Deep Purple’s Roger Glover on Their Upcoming U.S. Tour, A New Album + Working with Bob Ezrin
When we last spoke to frontman Ian Gillan about a year ago, Deep Purple was preparing to release ‘Now What?!’ -- their the first new studio effort in eight years. At that time, U.S. dates seemed unlikely, according to a frustrated Gillan. He said being branded as a classic rock group had negatively affected how Deep Purple was perceived in America.
“It’s one of those labels that says you’re done, you’re finished and you’re over -- and it’s kind of like a tombstone around your neck," he said. "If we get invited, then sure, we’d love to come. I love America, and we love touring there. We’ve just got to get the right balance, maybe. If the record perks up a little interest, we can have a little bit of an approach to how we tour over here. But getting on and just playing ‘Smoke on the Water,’ ‘Highway Star’ and ‘Perfect Strangers’ every night is something we left behind about 20 years ago, in terms of that being it. That’s kind of rock and roll cabaret in my book, and I don’t think the band could survive on that kind of exhaust, really.”
Happily, an invitation has come along for Deep Purple to play a series of U.S. shows, beginning on August 4 in Scottsdale, Arizona. The tour will wrap up a few weeks later with a show in Hollywood, Florida, on August 21. After such a long break between albums, bassist Roger Glover reports that Deep Purple's creative juices continue to flow. They have already begun working on a follow-up to ‘Now What?!,’ and will once again be collaborating with producer Bob Ezrin, who helmed the latest disc.
Glover checked in with Ultimate Classic Rock with more on how the new album is progressing, as well as Deep Purple's plans for these upcoming shows:
The idea of a new Deep Purple album seemed like it was something that had a lot of question marks for a couple of years. What turned the tide and got things moving towards getting a new album completed?
I think the real answer there is Bob Ezrin. About a year or two prior to meeting him, we started to think, “Well, maybe we should do another album.” You know, it was eight years in between albums and there was eight years of touring. We did some fantastic tours and albums seem to have fallen off of the radar in terms of [whether] people do albums anymore. We were too busy touring to even think about it much and somebody said, “Oh, yeah. It’s the new age and albums are old hat. You’ve got to put out a single on the internet,” and that kind of thing. That really didn’t appeal to us, so we just carried on touring. We’re very lucky we’ve got audiences all over the world. We can tour forever.
We did have a writing session a couple of years before the album, and that kind of whetted our appetite a bit. Then we did a tour in Canada and Bob Ezrin came to see us, and he met us the next day and he was very enthusiastic. He loved what he heard and he said some very astute things. He said, “You know, forget trying to make a big smash hit single. Those days are gone. Really do what you do and do it well.”
He said, “What you do live is stunning,” and what he wanted to do was capture that in the studio. I think that really gave us a big shot in the arm, because we went in and did another writing session before going to Nashville -- and when we got in the studio, we had stuff prepared. For us, [our normal process] for an album is that you go in the studio, and you write it and record it in the same day. It’s all very, very quick.
We did have a bit more pre-recording plans [with 'Now What?!'] and had some songs finished. So by the time we got to the studio, we kind of knew it. It’s essentially a live album. Yeah, the vocals and some stuff were added later, but most of what you hear was done all at the same time with four musicians in the room. Very few solos were tacked on afterwards -- they were live. I think that’s what gives it a kind of freshness. In fact, the intro to ‘Uncommon Man,’ Bob had seen us play and he said, “You know, what you play live, just do one of those -- okay, we’re recording!” Take one, that was it. There was nothing written down. It was purely off the cuff.
I think he achieved what he wanted to achieve, which is to really capture that spark in the moment that we have onstage. Also, it sounds good. I really like the sound of the record. I’m very critical of the sound of our records. My No. 1 priority with making any record is that it’s just got to sound good. Talented bands used to give me CDs and they sounded better than we did, and I thought, “There’s something wrong here.” So I’m very pleased that Bob and his team did such a great job.
When we spoke with Ian last year, he talked about how there was a bit of an effort to go back to recording the way the band used to. From the way he described it, it kind of sounds like you guys embraced following your instincts in a sense, rather than getting hung up on focusing on any sort of definition of what the album perhaps needed to be.
There’s a danger I suppose, if you’ve had somewhat of an illustrious past like we’ve had, that you can be intimidated about going back in the studio again -- because you realize that people’s expectations are so high. And as soon as you start getting intimidated about something, you’re going to suffer. We actually just put that to one side, and just did the music that we felt we wanted to do, regardless of what it was going to be. You never know what the future of a song or even an album is going to be. That’s entirely not up to us. It’s up to the outside world and how they see it. So, the best thing that we can do really is just follow our hearts, because that’s how we made it in the first place.
Bob Ezrin has a diverse track record of projects and success that really speaks for itself. What did you like about Bob, as far as what he brought to the table for Deep Purple?
He was very decisive. There’s no leader of this band, so decisions can be a bit fraught sometimes. One person thinks this way, and another person thinks that. Bob was very good about picking out what the best idea was and sticking to it, and in the process not hurting feelings. Yeah, a few feelings got hurt. I remember going into the studio with a song that Ian Gillan and I had written called ‘Weirdistan’ and when we did the vocal session, I started with Ian and picked up an acoustic and we were going over what the song was going to be, and I heard from the back of the studio, Bob, who was hidden behind his computer doing something, said, “I’m not liking this!”
You need someone that you trust to be able to tell you the bad news. Because the tendency is that you want to protect yourself, you know, “But we wrote it -- it’s us and we believe in it!” and he goes, “Nope, it doesn’t sound very good!” So, that was a great learning experience and it cut the time down a lot. Especially if you have a couple of days arguing about a song and not getting it right, he was very quick and decisive and you know, he’s a songwriter, so he knows his music. He came up with some very, very helpful suggestions. It was a match made in heaven and we’re going to do it again!
The songs seem like they left you all plenty of room to explore things musically as a band. You’ve got a number of them that are over five minutes in length and a couple that go past the six-minute mark. Was there any need to edit yourselves, or did you really have the space to just let go and take things wherever the song went?
No, that’s exactly right -- we had the space. That’s what Bob said when he came to see us. He said, “What you do onstage is brilliant!” The minute you get in the studio, we start thinking. “Well, we’ve got to write songs and they’ve got to be this, that and the other,” and he said, “Just feel free -- do what you want to do!” In fact, the very words that he said after the meeting were to “stretch out” and we went into the next writing session with those words in our minds: "Stretch out." What did he mean by "stretch out"? Did he mean make it longer or does he mean stretch out musically? So we did both and I think that really was a big key to the atmosphere on the album.
The video for ‘Vincent Price’ ended up being a great one. The song really lends itself to the video concept well.
[Laughs] You know, when we write songs, we jam them first. All of our writing sessions are just basically jams. We jam around and find something we like, and work out a rough arrangement of it. I record it on a tiny little digital thing, just so we don’t forget them. Because we’ve got hundreds of ideas and instead of giving them a number, I usually give them a name and I called out to the band and said, “Does anyone have a working title for this one?” and Don [Airey] said, “'Vincent Price'” and I looked at him and said, “What? Okay, 'Vincent Price' it is!”
I met Vincent Price, I worked with him once in the ‘70s -- lovely man, he was. We thought “Vincent Price -- let’s write a song called 'Vincent Price,' why not?” [Ian and I] started writing a list. We imagined a film director wanting to make a horror film, and all of the ingredients you need in a horror film. We just made a list of ingredients that you’d expect to see in a horror film and we had a lot of fun doing it. You know, fun is the name of the game as far as we’re concerned. We enjoy ourselves.
The idea for the video didn’t come from us; it came from the video company. They presented us with a script and we said, “Fine, let’s do it!” You know, we’re not really a video band. In fact, we shy away from videos. We’re a live band and that’s it. We’re not some kind of commercial pop product. We’re serious musicians who play live. So doing videos is always a bit of a problem for us. But we enjoyed it and they put it together, and it was great!
The material on this album really seems like it is well-suited for the live setting. I know that you had been playing ‘Uncommon Man’ and a few other tracks overseas. Will you continue to play new material in the setlist for the U.S. dates?
Absolutely. The record came out last year and it was a huge hit around Europe. It was No. 1 in four or five countries, with gold records everywhere. The States was a disappointment. Our album came out about the same time as Black Sabbath. They went to No. 1 and we sort of didn’t go anywhere, really. So, that was a disappointment.
Our profile in the States has been at a low ebb for several years anyway, so we didn’t really expect that much from the States. We were hoping, yes, but now we’re coming to tour there and, all of the sudden, I think there’s going to be much more interest in the album because of that. So we’re really, really looking forward to that. It’s been several years since we did anything in the States.
When we spoke with Ian, he didn’t seem to have a lot of hope that there would be U.S. dates, so it’s a nice surprise to see these shows pop up.
Yeah, it’s a surprise to me too and Steve Morse of course, too. Steve is sort of the American in the band, and he was getting tired of always having to fly to Europe or Japan or wherever we play. It was hard to get a tour in America. There’s been a bit of a lull in touring America for us.
Why that is, I don’t know, whether it’s us or the economy -- or whether it’s just in general that the music business is changing. But you know, live is where we live. Recording has always been a bit of a chore. I mean, you’ve got to make a record, okay. So we didn’t make a record for quite a while and now that we have -- I think actually the gap between records really helped, because we were champing at the bit to write and record again.
It certainly seems that way. If I heard correctly, you started out with about 20 songs for this latest album.
They’re not 20 finished songs. We jam and jam and jam, and if we find something that we like to play or that works well or inspires us, then we’ll try to knock it into some kind of arrangement. Then, once we’ve got that, Ian and I will figure out what the song’s really all about, and write the lyrics and all of that stuff. This album just fell together. It almost felt like it was preordained. It was always going to be the record that it became somehow. It was a magic process, really.
You mentioned working on another album and working again with Bob Ezrin. What can you tell us about that?
We had a writing session six weeks ago. We took a week in Portugal and funny enough, Iron Maiden’s bass player, Steve Harris, is building a studio there. It’s not quite finished, but he let us use the room, because the room was good. So we had about a week there and we’ve got about a dozen rough ideas down.
So from here on out, there will probably be another writing session later this year and maybe we’ll even start recording towards the end of the year -- or certainly in the new year. But yeah, we’ve kept in touch with Bob. Bob has actually become a very good friend. He really enjoyed making the record with us, so it’s a no-brainer really that we’re going to do it again. I think that will probably be out sometime next year.
What can folks here in the U.S, expect from the upcoming shows?
Well, you know, we’ll obviously play a lot of our history. We play more fairly unknown songs, so any odd song that’s maybe not on the top of people’s lists, once in a while. A lot of the new record actually fits very well with the old stuff, because it was recorded in much the same way. It was recorded fairly live, so the solos and all of the stuff you get were actually played live.
There’s hardly any overdubs on the records, except for the vocals. I think that gives it a sort of freshness and I think it gives the idea that when we’re onstage, that’s what we do. It’s fresh every night. We’re not a band that has an “act.” We don’t have this huge show. It’s pure music, and I’m lucky enough to be in a band with some great stellar musicians. I think there’s a lot of fun onstage. We’re not this black-clad tattooed boot on the monitor -- “We’re mean, man.” We’re just musicians who have a good time playing hard rock.