Interview


IAN GILLAN

by John Strednansky, 1998
www.shockwaves.com




      Deep Purple are on the road! Once again, as they have done for three decades, the tour is taking them all over the world, playing everything from the small comforts of the House of Blues clubs to the vast space of the Wembley Arena. Unlike many of their contemporaries from the early seventies, Deep Purple are still on top of their game. Witness the new CD! Abandon bristles with energy, shines with classic songwriting and explodes with the power of hard rock not heard from Purple since the classic Perfect Strangers album. Just before finishing the recording of Abandon, I caught up with lead singer Ian Gillan at the cozy Cat & Fiddle Bar on the eve of their Los Angeles House of Blues show. Over a few pints of beer, we enjoyed a laid-back evening talking about Ian the person and Ian the business man and Ian, now the main man in Deep Purple...

      Shockwaves: Why a small tour through the House of Blues this time?

We've been in the studio since the end of August 1997 and we love to go out and play. We did a few shows just before last Christmas and now these here in Los Angeles. The House of Blues is a perfect place for us at the moment. What does this do for you as you return to the studio? First, it gets you back in touch with playing live and in front of an audience; and second, the studio does tend to get a bit crazy. Also, it lets us practice a couple of new tunes. In the past, I have recorded so many tunes and, a couple of weeks into the tour, I often wished I had done something like this. It's like a jacket... after you've worn it a couple of times it feels much more comfortable.

      Shockwaves: Your shows are always very loose; with plenty of improvisation...

Yeah...our shows have always been like that. There's always a lot of improvisation. You never know what is going to happen next, but there is always some framework to it. But we don't know any other way to play! The attitude is very loose, the band is tight! We never do a show as such, we just get up and play the music.

      Shockwaves: The best representation of this is on the Japanese reissue of Made In Japan, the 3-CD set. Recorded on three consecutive nights, you can see that the songs are drastically different; each show has its own individual vibe. To me, that's mastery! How does Steve Morse fit into this type of live setting and the style of Deep Purple in general?

Absolutely great. He has such an eclectic style of music as his background, but he grew up with Deep Purple. He is very familiar with the start of the band and what we were doing over the years, in the studio and in concert. He's brought in his own distinction and yet he is a wonderful team player. He's been a leader in his own band running the show, yet he seems very simpatico. He trades well with Jon...

      Shockwaves: Was he the proverbial much needed kick in the ass?

No, not really. The band did not need it! We were raring to go, when Joe Satriani played with us. That was the transition period for us. A great deal of confidence returned to all of us. Our music was regimented at the time; it was becoming too automatic and there was a lot of tension, but these last five years have been just fine. Steve has become the highest common denominator. He's not just someone following the train.

      Shockwaves: How do you compare Steve to Ritchie Blackmore, or even Bernie Torme' from your days with Gillan, the band?

Steve, he's got a much wider range of influences than any of them, especially Bernie, bluegrass and jazz. His approach is so broad, not just heads down whatever! He is almost hard to describe.

      Shockwaves: And what do you know of Bernie Torme, who just released a new CD called Wild Irish. Ever tempted to work with him again?

I went to his house a couple of years ago and we wrote a couple of songs together, but nothing ever came of it. He's doing his thing and I am doing mine...

      Shockwaves: What was going through your head when Blackmore left the band five years ago? Ever thought of just calling it quits?

Well, the feeling up to that point was despair. Nobody wanted this to happen, but you know, when he left it was like...wow! Honestly, we were in a nosedive with Ritchie, there was no real future for this band. When he left, he made it very easy for us to pick it up again. When we were looking for a replacement, Steve was number one on everybody's list.

      Shockwaves: What are your goals of the new album, personally and as a band?

No ambition at all, no goals... just writing some good songs, really... there is no game plan. Actually, there never was any game plan even when we came together in '69 - I just love being a singer in a hard rocking band!

      Shockwaves: Tell us more about the recording of Abandon!

You never know what comes out at the end - it's the same approach: You go to the studio. You work six hours a day and crank it out. You jam, jam, jam. Roger has a DAT player where he keeps track of all the ideas. It is purely just an exploratory exercise. Everyone's energy comes up, people come up with different ideas, a little structure here, a little structure there. Something may sponsor a lyric or a tune - it's a routine of writing that we've been in since day one, really, it is just the joy of it. The idea of lyrics and tunes, it's everyone's job to contribute. So Roger and I worked on the songs as such, and it all comes out at the end of the day - sometimes it comes out okay, sometimes it's not.

      Shockwaves: You write as you go in the studio?

Yes! We never come in with anything; it's such a nebulous form you never know what the mood is going to be. If you come with a pre-conceived idea, you may be trying to pull something through that isn't natural. Sometimes it will be very funky, sometimes bluesy, sometimes it will be straight ahead rock - whatever. We go in to make a record, and you just throw yourself into it - that's it. You don't aim for a certain style - we don't say it's going to be this on this record or that on that record, so there's no organization.

      Shockwaves: What is the mood shaping up to be for this record?

I can't find the words for it, it's instantly recognizable as Purple. A big range of stuff. I've never been into bagging things so I don't know. How do you see Deep Purple fitting into today's marketplace? Haven't got a clue. I'm not being evasive, I'm just giving you an honest answer. I have no ambition and I have no idea where we fit in. I am very content and full of energy. What can I say, the band is cooking! That is all I know - steaming!

      Shockwaves: When do you know when a record you are making is a success?

When we sign off - I mean that artistically. Commercially I don't know. I'll tell you a story. I have kind of a child in here (points to chest) and friends come around to drink beer or play pool or whatever to my house. Of all the records I have done, the one most in demand, the one we listen to the most, is the least successful commercially. The States is one story, it could be a totally different story to the rest of the world. The average age of our audience in Europe is about 18 years old, more today than in the early seventies! When we opened up a couple years ago on an 18-month world tour in England I took my daughter to the first six shows, and on the last show I said, 'Who let all the kids in?' She said, 'Dad, you just don't get it do you?' Only old fat audiences in the US? (with laughter) Generally older - it's different here!

      Shockwaves: Why?

We haven't been around for a long time, and therefore the cool factor is missing. We haven't had a successful record in America for a long time, and therefore you are not on everyone's list. We have been toddling along underground quite happily. I'm very pleased with that. If we coincide with public tastes then you get a hit record. It doesn't affect the quality of the record.

      Shockwaves: Do you think there is a different mentality here in the States as opposed to the rest of the world?

No, no I don't. It is the way that the business turns over. You know, you get a thing happening in Seattle or Manchester and there's a shark attack; you know? The whole industry just throws blood on the street and they sign everything that moves. And then one or two will be successful and the rest will have their careers ruined because they will always be remembered or defined with that kind of sound. I am trying to avoid that sort of thing. One of the secrets of survival is being quick on your feet. Trying to avoid that kind of categorization. Just run for the hills every time someone tries to bag you.

      Shockwaves: When Deep Purple first started in 1969, was the environment more productive to a band's creativity?

Yes, but I think things are turning around for the better again. I sense the industry is becoming aware of the fact that there has to be more creative input, and it's not just production, and it's not just marketing videos and stuff like that. I feel quite a coming out of good talent in the next year or so, in the States, at least from what I've been able to pick up.

      Shockwaves: You also did a solo record last year called Dreamcatcher, how does that fit into the Deep Purple scheme of things?

It doesn't really, it is another picture. Same as when Steve Morse does his solo record, Jon Lord just did something as well. If you got the idea for a song, you write it. If they don't fit with Purple, or if Purple isn't doing a record, then you work on another project . We've never had any problem with that. I've done hundreds of different things with different people. I just enjoy the change of pace. It keeps you alert.

      Shockwaves: Finding new talent, producing, is that something you are interested in?

No, I'm a lousy producer, but I want to do everything myself. I do appreciate new music, and I do appreciate other bands - anyone with talent. I don't just like one kind of music. When I'm in Spain, I like Spanish music. When I'm in Georgia, Ukraine or Pakistan, I listen to the local music. Each music has it's own flavor.

      Shockwaves: I think Dreamcatcher shows that quite a bit.

God knows where it comes from! Some of it is from Scotland, my father is Scottish. I didn't want to do a rock band kind of thing. I wanted to have some acoustic instruments, hand drums, hand pipes. Again, I have no game plan, it wasn't meant to be a formulated thing, the key to it all is to be expressive. That is your job as an artist, to be expressive, to say or write what you feel. When I was a kid I used to stand at the front of the stage watching Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, they were my favorite band of all-time. I was watching the singer and I wanted to stand where he was. It wasn't because I wanted to be doing his job, it was because he was nearer to the band than I was. That was where I wanted to stand when I was a kid.

      Shockwaves: So it is still fun, not a job?

Of course! Working with strong individuals like Blackmore, Tony Iommi, or now Morse - has that helped or hurt your personal creativity? Everything is an education. When I worked with Sabbath, 50% of it I enjoyed, 50% was okay, and 50%...oh, that was three 50%! So 150% of it was divided into three segments. Part of it was good fun, part of it wasn't and part of it was an education. It was very interesting for me to be in a position that, for example, David Coverdale was in when he took over for me in Deep Purple in the '70s. Singing songs by Ozzy wasn't too different, I could relate to that. But the stuff that Ronnie Dio had done was a little too much on the structured side for my liking. That was hard to do. It didn't feel natural. The roots of the music didn't come through. Ozzy and I grew up in the same environment. The reason I got into Sabbath wasn't engineered at all; they just needed a singer, we got drunk together, and I ended up in the band for a year.

      Shockwaves: What happened when you left Purple in 1990-91? When Joe Lynn Turner stepped in?

I got fired in 1989!

      Shockwaves: Clarify that - Why?

I was about to leave, I didn't like the way things were going. It was like in 1973 - we were going down the wrong road, and I said so. So I was fired. We were in a nosedive approaching terminal velocity. We were playing poorly, Ritchie was throwing tantrums all over the place, which is funny once or twice, but we hardly ever finished a show. It just gets weary, you know? People get pissed off. Purple ended up working like a backup group for Ritchie. It was not nearly fulfilling its potential as a band. But that's ten years down the road. We are in a much stronger situation now. This is a very prolific group of people. There is a lot of writing. I can't tell you how many projects I am working on at the moment. It is so nice to move from one project to another. I have an outlet for all my ideas.

      Shockwaves: Is Deep Purple still the main creative outlet then?

I wouldn't say the main Deep Purple is the main thing in my life. I think it always has been. At times Purple has gotten out of whack, a bit eccentric, and I think we're back in a good phase now. Certainly I try organizing my own projects around Purple. I am very passionate about the band, in a very English sort of way.


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