May 2011 - FIREBIRD
I always liked FIREBIRD, but I immediately fell in love with their new album 'Double Diamond'. At the risk of being boring I think this is their best record so far - or, more accurately, it's my favourite record in FIREBIRD's history. The combination of Bill Steer's excellent guitar work, his charismatic voice as well as the impressive songwriting skills is irresistible and more than tasteful. Some of the other retro rock bands should take a leaf out of FIREBIRD's book. So this was the opportunity for Cosmic Lava to do the first interview with Bill Steer. Among other things, Gentlemans Pistols was another topic, because he has joined the band before they went into the studio to record their new album 'At Her Majesty's Pleasure'. In case you wonder why Carcass doesn't appear here: I decided to leave it out because it meant that there was a risk that our interview would go on forever. Anyway, there was enough material for the interview, and I am sure that it was the right decision to focus on present times. By the way, thanks to Moritz for making this happen!
Let us start with the new FIREBIRD album 'Double Diamond'. It had taken a long time before the album has been released in Europe, but the wait has been well worth it. I think that 'Double Diamond' represents a move away from the heavy blues rock of the early releases. FIREBIRD has come closer to bands such as mid-70s UFO or Diamond Head just to name a few. What are your thoughts on the new release, and what led to it?
Thanks for your comments. Overall I'd agree with what you're saying. It was inevitable that we'd start to drift in that direction, really. When I was eleven or twelve years old, bands like Diamond Head, Tank, Fist and so on were starting to emerge and to me they were just as exciting as Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin. I guess I'm at the stage now where I don't make such strict distinctions between different eras of music, or different categories. With Firebird, the band has always been riff-based, but when we started work on this album the music stepped up a gear and became more or less riff-dominated. I can't really analyse our approach any more than that as I'm too involved! As usual, we just went with the vibe we were feeling. Obviously the music you're listening to at the time is likely to be reflected in the music you're making.
Apart from the great songs, 'Double Diamond' has won me over with its dry, crispy production. You've recorded it at Graveland Studios in the Netherlands. What was the reason for this decision?
Ludwig already some experience of recording with Arno at Graveland, and he spoke very highly about it all. So we went over there to record a few songs as a demo. We were all impressed with how he works, so naturally enough that became the location for the album recording. You're right, the production is somewhat dry, particularly compared to our previous albums. That was the intention. We wanted to approach this recording slightly differently and in some ways you could say we actually adopted some "production values". Nothing drastic, we just felt that the "rehearsal tape" vibe of some of our other records had maybe gone far enough for the time being.
The lyrics of 'A Wing & A Prayer' contain autobiographical elements. You are talking about being in a band and the associated joy and sorrow. Do you agree and did you ever get sick of playing in a band?
'A Wing & A Prayer' was a snapshot of a typical Firebird gig in the UK. I might have exaggerated certain elements, but the idea was to do a road song minus the glamour and fakery. It's not entirely serious, let's put it that way. Do I ever get sick of playing in a band? Tricky question. I don't get sick of playing, but some other aspects of the music world can certainly become tiresome...
How important are lyrics to you?
If you'd asked me that question a few years ago, I would have said "Not at all". Now I'd say it's quite nice if you have a decent lyric that actually means something and matches the music. But I don't think I'll ever be one of those people who insist that lyrics have to be on a par with poetry or whatever.
All songs have been written by you and drummer Ludwig Witt. How can one imagine this process? Who does what?
This was the first time we'd collaborated to such a degree. In the past I'd often tended to bring complete songs into the rehearsal room, but this time I just came in with riffs, the odd verse or chorus maybe. If I had the main part of a song ready, Ludwig would suggest ideas for a mid-section, intro or whatever. He doesn't play guitar but has a good feel for the kind of direction a song should take.
I was very surprised to see that you have recruited a new bass player. It looks as if you have not had much luck when it comes to that position in FIREBIRD. Why is that?
We get asked this question a lot! A short answer would be that most of the bass players we've had in the past have been involved with other bands. And often those other bands have taken priority over Firebird. Another factor has been that once or twice we've taken guitar players who are temporarily willing to play bass. After a while, that can become a problem.
Are there any plans for a European tour in 2011?
We've been talking to a few people about dates in the Netherlands, Germany and Italy. At the moment those are the three places in Europe where we've received interest. We get plenty of emails from other countries, but so far this year there haven't been many firm offers of live work in those places. We'll see!
It seems to me that honesty and musical integrity are important to you. Can you agree and what do you think about the music business in general?
Yes, it's good if you can keep some kind of integrity in what you do. I'm sure most people feel that way. But of course life is full of compromises - that's unavoidable. So I guess we're all just trying to do what feels right, within reason. As for the music business, I have as little to do with it as possible. That side of things isn't of much interest to me.
What was your worst experience in the music business so far? Have you ever been ripped off by a record label?
If I was to answer this question honestly and accurately, there would be a chance of legal action from a certain record label. So I'm afraid I'll have to pass. Generally speaking, I'd say most musicians who've been around for a few years will have their share of stories concerning stitch-ups by labels, promoters and so on.
Let's talk about your musical influences. When did you first discover your love for 1970's hardrock and what fascinates you about this kind of music?
As I mentioned earlier, when I was a kid I was exposed to a lot of great Hard Rock and Heavy Metal. Whether it was Sabbath and UFO from the older school, or Maiden and Saxon from the newer bunch, I loved all of it. Obviously Rock music has developed a lot since then and there are countless different sub-genres in the so-called "Metal" scene now. But to me some of that music from seventies and early eighties will never be surpassed. I love the songs, the playing, the production. It's stood the test of time very well.
Are you a record collector, if so, what was the last record that you've bought? Besides 1970s rock and heavy metal, what other musical genres do you like?
I wouldn't describe myself as a record collector, really. Over here in the UK that term is specifically used for those people who'll collect records rather than listening to them. They're obsessed with labels, categories, collectability and whether something is in mint condition or not. I've certainly spent a fair amount of money on vinyl over the years, but only on records that I like. The last thing I bought was the debut album by Legend, a NWOBHM band on Workshop Records from 1981.
Bill, before we finish the interview I would like to talk with you about GENTLEMANS PISTOLS. Probably most people are not aware yet that you've joined the band. How did that come about?
We'd known each other for years. Gents and Firebird had already toured together and become friends. Aside from that, I was always a big fan of their band. When they asked me to join, I was delighted.
How involved were you in the songwriting process of the new GENTLEMANS PISTOLS album 'At Her Majesty's Pleasure'?
More or less everything on the album had been written before I came into the band. The most I did was to add the odd harmony here or there. They're very prolific - there's another album's worth of material already written.
Is this a long-term cooperation between you and the band?
I certainly hope so.
We've reached the end of our virtual talk. Thank you for your interest in answering my questions. Good luck and all the best for you and FIREBIRD as well as GENTLEMANS PISTOLS.
Thank you! Hope to see you soon.