Ahead of both the album release and the US tour, I was able to spend a few minutes talking to Richard Taylor, lead singer, and separately, Steve Harris, bass player of British Lion. They shared some of their thoughts on making the new album, winning over new fans, and what they're looking forward to with the upcoming run of shows here in the States. First up, Richard Taylor:
Mike Sorensen: Thank you for a little bit of your time. I know with the new album coming out, and the new tour on this side of the world, I know your time is probably pretty spare at the moment.
Richard Taylor: Yeah, it's no problem! It's about 6pm here in the UK, so I'm just kind of relaxing, really, getting ready for next week!
MS: Well, I'll try to keep this short so you can enjoy your evening! I wanted to start with the fact that I know British Lion has taken a path that is unusual for most bands. Do you think that's been helpful in the creative process that you haven't been on any set schedule like other bands may have been?
RT: Yeah, I think it has helped, really. You know, Steve, and I, and the other guys, have known each other for many, many years. I don't know if you know the beginnings or not, but I knew Steve when I was really young, back in my early 20s, in the 1990s. I was already writing songs, and I started writing through songs with Steve back then. That was a younger band, and Steve was my manager then. There's a lot of years in between, and that band didn't happen, it sort of imploded, but Steve and I stayed friends, so we had been writing. It is difficult, I do a lot of the writing here in the UK, and I submit my ideas to Steve, and then we get together when we can. So it's been a long break since the first record, but there's an awful lot of material around, and ideas from way, way back, ya know?
I don't think the break in between has been bad for us, and we've been continuously touring, and really working at our craft. I think that's really helped us. We've had like eight years of touring now, and the band has really developed in a way since the release of the very first album in 2012.
MS: I noticed, even just since November, you guys have been all over the world, and everything coming out about this new tour, I keep seeing that it's the first US tour, and that shocked me because I keep thinking 'That can't be right!' But this is the first time you guys have done a US tour. Is that something you've intentionally waited to come to the US, or was it just a matter of the timing being right?
RT: I think it was just timing, ya know? We had our first American audience, it was a couple of years back now, we did the Monsters of Rock cruise. That's only a few days away, out at sea, but it's a great gig, and there's a lot of great, cool bands on there. For British Lion, that was our first American audience. A few Europeans, but the majority of the audiences on those Monsters of Rock cruises are American. We loved it, and I think we went down really well. It was always planned, to come to America, and personally I've been fascinated by America since I was a child, and I draw many influences from all types of music, particularly American music as well! It's an absolute dream to come and do a real tour there in the States.
MS: Well, we're excited to have you! I've been listening since the first album, and the new album sounds amazing. I know you were talking about the writing. You and Steve and David (Hawkins, guitarist) do the majority of the writing, is that correct?
RT: Yes, that's correct!
MS: I know the new album, while I've been going back to the first album lately, the new album sounds heavier to me than the first. Not a drastic change, but just a heavier sound. Was that, again, something that was done intentionally, or is that just the way the music's evolved for you?
RT: Again, it's just a natural progression. The thing is, hopefully you'll get to see us when we come out, because people get a real shock at how powerful the band is when we play live. The first record – I don't want to go into too much detail – but it goes a long way back in the fact that Steve and I had been writing for years and years and years, and we just took little bits here and there, it was never intentionally as a record. We ended up with a whole bunch of songs, but it wasn't where the whole album was recorded in one place. So the production is definitely weaker, if I may say that, compared to when we play live.
This record is very close to how we do sound live. We all went in together and recorded it at the same time, in the same studio. It didn't take long, only took a week, we recorded it as a live band, all in the same studio, I sung as the band put the tracks down. I mean, you know, it's still a studio so it's not a live record as such, but it was kind of performed the way we do live. I guess that's why it sounds more powerful and more heavy.
MS: Well, the sound comes through, and I think the energy translates when a band plays together, whether it's on stage or in a studio. And I am excited, I'm currently hoping to see the show when you come in to Joliet, which is where I'm from. I'm just excited that you guys are coming over to see us at all! Do you have any plans for yourself, personally, during any of the limited downtime that you might have during the tour? Anything that you want to see while you're over here?
RT: Yeah, lots of places! As I said, America's a big part of my influences growing up. Particularly, I remember when I was really young, I had an older sister that loved Elvis. I've loved music for as long as I can remember, as long as I could talk, and I remember hearing Elvis, so I'm really hoping to get to Graceland. Anywhere in the States, really! Nashville, particularly, because I love country music, as well, so to get to Nashville would be great! Everywhere, all over the States. I've been to Florida before, been to LA before, and I've been to Canada before, the closest we've toured, but on this particular tour we're getting to see a lot more states and cities. And New York, I did visit New York last year, it's just fantastic for me, it's a wonderful, amazing city! Jimi Hendrix's studio is there, and we went to his studio.
Just generally, really, America is such a big country, and all the states are different, so in my down time, I'll definitely be out and about and trying to take it all in, really!
MS: There's plenty to see, and – just looking at the schedule – it amazing to see how much you guys do in such a small timeframe. With that, I'll skip the usual “what's next for the band?” because the calendar shows that what's next is a lot of time on the road! Let me ask this: What would you like to see over the next four or five years for British Lion?
RT: What I'd really like is continuing touring, that's what the plan is, some big festivals this year. And then really just kind of going up the ladder a little bit. It's a humble start! It's absolutely fantastic to have Steve onboard. Obviously Steve's other band is vastly known all over the world, where British Lion is completely different to that, and we have our own audience, as well. And we've got to work at it, ya know, so we're playing smaller clubs. So we're just going to continue how we're going! We're all in 100%, and it's a great band, a powerful band, it's an honest band, and we're very sincere, we really mean what we're doing, although it's very personal to me, as I'm the majority writing the lyrics.
I think in the next four or five years, it would be fantastic to put another album out, certainly in the next four years. Funnily enough, we already have some ideas. There's a song left over from this album, “The Burning,” we left it off specifically because it's got a really strong title, and it's more than just a song. It seems to have a huge kind of story behind it, and it's kind of given the focus behind the idea for the next record. So we've got to finish that.
And I hope this isn't the only American tour! The whole point of what we've been doing for the last eight years is we've been playing Europe, and in Eastern Europe, when we're lucky to go back a few years later, the clubs are getting fuller from word of mouth, and we'd like to do that in America, as well. Hopefully we'll put on a good show for everybody, and they can go and tell their friends for the next time we come back. That's sort of the way to build things.
And following that conversation, I then spoke with Steve Harris:
Mike Sorensen: I appreciate you taking a little bit of you time, I know it's got to be a busy week for you this week!
Steve Harris: No, it's all right, it's good! And I appreciate it, as well!
MS: I'm privileged to get to speak with you, I've been a fan of all of your work for a long time. I know the tour that's getting ready, you guys are starting this week, it's the first British Lion tour in the US. Are you excited to bring the live show to a bunch of different cities over here to us colonials?
SH: I'm very excited, 'cause it's the first time ever, so it's nice, yeah! Obviously the guys are. A couple of them never even played in the States before, so it's gonna be great! I'm really looking forward to it!
MS: Hopefully we make sure we give them the proper hospitality over here!
SH: Well, you never know, when you play a place for the first time, a country or city or whatever, the first time, you never know what you're going to get. And I don't mean even the reaction so much, you just don't even know how many people are going to turn up! It was like that when we first started playing Europe and other places, too. It's all turned out really well, and as long as people come along and give it a chance, we can go out there and do what we do, and I'm sure they'll have a good time!
MS: I know, personally, I'm looking forward to it! I've seen some of the clips from the live shows, and I love the albums, both of them so far, and I can't wait to see the energy on stage!
SH: Yeah, we give it a lot of energy! We give it 110%, and we enjoy it! We have fun when we play, so that's the main thing.
MS: Do you have any different process that you go through when you're playing in a smaller venue, before you get on stage?
SH: For one, we do soundchecks, which for Maiden, we don't. With Maiden, we do one or two at the beginning of a tour, and all the arenas, all the stage sizes, are set to the same size everywhere, indoors or outdoors, it's always the same stage sizes. So you don't really need to do soundchecks, we just get our crew to do line-checks to make sure things are functioning and whatever. But when you start playing in clubs, every club is totally different from one place to the next. Size-wise, sound-wise, everything's totally different, so you need to do soundchecks. So we do 'em, and that's the biggest difference, I would say, in that sense.
MS: I did get a moment to speak with Richard (Taylor, British Lion vocalist) last week, and I wanted to get your take on this: Do you feel that, from a creative point of view, do you think there's a benefit that British Lion is not on a traditional 'album cycle,' if you want to call it that? That you get to do your own thing, that you get to take a little more time in doing the albums?
SH: I can't speak for everybody, but for me, it's just a question of trying to cram it all in! I mean, with what I'm doing, the rest of the guys have to sort of work around me. From their point of view, I would even say it may even be a little bit frustrating, possibly, because it's taken so long to get these albums out. Having said that, we've been having great fun playing live in between times. It is what it is, but in an ideal world, I'd love to be able to record an album like we do with Maiden: write, record, and mix an album all in one go. But that's just not possible, so we have to do it in a different way. But we make it happen! We find a way and we make it happen!
It is a little frustrating, I suppose, but I'm sure it's more frustrating for them than it is me! 'Cause I'm still out there doing other stuff with Maiden and having a great time with them, so it's tough. But we all enjoy it, the end result is worth it.
MS: Well, having gotten a sneak-peek of “The Burning,” the new album, I can say that I think it sounds a little heavier than the first album. Do you feel that was a conscious effort, or was that just the evolution of the music from where you were writing?
SH: I think it's the natural evolution of playing live. The first album, we hadn't really played live together. I think it happened a few years before that, when I went out with the early incarnation of British Lion, I got up and did a couple of songs with them, but I never really played a full set with them or anything like that. It's just a whole different thing once you've been out playing live everywhere. The same line-up we have now is the line-up that we went out and toured the album with, even though there's a few different people playing on the first album, as well.
The line-up for the live thing has stayed the same for the last seven or eight years. It's evolved into a really tight-knit unit, we all have fun, enjoy each other's company, we get on really well and enjoy working together! It's a lot of fun, and that's enabled everybody to be able to do more stuff and do whatever, because we have spent more time together.
MS: The sound is fantastic on the new album. I've really been enjoying it and, again, I really am eager to see it performed live, as well! It just lends itself to that energy.
SH: Well, I think we have really captured, as much as possible, we've captured what we are like live. Quite a few of the songs, we were already playing live anyway for a while, so we went and recorded them straight off of playing live, and it shows! Of course, the tough thing after that is all the newer material that we haven't played live yet, it was more difficult to try and get that same feeling, but I think we managed to capture it! And we've played a couple more songs live in the UK and, just before Christmas we played London, and we've still got some more songs for the US that we've never played live before. We're really looking forward to that!
MS: When I had spoken with Richard, he had mentioned a song that was in the mix for this album, but you had decided to pull it back that may be building for a next album. I don't want to put the cart before the horse and talk about another album, but…
SH: We've got a few songs, we've probably got four or five songs. It's not that we had songs that were just not good enough to get on this album or anything like that. We had some other ideas that we felt would be better on the next one. So hopefully the next one won't take as long to come out! It's great, because there's so many ideas that are flying around the place, for both bands – British Lion and Iron Maiden! – it's just great to have that problem, having too many ideas than not enough.
MS: The impression that I had gotten was that it may be leaning more toward a…I don't know if “concept album” is the right phrasing, but that it may be a more structured album, telling a fuller story within the album. Is that something that you would be interested in doing with British Lion?
SH: I think we've got to wait and see once we've got all the songs and decide at that point. But, yeah, there's a rough idea of what we want to do with it. We've even got some bits and pieces which we even feel would work well with it. But I think it's better to talk about this album now, really, because we're excited about this one coming out, and it might be a while before the next one comes out, but not too long, hopefully.
MS: Absolutely, and I just mentioned it because of his comments, and I'm a big fan of those concept albums, so I was just curious on that process.
SH: Well, I know (guitarist) David Hawkins would like to do something like that, because he's kind of into all of that stuff, as well. But we'll see. We'll just have to see what the rest of the songs are about, and see what happens.
MS: With what I've heard, I can't imagine there's many ideas from British Lion that wouldn't thrill me, so I trust what you guys are going to be doing going forward, including this tour. Is there anything you might want to say to fans coming out for these shows who might not know what to expect from a live British Lion's show?
SH: I think they just need to grab a couple of mates and bring 'em with them and say 'come and give this a chance!' Because it's a really good live band, really good songs, and they'll have a good, fun night out. I think that's the thing, we've just got to get people in. It's tough, even with a name like me in the band or whatever, it's still tough to get people to come and see something that's new. But once they're there, you get 'em in there and you prove what you can do. That's what we want.