Black Star Riders have returned - with a new album, a new line-up, and what frontman Ricky Warwick calls "a new energy and chemistry". In the seven years since Warwick and legendary guitarist Scott Gorham put Black Star Riders together, they have made three of the finest hard rock albums of modern times. Jonathan Graham Keep on Riding: Ricky Warwick
With an eclectic career spanning nearly 30 years, Ricky Warwick has made a name for himself as a member of a slew of successful hard rock bands like The Almighty, Circus Diablo, Thin Lizzy, and of course, Black Star Riders. Back with a brand new album 'Another State Of Grace' via Nuclear Blast Records, Guitar Interactive Magazine caught up with the Irish rocker, to chat about the latest release and the band's touring plans for 2020.
Black Star Riders have returned - with a new album, a new line-up, and what frontman Ricky Warwick calls "a new energy and chemistry".
In the seven years since Warwick and legendary guitarist Scott Gorham put Black Star Riders together, they have made three of the finest hard rock albums of modern times.
In 2013 came the debut 'All Hell Breaks Loose', praised by for its aggressive attack, melodic sensibility, and deep groove consciousness. In 2015 came 'The Killer Instinct' followed by 2017's 'Heavy Fire,' a top 10 hit in the U.K., acclaimed for its glorious, free-roaming twin-lead guitars, jubilant songs, and the band's ability to distil hard rock to its elemental state.
As Warwick says, "We've set the bar higher with every album." And as Gorham describes album number four, Another State Of Grace: "This is the best one we've done. There's sophistication in the writing but some really raw intentions there too. It's very cool."
The plan for this album was, in Warwick's words, very simple. "We wanted to make a big, anthemic-sounding record - high-energy rock'n'roll with heavy riffs and great songs. We have that classic rock element and I'm never going to deny that, but I think the band is very relevant when it comes to attitude and energy and what we have to say."
As lyricist, Warwick has dug deep into the personal and the political in this album, combining both in the powerful protest song 'Why Do You Love Your Guns'. "There seems to be so much pain in the world," he says. "The people in power scare me. So this record has songs about the world around us, but also about people that come and go in your life."
And the power in the music has been enhanced, Gorham says, by having two new members of the band making their debuts on this album. These are accomplished musicians with serious credentials: guitarist Christian Martucci has worked with Stone Sour; drummer Chad Szeliga is formerly of Breaking Benjamin and Black Label Society. As Gorham puts it: "Anybody who comes into Black Star Riders has to be part of the creative process, or there's no point in that guy being in the band. And with Christian and Chad coming in, there's a really great vibe, and you can feel it on this record."
Scott Gorham and Ricky Warwick created Black Star Riders out of the modern version of Thin Lizzy the band in which Gorham had served in its golden age during the 1970s on classic albums including 'Jailbreak,' 'Bad Reputation,' 'Live And Dangerous' and 'Black Rose.' For Warwick, it was and always will be a privilege to perform alongside Gorham in Thin Lizzy. Singing the songs of the band's late, great frontman Phil Lynott is, Warwick says, "an honor and dream come true for me". But as he states unequivocally: "Black Star Riders has its own identity. The Lizzy connection is there but we've kind of distanced ourselves from it now. After four albums, the band is established. The songs stand on their own. The band stands on its own."
There have been a few line-up changes along the way for Black Star Riders. In 2014, original bassist Marco Mendoza (ex-Whitesnake) was replaced by an old friend of his, Robbie Crane, formerly of Ratt and Vince Neal; in 2017, drummer Jimmy DeGrasso (Ex-Megadeth, Ex-Alice Cooper) was replaced by Chad Szeliga; and in early 2019, Christian Martucci was recruited following the departure of Damon Johnson (Thin Lizzy, ex-Alice Cooper), who had been a contributor to the songwriting in Black Star Riders.
"Damon's a bro," Warwick says. "I completely understand that he wanted to concentrate on his solo career, and I have nothing but respect for that. I love him and I was sorry to see him go, but I think the band is bigger than the sum of its parts. As soon as Christian came into the frame, it worked out extremely well. Not only is he a formidable guitar player, he's a fantastic human being and he fitted in with our whole sense of humour and the laidback approach we have. He just gets it. He comes from sort of a punk rock background like myself, so we have a lot in common. He's a very easy guy to work with a great songwriter in his own right, so there was a chemistry there straight away."
Gorham agrees. "I'd never met Christian before we started rehearsals for this album," he admits. "Christian was like the mystery man, so it was kind of a leap of faith on my part. Ricky and Robbie had held auditions for all these guitar players and I kept going, 'No, no, no' But when I heard what Christian had done in STONE SOUR, I said, 'I'm gonna green light this guy, he's got something.' And the first time we all got in a room together, I was really happy with what was going down - it was like Christian and I had been playing together a long time. He's very creative, and from that first day I knew we were on to something really good."
Martucci played a key role in the writing for Another State Of Grace. As Warwick explains: "I write all the lyrics and melodies and some of the riffs too, but Scott, Christian and Robbie Crane contributed enormously on this record. Scott brought in these killer riffs for 'Underneath The Afterglow' and 'Tonight The Moonlight Let Me Down'. I was like, shit, they're fucking great - but you know, that's Scott Gorham! And Christian was a revelation to work with. I went to his house for five days and he was so great to bounce ideas off."
'Underneath The Afterglow' - a gritty hard rock number, archetypal Black Star Riders - was the last song written for the album. Gorham composed the music with his nephew Jesse Siebenberg, the son of former SUPERTRAMP drummer Bob Siebenberg, while Warwick supplied lyrics and vocal arrangement. Another late addition was 'What Will It Take', on which Warwick shares lead vocals with Pearl Aday, the daughter of rock legend Meat Loaf. Pearl had previously co-starred on the song 'Testify Or Say Goodbye' from 'Heavy Fire.' "She's a good friend," Warwick says, "and we wanted her back. 'What Will It Take' is a little bit of a different sound for us, quite Americana, almost Tom Petty-ish, and her voice really lent itself to it."
As Warwick sees it, 'What Will It Take' is evidence of the breadth in Another State Of Grace. "Essentially, it's a bombastic rock record," he says. "And there's still a lot of dual lead guitar, which is Scott Gorham's thing. That's what he's known for and we don't want to lose that. But we're not afraid to experiment with songs like 'What Will It Take'."
The depth in this album is most powerfully illustrated in 'Why Do You Love Your Guns'. "We've always had slower songs," Warwick says, "like 'Blindsided' on The Killer Instinct. But for me, 'Why Do You Love Your Guns' is a very personal and poignant song." It was written in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, in which 26 people, including 20 children between six and seven years old, were killed. "When that happened," Warwick recalls, "I was in Belfast, near where I was born. My wife called from our home in L.A. She was in tears, telling me about the news. All of those kids were the same age as my daughter was then. It scared me to death. That could have been my child. So that night I couldn't sleep, I got up and wrote down the first thoughts that came into my head, and when I looked back at those words all these years later - man, nothing has changed. There are so many school shootings in the United States of America, and nothing is being done about it. That's appalling. So I needed to write this song. It's something I feel very strongly about. These are innocent little kids, the victims of this. For sure, it's a heavy song."
With so much strong material written, the band also opted for a new producer for this album. Previously they had worked with two acclaimed producers in Kevin Shirley (Iron Maiden, Joe Bonamassa) and Nick Raskulinecz (Alice in Chains, Deftones, Rush). But for 'Another State Of Grace', recorded in Los Angeles, they picked Jay Ruston, who had mixed The Killer Instinct and 'Heavy Fire.' And as Gorham says: "It was the best decision we've ever made as a band. Jay had told us, 'I really want to produce you guys.' And he really got the best out of us. You know he's pushing you, but he does it in such a way that you really don't mind and you want to play better for him. It was like a party atmosphere in the studio, but the party had a control knob. I probably had more fun making this album than on the last three albums combined. There was a real gelling of the whole band, and ideas were flying left, right and centre."
The result is Black Star Riders' finest album so far. Scott Gorham thinks so, and Ricky Warwick agrees. "I think we're very comfortable now in our own skin," he says. "And with two different personalities in the band, they've really put their mark on this record."
One of the first people to hear 'Another State Of Grace' in its full glory was Def Leppard singer Joe Elliott, a fan of Thin Lizzy and of the band that Ricky Warwick led in the late '80s and '90s, The Almighty. As Elliott says: "I've been an ardent supporter of Black Star Riders ever since they started their journey, having moved away from being Thin Lizzy and becoming a legitimate band in their own right. For me, this album is by far their best effort to date."
Black Star Riders has come a long way in seven years. "When we started the band," Gorham recalls, "we thought we'd get a one-album deal and if nothing hits, we're done. We didn't want that. But the first album got a lot of interest, and when albums two and three came along, it got bigger and bigger. And now we're on four. We sat in the studio one day and Ricky said to me, 'Can you fucking believe we're doing our fourth Black Star Riders album?' This is so cool."
"I hoped the band would last," Warwick says. "I hoped that if people bought into it and believed in it the way we did, it would have some longevity. And thankfully they have and we're still here doing it."
For Scott Gorham, this band has reignited his love for rock'n'roll. "It gives me the kick in the ass to make me want to get out there and play and keep on playing," he says. "If it wasn't for these guys, who the hell knows what I'd be doing now?"
And as Ricky Warwick affirms, there is much more to come from Black Star Riders. "I feel the band is vibrant and as great as it ever was," he says. "We still have a lot to say, a lot of songs to write and shows to play. We still have a long way to go."
Black Star Riders - Another State Of Grace - Tracklist
Tonight The Moonlight Let Me Down Another State Of Grace Ain't The End Of The World Underneath The Afterglow Soldier In The Ghetto Why Do You Love Your Guns? Standing In The Line Of Fire What Will It Take? In The Shadow Of The War Machine Poisoned Heart
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