Got the chance to sit down with John Gallagher of metal legends RAVEN via Skype not too long ago. You never know whether it’s gonna be audio or video, and sure enough there he was hanging out in his house, with his dog playing in the background. This was also cool because at one point he demonstrated how one of the songs on the new record ExtermiNation came to be with his acoustic guitar. Look for my review next, but for now, sit back and enjoy my conversation with John Gallagher:
Amps: So far for me, after 1.5 listens “It’s Not What You Got”, “Silver Bullet”, and “No Surrender” are just three of the best songs on an album full of them…you have any favorites?
John: They’re all my kids so we love them all. My favorite changes from day to day. And the cool thing is that you’re saying that those are your favorites and other people I’ve spoken with are picking completely different songs, which is awesome. That is great, because it’s cohesive, it’s an album, and it all runs together. We worked very hard on the sequencing so that when you listen to one track you want to hear the next one and the next one. But there’s some diversity there. If you’re into the fast, double-kick crazy stuff go for it, if you love the more rock and roll stuff, same thing.
Amps: I just love that riff in “It’s Not What You Got”.
John: That happened right here in this chair. I’ll show you how it happened (gets guitar). We were sitting right after rehearsing, Mark (Gallagher, guitar) was over there, we had our acoustic guitars and I played the riff and he goes, “WHOA! What was that? Sounds great, get the recorder!” And it just wrote itself, which happens sometimes, you know? It just comes out of thin air. You don’t question it; you just grab it and make it work (laughs)! You can beat yourself over the head for hours or you can wait till inspiration strikes and there it is.
Amps: Now that the album is done and you’ve had time to sit with it, when you listen from start to finish how do you feel?
John: It’s a little different every time, but when I hear it I wanna hear the whole thing from top to bottom. Everyone has their own ideas of what things should be, but I’m the designated demo guy and I’ve ripped these songs apart to make them as strong as possible. So now when I listen it’s just to go along for the ride. The sound of this record it’s just awesome. Kevin 131 (producer) did a killer job of getting it to where it’s supposed to be. It’s mastered perfectly with no loudness nonsense. He put it on very low, which is great, but the louder you turn it the better it sounds.
Amps: You said it before and I agree, it’s an album from start to finish. There’s no desire to skip any tunes and the sequencing is done right.
John: It’s like a journey. You’ve gotta have a start, a middle, and an end. One thing that came up when we were deciding what we were gonna do was that we had to have big songs, yeah, but the arrangements had to be powerful to let that sound come through and big production with huge guitar and huge drums was important. Mark, it’s the best solos he’s ever done. And Joe (Hasselvander, drums) knocks it out of the park. We got a live feel.
Amps: 15 songs…was this the amount you wrote or did you have to scrap some?
John: Oh we started with a LOT of songs, maybe around 40. And we narrowed it down to about 25 based on what we liked, and from there we picked the songs with the understanding that maybe we’ll revisit some of the ideas next time around. We never have any shortage of material (laughs)!
Amps: The record is coming out soon. You nervous, excited, or both?
John: Excitement AND nervousness. The birth is near. Talking to people like yourself the last couple of days has shown that the reaction is instant. Reviews are coming in, and the reaction is universally positive across the board. They get what we’re trying to do. We’ve been around the block enough to take it with a pinch of salt, where it beats the crap out of people as they say, “These guys suck!” (laughing), so we’re ready!
John: Well we do have some. We go to Japan in July, and when we come back we’ll visit the States. We did Dobbs last year-
Amps: The Legendary Dobbs?? I love that place!
John: It’s a real sweatbox, I love it! Very cool people who run it. There’s no messing about.
Amps: This lineup has been together since 1987. Why do you think you’ve managed to be together nearly three decades in a time when band members are damn near disposable?
John: You’re preaching to the choir. There’s a number of things that set us apart from other bands; we’re a BAND. When we were kids it was like a gang. We’re not a corporation, we’re not a franchise. We’ve had very few lineup changes because they’re not hired hands. The people in the band are the people in the band. It’s an equal share, everyone’s responsible for all the good and all the bad (laughs).
Amps: How are the lads doing?
John: They’re great. We just played South America the beginning of March. We were in Bogota on the ninth floor of a hotel when we had a 6.2 earthquake. You never seen people run downstairs so fast in all your life! Happily no buildings were damaged. The only things damaged was our underwear (laughs). That was the first time we played in Colombia, and it was awesome! Crazy fans just so passionate, so nuts. We also played Rio De Janeiro for the first time, had a week back home and then went off to Europe. We did Helsinki, Finland for the first time which was crazy, CRAZY, absolutely mental. We finish the set, trash everything, walk off, and they wouldn’t leave. After 15 minutes we put everything back together and played a couple more songs. A REAL encore, you know?
Amps: What are you listening to when hanging out at home, or driving around?
John: I like new stuff and classic stuff. I’m real partial to this RIVAL SONS album (Great Western Valkyrie). That’s so kickass. We heard it from our friend Metal Mike in Holland who gets stuff way before it comes out. He goes, “What do you think of this?” And I was like, “Who are these guys?!? Where have these guys been?? How have I missed this?!?” I also really liked the CALIFORNIA BREED album; shame that fell apart. THE WINERY DOGS are awesome, too. Went to see them and they’re just amazing live. They’re all individually great, but they work as a team and it’s truly something to watch. And with them you know you’re getting something different every night, and that’s what it’s all about, you know? Improvise, give us a bit of magic! Step out on the edge; if you fall off, who cares? But you tried didn’t you? It’s the total package with them: great songs, great playing, positive energy, and a sense of fun.
John: With this little monster here (holds up the new CD) everyone’s very happy with how it turned out. When you put it on and it sounds awesome it gives us the opportunity to do what we do best which is go out and play live.
Amps: What is the writing breakdown in the group? I know you’re Demo Man, but did anyone else bring in ideas?
John: Oh yeah, everyone comes in with ideas and it’s a real mish-mash of stuff. “Destroy All Monsters” was Mark’s, “It’s Not What You Got” was mainly me with him sticking his two cents in. “Tomorrow” was mainly, but on that song, you’d still have Mark and Joe have at it to fine tune it. Certain parts are changed and that made the song better. Joe came up with the riffs on “Malice In Geordieland.”
Amps: I wanted to ask you about that one. What’s going on at the beginning there? I nearly got whiplash turning around when it started!
John: (Laughs) that’s me and my brother, speaking in slang. It’s our accent from Newcastle in the North of England. Very Geordie, very thick, like Brian Johnson from AC/DC. We were messing around in the rehearsal room and just came up with nonsense lyrics. We mention a lot of the things we used to do, bars we’d go to, we put in a couple of good jokes there if you can decipher them.
Amps: Can you tell me ONE thing about you that we maybe don’t know yet?
John: Right now I’m not wearing any pants (both of us laughing)! In this day and age, like you said, everything is out there. My wife keeps saying, “When you gonna write a book?” and I keep saying, “I’m waiting for the band ending.” You never tell everyone everything, you always hold something back, you know?
Amps: Who’s a dream package for you to tour with?
John: Obviously it would be great to go out with METALLICA, IRON MAIDEN, SAXON, ACCEPT…we did a few dates with ACCEPT before and they’re great guys. Basically anyone of note that lets us play to a wider audience. We relish the challenge of playing to people who aren’t familiar with us. When we played to 70,000 people in Brazil not everyone who knew who we were, but by the end they surely did!
Amps: What would you like to say to all your fans worldwide?
John: Where’s the five bucks you owe me? No, to the fans, thank you so much, especially to all of you who helped with the Kickstarter campaign. We’re eternally grateful for that, and I hope you enjoy the album. Because if you enjoy the album half as much as we did, then we’ve enjoyed it twice as much as you did (laughs)! And we’ll see you out on the road.
John Gallagher is without a doubt one of THE most down to earth guys in metal. None of these questions were scripted beforehand; we just had a conversation. And I think from that give and take I learned more than I could have from a bunch of stiff questions. ExtermiNation is out now on Steamhammer /SPV Records, and I highly recommend it.