By Carl Begai
Black Star Riders frontman Ricky Warwick will tell you he’s made the most of the downtime shoved down our collective throats by the ongoing pandemic. Having spent a huge portion of his life on the road going back to his days with The Almighty, if he wasn’t busy writing and recording new music, Warwick could be found on a tour bus or on stage somewhere in the world. Instead of going out to promote the latest Black Star Riders record, Another State Of Grace, Warwick has been forced to satisfy himself and the fans with Instagram livestream shows, writing new music, and promoting his latest solo album, When Life Was Hard And Fast. It’s been a long time coming, what with When Patsy Cline Was Crazy (And Guy Mitchell Sang The Blues having been released in 2014 followed by a cover album, Stairwell Troubadour, in 2015. The new album is not, however, the result of COVID-19 keeping him locked up. It was finished a good year-and-a-half before the official release, all according to plan.
“I’ve been looking at it positively,” Warwick says of the pandemic forcing him to stay put. “I have my daughters and I’ve spent so much time away from them over the years – pretty much their whole lives – so to be at home for a year has been lovely. It’s been amazing to just be home every day; I’ve really enjoyed that. But, it’s been a year and I live for playing live, going on tour is what I do. It’s my job and I’m certainly ready to get back out there, but it hasn’t been the worst year of my life. My family doesn’t seem to be sick of me which is a good thing (laughs).”
“The solo albums are very much dictated by Black Star Riders and getting involved with Thin Lizzy right after Belfast Confetti (2009),” he continues. “And what a great problem to have. I’ve been sitting on a lot of these songs for quite a while and really just waiting for a worldwide pandemic to come along to give me time to put them out there (laughs). I’m always writing so I’ve always got a wealth of ideas on the go, and when I got together with Keith Nelson we actually started demoing this new stuff in 2018. The album was actually recorded in April 2019, so it was in the can before this pandemic started. We were supposed to be touring last year to promote the new Black Star Riders album, but this solo album was always slated to come out in February 2021. We just stuck to the plan.”
Many artists will tell you that letting material sit for an extended period of time comes with the risk of wanting to go back and fix things that weren’t actually broken, all in the pursuit of getting damn close to perfection. Warwick says he doesn’t suffer from this particular tick.
“I’m pretty good about that stuff. I’m one of those people that captures a moment or a point in time, and that’s what I keep in the forefront of my mind. I’m not one for going back and changing things because… it’s like when you record: you never usually beat the first or second take because the attitude and energy and excitement is there. You’ll never get that on the 20th take. There’s an exception to every rule but that’s how it is with me. I’m really proud of this record and I couldn’t wait to start talking about it. There’s nothing on it where I think ‘I wish we could go back and do that differently.'”
One song Warwick is particularly happy with is “Time Don’t Seem To Matter”, a duet with his daughter Pepper. The way he tells it, it’s unlikely he would have been able to go back and do it over.
“You know what’s funny? If I recorded the song now, I probably wouldn’t get my daughter anywhere near the studio. She’s 13 now, and you know what we were all like when we were 13; anything involving parents was completely taboo. I told her the song was about her when we recorded it, she’s very musical and a great singer. I told her ‘Come and do this and I’ll take you to Starbucks afterwards…’ so that was the carrot dangling in front of her. She came down and she nailed it. It was a proud Dad moment for me but kids are so blasé; she was like ‘Okay, cool. Can we go to Starbucks now?’ We had a good day and it was a lovely experience. I’ve worked with great musicians all my life but I don’t think anything is ever going to beat recording with my daughter.”
As a lyricist Warwick can be beautifully poetic or venomously savage – or both – making him a formidable songwriter. When Life Was Hard And Fast showcases this talent, as well as his ability to make a simple song like first single “You Don’t Love Me” instantly catchy and memorable.
“And as you know those are the hardest songs to write,” Warwick says. “I call it the Cheese Factor. You’re thinking ‘Is this too cheesy?’ and that’s what I was feeling when I wrote ‘You Don’t Love Me’. I’ve become really good at editing myself over the years. Certainly with The Almighty, I tried to be as clever as I could be. If it didn’t rhyme phonetically I’d still put it in there because I wanted people to see how clever I was (laughs). I learned over the years, no, that’s bullshit. I can spend hours leaving a ‘the’ out of a sentence because it doesn’t rhyme properly, so it’s all about self-editing and feeling good about it. You’re writing nursery rhymes, things that you want to stick in people’s heads.”
Warwick’s signature sound is logical mix of Black Star Riders and The Almighty, with qualities of both bands shining through on When Life Was Hard And Fast. This begs the question as to whether any of the songs used for the album were ever earmarked as possible Black Star Riders tunes.
“I love that question because I’ve been playing the solo stuff for Scott Gorham (guitars), and sometimes he’s just looks at me with a raised eyebrow and goes ‘Why didn’t you bring that to us?’ (laughs). Because yeah, some of the riffs or harmony guitars could be Black Star Riders material. We just laugh about it, though. It would be different if they would come to me and I’d tell them ‘Sorry, I’ve got nothing because I used it for my solo record,’ but that’s never the case. I’d never put the band in that situation because at the end of the day Black Star Riders is my day job and takes priority. I’m very aware of never selling myself short.”
“When we do Black Star Riders I’m very aware when I have an idea what Christian and Scott and Robbie will bring to that song. There are certain boundaries and a certain sound that we have in Black Star Riders that we need to adhere to, because that makes it the band that it is. With my solo stuff all bets are off; I can do anything, there are no rules. And I don’t mean that in a bad way in relation to the Black Star Riders. The solo stuff just gives me a certain freedom. I love playing guitar and I’m in a band with two amazing guitar players, so I don’t get to play that much guitar and the solo albums let me get playing guitar out of my system. And it’s what I was doing before I was in Black Star Riders.”
As for his day job, Warwick says a new album is indeed in the works.
“The whole record is demoed and ready to go. Obviously we’re waiting until safe for all of use to get together and record it. With Scott being a bit older than the rest of us we have to keep an eye on his health. We all live all over the place as well, so even when things are normal there has to be a lot of planning to get together. As soon as we get the all clear we’ll get into the studio and record it.”
Photos by Robin Wielink, provided by Nuclear Blast