SNAKEBITES AND WARRIORS – AN INTERVIEW WITH THUNDERSTICK
The brilliant yet underappreciated purveyors of classic heavy metal known as Thunderstick recently released the hook-laden and muscular-sounding opus titled Lockdown via Roulette Records, and its content is as fiery and memorable as it is diverse and organic. One could easily argue that this is indeed the group’s finest effort to date. We caught up with drummer and main man Barry “Thunderstick” Purkis and the talk turned out to be a most inspiring and interesting one thanks to the legendary musician’s unwavering love and passion for NWOBHM and hard rock. Read on, friends.
Barry, how are things at your end? The new album is out, and it is a proper heavy metal gem containing plenty of catchy tracks that are bound to go down a storm in a live setting. Tell us a bit about its creation and how the creative process unfolded. Was it a long, winding road in order to get everything done according to how you had envisaged the record or was it a very natural, organic, and intuitive process all the way?
B: Hi Jens, it’s been a while . . . good to be talking with you again. Well, the album certainly turned into a long-drawn-out process. I recorded some of the drum tracks for it in the week leading up to Christmas 2019 with a proposed timeline of track laying first part of 2020 then mixing with a view to release autumn/fall of that year. Then from out of nowhere came Covid with a government directive to self-isolate with a total ban against any communal activity. This meant that we couldn’t record as a band. Two of my guitarists jumped ship due to the ever-lengthening inactivity. I couldn’t understand their reasoning, but Thunderstick has always been about change, so it didn’t create too much upheaval. I was left with Rex (my bass player) who has been with me since 2017 and my wonderful vocalist Raven. I started asking friends if they knew of any musicians that I could try out when we were allowed to congregate once again that would fit the Thunderstick remit. There were no immediate recommendations but everyone that I spoke to offered their services to appear on the album. I deliberated for quite a while about it but then thought what could be better than having my friends play on it? Friends that have a detailed history of their own accomplishments. So, that was how it went. A large amount of the material I had composed quite a while ago that had never been recorded as masters, but I had kept the drum tracks, so they were comparatively easy to convey to the “guests” as I already had demos of them. Other tracks I had written especially for the album, then there were collaborations both with Rex and others with the guitarists that were to appear on the album. Everything was recorded remotely with everyone using their own home recording software. I did a lot of work arranging the material on my own, using my studio setup. Some tracks are how I envisaged them to be when they were written, others took me on a journey of their own choosing, which was both exciting and scary in equal measure. It took what seemed to be forever, but I got there in the end.
What reactions and feedback have you received regarding Lockdown so far? Personally, I love the variety of the song material and that fact that it captures the vibe and atmosphere of your live performances – that sort of lively, vibrant feel, you know?
B: That is very kind of you to say so. That is exactly how I wanted it to be received. It was my intention to offer as much diversity on the album as possible. I think a lot of that is down to when it was that the songs were created. As explained in the previous question the material spans quite a lengthy period of time so you get that variation of creativity. I am also currently enjoying the newfound enjoyment that I derive from collaborating with other musicians. For the most part I have been the sole songwriter for Thunderstick but now loving the freshness that others bring to the writing process. It is a little early to gauge the feedback or reactions, as at the time of answering your questions it has only been out a week. We have had the first written review in a couple of days ago and it scored it 100/100, which I couldn’t ask for more than that.
What about its lyrical content in general – what can you tell us about some of the ideas, themes, and concepts that are to be discovered on the disc?
B: I am a firm believer of intensity of lyrical content. Most of the bands that have been influential for me all have substance to their lyrics. I really enjoy word play within songwriting. We do have themes that run through our live performance, a narrative telling a story of Raven/The Dark Princess and her father The Blackwing/Thunderstick. Those themes have lent themselves to the tracks featured on the record. It is not a conceptual album, but I really liked the idea of letting the listener formulate what they imagine the storyline to be. I am delighted that the interviews that I have done to date have all mentioned the existence of a ‘hidden storyline’. Wonderful.
Two compositions that really stood out to me were ‘Torn ‘n’ Twisted’ and ‘I’m a Rockstar (in My Head)’ due to them being infectiously catchy while also containing enough depth to warrant repeated listen. Also, the emotive and haunting ‘Warhead’ is a stroke of genius. Will these tunes find their way into the setlist for any upcoming shows? What songs off the new LP do you guys get a proper kick out of jamming in rehearsals?
B: ‘Torn’n’Twisted’ was the first track on the album I mixed. It is also the first track that Raven has ever written lyrics for, and I think that she did an amazing job. ‘I’m a Rockstar (in My Head)’ was three mixes in one. I wanted each section to stand alone sonically so I had to do each part one at a time. One of the ideas I had for it was to try and turn the song “formula” on its head, so instead of having a verse /chorus/verse/chorus/solo/chorus-type of arrangement I wondered what it would be like to have a guitar soloing virtually all the way through it. I think that it worked. The lyrics are about a once-Thunderstick band member . . . dishonourable to highlight . . . maybe . . . but for me it was cathartic to write them. The track ‘Snakebite’ also has the same sentiment but about somebody different. If you listen to Raven’s vocals, they are particularly venomous although she never actually met the “musician” in question (laughs). As to ‘Warhead’ . . . the idea for it came about shortly after beginning work on some riffs that Rex had. It started out with a very different arrangement that was soon scrapped, it not being right for what I had in mind. It was shelved for a while but then we came back for another look at it and we persevered with the different parts which were a little like jigsaw pieces, integral for the overall picture but still fragmented. Lots of loose ideas in need of placement. Once I had those various pieces, I set about changing the interpretation of it at home. I reformatted it into what finally went on the album. If you listen to part three the backing track riff constantly moves, it never stays pedestrian. The vocal melody and lyrics portray three different perspectives. The first being a child standing alone in the middle of a war-torn battlefield much the same as the “Vietnam poster child” crying for his mother. The second is the viewpoint of a “southern belle/gal” with a love for the right to bear arms, embracing the gun culture that she has grown up with. The kind of mentality supporters of a recent ex-president of the USA have. The third and final section is all question-and-answer type of lyrics that say no matter what the belief, colour, religion, opinion, or sentiment there will always be opposition, and that opposition – if taken to the extreme – will ultimately end in war. Quite a dark conclusion really. Regarding the live set we will look at which tracks translate naturally for the stage show/storyline for 2024. There are certain songs that jump out such as ‘Valkyrie Warriors’, ‘Rockstar’ and ‘Hold on Me’. I am really looking forward to starting work on them all.
You have been involved in heavy metal music for many years and decades now, and the fact that you are still out there playing shows and writing new music and so on speaks volumes about your passion and enthusiasm for all things metal. Does hard rock/metal music excite you as much as it did when you were a young aspiring musician, and do you still get that adrenaline rush when you guys hit the stage or even when you crank up one of your favorite albums on the home stereo?
B: Yes of course. For me as a drummer there is nothing like hitting an offbeat and instead of just hearing the cymbal crash with the kick drum, I hear an entire overdriven power chord of both guitars and bass hitting at the same time. So uncompromising. Whether it be onstage or in rehearsal it still gives me goosebumps. Only rock/metal has the power to enable that to happen. For me there is no other musical genre that can summon up that raw, almost primitive pent-up energy. The song doesn’t even have to be breakneck speed; it is all about the harnessing of that incredible force. Love it. I also think that rock/metal gives the greatest contrast between “light and shade” in musical arrangement. I love to hear a well-crafted quiet section that suddenly kicks in to full-on “attack” mode that comes at you like a steam train.
Speaking of which, do you come from a musical household or have a musical upbringing, and do you recall what some of your first vinyl purchases were? What made you a devoted music fan?
B: My father was a fantastic pianist who had his own big band that he composed for. I can remember hearing him get up in the middle of the night and go downstairs and work on something that he had come up with, write it down and then go back to bed. Both my parents got together after my mother started singing with his band. She went on to become a cabaret singer in her own right. She used to take me on gigs with her. I actually played drums for her a couple of times, but it was hard not to hit them in the way that I like to hit them . . . loudly! As for the first vinyl purchases, the first singles that I bought were ‘You Really Got Me’ by the Kinks, ‘All Along the Watchtower’ by Jimi Hendrix and ‘Only One Woman’ by The Marbles, which featured Graham Bonnet on vocals who of course as we all know went on to sing for Rainbow and Michael Schenker among others. The first album that I bought was The Moody Blues’ In Search of the Lost Chord. Great album that had an instrument that really did it for me, namely the Mellotron. My favourite track on it was ‘The Best Way to Travel’, which had a sweeping Mellotron detune that used to send me into space (laughs).
Looking back on those early years playing gigs with Samson and Iron Maiden, what are some of your most cherished memories from that period in time? I am thinking of the late seventies/early eighties and the birth and rise of NWOBHM.
B: Samson was a wild ride for me. First off there was the recording we did as a three-piece, getting to play alongside such a great bass player as John McCoy who was at the time playing with Gillan. Recording the first Samson album in Ian’s studio with John on bass was, for me, an incredible experience. It was like drumming with a rhythm machine – he was so precise and powerful. I used to stare at him whilst we were laying down a rhythm track as he was hitting the octave on his bass on every snare downbeat. Incredible! Just listen to any of his work on the Gillan albums. It was through John that I got play with Bernie Torme. The three of us did some recording and a couple of gigs together as McCoy Thunderstick Torme. Then Samson became a four-piece band after we had found Bruce. Around that time, I think my playing was probably at its most flamboyant, especially on the Head On album. By then my Thunderstick persona had become the figurehead for the NWOBHM movement after the Sounds front cover, and my onstage behavior was becoming more and more outrageous (laughs). Then with the recording of Shock Tactics things were getting a little strained and more serious as we went through a litigation with our management. After the album had run its course, I knew that it was time to move on and start my own band. As for my time with Iron Maiden it’s well documented as I get asked about it with every interview that I have ever done so there really isn’t anything that I can add to what is already out there, other than it was a work in progress and no I didn’t have any idea as to how big they would become at the time. We were just another band trying to hone our craft, and no I didn’t fall asleep whilst onstage with them at a gig.
What does 2024 hold for Thunderstick? Tell us a bit about some of the gigs that you have lined up and whether we can look forward to some festival appearances and one-offs next year?
B: 2024 for Thunderstick will be all about trying to get out there as much as possible in support of the new album. We will be playing Hard Rock Hell, some festivals in Europe including a return to Poland as well as headlining our own shows in the UK such as Mearfest with a new stage show, new storyline narrative and an updated Lockdown set which will also include some different Samson revisits. I will be taking a look at the recordings of the gig we did in Poland this year with a view to putting out a live album. Oh yes and we will be filming a new project . . .
Thank you for your support of Thunderstick – glad you like the album.