Monday, September 2, 2013
A Ripple Conversation with Terry Jones of Pagan Altar
1. In between festival dates in Europe and the bands first ever and highly successful gig in America (At Maryland Death Fest), the band is currently working on an album of new material, to be called “Never Quite Dead”. Some of the songs the band has been performing are more than 20 years old! Was the idea of going in to write new songs a bit scary?
Obviously you will always have a few self-doubts after this length of time about your ability to hack it and produce material that will still compare with what has gone before when we were younger! Is it possible for Al and I to maintain the standard we have set ourselves or has the well run dry, only time and the feedback we receive will answer that one? As far as we are concerned this album will be a compilation of the previous ones if pushed into a corner to describe it and we are happy at what’s going down and also the other newer material we are composing! So as far as we can judge we don’t have a problem but the acid test will be how it is received! The hard part is to continually find subject matter that I can get my teeth into and compose lyrics that will at least make people think or at least find interesting, I’ve always believed that if I’m bored so will they be and I do suffer with a low boredom threshold which acts a good filter! Producing great riffs has never been a problem to Al and he can churn them out almost at will and as for composing lead breaks… We do not write ‘Fillers’ as to our eyes that is cheating people that would buy the album in good faith and in so doing would not appreciate being short changed even if at first it wasn’t that obvious. People now are totally aware if considerable thought, time and effort has been put into a song/album even if they don’t particularly like it! Gone are the days when an album consisted of two or three good songs and the rest padded out with songs that had been thrown together in a studio and recorded as they went along! WE have to like a song before it goes anywhere near one of our albums and when we get a chance to play them live they tend to find themselves and we can make adjustments that moulds it into a coherent whole in it’s own right! We have always done it this way and even with the passing of time to us the principle is the same!
2. How far along is the recording process? When can we expect a release?
We purchased a whole load of recording equipment and fitted out our own studio for this purpose but found we didn’t have a clue how to work it. We then transported the guide tracks over to a friend of ours studio Banana Road in Erith London and have been working on them between the two studios ever since. This is now working extremely well but we did lose a shit load of time initially. We are steaming ahead now but more importantly we are really happy with the results! I haven’t done any of the finished vocals yet just the guide tracks for the others to follow. As for a release date we never set ourselves a time schedule, that’s the beauty of having your own label your not under any pressure to release something just because it’s cost effective to do so in a given time frame! We still have two very long songs to do, one of them ‘The Ripper’ is over ten minutes long with lots of changes etc so that will slow us up a bit and ‘The Rising of the Dead’ is about seven minutes so quite a mouthful! I am so glad to finally get the ‘Rising of the Dead’ down at long last as that has been with us for the longest and is the forerunner to ‘March of the Dead’ and Judgement of the Dead!
Many of the ideas for the songs on this album started life in embryo form many years ago and it was whilst we were recording Mythical and Magical in about 2006 that we finally put them together! Trevor Portch (Bass) and Mark Elliott (Drums) could not find the time for various personal reasons to continue recording and we have been searching for the right line up to get this album recorded in the correct manner it was intended since then! This is in no way detrimental to a portion of the past members concerned as some were good musicians in their own right but perhaps just not right for Pagan Altar at that time for whatever reason! We now have finally found a line up and blend that can achieve this end in the manner we would like to represent our music!
Actually, whilst waiting to get NQD down and finished we have got the bug again and have been quite prolific on the writing front and have actually almost written the following album!
3. You recently had a line up change when your rhythm guitarist left, and you just played your first gig as a four piece. How do you think that went and will you continue like this or look for a new rhythm player?
From a playing perspective none whatsoever! Everything was so much tighter live and there were fewer mistakes on stage so this has got to be an improvement! Obviously there are songs that perhaps we couldn’t do because it needs the other guitar for double leads etc but there are ways around that! We started life as a three piece and a lot of the earlier songs were written and performed in that format so it would only be the later studio versions that would suffer a bit. Al has always put down all the guitar tracks to every song himself so no one would be in a better position to make the necessary adjustments to make them fit!
Did we enjoy Geggan, is the Pope Catholic, we had a great time both on and off stage? The on-stage monitor sound could have been better and more constant as things kept coming up loud or disappearing but what the Hell the guys know their parts blindfolded so not really a problem!
We will probably install another guitarist at some point or maybe Keyboards as that would certainly fit into what we do but as yet haven’t had a chance to get our minds on it properly. We are quite capable of continuing as we are for a bit as we are enjoying it and don’t feel the need to be particularly rushed into anything, although I do like the freedom another guitar can give you!
4. Do you consider yourselves a “Doom” band?
Haven’t got a clue, I suppose people will perceive us in their own manner for better or for worse, so be it! When we started out years ago no one knew what Doom was and we were just a heavy rock band the same as many others, even Sabbath were considered a heavy rock band back then whereas Iron Maiden for example were a NWOBHM rock band but were still all humped in together! All these new Genres that have since surfaced to pigeonhole various bands are somewhat of a puzzle to me and some Genres seem quite hard to distinguish between!
The content of the songs we write hopefully matches the mood conveyed within the accompanying music making it a complete entity and not just words put to music regardless! We have always written in this fashion, which to us makes sense, but trying to keep within a certain Genre is not the criteria or in the forefront in our minds, the songs come out the way they do regardless of what Genre it fits into and does anyone really care, certainly not us? We are what we are, Pagan Altar!
5.You're pretty active on Facebook in promoting the bands music and shows. Do you think the band would be doing this well if it weren’t for social networking as far as getting the world out?
I’m not too sure about being pretty active but I do try to keep things moving and also let anyone who’s interested know what’s going on as much as I can! Also, we consider it only fair to do our own share of advertising etc and not just leaving it to the promoters to advertise us! The other aspect is that some of the festivals we have played at recently have been really good fun and well organised especially in Scandinavia so why not blow their trumpet a bit for them and let others know how good they are, seems pretty fair to me!
It also gives us a chance to let people get know what we are like personally as well and that we don’t take ourselves too seriously or have our heads stuck up our own arses!
Without the Internet I’m not sure how far we would have got under our own steam, not too far I wouldn’t think? So with all it’s evils and stupid trolling etc it does have a lot going for it, especially as far as we are concerned, I wouldn’t be doing this interview without it let alone getting our music out etc!
How long have you got, I have been in so many different types of bands since I was first old enough to hold a guitar? Sometimes playing guitar, vocals, vocal harmonies and I even played bass in one or two but wasn’t great at it!
The last one I was in prior to Pagan Altar and was also with Al was called Hydra and as we were all mates together was great fun. We did a mixture of covers and our own material some of which have appeared on our albums since!
Hydra was doing the rounds at the same time Angelwitch started and we often played the same venues on alternate weeks, one of them being the ‘Dutch House’ on the ‘mad mile’ a biker’s venue!
7. When did you realize your son Alan was talented on guitar and wanted to be in a band with him?
Since I first started to teach him to play, he wanted to play drums but I wasn’t having any of it!
8. Who are your musical /singing influences? Who did you grow up listening to?
Initially I tended to listen to vocalists and bands that used a similar vocal range or timing to myself, people like early Cat Stevens, Roger Chapman (Family), Joe Cocker, Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Roky Erikson, Jose Feliciano and many others of that ilk along with the usual catchall of bands playing rock music as did most! I always liked harmonies and especially good female backing vocals, which also included bands like ‘Vinegar Joe’ with Elkie Brooks and Robert palmer! I had always had the desire to incorporate female backing vocals into Pagan Altars music as well as my own harmonies as I thought how much more scope it would give to writing songs and creating the mood! It is like having another instrument if used properly and could tear at the heartstrings or accentuate a feeling within a song! That being said I finally got my opportunity to put it to the test when we tracked down one of the best female backing singers we could have wished for in Valery Watson and used her to great effect on both the ‘Lords of Hypocrisy’ and ‘Mythical and Magical’ albums! People have no concept of how professional and good she was to work with; she did most of those backings, harmonies and vocal infill off the cuff and in one hit, amazing!
There were many obscure bands that I liked and to be honest can’t for the life of me remember who they were now off the top of my head but they were usually for one album or even one song and before they went AWOL!
I never intentionally tried to emulate any of the aforementioned Vocalists but if certain aspects of their style rubbed off and became part of my own presentation I’m not too sad about it!
The thing about Pagan Altar and it’s music is that as far as we are concerned it reflected our own natural progression and wasn’t so much me needing to hit top C but more of telling a story or making a point that we find much more rewarding…just as a matter of interest I couldn’t hit top C if my life depended on it!
I am not that well versed with many of the new bands that are around at present, only those that I know personally! I don’t think it’s particularly fair to make a list of bands, as I like different bands for different reasons depending on the mood! I suppose those that I listen to most would be Forsaken and Nomad son from Malta, Litany/wrath blade from Greece, Hooded Priest and quite a few that I can’t remember their names and this is because they are the auto changer in my car! I’m not one for sitting down and listening to music due to the fact that I just don’t get the time and when your in amongst and involved in music all the time sometimes you just want to give your ears a rest, probably an age thing!
There is one band that both Al I really like although haven’t got anything of theirs on record and that’s Drakkar from Portugal. We have played in Portugal a few times and they have been on the bill with us and we thought they were outstanding, great guitarist and vocalist and good material, can’t think for the life of me why they haven’t made a bigger impression!
The Geggan festival recently was a real eye opener because apart from being a great festival to play at there were some bands on there that I for one certainly hadn’t heard of before but were really good at what they do! It’s not often I watch a whole festival from start to finish but I did there!
10. Where can people find your albums/CD's/etc
Anywhere now I would have thought, we have more or less superseded the bootlegs and have now licensed our albums out to Cruz del Sur to cover Europe and Shadow Kingdom to cover the United States! These two supply multiple outlets so obtaining them shouldn’t be too much of a problem anymore! We just couldn’t cope with the demand ourselves and people were complaining they could find them, only on eBay at inflated prices so we let others more geared up for it handle that side on the understanding that they kept their prices low which is exactly what they have done!
Buried By Time And Dust records (BBTAD) in the USA deals with all our vinyl output and what a great job they have made of them, we are really proud of everything they have done and they also have kept their prices reasonable even with regard to the large outlay required to produce such outstanding statements and that helps everyone! So there is no need to pay through the nose for any of our material just go to the labels I have listed here and get them at the right price because that is why we set it up this way right from the start! (most BBTAD records are available at Heavy Ripples Distro)
11. You've been in the music industry a long time; do you ever see yourself retiring? Would you have someone else take over your vocal duties?
Of course and there have been a few times in the past when I have given it more than a little thought for one reason or another! How much longer I can go on doing the live stuff without it becoming a parody I’m not sure although I do still enjoy it and what else would I be doing… cutting the grass, washing the car, no thanks not for me I’m afraid!
I have put it to the rest of the band a few times that perhaps new blood might help them along a bit and do they want to get someone else in but they have refused and Al has always said that should I pack it in he would not want to continue and THAT would be a loss! I suppose after all these early years of struggle and disappointment, the trials and tribulations, the good times and bad times and the euphoria of seeing something we started back in 1978 finally seeing the light of day through a sheer fluke he feels the same as I that there is nothing left to prove so if we go, we go together… as it as always been!
With the recording side, that would not be so bad as we could take our time writing songs, putting them together and recording them but to be solely a studio band is not what Pagan Altar is all about!
So, I’m a bit stuck between a rock and a hard place really but I certainly don’t have a problem with playing live and as long as no one destroys my portrait in the attic I suppose I can go on for a bit longer as there are many people I still want to meet!
I think most people have a good time when they come to see us and with each passing gig the crowd gets better and better at singing the words so perhaps there will be a time when all I have to do is introduce the songs and let the audience sing them for me?