DAMON JOHNSON (ThinLizzy, Black Star Riders) Interview
A GLORIOUS UPRISING – AN INTERVIEW WITH DAMON JOHNSON
The hugely talented Thin Lizzy guitarist Damon Johnson (Alice Cooper, Brother Cane, Black Star Riders) recently released an amazing solo album entitled "Memoirs of an Uprising" that ranks as one of the year’s best releases. Needless to say, Eternal Terror Live simply had to have a chat with the great man himself in order to learn more about the aforementioned record and the entire creative process behind it.
ET: Greetings Damon, how are you? Are you back home in Nashville these days?
Damon: Back home in Nashville, feeling good and looking forward to the holidays.
ET: The «Echo» EP (2016) was excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed that one, but your new record, "Memoirs of an Uprising", is damn-near flawless and it is easily one of my top 5 albums of the year. It is incredibly varied and the sound and vibe of it is beyond words. How long did you work on the songs for the album? Were they written in a relatively short period of time or are there ideas and riffs and whatnot that you have had lying around for years?
Damon: Thanks very much, Jens. With the exception of the final track, "Glorious", all the songs were written over the past 18 months. My collaborator is a long time friend, Jim "Johnny Blade" Troglen, who I formed a side project with back in the early 2000s called The Motorbelly. Once I had a general vision of the stories I wanted the new songs to tell, I knew instantly that Jim would be great fun to co-write them with.
ET: When you went into the studio to track and record "Memoirs", was everything set in stone or did you end up improvising certain parts and sections?
Damon: Because of time constraints and my commitments to Black Star Riders, I had to record the album in bits. I created fairly complete demos of all the songs, with at least a drum program, one guitar, bass and vocals, and we used those demos as the schematic to build everything from for the master recordings. The guys were trusting of the vision I had in my mind for each song, and their flexibility while recording was essential. The "fly by the seat of our pants" atmosphere surrounding the creation of the entire album was energizing and inspiring.
ET: Tell us a bit about the rest of the band; where did you guys meet? Were there ever any auditions?
Damon: Jarred Pope (drums) and I met back in 2007 when I was in my country vocal group, Whiskey Falls. We would always play rock songs and riffs of mine at sound check and I knew he was perfect for any style or genre I felt inclined to record or perform. Soon after I moved to Nashville in 2013, so did Jarred. Shortly after that I met Tony Nagy (bass) and Tony Higbee (guitar), who both expressed an immediate desire to make music with me. No auditions were held. They are all great musicians and quality human beings.
ET: How did the PledgeMusic campaign work out for you? I love the idea of doing those campaigns so that we (i.e. fans) feel more involved in the music. It is a great way of doing something creative and productive and simultaneously involving the fans, letting them feel that they are part of the project. The Black Star Riders "Heavy Fire" PledgeMusic campaign was hugely successful too. Would you consider launching a campaign for the follow-up to "Memoirs"?
Damon: Pledge Music is a great platform. With the help of an administrator here in Nashville, we created what I felt was a unique campaign that was respectful to the fans and fun for them to contribute to and experience. Pledge and my fans are 100% essential to the creation of this body of work, as I am operating my business independently. BSR merged the Pledge with support from our record company, Nuclear Blast. With ‘Memoirs Of An Uprising’, Double Dragon Records is my own label; therefore the fans are completely to thank for not only the completion of the album but also the wave of activity coming in 2019 to promote the album.
ET: As with «Echo» when we discussed that EP, I am always interested in learning more about the lyrics to your songs and what they deal with and thematize. With respect to "Memoirs of an Uprising", what exactly is the meaning of the title and is there a motif or an overall idea to the words and music? What inspired them?
Damon: Each of these songs is it’s own little story. I wanted to describe a specific emotion or situation, most of which were inspired by real life events. The fun part of creating and writing songs is that you can start with something factual, but also introduce a new character or a new action at any point without it having to be autobiographical or truthful. I’ve never had more fun telling stories as on ‘Memoirs’, and this method is absolutely the way forward for me as a songwriter. The album title simply came to me one day when I was driving around listening to the rough mixes of all ten songs. It felt like the perfect theme for these stories.
ET: I love the album artwork for "Memoirs". Who came up with that piece and were you involved in any creative decisions regarding the visual presentation and what you wanted the album cover to illustrate or connote?
Damon: My wife is responsible for the idea of incorporating the image of the hawk, as she has always felt that that is my "spirit animal". I’ve loved hawks since I was a child and marvel at their flight and their strength to this day. Another long time friend, Stephen Jensen, directed the artwork and design of the cover and vinyl & CD packages. He brought in an illustrator to help create the original image, made some adjustments, and then designed all of the colors and textures himself. It is a tremendous work of art Stephen created and I am very proud of it.
ET: The live album that came out last year ("Birmingham Tonight") is a stellar offering and it is rich on atmosphere. Personally, I absolutely love live albums and I was wondering how you feel about them in general and how you feel about "Birmingham" now that some time has passed since it was released.
Damon: ‘Birmingham Tonight’ is literally the live album I would want to hear if I were a Damon Johnson fan. It contains all the essential songs from my past work in Brother Cane, includes acknowledgement to Thin Lizzy and Black Star Riders, and has some great performances of some of my solo material. It is as enjoyable to listen to it now as it was two years ago.
ET: Your unplugged gigs and tours with the awesome Ricky Warwick have been a huge hit and people love those shows. You ought to release a live album or at least a digital collection of live tracks at some point 😊 Any chance that will happen?
Damon: Maybe, but probably not. Ricky and I feel that the most special thing about the Warwick/Johnson concerts is to actually be in the room as it happens; to laugh at all of our stage banter and to sing along with a room full of music fans as we perform so many anthemic songs from our careers together and separately. Every show is different from the others and many of our fans clearly enjoy attending multiple concerts when we tour. I look forward to the next time we tour together.
ET: Is there any chance that Thin Lizzy will play a few shows in 2019? Have you guys discussed and talked about future live activities?
Damon: There are plans to perform between 6 and 10 festival dates as Thin Lizzy in late summer/early fall of 2019. Am sure you will hear about them as soon as I do.
ET: Speaking of touring and live activities, it would be absolutely brilliant if you could tour your solo material over here in Europe. Perhaps a run of European festivals at some point?
Damon: That would be a dream come true for me and there are absolutely talks in the works to make that happen.
ET: Thank you so much for taking the time out of your hectic schedule to answer these questions of mine. Much appreciated! Any final words or comments to our readers?
Damon: Yes. Thank you, Jens and thanks to all the European fans that have supported Alice Cooper, Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders and my solo work. I hope to see you all very soon.