Like some of their British counterparts Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, UFO is a band that refuses to be content to go the classic rock route and rely on merely being a touring act. Instead, they continue to crank out great new material and their latest CD The Visitor is certainly a testament to that.
UFO has been one of my favorite bands since I first came across the record No Heavy Petting in 1976. Intrigued by the record cover, I made the purchase, which is something interestingly enough that I found out in this interview, was quite common. Absolutely flipping for this band, I went back and purchased the other two post-Mick Bolton releases, entranced by the band's ability to combine both hard rock and ear-catching melodies. Of course there were two other main components to the attraction of this band; the absolutely tasty vocals of Phil Mogg and the brilliant guitar work from Michael Schenker.
I truly believe that Mogg should be placed up there with names like Halford, Dickinson and Dio when talking about the upper echelon of hard rock vocalists. True, he doesn't display the vocal gymnastics of some of these fellows but is there a warmer, more satisfying voice than the one that sings "Love to Love" or "Doctor, Doctor"?
The band has been galvanized in recent years by the addition of speedster Vinnie Moore. Eschewing the hummingbird finger work-outs that he uses on his solo records, Moore perfectly complements the band with his melodic bent and although I hate to say it, makes you forget about Mr. Schenker.
It was a real thrill and a pleasure to speak with drummer Andy Parker from the band a few weeks ago. This is Andy's third go-around with the band and it just feels "right" to have him back. The Visitor is the second record Andy has made with the band since rejoining and I spoke with him to find out all about it.
antiMusic: The Visitor sounds so unbelievably fresh. While a lot of other bands that have been around awhile are content to simply play greatest hits, UFO is not only surviving but thriving. Aside from being obviously more than competent musicians, to what do you owe this sense of vitality?
Andy: That's a really good question. This is my third go-round with the guys and I feel so privileged to be doing this because it wasn't something that I'd actually thought I would do again. After my stint in 1994 when I did Walk on Water, I chose not to tour with them at that time. It was just my personal choice because I didn't feel that the band was as stable as I would have liked it. I think that's probably the best word. And Michael did a great job on the Walk on Water album and there was no problem with me at all. I enjoyed doing it. However, I could foresee problems coming with the live shows which unfortunately I was proven right on that one. So, in my mind I thought that was kind of it, and then I got this phone call in 2005 from Mr. Raymond asking if I would be interested. And it just happened I was in a position to take him up on it and got back with the guys because Vinnie was playing guitar with them. And it was a very different feel. Vinnie is such a great player and such a stand-up guy, and doesn't have maybe the same problems Michael has when it comes to playing live. And that to me is very important. At this stage in my life, I just didn't want to be in a position that I felt that people weren't getting everything they deserved. Michael, I love the guy, and certainly he's a fantastic player and a great guy, but he does have a lot of problems when it comes down to playing live shows. And I just wasn't really interested in that, you know. And then I heard that Vinnie was in the band, and I gave it a try. And it was just such a pleasure for me to sit on the stage with Pete, Phil and Paul and get to spend so much time with this great guitar player. When we all sat down, I knew we'd at least get to finish the set, you know (laughs).
So I guess to answer your question, we don't take ourselves too seriously. We take the music seriously, obviously. But we're out to have fun and for everyone else to have fun. And that's where the energy comes from. And if you love something you do, you just don't get tired of it, do you? Playing with this band is such a huge part of my life. The energy just comes from the pure joy of doing this. I mean, it is grueling, traveling and doing shows but God, what a nice way to get tired.
antiMusic: You were touring right up until August of last year. Was the band writing for the past while or did you just go into the studio to see what would come out?
Andy: We knew when we came off the road that it was time to write another album. I mean, again, a lot of other bands were being cut from labels and we had this opportunity here and felt privileged that we had a label behind us and they've done a great job with this record so far. So when the time came for another record, everybody just took a couple of weeks and dug into their respective bucket of tricks and came up with what we thought was viable material. And then with technology today (which can sometimes be a blessing and a curse), we were able to email the pieces back and forth to each other. It saves an awful lot of expense and time. So we kind of short-listed about 30 ideas initially that we took to Germany. That's where our manager is based out of so that tends to be our meeting place a lot of the time.
Phil is really interesting. He always has a lot of ideas but most of the time, you don't know what you're going to get out of Phil until right at the very end. I mean, we heard part of the material in rehearsal. But what seems to work for him is, he likes to hear the song structure and he has different ideas and then he figures out which idea works well with what song. He'll come in and sing a couple of lines and then go off to a corner again with his pen and paper and scratch things down. So it's kind of interesting for us because you'll get a flavor of what's coming but not the whole song.
So we took everything to Germany in February of this year and spent 4 or 5 days going over things. And while they were working on some things, I was starting on the drum tracks. So it tends to move a lot quicker than we were used to in the old days. Vinnie likes to work in his own studio in Delaware so once I had the basic tracks down, then we'd ship them to him and he could spend a lot more time with them and that didn't interfere with his personal time as much either.
antiMusic: What is the band's usual (for this lineup anyway) method for putting together a record? Do you finish one track and move on or do you work at parts of them simultaneously?
Andy: Pretty much we decide first, OK, here's the ones that we're going to go for because by that time, we have a pretty fair idea of the value of the song. I mean, for me to go and cut the drum tracks, I kind of need to know what's going where. By that time, we have figured out how many verses there's going to be, what about the chorus, middle 8, intro, outro, all that. And then I start my tracks. But that doesn't mean that's the way it's all going to come out because once Phil starts working with his stuff, sometimes things work out the way you planned and sometimes they don't. But nowadays editing with digital equipment is a lot easier than it used to be when you used to have chop the tape out and stick it back in somewhere else. It wasn't quite so easy to manipulate things.
What you hear on this record is pretty well the way we put them down. That's nice since sometimes you think, well if that's where I knew he was going with that I might have tended to play it a little bit different. But to be totally honest with you Morley, I don't think that there's a band in the world who doesn't think that about an album. And I don't know many musicians who are always 100% satisfied with what they end up with. But that's all part of the creative process, isn't it? Sometimes you want to try something a little bit different.
But because we've been together for so long, I think that adds to the reason that we don't have to spend that much in the studio putting things down. And of course, it's getting to be that way with Vinnie. And he brings a different feel to the band than Michael does. But they're both fantastic guitarists and both fantastic guys. It's just that it works better for me with Vinnie who is a very calm, stable kind of guy which is what I'm looking for these days. You can only disappoint people so many times before they give up on you. We have a bit of damage repair to do from previous things but so far we've been getting really good reviews live. Last year's tour went really well and I think this one is going to go even better.
antiMusic: What's the story behind the title of the record?
Andy: The black and white engraving in the middle is something that Phil came up with. He had it in his head that he wanted to use something that was a little old, on this cover. So he went on the Internet and researched things and came up with the holograph engraving. You can't tell from the advance copies but it's actually supposed to be an engraving of a mental asylum. And it's actually quite old. It's back from the 1500s or somewhere around there. Which is great because we don't have to pay for it (laughs). And apparently back then you could pay a penny or something and look into the asylum and get a look at things you normally wouldn't get to look at. And my take on it is, it's sort of the same as when a band releases a record, you sort of get a chance to sit back and get a look into the band that you wouldn't see before. But that's just me. And I kind of like the fact that people can put their own spin on it.
antiMusic: When you're presented with rough ideas of the songs, how much experimentation do you do in trying the songs out? Do you play with tempo or different types of fills, etc?
Andy: A lot of times, whoever is writing the song is sitting at home with their little finger drum machines. When I get the piece, I'll go "My god. I'm certainly not going to play it that way." (laughs) There's a track on there called "Living Proof". And when Vinnie submitted that track, it was…well, it's pretty much the same as it was but it's extremely funky. And when it got picked, I was thinking, "Well, I'm not sure about this." Funk is not one of my strong points. As much as I love James Brown, it's just not one of my first picks for playing. And I was kind of worried about it and left it until the last one. So we were in the studio and working on it. And I was always a big John Bonham fan from when I first heard him. So I was determined that I was going to get back to some of my roots a bit. Cuz I'm kind of all past these electronic drums, sample drums. And I worked really hard with Tommy Newton and Andre Bargmann who's my drum tech…when I can get him that is, when he's not working for the likes of Vinnie Appice and Simon Wright…because he's highly in demand. But fortunately, he had some down time and I had him in the studio with me. And we just worked on tuning and mics. No eqs. No effects. And it kind of took me back a few years. So I got around to that cut. And then somehow I just got into the groove and it's kind of like John Bonham meets James Brown, in the end. Which works for me (laughs). And the guys just looked at me and said "That's great." And so it all turned out really well from something that I wasn't sure was going to work. So that to me was a bit of a surprise on the album because I just couldn't imagine doing it, you know? But it's one of my favorite tracks. I think Phil really did a great job on that.
antiMusic: Pete was not present for the creation of this record. Correct?
Andy: Yeah, we finished the tour off last August. Pete has had this for awhile and I think he finally realized that he needed to do something about it. Because you know, you can't ignore health problems like that. So he discussed it with his doctor and the kind of treatment he needed to have was going to be quite demanding on him physically. It's not chemo but it has some of the same kind of side effects. You get very tired; dizzy and just generally not feeling that great. We recorded in Germany and Pete lives in England. So it was a tough decision but one that needed to be made. So he finally said that he just wasn't able to commit to the project. As well, the last few years he's had problems with the American immigration to get into the States.
We've used some other bass players. And they have some extremely large shoes to fill. I mean to replace Pete Way from UFO who is such a large part of the band and such a larger than life character. And we had several guys who filled in for him and did very well. But of course, there would never be any thought to replace Pete for good so our manager just said, why don't we use one of the guys that we used before on the album?
Then he suggested this chap named Peter Pichl who is the full-time bass player in Nektar. And he was available at that time. And it wasn't an easy decision for the band because a new album is so very personal to a band. And I didn't know him. But I was assured that he was very easy to get along with and a very good player. So we thought what the hell? If it doesn't work, we can change it. And he came in and he was so well prepared. He had actually written out all of his bass parts in chart form. He was a really nice guy and did a great job on the album, and we're all very grateful to him. But of course, he's gone back to Nektar and Barry Sparks will be doing at least the first leg of the tour. The other boys have worked with Barry when Jason (Bonham) was back in the band, so this will be a new experience for me. I understand he's a very good bass player and a heck of a nice guy. So I hope the crowds won't be too disappointed. In fact, I know they won't be too disappointed because that's the one thing I know about this band is that we still kick major ass, even after all these years.
antiMusic: Was it weird to be part of the creative and recording process without the inimitable Mr. Way?
Andy: Well, obviously you still miss him. Even on last year's tour of the States with Rob DeLuca (who did a fabulous job by the way), how can you not miss Pete Way? He's just such a larger than life guy. But at some point you have to make a decision and his health is just the most important thing. So maybe this wasn't something that we would have chosen but this has to be our first thought is that he gets well.
antiMusic: Do you have an early favorite of the new material so far?
Andy: It's an interesting thing. When I did The Monkey Puzzle in 2006 with the guys and I had just come back…I was so proud of that album because it was something that I thought I would never do again. And that record just hit me from the word go. I do my tracks early in the recording process and then I don't get to hear the songs as they end up until much later. So when I got the record in my hot little hands, I instantly liked it. And I don't tend to listen to my music that much. You listen to the record when you get it back and then when you do it live, obviously but it's not like I come home and put my music on and listen to it.
This album was very different. When I first put it on, I went, "Hmmm". And then I put it on again. And it took a few times before it put its hooks into me and now, the more I play it, the better it sounds. To me, it tends to hold your interest a lot more. There are some really good tracks on there. I really like the opening track "Saving Me" and I think it may be the opening song for the live set as well. I think, anyway. Because now we're back to that old dilemma of what do we play live? There's 20 albums worth of material that you have to funnel down to an hour and a half or two hour set. There are always people who disappointed, I can tell you.
When I came back to the band, after not having player for 10 or 11 years, I was worried about the live shows because I thought I was terribly out of shape. So that was the thing on the first day of rehearsals for the tour…I just sat down and went, "Well, I already know 12 or 13 of these songs. This probably won't be too bad after all. (laughs) But you just can't win when planning a set list. When we started the tour last time, people started posting on the web site, "Well, what about the Paul Chapman era?" And there were some great albums from that time, No Place to Run, Mechanix, The Wild, the Willing & the Innocent, and Making Contact. So we put a couple of songs from them in the set, but then you go, "Well, what goes?" And then you go "Well. What about The Monkey Puzzle? It's kind of crazy. You start off with three tracks and now we're down to one." So I just don't know what's gong to happen this time because now we have to put in songs from The Visitor. So it's really difficult.
Because people have to hear the stuff. It's hard to get people to hear the new music these days. Because you can't get airplay. I'm living in Texas these days. And there's a few radio stations that play classic rock and I called them up and said, "Hi, I'm so and so and we have a new album. Would you like to play a couple of tracks?" And they said "We'd love to but we only play classic rock." And I said, "Well, that's really crazy because how can some of this new music become classic, if no one plays it?" And they said, "Well, I'm sorry. That's just our policy and there's nothing we can do about it." Fortunately, there's a lot of Internet stuff going on and that's great! The thing about radio is that in the old days, you could get your stuff on there and hit people when they were at work and coming from work and they'd be exposed to the new stuff more easily. And of course, you can't do that on the Internet, by and large, unless you go and look for it. Or somebody brings it to your attention. So it's not like the old days where you were coming to town and there was one big rock station and you could get your record on there and you were pretty much guaranteed you were going to get some sales out of it.
antiMusic: What kind of kit are you playing these days and has your setup changed much from when you first started with the band?
Andy: I started using two kick in the early 70s. I've stuck with that ever since. So I have 2 kicks, 4 toms and various cymbals. I used to be a Ludwig man, was endorsed by them for years. And now I have to have two kits; one in Europe and one in the States because the cost is just too prohibitive to fly it back and forth. So in Europe, I'm using a Premier kit and here in the States, I'm using Tama. And if anybody out there is up for endorsements, I'm open to suggestions.
antiMusic: You took several sabbaticals from the band. Was it necessary to divorce yourself from the guys for awhile in order to have what you have today or do you look at those periods with regret?
Andy: No. No regrets at all. I made those decisions. It's not like I was fired or forced to leave or anything like that. I made the decisions at the time and they were the right ones for me. The first time in '83, I was going through a divorce and had a three year old daughter and I was trying to get custody. I was trying to spend some time with my kid and it doesn't work if you're always gone on tour. So that period from '83 to '94, I wasn't completely away from music. I was part owner of a recording studio so I was still in the business. Then after I came back for the Walk on Water record, I decided not to tour with the band then moved back to work with my family for the next 11 years. So then I had no choice. It was something that I felt I needed to do.
So then Mr Raymond made that call and he just said, "We need someone and I just thought by chance I would call and ask you if you were interested." And it just so happened the timing was right and I said I'd give it a try and came back and it just seemed like I never left. It's just really grown into something now, I mean 40 years! I've gone and left several times and so has Pete. But there's one guy that's been the constant this whole time and that's Phil Mogg and without him there would be no UFO. And I think he deserves a big pat on the back.
antiMusic: Michael Schenker – Vinnie Moore. Within UFO, they have sort of the same styles mostly. Same sound. Although I imagine that Vinnie is trying to closely stick to the traditional sound. What is the difference between the two from your perspective?
Andy: Well, I noticed something very interesting over the last two records. Especially after The Monkey Puzzle, I thought it was so bluesy and that there was such a blues influence that was coming through. And there was a lot of that in the band when we first came together in the late '60s. And Phil was always a big blues fan; Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker and Howlin' Wolf and these guys. I know that was a big part of his early music influences and mine too.
And I thought it was interesting because you take Vinnie Moore out of UFO as a solo artist and he's such an amazing guitarist, quite a shredder and amazing technique. And you put him in UFO and the chemistry kind of changes and this bluesy side kind of comes out. You wouldn't expect that with Vinnie Moore but it does. And I love that. I love the direction we're headed in and am quite happy with it.
antiMusic: Speaking of perspectives, you've been at the rear of the stage for every show and have been able to observe all the shenanigans that have gone on that may have escaped other people. What is the most memorable Pete Way fall that you have been witness to?
Andy: Fall? Man! Too many to remember. Back in the early days, I remember in a small club in England. Back then, as I imagine most rock bands run into at some time or another, you end up playing to some people who have no interest in the band whatsoever. They're kind of eyeing the tv that's on in the corner somewhere, you know? And so this one night, there were these two girls sitting at a table right up front. They were clearly not interested in us at all and were talking away and having a beer. So I think that Pete thought he would wake them up. So he leapt onto their table which promptly collapsed. The table went one way and Pete went the other way. And the band kept playing. I think the chord to his bass came undun which he didn't notice half the time anyway (laughs). So he definitely got their attention. They certainly kept their eyes up after that.
antiMusic: While everybody is always quick to, and perhaps often deservedly so, point out Pete's rock n roll behaviour, what is the best quality that you feel he brings to the UFO family?
Andy: He just such a larger than life character. Which is what rock is all about. The entertainment factor. The thing about UFO, as I said, is that we take the music seriously. We don't take ourselves too seriously. We want people to come out and enjoy the music. And let's face it when you have this guy with striped pants wind-milling all around the stage, you can't actually help but enjoy it. And that's the thing I miss about him. As I said, he's a larger than life character. So hopefully it won't be too long before he recovers from this and gets back with us in the near future.
antiMusic: UFO has always played that traditional hard rock sound, fuelled by a bit of blues. Ballads like "Belladonna" and other material such as "Martian Landscape" have always played a big part of the repertoire. As a young rock and roller hell bent on playing hard rock, what were your initial feelings when the guys presented these types of songs and especially what were your thoughts when you first heard "Alone Again Or"?
Andy: Oh, I loved that song. I had the album anyway. So I knew and loved that song. Phil was a fan and suggested that song and I said, "I love that song". So I thought it was just great and I loved the way that Michael transposed that Mariachi part into guitar which was just masterful. You know, the one thing I love about this band is that we always have melody. You know, it's not just brain-dead thump and rock. With UFO, we've always had melody and I think that's been a big part of it. There's a lot of bands out there and some really good bands but a lot of them I just find too repetitive; too monotonous. And the one thing you can say about UFO is that you've got variation there. And lyrics that are sometimes extremely interesting. Not just drugs, drink and women. Which is all good but you have to move off of there sometimes. And Phil is so really good at that. He incorporates things he's read into little stories and so it's interesting. But yeah, the band has always been about melody.
antiMusic: The band has had many instant classics such as "Doctor, Doctor" and "Rock Bottom" but none made as immediate an impact, at least in North America as the Lights Out record. What do you remember about writing/recording that one and could you feel from the get-go that this was something special?
Andy: No, if you really want to know. Because of the way we work, which I explained earlier, you don't always hear the song come to shape early on. So often, you really get a surprise when you hear it later on. But UFO was never a band that sat down and said we're going to do this kind of thing or hit this demographic or write this kind of song or whatever. Basically what you get is what we're feeling. It comes from the heart and we do our best and what comes out is what comes out. Just like we didn't plan to make these last two albums bluesy. It's just the way they came out.
antiMusic: Leo Lyons produced your Chrysalis records up to that point. Then Ron Nevison came in for the Lights Out record. He is reputed to be a bit of a task master. How did he and the band get on?
Andy: Leo Lyons was such a laid back guy and did a great job for us, I think. But I tell you, back then we weren't the easiest bunch of guys to work with (laughs). And I think there comes a time when it's time to move on. We were getting too comfortable with Leo and we needed a shaking up. And it was a step up and yes Ron was a tough task master but the results speak for themselves, I think. That was definitely a great album, Lights Out. And that's what I like about this band is that the music has always progressed. You can line up all the albums together and the next album still sounds like UFO but it doesn't sound exactly the one before.
antiMusic: There was apparently more than the usual tension between Michael and the rest of the band, especially Phil. Do you feel that this added to the performances or was it more of a hindrance?
Andy: Chemistry in the band is very important. And I think some tension sometimes isn't a bad thing as it can yield some surprising results. I mean, you see they try to put together these super groups sometimes and some of them just don't work. So yes, I think the tension did help but certainly when it becomes destructive, that's when you have to stop it. And as I said before, Michael is a terrific person and guitarist but I think he has a lot of problems of his own and when those problems start popping up and affecting the professional side of his life, then you kind of have to knock it on the head. And unfortunately there is a bit of a, I guess you could say, history with the band and Michael which is really why I spent a lot of the time out of the band, because it just didn't work for me. So I'm very happy to be back. That's not to say that I wouldn't be happy playing with Michael again. It's just at this point in my life, I want to make sure that we're going to at least finish the set. If not the tour. (laughs)
antiMusic: One of the most striking elements of the UFO records were the covers done by Hipnogsis. How involved were the band with the design of these and what were your thoughts about them as they were presented?
Andy: I feel very fortunate that we had such a long line with them. They just came up with the wackiest ideas (laughs). And sometimes they would try some things that just wouldn't work but we had some great covers. They were always thinking outside of the box, those guys. And for us, it worked. It just went with the band. I think that the No Place to Run record was the only normal shot of the whole band. But very talented guys. Some of those covers were really iconic. They really got people talking. I mean, those were the days that you would go into record stores and browse. And of course there's a picture of a woman with a monkey on her back or two people getting it on in a shower. Sometimes you just go Hmm. I wonder what that's all about.
antiMusic: At this point, you have a bunch of classics that anybody could throw together to create a set list. Have the edges started to come off the packing on these songs for you so that you would be just as happy to put them all in a box for awhile and not have to hear Doctor, Doctor one more time. Or are you protective of them and happy to play them when you get the chance? Or are you both at separate times?
Andy: I kind of go with the flow and would be fine with what everybody wants. I would definitely be fine to do the whole new album. But I could just imagine if we were to do that on tour that we would be dragged from the stage because for some people that wouldn't be great enough for them. But you always end up changing things as you go along. You start out with the best intentions and then some things don't end up sounding as well as you had hoped so you bring out that one and bring in another one. There's too many people down front yelling for something or whatever.
antiMusic: You're starting off shortly on another giganto tour. I would assume that touring is different in 2009 then it was in 1970. How do you handle the rigours of the road nowawadays?
Andy: It's not quite as grueling as it used to be. We used to do 9 months on the road non-stop and then straight off the road into the studio to do an album. Nowadays it's as little less grueling. Like with this tour, we're going to start in a few weeks, go through June, July and August in Europe and then have a couple of weeks off--- go home and cut the grass, and pet the dogs. Then we start in the States in October until the middle of November and then back over to Europe up to a few days before Christmas. So we're pretty busy this year. It is grueling and we do have a few years under our belts since the '70s (laughs). But like I said before, when you're something that you love that much, you don't usually have a problem finding the energy to do it. I come off the stages some nights and I'm exhausted. But it's a fabulous kind of exhaustion. I can't thank the fans enough for sticking by us all these years. And they still show their appreciation which is marvelous.
antiMusic: UFO has had an extraordinary run. When you're old and sitting by the window remembering the good old days, what is one of the first things that will always jump out at you?
Andy: Just the fans, man!! They have been just so incredible to us. It's been a rollercoaster. And also the camaraderie between all the guys and we've just been out there to have fun and impart fun and I think if you do that, you're going to live a long and happy life.
Morley and antiMusic thanks Andy for taking the time to do this interview.
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