Thursday, February 21, 2013

Micky Moody of Snakecharmer - "We Just Go Out There & Rock and Have A Good Time"

Micky Moody seems the sort that does not think, but rather knows the glass is more than half full. Snakecharmer, his latest endeavor, has just released an album that's getting rave reviews the world around, and when one looks at Moody's career - a career that started at age fourteen in a band with no less a vocalist than Paul Rodgers, and has since stayed remarkable consistent and successful, one gets the impression that Moody's humor and positive outlook may be right on the money.

Of course, it's not all wine and roses, there have been times when things haven't quite went his way, as one often finds in this life, but he's relied upon his love of the guitar and irony to see him through.

Currently, things are looking pretty sunny for Mr. Moody - he's just made one of the better albums amongst the well over a hundred he's put his stamp on, and he's getting ready to hit the boards for the first time in several seasons with his new group, Snakecharmer, a band that has it's roots perhaps in Micky and Neil Murray's old love, Whitesnake, but which has a bite uniquely of its own. After a failed attempt the day previous, I managed to connect with Micky and we had a most enjoyable conversation.

Micky Moody: "Sorry about last night, I think the three previous interviews before you rang sort of ran down the battery of my handset, and it just went on the blink!"

Doing heavy press is a daunting task - try telling roughly the same tale to eight strangers in the space of an evening, and you'll get the drift - if Micky had taken the batteries out of the phone and wondered off to the local, I sure couldn't have blamed him:

Micky Moody: "Hahaha, well, my ear was very hot actually! I could hear your voice on the answering machine, but unfortunately, I could do nothing about it!"

I explained to Micky that when an interview goes wonky, I'm generally so relieved to discover that I'm not at fault that it matters little to me the cause - I'm a big believer in whatever happens happens, and it's all for the best. To finally have someone on the phone that I've wanted to speak with for years is well worth the wait, and I congratulate him on his band's new record and ask if this weekend's gig - the first to feature the new album, feels any different to him:

Micky Moody: Well thank you. The gig on Saturday, it's a launch for the album in London. Yeah, y'know, there's a lot to remember as we haven't done many gigs lately, I think the the last gig we did was five, or six months ago, so there's a lot to remember, and there's some filming being done, etc. But, I'm sure we'll rise to the occasion!"

Snakecharmer's new album is a twelve slice pie of hard rock excellence - it's easy to imagine a time when the band could have gone on stage, played the record straight through and gone down a storm. I asked the guitarist how much of the new platter would be played on Saturday night?

Micky Moody: "I think it's about three quarters of it, yeah, we're planning on about that. We've rehearsed them and we're going to intersperse them with some of the classic Whitesnake numbers, as well. We hope it will be a very entertaining set. 
"I think some people might worry that they might not get everything just right, but hey - it's rock 'n' roll. We're not some sort of Eastern German techno/funk/jazz band - we'll just go out there and rock, and have a good time!"

Snakecharmer has been together for several years, gigging in and around the UK and Europe. Mostly they've been reprising the catalogues of their renowned pasts. It's only in the last year that they've decided to write and record their own album, at the suggestion of their manager, Martin Darvill of QEDG Management who runs perhaps the most prestigious classic rock stable in Europe. The ongoing successes of such long running acts as Asia, Uriah Heep, Greg Lake, John Wetton, and others signals the enduring popularity of classic British rock, and given the exemplary resumes of the members of Snakecharmer, new music certainly makes great sense. I asked Micky how this all transpired:

Micky Moody: "Well, Tony, what happened was myself and Neil Murray had got together for a drink, and we decided that we hadn't worked together for a while (Murray and Moody's association began in 1978 with the formation of the original Whitesnake lineup), so we thought that we should do some gigs for a bit of fun.  
"Neil spends a lot of his time with Laurie (Wisefield, Snakecharmer guitarist) in We Will Rock You, the musical in London, as they're principle players in that, so we wanted to get out and do some rock. We got together, and Harry James was very interested - Harry's from Thunder, and we were put in touch with Chris Ousey, who none of us knew, but he came very highly recommended, and the idea was that we'd go out and do some gigs and a few festivals, playing the music of the guys in the band - so, myself and Neil did the original Whitesnake stuff, with Harry we'd do some Thunder, with Laurie we'd do a little Wishbone Ash, and one of his compositions, and with Chris, we'd do a few songs from his band, Heartland. 
"So, that was the idea, and then Martin Darvil came to see us, and he said, 'Hey, you guys should be doing your own stuff, y'know? There's so much potential there!' 
"He inspired us, and kind of got us together to go and write a couple of songs, go into his studio and see how it sounded, which we did! We wrote, Smoking Gun, and Turn of the Screw, and went in and recorded them - and they sounded alright!"

In the day of digital streaming and Dropbox, it's not often that I'm privvy to such things as liner notes, so I wanted to find out how the writing was parceled out amongst the band - Moody was glad to lay it out for me:

Micky Moody: "Well, really, it's down to the individuals to put their ideas forth, and Chris is the only guy to write lyrics, and he writes great lyrics. I mean, I can write some lyrics, but I can't write the stuff that he does.  
"Basically, whoever wrote the music made demos, and sent the music out with the arrangements to Chris, and he put the melody lines and lyrics to it. 
" I wrote two, or three with Chris, and I'd written one with Laurie. There's a couple of band compositions where we all chipped in, and Laurie's written three, or four with Chris, as well, then there's a couple of three ways. Harry's written one as well with Chris, so everyone's on there somewhere, but I believe myself and Laurie wrote a bit more of the music."

Listening to the album, this is well borne out. The music is well crafted, well played classic hard rock, with a great deal of melody, and indeed, Chris Ousey's lyrics are excellent - I'm reminded of the days when this type of parsing about of the writing duties often resulted in long players that could stand up to a listen through, there's no dull repetition, or filler to be found. Also, in spite of a great deal of the world's expectations, this record certainly doesn't sound like a pale imitation of classic Whitesnake - it stands on its own merits, and Snakecharmer is a new force. I asked Moody if this was intentional:

Micky Moody: "Yeah - I mean, obviously, the feel.... myself and Neil having been original members of Whitesnake, we play a certain way, which we did in those days, and we still have that feel. So it was kind of obvious that some of the tracks would lean a little towards that sort of '78 to '82 Whitesnake, but we never actually sat down and said, "OK, we're going to sound like this band, or that band, and this song, or that song - we just went in and came up with the first twelve songs and we went in, ran through them and recorded them.  
"There was not a great deal of sitting around and pre-thinking everything. We wanted to keep it a little bit loose, as well. We're all pretty experienced in the studio. It didn't pose any problems - we went in, and we did it. 
"It took a while to do, because of people's commitments - it'd not yet been a full-time band, so it took us nearly a year to get the record finished. Going in and doing a few tracks, and then taking a few weeks off, because people were busy, or people were away - it's not an easy band to keep together for any length of time, but now that the album is getting some good reviews and we're enjoying it so, it might be that we can get out there and do some touring this year!"

In spite of the record being assembled in a somewhat piecemeal manner, it is a remarkably coherent first effort - if you told me that they'd recorded it in a week, I would not have blinked. Mark that down to the incredible amount of talent and experience on board. The band produced the record themselves, and the thought of six pros stirring a soup made me ask what the process was like in the studio - what's it like to try to mix a record by committee?:

Mick Moody: "Hahaha.... Well, we talked about getting in a producer, and a couple of names came up, but to be quite honest with you, Tony, the budget was quite small, and we couldn't really afford the guys we wanted - it's as simple as that! 
"We had a good engineer, and then when it came time to mix, we handed it to John Cameron and his assistant - he's very well thought of at the moment, and they took it away and would send us the finished product. If we had any comments, we would e-mail back and forth, and say, "Maybe a little less of this, or some more of that," and then we went in for a couple of days, myself, Laurie, and Neil, and just oversaw the last bits. It worked out very well, really!"

One of the album's strongest points is the wonderful guitar interplay between Moody and Laurie Wisefield - they pass parts off as if they have been playing side by side for decades, and their styles sit comfortably together. I asked Micky how long it took for them to gel:

Micky Moody: "About eight seconds! 
"Yeah, that long! I've known Laurie for a while, but I'd never worked with him, but there's much mutual respect there. I had worked with Bernie Marsden in Whitesnake, and The Moody Marsden Band, and so in the end, we had a sort of telepathic way of playing which comes from playing together for so long - it's early days for myself and Laurie, so at the moment we're just working from suggestions, but hopefully, once we get going, get on the road, and get a few gigs under our belts instead of just the occasional one, we can start coming up with some different things and also bouncing off each other a bit more. It's again, just very early days, but I think it's going to be quite good once we get going! 
"We have some similar tastes, but our styles are a bit different - Laurie is a master of the melodic rock guitar, I think, and my style's probably a bit more in the funky blues direction. It's gelled well so far, and I'm hoping it's really going to take off!"

Bassist Neil Murray has been a staple of British hard rock since the beginning of Whitesnake, and he's played with greats such as Gary Moore, Black Sabbath, Michael Schenker, Queen, Peter Green, and many, many others - the Snakecharmer record is a great reminder as to just how much impact Murray's playing has had on the history of British rock. I asked Micky how it was to be working alongside an original Snake once again:

Micky Moody: "You know, Tony - it's funny. When I was working with Neil in Whitesnake back in those days, I never really took as much notice of the bass as I should have. I could feel it, obviously, but it was only years later when I listened back to that stuff, when it got released on CD in the later '80s. I suddenly realized just how good his bass playing was - how perfect it was, really. It's got everything there - it's got drive, taste, feel, and he's even better now! 
"Like Laurie, he works all the time, with We Will Rock You, and they do many other things, as swell - Laurie did Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, and people like this, and you can tell that their chops are so good, because they play together so much. They are very, very confident, which comes from playing every day - which is something I've not done for a while, I kind of came off the road a few years ago to concentrate on writing, and some on-line guitar tutorials, but these guys, they are just so on it - it really shows!"

Working on a regular, perpetual show such as We Will Rock You is certainly a boon for Murray and Wisefield, as the record business has been greatly reduced due to a tremendous set of variables. I asked Micky about the changes in the business, and he replied in a thoughtful, and very positive manner:

Micky Moody: "Yeah - the way things are going, I think a lot of guys are going back to working on their own, simply because we don't sell the amount of records we used to sell, because of the downloading and file sharing, people copying things and pirating things. It's kind of tough out there, it's tough in general, anyway. 
"In some ways it's giving us mature types a kick up the pants, to say, "C'mon, you can still do it - you can still create! 
"So, that's what we're doing, really. We wanted to keep it straight down the line, Tony, we've all had solo albums where we show off what we could play, and show other musicians what we can play - we all know there's competition out there. I think with this band, we all went in with the attitude of let's just rock it - let's keep it good. Let's not get too selfish - and that's worked out well for us."

Stepping back from Snakecharmer for a moment, I wanted to find out more about how it came to pass that British born Micky Moody would end up as one of the world's best slide guitarists, a skill that often is a trademark of the colonies, and those closer to the roots of the blues:

Micky Moody: "Back in the '60s, when I was a kid and I started listening to records, the first time I heard a slide guitar was 1964, and it was The Rolling Stones, Little Red Rooster - Brain Jones was playing in an open tuning, I didn't know it then, but he was tuning his guitar to an open G-chord, and I was just fascinated by the sound of it. Then I heard a bit more - Jeff Beck with The Yardbirds, and he was playing in a standard tuning, and through that I started listening to the blues guys.  
"I heard Elmore James, and John Lee Hooker, and it was different from regular guitar playing. I got into acoustic stuff with Robert Johnson, and it's something I feel in my soul - I don't know why, because I'm not from Mississippi, anywhere like that, or even London! 
"I just feel it, and I think that with anything, if you feel something, and you want to express yourself that way - if you're determined and serious about it, then you should be good. Really - it's as simple as that - the more you put into it, the better it will sound. 
"I've always had a fascination for the slide guitar, and I messed around with steel guitar and things like that, but I always came back to what we call 'bottleneck style.' I still love it today, and y'know, I've had a great many influences over the years - from the blues guys, Ry Cooder, Lowell George, Johnny Winter, Duane Allman, Sonny Landreth - there's so many great slide players, and I do the best I can. Really - when I hear people like Sonny Landreth, I go, "Uh-oh...."

I interrupt to point out to Micky that any comparison to Landreth is ludicrous - surely Moody must realize that like Jimi, Sonny's skills are just too unique for things such as comparisons:

Micky Moody: "Oh! Thank you for that! Hahaha, yeah - he's a one-off, so there's still hope for the rest of us yet. 
"A lot of guys play the blues stuff on the slide, but I think that Sonny, he can go in any direction, he can get into Cajun and all that stuff, and I really admire that type of thing. I keep that in mind - I can do a nice little impersonation now and again, but I try not to do it too much, because people will go, "Why are you doing that, it's so obvious that you're trying to play like Sonny Landreth, and I think - 'Yes, you're right, I should play like myself, and leave that to him.'"

Mick Moody's slide guitar sound is very recognizable - from millions of sales with Whitesnake (Moody co-wrote some of their biggest hits, and his too cool slide work literally made Slow An' Easy, and Slide It In) to his excellent dual interplay with Laurie Wisefield on every cut of Snakecharmer, his style, tones, and note selection have always been superb. I brought things back to the Snakecharmer and asked about the record's sumptuous guitar tones:

Micky Moody: "Most of the time we kept it really simple. A good deal of the time, myself and Laurie were actually in the control room. Quite often, we didn't even use speaker cabinets - we were using Palmer Speaker Simulators, even when the other guys were in the studio. 
"I used a small Orange head, they make this thing called The Tiny Terror, a very small amp, and one called a Dual Terror, about the size of a lunch box. Maybe a 50 watt Marshall on a couple of things, but I kept it all very simple, and for the slide, I obviously used another guitar - I have slightly heavier strings tuned to a chord, and lower frets. I think on the first track (My Angel) I just played in regular tuningjust to get a different sound, but in general, I treat it a bit differently.  
"Most of the guitars are Les Pauls, and Laurie also used a '50s Les Paul Jr like Leslie West used to play, and there's the odd Strat here and there, but overall I think it's classic rock. It's a Les Paul with a bit of Strat, a little bit of Marshall, and this and that, but nothing outrageous. 
"We want to be able to reproduce it as best we could live, and that's the best way. Keep it genuine, and try to repeat that when you get onstage."

Snakecharmer's not-so-secret weapon is vocalist Chris Ousey - a relative unknown to American audiences, Ousey has been filling seats and moving units for years with a variety of bands and solo projects. His performance on the new record is stunning - his writing is razor sharp, and his vocals are compelling, to say the least. I asked Micky if he saw this coming:

Micky Moody: "Not really! Chris was recommended by a friend of mine, our sound man, in fact, who lives near Manchester - he suggested Chris because he had been in a band with him in the late '80s, doing covers. 
"I checked him out on YouTube with his band Heartland, and I thought, 'Yeah, this guy can sing!' He comes from an AOR background more than myself and Neil, who come from more of maybe a bit more blues rock influence. But, the guy can surely sing, and also he writes - I like his lyrics because they have a bit of thought behind them, y'know? They're not just belted out.  
"I also like the melodies - so yeah, it was when he was in the band and we were just doing covers that we didn't know which way things would go. We're very pleased now - the records getting great reviews, you know, you get the odd person who says, 'He doesn't sound like this person, or that person', but I think he sounds like Chris Ousey, and I really like what he does."

We've only just seen Snakecharmer's first release, and shows, yet I'm already thinking ahead to the next record - I'd love to see this band on American soil, and the possibility of solid sales and a second record may just make that a reality - I asked Micky if it's on the table, as yet, and while at first he thinks it's a ways off, he's immediately describing how he hope it will go:

Micky Moody: "It is a bit early, yeah, Tony. It is in the backs of our minds, but we want to see how this goes. 
"For the next album, I'd like to bring in a producer, even if just.... just the amount of e-mails back and forth (during the first record's recording) - it must have been 10,000! I think that drove us to distraction after a while, so I'd like to think, and I think we'd all like to bring in a producer, and just be able to concentrate on playing, really. 
"Bring in a producer's input, as well as for his sound, and what he thinks. We've got a couple of guys in mind who we think would be a good fit, but it's early days yet, so we'll see how it all goes, and who knows, maybe later in the year we'll get to do another album. We'll go in and do it over the period of a couple of months - that's the way I'd like to do it."

Micky Moody has had the pleasure, and honor of playing with some of the finest drummers who have ever lived - Simon Phillips, Cozy Powell, Ian Paice, his childhood friend Jimmy Copley to name a few, and knowing this I had to inquire how Harry James sized up in his estimation. James plays fantastically on the album, and has a track record several miles long, most notable is his over twenty years with Thunder (and years prior to that with Thunder's predecessor Terraplane). Here's what Micky had to say:

Micky Moody: "Harry - Harry's great - I'd put him up there with some of the best ones. There's Harry James, and a guy called Jimmy Copley, who's a friend of mine who's played with Paul Rodgers, Jeff Beck, and Manfred Mann - of the guys who are around today over here, him and Harry are my favorite drummers. 
"Yeah, it was great to play with Cozy and Ian - they were the best - though they had very different styles. Harry is a fantastic band player because he's very musical - he plays guitar, and is a fine singer. He really puts a lot of himself into what he does, and he plays with quite a few bands and has a lot of work over here. He's so good - he's great for this band, and I'd like him to continue with us. You know,  when we do another album, I'd like to keep this same lineup for sure."

The next chapter....

Micky Moody is more than a guitar playing songwriter - he's also an author having written one book, and co-written another. I though we could wrap things up by looking towards the future. I asked if he had another book in the works - I'm thrilled to report that he does, and it's not far off:

Micky Moody: "My first attempt at writing was with a friend of mine, Bob Young, a lyricist who's worked with Status Quo. We did an album together back in the '70s playing kind of very laid back blues stuff, and we had a sense of humor between us, so we wrote this book called, The Language of Rock and Roll, which was a book of musician's terms. 
"That was my first attempt, but then I suppose, it must have been at the beginning of this century - I started putting down some, I suppose you'd call them memoirs together, and I realized that I enjoyed what I was doing with it.  
"I mean, I'm not a great writer, I wasn't that educated, I was sort of self taught along the way as far as writing goes. I like humor, and the book I wrote was called, Playing With Trumpets: A Rock 'n' Roll Apprenticeship. It's about my experiences in the '60s - I went to school, and I was in the same class as Paul Rodgers (Free, Bad Company, Queen) and we formed our first band when we were like fourteen years old, and it's all about that era, and putting bands together, moving to London when we about sixteen/seventeen. The book ends when I join Juicy Lucy in 1970, which was the start of the big, bad world of rock and roll - the end of innocence kind of thing. But I kept the humor thing going, throughout."

So - what's next?

Micky Moody: "I've been writing the follow up, which takes in the '70s - there again, it's taken me five years to write it, and I've nearly finished it now. I write when I feel like it, I'm not a professional writer, so I can't sit down everyday and write. If I get the need, a feeling to do it, I'll work on it, but it takes me a long time. 
"I like to write it myself, I don't go for that ghostwriter thing - I'm slow, my punctuation marks are a mess, but we have a proofreader. I'm pretty well near the end of it, so hopefully this year I'll get that book out as well.It's about the '70s, so it's a little bit more adult, if you will, but I'm still keeping the humor in there. 
"It's not a journal, it's to be entertaining as well, because I like humor, and I always want to keep that in there. It's the 2nd part of the autobiography. 
"It's less innocent than I was in the '60s, and I had a few more late nights, shall we say, but I  can still remember loads of it. I can write about it, and take a bit of artistic license here and there - Neil kept diaries of it all, so if I need to know what happened on March 15th, 1978, he can say, "Oh - we were in the studio after Germany, or whatever.' 
"People say you forget the bad things, and that's true when you're writing certain things, but I always try and see the funny side to it, or the ironic side. I love irony, so I try to twist it all a bit so that ironically something happened because of this, or that. It's not all happy, happy things, because life isn't like that is it?"

True as this all is, I can't help but notice that Micky Moody is well served by his pleasant manner, and his ardent grasp of humor and irony. It has certainly served him well, and I'm sure it will continue to do so in the future. At any rate, he's just made and released another great record, he's joining the rock 'n' roll circus once again, another book's to be released and another record to be recorded. Thanks to Micky Moody for reminding us that life is good.

Thanks to Micky Moody, Snakecharmer, Frontiers Records, and Dustin Hardman.

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