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UFO ON THE HORIZON
The latest band to emerge from the ashes, UFO makes a comeback by committing a MISDEMEANOR
UFO have gone through their share of fallow periods, times when they just laid in wait. After coming together in the late 60s, the original band, Phil Mogg, Pete Way and Andy Parker put out three albums that got the band far more attention in Japan and Germany than they were able to get in their homeland of England. After putting out three records in two years, they found themselves without a record company, either. So, like a lot of English bands, they spent a lot of time touring in Germany. There they met a sixteen year old guitar phenomenon Michael Schenker, then in the fledgling Scorpions, and convinced him he'd be better off with them. This addition, along with all the time on the road got them a contract with Chrysalis, worldwide. From there it seemed like smooth sailing for the band. When they put out their debut for the company, it became an instant metal classic. But all was not as calm as it appeared. The band went through no less than half a dozen different incarnations in the next ten years. By the late 70s, Schenker had been in and out of the band three times. As the band entered the 80s they lost steam, and by 1983, they knew it was hopeless. They disbanded after a dismal tour, a tour that was so upsetting they didn't even release the live album they promised when they announced the farewell tour. Now, Phil Mogg is back, and with him, so is a new band that call themselves UFO. Is this a real Unidentified Flying Object...or just a cheap imitation from a B-movie prop room? - (Ed.)
INTERVIEW BY GEORGES SULMERS
Rock Scene: How did you get involved in this music business?
RS: How did you start singing with them?
Mogg: They were going into the studio to record a pop single for Beacon records, which was a small indie label, and they asked me if I'd like to do some singing for them. I told them I could sing, and when I went into the studio with them I totally froze! That was my debut performance. After that, we kind of got things together. We had a guy managing us who was in a group called the Pirates and we did little gigs and stuff. Later, we did an album in the evening because we all had day jobs. That album was UFO 1, which was done on a four track machine and cost us about 500 pounds. For some strange reason, they released that and the song 'C'mon Everybody' did really well in Japan, and we had another song do well in Germany. The album sounds awful. I couldn't understand it. We were sort of wisked off from playing the Marquee for six nights in a row to doing big tours in Japan and Germany.
RS: How did Michael Schenker join the band?
Mogg: When we played in Germany, we played with a band called the Scorpions. Michael was playing with them and we thought he was phenomenal. We tried enticing him away, which was difficult because his English was 'yes' and 'no.' We managed to somehow. He came over to England and things started to really happen for us. We got a deal with Chrysalis, toured all over the world, put out a bunch of albums, and it all came to a point after we did the Lights Out album. That album was sort of a breaking point for us in America. We did the arena tours then, and so we decided to move to L.A. because we had so much work here. We lived here for two years, and during that period Michael went A.W.O.L. I think there was a lot of different reasons why he made the move. The move to America definitely was a reason...I suppose I became a focal point for his aggression; he wasn't happy with our management, so it's understandable now, looking back on it.
RS: How did Paul Raymond get into the picture?
Mogg: Well Michael left, then came back to do the Strangers In The Night tour and album and went completely after that. We were left with that album, which was our biggest chart success in England, and without a guitarist. I think his departure was a little bit rash because we had so much work coming in. We had played with Paul before, so we got him in because he knew most of the material. We practiced for six days and played the Chicago Amphitheater for two nights. We did it, but we'd never do a thing like that now because it takes time to find some sort of replacement who will be either different or at least to come up to par with Schenker's talents in terms of writing and playing. You can't rush those things and I think we did. We managed to get on under those situations - Paul Raymond went, Neil Carter came in - but I think everything was gradually getting worn down and we weren't seeing much success. As a matter of fact, everything was going downhill. It got to a point where everything was fucked. You couldn't see any light at the end of the tunnel, or any reason why you were still doing it, so we packed it all in in 1983.
RS: Do you consider the line-up on Misdemeanor and the album itself the beginning of a new era in the UFO history?
Mogg: It is, because we weren't even going to call it UFO. Paul Gray (bassist), Atomic Tommy M (guitars), and I got the thing together with no intention of calling it UFO. We got Jim Simpson (drums) next, and then Paul Raymond (keyboards and guitars) joined last.
RS: Are you using the name UFO just because you were in it and because of the fact that the band was quite popular - like the way Tony Iommi is using the Black Sabbath name?
Mogg: Not at all. He's gone through so many changes. I could see you saying that if we had kept going after 1983, because we probably would've done the whole musical chairs thing also, but there's a big gap between now and 1983. I spent a lot of time carefully getting this line-up together. I wouldn't consider it the same sort of thing, because this is a more stable situation.
RS: So what did you do from the end of the Making Contact tour to the beginning of this line-up's formation?
Mogg: I packed up all my luggage and went back to L.A. to live. I really didn't have a clue about what I wanted to do. Actually I was just ligging around. I didn't have that much interest in music at that point.
RS: Is that where you met Atomic Tommy M?
Mogg: Sort of. In L.A., I bumped into Mike Varney, who does the Guitar spotlight for Guitar Player magazine, and went over to his place. We started talking about guitar players, so I asked him if he heard of any good guitarists. He's got loads of tapes from guitarists and bassists from all over the world, so he played me some tapes, one of which was Tommy's. I thought it was really good, so he organized a jam session for us. When we played together, we got on fine, and by that time I was getting homesick for the stage. I wanted to seriously try and get a band together, but I didn't really want to have an all-American band. I went back to England and met up with Paul Gray. Paul had some stuff written and we started working with that, and Tommy had some stuff written, so the only thing left to do was to try and get us together. We brought Tommy over to England and Jim came into the picture, then at the last minute Paul Raymond joined the band. After we got the band together, we did a tour to try and get a deal because we didn't have one at the time. During that tour we got a deal with Chrysalis...again!
RS: Is there a lot of comfort being on the same label for such a long time?
Mogg: The problem with Chrysalis is that I don't think they ever knew how to promote us in the past. The situation this time around is totally different. There was a whole company change and now the attitude is different. Plus, we've got new management, so everything is more responsible and how it should be, rather than pissing out the window.
RS: Let's talk about the new album, Misdemeanor. Where did you get the title of the album from?
Mogg: We got the cover first. When we were looking for a title for the cover, none of the song titles really fit, so we bantered about titles. Then one of the guys at Chrysalis' art department came up with the title and we said fine.
RS: Are you completely happy with the way the album came out?
Mogg: As happy as one could be for a first album. At present time, I'm very happy with it.
RS: Do you think the future albums that you do will be along these same lines?
Mogg: It's difficult to say until we actually finish this tour, because as we are playing more live, everything is changing. The songs are becoming more aggressive to a certain extent. By the time we finish this tour, we'll be playing in a more hard rock sort of vein. That's the direction we're going in live, so maybe some of that aggression will find its way to our next album.
RS: Steve Harris cites UFO as a main influence and Michael Schenker was in this band and in the Scorpions. Do you think a lot of people who come see you that haven't heard the band's music but have heard of the name are expecting you to be like Iron Maiden or the Scorpions?
Mogg: Very good question...Now all we need is a very good answer...I don't know. So far, the songs we're doing are primarily new ones and they've been going over well. I suppose there are quite a few people who come to our shows expecting it, but doing all the old stuff wouldn't really do us any good. We don't want to rest on this band's past labels. This is a new band with new songs and we intend to keep it that way. We do some of the really popular old stuff and it goes down real well, but the newer stuff has been going down well too. I can't complain. There's a lot of people that have seen us over the years, but there's also quite a few people who haven't seen us before, like our younger audience. The old stuff is so influenced by Schenker that it really wouldn't make any sense for us to do it because it's not us anymore.
RS: Do you think that this is the band that will lead you to another ten years of making music?
Mogg: That's a long time. The idea is to re-establish ourselves with this album and tour. We don't really expect anything drastic to happen, but if something good happens - great! We just want to re-establish ourselves and we are starting out on a kind of grass-roots level.
RS: Do you think a hit single is going to be the key to this edition of UFO resurfacing?
Mogg: That's all it needs. That's a fact of life. If we get one - fine. If we don't - that's fine also.
RS: It's odd that you would say that. My viewpoint of the band is that it didn't seem like your popularity stemmed from hit singles.
Mogg: In a way it did and in a way it didn't. When you get on the radio in England, it brings a lot of credibility to what you're doing. The public goes, 'Yeah they are good,' so it convinces a lot of people that what you're doing is good and worth the money. I think if we had a reasonable hit in America, we would have brought all the skeptics out of the woodwork.
RS: Do you write for the radio?
Mogg: NO! That's an impossibility. I've always written that same way, whether it's with Tommy and Paul or with Schenker and Pete Way. I could do that, I suppose.
RS: I don't want to put ideas in your head. Do you find American audiences different than European ones?
Mogg: Very much so. The Americans are into rock 'n' roll as pretty much a lifestyle. In Europe, it's kind of like something you have to search for on the radio and press.
RS: Why do you think there aren't that many bands in the 80s that have the staying power as bands from the 70s?
Mogg: A lot of that has to do with the way things have changed in the 80s. The way it is now is you either sell the records or you get dropped, or if you can come up with consistently good material - fine. In the 70s, if you had a major label deal, you were good and you'd be around for a couple of years. Now it seems like it's gotten a little more cutthroat. That's alright, I suppose, because if you can't deliver, you probably shouldn't have been signed in the first place. It's tough, but that's the way it goes.
RS: Do you think the music industry has made bands rely too much on hype and image?
Mogg: Yeah, very much so. There's not a lot of space anymore for rude boys. It's all nice and tied up and neat around the edges, which is unfortunate. It's nice to have a few 'rag tag and bob tails.'
INTERVIEW BY GEORGES SULMERS
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