"Record companies are great for some things, but they’re not totally necessary in this day and age.”
With FM ripping it up alongside The Dead Daisies on their latest killer tour, and their new album 'Thirteen' hailed by critics and fans alike as one of their best. Our Social Media Man delved into our back issues and found this gem of an interview from nearly a decade ago. Alan Holloway put the questions to vocalist Steve Overland.
The thing I most remember about the first time I saw FM was that I couldn’t really believe what I was seeing, let alone hearing. The fluffy-haired chaps were supporting Gary Moore on his 1985 ‘Run For Cover’ tour and for me anyway, it was a revelation to see a British band playing such gorgeous, fluffy music. Later, I adored their debut album ‘Indiscreet’ and am not surprised it still turns up in top twenty lists as a one of the consummate AOR albums. I would never have dreamed that I would be in attendance at one of the band’s 25th Anniversary gigs for that album in 2011, let alone be interviewing the golden-throated lead vocalist Steve Overland, a man who has, quite simply, got one of the best voices in melodic rock.
One thing to note about the new album ‘Rockville’ is that it was funded through Pledge Music. I assume that not everyone knows what this is, so I ask Steve for a little background on what is essentially fan funding.
“Pledge Music is an opportunity for fans to get involved in pledging for certain things that the band offer,’ he explains.‘It helps to finance the band’s future, touring, the making of the record... for that they get things they would not normally have access to. They’ve been to video shoots, had a chance to hang out for the day... we auctioned off a couple of my mics, the one I used at Download and the one I’ve used for years, pretty much lots of stuff they wouldn’t normally get. It gives them a chance to feel a part of what the band are going to do in the future. They’ve always been very vocal about what they think FM should be, what FM should do and it’s been great. We’ve had years of A&R men banging on about what the fans want, but to meet the people who actually buy the records makes a big difference. It’s a great way for them to feel involved in the whole thing and it’s the future, really. Record companies are great for some things, but they’re not totally necessary in this day and age.”
In fact, FM’s involvement in the scheme, coupled with their intensely loyal fan base, meant that they could afford to finance two albums, with the not so imaginatively titled ‘Rockville II’ following the first as a stand-alone disc. I ask why they didn’t record their initial comeback album ’Metropolis’ this way.
“Pledge music has been up and running for quite a while,” says Steve. “It was mentioned to us for ‘Metropolis’ and we said ‘Oh no, we want to do a proper record deal. We then investigated it and saw what it was all about and they do the second album bonus things with quite a few artists and asked if we had any demos from the ‘Rockville’ album but we said ‘Oh no, we don’t put demos out to the public’.We always record maybe twenty songs for each album, always have done. We had five songs left over from ‘Rockville’ - they didn’t go on, not because they’re substandard - they were produced, mixed and recorded in the studio. We said what we want to do is go in and record the rest of an album. On the Thin Lizzy tour last year we didn’t have any days off, we went in the studio every single day to record more songs. I never thought I’d be making a double album at this stage in my career, but it’s come out great. Some of the songs just didn’t fit the running order of the original album. I mean you can only have one ballad on an album and you’ve got to pace an album, get light and shade. Hopefully people will like the second album just as much as the first one.”
It seems that even from the beginning, FM have always tried to give value for money, putting unreleased or live tracks on their singles, or releasing an EP that clocked in at 50 minutes, as they did with ‘Only Foolin’ last year. I ask Steve if giving fans more bang for their buck, as it were, is still important.
“Always,” he states emphatically. “‘Rainbow’s End’, one of the extra tracks, was recorded for ‘Rockville II’ but we said take that track and give them another brand new song that’s not on ‘Rockville’... if you’ve got the material giving value for money is important. If you start putting out stuff that isn’t up to standard you get found out very quickly in this business. It’s definitely something we always have in mind when we release something is to give value for money.”
I turn the conversation to the band’s recent recording of the track ‘Shot In the Dark’, made famous by Ozzy Osbourne but actually recorded originally by Wildlife, the band featuring Steve and his brother Chris. The FM version is much more like the original, a proper melodic rock song, and I ask why revisit it now.
“To get it out of my system, really!” he says with a laugh. “The Wildlife version got circulated somehow, and people have always said that version was fantastic. We got permission from Ozzy and Sharon - they were great, and we thought ‘Why not?’. It’s like a new song, not like Ozzy’s version. People remembered it, old fans from the Wildlife days. We’ve had a lot of good feedback from it.”
Of course, talk of Wildlife brings us to Chris Overland, who played guitar in FM on the first two albums and had a strong writing partnership with Steve. Nowadays he doesn’t have anything to do with the band, and I wonder if he ever comes to check them out at shows.
“No,” is the answer. “He won’t - he’s a funny bloke my brother, a miserable git! When we first got the band back together he was the first person I asked. I thought if we could get him back with the band just for the Firefest.... He’s just got no interest. What people don’t see is it’s a lot of pressure, and when you’ve been out of it for a long time, to walk out in front of a crowd.... I mean, Didge (Digital, former keyboard player) at Manchester, when we did the ‘Indiscreet’ anniversary tour, he was shitting himself. I’ve never seen anybody so scared! So, he’s not interested but he’s happy - he’s got a collection of guitars anyone would envy that he teaches on. He’s talked to me about writing again recently, which would be good because he’s a great writer.”
“A lot of that was nonsense, I have to tell you that,” confirms Steve, happy to set the record straight.
My interest is piqued by the mention of Mr Digital, who lasted one more album that Chris Overland. He was a decidedly odd keyboard player who liked to look weird and had lots of fun. When he left the band there was a small article in Kerrang! that had Steve mentioning him and the word ‘wanker’ in the same sentence. I wonder if his appearance on stage with them (which can be seen on YouTube) was a case of forgiveness or if the whole thing was just, “over-enthusiastic” journalism.
“A lot of that was nonsense, I have to tell you that,” confirms Steve, happy to set the record straight. “He was very close to my brother. They really did have a great relationship and it wasn’t the same, as it wasn’t for me for a while, when my brother left. The band changed slightly in style, and we had to kind of reinvent ourselves and in a way and that’s what the ‘Taking It To The Streets’ album really was. It was an uncertain time for all of us, and Didge didn’t feel that he fit in anymore.The band were heavying up a bit and I don’t know his reasons really but there was one thing written about what I was supposed to have said about him and that was total load of fucking nonsense.” I figure he must be very pissed off about the matter, as it’s the only time he swears. “Didge is a brilliant keyboard player, always has been, and it was pleasure having him back on stage. We’ll do it again in the future if he’s up for it. He’s a great guy, I’ve never fallen out with him in my life. It’s like that with all the FM guys... people that have gone, it’s not that we don’t get on with them anymore.”
Another ex-member is Chris’ replacement Andy Barnett, who brought a more riff-heavy approach and came back to play at the triumphant Firefest appearance in 2007. Afterwards, however, when the band decided to give the whole thing another go, he was replaced by Jim Kirkpatrick, and I ask why this was, and as with Didge, there’s no scandal to be had.
“Andy wanted to go and live in Malta, he had a house there and was going backwards and forwards. We sat down and decided we were going to do all this again, because at first Firefest was it.., we weren’t planning on doing anything else. It was just a fun gig - Kieran (Dargan) eventually hammered it into me that we needed to do it and I agreed. We did that as a one-off show, but when we realized the interest, it was going to get quite time-consuming. We said unless everybody can commit to this properly, and we make a real go of it, let’s not do it. At the time Andy just couldn’t commit to it. It was just the best thing at that time, before we got too deep into it again.”
As we’re talking about other band members I bring up Jim Kirkpatrick, who is an established blues guitarist and vocalist in his own right, not perhaps an obvious fit for FM at first glance, but certainly an effective one after two albums. Thinking about them, I remark that the new one is less bluesy than ‘Metropolis’, and, to me, takes what is best about what we would call ‘classic’ FM and the ‘Metropolis’ style, mixing them up to create a sound that is the best of both worlds.
“That’s really great to hear you say that,” he says, sounding genuinely pleased, “because that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. We had people saying ‘Can you make another album like ‘Tough It Out’’ and we tried our best to take elements of the best parts of FM and put it into one album, and that’s why it’s taken such a long time to do it. I’d rather take two and a half years to make an album than take four months and put one out that isn’t our best.”
It’s certainly not easy to tell who is playing what solo these days, and I ask if it’s ever a bone of contention between him and Jim as to who plays what.
“Jim’s the main guitar player,” he states firmly. “I’m a singer that plays guitar. Jim is better than me for a start. There are certain guitar solos that he can’t handle so I have to take them off his hands, but he’s the main guitarist. I tend to take guitar solos that are...” At this point Jim, who is earwigging, chips in. “‘That are easy’ he’s just said,” laughs Steve.“Cheeky git! We were shooting the video and one of the fans came up to Jim and said ‘That guitar solo you do on ’Wake Up the World’ is fantastic.’... and I played it.’” he laughs. No doubt having fun winding Jim up. I say, tongue in cheek, that it’s the best solo on the album and he tells Jim what I’ve just said. “Yeah, a lot of people have said that.” he agrees with another laugh.
Jim continues to chip in from the background as I ask about the most upbeat track on the album, that jolly break-up song ‘Crave’, which has a very traditional FM style hook from the lead guitar.
“That’s an old song, actually,” says Steve, and I assume he’s going to tell me he wrote it back in the day, but I am wrong: “Jim had an idea for the song many years ago and he played it to me down the pub and I said that’s a really good tune, that. When we were writing the album he pulled it out again. We wrote the lyrics with him and made some changes but it’s a really good song - great chorus. He instigated the tune...” There’s another interruption in the background. “He’s saying ‘What do you mean, instigated?’” He laughs again, and it‘s obvious the ribbing is nothing new. “I obviously had to take it and mould it into a classic tune! He gives me a couple of chords and I have to make into a song... not really! The way we write is I’ll come up with maybe 60% of the songs in a certain structure, but with FM it’s a band that has a sound, so everybody has their own input on the songs. Jim and me, we’ll write together in his studio and come up with a demo of a song and the band put their stamp on it.We never sit round in a room and write a song together - someone comes up with the idea, brings it down, normally the bones of the song, and then we do it together and make it sound like FM.” That simple, huh? Piece of piss...
Finally, I ask Steve what is the best and worst thing about being in FM.
“The best thing is that we’ve always had good fun. When I did the Foreigner/Journey thing last year and I walked out on stage in front of the Journey backdrop in a 13,000-capacity arena... I don’t take for granted I can do that again. That’s the best thing about it, that I’ve always enjoyed doing it. The worst bit? Probably when my brother decided to quit the band. That was the worst time for me. Now, I don’t think there are any ‘worst bits’ - we’re just getting on with it and enjoying ourselves.”
Now, I don’t think there are any ‘worst bits’ - we’re just getting on with it and enjoying ourselves.”
Interview by Alan Holloway
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