BRIAN ROBERTSON INTERVIEW:
March 13, 2011
Brian Robertson’s debut album as a solo artist, Diamonds And Dirt, has been decades in the making. Robbo, as many of his fans call him, has played in great bands such as Thin Lizzy, Wild Horses, Motorhead and Frankie Miller’s band. On Diamonds And Dirt Robbo was joined by vocalist Leif Sundin (Michael Schenker Group), background singer Liny Wood, drummer Ian Haugland (Europe) and bassist Nalley Pahlsson (Treat). Recently Sleaze Roxx had an opportunity to talk with Robbo about his body of work, his new album Diamonds And Dirt, his time in Motorhead, his thoughts on the resurrection of Thin Lizzy and the passing of his friend Gary Moore. This is a good one… enjoy.
Sleaze Roxx: Brian, you will be releasing the first solo effort of your career, Diamonds And Dirt, later this month. What’s taken so long in getting a solo effort out?
Brian Robertson: Well, after Thin Lizzy I played in Wild Horses and a lot of my original material went into those two albums. Then after that, as you know, I went on to play with Motorhead and we recorded Another Perfect Day which I wrote most of the music for. After Motorhead I went on to work with Frankie Miller for 10-15 years. I’ve been so busy working on other people’s stuff that I didn’t have time to concentrate on an album of my own.
It wasn’t until we found a bag of cassette tape demos that I had been working on over the years. We drove to England to pick up all of my recording equipment and bring it back to Stockholm (Sweden). I came across a plastic bag that wasn’t marked, but they were obviously demos. I stayed in England, but my friend Soren Lindberg was driving back through five countries so I gave the bag to him to listen to the tapes on his trip back. I thought, if nothing else, it would help break the journey up a bit. Soren got about half way through the trip when he called me from Denmark at some truck stop. He said, “Hey there’s some really great shit on here.” The next thing I know he’s playing some of the tapes through his mobile phone and I started to remember some of the songs. Once I got back to Stockholm Soren and I sat down and listened to the tapes together. It was his idea to do the album… not mine. A lot of the stuff on the demos was written on keyboards, the next thing I needed to do was to transpose it onto guitar. So that’s how it all started… you can credit Mr. Lindberg — it’s all his fault (laughs)!!
Sleaze Roxx: How far back did these demos date back?
Brian Robertson: They date back to right after Thin Lizzy and there were a couple that were from before I joined. Then there was stuff that went back to the early ’90s with the band I had with former Cult drummer Les Warner and Killing Joke bassist Paul Raven — we recorded some 24-track demos together, “Passion”, “Devil In My Soul”, and “Texas Wind”. Like I said before, I had to rewrite the lyrics to reflect where I am today. It was a big undertaking, but it was fun, because you’re not writing from scratch… the ideas are already there. This also applies to the Lizzy tracks that I recorded, they were there but when we recorded them we could have done them a bit differently.
Sleaze Roxx: Diamonds And Dirt features three Frankie Miller penned tracks, “Mail Box”, “Do It Till We Drop (Drop It!)”, and “Ain’t Got No Money”.
Brian Robertson: I spent 10-15 years on and off playing with Frank and he’s your archetypical blues singer if you ask me. That’s not only what I think… Paul Rodgers, Rod Stewart and Robert Palmer have said it in the past as well — all these singer have looked up to Miller. I feel honored to have been his guitarist. We had a great live band when I played with Miller… we had Simon Kirke from Bad Company on drums, Chrissie Stewart on bass, Frankie Miller on rhythm guitar, and myself on guitar. When I was playing with Miller I had a lot to do with the sound we had, with the Les Pauls and the Marshalls kickin’ our ass.
The Miller songs that turned up on the album I had already recorded with The Clan, but they were amateurs… the band I have now are ‘A’ class musicians. “Ain’t Got No Money” was originally recorded for a Frankie Miller tribute record that’s a three album collection by Scottish musicians. When Frankie had his stroke and wasn’t able to sing we got together and did this album for him and we even did a concert for him in Glasgow with Joe Walsh. Joe is an honorary Scotsman (laughs)! The funny thing is, I wanted “Ain’t Got No Money” on the album but I didn’t say anything… then Soren said, “Hey why don’t you put “Ain’t Got No Money” on there?” I said to him, “I was just thinking about that” (laughs)! We got Rob Lamothe (Riverdogs) to record the vocals because Frankie wasn’t fond of my vocal on the track. We brought Rob in from Canada… I think it turned out great.
Sleaze Roxx: Some of the musicians in your band might be familiar to North American audiences. You have Leif Sundin (formerly of Michael Schenker Group) on vocals and Ian Haugland (Europe) on drums — how did they get involved?
Brian Robertson: Let’s start with Leif… I’ve toured with him before around Europe. I’m familiar with him and I wanted a bluesy singer — his voice is similar to Miller’s but slightly quieter. I’ve known Ian for years and I’m very good friends with the guys in Europe. I’m very aware that his drumming skills aren’t very well known because of the songs constructed in Europe. Ian has an incredible ear for music — not just drums, he listens to everything. I could have told Ian what to do, I play drums too as you know, but I can get caught up in telling people what I want to hear. I didn’t do that on this album, I brought Ian and bassist Nalley (Pahlsson) in and showed them the arrangements and gave them an idea of what I wanted. I said to them, “Do whatever the hell you feel sounds good in the song.” I didn’t interfere… they went off and what I heard sounded brilliant. Let’s be honest, those guys are an already made rhythm section.
The album has this family type atmosphere, we know each other pretty well and we don’t have to say a whole lot. Then we have Liny (Wood) who I consider our second lead vocalist. It was weird how she got involved because I didn’t know her. She was next door to us in the studio and she came in one day and asked if she could sit in the control room and listen. She loved what we were doing, what she didn’t know is that I had been doing the same thing. I was listening to the music for her new album. I said to her, “I’ve got to be honest, I really like your album as well.” So she sang on my album and in return I played guitar on hers — no money exchanged hands. It was very much a family deal, and we are very much a family, which is just cool because there are no arguments. Everybody got a chance to showcase their own talents on this album.
Sleaze Roxx: There’s a link to your past with Thin Lizzy on Diamonds And Dirt. There’s a track you wrote with Phil Lynott called “Blues Boy” that wasn’t used before. There are also a couple of covers, “It’s Only Money”, which appeared on Nightlife and “Running Back”, from the classic Jailbreak album.
Brian Robertson: “Blues Boy” was actually a song that was recorded during the Jailbreak album. We had a lot of material for that album… it was a crunch album for Lizzy. If we hadn’t come up with the goods on that album the record company would have dropped us. “Blues Boy” was a self-indulgent thing, it was recorded but never finished. The song was such a good live thing that we took it on the road with us and we played it on the live gigs. We played that over the years as my live blues bit if you will (laughs). I actually have a version of it right here with Huey Lewis playing harmonica on it. I wanted to leave it rough and rugged though because that’s what worked best. I’m really happy with how it turned out.
Sleaze Roxx: I’ll be honest, I happen to like the slow version of “Running Back” on the new album, but it might not be the version that was intended to make the record because a faster version with a new arrangement was first in the sequencing of the album.
Brian Robertson: You do (laughs)? When we were recording “Running Back” for the Jailbreak album — Phil (Lynott) and I had a big bust up over that. I always loved the song. We were sitting in the studio and I said, “This smacks of Little Feat to me.” I went over to the grand piano and started playing a little boogie version of it. Lynott pressed the button on the desk and said, “That’s enough, we’re not doing that!” I got pissed off because I’d only been playing it for about five minutes you know. We had a big argument about it… I recall I told him to ‘fuck off’, he told me to ‘fuck off’ and then I went to the pub. I didn’t play on the version of “Running Back” on the Jailbreak album, its all Scott (Gorham) because I refused to do it. Phil wanted to do it pop… I wanted to do it blues.
So when we were talking about songs for Diamonds And Dirt, we thought why not do the song the way that I wanted to do it initially? I changed the timing, as you know the version on Jailbreak is a shuffle, but the fast version on my album is a 4/4. So we knocked that out in the studio… then I said, “Let’s try a slower version” — again with that Little Feat thing that I had showed Phil, it was still 4/4 but slowed down a bit. It worked and we had such fun doing it that I said, “Let’s do the slower version from rehearsals.” We had about half left in the studio, we did the basic tracks live, and we had such fun recording it. I think it’s unique that we have two versions of a song that aren’t the same as the original and no one ever puts two version of a song on album (laughs)! That’s a bit cheeky. I was thinking to myself, there will be someone that will like the fast version and someone that’ll like the slow version. You’ve just proved my point (laughs)! You said you liked the slow one, right?
Sleaze Roxx: The Lizzy version is what I’m used to hearing, but I really enjoy the slow version that you did on the album.
Brian Robertson: My turn, now I get to put you on the spot. Out of all three which do you like the best?
Sleaze Roxx: I’ll have to go with the slow version.
Brian Robertson: So you like the slow version?
Sleaze Roxx: Yes, even over the Thin Lizzy version.
Brian Robertson: As long as the Thin Lizzy is in there I’m quite happy. I think you made the right decision.
Sleaze Roxx: If you want to know, second would be the fast version and then the Jailbreak version.
Brian Robertson: So then Lizzy comes third? 10 points… I love you (laughs)!
Sleaze Roxx: You recorded Another Perfect Day with one of my favorite bands Motorhead. You wrote a number of songs for that album and even did a tour. Why didn’t that work out for you?
Brian Robertson: I think the boys got a bit scared with that one to an extent, I did as well. It was totally different from anything they had done before. When they asked my to join the band permanently, after I helped them on the American tour, I said, “If you want me to join the band things are going to have to change, because I can’t play all of that Motorhead stuff. That’s just not me, and the direction of the band needs to change.” I said, “If you want me to join you have to agree to that.” They did, and I joined the band… hence the album. I know they were into the album, and over the years they’ve said so.
I’m proud of the record because it’s so different than all their other albums. Obviously without me in the band they weren’t ale to continue down that route. I was talking to another American guy tonight who said that Another Perfect Day was his favorite. I have found that a lot of the Motorhead fans are coming back to that album. I remember at the time the fans couldn’t get their heads around it and I can understand that. Anyway, the guy I was talking to said he interviewed Mikkey Dee a couple of weeks ago and Mikkey said ‘Another Perfect Day is the best Motorhead album, and second best is our new album’ (laughs). I thought that was just an incredibly cool thing to say, especially for Mikkey to say that — I know him quite well and he likes his own stuff. For him to say that is a true endorsement of that album and what it stands for. That album stands out with my body of work, the work ethic, the musical arrangements, and the freedom. The funny thing is they were never in the studio after the backing tracks — the guys were at the pub, so they left me alone working with the producer. I’m proud of the album.
Sleaze Roxx: I agree, Another Perfect Day is definitely in the top five Motorhead albums. Do you keep in touch with Lemmy Kilmister?
Brian Robertson: Not really… Lemmy is Lemmy, right? He lives behind The Rainbow in L.A. so I don’t really see him, we don’t keep in touch. I keep in touch with Philthy ‘Animal’ (Taylor)… he emails me from time to time. I used to live with him, we used to share a flat together, and he’s one of my closest friends and just a lovely, lovely man. Mikkey Dee I see him here in Stockholm quite a lot. I seem to run into him at record release parties often. He used to come out when I was touring with John Norum and Leif (Sundin) and he’d turn up at the gig wanting to jam. He’s always there ready to play and says, “Let me play “Are You Ready” with you.” We bump into Mikkey quite a lot.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s your take on Scott Gorham resurrecting Thin Lizzy? He put the band back together about 10 years ago.
Brian Robertson: Yeah. I think it’s been longer than that. I have to be honest — I suppose I should be, right — I am going to be honest, I’m not going to bullshit you. The thing with John Sykes was a complete waste of time. John is out for John, and the whole band became a heavy metal caricature of Thin Lizzy. The Lizzy diehards didn’t like it because it just got so heavy metal. That version of the band had more to do with John and his ego than it was to do with the memory of Thin Lizzy.
As for the new Thin Lizzy line-up, I haven’t heard or seen them. I’ve read some of the reviews that have been coming in, and have been speaking to a few people, and by all accounts they are playing very tight and it’s much better than what they were doing with John Sykes. I can see and understand it, but as I say, I haven’t personally seen or heard them. I’d love to see them go into the studio and do something new. The way I see it, 10-15 years of playing the old stuff is 10-15 years that you’ve wasted. Then again you have to stop and think, if they’d gone into the studio with Sykes would it have been worthwhile for the Lizzy name? I think definitely not. It would have turned out with heavy metal riffs and no melody. That would have probably pissed Scott (Gorham) and Brian (Downey) off to no end. Sounds like the fans are enjoying the band more than when Sykes was in the band. I’m not knocking Sykes here, he’s a good friend, but he was fine with Thin Lizzy when Phil was still there and when he started to do it on is own it went a bit haywire.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s your take on the remixing and remastering of the classic Thin Lizzy albums Johnny The Fox, Jailbreak and Live & Dangerous? Scott Gorham went into the studio with Joe Elliot of Def Leppard and remixed some tracks and remastered those albums. Were you asked to take part in the process?
Brian Robertson: I was not a part of that and no I was never asked. I have only listened to a couple of tracks where they added some more guitars. Personally I think it’s a waste of time to be honest. I don’t know if they were rushed for time or what, but obviously there wasn’t enough of that going into it. This remastering and remixing is complete total nonsense and you’ll find that if you refer to the original copy you find that it was released just as it was. Don’t be surprised if the label recalls them because all that’s happening is that they are ripping the kids off.
Sleaze Roxx: Gary Moore passed a few weeks ago, any words on his passing?
Brian Robertson: (long pause) Its raw moment, you know — it was a bad shock. Soren phoned me in England and told me. I never expected that to happen, it’s just horrendous. He was a good mate… we got along well as musicians and as mates. We played with him with my new band in Dublin at the 25th Anniversary of Phil Lynott’s death. His wife and daughter came up to us and they were in tears, they were worried about him because all he did was worry. Gary was always a little bit of loner you know. Soren and I feel guilty because we could have called him up, but he had our numbers. He’d call when he wanted us to do something, but Gary was the type of guy that would do it on his own. There’s nothing that we could have done about it really. Thanks to God that it wasn’t drink or drugs that took him. I think he was heartbroken to be honest, I’m not going to go into why that was, but I think he was heartbroken.