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Interviews Raven

Interview with vocalist/bassist John Gallagher

Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen

Date online: May 4, 2015

Raven is one of the most important and longest running NWOBHM institutions. Despite a long career, age has had little affect on their energetic crashing, banging and walloping and they are just as strong as when they started back in 1974 (yes, 1974!) Raven has hills to be climb most notably when the band was forced to go on hiatus for nearly 5 years (2001-2006) after guitarist Mark Gallagher (one of the two Gallagher brothers in the band) suffered broken legs in an unfortunate accident back in 2001. Fortunately the doctors who predicted he would never walk again were premature in their diagnoses. Mark proved them all and came back stronger than ever.

Raven's new album, ExtermiNation, their 13th, was released by SPV/Steamhammer in April 2015. The recording of it was successfully crowd-funded through a Kickstarter campaign by fans that have always been very supportive of the Raven trio.

The Metal Crypt got a chance to talk to John Gallagher, vocalist and bassist of Raven, about the band's new album, Raven's history, touring and life in general. The pack is back indeed...

Luxi: How is it going John? Are you happy and satisfied now that there's a new Raven album out, titled ExtermiNation?

John: Yes!! Like proud fathers at the birth!! We are very happy with how it has turned out and the reaction so far!

Luxi: What can you tell us about the process of creating the songs for this new album? Was it the result of a lot of sweat, tears and blood?

John: A lot more blood and sweat. We knew it was a tall order to go to the next level after Walk Through Fire and we had a game plan; make it HEAVY!!! We had maybe 40 song ideas and whittled them down to the 15 we actually recorded, rewriting and rearranging as we went. There was a lot of "is this part good enough or can we make it better?" All the preparation helped big time. We blasted through the songs in the studio with all three guys in the same room playing together with no click track. THAT'S why it sounds like a crazed live band; because it was!

Luxi: Your previous album, 2010's Walk Through Fire, was very well received by Metal fans in general. Did the success of that record put extra pressure on you when you started creating songs for ExtermiNation?

John: No, these are pressures you want to have!!! Walk Through Fire was a great return for us after dealing with Mark's accident etc. so it was a big "hello, we are back" kind of thing and it was a big step forward. We just had to continue making the next big step.

Luxi: Would you tell us about the concept behind ExtermiNation? The album cover seems to be telling us loud and clear that human beings are destroying our planet as efficiently as we can without a care for the consequences. It's been shown many times that nature is striking back with super-storms, massive floods, the climate heating up causing famine, starvation, etc. All the signs of Armageddon are there but we still seem to not give a shit...

John: Errr... yes! I think you nailed it There a lot of terrible things happening and people are slowly waking up. Now they need to need to grab pitchforks and start marching.

Luxi: Do you think it would be a cool idea for Metal bands to do a charity festival that would collect money for serious environmental issues as there are many things in this (dying) world that need tons and tons of money to solve?

John: Why not? And not just Metal – this is the PLANET that's getting fucked up!

Luxi: Talking about collecting money, ExtermiNation was crowd-funded by the fans through a Kickstarter campaign and you successfully raised over 27K. I guess this proves Raven has done things right since the band was started way back in 1974. You obviously have some of the most loyal fans in the whole world. You must be very grateful.

John: Very much so. We have a great relationship with our record company (SPV) but knew that the writing/rehearsing part of the project was going to be very expensive. We live all over the states and you can only do so much via email/the Internet. We have to be in the same room to write effectively. So the idea of a Kickstarter campaign came up and it worked perfectly. The fans were very responsive and we were able to provide a backer-only album of cover songs as an incentive.

Luxi: What made you to think of crowd-funding this album this way? Do you think you'll do it this way again given the experience with ExtermiNation?

John: We needed the money!!! And yes, we've certainly considered doing it again. I think the success of ExtermiNation would encourage more people to "invest" in the band for the next album!!

Luxi: You have a so-called power ballad called "River of No Return." Raven really isn't known for ballads but more for fast-paced, rocking Metal that puts people in a party mood. What made you decide to do "River of No Return"?

John: I do not know if it would be classed as a "power ballad" but the song came from a piece I was playing round with on acoustic guitar. I had the whole song pretty much worked out but it's acoustic! When we were looking at songs for the album I had the idea of stripping this thing down, doing the intro with an 8-string bass, then getting heavy as the song progressed! I demoed it and the guys loved it, added their ideas and there it was! It's a different feel and that's cool.

Luxi: I found it a great idea that you wanted to make a tribute to Ronald Belford "Bon" Scott (former AC/DC singer) by writing the song "Thunder Down Under" for this new Raven record. The lyrics in the song are really fitting; "He didn't want to be a millionaire, he only had one goal but it's a long way to top when you want to rock and roll..." Pretty darn touching, indeed.

John: That song is so cool. Mark had the riffs and the idea to do a Bon Scott tribute song and it was a no-brainer. I came up with the lyrics really quickly. Joe added the breakdown idea and we were off and running!

Luxi: Do you have any favorite songs off this new Raven album? Are any an equal to your personal all-time Raven track "Mind Over Metal" (off 1983's All for One)?

John: I like 'em all!!!! It's tough to pick one or two as we put so much work into them all but for arguments sake I'll pick "Scream."

Luxi: ExtermiNation is Raven's 13th studio album. Is there something magical behind the number 13 for you? Are you superstitious at all?

John: No, and due to our EPs, compilations and live albums I did not know until recently that it would be our 13th. Lucky for some as the saying goes.

Luxi: In March 2015 you signed a contact with the European concert-booking agency Continental Concerts which is based in Germany. How have things been working as far as this year's gig calendar is concerned? Is it already full for Raven?

John: We are very happy to be working with them and have prepared a pretty extensive European tour starting in September, which is great as we will be playing some countries we have never visited before!

Luxi: At the beginning of April, Raven played a double-headline show at the Very 'Eavy festival in The Netherlands together with Satan. How did that show go for you guys and how do you like this type of arrangement for old school Metal bands? The line-up for that festival was simply killer; Raven, Satan, Tokyo Blade, Tysondog, Night Demon, etc.

John: That was a great show with an excellent line-up and we tore it up! It was also great to hang out with Satan, Tyson Dog, Tokyo Blade, The Deep, etc. etc.; all cool guys and old friends!

Luxi: To me, it's amazing to think that Raven has been on its NWOBHM crusade since 1974. You have seen and experienced a lot as a band. Raven even opened for Punk bands like The Stranglers and Motors in the beginning when Punk was popular with kids. Did you ever think of jumping on the Punk bandwagon in the early days because it was so popular among the youth in England in the mid seventies? Was playing rebellious Punk Rock ever a potential option for Raven?

John: No because we actually hated most Punk when it started! Not to mention we'd been playing since '74, playing the music we loved and not Punk! We loved the energy of Punk but most those guys could barely play. We preferred to be energetic and rebellious in our own way!

Luxi: During the first 2-3 years Raven incorporated sports gear into your energetic and sweaty live shows. Whose idea was that? All the helmets, elbow pads, hockey masks, etc. surely made Raven shows a bit more special for the fans. Did anything really crazy and wild happen at any of your early shows that has stuck in your mind?

John: That just developed organically. We wore athletic tops as we were running around and they were bold colors so that stuck out. When we first went to America we visited a hockey store and Mark got the pads to protect his knees while doing knee slides, etc. Rob got the helmet as he was hitting cymbals with his head.

Crazy and wild? EVERY SINGLE SHOW! It is hard to pick one out. I remember the first show we did in Milan. The dressing room was a divided-off area like those dividers you would have at school that are attached to the ceiling. After the show ended and we were getting changed the audience ripped the whole thing down!!! They barged in talking to us as we were half naked... nuts!!

Luxi: Raven had a five-year hiatus between 2001 and 2006 because of your brother Mark's unfortunate accident that injured his legs. What really happened there?

John: Mark slowly got better. He had visited a friend on a building site and a large wall collapsed crushing his legs. The prognosis went from "he may not make it" to "we'll have to cut off his legs" to "he'll never walk again" and he proved the doctors wrong! In 2004 we did a few shows with him in a wheelchair and it was very odd not having him running around. By 2005 we did a few shows with him in a "Mad Max" style leg brace (for example playing at Bloodstock Open Air and at one festival in Tampa Florida). Then he just strapped it up. By 2006 I don't think people could tell anymore – amazing...!!!

Luxi: I suppose that unfortunate incident didn't stop you composing new music for Raven even though you couldn't tour with Mark going through rehabilitation. Did you believe during this downtime you'd come back someday, stronger than ever? What does not kill you, makes you even more pissed-off... ;o)

John: Very true. I hoped for the best and continued to write music and thankfully it all worked out in the end.

Luxi: When Raven relocated from Newcastle to New York in 1984 was it an easy transition for you? Did you face any culture shock?

John: Well, we were living in UPSTATE New York, which is a different animal entirely. It was a small town in farm country basically!! So back then it was a whirlwind of being on tour then marooned in nowheresville...crazy!!

Luxi: Raven is considered one of the creators of the NWOBHM sound and for the right reasons. Do you think Raven's trademark sound got a bit "Americanized' after the band relocated from Newcastle to New York?

John: Well, yes The Pack Is Back has some of those influences and suffers accordingly. But most of our music comes from US and not from copying other people, bands, trends or whatever!

Luxi: Moving from England to the USA didn't change you from a tea person to a more coffee and caffeine loving person, did it?

John: Ha!!!! Always drank both... to excess!!!

Luxi: How important a figure is John Lennon to you personally and why?

John: He always bucked the trend to the point where he stopped playing totally (shame Kurt Cobain did not follow his example). He always had a reputation as the one Beatle who was a troublemaker and I loved that!

Luxi: How does 2015 look for Raven, gigging-wise? Are there some big gig plans to be announced from the Raven camp in the near future?

John: We are touring Japan in July followed by a short US tour then in September a full European tour, so yes, it is looking busy!!!!

Luxi: If you made it this far without any painful headaches John then my sincere congratz! It was nice talking with you and in the very same breath I would like to wish you all the best with all future endeavors with Raven. Any last words of wisdom or craziness?

John: Thank you for the eggnog. All the best to the fans and remember; "my hovercraft is full of eels...!!!"

Other information about Raven on this site
Review: All For One
Review: Walk Through Fire
Review: ExtermiNation
Review: ExtermiNation
Review: Wiped Out
Review: Metal City
Review: All for One (2021)

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