Raven: Against the Grain

A quarter-century ago, they took an unknown band by the name of Metallica under their wing for a tour of the States. Shortly thereafter, they signed a major label recording contract. Some good Canadian friends of theirs in another band called Anvil are now the stars of an independent documentary film that has taken even America's usually metal-shy mainstream media by storm. On top of that, nearly a decade after their last studio release, they're back with a new album, titled Walk Through Fire, which boasts enough youthful energy and creative zeal to put many more famous bands half their age to shame. So why haven't more fans heard the latest opus from those loveably loony British expatriates Raven or seen it in stores? (Unless they happen to live in Japan...) Raven bassist/ vocalist John Gallagher recently fielded questions from Maximum Metal's Vinaya Saksena about the trials and tribulations that led to the band's triumphant new album- including a serious accident which sidelined his guitar-playing brother Mark for some time- while also dropping a hint for anyone in the movie industry who might be reading this.

We really wanted every song to be killer on this album and it worked out just right with the strength of the songs and the performances
VS: It's been a while since your last album, One For All, and from what the liner notes to your new album indicate, you all seem to have been through quite a difficult time. Was there ever any thought that the band might not continue?

John Gallagher: "No. But Mark's accident was very serious, and although we did not know the full extent of his injuries at first, a weaker person may not have survived. A large wall fell on him, crushing his legs- almost had one cut off- and it took literally years of therapy to get him up walking. Once we saw he survived this...anything is possible!"

VS: Have you seen the movie Anvil! The Story of Anvil? How does it feel to see contemporaries of yours get the kind of recognition they are now after so many years of obscurity and raw deals?

Gallagher: "Great movie and dear friends of ours. They deserve it...and so do we. (Any movie directors out there? Ha!)"

VS: Can you relate to some of the experiences Anvil go through in the movie? I've heard similar horror stories from other bands, and I seem to remember you looking pretty upset after the Metal Meltdown festival in New Jersey awhile back (2001, I think...)

Gallagher: "Most people in bands have been through this - as Lips says in the movie, ‘99% of bands are broke.' We've actually been pretty lucky in not getting ripped off from shows...the one you mentioned being an exception! That's why Spinal Tap is so successful, as it was all true!"

VS: On a more positive note, fans often hear stories of the fun (and funny) stuff that often happens to bands on the road, and the good feelings they get when they do get a lucky break. How close would you say you ever came to "making it" or was there any particular time when you felt you had actually done so?

Gallagher: "No, that gets knocked out of you very early on. I sat at a table with Ozzy and Sharon [Osbourne] at the Hammersmith Odeon in London back on 1980 when she said "Ozzy wants a hand in your future"....and nothing ever happened. From then on, you just do what you gotta do and enjoy the ride. Personally, I feel we have been very successful - we have a unique band that makes great music and kicks ass on stage like no other. If you equate success with money, go be the Jonas Brothers. We got into this for the love of playing and writing. Anything we got along the way was a bonus!"

VS: I always thought Raven had a very distinct sound and style. How would you say it came to be what it is? And who came up with the term "athletic rock"?

Gallagher: "We took from every band we heard or saw. -Our roots are in Slade, Status Quo, Sweet, Deep Purple, Budgie etc, etc. We just mixed it up and somehow our own sound came out of it. Our old record company came up with the "athletic rock" term and since it fit- as our shows have always been crazed- it stuck!"

VS: Your vocals are a particularly distinct element of the Raven sound. How did you develop the ability to execute those crazy, high-pitched wails?

Gallagher: "Its funny, I was always able to do that - just had to work on the singing parts! Ha! I grew up listening to Purple, Heep, Zeppelin... It's just something I wanted to put into the music- adds the crazy factor!"

VS: I was quite impressed with the consistency in quality of the new album. Given the strength of the material and the amount of time between albums, I have to wonder: Is there a lot of unused material from the period between One For All and now? And might any of it see release at some point?

Gallagher: "As far as songs that were written, yes. During the time Mark was laid up, we wrote many, many songs. We took most of the best, which is what usually happens... some songs are just not ready and need more work or have to be left in limbo... sometimes for years before you dust it off and say, ‘hey- if we took this bit out and added THIS bit...' There are many, many riffs I have had forever that sometimes stick their head up and scream for attention! We really wanted every song to be killer on this album and it worked out just right with the strength of the songs and the performances... and the sounds! Kevin 131 did a great job capturing our sound, and we all raised our game and played the best we ever have."

VS: Fellow Maximum Metal staffer EC and myself were pretty surprised and disappointed to see that Walk Through Fire is currently only available via King Records in Japan. Why is this, and is there any chance of distribution elsewhere for the album?

Gallagher: "Well, Japan has always been good for the band. They signed us based on the demo and then we had the money to do the album. As you know, the music business frankly sucks, and it's been tough looking for a decent deal, but we are negotiating for Europe and the USA as we speak and should have a release by the start of 2010."

VS: Your recent show in New York showed that despite all the adversity, the band still has a considerable amount of energy that shows no sign of waning. How long can you keep this up, and what are your future plans for the band at this point?

Gallagher: "Well, we have more energy now that ever! The fun thing for us is stretching within the song- adding new fills & parts as we go, being spontaneous and that's something most bands just do not do. They play the same set, play the same solos, make the same moves at the same time... That's not rock– that's freakin' Broadway! We are looking to get this album out and do a bunch of festivals in 2010!"

VS: I generally like to end with a question that leaves the artist being interviewed a bit of leeway, so... Is there anything you would like people to know about yourself and/ or the band that they might not know?

Gallagher: "Thanks to all the fans for the support. Watch out for the album & hopefully shows in your area. Cheers!"

By Vinaya Saksena

John GallagherVinaya11/21/2009

Walk Through Fire
Eric Compton7/2/2009

<< back >>