The title of Deep Purple’s most recent studio album – Now What?! – is a question that continues to deliver new answers. In fact, the band is as busy as ever.

After releasing Now What?!, Deep Purple mounted a successful trek to the U.S. last year – their first in years – and returned this year for a second round of dates. Two new live releases, captured in markedly different settings, will arrive on Aug. 28 to document the tour.

From the Setting Sun (in Wacken) finds the band performing outdoors in front of a gigantic festival crowd at the legendary Wacken festival, while ... To the Rising Sun (in Tokyo) takes Deep Purple back to Budokan – where they recorded portions of the classic Made In Japan decades before. Together, they provide an interesting combined snapshot of how this veteran band continues to evolve on the road.

Bassist Roger Glover joined us on the morning after the band played a co-headlining show in Columbus, Ohio with Nazareth to discuss these new live releases. He also gave us an update on the ongoing work on the next Deep Purple album.

It’s great to see you guys back in the U.S. How has this current run of dates been going?

It’s been going great. We’ve just had a couple of killer gigs. I mean, every gig has been great. The Canadian leg was good. It’s just good to be alive.

Does it feel like perhaps you guys are establishing a footprint again that will make it possible to continue to play in the U.S.? It seems like the response to the shows has been really good.

You know, we don’t actually think about those things. I guess we realized a little while ago that America’s not the best market for us, so we haven’t been concentrating on it. It’s been difficult to get a good tour here over the last eight or nine years or so. We don’t make those decisions. It’s the agents and managers and all of those people in suits and stuff. They figure out the best course of action. We’ve been concentrating on a lot of Europe and a lot of the rest of the world.

You know, we’re a lucky band. We’ve got an audience everywhere. But yeah, we did a tour last year and I remember our agent saying, “We’re putting our toe back in the water,” so if that’s what we’re doing, then I guess we’re up to our necks in America right now. [Laughs.]

The performance history of Deep Purple is thankfully well documented with live releases and I have to say, it’s a real pleasure to get two releases from this current tour. As advertised, each one really does have a different sound and feel. It’s a really interesting look at how the environment of where you guys are playing can work its way into how the show goes off.

It was the record company’s idea to pair them together like that, but it’s kind of an interesting project. I don’t think anyone’s ever done that before, but it kind of highlights what we in the band go through. Every night we play is a different place, a different audience and a lot have similarities, of course. You know, most of it’s the same, but those two shows are kind of the extremes of one end to the other, I think.

Watch Deep Purple Perform 'Space Truckin'' at Wacken

It’s interesting to not see “Highway Star” in the setlist for the Budokan show. One would think that would be one of those tunes that you guys can’t leave the building without playing.

Well, you know we’ve been doing “Highway Star” since 1971, I think, and it’s frequently been the opener of the show. We’ve been gradually trying to change the setlist around and of course, with a new album out, we’ve been doing “Apre Vous” as a starter. At Wacken, we thought, there’s a lot of people that haven’t seen us before, because they’re really [into] hardcore heavy metal stuff. We thought “Apres Vous” may not be the best opener for that. But here in the States, we’re much more labeled as classic rock, whereas in Europe, we’re not. In most of the world, we’re not.

It’s just a radio thing that has hung on here and once you’re classic rock, you are forever classic rock. We don’t think like that, of course. We’re a band. We just play and write, and that’s that. We don’t think about it in those terms. So, it’s been a little frustrating in the States to have a new album out and not get any plays because we’re classic rock. None of the plays mean that much anymore, and I don’t know what means anything anymore in the music business. You know, they say albums are dead – but for us, it’s very important to do an album. An album is a whole thing. It’s not just a collection of singles or one or two good tracks and a load of bum [tracks]. An album is a state of affairs of the nation, if you like, the nation of Deep Purple. They mark time, you know, people talk about this album or that album. We’re an album band. We can’t help it.

I would say that what matters is that your fans have a copy of that album in their hands and it seems like folks have done that with this latest record. Sometimes you’ll see a band that does more of the new material overseas, and then they cut it back when they come to the States. It’s been nice to see four tracks from the latest record in the current setlist.

Yeah, Now What?! was a great album for us. It was No. 1 all over Europe and it’s been fantastic. We’re working on another one. We met Bob Ezrin the other night when we played Nashville. He’s raring to go and so are we, so we’re working on it.

Where are things presently? When do you see it coming out?

Well, we had a preliminary jam session in Portugal last year. That produced a bit of jamming and stuff. It wasn’t the greatest place. We didn’t come out with much. We had another one in February, and we got together in a place in Germany and hashed out nine days of jamming. Then Ian Gillan and I got together earlier in the year in the spring, and spent the week listening to the tracks and figuring out what we could write over it. That produced some ideas.

We’re having another one of those next month, Ian Gillan and I. We’re thinking that if we get something finished, we might actually start doing a new song live on the European tour. I don’t know if that’s going to happen yet, but it may. It's something we’ve avoided in the past, maybe because people get a glimpse of your new album on YouTube or something similar and it’s usually from an audience point of view and it’s crap sound, and we haven’t really finished writing the song, etc. etc. Things proliferate on the internet frighteningly. But Bob Ezrin said, “No, it’s a great thing to do; it creates interest” and this, that and the other, so we might try that.

What can you tell us that new material?

We’re still in the discovery process, so I don’t know. Now What?! was such an important album for us. It’s probably the most critically acclaimed and successful album we’ve had in 20 years or more. And it was a joy to record. It wasn’t difficult; it was a pleasure to be in the studio. I think a lot of that came from two sources.

One, we did a tour with an orchestra – now before you even think what it’s going to look like, it wasn’t just an orchestra, it was a 40-piece orchestra, but it became a 45-piece band. There was much more jazz than classical and it wasn’t us doing the riffs and them sawing away behind us just feeling it out, which is what most bands would do. Of course, they played some riffs, but there’s more to it than that. There’s an interaction between the band and the orchestra that was just stunning. I think a lot of that informed the way we wrote Now What?!. Now What?!’s got certainly a couple of grandiose themes that you can imagine being orchestral. That was one thing.

The other thing was Bob Ezrin. Bob Ezrin was really important to the way the album turned out. He came to see us in Toronto, and we met the great man the next day and he just said some great things. One of the things he said is that what really impressed him was the ad-libbing going on on stage – the spontaneity. He said, “I want to capture that. That’s what you do and that’s what people love to see, because you know, not many bands do that.” He worked us. I think he inspired us. His two words were, “Stretch out.” I think we did stretch out.

He did capture that in the studio. The beginning of “Uncommon Man” was one take. Okay, the red light’s on; let’s see what happens. One take, that was it. Don [Airey] and Steve [Morse] just plucked melodies out of the air that are beautiful and yet unthought of. It wasn’t the brain talking; it was just the playing. You know, it was that sort of thing. I think nearly all of the album is pretty much a live album in the studio. We recorded all at the same time, none of this doing bits here and bits there and adding it all together and making it whole. It was a whole right from the beginning. It was just the whole band in the studio, playing guitar. It’s simple, you know. It’s almost like it should be, or it used to be. As Joe Walsh said, “Anyone that can’t make rock and roll on 16 tracks is a wimp.”

Joe Walsh has contributed a lot of the necessary, important quotes to rock and roll, I think.

Oh yes. He’s a great man.

Watch Deep Purple Perform "Uncommon Man" from 'Now What?!'

You’ve mentioned that festival crowds challenge the band because there is an awareness that they’re not there to see any one band. So, it’s not necessarily a Deep Purple crowd. How much can you feel that when you’re playing a festival, and how much of a hump is it to get over?

That’s a good question. I think we certainly felt it at Wacken. Not because of age or anything like that, but just because of the culture. People tend to be fanatical about heavy metal and maybe they’ve heard of us in the past somewhere along with Zeppelin and Sabbath, but a lot of them, I’m sure, haven’t really been to see us before. So, I think we definitely felt that. But most times we don’t – I mean, we play a lot to young people. Especially around Europe, and eastern Europe in particular, it’s nearly all teenagers and kids and twenty-somethings.

We don’t have that cache of classic rock there; we’re just a big band. It’s great playing to them, because all of the old songs that we do, you kind of hear it through their ears. You can sense the thrill they get from actually seeing something they’ve hardly heard of before. So, that’s a cool thing.

This is a really interesting band to see for the first time, if you’re just discovering music like they are. The band, as you referenced, has a very big sound. It’s not confined to a box and where the jams might go from night to night with each song, it still feels organic, based on what the members themselves are feeling onstage. Deep Purple must be a really interesting band for them to see from that perspective, compared to anything else that they might run into either live or on the radio. It’s a whole different thing.

I think partly there’s a level of musicianship involved that they rarely see in bands. It’s kind of relatively easy to pick up a guitar, plug it into a magic box that makes it sound great and play a few chords – and if you’ve got the energy, you can make it sound half good. There’s a lot of generic rock around. If you were a scriptwriter and you had to write the part of a rock band into a movie or something, that’s the sort of generic look you’d go for – you know, the looks, the poses, the sounds of things.

With Deep Purple, it’s more like a musical journey, if you like. There’s a lot of jazz involved, a lot of classical involved. [Ian Paice], in the early days, described it as jazz-rock, especially earlier, because it was very free-form and volatile and changed a lot.

And we still change a lot. There’s still a lot of spontaneity on stage, even though the show is structured. I play a different bass every night with “Smoke On The Water,” for example, just trying things out and it’s fun to play. You listen to what the others are playing and the inflections, Paicey and I are often looking at each other and I’m putting kicks in.

You know, I can always tell when he’s going to do a fill with a kick at the end of it, the push kick. It comes in ahead of the bar, so you’ve got to be ahead of it. But I can just tell by the way he changes slightly the hi-hat pattern, that he’s going to do one and I’m with him. You know, it’s just musical fun. I don’t think many other bands do that. Most bands have kind of a serious kind of show, and ours is raw all the way through. We like dynamics, too.

Watch a Reunited Deep Purple Perform 'Perfect Strangers'

Looking back at the Perfect Strangers album, how did the band end up jamming in Vermont when things first started to come back together?

With Rainbow, we’d been to Vermont quite a lot for writing sessions. You know, off-season, you can rent a big house, a five or six bedroom house with a big basement, and it provides you with a good rehearsal space. We don’t like professional rehearsal spaces in the middle of big cities. It becomes a hassle. Then you’re in hotels and there’s other distractions. So with Rainbow, we’d go out there and do that quite a bit. When we had the meeting in Connecticut, the first meeting in 11 years between the five of us, we said, “Well, the first order of business is to make some music and see if there’s any music there.” Because if it didn’t work musically, then there’s no point in doing it.

Ritchie [Blackmore] and I said, “Well, we’ve been to Vermont a few times, and it’s pretty easy and it doesn’t cost that much.” They said, “Okay, we’ll try it.” So, we rented this house in Stowe, Vermont, that had a cellar that the ceiling was very low. A tall man would have to bend over to get in there. But that’s where we set up our gear, and we lived in the bedrooms upstairs and an annex attached to the house, and it was miles from anywhere. It was up in the hills and it was beautiful. I remember going up and the roadies had set up the gear down there. We started jamming and within minutes, I looked around the room and everyone was just smiling. It was like putting on an old glove. It felt great and we went, “Right, let’s do it.”

Was it similarly easy to slip back into playing shows after that?

I think so. That was a really good time for the band where everyone was on the same page. It was a joyful time. I think actually we could have spent a bit more time in the studio than we did in the pub. The studio seemed almost secondary to the social gatherings in the pub, because they had an English pub there, so we all felt at home. [Laughs.]

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