Slamer: Anywhere but nowhere for this melodic rock legend.
Mike Slamer talks about the killer new Slamer album, working with Terry Brock and his other work with Steelhouse Lane and Seventh Key.
G'Day Mike, Nice to talk to you again, this time to cover a new project from you the debut Slamer release.
Nice to talk to you too.
First of all - the critical response to this album is among the finest reviews of your career to date. That's obviously going to give you a great deal of satisfaction, but what else do you draw from such reviews?
When you put as much time and energy as I did into this album it's brilliant when you get some great reviews. I wasn't sure how this album was going to be received because there are quite a few songs that don't fall into the typical melodic rock format.
This sort of response is an endorsement that it's ok to be a little creative and unpredictable, and I think rock music needs to be more of both.
The last few years have been spent working with Billy Greer, which has obviously been rewarding for you - as Billy is along for the ride here again...
My relationship with Billy is very special. After I had written the music for Come To me and Strength To Carry On, I new Billy was the person I needed to complete these songs.
As I recall, you originally envisaged a solo Mike Slamer album that was to feature multiple vocalists. Why swap to the band bane Slamer and what sealed it for you to work only with Terry Brock?
To use multiple vocalists I would have had to send tracks off all over the place and I wouldn't have had any control or input during the actual recording. I decided there was no way I was going to put myself in that situation. So then I looked around and tried out a few singers but that didn't work out. It finally became obvious that I should ask Terry if he would be interested.
To the legend that is Mr. Brock - he's an amazing talent is he not? Tell me about working with him on this material. What did Terry bring to this album?
It's hard to explain really. Terry came out to work on the album and the initial plan was for him to spend 3 weeks. After the first week he began to understand the more cinematic type of approach I was taking and he also started to pick up on the 70's and 80's influences.
That's when the chemistry began and Terry started suggesting melodies and phrases and became a true partner in the album. He stayed for over 5 weeks and his contribution was critical to this album being what it is.
Nowhere Land is a very slick record highly polished slice of melodic rock. I like the fact that you only release an album when you are ready...not a minute earlier!
Just how much time went into the recording process for this album?
Oh, way too much. The album was done over a 24 month period but with lots of interruptions. I had to work on other projects during this period. There was never
a real deadline for the album and that was the only way I would do it. I delivered it when I thought it was ready.
And before that commenced - how about the songwriting process? Some of the songs on Nowhere land are extremely intricate and multi-layered. Is that a pre-written plan, or does that evolve in the studio?
I didn't wait until I had 11 or 12 songs before I started cutting tracks. I started recording as soon as I thought the arrangement was strong. Because the songs had no vocals as such (just me singing key phrases or melody ideas) when Terry and I started working on them things changed and evolved, yes.
But when I was writing I wanted the music to be interesting, and when the ideas where strong enough, let them develop without the limitations of a typical AOR Melodic Rock album.
So you start with a blue print only before hitting the studio?
Yes, blue print only.
Two things in particular strike me about this album - firstly the bigger emphasis on some progressive passages of music. Tell us about that and is that something we might here more from you in the future?
Other people have said that but I don't really think it is progressive. I know I have, at times, agreed that it is a little progressive in other interviews but I am taking it back. This is why. In the 70's and early 80's, when Rock was at it's best, it was creative, melodic and interesting. I never thought of City Boy, Jethro Tull, Queen etc as progressive bands. Today everyone likes music to fall into specific categories, that was never what rock was about and so I decided I wanted my album to be a little more creative and interesting. I hope to do another Slamer album with Terry and if so, my approach will be along the same lines.
The second thing was the overall tempo of the album - compared to Seventh Key and Steelhouse Lane and in spite of the progressive parts, the album is mellower than I think anyone has heard from you thus far. More reflective even. What are your thoughts on this?
It's just the way it turned out. I didn't go for a mellow or hard album, I just wrote what I was feeling. I wanted the music and lyrics to be in sync. In the same way a good score supports a film. I do think it could have had one more up tempo rocker in retrospect.
Having said that - then you have Superstar which is perhaps the heaviest track I have heard from you! That's some contrast from the soulful balladry of Come To Me and Beyond The Pale! How do you make such night and day contracts work within the confines of one album?
That's a good question....I don't know. If you take Superstar for example, the hard guitars in the verse and chorus release into a more City Boy / Yes type of pre-chorus and the release after the solo drops down to a cello and vocal.
But to me it is in sync with the dynamic of the story. I don't like to analyze my songs too much I just go with my gut feeling. I either think, "this is working" or time to re-write". The opening track Nowhere Land helps to set the stage because it contains so many elements, hard guitars, softer guitars, keyboards, orchestra and interesting vocal arrangements.
Any live shows planned for Slamer? Something like the Seventh Key live event?
I'm ready if anyone wants to book us?
It wasn't one of my favorite musical tracks, but I loved the lyrical sentiment of Audio Illusion. As an artist and producer, you obviously share the frustration us out here in the general public feel with prefabricated music and manufactured pop/reality?
Yes I do.
Is there anything we or you even, can do about the state of the business?
Will listeners wise up?
In America, radio and the major labels have destroyed music. Rock radio over here is listening to Stairway To Heaven or Sweet Home Alabama for the ten thousandth time. If your a rock band looking for a deal and your not blatantly aggressive ....forget it. So who knows? But I don't think anything is going to change in the near future.
Taking a look back over your career to date there are some amazing records you have been involved in. To take a quick look at those in hindsight -
City Boy - Did your early career with City Boy set you up to be able to do what you wanted to in later years?
If by "set you up" you mean financially, absolutely not. City Boy had a pretty good reputation within the industry and I was surprised, when I came to the states, how many people still really liked the band. So that helped a little bit.
You had three charting singles over the span of 6 albums - with the utmost respect to that awesome achievement, a major label would likely not be patient enough with any band achieving that in this day and age, would they?
Are you kidding.....patience.....developing a band....absolutely not!
Streets - Your first liaison with Billy Greer. How did you wind up in the
States after City Boy?
After City Boy split up my wife and I happened to be in New York, I asked a friend if she new of any situations that might be interesting and she happened to ask Jeff Glixman (Kansas producer). Jeff was a City Boy fan and mentioned it to Steve Walsh who then called me about a solo project he was trying to put together.
We talked about it for a while and I said I was very interested. Nearly five months went by before I heard from him again and this time he said "can you be in Atlanta tomorrow". I was back in England so I asked him if I could have a couple of days to make arrangements and that was that.
Like all your projects, these seemed to become cult classics! Why do you think that was so?
I think when you do something that people think is really good, but it doesn't become popular in the main stream you tend to get a cult following.
Steelhouse Lane - An amazing pair of records, but I want to ask about the all-original material of the Slaves album. That stands today as still a simply amazing record.
Thanks Andrew !
Did you feel the magic of that album while creating it, or is some of that magic borne out of the challenge of getting that record done?
I don't want to sound boring but I just wanted to make a good rock album. I managed to find Keith Slack and it worked out great.
Obviously Slamer is close, but fans of the Slaves record and what it delivered still hold out for a third Steelhouse record...do you ever see that happening?
I don't think so, Keith isn't really into that sort of music and it wouldn't be Stealhouse Lane without him.
I was disappointed the record with Chris Thompson didn't turn out as planned. Can you pinpoint where the process veered off-course? I loved his contribution to Slaves....
Well the album was originally going to be Thompson/Slamer but then things changed politically so I just took Chris's lead for the most part.
Seventh Key - I have already covered these with Billy, but what are your highlights of the time spent on these albums? Is the next step to get ready for a third studio album?
Doing 7th Key albums with Billy is a highlight. Billy is such a great guy that I always look forward to working together.
We also like the same food and wine. We have already started working on a couple of ideas for the next album.
Speaking of next - what is next for you Mike? What can we expect from you in the next 18 months or so and thereon after?
I am going to do Terry's solo album as soon as he has time to do it. Then Billy and I will start the next 7th Key album and I will also be working on a new music library for
Anything you would like to add Mike?
Yes, thanks for wanting to do the interview Andrew, and sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I'd also like to say a big thank you to everyone who ever bought a City Boy, Streets, Steelhouse Lane or 7th Key album and I really hope they like Slamer.
Cheers for taking the time to do this interview - much appreciated!