magnum, you know. It is a bit heavier. Vince [O'Regan] plays some more metal riffs than Tony does. Vince is a metal guitarist. The lyrics are a little more 'metal'. Whatever a metal lyric is, I don't know. It is all about war and killing people and having a drink in the pub.

MelodicRock – One could have expected you turn more melodic, more soft on your solo albums.
Bob – Oh no, I am into more heavier. I like the hard rock and metal stuff, I do. I am a big Ronnie James Dio fan. A lot of the songs on the last album I did my Ronnie James Dio impersonation. Pretty well I thought, thank you very much. I am sure Ronnie would have been very proud of me (laughs).

MelodicRock – Dio were headlining last years Bang-Your-Head festival.
Bob – We are good friends. We met a few times and had a few beers together. He is a nice chap.
I wouldn't copy anybody, but I am influenced sometimes. And Ronnie is a big hero of mine, so why not. We all need a hero. And Ronnie Dio is my hero. I think his vocal performance is absolutely wonderful. If I can approach that sometimes then I am happy. It doesn't work with Magnum, but with my own stuff, that is mine, you know. In the old days David Coverdale used to influence my voice. Or Steve Perry. I do more Steve Perry with Magnum then I do with anything. Because I am a big fan of the guy. That's respect. That is good.

MelodicRock – Can you feel that there is a classic rock revival, not in a dated way, but people seem to be more open to melodic rock these days.
Bob – Something is happening. I don't know what, but something is happening for the better.

MelodicRock – Thanks for your time Bob, hope to see you on your tour.
Bob – Thank you.

We were fortunate enough to get another 15 minutes with Tony Clarkin, so I changed places and fired my questions.

MelodicRock – Since the reunion of Magnum the albums seem to by darker. I thought that maybe this is due to a certain change within Magnum. Is this intentional?
Tony – Really, there is no plan at all. I just write my songs. And we just went to the studio after I demoed them and that is it. You know, I don't even use proper guitars on the demos. It's all drum machines and guitar processors. And then we start producing properly. It just worked out really as it is. No plan. But I mean I am very pleased with it. I have to say that. It's a bit heavier and I like that. I don't know, I really don't know.

MelodicRock – The new CD is straighter and much heavier. Maybe this is because the role of the keyboards, providing major themes within the songs, changed.
Tony – Yeah it is more guitar orientated. So I guess this gives it a heavier sound. But I don't know. It was a very easy album to record. I mean Harry (James) he comes in and plays the drums for the whole album in two days. Al (Barrows) pretty much did the same with the bass. It was really easy to record which is great when it is over, you know. Whether it makes any difference to anyone listening I don't know. But it is nice to say it wasn't and album you go 'oh oh' after you finished it.

MelodicRock – 'We All Run' from the upcoming album is such a good song to show of the new CD and generate interest. The lyrical concept behind it is quiet surprising as Bob told me.
Tony – The idea of the song is that we ignore the important things in life. And the actual verse is really poetic license. I was trying to create a picture. And when it goes 'We all run' it is like we don't care anymore. Like with the cities are burning, like people starving to death, that kind of things. So that's what it means.

MelodicRock – That's comforting to hear. After Bob's explanation I was flattered by him saying it is about nuclear holocaust.
Tony – (Laughing).

MelodicRock – Of course in Germany people usually don't understand the lyrics, especially when they hear a song for the first time in a live concert. Talking about your pre-production you mentioned demoing at home. Do you work on a computer?
Tony – Yeah. I am on a Mac.

MelodicRock – Are you running Pro-tools or Nuendo?
Tony – No, I use Logic. But I really don't do complicated things there. I get my drum rhythms down and record some pilot guitars.

MelodicRock – Tony, about things to happen in the future – what are you going to do with Magnum?
Tony – We will start touring in September in Great Britain, Germany, and in Japan.

MelodicRock – How is your reception in Japan?
Tony – Well, we've never played there ever. It may not come off, but it looks like it will come off. The rest of the tour will be Scandinavia so we will be quiet busy.

MelodicRock – Seems to my it was the right decision for you and Bob to bring Magnum back together again.
Tony – Of course there was a 7 years gap (filled with Hard Rain, also fronted by Bob Catley). But I feel fresh and good again.

MelodicRock – Last years appearance at Bang-Your-Head had to be cancelled due to health reasons. This is well behind you now?
Tony – Yeah, I seem to be ok.

MelodicRock – Tony, thank you for taking your time to talk to MelodicRock.com.
Tony – Oh, thank you.